If you just can't decide what sort of vacation destination appeals to you most—wild or urban, cultural or culinary, active or relaxed—Ontario may be the place for you.
Twice as big as Spain and four times the size of New Zealand, Ontario is exceptionally diverse. Stretching from the shore of Hudson Bay to the same latitude as Northern California, and across two time zones, Ontario offers everything from secluded lakes and elegant wineries to raucous music festivals and whitewater rafting. Ski or scuba dive, hike or sail, dance or shop—Ontario gives you endless choices.
Ontario is home to Canada’s capital, Ottawa, where you can see the grand temporary chambers of the Senate and the House of Commons (visit.parl.ca), see the magnificent Canada Goose Arctic Gallery at the Canadian Museum of Nature (www.nature.ca) and learn about Canada’s military history at the Canadian War Museum (www.warmuseum.ca).
Leave lots of time to explore Toronto, the country’s largest metropolis (www.destinationtoronto.com). Book early to see world premieres—and, perhaps, a few Hollywood stars—at the Toronto International Film Festival (www.tiff.net). And don’t miss the Aga Khan Museum of Muslim culture (www.agakhanmuseum.org), the Ontario Science Centre (www.ontariosciencecentre.ca), the iconic CN Tower (www.cntower.ca) and animals such as the three new cheetah cubs and a critically endangered Sumatran organgutan baby at the Toronto Zoo (www.torontozoo.com). CityPASS offers a savings pass on admissions to five of Toronto’s top attractions, including many of those mentioned above. Once activated, it is valid for nine consecutive days (www.citypass.com).
Ottawa and Toronto are just the beginning of what Ontario has to offer. You can also tour wineries along Lake Erie, in Prince Edward County or on the Niagara Peninsula (www.winecountryontario.ca). If outdoor adventure is more your style, camp in breathtaking Killarney (www.ontarioparks.com/park/killarney), Sleeping Giant (www.ontarioparks.com/park/sleepinggiant) or Algonquin (www.algonquinpark.on.ca) provincial parks, or canoe along the Grand River (www.theheartofontario.com).
TAKE A SMALL-TOWN BREAK
Amble along lanes lined with locally owned shops. Linger over dinner at a table overlooking a waterfall, lake or canal, then unwind in a quaint B&B. Ontario’s many small towns and cities are havens of relaxation.
Take in a play or build a sandcastle on the beach in Grand Bend (www.grandbend.com). Explore charming shops in Niagara-on-the-Lake (www.niagaraonthelake.com), enjoy a spa day in Grafton (www.steannes.com) or unwind at one of Almonte’s many festivals (www.lanarkcountytourism.com). And delve into Ontario’s intriguing history at sites like the
Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum in Carp (www.diefenbunker.ca), the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Mount Hope (www.warplane.com) and the Canadian Transportation Museum and Heritage Village in Kingsville.
ENJOY WATERFRONT VIEWS
When Ontarians say “cottage country,” they generally mean any of a number of rural regions dotted with clear lakes perfect for canoeing, kayaking, swimming, waterskiing . . . or just admiring from the shore while ensconced in a comfortable hammock. Bring your camera and binoculars, as you may well spot deer, loons or coyotes. Popular cottage areas include Muskoka (www.discovermuskoka.ca), Peterborough and the Kawarthas (www.thekawarthas.ca) and Ontario’s Highlands (www.comewander.ca). Pamper yourself with a restful weekend at one of Ontario’s summer resorts (www.resortsofontario.com).
Interzip Rogers is a unique way to discover the National Capital Region with an urban zip-line across the Ottawa River between Ottawa and Gatineau, Québec (www.interzip.ca).
In Almonte, the Dairy Distillery makes vodka from a surprising ingredient: leftover milk sugar from Ontario farms (www.dairydistillery.com).
Groupe Nordik is scheduled to open its third location—Thermea Spa Village—a Nordic-style spa in the Toronto suburb of Whitby this year (whitby.lenordik.com).
Mountain Bay Cliffs opened last summer at Canada’s Wonderland amusement park, just north of Toronto. Visitors experience the exhilaration of cliff jumping from a variety of heights into the water below (www.canadaswonderland.com).
