20 Best Places to Visit in Canada for 2017: Ottawa and Montreal Share Top Spot

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Posted January 2, 2017 by Adrian Brijbassi in Ontario
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Parliament Hill will be a beacon for hundreds of thousands of revellers aiming to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Canada’s confederation. (Julia Pelish file photo/Vacay.ca)

Report by Adrian Brijbassi, Petti Fong, Rod Charles, Mark Sissons and Guillermo Serrano
Vacay.ca Editors and Writers

Top 20 Places in Canada for 2017

1. Ottawa & Montreal
2. Banff & Lake Louise, AB
3. The Viking Trail, NL
4. West Coast Trail & Tofino, BC
5. Quebec City, QC
6. Vancouver & Sea-to-Sky Country, BC
7. Quttinirpaaq National Park, NU
8. Toronto, ON
9. Fortress Louisbourg & Mi’kmaq Nation, NS
10. St. John’s, NL
11. Niagara Region, ON
12. Haida Gwaii, BC
13. Mauricie & Lanaudiere, QC
14. Jasper, AB
15. Victoria, BC
16. Whitehorse, YT
17. Kingston & Thousand Islands, ON
18. Annapolis Royal & The Evangeline Trail, NS
19. Sackville, NB
20. Saskatoon & Area, SK

Who’s No. 1, Ottawa or Montreal?

It was a debate Vacay.ca’s contributors had been deliberating for more than a year. As we considered what the leading Canadian destination would be for travellers in 2017, the nation’s capital — which will be the epicentre of the country’s 150th birthday festivities — and Quebec’s metropolis — which will celebrate its 375th anniversary — were the only candidates for top spot. But naming one over the other was an agonizing choice.

Knowing how momentous 2017 will be in Canada, Ottawa seemed like a sure winner but Montreal’s party plans are so epic, and the city’s attractions always so enticing, that deciding between the two grew more difficult. Then the question was asked, “Why can’t there be two No. 1s?”

Following more discussions, we determined travellers can — and should — experience both destinations in 2017. The distance from Ottawa’s ByWard Market to Montreal’s Quartier des spectacles, its entertainment district, is 200 kilometres (130 miles), or a two-hour drive. If ever there was a time to road trip between the two cities, this year is it.

So, Ottawa and Montreal share top spot on the 20 Best Places to Visit in Canada for 2017, an annual ranking that has proven to be an accurate forecaster and influencer of Canadian travel for the past five years.

While many of the other destinations on the list will also mark big moments, the other significant news for travellers is free entry to Canada’s national parks.

In 2017, Parks Canada is offering complimentary entry and lockage to all its visitors, in honour of the nation’s 150th birthday. Free Discovery Passes are now available online.

Numerous destinations on the 20 Best Places for 2017 rankings feature Parks Canada properties in or near to them, as well as opportunities to get close to the nation’s aboriginal cultures. Ontario and British Columbia led all provinces with four destinations each on the ranking. Banff and Lake Louise combined as the leading destination in Western Canada while the top spot in Eastern Canada belonged to the Viking Trail in Newfoundland & Labrador.    

1. OTTAWA & MONTREAL

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Canada Day 2017 in Ottawa will be the most magnificent celebration of confederation ever seen in the nation. (Julia Pelish file photo/Vacay.ca)

What’s Happening for 2017: Canada’s sesquicentennial has sparked massive party plans in Ottawa. The city will host the Juno Awards and the 105th Grey Cup game. While Ottawa honours the nation’s history since its independence from Britain on July 1, 1867, Montreal shines a spotlight on its own past, which is also linked to the foundation of the country. Montreal was formed on May 17, 1642, and will mark its 375th birthday with numerous cultural celebrations. Indoor and outdoor events around the city include: an ice canoe challenge, a massive outdoor playground in Quartier des spectacles featuring a massive high-tech obstacle course, historical tours and music celebrations. 

Discover More: “Ottawa Is the Life of Canada’s 150th Party”

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Turning Quartier des spectacles and other urban areas into playgrounds is a staple of festivals in Montreal. (Julia Pelish file photo/Vacay.ca)

Why You Should Go: Canada Day festivities will be grander and more exuberant than usual in Ottawa, and Montreal’s plethora of festivals will honour the city’s landmark birthday. As well, there are several exhibitions and performances focused on Montreal’s 375th. Among the big draws are: Montreal en Lumiere, a cultural and culinary celebration from February 23 to March 11; The Montreal Grand Prix runs from June 9-11; Montreal Jazz Fest will host its 38th edition beginning June 28; the comedy fest, Just For Laughs, starts on July 14; and Osheaga, the star-studded music fest scheduled for August 4-6.

Of Ottawa, Vacay.ca Writer Mark Sissons Writes: “Tasked with creating 12 months of big, bold, immersive and moving experiences designed to complement national celebrations and annual events and festivals, LaFlamme and his team have come up with some dazzling attractions centred on the themes of innovation and technology. Or, as Guy LaFlamme, the executive director of Ottawa 2017, evocatively expresses it, ‘of dreaming by being awake.’”

Of Montreal, Vacay.ca Editor Petti Fong Writes: “Montrealers don’t stay indoors for winter and they’re ready to convince the rest of the world the city is a giant outdoor playground, regardless of how low the temperature drops. From January until March 11, Montreal will host an avalanche of fun, festive, spectacular and sports activities during the Hivernales, one of the highlight events of Montréal’s 375th and Canada’s 150th. From Parc Jean-Drapeau to downtown, and from the Old Port to Old Montréal, people of all ages are invited to come play outside and take advantage of Montreal’s snowy wonders and festive northern character.”

