20 Best Places to Visit in Canada for 2016
Report by Adrian Brijbassi, Petti Fong, Rod Charles and Mark Sissons
Vacay.ca Editors and Writers
Welcome to the era of the 21st-century road trip. With low gas prices, an anemic Canadian dollar, rising sales of electric cars and renewed anxiety about flying overseas, the idea of exploring close to home and in an automobile is once again immensely appealing. In 2016, there’s another reason why Canadians will be eager to see their country on ground level rather than thousands of feet overhead: nostalgia.
1. Sea-to-Sky Country, BC
2. Cabot Trail, NS
3. Tofino, BC
4. Ivvavik National Park, YT
5. Toronto, ON
6. Irish Loop, NL
7. Calgary, AB
8. Gjoa Haven, NU
9. Montreal, QC
10. Canmore/Banff, AB
11. Halifax, NS
12. Dempster Highway, YT
13. Saguenay, QC
14. Ottawa, ON
15. Okanagan Valley, BC
16. Quebec City, QC
17. Fogo & Change Islands, NL
18. Saskatoon, SK
19. St. Andrews By-the-Sea, NB
20. Muskoka, ON
As the nation nears its 150th birthday in 2017, touring through the provinces and territories in a car brings an opportunity for intimate discovery of the nation as well as the chance for Canadians to make a poignant and personal connection with Canada just prior to its landmark anniversary.
In publishing its 20 Best Places to Visit in Canada in 2016 Guide, the travel experts at Vacay.ca have identified road-trip destinations as the spots Canadians and visitors to the nation are most likely to be drawn to during the coming year. Along with destinations you have to venture far to reach, some urban metropolises have also made the ranking because of their new attractions, milestone events or enduring ability to deliver a quality travel experience.
The annual list has proven to be an accurate forecaster and influencer of Canadian travel for the past four years. For 2015, Toronto ranked first overall thanks to the Pan Am Games and 40th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival. The city experienced a surge in visitation and will likely set a record for number of tourists it hosted in one year.
In 2014, Charlottetown was ranked No. 1 and Prince Edward Island tourism businesses reported a record year for tourism-related revenue, which totalled $401 million. In 2013, Vacay.ca ranked Fortress Louisbourg in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia as the No. 1 destination and it saw a 37 per cent increase in visitation from its 2012 levels. In 2012, Calgary topped the list and witnessed record numbers of travellers, many of whom arrived for the 100th Calgary Stampede.
For 2016, domestic travel and car travel are expected to be very high, according to the Conference Board of Canada. Overnight travel within Canada is expected to grow 2.4 per cent in 2016, after seeing a similar year-over-year increase in 2015. A low Canadian dollar will also keep Canadians close to home and the attractive price of gasoline makes road trips more enticing, too.
1. SEA-TO-SKY COUNTRY, British Columbia
What’s Happening for 2016: This year marks the 50th anniversary of Whistler, North America’s largest ski resort. The snow has fallen early, promising a fulfilling season for one of the most fun and exciting vacation destinations in the country. The 2015-16 golden anniversary is highlighted by festivals, parties and new restaurants, including recently opened Bar Oso, a relative of acclaimed Araxi, a perennial member of the annual Top Restaurants in Canada Rankings.
Why You Should Go: For five decades, travellers have driven the 120 kilometres (75 miles) between Vancouver and Whistler without much inclination to stop. That has changed in a big way. Sea-to-Sky Country is the label given to the area that leads from Horseshoe Bay — the upscale West Vancouver community known for its ferry terminal — through Squamish, aka the “Outdoor Sports Capital of Canada,” and to Whistler and its farm-friendly neighbour to the north, Pemberton.
While Whistler is celebrating years of success, Squamish is enjoying new-found glory. The Sea-to-Sky Gondola — and the Summit it leads to — have become darlings of British Columbia’s tourism industry since opening in 2014. The mountain-top views of Howe Sound are among the most spectacular you’ll see anywhere and the hiking trails are family-friendly.
Vacay.ca Editor Adrian Brijbassi Writes: “From the summit lodge, visitors can see the view of Howe Sound, a scene that presents some of the finest eye candy in southern British Columbia. The glacier-fed waters are blue-green, similar in colour to Lake Louise, the famed attraction that has been at the heart of Alberta’s iconic tourism marketing for decades. While the mountains around Howe Sound aren’t as majestic as the Canadian Rockies and Howe Sound isn’t a secluded lake in the hills, but rather a waterway that connects with the Pacific Ocean, the sight of green hills, turquoise waters, blue skies and white clouds is comparatively breathtaking. As a traveller, it’s what you desire and what makes you feel fulfilled for having made the trek.”
