Becky Hart | Jan 31, 2024
For Americans traveling “overseas,” Canada is often underrated. Even if you aren’t crossing an ocean to get there, don’t short-change this international neighbor when planning to travel abroad.
In 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic, Canada welcomed more than 22 million international visitors, 15 million of which came from the United States. That marked the fifth consecutive year that Canada saw an increase in overseas travelers. Clearly, something has been catching adventurers’ eyes.
So what’s the draw? And if you want to see for yourself what the world’s second-largest country has to offer, where do you begin?
To find the best places to visit in Canada, former Seven Corners blogger Grace Lower grilled a Canadian friend, Sarah W., for insight and travel tips. The rest of the Seven Corners travel team rounded out the list with a few of their favorites as well.
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. Canada’s largest non-European population is composed of people with Chinese ancestry, after all. 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 have 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 theater 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 20 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 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.
Just east of British Columbia is the province of Alberta. Having grown up in Calgary, the largest city in the province, Sarah admits that she’s partial to "Cowtown.” 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. Despite its western roots, the
city is a blend of hipster and historical, modern and vintage, and artsy and upscale.
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 Minnesota’s 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 Provincial Park or the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site.
Continuing east to Saskatchewan, this province’s capital city of Regina is 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.
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. If you visit in the winter, dress extra warm as it can get bitingly cold on the flatlands.
Our list of travel suggestions wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Ontario and 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 or Los Angeles 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, which was 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 neighborhood 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.
This province on the northeastern edge of Canada, bordering Quebec and the Atlantic Ocean, is made up of an island and the larger mainland area. Some of the province’s highlights can be found on that island, though. St. John’s, capital of Newfoundland and Labrador, enjoys a Cape Cod-like feel thanks to its location. That means you’ll have plenty of seafood to indulge in at quaint seaside restaurants. You won’t want to miss the outdoor cafes, live music, and art galleries along the waterfront.
On the other side of the island — it's roughly the same size as the U.S. state of Virginia — is Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It earned that distinction because of its awe-inspiring geology, specifically the mountains and fjords formed by glaciers millions of years ago. Go hiking on the Tablelands, an ancient sea floor where they confirmed the theory of plate tectonics, and try to spot rare species of birds and plants. You’ll also find canoeing and kayaking, or you can take a boat tour to see some of the continent’s highest waterfalls.
If Viking history piques your interest, head to L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site. There’s a re-creation of a Viking encampment at the only confirmed Norse site in North America where you can test your hand at everything from blacksmithing and axe throwing to weaving and pottery making.
Across the region, you’ll find significant cultural and linguistic influence from the peoples of the area, including those of English, Irish, Scottish, French, and Mi’kmaq descent.
Of course, this list only scratches the surface of what Canada has to offer. 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.
Remember, though, that for many of us, Canadian travel is still international travel. Canada’s social and ecological diversity can be vastly different from what you might find at home. Plus, because you’re crossing international borders, it’s important not to overlook purchasing travel insurance. You might not be flying over an ocean to get there, but travel mishaps can still happen. Fortunately, the best travel insurance can cover many of them.
Hospital stays in Canada can cost up to $4,000 per day for a non-resident. Your domestic health insurance typically does not cover you while traveling internationally, and Canada’s government health plans do not cover non-residents of the country. This means U.S. visitors who experience medical emergencies while visiting Canada are at risk for costly treatment and would likely be responsible for their medical bills.
For those traveling to Canada, Seven Corners Travel Medical Insurance provides coverage if you become ill or injured during your trip. This comprehensive and customizable travel health insurance includes treatment for COVID as well as emergency medical evacuation.
Alternatively, Seven Corners Travel Medical Annual Multi-Trip Insurance is a great option for U.S. residents who live
near the Canadian border and travel frequently to Canada for business or pleasure. Coverage lasts for a year, and you can take as many trips as you like, provided each trip does not exceed the individual trip maximum you selected at
the time of purchase. And like Seven Corners Travel Medical Insurance, our multi-trip annual plan also has COVID coverage.
If you’re still not sure if travel insurance is worth getting for your trip to Canada or you have questions about how to choose the best travel insurance for your next trip, talk to one of our licensed travel insurance agents today.
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