Toronto is a magnet for cosmopolitan travellers. Browse for merchandise in flagship international stores along Bloor Street and luxurious shops in Yorkville (www.bloor-yorkville.com), or unique boutiques and galleries in the restored Victorian-era buildings of the Distillery District (www.thedistillerydistrict.com). Teeter 116 storeys above the city on the CN Tower’s EdgeWalk (www.cntower.ca/brave-the-edgewalk). Relax on the shores of Lake Ontario at Harbourfront Centre (www.harbourfrontcentre.com), or on the green parkland of the islands across the city harbour (www.torontoisland.com). Luxurious hotels, noted restaurants, and professional baseball, hockey, basketball, football and soccer—Toronto has it all.
In Ottawa, the first stop for many is Parliament Hill. The Centre Block is closed for extensive renovations, but tours of the temporary homes of the House of Commons and the Senate—in the West Block and the Government Conference Centre, respectively—are available (visit.parl.ca). The Hill overlooks the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage site that draws cyclists, boaters and skaters (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/rideau). Nearby, farmers’ stalls, independent boutiques and popular nightclubs keep the ByWard Market humming from morning to night (www.byward-market.com).
The excellent attractions in the province’s smaller cities range from the Art Gallery of Hamilton (www.artgalleryofhamilton.com) and the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre in Sault Ste. Marie (www.bushplane.com) to public markets such as the Kingston Public Market (www.kingstonpublicmarket.ca) and the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market in the heart of Mennonite country (www.stjacobsmarket.com).
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Whether you’re a nature novice or a seasoned outdoor adventurer, Ontario has wilderness space for you—and many ways to help you enjoy it.
Unspoiled landscapes vary from the remote lakes and rivers of fly-in fishing camps (www.visitsunsetcountry.com) to the quaint cottage country of Thousand Islands National Park (www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/on/1000).
Wherever you go, you can choose from an incredible range of adventures. Train your binoculars on migrating birds at the Pelee Island Bird Observatory (pibo.ca/en). Walk high above the forest floor in the Ganaraska Forest (www.treetoptrekking.com). Hunt for rare stones in Bancroft (www.hastings.ca/rockhounding) or hike an outstanding long-distance trail (www.ontariotrails.on.ca). Go cross-country or downhill skiing near Collingwood, on the scenic shores of Georgian Bay (www.southgeorgianbay.ca). Dive among shipwrecks at Fathom Five National Marine Park near Tobermory (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/fathomfive) or in the St. Lawrence River (www.1000islands.com/sunken-treasures-the-wrecks-of-the-1000-islands).
HERITAGE AND CULTURE
Theatre lovers are spoiled for choice in Ontario. Toronto alone offers blockbuster performances by Mirvish Productions (www.mirvish.com) and a wide range of plays presented by other theatre companies. In Ottawa, the National Arts Centre offers dance, music by the National Arts Centre Orchestra and others, and English, French and Indigenous theatre (www.nac-cna.ca/en). Elsewhere, noteworthy theatre festivals include the Stratford Festival (www.stratfordfestival.ca) and the Shaw Festival (www.shawfest.com). Classical music fans can revel in inspiring performances by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (www.tso.ca) and the Canadian Opera Company (www.coc.ca), while dance aficionados enjoy the National Ballet of Canada (national.ballet.ca).
Fine art has many homes across the province, including the Art Gallery of Ontario (www.ago.ca), the McMichael Canadian Art Collection (www.mcmichael.com) and the National Gallery of Canada (www.gallery.ca). Learn about Indigenous Peoples of Ontario at Petroglyphs Provincial Park near Peterborough (www.ontarioparks.com/park/petroglyphs) and the Museum of Ontario Archaeology in London (www.archaeologymuseum.ca). Indigenous history is also one of many topics covered by the world-renowned Royal Ontario Museum (www.rom.on.ca/en).
History buffs can choose from meticulously preserved historic sites and living history museums, including Fort Henry (www.forthenry.com) and Upper Canada Village (www.uppercanadavillage.com) in Eastern Ontario; Fort George (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/fortgeorge) and Old Fort Erie (www.niagaraparks.com/visit/heritage/old-fort-erie) near Niagara Falls and Fort York (www.fortyork.ca) in Toronto; Doon Heritage Village (www.waterlooregionmuseum.ca/en/index.aspx) in Kitchener; and the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum in North Buxton, near Chatham (www.buxtonmuseum.com).
