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Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Canada

From the UNESCO World Heritage–listed Lake Louise to Niagara Falls and the Rocky Mountains, Canada offers a wide variety of the great outdoors to adventure-seeking travelers. But away from the open wilderness, Canada’s bustling cities showcase thriving arts scenes, bars and restaurants featuring cuisine from across the world, museums explaining First Nations history, and a maritime heritage that stretches back centuries. Multicultural Toronto and Vancouver deliver visitors an international feel, while French-Canadian cities such as Montreal and Quebec City boast a strong flavor of France, and Victoria retains its British charm. Skiers and snowboarders can practice their turns in popular resorts like Kicking Horse and Whistler (seven and two hours from Vancouver, respectively), while wildlife lovers take to the water on whale-watching cruises. Thrill-seekers can tackle swirling rapids on white-water rafting trips or sightsee by helicopter or seaplane. Back on dry land, visitors spot native animals like bears, beavers, elk, and moose on wildlife safaris in Alberta or British Columbia. Pristine countryside and spectacular scenery abound in Banff and Jasper National Parks (one and three hours from Calgary, respectively), and travelers headed into the expansive Yukon, take northern lights tours to increase their chances of seeing the Aurora Borealis swirling over the rugged territory.
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Niagara Falls, Ontario
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Spectacular! Wow! Fabulous! Whatever superlatives you choose, you won’t be able to keep the word from your lips at Niagara Falls. For here, great muscular bands of water tumble over a precipice like liquid glass, roaring into the void below. In terms of sheer volume, more than a million bathtubs of water plummet over the edge every second. Niagara Falls is actually two sets of falls: the American Falls and the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side. The best way to see Horseshoe

Falls is either via the Maid of the Mist boat, which takes you right up to Falls, through the turbulent waters of the American Falls. Another way is to take the Journey Behind the Falls, in which you’ll walk through tunnels onto an observation deck to get a wet but up-close view of the Horseshoe Falls or go to the Cave of the Winds for an up-close view of the American Falls.

On land, you can see Niagara Falls from the Skyline Tower on the Canadian side.

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St. Lawrence Market
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Toronto's sensational St. Lawrence Market has been a neighborhood meeting place for more than 200 years. The restored, high-trussed 1845 South Market building houses more than 50 specialty food stalls including cheese vendors, fishmongers, butchers, bakers and pasta makers with lots of action and yelling of prices in silly voices.

Inside the old council chambers upstairs, the St. Lawrence Market Gallery is now the city's exhibition hall, with rotating displays of paintings, photographs, documents, and historical relics. On the opposite side of Front Street, the North Market building houses a farmers' market on Saturday and an antiques market on Sunday. Overlooking the market is the glorious St. Lawrence Hall, which can be seen for blocks. Considered one of Toronto's finest examples of Victorian classicism, the building is topped by a mansard roof and a working, copper-clad clock tower.

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Downtown Vancouver
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Although it's officially on a peninsula, the abundant water surrounding downtown Vancouver can make it feel like an island. It is, today, the center of commerce and business for British Columbia but, even historically, the downtown area has always been a significant meeting point for trade and culture.

In modern history, the area wasn't permanently settled by outsiders until 1862 when the city was chosen to be the terminus for the transcontinental railroad. As Vancouver grew, a number of neighborhoods began to develop within the city. Gastown is one of the oldest parts of the city and remains a tourist attraction. It's here where the world's first steam-powered clock still stands in working condition. Other significant neighborhoods worth visiting within the downtown core include Robson Street, Coal Harbour and Yaletown. There is also a prominent Chinatown in downtown Vancouver – the largest in Canada.

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Lions Gate Bridge
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The Lions Gate Bridge spans Burrard Inlet, connecting North and West Vancouver with the City Centre, via Stanley Park. Originally opened in 1938, the bridge isn’t just a major transportation hub for Vancouver, but it’s also a National Historic Site of Canada.