2. CABOT TRAIL, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
What’s Happening for 2016: The Cabot Trail was once considered a drive you completed in a day. Drivers and their passengers would make frequent stops for photographs, grab a lobster lunch somewhere along the way, hike the short Skyline Trail and then cross the experience off their bucket lists. Now, however, there is so much to see and do on the Cabot Trail — and the Cape Breton communities tethered to it — that any traveller who chooses to zoom through would be missing out on one fine vacay. In 2016, the Cabot Cliffs golf course, part of the Cabot Links facility in the town of Inverness, debuts and adds another world-class experience to the island, and the Race the Cape regatta, which began in 2013, promises to continue to increase in stature and entertainment value each year. If you would like to go at a slower pace around the trail, or through a portion of it, there are more guided and self-guided cycling tours than ever before. An Artisan Loop provides an offshoot to the trail that helps immerse you in Cape Breton’s distinct culture. If you want to see fall foliage at its most glorious, then you’ll also enjoy the Celtic Colours celebration that runs from October 7-16. The festival focused on Celtic music and heritage will be celebrating its 19th year.
Why You Should Go: Two-hundred kilometres of bliss. That’s one way to think about the Cabot Trail. The famous highway cuts through a stunning national park (Cape Breton Highlands), passes one of Canada’s finest beaches (Ingonish) and veers close to what is arguably the best golf course in the nation (Cabot Links). You’ll also find superb seafood dishes, fascinating communities full of unique history, and some of the friendliest, most down-to-earth and goodhearted people in the world.
Vacay.ca Editor Adrian Brijbassi Writes: “The Cabot Trail makes you stop. Not stop and start. Stop. Stop with all the myriad thoughts racing through your head about work and responsibilities and where to go next. Here, you stop, you linger, you give in to the views that beat you to your knees with their beauty. Of the magnificent roads I’ve been on, the Cabot Trail is most reminiscent of the Cape Peninsula loop in South Africa, which starts and ends in Cape Town, and thunders through beach villages, passed vistas where you can spy wine country, and over rocky cliffs with dramatic drops that dive into the Atlantic and Indian oceans. There are other highways in the world that also have splendid scenery and spectacular viewpoints and heart-pounding asphalt descents. The stretch of the Cabot Trail that starts in the Cape Highlands National Park packs all of that in on a 103-kilometre parabolic thrill ride that knocks into you a sense of appreciation for all that really matters in your life.”
3. TOFINO, British Columbia
What’s Happening for 2016: It’s been a marvellous 20 years for the Wickaninnish Inn, one of Canada’s most acclaimed hotels. Family-owned and operated, the venerable Wick kick-started a tourism boom that has not abated in this fishing village on Vancouver Island. Located just outside the town of Tofino on the Pacific coast, the Wickaninnish Inn is a landmark set amid century-old fir trees and craggy rocks and boulders glazed daily by a fresh swell of ocean waves. Its 20th anniversary will be celebrated through the year and is also a time of reflection for a community that has risen from anonymity in the world of tourism to a destination adored by travellers from around the world. More importantly for road-trippers, much of the construction on the Pacific Rim Highway that caused long delays into and out of Tofino will be complete. Increased flights from Vancouver also offer another transportation option.
Why You Should Go: Tofino is more of a community than a tourist destination. That feature enriches it with a depth of authenticity missing from many coastal locales with luxury hotels, boat tour operators and fine restaurants. You will get to know the people here, as well as their culture and the history of this region that remains vitally important to First Nations communities as well as the artisans who have worked hard to maintain its character. While there is definitely a sophistication to Tofino in its vibrant restaurant scene and the quality of its spa experiences, it is not lavish. It celebrates the luxury of its surroundings as well as any location in North America.
Vacay.ca Editor Adrian Brijbassi Writes: “When I first visited Tofino in 2003, there were few restaurants besides the opulent Pointe at the Wickaninnish Inn. Now, the city is teeming with choice establishments, including Wolf in the Fog, the year-old hot spot run by former Wick Inn chef Nicholas Nutting. SoBo remains a standout and the original Tacofino food truck does heavy business daily. For a village with a population of only 2,000 people, Tofino eats exceptionally well.”
4. IVVAVIK NATIONAL PARK, Yukon
What’s Happening in 2016: Exploring the Canadian Arctic is one of our country’s iconic adventure travel experiences. But until recently it was prohibitively expensive for many travellers. Now, visitors to remote northern parks like Ivvavik can take advantage of Parks Canada’s Basecamp program to spend up to a week immersed in epic, austere natural grandeur without breaking the bank because Parks Canada now handles flight logistics, removing the costly need to charter a plane, as well as providing comfortable, catered campsites.
