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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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101 Tours and Activities
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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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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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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Jasper SkyTram
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The Jasper SkyTram (formerly Jasper Tramway) is the longest—and highest—aerial tramway in Canada. Built in 1964, the Tram begins at 4,279 ft (1,304 m) above sea level and transports guests to 7,472 ft (2,277 m) above sea level in an enclosed tram compartment in seven minutes. The SkyTram rises above Whistlers Mountain and provides expansive views of lakes, six mountain ranges, the town of Jasper and Alberta’s longest river, the Athabasca.

A guide answers questions and points out areas of interest, animal life and history of the area during the Jasper SkyTram tour. After reaching the top, guests can stroll boardwalks to view wildlife. Alpine inhabitants include the whistling hoary marmot, white-tailed ptarmigan, ground squirrels, pikas and the occasional bighorn sheep. There are also hiking trails to the summit of Whistlers Mountain for those wanting more of a challenge.

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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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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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Lake Minnewanka
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The glacier-fed Lake Minnewanka lies just minutes from the town of Banff, and the sight of the Canadian Rockies jutting straight up out of the 17-mile-long body of water proves breathtaking. Lake Minnewanka is the perfect location to begin exploring the wilderness protected by both Banff National Park and the larger Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage site.

Cruises operate around the lake during the summer, but there are plenty of other ways to get out on the water. Minnewanka is the only lake in the Banff area to allow privately operated motorboats, and there are 16-foot aluminum boats available for rental as well. For a more authentic adventure, canoe rentals provide the opportunity to explore for a day or more, as several backcountry campgrounds are located around the lake. Setting out on the area’s trails is definitely worth the effort, too, even if it’s only to complete the two-mile stroll to the Stewart Canyon Bridge that spans the Cascade River.

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Floral Clock
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Next to Niagara Falls, one of the most photographed attractions in the surrounding area is the Floral Clock. Built in 1950, it is one of the largest in the world at a massive 40 feet in diameter. Each year, the clock is planted with over 15,000 carpet plants and annuals. The hands are made from stainless steel tubing and weigh a combined 1,250 pounds, while a 24-foot stone tower with speakers broadcasts the Westminster chime every 15 minutes.

The floral design is changed twice per year, using violas in the spring and four cultivars of Alternanthera along with green and gray Santolina Sage during summer and fall. Next to the Floral Clock visitors will find the Centennial Lilac Garden, which is in full bloom around late May and includes more than 250 varieties of plants and over 1,200 individual shrubs.

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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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More Things to Do in Canada

Rideau Canal

Rideau Canal

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The Rideau Canal is a signature Ottawa landmark, dividing the city’s downtown into eastern and western segments. Opened in 1832, it’s the oldest still operational canal system in North America.

In winter, the 8 km (5-mile) stretch of canal running through the center of Ottawa transforms into the Rideau Canal Skateway, the world’s longest skating rink. In summer, joggers, sightseers and cyclers promenade along the canal’s banks. One of the best ways to experience life on the canal is aboard a scenic canal cruise.

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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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Lions Gate Bridge

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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Ottawa Parliament Hill

Ottawa Parliament Hill

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Canada’s political heart focuses on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill, crowned with a flurry of grand government buildings.

The most impressive building is the Gothic-style Centre Block, the main Parliamentary Building, with its soaring central Peace Tower and gabled copper-topped roofline. The building is flanked by the matching East and West Blocks. Centre Block houses the Senate and Commons chambers, where public galleries are provided for visitors wishing to watch the parliamentary proceedings. It’s well worth taking one of the free daily tours to admire the interior of Centre Block and its hand-carved stonework. Listen out for the 53-bell carillon concerts ringing out from the Peace Tower, or climb the stairs for views of Ottawa from the tower’s observation deck.

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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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Montmorency Falls Park (Parc de la Chute-Montmorency)

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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Old Port of Montreal (Vieux Port de Montréal)

Old Port of Montreal (Vieux Port de Montréal)

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The epicenter of the city’s sea trade back in the 17th-century, Montreal’s Old Port lost its role as a trading post in the 1970s, falling temporarily into ruin until a major renovation transformed it into one of the city’s most important entertainment centers in the 1990s. Today, the vibrant waterfront district is home to an IMAX cinema, the acclaimed Montréal Science Centre and a landmark Clock Tower, as well a large outdoor skating rink in winter and an urban beach in summer. The scenic Old Port makes an atmospheric spot for walking, cycling and Segway tours, but other popular pastimes for visitors include river cruises, renting a paddleboat (pedalo) to paddle around the calm waters of Bonsecours Basin Park or soaring overhead in a seaplane for a unique bird’s eye view of the historic waterfront.