Even the impressive stats—the bridge is about a mile (1.5 km) long, its two suspension towers are 365 feet (111 meters) tall and the bridge deck sits 200 feet (61 m) above the water—barely do the bridge justice. From Ambleside Park, in West Vancouver, the view of Lions Gate Bridge against a backdrop of downtown Vancouver truly shows its immense scale. It’s even more spectacular at night, as the entire bridge is covered in decorative LED lighting.

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Whistler-Blackcomb Mountains
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North America’s major ski resort focuses on Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, attracting up to two million winter and summertime visitors a year.

Linked by the groundbreaking Peak 2 Peak Gondola, the two mountains peer over the pretty alpine town of Whistler Village.

The official skiing venue for the 2010 Olympic winter games, the Whistler and Blackcomb resorts merged in 1997 and together have a total of 38 ski lifts and more than 200 ski runs.

In summer the ski runs transform into mountain-bike trails for nail-biting thrills, and the alpine meadows are crossed by hikers and nature lovers.

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Skylon Tower
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For numerous Niagara Falls-inspired attractions all in one place, the Skylon Tower is an excellent choice. Boasting front row views of the natural wonder along with ambient dining, a observation platform, 4D movies, shopping and family-fun, you could spend all day being entertained in one place.

Start your Skylon Tower experience by riding in their glass-enclosed elevators to the Indoor/Outdoor Observation Deck, where you can take in views of Niagara Falls, the Great Gorge, Niagara’s wine country, and Buffalo and Toronto skylines from 775 feet (236 meters) high.

For a unique dining experience in an upscale setting, Skylon Tower’s Revolving Dining Room Restaurant sits at 775 feet (236 meters) high and turns 360 degrees every hour so your view is always changing. The menu is continental, and you can order anything from lobster tails to Filet Mignon to Mediterranean chicken.

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Montmorency Falls Park (Parc de la Chute-Montmorency)
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Higher than the Niagara Falls, the impressive Montmorency Falls stand 83 meters (272 feet) tall. The falls form at the mouth of the Montmorency River, where it drops over a cliff into the St. Lawrence River. On summer nights, the plunging water is illuminated; during July and August, the falls are enhanced by a spectacular international fireworks competition. Montmorency Falls is surrounded by Parc de la Chute-Montmorency, where visitors can see the falls while having a picnic. If you want to get a close-up view of the falls, you can take the staircase, which takes you from top to bottom, or take a suspension bridge over the crest of the falls, which enables you to see both sides of the park as well as the thundering water.
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Fort Calgary
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Visit the spot where Calgary was born at Fort Calgary, and explore the city’s formative years from 1875 to 1914. A wooden fort was built here by the North West Mounted Police in 1875, and today, the legacy of those times is re-created with interactive exhibits, replica barracks, guided tours and an interpretive center. Dine in the former home of a Canadian Mountie, try on an authentic Mountie uniform and explore the fort’s extensive riverside grounds surrounding the meeting point of the Elbow and Bow rivers.

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Canada Place
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One of the best places to orient yourself, especially if this is your first trip to Vancouver, is Canada Place. Built for Expo '86, this iconic, postcard-friendly landmark is hard to miss: its five tall Teflon sails that jut into the sky over Burrard Inlet resemble a giant sailing ship. Now a cruise-ship terminal and convention center, it's also a pier where you can stroll out over the waterfront, watch the splashing floatplanes, and catch some spectacular sea-to-mountain views.

Around the perimeter of Canada Place is a promenade, where you can gaze out at the North Shore mountains standing tall across Burrard Inlet. You can also see nearby Stanley Park and its famous Seawall Promenade. Walk to the other end of the promenade and you’ll be rewarded with great city views, including the historic low-rise tops of Gastown, where Vancouver was first settled. Inside the building is FlyOver Canada, a cool simulated flight attraction that takes you across Canada.

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More Things to Do in Canada

Maligne Canyon

Maligne Canyon

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A natural geological feature measuring more than 160 feet high (50 meters), Maligne Canyon is one of the deepest river canyons in the Canadian Rockies and a popular destination in Jasper National Park for both sightseeing and exploration. A striking geologic formation, Maligne Canyon is a classic example of karst topography, which occurs when water carves out bedrock, creating a deep canyon with smooth walls.