Why You Should Go: On Parks Canada’s Ivvavik adventure you’ll fly over the massive Mackenzie Delta in an iconic Twin Otter bush plane into the heart of the rugged ridges and peaks of the British Mountains that once formed part of a vast ice-free land mass called Beringia. You’ll then spend several days exploring this hiker’s paradise of pristine alpine wilderness intercut by fast-flowing rivers when not relaxing at your comfortable Arctic basecamp under the midnight sun.
Situated in Yukon’s northwest corner, adjacent to the Beaufort Sea and Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Ivvavik is the largest of North Yukon’s five wilderness parks. Meaning “a place for giving birth, a nursery” in the language of the Inuvialuit, this vast swath of jagged peaks and winding river valleys where the tundra meets the taiga (boreal forest) was the first national park in Canada to be created as a result of an aboriginal land claim agreement. It protects the habitat and calving grounds of the Arctic’s renowned Porcupine caribou herd. The Gwich’in and Inuvialuit people of North Yukon have occupied this land for centuries and depend on the herd for food and other traditional uses.
Vacay.ca Contributor Mark Sissons Writes: “Ten-thousand square kilometres of pristine northern Canadian wilderness that only sees around 100 human visitors a year. That’s what I call magnificent isolation. Ivvavik is one of the planet’s most breathtaking and remote trekking destinations, now made more affordable to experience thanks to fly-in access and a basecamp run by Parks Canada.”
5. TORONTO, Ontario
What’s Happening in 2016: Sports and more sports. Toronto is known for many things — restaurants, museums, festivals, fashion and movie stars — but with the success of the 2015 Pan Am Games, the city has truly established a reputation as a sport tourism destination and 2016 will be no different.
The big surprise is the Toronto Blue Jays, aka Canada’s Team, that jolted the baseball world and united the entire country with a jaw-dropping season that saw the Boys in Blue come within two victories of reaching the World Series. If the Blue Jays, who will be celebrating their 40th anniversary in 2016, can have similar success as they enjoyed last year then Toronto is in for a very exciting October.
It’s a good time to be a fan of Canada’s other team, the Toronto Raptors, who are currently holding on to first place in the Atlantic Division. Great news but there is another reason why it’s a good time to be a hoops fan in Canada — the NBA All-Star Weekend, will take place in Toronto from February 12-14. Expect fans to descend on Toronto to see the best players in the world show their stuff on Canadian hardwood.
Besides baseball and basketball, Rogers Centre will also be hosting the 104th Grey Cup on November 27. To top it all off, Toronto will host of the World Cup of Hockey (September 17 to October 1), featuring more than 150 of the NHL’s best players.
Why You Should Go: Toronto was the Vacay.ca top pick to visit in 2015, driven in no small part because of the successful Pan Am Games that electrified the city. Toronto continues to be one of the most important cities in the world for major sporting events. There are many wonderful reasons to visit the city, but sports, culture and shopping will be what drives tourism to the Ontario capital in 2016.
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor Rod Charles Writes: “This year you can expect great things in Toronto and there’s something for everyone. The best basketball players in the world are coming here, and the Grey Cup is back in Toronto. Throw in the Blue Jays and the World Cup of Hockey and in my mind, there’s no city I would rather be in than Toronto.”
6. IRISH LOOP, Newfoundland & Labrador
What’s Happening in 2016: Ferryland, which is one hour south of St. John’s, has two annual experiences that offer visitors excellent opportunities to indulge in Newfoundland’s unique food and music. The Shamrock Festival, which began in 1986, runs from July 23-24 this year and is dedicated to traditional music from Canada’s easternmost province. Meanwhile, in May, the chefs at Lighthouse Picnics begin another season of serving delicious fare prepared daily at the Ferryland Lighthouse. In St. John’s, newly opened Merchant Tavern is on all foodies’ must-try list. It is owned by the same team that operates Raymonds, the two-time winner of the Vacay.ca Top Restaurants in Canada Rankings.
Why You Should Go: The Irish Loop is 312 kilometres of beauty and charm. It starts in St. John’s and travels south along Routes 90 and 1 to distinct towns such as Ferryland, Aquaforte and Trepassey, site of the 1928 flight when Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. You will see whales, caribou, ptarmigans and likely lots of moose. The magic of Newfoundland will beguile you as you drive this route that hugs the seashore and enriches you with splendid scenery and even more splendid people.
Vacay.ca Contributor Nancy Wigston Writes: “They call Newfoundland ‘The Rock.’ But the welcome visitors receive on this craggy outpost in the Atlantic Ocean — closer geographically to County Clare, Ireland, than to Thunder Bay — brings to mind something much softer, warmer: a pillow, perhaps, or a hot cup of tea. The capital, St. John’s, has been reborn as one of Canada’s hippest cities.”