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Whirlpool Aero Car

Whirlpool Aero Car

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Dangling above the Niagara River, just north of Horseshoe Falls, is the Whirlpool Aero Car. The gondola travels 1,800 feet/550 meters between two points above the Niagara Gorge, providing unforgettable views of the raging waters below. It’s a thrilling 10 minutes!

To reach the Whirlpool Aero Car, you climb a winding stairwell. Those afraid of heights might be better off on the ground. Then, you’ll board the antique cable car and be transported on six sturdy cables high above the racing Niagara River. Far below, the torrent of water abruptly changes direction and creates one of the world’s most mesmerizing natural phenomenons - the Niagara Whirlpool, which is formed at the end of the rapids where the gorge turns abruptly counterclockwise and the river escapes through the narrowest channel in the gorge.

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Queen Victoria Park

Queen Victoria Park

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Niagara Falls main parkland, the Queen Victoria Park is in the center of the Niagara Parks and features a mix of green and water views as well as the chance to learn about nature. While exploring Queen Victoria Park you’ll be able to take in front row views of Niagara Falls, as the park is located along the Niagara Gorge and River. For this reason, it’s one of the best places for taking excellent photographs of the natural attraction, especially as it provides a peaceful setting. Visitors can also access top Niagara Falls experiences from the park like the Maid of the Mist, Clifton Hill and Journey Behind the Falls.

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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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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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Clifton Hill

Clifton Hill

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The center of entertainment in Niagara Falls, Clifton Hill is a bustling mecca of an exciting array of attractions, resort hotels, themed restaurants, shops, and nightclubs. Along this eye-popping promenade, you’ll find a giant ferris wheel, mini golf, interactive games, a haunted house, and a wax museum.

The prominent attractions on Clifton Hill include Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, the Guinness World Records Museum, and The Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks. Tussaud's has long been a staple of the area, and you can see dozens of wax celebrities. If you like haunted houses, check out the Haunted House, the House of Frankestein, or Nightmares. Haunted House is probably the best for kids; the other two are better suited for older kids and adults.

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Old Quebec (Vieux-Québec)

Old Quebec (Vieux-Québec)

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Vieux Québec is the crown jewel of French Canada and if you're coming for the first time, look out - there's simply no other place like it in North America. Narrow cobbled streets are lined with 17th- and 18th-century houses and almost every step will bring you to another historical plaque, a leafy park with a battery of 18th-century canons, a grand 17th-century plaza, and other historical sites. In fact, wandering around Vieux Québec is like exploring an old European city.

Vieux Quebec is compact and easily walkable. On a daytime stroll, you can browse the shops along Rue Ste-Jean, wander among the grassy knolls in the Plains of Abraham, climb to the top of the Citadel, walk the Fortifications, then follow the river boardwalk (the Promenade des Gouverneurs) down to the Victorian waterfront. From there you get the classic view of Quebec City’s most famous building, the Chateau Frontenac.

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Dufferin Terrace (Terrasse Dufferin)

Dufferin Terrace (Terrasse Dufferin)

18 Tours and Activities

At the base of the Château Frontenac, Quebec City’s Terrasse Dufferin promenade looks out across the St Lawrence River from its clifftop perch atop Cap Diamant. Named after Lord Dufferin, who was Canada’s governor between 1872 and 1878, come in summertime when green and white-topped gazebos fill the 425-meter-long boardwalk and street performers entertain. Time your visit for the early evening, and you’ll also get to see the sun set over the Laurentian Mountains to the north. In winter, Dufferin Terrasse is especially popular for its Les Glissades de la Terrasse toboggan run, which wooshes people up to 60 mph down an 82-meter slide.

Just underneath Terrasse Dufferin, by the statue of Samuel de Champlain, you can visit the archaeological site of Champlain’s second fort which dates back to 1620.

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