The parks service has created a self-guided trail, which describes the geological history of the area; several bridges span the gorge, allowing for spectacular views of the canyon. For a more interactive view of crystal pools, waterfalls, bubbles from underground lakes and more, take the short loop that tours the upper reaches of the canyon or the longer loop that follow the gorge and exits at a fifth and sixth bridge at a lower point. In the winter, join a tour company for a guided walk down into the canyon or try ice climbing.

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CN Tower

CN Tower

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Having recently turned 30, the funky CN Tower remains every bit as cool and iconic as it was when it opened in 1976. Its primary function is as a radio and TV communications tower, but riding the great glass elevators up the highest freestanding structure (1,800 feet/550 meters) in the world is one of those things in life you just have to do. On a clear day, the views from the Observation Deck are absolutely astounding; if it's hazy, you won't be able to see a thing. For extra thrills, tread lightly over the knee-trembling Glass Floor deck, or continue climbing an extra 330 ft (100 m) to the uppermost SkyPod viewing area, the highest public observation gallery in the world. Alternatively, if you're feeling chipper, you might want to enter the annual CN Tower Stair Climb - a heart-thumping dash to the top of the tower's 1,776 steps that happens every October.
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Granville Island

Granville Island

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Brimming with arts and crafts studios, bars and restaurants with eye-popping views, Granville Island is a popular spot for visitors and locals alike. Though it’s really a peninsula, jutting out into False Creek, the island draws those who come to wander the pedestrian-friendly alleyways while enjoying the sounds of the buskers and the sights along the waterfront.

One of the highlights is the Granville Island Public Market, where you can trawl the deli-style food stalls and artisan stands. Art lovers can wander through the three galleries of up-and-coming artists at the Emily Carr Institute of Art & Design. For the under-10 set, the Kids Market bristles with kid-friendly stores, mostly of the toy variety. For a little respite, entice the kids away from the shops and head to the huge Granville Island Water Park.

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Victoria Chinatown

Victoria Chinatown

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Peak 2 Peak Gondola

Peak 2 Peak Gondola

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Summer or snow, riding the Peak 2 Peak Gondola in Whistler is a must-do highlight. Gliding along the world’s longest unsupported span, the gondola is also the highest lift of its kind. The mountain-top gondola links the Roundhouse Lodge on Whistler Mountain and the Rendezvous Restaurant on Blackcomb Mountain. The ride takes around 11 minutes, with services departing every minute. The total distance you’ll swing across is 4.4 km (2.7 miles), soaring up to 436 meters (1,427 feet) above the valley floor. The gondola can seat 22 passengers, with stunning 360-degree views of this spectacular mountain setting. Ride the gondola to ski the slopes, hike an alpine walking trail or take tea at the mountain-top restaurant.

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English Bay

English Bay

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Surrounded by the city’s Seawall and containing one of Vancouver’s most popular beaches, English Bay is at the heart of Vancouver’s water related activities. In warm weather, kayaking, fishing, and even scuba diving all take place in the waters here. English Bay Beach, also called First Beach, is the most populated beach area in the city. With palm trees and plentiful sand, English Bay Beach is the go-to spot for sunbathing and beach volleyball when the sun is shining. It is also one of the best places to go swimming.

Annually two of the city’s largest events take place here: the Celebration of Light fireworks competition in July and the Polar Bear Swim in January. Many laid back, open-air restaurants and patios dot the area around the water, and the notable sunset and sunrise skies are what draw many visitors. With views of the surrounding mountains and coastline, English Bay offers some of the best natural scenery in Vancouver.

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British Columbia Parliament Buildings

British Columbia Parliament Buildings

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Built overlooking Victoria’s Inner Harbor, the British Columbia Legislature Buildings form an impressive architectural and historical landmark within a few steps of downtown. When the provincial legislature outgrew its former home, the provincial government hosted an architectural competition to build the new legislative buildings. Francis Rattenbury, a then 25-year-old recent arrival from England, won with his three-building neo-baroque style plans, but construction didn’t go without its woes; the project soared beyond its original budget, but the new British Columbia Parliament Buildings did open their doors in 1898.