2. BANFF & LAKE LOUISE, Alberta

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Lake Louise is call for travellers any year, but 2017 is especially unique thanks to Canada’s sesquicentennial. (Julia Pelish file photo/Vacay.ca)

What’s Happening in 2017: The festivities begin at Lake Louise with the International Ice Carving Competition during the third weekend in January as part of Banff National Park SnowDays. Ice carvers work to sculpt towering one-of-a-kind works of art from 300-pound blocks of solid ice over a gruelling 34 hours. The celebratory aspect of Canada as a nation with hardy, rugged people continues into the fall with the epic Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival. This year, the event runs from October 28 to November 5 and features nine days of mountain stories about expeditions undertaken by writers, photographers and filmmakers from around the world.

Why You Should Go: Vacay.ca writers who visited Banff in 2016 report that all the year-round activities, from camping in the summer to skiing in winter, has also helped to turn this resort village into one of the country’s best places to eat. There are a dozen restaurants alone at the famed Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. If you haven’t made the trek out west to the Rockies before, this is the year to do it. What better way to mark the 150th anniversary of confederation than at these two iconic spots? For so many travellers, whether they be Canadians or visitors from around the world, this revered area in the Rocky Mountains is where the west begins.

Vacay.ca Writer Guillermo Serrano Writes: “While many Canadians begin to think about the sun getaway of their choice when winter arrives, many romantics and outdoor sports’ lovers from all over the world opt for 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.”

Discover More: Winter Weekend Thrills in Banff 

3. THE VIKING TRAIL, Newfoundland and Labrador

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A reconstructed wooden boat sits at L’anse aux Meadows, site of a historic Norse settlement in Newfoundland.

What’s Happening in 2017: On the 150th anniversary of Canada, it’s time to head even further back in history to the first known evidence of European settlement in the Americas. There is solitude here of the kind that evokes the feeling of being an early settler, making the sesquicentennial celebrations particularly poignant. L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site is where a Norse expedition from Greenland set up a small encampment more than 1,000 years ago. The timber-and-sod buildings are part of the archaeological remains of the Viking encampment that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. In 2016, a potential Viking find was uncovered in Point Rosee, 600 kilometres (373 miles) south of L’Anse aux Meadows, which means the Viking Trail may need to be re-routed. Until that happens officially, voyagers can do as the Norse adventures did, and explore this beautiful part of Canada’s east coast at their whim and seeing what treasures turn up.

Why You Should Go: L’Anse aux Meadows is just one part of the Viking Trail, which has been called one of Canada’s most scenic drives and one of the best-kept secrets in the world. The 489-kilometre (304 miles) road trip, which can also be done on bicycle, begins in Deer Lake in Western Newfoundland and travels northeast to the historic site. Along with passing stunning scenery, you’ll also have the opportunity to witness archaeological work being done along Newfoundland’s west coast in search of uncovering other Norse sites, such as the intriguing discovery in Point Rosee. 

Vacay.ca Editor Petti Fong Says: “It’s easy to travel down the Viking Trail and believe you’re really back in time to a period at the beginnings of the country before the idea of Canada was even conceived. The Viking Trail is one of those rare places on the planet that transcends calendar dates as you travel through wooded valleys, over mountains and along a windswept seacoast.” 

Discover More: Western Newfoundland’s Winter Wonders

4. WEST COAST TRAIL, PACIFIC RIM NATIONAL PARK & TOFINO, British Columbia

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Surfers stroll Long Beach in Pacific Rim National Park as they head for the ocean and the waves that await them. (Adrian Brijbassi file photo/Vacay.ca)

What’s Happening for 2017: Major renovation projects inside Pacific Rim National Park will improve trails through this wondrous rainforest. Perhaps more importantly to the region’s ecology, a $1.7-million renovation that completed in September 2016 will allow for salmon to flow freely through a creek that cuts through the parkland. A $17.7-million trail for hikers and cyclists is a 28-kilometre (17 miles) addition to the park and will connect Tofino and Ucluelet. Although the trail isn’t scheduled for completion until 2018, some improvements will already be made during 2017. A 3 per cent hotel tax will be introduced in Tofino in 2017 and while that’s initially not good news for travellers, it will lead to a new cultural facility and improved services in the region in future years.

Why You Should Go: Canada’s Pacific coast has become a do-it-all destination for outdoor lovers. The 75-kilometre (47 miles) West Coast Trail is a gruelling test for any hiker. Built in 1906, the trail takes about six days to complete. It leads daring hikers through forests thick with centuries-old trees, scenic routes teeming with waterfalls, and through communities with fun and intriguing characters. If shorter hikes are more to your liking, Pacific Rim National Park offers several walks that take between 20 and 90 minutes to complete. The park is also home to Long Beach, the famed destination where surfers congregate to catch some of North America’s biggest waves. Whether you’re an extreme hiker or a beach bum, you need to eat, and Tofino has outstanding options, including The Pointe Restaurant at the Wickaninnish Inn, Wolf in the Fog, and SoBo.

Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi Writes:You will clearly see and photograph wildlife when on a scenic boat trip with Remote Passages, one of Tofino’s premier tour operators, and also be educated on the history of the region, including its deep aboriginal heritage. For many visitors that knowledge gained is the most alluring aspect of a visit to Tofino. Not only do you learn about the people who make sure it is kept as an enviable destination, you realize yourself why life here on more occasions than not seems like a ride atop one of those perfect waves surfers chase. When you’re in the midst of Tofino at its finest, life can hardly seem better.”