MUST SEE, MUST DO
Discover an underwater wonderland of some 16,000 creatures at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada in downtown Toronto (www.ripleyaquariums.com/canada).
Thrill to the thunder of North America’s most powerful cataract, Niagara Falls, where nearby attractions range from great shopping and family fun to glittering casinos (www.niagarafallstourism.com). Or, for a diﬀerent view, hover above the mist in one of Niagara Helicopters’ ﬂights, getting a bird’s-eye look at the area, with the added comfort of air conditioning, lower noise levels and unrivalled safety (www.niagara helicopters.com).
Revel in Ontario’s glorious fall colours aboard the Agawa Canyon Tour Train, which departs from Sault Ste. Marie (www.agawatrain.com). Further north, board the seasonal Polar Bear Express from Cochrane to Moosonee on the shores of James Bay (www.ontarionorthland.ca/en).
Howl with wolves at the Haliburton Forest Wolf Centre, home to one of the world’s largest wolf enclosures of its kind (www.haliburtonforest.com/things-to-do/wolf-centre).
Learn about everything from the earth’s crust to the far reaches of the galaxy at Science North in Sudbury, which features a planetarium, a butterfly gallery and an IMAX theatre. Science North also runs Dynamic Earth, where you can tour an underground mine and visit an outdoor science park and playground, complete with mining equipment (www.sciencenorth.ca).
Delve into Canada’s fur-trading history at Fort William Historical Park, a living history site in Thunder Bay (www.fwhp.ca).
The Apple Pie Trail meanders through scenic landscapes in the Blue Mountains region (www.applepietrail.ca).
The 1000 Islands Parkway winds along the St. Lawrence River, where you can kayak, canoe, scuba dive or take a boat tour (www.visit1000islands.com/communities/1000-islands-parkway-on).
Driving routes through the Ottawa Valley il-luminate everything from logging history to ghost towns (www.ottawavalley.travel/Valley_Explore/Drive/Driving_Tour_Guide.html).
The Loyalist Parkway between Trenton and Kingston traces Ontario’s late 18th century history (www.pec.on.ca/lpa).
There are scenic routes in Southwestern Ontario for a range of interests, from birding to beaches (www.ontariossouthwest.com).
Enjoy rugged, dramatic vistas and superb camping along Lake Superior’s north shore (www.superiorcountry.ca/play/touring).
Amusements abound at Wild Waterworks (www.wild-waterworks.com) and Canada’s Wonderland (www.canadaswonderland.com). Santa’s Village appeals to both toddlers and teens (www.santasvillage.ca). Little ones might also enjoy Storybook Gardens (www.storybook.london.ca). Plane buffs should see the Canada Aviation and Space Museum (www.ingeniumcanada.org/aviation). Gamers flock to The Rec Room, a chain of arcade and entertainment complexes (www12.therecroom.com) and to Ctrl V, a virtual-reality arcade chain with multiple locations in Southern Ontario, including a flagship arcade in Waterloo (www.ctrlv.ca). Budding mechanics can tour a Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada plant in Cambridge (www.tmmc.ca/en/plant-tour). Finally, sites for animal lovers include the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory (www.cambridgebutterfly.com) and African Lion Safari (www.lionsafari.com). For more inspiration: destinationontario.com.
THE LAST ICE AGE CARVED SOME 250,000 LAKES INTO THE ROCKY CANADIAN SHIELD ACROSS ONTARIO.
PUKASKWA NATIONAL PARK
Explore over 1,800 sq. km (695 sq. mi.) of northern forests and rugged Canadian Shield landscapes on the shores of Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface area. The province’s only wilderness national park, Pukaskwa offers visitors superb outdoor experiences and opportunities to connect with the rich history of local Indigenous Peoples through cultural programs. On summer nights, sunsets bathe driftwood-dotted beaches and towering cliffs in shades of crimson and gold. Set up your tent in the campground or truly escape the world at a backcountry campsite (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/pukaskwa).
National Parks and Historic Sites: