16 Best Cities in Canada

Written by Magee Walker and Michael Law
Updated Mar 15, 2024
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In a country as big and diverse as Canada, it's not easy to narrow down a list of the nation's very best destinations. With 10 provinces and three territories spread over 9,985,000 square kilometers, there are literally countless places to visit – each with unique attractions, beautiful landscapes, and kind people. In other words, it's safe to say that there are no bad cities in Canada.

Having said that, there are a few that stand out. We've carefully selected the cities on this list because each one features something spectacular that you can't find anywhere else in the country – or possibly even the world.

From the biggest city in Canada to the country's largest national park to the capital city, we believe each of the cities on this list deserves a place on your travel bucket list – and we can't wait to tell you why.

Find the top places to visit on your next trip with our list of the best cities in Canada.

1. Toronto, Ontario

Toronto skyline at dusk
Toronto skyline at dusk

The capital of Ontario, the largest city in Canada, and the city that attracts the most visitors in the entire country – there's a lot to be said for Toronto, a bustling city of almost three million people, which is why it earned the top spot on this list.

First, the infamous Toronto landmarks. You can't mention Toronto without thinking of the iconic CN Tower, and many tourists take the time to visit popular tourist attractions like Ripley's Aquarium, Casa Loma, and the Toronto Zoo. Toronto also boasts world-renowned museums, including the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM).

Depending on the time of year, you'll be able to stand up and cheer at exciting games of baseball (Toronto Blue Jays), ice hockey (Toronto Maple Leafs), or Canadian Football (Toronto Argonauts).

Toronto is also an entertainment hotspot, and the city's entertainment district is home to multiple theatres performing the latest Broadway shows. And fortunately, many of Toronto's trendiest restaurants are located mere steps from the theaters making for the perfect night out on the town.

But most Torontonians would argue that the major attractions aren't what make Toronto the best city in Canada: it's the diverse neighborhoods located throughout the city, each a micro cultural hub with unique restaurants, shops, and parks. From Little Italy to Chinatown to Little India to the Danforth (home to a large Greek community), you can experience food from around the world by hopping from neighborhood to neighborhood.

If you have more time, take a stroll along Lake Ontario or spend some time on the local beaches. Wander High Park, Toronto's largest public park or take a ferry and soak up the city views on your way to Toronto Islands for a fun afternoon with the kids at Center Island Amusement Park.

2. Quebec City, Quebec

Fairmont Le Château Frontenac in Quebec City
Fairmont Le Château Frontenac in Quebec City

With horse-drawn carriages clip-clopping along the cobblestone streets of old Quebec City, it's easy to feel as though you've jumped back in time in this historic city.

Overlooking the Saint Lawrence River, Quebec City is a French-speaking city (though most people speak English in the popular tourist areas) that is rich in culture and history. Most visitors are drawn to Vieux-Québec, the fortified city core that features the aforementioned cobblestone streets, lined with boutiques, cafés, and restaurants.

The castle-like Fairmont Le Château Frontenac is an iconic Quebec City landmark and is well worth exploring, even if you aren't lucky enough to be staying as a guest. A visit to La Citadelle de Québec is also a great idea; join in on a walking tour to learn about this historical fort, which continues to function as an active military installation.

Lovers of art and all things ornate will feel like kids in a candy store in Quebec City. Beauty is everywhere you look, from architectural details to exceptional museums like the Musée National des Beaux-arts du Québec.

The Musée de la civilisation (Museum of Civilization) is one of the most visited museums in Canada and takes you behind the scenes of the history of Quebec. You'll leave feeling inspired – and with the urge to return again someday.

3. Vancouver, British Columbia

Vancouver, British Columbia
Vancouver, British Columbia

Vancouver is, without a doubt, Canada's most visually stunning city. With mountains to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the lush old-growth forest oasis of Stanley Park right downtown, the city's landscapes are jaw-droppingly gorgeous.

Whether you're exploring the beaches in Kitsilano, enjoying a seafood-laden patio lunch on English Bay, or cycling along the seawall downtown, you'll find plenty of ways to enjoy Vancouver's natural beauty. Thanks to moderately warm summers and mild (albeit wet) winters, it's easy to enjoy spending time outdoors year-round.