Discover More: The Wickaninnish Inn and Other Joys of Tofino

5. QUEBEC CITY, Quebec

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A thrilling dog-sled race through the streets of the old city is part of the annual Quebec Winter Carnival festivities. (Julia Pelish file photo/Vacay.ca)

What’s Happening in 2017: Le Festival d’été de Québec (the Quebec City Summer Festival) is celebrating 50 years of shakin’ and bakin’ in La belle province. Over the years Le Festival d’été de Québec (July 6-16) has drawn some of the biggest names in music, including the Rolling Stones, Bryan Adams and Elton John. Quebec City will also welcome Rendez-vous 2017 (July 18-23), an event featuring more than 40 tall ships that will make stops in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes to honour Canada’s 150th birthday. Also, the New France Festival (August 9-13) will enter its third decade of celebrating Quebec history and culture. In Quebec City, winter is just as much fun as summer. The highlights are the annual Quebec Winter Carnival (January 27 to February 12) and the magnificent Hotel de Glace, with its outdoor spas, slides, and ice glasses filled with cocktails.

Why You Should Go: There’s the city itself with historic hotelsstreets and restaurants. Quebec City’s natural beauty, unique architecture and penchant for good times never fails to exceed expectations. Patios and nightclubs line Grande Allée, the downtown’s main thoroughfare, while an unforgettable view of the St. Lawrence River is there for the taking on the boardwalk in front of Château Frontenac, and of course there are those old fortified walls and an ambience that oozes romance.

Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, Musée de la civilisation and Le Monastère des Augustines, as well as the Plains of Abraham Museum, are other attractions where one can immerse themselves in Quebec culture and history. In fact, Quebec City was named the 2016 Culture City of the Year by the Leading Culture Destinations Awards, which bills itself as the Oscars for the museum world.

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 Le Festival d’été.”

Discover More: Why Château Frontenac May Be World’s Most Photographed Hotel

6. VANCOUVER & SEA-TO-SKY COUNTRY, British Columbia

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In Squamish, the Sea-to-Sky Gondola features pristine views of Howe Sound and the surrounding area. (Adrian Brijbassi file photo/Vacay.ca)

What’s Happening in 2017: The Vancouver International Wine Festival (February 11-19) will feature 76 wineries from Canada, the largest ever gathering of the nation’s wine producers. The TED Conference (April 24-28) returns once more to Vancouver, with programming focused on “The Future You.” Squamish is expanding its tourism and hospitality offerings with new bars and restaurants planned to open. In Whistler, the ski resort enters its 51st year of operations while its cultural activities continue to grow. On June 21, its Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC), one of the top Native Culture museums in the world, will host National Aboriginal Day, an event to celebrate the artistry and culture of the community with demonstrations in traditional wool weaving and cedar carving, and kids crafts and activities.

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Why Should Go: The drive along the Sea-to-Sky Highway (aka Highway 99) from Vancouver to Pemberton, north of Whistler, is one of the most exhilarating in Canada. With destinations such as Squamish emerging as more than just a place for a pit stop, the corridor has become one of the best places for culture and adventure. Vancouver offers the urban experience with quality hotels, lively bars, fantastic restaurants and a range of shopping. Squamish provides the chance to explore the outdoors in myriad ways, including white-water rafting, vigorous hikes and wildlife viewing. Meanwhile, Whistler is North America’s largest ski resort and Pemberton is an important farming community in British Columbia. Visitors will also have many opportunities to learn and understand how much the indigenous people have lived in this region for thousands of years. Their traditions have long sustained a way of life that continues to present day.

Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi Writes: At the Sea to Sky Gondola, the summit lodge allows you to luxuriate in the scene thanks to a lovely 6,000-square-foot deck complete with patio chairs, fire-top tables and comfortable seating. The lodge is so popular with local residents that it has become the place to be on Friday and Saturday nights, with musicians gathering to ignite the scene with art and culture.”

Discover More: Sea-to-Sky Gondola Takes You to Heaven

7. QUTTINIRPAAQ NATIONAL PARK, Nunavut

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It’s not all ice way up there. Plenty of summer hiking opportunities await in Quttinirpaaq National Park, about as far north as you can get in Canada. (Photo courtesy of Nunavut Tourism)

What’s Happening in 2017: Exploring Canada’s high Arctic remains one of the country’s iconic adventure travel experiences. And you can’t venture much farther north than Quttinirpaaq — an Inuktitut word for “Land at the Top of the World” — on Ellesmere Island, 800 kilometres (500 miles) north of Resolute, a small hamlet in Nunavut, and accessible by Twin Otter charter aircraft. The park extends to the Polar Ice Cap — the last edge of North America before the North Pole’s sea ice begins. What better year to tick this once-in-a-lifetime adventure off your bucket list than 2017, when Parks Canada is granting free access to national parks and historical sites from coast to coast. 

If you are experienced enough to partake in an unsupported, independent backcountry adventure, Parks Canada will fly you into Quttinirpaaq National Park on a special charter during the summer. If going it alone in one of the world’s most isolated and extreme environments isn’t your idea of holiday bliss, Parks Canada can direct you to its partner, Black Feather: The Wilderness Adventure Company, which provides two guided experiences in Quttinirpaaq National Park each year.

Why You Should Go: Even though venturing to Nunavut’s largest and most remote national park doesn’t come cheap (tour costs often start at about $8,000), it easily qualifies as one of Canada’s most unique and breathtaking adventure travel experiences. Quttinirpaaq has spectacular landscapes on an epic scale at the top of the world where Arctic wildlife roam under the midnight sun amid traces of ancient peoples and explorers.

