17 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Ontario
Ontario offers a full range of travel possibilities with interesting cities and towns, beautiful natural areas, and important cultural institutions. Home to the country's largest city, Toronto, and the capital city, Ottawa, Ontario contains some of Canada's most important museums and galleries, as well as fun family entertainment. It is also where visitors will find the world famous Niagara Falls. The lesser explored Northwestern portion of Ontario offers pristine wilderness experiences in places like Lake of the Woods, Lake Superior, and Quetico Provincial Park.
1 Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls is Canada's most internationally recognized attraction, visited by millions of tourists each year. While there are actually three sets of falls, the largest section, known as Horseshoe Falls, drops approximately 57 meters creating a great wall of water that stretches between Niagara Falls, Canada and Niagara Falls, USA. The falls are famous primarily for the large volume of water flowing over them, but combined with the huge drop it is truly a magnificent sight. They are located right at the city of Niagara Falls, making them easy to visit. It's possible to walk down the main tourist strip in Niagara Falls, an outrageous spectacle in itself, to the edge of the gorge where there are great views all along the walkway overlooking the river and the falls. Day trip tours can be easily arranged from hotels or hostels in Toronto. By car, the trip from Toronto takes about one and a half hours.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Niagara Falls
2 Toronto's CN Tower
The CN Tower is one of Canada's most iconic structures, standing tall along the Toronto skyline. The 553-meter tower is lit up at night and can be seen from all over the city and surroundings at any time of day but visitors will likely want to take a trip up the tower to fully experience it. An elevator allows access to the observation deck and restaurants, located about three quarters of the way to the top. The view is astounding, looking out over the city and Lake Ontario. On clear days it's possible to see all the way to the plume of mist rising off Niagara Falls. In the evening the sparkling city lights are also impressive. The tower is located in the heart of downtown Toronto, and at the base is the new Ripley's Aquarium and Rogers Centre.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Toronto
3 Parliament Hill in Ottawa
Parliament Hill in the nation's capital is where most visitors begin their tour of Ottawa. The buildings reside in a lovely setting on a rise above the Ottawa River. The Peace Tower is the most obvious and the most photographed structure, standing more than 90 meters high between the Senate and the House of Commons. In front of the Parliament buildings is the Centennial Flame. During the summer, visitors can see the Changing of the Guard on the lawn in front of the Houses of Parliament, while those who are lucky enough to be visiting Ottawa on July 1 can enjoy some of the biggest Canada Day celebrations in the country.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Ottawa
4 Ontario's Provincial and National Parks
Ontario has many interesting provincial and national parks that offer access to some of the most beautiful areas of the province. In Southern Ontario, canoeists and hikers take to the lakes and forests of Algonquin, French River, and Killarney Provincial Parks, as well as the Bruce Peninsula National Park. Boaters and divers can find adventure exploring Georgian Bay Islands National Park and the Fathom Five National Marine Park. Those who are looking for an even more remote experience will find invitingly pristine lakes and forests in Quetico Provincial Park in Northwestern Ontario.
The petroglyphs of Petroglyphs Provincial l Park, just a short drive northeast of Peterborough, offer an easy and close up look at an outstanding collection of 500 to 1,000-year-old Aboriginal rock carvings. Somewhat more difficult to access, but also impressive are the pictographs that line the cliff walls on the shoreline of Lake Superior in Lake Superior Provincial Park.
5 Royal Ontario Museum
The Royal Ontario Museum in downtown Toronto is one of the premier museums in the province featuring a broad range of collections, from natural history and science to cultural exhibits from around the world. Generally referred to as the ROM, this museum underwent an expansion in 2007, which saw the addition of a modern and unique extension known as the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal. The building is now a mix of old and new architecture with a striking appearance.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Toronto
6 Canada's Wonderland
About 30 kilometers northwest of Toronto's city center is Canada's Wonderland, a huge theme park that operates during the summer months. This is one of Canada's premier amusement parks featuring roller coasters and thrill rides for children of all ages as well as a water park, dinosaur park, and live shows. While Wonderland is an easy day trip from Toronto many families make the journey here from all over Canada as part of a family vacation.
MarineLand is one of Ontario's biggest summertime attractions, particularly popular with families. Located near Niagara Falls, it is an easy day trip from Toronto. The main highlights are the marine shows featuring killer whales, dolphins, walruses, and sea lions, but the facility also displays beluga whales at the popular "Arctic Cove™" as well as other aquatic life and land mammals. The complex contains an amusement park with all kinds of rides, including the parks signature "Sky Screamer.™" Touted as being the "world's highest triple tower ride," it propels passengers up more than 137 meters before dropping them back down again.
8 National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa houses some of the country's most important collections. It contains a particularly strong selection of works by Canadian artists, from the Group of Seven to Emily Carr and many other famous names. The gallery also displays important pieces by well-known international artists. The National Gallery building is housed in an ultra-modern architectural masterpiece designed by Moshe Safdie.
9 Art Gallery of Ontario
In downtown Toronto, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is one of Canada's most prestigious art galleries. It hosts a particularly impressive collection of Canadian paintings with a focus on artists from Ontario and Toronto. It also holds Canada's largest collection of African and Oceanic Art displayed in a museum. Other highlights include paintings and sculpture by European masters and Modern and Contemporary collections from North America and Europe. Temporary exhibitions are held throughout the year.