The vibrant pulse of city life is best found in Vancouver's downtown core. Soak it all up at a coffee shop watching the world go by, then explore the spectacular flowers at VanDusen Botanical Gardens, followed up by shopping on bustling Robson Street. For something completely different Gastown's mix of quirky, contemporary, and cool shops and restaurants has you covered.

Granville Island, one of the city's best attractions, is famous for its unique architecture and market laden with the freshest fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses. Hop on the Aqua Bus to get there, and to easily visit many of the city's other attractions mentioned above.

4. Calgary, Alberta

Sunset in downtown Calgary
Sunset in downtown Calgary

Welcome to Canada's Wild West: Calgary, Alberta is home to the famous Calgary Stampede, a week-long festival featuring rodeo events, concerts, special activities, and exhibitions galore. More than a million visitors head to "Cowtown" every year in early July to celebrate Calgary's farming and ranching heritage, making it one of the biggest festivals in the entire country.

But there's much more to Calgary than horses and cowboy hats: you can hop back in time and experience life as a pioneer at Heritage Park Historical Village, take in the city views at the Sky360 revolving restaurant atop the Calgary Tower, or meander along the Bow River through the 50-acre Prince's Island Park. In the summer, cheer on the Calgary Stampeders as they battle one of the other teams in the Canadian Football League at McMahon Stadium.

Calgary's enviable position in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains makes it a prime jumping-off point for trips to spectacular Banff National Park and world-famous Lake Louise. Home to fantastic hiking, downhill skiing, and great camping, this park is a wonderland of nature.

Though it gets mighty cold in the winter, the people of Calgary often have smiles on their faces – maybe that's because the city gets the most sunshine of anywhere in Canada. On average, Calgary experiences 333 sunny days per year, totaling 2,396 hours of sunshine. If you're planning a trip, the odds are good that you'll have great weather.

5. Ottawa, Ontario

Rideau Canal ice skating rink in Ottawa
Rideau Canal ice skating rink in Ottawa

Oh, Canada – it's hard not to feel extra patriotic when you're in the nation's capital of Ottawa. If you're a history buff, Ottawa will have you swooning in no time.

Although under renovations for the foreseeable future, guided sightseeing tours of the Parliament Building on Parliament Hill are still available and will give you a peek into the world of Canadian government.

Ottawa is home to some of the best museums and galleries in the country; the Canadian War Museum explores the history of Canada's military and the major events and conflicts that shaped the country as we know it today. And that's just the tip of the cultural iceberg: there's also the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of History, the Canadian Museum of Nature, and the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum, to name a few.

Another thing Ottawa knows how to do is throw an epic festival. On July 1, no city celebrates Canada Day quite like Ottawa. Each February, Winterlude is a winter lover's dream come true, celebrating all things about the cold – you haven't truly experienced winter in Canada until you've ice skated along the Rideau Canal. There's also the Canadian Tulip Festival, the jazz festival, Bluesfest – the list goes on.

6. Montreal, Quebec

Old Montreal
Old Montreal

Since being established in 1642 as a French mission station, Montreal (or Mont- Réal as it was back then) has risen in importance as both a world-class commercial and a cultural center. Today, not only is it Canada's second-largest city, it's also the world's second-biggest French-speaking city, surpassed only by Paris,

As big as it is, Montreal has, unlike many equally large cities in North America, managed to preserve not only its unique character but also many of its oldest buildings and neighborhoods. The best places to get a feeling for "Old Montreal" are in Vieux-Montreal, the heart of the original old colonial town, with its attractive old townhomes; and the equally picturesque "Old Port," or Vieux-Port, with its splendid promenade.

Add to this historic character the city's newer entertainment, museum, and arts districts, and you'll find no end of fun attractions to visit in Montreal.

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7. Victoria, British Columbia

Parliament Buildings in Victoria, British Columbia
Parliament Buildings in Victoria, British Columbia

Whether you love the outdoors, enjoy history, are a foodie, or simply a lover of beautiful places, Victoria will likely leave you with a lasting impression and the desire to return.