7. CALGARY, Alberta
What’s Happening in 2016: The National Music Centre’s new home at Studio Bell has been talked about for years, and since breaking ground on construction in 2013, the downtown space will finally open to the public in the summer. The centre, which will definitely be a reason to go to Calgary this year, is a hub for music and technology with more than 2,000 rare instruments, exhibits and sound equipment from Canadian music memorabilia. There’s also performance space for collaborations, community cultivation, engagements and exchanges. Fittingly, the Juno Awards will take place in Calgary around the same time as Studio Bell’s soft opening with some Junos-related activities planned. The 45th annual Junos will be held on April 3 at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Why You Should Go: The culinary scene in Calgary has gone through significant changes for the better and as Vacay.ca writer Sarah Deveau wrote earlier this year, one of the biggest new openings was Parc Brasserie, a 120-seat restaurant offering traditional French bistro fare. The city’s public art is always worth a visit. Vacay.ca editor Guillermo Serrano noted that the art is available to the public at any time with pieces like the Stephen Avenue Walk Trees and the Chinook Arc offering visitors a sense of place in a city where beauty and innovation have found a spot to exist together.
Vacay.ca Editor Guillermo Serrano Writes: “One thing I love about this entrepreneurial, gung-ho city is that it doesn’t hold back in its drive to be all things to all people. This southern Alberta gem is the economic powerhouse of the west, with a little something for everyone. It has a young, educated population. The city has much to offer year round, from world-class skiing just outside of the city to rafting down the Bow River. With a population of just over one million residents, Calgary thrives in the international spotlight after its charismatic mayor, Naheed Nenshi, became the first Muslim mayor of a major North American city and heralded a new era of Calgary as a place where everyone can thrive, not just oil barons and ranchers.”
8. GJOA HAVEN, Nunavut
What’s Happening in 2016: Two years ago, history was made in Nunavut with the discovery of HMS Erebus, one of two vessels that was lost during the Franklin Expedition. Since the discovery, attention has focused on the northern territory and Gjoa Haven, a village in proximity to the 19th-century wreck.
HMS Erebus is now protected through designation as a National Historic Site and is currently closed for visitation while archaeological research is conducted. Visitors to Gjoa Haven can experience the Nattilik Heritage Centre, where a small exhibit and interpretation of the Franklin Voyage is provided.
For those who are unfamiliar with the story, Sir John Franklin sailed from England in 1845 with two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. His goal was to find the elusive Northwest Passage, a route that runs through what is today Canada’s Arctic and if discovered would serve as a commercially viable western sea route between Europe and Asia.
The expedition was never seen again and an exhaustive search was launched, with no luck. The location of at least one of those ships remained a mystery until the discovery of Erebus at Gjoa following an expedition led by Parks Canada.
As time goes on, the Erebus discovery and the legacy of Franklin promise to grow tourism to this isolated part of the country.
Why You Should Go: With the discovery of Erebus and the worldwide attention that came with it, Arctic travel has never been more exciting or accessible. This location oozes maritime history but, unlike Halifax or Quebec City, Gjoa Haven touches on a part of history that goes back before Canada even existed. Gjoa Haven has played an important role in some key historic events. Besides being the final resting place of HMS Erebus, Gjoa Haven has welcomed the John Ross Expedition as well as Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who wintered here with his ship the Gjøa in 1906. Gjoa Haven is named after that vessel.
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor Rod Charles writes: “It will take researchers months to analyze and document everything from this historic find but one thing is certain — this discovery should get a lot of tourists looking north to the Arctic and drive tourism dollars to the Canadian territories. News of the finding should encourage more of us to get out of our urban shells and visit some of our national and provincial parks — even the freezing cold ones.”
9. MONTREAL, Quebec
What’s Happening in 2016: Quebec is known for supplying Las Vegas with plenty of talent for its entertainment seekers. In 2016, it gets one of its own back. Celine Dion takes up residence at Bell Centre for 10 shows running from July 31-August 17. It will be the concert event of the year in the city, if not the country. Montreal, of course, is loaded with a string of fantastic annual events. North America’s leading festival city promises another year of diverse celebrations in art, music, sports, cuisine, media and fashion.
Among the notable additions for travellers is the new Renaissance Montreal, a stylish hotel set to debut on January 18 in the city’s downtown at corner of Cathcart Street and Robert-Bourassa Boulevard. It claims to feature the only rooftop terrace in downtown.
Why You Should Go: Every year Montreal makes this annual ranking of the best places to visit in Canada for one succinct reason: It doesn’t disappoint. Montreal is one of the most risk-free choices you can make for a vacation. You book your trip knowing the city will not only be worth the time and the money, it will likely charm and surprise you. At its worst, Montreal satisfies; at its best, it exhilarates, intoxicates and inspires you to come back for more.