The white marble, massive central dome, and lengthy façade combined to make an innovative and impressive monument for what, at the time, was a relatively young Canadian province. The building remains equally impressive, today, and a few new landmarks exist on its property.

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Bow Falls

Bow Falls

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Bow Falls are located on the Bow River in Alberta’s Banff National Park, within walking distance of the Banff Springs Hotel. The short, wide, cascading falls are a popular sightseeing stop, likely because of how accessible the natural destination is - the falls can be easily enjoyed by people of all abilities and all ages. Trails for pedestrians and for cyclists wind along the south shore of the Bow River and its rapids, and the pedestrian trail climbs up to the clifftop where the falls begin. (Bicycles aren’t allowed at the top.) The viewing areas at Bow Falls offer vistas of the river and the falls themselves. A cement promenade located at the base of the cascading falls has a few benches to sit on, though most people sit on the ledge of the promenade and enjoy the views from there. At the far end of the promenade is a small sandy beach where rafting and kayak tours often begin.

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Banff Gondola

Banff Gondola

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It’s true – the views from atop Sulphur Mountain really are spectacular, and riding the Banff Gondola is the most fun way to get there.

From the fully enclosed glass gondola, you’ll see six mountain ranges, the town of Banff and the immense river valley. At the summit, stand on top of the world at the Upper Terminal and follow the self-guided Banff Skywalk along the summit ridge.

Hike the South East Ridge Trail, or visit the summit’s historic buildings, including a meteorological station and interactive giant compass. Dinner at the summit is an amazing experience, with views of Banff’s twinkling lights and snow-capped peaks.

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Tunnel Mountain Drive

Tunnel Mountain Drive

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Journey Behind the Falls

Journey Behind the Falls

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Horseshoe Falls is an awesome site from the shore and from a boat, but the best way to truly experience its absolute power is to take the Journey Behind the Falls. On this journey, you’ll don a plastic poncho and traverse tunnels bored into the rock behind the great sheet water for a thunderous up-close view.

Journey Behind the Falls consists of an observation platform and series of tunnels near the bottom of the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian shore. The tunnels and platform can be reached by elevators from the street level entrance. You walk through two tunnels, which extend approximately 150 feet/46 meters behind the waterfall. When you reach the end of the tunnel, you can see water cascading in front of the open cave entrances. The best part is stepping out on the observation deck for the full experience. You will get very wet, but it’s worth it for the site of the roaring water.

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Table Rock Welcome Centre

Table Rock Welcome Centre

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Although the original Table Rock -- a jutting out of rock from the Falls used as a viewing platform in the 19th century -- was destroyed in 1935 after a series of dangerous rock falls, today it is a retail and entertainment complex. Considered a must-visit when at Niagara Falls, Table Rock’s viewing area is home to terraced platforms perfect for picture taking, especially as rainbows are a common sighting. It’s located right at the Falls in the heart of Niagara Parks, so you’re guaranteed to enjoy beautiful scenery near all the attractions.

Begin your Table Rock experience at the Welcome Centre, where you can purchase tickets, packages and passes depending on what you want to do. Here you’ll also be able to get some background information on the area. One attraction at Table Rock is Niagara’s Fury, a 4D experience that will make you feel like you’re really witnessing the creation of the falls through advanced technology.

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Beacon Hill Park

Beacon Hill Park

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Craigdarroch Castle

Craigdarroch Castle

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It’s hard to believe that this opulent Scottish-Gothic fairy-tale castle was built as a family home. Now open to the public, take a tour and pretend you’re in Bonny Scotland.

The four-story turreted castle was built in the late 1880s for Scottish coal millionaire Robert Dunsmuir. He died before the home with its 39 rooms was completed, but his family lived there until 1908.

A self-guided tour of this incredible property reveals its stained-glass and carved balustrades, rooms furnished with period details, and the lookout tower with fabulous views over the city.

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