A highlight of a visit includes exploring the city's Inner Harbour, with its lengthy promenade; the lovely Butchart Gardens, which is especially lovely in spring; and the Royal BC Museum, with its large collections related to the country's cultural and natural history.

Architectural buffs will want to take a free tour of the British Colombia Legislative Buildings. Topping it all, the city's most iconic building, the majestic Fairmont Empress, founded in 1904, also happens to serve what is probably Canada's most authentic afternoon tea experience.

Attractions abound beyond the Inner Harbour. A short stroll away is Beacon Hill Park, crisscrossed with walking trails and set among huge old-growth trees, this park is not to be missed. Just off the park is Cook Street Village, a fun area of town with great coffee shops, eclectic shops, and restaurants.

Victoria is a popular cruise ship destination in Canada, often serving as a stopover point on journeys towards the striking glaciers of Alaska.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Victoria

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8. St. John's, Newfoundland

Colorful houses in St. John's, Newfoundland
Colorful houses in St. John's, Newfoundland

Arguably one of the most underrated cities on this list, St. John's is a city simply unlike any other in Canada. From the local lingo and distinct Newfoundland accent to the colorful houses and the rugged, natural beauty of the coast, visiting St. John's almost feels like visiting an entirely different country – in the best of ways.

As the easternmost city in North America, St. John's has played several important roles throughout Canada's history. Check out Signal Hill, where Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless signal, and the spectacular museum The Rooms, to learn about St. John's importance in Canada's historic wars and battles (before Newfoundland was even officially part of Canada!)

Downtown St. John's was ravaged by the Great Fire in 1892, but today, the city's downtown core is a great place to window shop, grab a bite to eat, and pick up some one-of-a-kind souvenirs. Visitors should also make time to explore the coast – whale watching and puffin viewing tours leave from just outside of town.

9. Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

If you're planning a trip to Prince Edward Island, chances are good that you'll start things off in Charlottetown, the province's capital. Be sure to take some time to explore this small but fascinating city, home of the Canadian Confederation.

For a taste of PEI's cultural side, check out the Confederation Centre of the Arts. This national art center spans an entire city block downtown and features a massive theater, an art gallery, a gift boutique, an outdoor amphitheater, and even a restaurant. Check out the center's schedule to see what acts are in town, from live concerts to musical shows to comedy acts and more.

For a literal taste of Charlottetown, check out the local restaurants to sample local treats. Nothing says PEI quite like fresh seafood and potatoes. You'll find plenty of restaurants serving the province's best fare right in the heart of Charlottetown.

10. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Summer in Saskatoon
Summer in Saskatoon

There's an exciting, youthful vibe about Saskatoon – Saskatchewan's largest city – that contributed to its well-deserved spot on this list of Canada's best cities.

One of Saskatoon's surprising claims to fame is that it's said to boast the highest number of restaurants per capita of any city in the country. There are many options for those who want to experience fresh flavors grown right in Saskatchewan. Of course, you can't have a true culinary tour of the city without sampling a slice of Saskatoon berry pie.

The city has also put a lot of work into building a strong arts and cultural scene. Live music, theater, modern art galleries, and public art installations are just a few of the attractions you'll find when exploring the city's artistic side.

While there's lots going on in terms of culture, one of Saskatoon's greatest attractions is outside — just look up. The sky in Saskatoon is unlike anywhere else. Whether you're catching a sunset or simply spotting shapes in the clouds, you'll quickly understand why Saskatoon is dubbed the "Land of the Living Skies."

11. Whitehorse, Yukon

Northern lights over Whitehorse
Northern lights over Whitehorse

With a population of just over 25,000 people, Whitehorse is certainly one of the smaller cities on this list, but it's a charming place to visit, combining the old and the new, and it serves as a great launching point for a trip exploring Canada's vast and beautiful north.

Downtown Whitehorse is small but walkable and well worth a visit – but many of the best attractions are just outside of town. Check out the Takhini Hot Springs and Yukon Wildlife Preserve, both just half an hour from Whitehorse.