Vacay.ca Writer Karen Burshtein Writes: “Montreal has always played up its ‘Paris on this side of the Atlantic’ bit for tourists. But these days it is indeed feeling more Paris than thou: The unmistakable accent of the old country is heard everywhere, as underemployed French make use of a fairly open-door Francophone immigration policy in Quebec. Like all immigrants they come with a speciality commerce. In this case it’s neither nail salons nor corner bodegas but patisseries and boulangeries. They’ve inspired a larger trend for artisanal and indie French patisseries, which seem to be opening on every corner of Montreal, making it North American’s French pastry capital. There are pastry shops selling specialties from different regions in France.”
10. CANMORE AND BANFF, Alberta
What’s Happening in 2016: This year’s Canmore Winter Carnival, which has been celebrated for more than 20 years, is bigger than ever with two World Cup events adding to the 45 days of activities that include ice carving and snow sculpting. In the summer, the Banff Marathon, which takes place on June 19, may well be the most picturesque run in Canada and definitely should be on any runner’s bucket list.
Why You Should Go: The annual number of tourists increased by more than 10 per cent to the Banff area in 2015 and with a lower Canadian dollar and cheaper gas, more people are expected to journey to one of Canada’s true world-class destinations this year. This is one time you should join the crowd. Whether it’s a winter trip, a summer one, or anytime in between, visitors have a lot of options when they visit Canmore and Banff. Surrounded by Rocky Mountains and roaming wildlife used to sharing their incredible landscape with humans, the outdoor activities in this geographic jewel will keep the heart pumping. There is also a recently opened National Historic Site (Cave and Basin), a Via Ferrata experience, and a range of cultural events and activities that add even more pleasure to your time spent in the awe-inspiring beauty of the Rockies.
Vacay.ca Editor Guillermo Serrano Writes: “Romantics and outdoor sports’ lovers from all over the world can both find something appealing at one of the greatest winter wonderlands on the planet. Gorgeous and enduring Banff will welcome thousands of visitors who descend on the jewel of the Canadian Rockies to ski, snowboard and slosh around in this warm-hearted and merry town.”
11. HALIFAX, Nova Scotia
What’s Happening in 2016: Happy anniversary to several outstanding events and festivals in Halifax this year. Music lovers can look forward to the 30th anniversary of the TD Halifax Jazz Festival (July 13-17). Another event celebrating 30 years is the Halifax International Busker Festival, which will take place in July. The Atlantic Film Festival is celebrating 35 years in 2016, and the Atlantic Fringe Festival turns 25.
For fans of figure skating, the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships (January 18-24) promises to bring thrills and a few spills. Fun and games aside, something else you simply have to check out while you’re in Halifax is the expansion of its premier museum. The newly renovated Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 officially reopened in 2015 following a $30-million expansion. The entry point for close to one million immigrants to Canada between 1928 and 1971, renovations include a new permanent exhibit on the past four centuries of immigration to the country.
Why You Should Go: Halifax always seems to have something on the go. Throw a dart at a calendar and you are bound to hit a food or music festival. The provincial capital is also full of significant tourism attractions and activities, including the magnificent Citadel Hill National Historic Site and nightly ghost walks that are highlighted by the stories related to the Titanic tragedy. The city is also home to Edna, one of only two Nova Scotia establishments to rank among the Top Restaurants in Canada for 2015.
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor Rod Charles writes: “I love Halifax because it’s a beautiful, historic city that isn’t afraid to have a good time. The Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic has wonderful exhibits, including some detailing the events leading up to and causing the Halifax Explosion. Look up and you’ll see the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site of Canada sitting above the city like a crown. In my opinion, Halifax has one of the most beautiful boardwalks in the world, the perfect place to enjoy a tasty fish and chips lunch while listening to a busker and gazing at the ocean. I also have to say, after finally meeting him in his hometown, that Alexander Keith is a wonderful Canadian who has a way of bringing out the best in me.”
12. DEMPSTER HIGHWAY, Yukon and Northwest Territories
What’s Happening in 2016: The Dempster Highway is unlike any other thoroughfare in Canada with its wide-open spaces and its proximity to the variety of wildlife you can’t see anywhere else but Yukon. After three years of construction, the 140-kilometre all-season highway linking the town of Inuvik with the hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk opens in 2016. The road, which extends the Dempster Highway — which will now run 870 km — to the Arctic coast, will complete Canada’s road network from coast to coast to coast.