10 Thousand Islands
Dotted over an 80-kilometer stretch of the St. Lawrence is a scenic natural area known as the Thousand Islands. The islands are on a granite shelf extending from the Canadian Shield to the Adirondack Mountains in the United States, with the US-Canada boundary actually running between the islands. It is one of the oldest and best-known holiday areas in Ontario, popular with cottagers, boaters, and those looking to get away from the cities of Southern Ontario during the hot summer months.
A cruise through this maze of islands is highly recommended. Gananoque is the principle resort town in the area and the main gateway to the Thousand Islands.
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Thousand Islands
11 Fort William Historical Park
Fort William Historical Park is the reconstruction of the inland headquarters operated by the Northwest Company of the Canadian fur trade from 1803 to 1821. Situated on the banks of the Kaministiquia River in south Thunder Bay, the Fort comprises 57 buildings on 250 acres.
Each summer, fur traders, voyageurs, and first nations people would converge upon the Fort for the annual "rendezvous," which saw the transfer of tons of furs coming in from western posts with trade goods coming from Montreal, all conveyed by birch bark canoes within one season. This system enabled the Nor'Westers to emerge as a dominant force in the fur trade.
The Fort offers a fascinating spectrum of fur trade life, touching upon themes from furs and food to muskets and medicine and highlighting a cultural mosaic of Scottish fur traders, French Canadian voyageurs, farmers and artisans, aboriginals and Métis.
12 Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons
The reconstruction of the mission station of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons is about five kilometers east of Midland on the Wye River. It was founded by the Jesuits in 1639 and served as a mainstay for ten years for Europeans in "Wendat," the land of the Huron.
As time went by, there was constant conflict with the Hurons, who were also decimated by diseases imported by the Europeans. Several Indian tribes fought each other, and occasionally there were attacks by the Iroquois in which not only Christians and Hurons, but even European priests were killed. In 1649, the Jesuits abandoned their settlement and returned to Québec.
The mission was reconstructed in the 1960s and was later designated a national monument. Today, it's open to visitors and provides an excellent opportunity to learn about the history of the station and pioneer life in Canada.
13 Trent-Severn Waterway National Historic Site of Canada
The historic Trent-Severn Canal is a system of waterways linking Lake Ontario with Georgian Bay on Lake Huron. The canal winds its way through various rivers and lakes, such as the Trent River and Lake Simcoe, in the east of Ontario Province. The changing levels mean that it needs more than 40 locks, including the world's highest hoist, built in 1905 at Peterborough, covering a height of 20 meters.
In the past, the Canal was mainly used for carrying grain and timber, but today, the Trent-Severn Waterway is a part of Parks Canada and officially called the Trent-Severn Waterway National Historic Site of Canada. It is used largely for tourism and recreational boaters. At some of the locks, there are camping facilities and grassy areas for picnics.
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Trent-Severn Waterway
14 Muskoka and Cottage Country
North of Toronto is an area known as Cottage Country or Muskoka, which is centered around Lake Muskoka and a number of other popular lakes in the area. This area is about a three-hour drive north of the city and home to upscale cottages, lakeside resorts, and marinas. Locals and foreigners flock to Cottage Country during the summer months, particularly on weekends. The lakes are dotted with islands and surrounded by rocky shorelines and towering pine trees.
There are a number of small communities in Cottage Country, although the primary town is Gravenhurst located on the shores of Lake Muskoka. From here, visitors can hop on historical steamships for a short cruise and tour of the lake.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Muskoka
15 Lake of the Woods
Lake of the Woods lies on the lightly populated provincial borders of Manitoba and Ontario, and also dips into the American state of Minnesota. This large lake provides a very scenic setting and pristine wilderness experience for those looking to venture out into the backcountry. It is also a prime destination for tourists who come to Canada to go on fishing trips.
The lake has cottages and resorts and provides excellent opportunities for boating, fishing, and simply escaping into the Canadian wilderness. Islands fringe the heavily indented Canadian north shore, while the south shore is flat, sandy, and marshy in places. Lake of the Woods was discovered in 1688, and provided trappers and "voyageurs" with a passage westwards. The main town on Lake of the Woods is Kenora, Ontario.
16 Stratford Festival
Just 60 kilometers northeast of London, Ontario, Stratford is internationally famous for its Festival. The Stratford Festival is one of Ontario's most popular seasonal theater events drawing particularly large crowds from the Toronto area. The 2,250 seat Festival Theatre has been staging plays between May and October since 1953, with pride of place going to Shakespeare. There are now four theater venues, and plays by other famous writers are also presented.
17 Blue Mountain Resort
Blue Mountain Resort, just outside the town of Collingwood, on the shores of Georgian Bay, is one of the most popular ski resorts in southern Ontario. Walking through Blue Mountain Village at the base of the hill is reminiscent of Vail and other world famous resorts with fine dining restaurants, top end shops, and first class accommodation. The hill itself is family oriented and extremely popular with Torontonians. The resort is open year round and almost as busy in summer as it is in winter with all kinds of activities, from rock climbing and ziplining to mountain biking and hiking.