Grace Lower | Mar 23, 2017
Although Canada is just a stone’s throw away from my grandmother’s house, I haven’t had much of a chance to visit our northern neighbor. Sure, I’ve seen Niagara Falls, and I know a thing or two about Canada’s collective
obsession with Tim Hortons—but I wanted to learn more about the country from a traveler’s perspective. The problem is, I can’t afford a plane ticket just yet.
So what’s a prospective tourist to do? Hearing about my dilemma, my Canadian friend, Sarah, was more than willing to offer her insight and travel tips. From British Columbia to Ontario, here are a few Canadian-approved destinations for travelers from any background.
Where to go: Alberta
What to see: Having grown up in Calgary, Sarah admits that she’s partial to the city. But sentimental value aside, there’s plenty to do in Calgary, no matter where you look. For families, interactive
attractions like the Spark Science Center, the Glenbow Museum, and the Calgary Zoo can bring hours of entertainment. And if you’re traveling in the summer, you won’t want to miss the annual Calgary Stampede.
Part rodeo, part state fair, the Calgary Stampede brings millions of tourists each year for lively competitions and bizarre foods. Although Calgary is fondly referred to as “Cowtown,” the city is a blend of hipster and historical, modern
and vintage, and artsy and upscale, despite its western roots.
If you’ve seen as many episodes of 6teen as I have, you’ll know that Canada has its share of enormous malls. Alberta’s capital city of Edmonton is home to the famous West Edmonton Mall: the largest shopping center in North America (yes, even bigger than the Mall of America). Beyond typical retail stores and boutiques, you’ll find a waterpark, a massive indoor roller coaster, and food courts sure to dizzy you with options. While the mall is certainly a major feature in Edmonton, there are plenty of historic and cultural attractions throughout the city—especially if retail therapy isn’t your thing.
To get back in touch with nature, Sarah recommends paying a visit to the Alberta Badlands. With hoodoos, deserts, and shortgrass prairies, the ecological diversity alone is enough to captivate any traveler. While you’re there, take some time to learn about Canada’s First Nations and Aboriginal cultures by visiting Writing-On-Stone Park or the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.
Where to Go: British Columbia
What to See: Located in the picturesque Pacific Northwest, Vancouver is one of Canada’s most popular cities. Just minutes from the ocean, Vancouver balances a vibrant urban scene with hiker-friendly
natural parks. The city is an ideal destination for foodies, as well, with a particular emphasis on Asian cuisine. Whether you’re looking for fresh sushi or a hearty bowl of dim sum, there’s an option for every palate and budget. Sarah
recommends visiting the Richard Night Market when the weather warms up—with nearly 150 local food vendors, it’s a favorite spot for sampling international street food. Vancouver also features world-class museums and a popular theme park
called Playland, offering plenty of options for even the thriftiest traveler.
If you’ve got a taste for history, the city of Victoria offers historic architecture, centuries-old tradition, and colorful gardens that have withstood the test of time. Victoria’s mild climate and proximity to the coast make it a popular destination for students and retirees alike. Art-lovers will appreciate the city’s numerous theatre companies, music festivals, and symphonic performances. With so much beauty and culture, it’s no surprise that Victoria is one of the world’s top-twenty cities for quality of life.
And, of course, no trip to British Columbia would be complete without catching a glimpse of the Rocky Mountains. There are plenty of trails for hiking, whether you’re a novice or a seasoned outdoorsman. Skiing is also a popular pastime, with the nearby village of Whistler offering some of the world’s best-known resorts and trails. For a more leisurely outing, you can rent a canoe and spend an afternoon drifting through the Columbia River Wetlands.
Where to Go: Saskatchewan
What to See: Regina, aside from being Deadpool’s hometown, is Saskatchewan's capital city. It’s also something
of an art student's paradise. Each year, the city hosts numerous film festivals, featuring work from both international filmmakers and local university students. There are also a number of community events, including the Regina Folk Festival, the
Regina Dragon Boat Festival, and the Mosaic multicultural festival, which earned Regina the designation of 2004 "Cultural Capital of Canada."
Like Regina, the city of Saskatoon has a thriving liberal arts scene. For history buffs, Sarah recommends the Western Development Museum, which centers on the early settlement and agriculture of the Canadian Prairies. The University of Saskatchewan is also a favorite destination for locals and tourists alike. Its stone buildings give the campus a Hogwarts-like feel, and you’ll find small museums tucked away in various departmental buildings. Depending on the timing of your visit, you might even catch a guest lecture while you’re there!
For campers and hikers, Cypress Hills Park and the Grasslands National Park Dark Sky Preserve are ideal sites. Their remote nature makes them a perfect weekend getaway, and both parks are fantastic venues for stargazing.
Where to Go: Ontario
What to See: Our list of travel suggestions wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Canada’s capital, Ottawa. Aside from acting as the political center of Canada, Ottawa features a booming tech industry
and has frequently been named the most educated city in Canada. Sarah recommends seeing Parliament, the National Gallery of Canada, and the Museum of War for a crash-course Canadian history and culture. The city is also home to the famous Rideau Canal, a UNESCO world heritage site that connects Ottawa to the neighboring city of Kingston.
While Ottawa has plenty to offer, Toronto is one of Ontario’s most popular destinations—and for good reason. A highly urbanized and cosmopolitan destination, Toronto is recognized as one of the world’s most multicultural cities. As Canada’s most populous urban center, Toronto is comparable to New York, Los Angeles, and Mexico City in scale. While there’s plenty to see throughout Toronto, you’ll want to visit the historic Distillery District for quirky galleries, local restaurants, and, yes, breweries. If you’d like a bird's-eye view of the city, take an elevator ride to the top of the CN Tower—named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. If you’re looking for souvenirs—and don’t mind a bit of chaos—you’ll want to add the Kensington Market to your itinerary. And after hours of sightseeing, unwind with a ferry ride to the Toronto Islands. This tranquil green space offers an escape from the intense energy of the surrounding city.
Of course, this list only scratches the surface of what Canada has to offer. Given its social and ecological diversity, Canada can accommodate nearly any type of travel—from trekking through the Yukon to window-shopping in Quebec. That said, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the options Canada has to offer. Keep your preferences, interests, and budget in mind, and you’ll be sure to find a province that suits your travel goals.
Given the shared language, similar cultures, and geographic proximity between the United States and Canada, it might be tempting to pass Canada over in the search of a more ~exotic~ destination. But learning about your neighbors is a valuable part of being a global citizen. And who knows? You might just learn a thing or two about yourself along the way.
Special thanks to my lovely Canadian friend, Sarah W., for her thoughtful contributions.
Grace Lower is a recent college graduate with a love for writing and an incurable case of wanderlust. When she's not exploring new places, Grace enjoys teaching English as a Second Language, making terrible puns, and running incredibly long distances at incredibly slow speeds.