Why You Should Go: Plan to travel the Dempster between February and April when the road is frozen and akin to driving on pavement, only with snowdrifts. Winter is also the best time to see the northern lights. Inuvik provides access to the Mackenzie River ice highway to Aklavik or Tuktoyaktuk along the frozen Mackenzie River that turns into a public road and connects the communities with Inuvik from mid-December to mid-April, depending on the weather. Speed limit on the ice road is 70 km/hour and there won’t be many traffic jams or gas stations, so travellers must be well prepared. In the winter, carry a shovel, sleeping bag, stove, matches, emergency snacks, and, of course, dress for cold outdoor temperatures. It would be wise to rent a satellite phone as cell service is not available in some areas on the Dempster Highway.
Vacay.ca Contributor Lisa Jackson Writes: “On the Dempster Highway, Tombstone Park is ideal for serious trekkers. Here amongst the black granite peaks and rolling tundra landscapes, you can do a day hike or a multi-day trekking excursion. Plus, there are plenty of Yukon adventure companies that offer the full gamut of wilderness experiences in Tombstone, from hiking and backpacking to photo safaris to cultural tours.”
13. SAGUENAY, Quebec
What’s Happening in 2016: Festivals and events taking place in 2016 include the Snowball Festival (January 30-February 27) and the Jonquiere Provincial Peewee Hockey Tournament (January 11-17). Other popular attractions in Saguenay are the Zoo sauvage de Saint-Félicien and the Native Museum of Mashteuiatsh. Saint-Prime in Winter (February 4-6) is also a major draw.
Why You Should Go: Saguenay has done an exceptional job showcasing the asset it should be most proud of — its natural beauty. The region has whatever medication you need — snowshoeing, dog sledding, skiing, camping, fishing, biking, rafting, snowmobiling or horseback riding — and all against a pristine backdrop of flowing water and green, rolling hills.
La Véloroute des Bleuets is one of the most outstanding bike trails in the world, a wonderful way to see the beauty of the region up close and to meet a few friendly, easygoing people. Parc aventures Cap Jaseux provides unique treehouse and treetop experiences. Les croisières du Fjord gives tours that guide visitors through the majestic fjord with options for kayaking and canoeing.
Vacay.ca Writer Jennifer Merrick writes: “The Saguenay Lac-Saint-Jean region in Quebec is known for its glacially sculpted landscape of rocky cliffs, forests, and waterways, most notably Saint-Jean Lake and the Saguenay Fjord. This deep glacial river is the southernmost navigable fjord in North America and one of the largest in the world, stretching 100 kilometres (66 miles) from Saint-Fulgence to Tadoussac at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. The drive on Highway 175 North from Quebec City is about two-and-a-half hours, but it takes less than 15 minutes before the city disappears, replaced by thickly forested rolling hills. With light traffic and beautiful views, the time goes by quickly, and before long, we’re looking up at a wooden cabin perched high among the evergreen boughs. Before we even have the chance to point out the sturdy cables or the outhouse, our kids are clamouring up the two flights of stairs to take a look from the treehouse where they will be spending the night.”
14. OTTAWA, Ontario
What’s Happening in 2016: The One Young World international youth conference brings 1,500 fresh faces from 196 countries to the nation’s capital for a three-day summit. The goal of the three-day conference is to bring the next generation of world leaders together for an inspiring series of sessions and discussions. It’s not the Olympics by any stretch, but it is a boon for the tourism industry now (5,000 rooms have been booked and $2 million is expected to be made by tourism businesses) and potentially in the future (should Ottawa impress, the delegates could choose to make a return visit). The youth conference is a unique event in a city with plenty of annual festivals worth checking out, including: Winterlude, the Ottawa Bluesfest and the Canadian Tulip Festival.
Why You Should Go: Canada celebrates its 150th birthday in 2017 and interest in the country’s capital city will be at a high between now and the big celebration. For 2016, visiting Ottawa will feel like you’re dropping in on the party planning for the biggest celebration in its recent history. There will be lots of energy in a city with plenty of nightlife options and cultural activities.
Vacay.ca Contributor Lisa Gervais Writes: “Think Ottawa is a sleepy government town with little to offer other than politicians? Think again. Three friends and I embarked on a weekend road trip to take in the food, entertainment and history that the city and outlying area have to offer. Ottawa did not disappoint.”
15. OKANAGAN VALLEY, British Columbia
What’s Happening in 2016: There’s always much to do and drink in this beautiful and bustling part of BC and for those who missed out in its first year, 2016 is the year to attend the Hopscotch Festival (September 23-24). It is Canada’s premium whisky, beer and spirit festival with more than 5,000 people last year going to the Okanagan Valley to taste, sip and learn about hundreds of products ranging from vintage Scotch to craft beer.