Vacay.ca Writer Mark Sissons Says: “In this Arctic wilderness and ancient Inuit homeland you’ll get to explore a vast, starkly beautiful polar desert where ice caps completely envelope mountains, kilometres-thick glaciers slouch toward frozen seas, and resident wildlife, including muskoxen and wolves, are so unaccustomed to humans they do not react to you in fear. The highest mountain in eastern North America (Barbeau Peak) is also here, as is a thermal oasis near Lake Hazen, one of the largest and deepest lakes in the world above the Arctic Circle.”

Discover More About Nunavut: How the Franklin Expedition Will Drive Tourism

8. TORONTO, Ontario

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“Okay, Blue Jays, let’s play ball!” has been a chant heard across Canada in recent years as the Major League Baseball team has emerged as a perennial championship contender. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

What’s Happening in 2017: Toronto has always been guilty of calendar overload when it comes to things to do and 2017 is no different. One big piece of news is the opening of the Museum of Contemporary Art in May. Also, TIFF Bell Lightbox, home to the annual Toronto International Film Festival, is presenting a free year-long program that showcases the best in Canadian cinema. TIFF itself runs from September 7-17 this year. For drink lovers, Toronto’s Festival of Beer (July 28-30) will showcase Canada’s rich history of beer and food from every province. Patriots will want to head to Soulpepper Theatre in the popular Distillery District for four plays about Canada’s birthday.

Why You Should Go: Along with its myriad cultural and entertainment attractions, Toronto is also the place in Canada to best enjoy ethnic food. Little Portugal and Little Italy in the west end, Little India in the east, and several good Chinese restaurants along Queen Street and Spadina Avenue are among the favourite destinations. But there’s also excellent Korean and Japanese cuisine, as well as Moroccan, Ethiopian, Nepalese, and more than few good Irish pubs. Toronto consistently leads our list on the Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada, with Buca (2014, 2015) and Bar Isabel (2014, 2015) often leading the way.

Toronto shines in the sporting world these days, too. The Toronto Blue Jays (aka Canada’s Team), FC Toronto of MLS and the NBA’s Toronto Raptors all made waves last year, and there are great expectations for all three teams to continue their winning ways. In other sporting news, there is the birth of Toronto’s newest sports team, Wolfpack of League 1 (rugby). And the Invictus Gamesestablished by Prince Harry in 2014 for ill, wounded and injured active-duty and veteran service members, will be held in September.

Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi Writes: “On my recent stay back in the place I called home for many years, Toronto struck me for an energy and attitude I don’t ever recall on the streets of the city. There is a level of confidence, which possibly originates in the recent success of its sports teams. The NBA’s Raptors have built one of the most impressive marketing campaigns in sports with their ‘We the North’ slogan that’s been adopted as a rallying cry in the city.”

Discover More: Toronto Ready to Take On the World

9. FORTRESS LOUISBOURG & MI’KMAQ CULTURE, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia 

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Built to recreate life as it was in 1744 in Cape Breton, Fortress Louisbourg is a wonder among Canada’s historic sites. (Julia Pelish file photo/Vacay.ca)

What’s Happening in 2017: Cape Breton Island, famed for its glorious Cabot Trail, is rich with authenticity, history and culture — from both North America’s early European settlers and the First Nations’ peoples they encountered after crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Visitors can now experience the dynamic of life as it was in the 18th century at Fortress Louisbourg and learn about the culture of the Mi’kmaq people at sites such as Membertou, their residential village that is a success of aboriginal entrepreneurship, and Goat Island, where guests can participate in ceremonies and traditional activities. Membertou and Fortress Louisbourg are 40 kilometres (25 miles) apart, making it possible to easily visit both. As with other National Historic Sites, Fortress Louisbourg, a replica of the original settlement that began  has celebrations planned for Canada’s 150th birthday. You can bet the cannon will be roaring on July 1 and who knows — maybe you will even get to fire it as well. Yes, visitors get to do cool things like that at Fortress Louisbourg.  

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Visitors to Mi’kmaq villages can participate in authentic smudge and dance ceremonies. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

Why You Should Go: Touring Mi’kmaq culture teaches you how its culture has persevered through millennia and impacted other aboriginal cultures around the world. It also gives you insight into the passion with which the Mi’kmaq hold on to the authenticity of their practices. They even refer to Cape Breton by the name their ancestors gave to the Nova Scotia island, Unama’ki. Meanwhile, Fortress Louisbourg offers an opportunity to go back into history to a time before Canada existed. The largest reconstructed historic village in North America, Fortress Louisbourg is where visitors can enjoy life as it was lived between 1713 and 1745 with period restaurants, rum tastings and musket shopping. 

Vacay.ca Senior Writer Ilona Kauremszky Writes:Secluded off what was formerly known as Île-Royale, the grounds of Fortress Louisbourg make you imagine the enormity and significance of the former French colonial capital. For 18th-century France, the site was essential for a thriving fishing industry and a key military outpost. Visitors to the recreated fortress have the opportunity to learn in detail about life in 1744, beginning with the decree a costumed soldier announces to a bunch of vacationers at the gates.”

Discover More: Go Behind the Walls of Fortress Louisbourg

10. ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland & Labrador

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Quidi Vidi is a historic village that occasionally sees an iceberg passing through its waters. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

What’s Happening in 2017: “It all starts here.” That was the motto for new year’s eve celebrations in St. John’s, noting that Canada’s easternmost province is the first to begin 2017 and, therefore, is also the launching spot for Canada’s 150th birthday festivities. Always a festive capital, St. John’s has an arsenal of festivals, beginning with the two-year-old ChillFest (February 17-19), featuring a kitchen party, disco ice-skating party, lantern parade and range of family-friendly activities. Canada Day festivities include concerts and fireworks in the village of Quidi Vidi. Other annual events not to miss include the George Street Festival (July 27 to August 2), Royal St. John’s Regatta (August 2), St. John’s Women’s Film Festival (October) and Mummers Fest (December). Signal Hill National Historic Site is poised to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2018 while Mistaken Point Ecological Point — two hours by car south of the city — just earned that designation in 2016, because of its collection of fossils that date back millions of years.

Why You Should Go: St. John’s is a destination that will please any traveller. History lovers will adore the draw of Signal Hill and Quidi Vidi. Architecture fans will get a kick out of the row of jelly-bean coloured houses. Music and nightlife lovers will revel in the bar scene on George Street and the plethora of performances. Nature lovers will indulge in the scenery in and around the city. Culinary travellers will indulge in destination restaurants such as Raymonds — twice named the best restaurant in Canada Vacay.ca’s academy of connoisseurs — and Mallard Cottage. And for those who just want to get to know locals, Newfoundlanders are about the friendliest people on earth.

Vacay.ca Contributor Michelle Hopkins Writes: “Quidi Vidi is St. John’s neighbourhood which is a scene out of a painting with its colourful homes and boat stages on stilts. It is home to Quidi Vidi Brewing Company and its internationally renowned Iceberg beer, contained in a long-neck blue bottle that has become a collectible item. On our brewery visit, we stumbled across a true kitchen party where everyone is invited to join in on the fun and sing along with the band.”

Discover More: Avalon Peninsula Steals Your Heart

11. NIAGARA REGION, Ontario  

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A popular tourist boat cruises between the Falls that separate Canada and the United States. (Julia Pelish file photo/Vacay.ca)

What’s Happening in 2017: For Canada’s sesquicentennial, Niagara Parks has planted 25,000 red and white tulips within Queen Victoria Park, one of Canada’s most significant gateways for visitors from the United States and the rest of the world. The Niagara 150 Celebration Garden Promenade will be a symbolic link to the 150 Celebration Gardens across the country. Rooted, an annual celebration of the natural, cultural, and culinary profile of the Niagara Region, takes place in early September this year. A new exhibit at the Butterfly Conservatory, opening later this summer, will celebrate Ontario’s native species. And from June 12 until Labour Day, Niagara Parks will host Canada’s longest-running fireworks series.

The Onguiaahra Sounds and Light Show (September 1-10) makes Queen Victoria Park the site of a multimedia water theatre and a choreographed laser light show projected on a 100-by-35-foot screen of water and mist.

Why You Should Go: If there are four things Niagara Region does well it’s waterfalls, icewine, theatre and history. It goes without saying that Niagara Falls is and always will be a major tourism draw. The Icewine Festival, which takes place in January, has grown to become one of the most important events in Ontario. The Shaw Theatre productions in Niagara-on-the-Lake seem to get better every year, with award-winning plays featuring star-studded casts. The region has also played a major role in Canadian history, including being the site of several battles during the War of 1812 and the development of the St. Lawrence Canal. Niagara was also the first taste of freedom for many African-American freedom seekers who were fleeing slavery in the United States.

Vacay.ca Senior Writer Ilona Kauremszky Writes: “For centuries the thundering Falls have captivated all who have seen them. Then there are the daredevils who performed fearless acrobatics, some like Blondin known for his tightrope walking skills, and the others who plunged over the Falls by barrel, some more successfully than others. A few years ago world-renowned high-wire artist Nik Wallenda shattered records as he walked on a hair-thin rope suspended over the Canadian Horseshoe Falls and lived to tell.” 

Discover More: Hornblower Makes a Splash in Niagara

12. HAIDA GWAII, British Columbia

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The Haida Gwaii black bear is the only species of bear found on the archipelago today. The species has thrived on a rich diet of salmon and hard-shelled intertidal creatures for so long it has developed larger jaws and teeth than its mainland counterparts. (Stef Olcen photo)

What’s Happening in 2017: Haida Gwaii, formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands, has been a dream destination for travellers around the world. Known as the Galapagos of the North, it has never been easier to reach and the value offered by Parks Canada for 2017 makes it one of the most attractive destinations in the country this year. The archipelago’s national park, Gwaii Haanas, once ranked as National Geographic Traveler‘s No. 1 park destination in North America. 

Why You Should Go: Aboriginal culture and heritage is thriving, as showcased by Haida Gwaii’s vibrant arts scene. For ecology lovers, Haida Gwaii is also magical. The islands have a well-deserved global reputation as a unique evolutionary outpost. More than 15 per cent of Canada’s Pacific coast seabird populations breed here. The world’s largest black bear is indigenous to these islands. And all five of British Columbia’s salmon species (chinook, Coho, sockeye, pink and chum) migrate past this region’s fishing grounds. Avid anglers flock to land the big one in Haida Gwaii’s waters — best done with the pros, like top-shelf operator Langara Fishing Lodge and aboriginal-owned West Coast Resorts, both revered for their hospitality.

Explore Haida Gwaii’s ancient rainforests beneath giant Sitka spruce and red cedars. Experience Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve & Haida Heritage Site and the SGang Gwaay UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the last authentic examples of a west-coast First Nations village. Paddle among orcas and humpbacks as they follow their migratory routes. Or camp and even surf the North Pacific from one of dozens of deserted beaches where nothing lies between you and Japan but a tempestuous ocean. Whatever your passion, a holiday in Haida Gwaii will surely rank among your most memorable.

