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Things to Do 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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Banff Gondola
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5 Tours and Activities

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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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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CN Tower
44 Tours and Activities
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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Athabasca River
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The Athabasca River originates from the Columbia Glacier on the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. The Athabasca River is Alberta’s largest undammed river and the second-longest river overall in the province. It travels almost 1,000 miles (1,500 km) northeast across Alberta, and drains into Lake Athabasca in the northeast. The Athabasca runs through the glaciers and snow-covered mountains of Alberta’s Jasper National Park, considered to be one of the most beautiful areas in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The river is accessible by both road and by rail from all major centers in Alberta and British Columbia. The river offers excellent canoeing, rafting, kayaking, and hiking with all of the usually services and facilities that are usually found in Canada’s national parks. Beautiful waterfalls and trails to explore abound along the river, and it would be an excellent “home base” for a couple of days for any campers wanting to explore more of the park.

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Skylon Tower
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42 Tours and Activities

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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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)
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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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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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Maligne Lake
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One of the most photographed locations in Jasper National Park, Maligne Lake is famous for the gorgeous emerald color of its water, the dramatic peaks and glaciers that are visible on its banks and for its views from Spirit Island. French traders coined the name ‘Maligne’ for the lake as well as a canyon, mountain and pass, meaning malignant or wicked—perhaps as a result of the turbulent rivers that flow into the lake.

The largest lake in Jasper National Park, Maligne Lake is no longer considered ‘wicked’ but instead is one of the most popular spots in the park for hiking, fishing, kayaking and canoeing. The 27.3 mile (44 km) Skyline Trail, Jasper's most popular multi-day hike, begins at Maligne Lake and finishes near the town of Jasper. Other popular day hikes include the Opal Hills and Bald Hills loops; winter activities include cross-country skiing.

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More Things to Do in Canada

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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Quebec Royal Square (Place-Royale)

Quebec Royal Square (Place-Royale)

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Locals bestow Place-Royale as the spiritual and historical heart of Vieux Quebec, for this spot is not only the birthplace of French Civilization in North America but also one of the continent’s oldest settlements. And that history resonates, as the site has the largest surviving ensemble of 17th and 18th century buildings in North America.

One of the highlights here is the Centre d’Interpretation de Place-Royal, an interpretive center with illuminating exhibits on the individual people, houses, and challenges of setting up a town the shores of the St. Lawrence River. Walk past the center to see a trompe-l’oeil mural of people from the early city. Dominating the plaza is the oldest church in Quebec, Notre-Dame-des-Victoires. It’s worth taking a peek inside at the paintings, altar, and the large boat suspended from the ceiling. When not soaking up the history, duck in and out of the boutiques and restaurants that are sprinkled throughout the Place-Royal.

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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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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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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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Medicine Lake

Medicine Lake

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When is a lake not a lake? When it’s a river. Medicine Lake is a geologic anomaly: though it looks like a long—4.3 mi (7 km)—and relatively shallow lake, it’s actually an area of the Maligne River. During times of glacial melt during the summer, the water backs up and forms the “lake” until it can slowly drain underground again through a series of sinkholes.

Aboriginal people called the lake Medicine Lake because of its incredible disappearing trick, but visitors these days are inspired by the opportunities for wildlife viewing of large mammals like bear, deer, moose and caribou. Fly-fishing is another popular pastime due to the proliferations of trout, but be prepared: Medicine Lake disappears in the fall and winter months, becoming a mudflat.

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Sunwapta Falls

Sunwapta Falls

4 Tours and Activities
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Dufferin Terrace (Terrasse Dufferin)

Dufferin Terrace (Terrasse Dufferin)

23 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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Floral Clock

Floral Clock

60 Tours and Activities

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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Ottawa Locks

Ottawa Locks

6 Tours and Activities
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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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Victoria Inner Harbour

Victoria Inner Harbour

38 Tours and Activities
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National Gallery of Canada (Musée des Beaux-Arts du Canada)

National Gallery of Canada (Musée des Beaux-Arts du Canada)

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Canada’s premier art collection is housed in the National Gallery of Canada, a strikingly modern building of glass and pink granite overlooking the Ottawa River.

The collection focuses on Canadian and European works, both classical and contemporary. The chronological display of art in the Canadian galleries is especially illuminating, providing a cultural overview of Canada’s history in paintings. You’ll also find photography exhibits, Asian collections and the art of indigenous and Aboriginal Canadians in the Inuit Gallery. The gallery also prides itself on the quality and energy of its ongoing contemporary collection.

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