Why You Should Go: The Okanagan Valley — which includes Kelowna, Penticton, Vernon and Osoyoos — is an all-season destination. It is one of the warmest regions in all of Canada and in the summer visitors have sandy beaches and hot sun to soak up. In winter, world-class ski resorts welcome winter sports’ lovers to take in some runs on the mountains and then dip into hot springs to soak in the atmosphere during a fine apres-ski environment.
Vacay.ca’s Jody Robbins Writes: “Even though we Canadians frequently moan about enduring some of the most frigid temperatures on the planet, the cryotherapy lab at Sparkling Hill Resort, just outside of Vernon in the Okanagan Valley, takes the concept of being cool to another new level. Set at minus-110 Celsius degrees (-166 Fahrenheit), North America’s only Ice lab offers sought-after treatment for those suffering from arthritis, depression, or muscle and joint pain. The cold reduces inflammation that causes those conditions. During the three-minute procedure, blood moves to the core of the body to protect vital organs, and brings other fluids like waste products’ lactic acid with it.”
16. QUEBEC CITY, Quebec
What’s Happening in 2016: The truth is there isn’t a specific event or anniversary being celebrated in Quebec City in 2016 but it makes our list because what the provincial capital does have going on year after year is always so darn unique, entertaining and refreshing. There’s a reason why Quebec City lands on our 20 Best Places to Visit in Canada list year after year. The city overflows with a quiet, elegant confidence; it knows what it is and what it has to offer the world. There’s no other city quite like it.
Why You Should Go: Begin your journey at the site of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham — the historic event that took place on September 13, 1759 — and walk in the footsteps of generals Wolfe and Montcalm. Quebec City is a fun, boisterous city where you can easily lose yourself on patios or along cobblestone streets. Savour the restaurants and check out the hotels and nightclubs along Grande Allee and discover why rue du Petit-Champlain ranks first on Vacay.ca’s list of Canada’s Best Streets.
The Québec Winter Carnival (January 29-February 14) is without question one of the best cold-weather celebrations in the world. Quebec City Summer Festival, better known as Le Festival d’été de Québec, is easily one of the best music festivals in the country. This year the festival welcomes the Rolling Stones, Foo Fighters, Keith Urban and Megadeth.
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor Rod Charles writes: “In a city best known for its raucous Winter Carnival, it’s the summer festival that is often the talk of the music industry. With the amount of talent it attracts each summer, it’s no wonder entertainers and fans make it a point to be here each July, serenading the Plains of Abraham during Festival d’été.”
17. CHANGE ISLANDS AND FOGO ISLAND, Newfoundland & Labrador
What’s Happening in 2016: The Great Punt Race to There and Back is taking place again — just as it has for the past 300-plus years. Each summer, rowers take to the North Atlantic seas for an approximately 10-mile race that departs from the wharf in the town of Joe Batt’s Arm on Fogo Island, travels to the Change Islands and returns to the starting spot. It is more than a regatta. The race is a cultural treasure that endures even as change comes to these communities at the edge of Newfoundland. This year’s race takes place on July 16. There are other festivals to enjoy, too, as well as expanding tourism initiatives spearheaded by the acclaimed Fogo Island Inn.
Why You Should Go: Newfoundland is full of quaint and charming communities, but with Change Islands and Fogo Island visitors can enjoy old and new, rustic and sophisticated, bargains and world-class luxury. It is a fascinating mix and that makes it a marvel.
Vacay.ca Visuals Editor Julia Pelish Writes: “All of the positive word of mouth about the Fogo Island Inn has enticed tourists to venture out to Joe Batt’s Arm, one of those curiously named Newfoundland communities that dot the Atlantic coastline, populating territory with only a few souls, all of whom seem to have a warm smile or quick laugh no matter the economic climate in their part of the world.”
18. SASKATOON, Saskatchewan
What’s Happening in 2016: It’s a big year in Saskatoon with the lead up to the opening of the Remai Modern, which is slated for 2017 but is already inspiring a range of artistic endeavours. Art installations and creative projects will be part of the programming meant to herald the debut of the gallery, which is destined to be one of the most visited museums in the prairies and a game-changer in the landscape of modern art in Canada. Also in 2016, the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival, the second-largest event of its kind in Western Canada, will celebrate its 30th anniversary.
Why You Should Go: Art, food, music and scenery. Saskatoon is an energetic city with a youthful vibe. Its culinary highlights for 2016 include the debut of Little Grouse on the Prairie, a new restaurant from the team at Ayden Kitchen and Bar, and the Glen at Crossmount, an agrotourism destination that will produce ciders and even icewine. Meanwhile, construction and excitement continues on the Remai Modern. It will include 405 Picasso linocuts valued at $20 million, among other pieces.
