I don’t always appreciate Ontario as much as I truly should. We have around 250,000 freshwater lakes. We get to experience the extreme of all 4 seasons of the year, tons of snow in the winter and super hot summers. We have beautiful beaches, fun cities, and so many things to do. Sometimes I think I forget about how great our province is because of the sheer size of it. To travel from one side of Ontario to the other takes 24 hours alone, so we don’t get to see a lot of it through the year. But if you’re coming to Canada and have the time to see lots of this grand province, here are the spots you shouldn’t miss!
#1: Algonquin Park and the Muskokas
Vast forests, tranquil lakes, wildlife all around you, and being one with nature. My friends and I make sure we take a few days every summer to camp in Algonquin Park because it’s always such a great experience. You can bring your own canoe or kayak, or rent one when you enter the park, but you’ll definitely need one to get around these lakes! You can go at whatever pace you choose, but we generally book 2 to 3 different campsites beforehand.
The Muskokas are also in a similar area as Algonquin, but is comprised of many towns in a large area. If you plan on staying somewhere in this area, there are a few little motels you can stay in, or you can rent a cottage on a lake (which I suggest). You’ll want to do all of the lake activities when you have the opportunity, like wake boarding, water skiing, canoeing, kayaking, tubing, swimming, and cliff jumping. A lot of Canadians either own, or know someone who owns a cottage, so we are able to fully enjoy the summer months outdoors when we get the chance (only a couple months of hot weather!).
#2: Niagara Region and the Falls
The Niagara area is known for the famous Niagara Falls, Clifton Hill road with lots of different activities near the falls, and Niagara-on-the-Lake where you can visit one of the 88 different wineries.
Obviously I am a little biased because I am Canadian, but I truly believe we have the better view of the Falls from our side. We also offer many different possibilities to get you as close to the Falls as possible (Maid of the Mist, Journey Behind the Falls, etc.). I have done these many times and it’s always still as magical as it was the first time. They’ve really catered to bringing in families along the Clifton Hill road, and you can see this as soon as you take a look down the strip. There are countless museums, bowling alleys, haunted houses, arcades, restaurants, rides, and mini putt courses. Your kids will be in heaven, and when it’s time for them to go to bed, you can enjoy the massive casinos and fun bar scene! Maybe the next day you can find a babysitter and explore the many wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake. I have toured 2 so far (Trius and Peller Estates), and we had a great experience at both of them. It’s such a beautiful area and the delicious wine is endless. Here are a few links to check out tour options at some of the popular wineries!
#3: Toronto and the GTA
I live fairly close to Toronto, only about an hour away, and I still get the excited feelings every time I get there. There’s a certain hustle and bustle feel about the city, with so much constantly going on and so much to do. It’s hard to know where to begin when there are legitimately hundreds of different options, but here are a few top ideas for Toronto!
CN Tower/ Entertainment District/ Distillery District– Pay to go up the famous landmark and get views of the beautiful lake and city. You can also pay to see one of the many shows/concerts/plays/museums/sports games going on at the Scotiabank Arena or surrounding venues. Eat at one of the hundreds of amazing restaurants or local breweries. Then go out at night to one of the many bars, pubs, or clubs! There is some type of nightlife for literally everyone to enjoy here.
Toronto Island– Once the spring/summer/fall months arrive, you can take the ferry from the pier across the lake to Toronto Island. Bike or walk around the island, enjoy a drink or some food at one of the restaurants there, or enjoy a few amusement park rides.
Kensington Market– A walkable bohemian neighbourhood full of art, shops, boutiques, and more restaurants! A super cute area everyone should check out.
Eaton Centre– If you’re into shopping, this spot’s for you! This is a massive shopping mall in the downtown area with stores varying from everyday items to luxury clothing.
Canada’s Wonderland– Just over a half hour out of Toronto, you can find Canada’s biggest amusement park. This park is a full day of thrill rides and activities, they also just finished building the fastest, tallest, and longest dive coaster in the world. If you like adrenaline don’t miss this park.
Scarborough Bluffs– About a half hour from the downtown area you can find the bluffs. A gorgeous little beach and cliff area, you can bring a bathing suit, relax, and go for a swim or bring your running shoes to hike and explore the area.
There’s even more attractions in Toronto and the GTA, but these are more of a suggestion for a starting point for people who don’t know the area.
#4: Bruce Peninsula National Park and the Grotto
Very different from Toronto, this National park is the epitome of beauty. Just beside the small town of Tobermory, this lake is known as Georgian Bay, which is attached to Lake Huron. A warning to all, it has gotten a lot more popular for tourists over the years because it is beautiful, but it may be much busier than you anticipate. They only allow a certain number of people into the park every day so get there EARLY if you want to guarantee your entrance. Or if you’re interested in camping, you have access to the whole park while you camp (about a 20 minute walk to the cliffs) and is a beautiful area to do so.
You will walk in from the camp site or parking lot, and beware of wildlife! I saw my first rattlesnake on this trail. Once you walk in you get to see the beautiful cliffs and bright blue water, it’s hard to believe it’s a lake and not an ocean. When my friends and I go, we always prepare to hike about an hour either to the left or right of the main area. Once you’re that far away from the main spot, you won’t see anyone! Then you’re free to picnic, hike, swim, and enjoy with no one else around (example in the photo above). Keep in mind, the water from Georgian Bay is VERY cold, so be prepared!
#5: Ottawa and surrounding areas
A fair bit farther North is our nation’s capital, Ottawa. Similar to Toronto, it’s a very large city with a lot going on, just in not as dense of an area. Be sure to visit our Parliament hill (pictured above) which is on the southern banks of the Ottawa River in the downtown area. The suite of buildings is the home of the Parliament of Canada and has architectural elements of national symbolic importance.
While you’re downtown, make sure to visit the Rideau Canal. If you’re lucky enough to visit in the very cold winter, you can bring a pair of skates and join all of the Canadians skating down the canal. There is also the Byward Market to stroll through and check out the vendors, shops, and restaurants. Personal note: the best tacos I’ve ever eaten in my life are at the restaurant El Camino (in the market area), give that a visit if you’re in the mood for some wonderful and unique Mexican flavours! Ottawa is also home to a few wonderful museums showing our history, heritage, and discoveries, so be sure to check those out if you’re in the mood to learn.
In the surrounding area (the Greenbelt), it is known to be one of the best areas in our province to cross country ski (you can bike in the trails in the summer). So whichever season you arrive, you can venture through the countryside and explore.
As you can see here, there is a lot our province has to offer, and there are a lot of areas I haven’t even mentioned. Canada is an amazing, beautiful, large country with so much to experience. If you have planned to visit Ontario specifically, I hope this guide helps you decide where you want to go, depending on what you want to see. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about other spots in this province to visit, or if this guide helped you in any way!