Vacay.ca Contributor Mark Sissons Writes: “For me, the opportunity to visit Haida Gwaii for the first time last summer was the travel highlight of my year. I’ve always been drawn to remote, ‘edge of the world’ places and Canada’s most far-flung archipelago perfectly fits the bill. The serenity, natural beauty and cultural richness of Haida Gwaii make it a one-of-a kind, unforgettable destination. It’s also an excellent place to learn how to fish!”

Discover More: Lose Yourself In Haida Gwaii

13. MAURICIE & LANAUDIERE, Quebec

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An ideal road trip is through the countryside in the Lanaudière-Mauricie region, which is a short drive from either of Quebec’s two largest cities, Montreal and Quebec City. (Julia Pelish file photo/Vacay.ca)

What’s Happening in 2017: Hang on, saddle jockies! There’s lots to look forward to in an area of La belle province affectionately known as Quebec Authentique. Festival Western de St-Tite, an event that draws 600,000 visitors each year, will celebrate its 50th anniversary from September 8-17. St-Tite, a small village with a population of 4,000, is the proud home of one of the most successful rodeos in North America, second in Canada only to the Calgary Stampede. Also, Festival de Lanaudière, the largest classical music festival in Canada, is celebrating its 40th anniversary in July. The five-week celebration will feature great works of classical music. And Centre du Québec will celebrate its 60th birthday with the Festival des sucres de Saint-Pierre-Baptiste (Maple Festival) in May.

Why You Should Go: If you’re looking for a unique road trip, consider Quebec Authentique. Cruise on the St. Lawrence River, drive through green pastures, spend time in farmers markets or get up close and personal with the Laurentian escarpment. Looking for an urban adventure? Kick back and enjoy a beer with the locals in the city of Trois-Rivières, Joliette or Shawinigan, the home town of former Prime Minister Jean Chretien. Another reason why you should visit the region? Le Trou du Diable in Shawinigan was voted one of Vacay.ca’s Top 24 Brewpubs in CanadaThe name means “The Devil’s Hole” and the brewery has recently collaborated on beers with Brasserie de la Senne of Belgium. Le Trou du Diable’s inventive beer labels add even more enjoyment to drinking its craft brews.

Vacay.ca Deputy Editor Rod Charles Writes: “This may come as a surprise but Canada is very good at putting on rodeos and not only at the Calgary Stampede. Rodeo events in Edmonton, Alberta and the tiny village of Holstein, Ontario have built solid reputations and attracted decent followings, but without question St-Tite has established itself as the must-see Canadian rodeo event outside of Calgary.”

Discover More: Colours Come Alive in Rural Quebec

14. JASPER, Alberta

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Jaw-droppingly beautiful, Maligne Lake alone makes a visit to Jasper National Park memorable. (Julia Pelish file photo/Vacay.ca)

What’s Happening in 2017: The annual Jasper Pride festival brings a party atmosphere to the mountains and does it in the midst of ski season each March. Skiers and snowboarders will enjoy the apres-ski atmosphere after hitting the slopes on Marmot Basin, Jasper’s premier mountain. Food lovers will savour Christmas in November, the signature culinary event of the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. Celebrity chef Chuck Hughes will be the headliner for this year’s festival. Like all other national parks, entry to Jasper is free for 2017 in honour of Canada’s sesquicentennial.

Why You Should Go: More than 4,000 square kilometres larger than Banff and nearly twice the size of Prince Edward Island, Jasper National Park is one of Canada’s finest jewels and, because it is not easy to get to, one of the more lightly travelled natural wonders in the centre of the country. You won’t find crowds as you do in Banff or Pacific Rim National Park. What you will encounter is an abundance of wildlife-viewing opportunities, gorgeous scenery and friendly locals eager to help you plan the best experience for your visit.

Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi Writes:Once you’ve checked into the sprawling property that covers 700 acres of Alberta wilderness, you aren’t likely to leave until you check out of Jasper Park Lodge. Much of the lodge resides on the shores of picturesque Lac Beauvert and with Mount Edith Cavell, named after a World War II British nurse, presiding as a stunning backdrop. Hikers can venture for short walks around Lac Beauvert, or slightly longer jaunts to Maligne Canyon or Lake Annette, a beautiful and secluded location with a sandy beach and more glorious mountain views. Big-horn sheep and elk are likely to be spotted on some of the routes, or even on the lodge’s property. The hotel itself invites you to relax in its chic and historic common areas, including an airy lobby that houses a giant Christmas tree for the holidays.

Discover More: Jasper Cooks Up Holiday Merriment

15. VICTORIA, British Columbia

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A humpback whale gaves a wave of its pectoral fin to a tour boat off the shores of Victoria. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

What’s Happening in 2017: Forget just celebrating Canada on Canada Day. In Victoria, citizens are heralding their pride with Spirit of 150, a full 11 days of events from June 21 to July 1. The city’s famed Inner Harbour will host free outdoor events that celebrate Canada and Victoria’s multicultural artistry and diverse food culture. If you think you already know Victoria, 2017 is the year to rediscover what the city is really all about. Even residents are being encouraged to explore. For three days from February 23-27, Victoria is offering a VIP card for $15, which gives free and heavily discounted deals to more than 37 attractions, tours, museums and coffee shops. That includes some of the most popular tourist destinations in and near the city, including Butchart Gardens and the Butterfly Gardens, and samples at distilleries and wineries in the region. 

Why You Should Go: This most British of Canadian cities, long a place where Canadians retire to escape cold winters, has become much more than that in recent years. The tech industry is now the largest sector in the city, replacing government and tourism as the biggest revenue generator. Sure, it’s still one of the prettiest cities in the country but Victoria is also so much more hip these days, with cocktail bars, brewpubs and excellent restaurants. You’ll also find outstanding whale-watching tours, one of the best ghost tours in North America and the largest IMAX screen in British Columbia at the Royal BC Museum.

Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi Writes: “While Tofino — with its hippie culture and world-class surfing — has for years been the Vancouver Island destination of choice for the young and young at heart, Victoria is demonstrating it can provide an urban experience that is also fit for the times.” 

Discover More: The Coolification of Victoria Continues 

16. WHITEHORSE, Yukon

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Prince William and Princess Kate were among the visitors to Whitehorse in 2016. (Cameron Eckhert photo)

What’s Happening in 2017: From the start of the legendary Yukon Quest, the 1,000-mile International Sled Dog Race, in February to the Yukon Culinary Festival in August, Whitehorse is hopping throughout Canada’s sesquicentennial. More highlights include: the 15th annual edition of the Available Light Film Festival, Canada’s largest film festival north of 60 degrees latitute and a celebration of Northern, Canadian and international cinema; the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous, celebrating the territory’s tenacious, frontier spirit for a week in February; and the Yukon River Quest in late June, the world’s longest annual canoe and kayak race; and, of course, a long weekend of Canada Day celebrations.

Why You Should Go: Yukon’s capital city lies in the traditional territory of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation and Ta’an Kwäch’än Council. Steeped in culture and history, Whitehorse is an intriguing blend of contemporary city and old frontier town with a vibrant arts community, world-class attractions, and top-notch tourist services. You’ll find all the amenities of a big city, and fall in love with Whitehorse’s endearing small-town personality and fascinating history.

A classic Main Street ambience — coupled with great shopping, restaurants and quality visitor services — makes Whitehorse a superb destination and base for explorations around Yukon. With golf courses, hot springs, excellent museums and plentiful accommodations, you won’t have to “go without” on a visit to this gateway to the Klondike.

Vacay.ca Contributor Mark Sissons Writes: “Despite being so far north, Whitehorse feels very cosmopolitan. Few cities in the world offer such rich access to pristine wilderness, yet still provide all the amenities of a modern metropolis. It’s this unique combination of a modern infrastructure and still vibrant frontier traditions that make a visit here most enjoyable, whatever the season.”

Discover More: Why Whitehorse is Royally Good to Visit

17. KINGSTON & THE THOUSAND ISLANDS, Ontario

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Kingston’s pleasant waterfront includes calm views of Lake Ontario and the scenic islands in the vicinity. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

What’s Happening in 2017: Kingston has a special place in Canadian history as it was named the first capital of the Province of Canada. Of course, the honour of being our capital now belongs to Ottawa but Kingston will always be the cradle of our democracy. There is no finer example of that cradle than Bellevue House, the restored home of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister. Bellevue House celebrates 50 years being open to the public. Theatre lovers will want to head to nearby Gananoque for a show at the 1000 Islands Playhouse. The 2017 season includes “Maggie & Pierre,” a one-woman play about the Trudeaus. Thousand Islands National Park has several activities taking place throughout the year, including Aboriginal Day (June 21), Canada’s Parks Day (July 15) and, of course, Canada Day (July 1).

Why You Should Go: For people who appreciate military history a visit to Kingston and the 1000 Islands is a must. Lumina Borealis (until February 4) is an illuminated night walk over the span of one kilometre that takes place at Fort Henry National Historic Site. Had enough military history? Kingston Penitentiary is certainly a place many former residents would like to forget, but Canada’s prison museum is an interesting stop. 

Vacay.ca Deputy Editor Rod Charles Says: “People zipping by on Highway 401 between Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa are usually focused on getting to their destination as quickly as possible without realizing they are driving through a part of the country that literally gave birth to the concept of Canada. This year, I hope people will make a visit to this region and learn why Canada’s 150th birthday is even possible.”

Discover More: Every Day is Canada Day in Kingston

18. ANNAPOLIS ROYAL & THE EVANGELINE TRAIL, Nova Scotia

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Fishing boats are docked in Digby, one of the picturesque towns along the Evangeline Trail. (Sarah Deveau file photo/Vacay.ca)

What’s Happening in 2017: Few places in Canada have as much history as the Evangeline Trail, a route from the Bay of Fundy through the Annapolis Royal through historic fishing and ship-building villages of Nova Scotia. The trail is named after the epic poem Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and is the story of a young woman exiled from her native Nova Scotia who wanders along a very long and difficult path to find her lost love. The poem, first published in 1847, turns 170 years old in 2017, making it a worldly 20 years older than Canada. In a year when history matters, there will be celebrations to mark the first European settlement in Canada at Port-Royal.

Why You Should Go: Port-Royal National Historic Site is the reconstructed Habitation, a wooden compound established in 1605 by Samuel de Champlain. From here, you can walk along the shore of the Annapolis Basin. This is one of the oldest parts of Canada. Look out over the basin and you will see the same horizon the Mi’kmaq people viewed for thousands of years and the same sight that Champlain took in when he arrived. The location, in Annapolis County, also tells the story of the Acadians. As Wadsworth’s literary heroine, Evangeline Bellefontaine, discovered, the struggles the French endured under the British took a heavy toll. Port-Royal recounts what happened with the expulsion of the Acadie from the region.

Vacay.ca Contributor Jody Robbins Writes:The Annapolis Valley was home to some of the first farms and vineyards in the new world. A French vintner was brought over in 1636 to develop this fertile soil and during the next 100 years Acadian-grown produce and wine was shipped around the province. By 1750, Grand Pre was home to the largest settlement of Acadians (descendants of 17th-century French colonists) in the Maritimes. Jealous of the close relationship the French cultivated with First Nations communities, the British flexed their military might and deported thousands of Acadians in 1755 from this region. Their plight is documented at Grand Pre National Historic Site, just outside of Wolfville.”