Vacay.ca’s Jenn Smith Nelson Writes: “A mob of elegantly dressed ladies and gents hurriedly gathered at the doorway of Saskatoon’s Western Development Museum, eager to make their way into the highly anticipated inaugural annual event, Prairie Feast. Decked out in matching Gatsby-inspired formal period tuxedos complete with patent leather Dickies shoes, chef Dale MacKay of Ayden Kitchen and Bar, and his son (and restaurant namesake), Ayden, greeted guests as they entered the sold-out event. Nearly all 200 guests who attended the prohibition-themed evening donned feathers and furs, bowties and vests. Oozing class, decadence and definite pizzazz, the stunning crowd brought the Roaring Twenties back to life in the 21st century.”
19. ST. ANDREWS BY-THE-SEA, New Brunswick
What’s Happening in 2016: Like the Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino, this location’s Relais & Chateaux property, the Kingsbrae Arms, is celebrating its 20th anniversary and doing it with a series of celebrations focused on its food and wine program. A pioneering property in the locavore movement in Canada, the Kingsbrae Arms offers immersive tours that connect travellers to the fishing and farming life in this lovely seaside region.
Why You Should Go: For a town of only 1,800 people, you sure can sleep and eat exceptionally well in St. Andrews By-the-Sea. Besides the Kingsbrae Arms, visitors have these other outstanding properties to choose from: the Algonquin Resort, which re-opened in 2014 after a tremendous renovation that cost more than $30 million; and the Rossmount Inn, a place for connoisseurs as it was New Brunswick’s only entry on the 2015 Top Restaurants in Canada Rankings. While in the area, you’ll also want to trek 200 kilometres northeast to Fundy National Park to experience one of the jewels of the Maritimes.
Vacay.ca Writer Katie Marti Writes: “As you wander the 27-acre gardens, you will come upon designs from the annual Kingsbrae Canadian Sculpture Competition, an old-growth Acadian forest and countless flora, including the country’s only Wollemi Pine Tree — one of the oldest and rarest species of tree in the world. It’s no wonder Kingsbrae was named one of the 2013 Garden of the Year at the Canadian Garden Tourism Awards.”
20. MUSKOKA, Ontario
What’s Happening in 2016: The Kee to Bala marks its 75th anniversary, with the venue open from Victoria Day weekend (May 20-23) until late October. This concert hall lives on the water and is a rite of passage for anyone visiting Muskoka. Famous artists have stopped by over the years, including Louis Armstrong and Duke Wellington in the 1940s. Blue Rodeo, Sam Roberts and even Snoop Dogg have performed at Kee to Bala as well. We are still waiting to hear who the lineup will be this year but for the diamond anniversary, it’s bound to be exceptional.
The small towns in Muskoka, including Bracebridge, Gravenhurst and Huntsville have festivals and events all year. Dozens of farmers markets take place including one in Bracebridge every Saturday and Gravenhurst on Wednesdays. Love cars? The Antique, Custom & Classic Car Show in Huntsville and the Gravenhurst Classic Car Show are favourites. Outdoor arts festivals like the annual Summer Muskoka Arts & Crafts Show and the Bala Cranberry Festival are two more events that have been a staple in Muskoka for the last 50 years and reinforce the laid-back and friendly Muskoka way of life.
Why You Should Go: Concerts, festivals, sweet cars and tasty food aside what matters are the most important reasons people visit this cherished Ontario region — pristine lakes, Muskoka chairs, lakeside campfires, beautiful resorts and untouched nature. Families and couples can enjoy a hike in the woods, a boat cruise on North America’s oldest operating steamship (the RMS Segwun), or a sunset paddle in a canoe. Muskoka is also a winter wonderland, with snowmobiling, horseshoeing and what has to be one of the coolest activities in the province, the ice skating trail at Arrowhead Provincial Park. With 1.3 kilometres of smoothed ice winding through the forest, the ice skating trail is a winter experience you simply must try at least once in your lifetime.
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor Rod Charles Writes: “Muskoka has everything you need for the perfect holiday, no matter what your interests may be. Looking for a five-star resort experience, or to just pitch a tent by the lake? Is your idea of a perfect trip riding on a steamship or canoe? Is it your desire to go nuts in a concert hall or listen to your favourite song on your headphones while sitting by a campfire? For me, it’s just sitting under the stars.”
About the 20 Best Places to Visit in Canada for 2016
Criteria: The rankings are based on importance in three primary categories for the coming year: landmark celebrations and significant milestones; new or renovated tourism infrastructure and attractions; and unheralded destinations that deserve more recognition than they’ve received. All destinations must offer authentic travel experiences that give visitors a glimpse of distinct local culture and enriching moments of discovery.
Voters: The freelance and staff members of the Vacay.ca editorial team select the locations based on the criteria set by our online magazine’s editors.