Discover More: Go Shuck Yourself in Nova Scotia

19. SACKVILLE, New Brunswick

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Sackville has become a centre for arts events and festivals in the Maritimes. (Photo courtesy of the Town of Sackville)

What’s Happening in 2017: Sackville is known for its incredible range of cultural talents with as much theatre and performing arts gathered in this New Brunswick town as in most major Canadian cities. In all four seasons, there are original plays, arts and music festivals, poetry in the streets and new media projects intended to dazzle and make people think. From April to May, the city hosts its annual Bordertown Festival, a four-day celebration of art, music and hospitality. Fall is a lovely time of the year to be in Sackville, with its abundance of harvests and autumn foliage. It’s also when Sackville has one of its biggest events, the Fall Fair, which celebrates its 17th year this September and includes book sales, paddling, live music and fireworks.

Why You Should Go: Sackville is where you’ll understand fully why eastern Canada is so famous for its hospitality. People who live here are just so darned friendly. Come as a tourist and chances are good you’ll be invited into someone’s home for dinner, or coffee at least. New Brunswick, along with Nova Scotia, is also where you can eat wild blueberries. Farmers are happy to show off why wild blueberries are the ultimate antioxidant fruit. Unlike the plump versions, these tiny blueberries are not planted and it took 10,000 years (and to think Canada is at a mere 150!) for the geographic locations to make it possible to pick them off the ground.

Vacay.ca Editor Petti Fong Writes: “Many people from across the country choose to make Sackville their permanent home because of its small-town vibe and the thriving artistic community here. It’s also home to one of Canada’s top universities, Mount Allison. Coy Wolf Bistro co-owners Sarah Evans and Alan Barbour, artists, have lived in other parts of Canada, but when it came to setting down roots for their business, they chose Sackville. ‘This town has been so welcoming and is a great place to start a restaurant,’ Evans says.”

20. SASKATOON & PRINCE ALBERT NATIONAL PARK, Saskatchewan

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The Remai Modern will open in 2017 and promises to vault tourism to Saskatoon. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

What’s Happening in 2017: The Remai Modern art gallery opens — finally — and an arts celebration that started months earlier will culminate with a new facility that promises to change the cultural scene in the prairies. It will include 405 Picasso linocuts valued at $20 million, among other pieces. The city’s culinary scene continues to grow and the team at Ayden Kitchen & Bar, which launched Little Grouse on the Prairie in 2016, has another enterprise planned for spring 2017. About 250 kilometres (155 miles) north of Saskatoon is Prince Albert National Park and the beautiful Lake Waskesiu region — a must-see destination if you’re in this part of the world.

Why You Should Go: The culinary scene is on fire, with its reputation growing beyond the province’s borders. The addition of the Remai Modern will bring a brighter spotlight onto a vibrant arts scene and Saskatoon has some of the most attractive urban green spaces in the country, with the Meewasin Trail system that bends around the South Saskatchewan River.

Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi Writes: “It’s not only nose-to-tail cooking you will find in Saskatoon. The Hollows and Primal, two restaurants owned and operated by couple Christie Peters and Kyle Michael, are nose-to-tail life. Pelts that Peters had thrown in for free from a farmer have been turned into attractive, fittingly western decor — as well as warm, functional blankets during the cold Saskatchewan winter. Animal fat not used in cooking is boiled down by Peters and her staff, and then scented with lavender and transformed into soap used in the bathrooms. Such practices show the entrepreneurial nature of the city’s culinary scene and some of the inventiveness taking place in the prairies. The food is also terrifically good.”

Discover More: Meet the Young Animals of Saskatoon

Canada’s Leading Chefs Team to Fight Cancer

inspired-cooking-cover-for-vacay-caVacay.ca has partnered with InspireHealth to produce one of the most exciting and important cookbooks to ever hit the bookshelves in Canada. “Inspired Cooking” launched in December 2016, featuring profiles of 20 of Canada’s greatest chefs discussing what nutrition means to them. More than 60 recipes are included in the stunning cookbook published by Vancouver-based Fresh Air Publishing. All proceeds from the charity cookbook go toward InspireHealth, a government-funded, not-for-profit agency that provides supportive cancer care to patients across Canada. The cookbook was inspired by Julia Pelish-Brijbassi, Vacay.ca’s co-founder who passed away in March 2016 after an 11-month battle with brain cancer. “Inspired Cooking” is edited by her husband, Vacay.ca’s Adrian Brijbassi. Order your copy of the book now and learn more about the project at InspiredCooking.ca.


About the Author

Adrian Brijbassi
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Adrian is the editor of Vacay.ca and his articles are frequently syndicated by the Huffington Post and appear in the Globe & Mail. He makes regular appearances on CTV News, TSN Radio and CJSF Radio, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. A former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing and fiction, and has visited more than 30 countries. He is also a judge for the World’s 50 Best Restaurants and spearheaded the Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada list that debuted in April 2012.

  • Brett Cairns

    While large cities and well known destinations often make it to lists like these many travelers enjoy a slower and more relaxing pace of life in a small city like Courtenay, BC that offers spectacular West Coast views of the ocean and mountains and a range of outdoor activities. This small city hosts the Vancouver Island Music Festival each year.

 
Top 50 Restaurants in Canada
 
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  • Chef Roy Oh-Anju-Calgary
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Fall flavours of Aboriginal Okanagan
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