If you're willing to brave the cold winters of the north, a Northern Lights tour is the adventure of a lifetime.

12. Halifax, Nova Scotia

Aerial view of Halifax
Aerial view of Halifax

One of the best cities in the Maritimes has to be Halifax. It's known as a city that is easily accessible by foot, making it a lot of fun to wander around, exploring the different neighborhoods without setting out a formal itinerary.

A good place to start out is to head to the Halifax Peninsula for a walk along the four-kilometer boardwalk winding along the waterfront, which is bustling with activity in the summer months. Be sure to check out the Canadian Museum of Immigration, Cable Wharf (from here, you can catch a whale watching tour or sail out to Peggy's Cove), and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic along the way.

The 16-acre Halifax Public Gardens on the city's famous Spring Garden Road is a sanctuary in the city. Just a short walk away is the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site of Canada, a 19th-century fort with exceptional views and the opportunity to learn more about the city's history. When you're ready to fuel up, just grab a bite at one of Halifax's many restaurants – the city is known for its delectable donairs and scrumptious seafood.

13. Winnipeg, Manitoba

Downtown Winnipeg
Downtown Winnipeg

Winnipeg is a great destination for those wanting a taste of the country's heartland. As Manitoba's capital city, it serves an important commercial and cultural role, and is home to numerous institutions, architecture, attractions, and places to visit.

Topping the city's list of important cultural attractions is the stunningly designed Canadian Museum for Human Rights. This state-of-the-art museum features exhibits and collections describing human rights issues, as well as some of the best views over the city from its centerpiece Tower of Hope. Other cultural attractions worth seeing include the Manitoba Museum, which portrays the province's human and natural histories, and the Winnipeg Art Gallery with its impressive collection of Canadian and international art including the new area Quamajuq, and its Visible Vault showcasing 7,500 pieces of Inuit art.

For shopping and dining, The Forks Market can't be beat. Located at the famous junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, this lively entertainment area is a place to go in summer or winter. The Riverwalk Trail extends from here to the imposing Manitoba Legislative Building. Heading west and north from The Forks, the trail will take you to the Exchange District.

14. Banff, Alberta

Banff Avenue in Banff at dusk
Banff Avenue in Banff at dusk

Technically, the resort town of Banff isn't quite large enough to be a city – but it's so beautiful that we didn't dare leave it off this list. Many visitors head to Canada expressly to witness the majestic Rocky Mountains up close and personal. At just an hour and a half from Calgary, Banff is easily accessible and, without a doubt, stunningly scenic.

The town of Banff is situated in Banff National Park, Canada's largest and most popular national park. As fun as it is to wander the streets of downtown Banff, the real action lies outside of town and within the park boundaries.

From skiing the local resorts to exploring Johnston Canyon, from hiking up mountains to taking a backcountry horseback riding tour, Banff is a mecca for adventurers and lovers of the outdoors.

15. St John, New Brunswick

Historic St. John
Historic St. John

Saint John, Canada's oldest incorporated city, teems with sights that will entice you to explore and indulge. Victorian architecture abounds in Uptown St John. Wander through these perfectly restored beauties and stop in at the Saint John City Market, North America's oldest, in operation since the 1870s, to sample the freshest seafood, meats, cheeses, fruit, and vegetables.

St John is also a cruise ship destination. There's a reason the big ships stop here - the multitude of things to see and do keeps passengers entertained. One of the best things to do is mere steps from the port; Container Village. This newly developed area is full of shops and restaurants, many with rooftop patios. The area isn't only for passengers, locals get to enjoy it as well and can participate in yoga classes, movie nights, and concert performances in the evening.

The city boasts several natural attractions, but none quite as fascinating as the Reversing Falls Rapids. Witnessing the tidal bore create a waterfall that flows in both directions is truly a remarkable sight that must be experienced firsthand.

Read More: Top Attractions & Things to Do in St. John

16. Thunder Bay, Ontario

Thunder Bay, Ontario
Thunder Bay, Ontario

From its humble beginnings as a fur trading post in the early 1800s, the northern Ontario city of Thunder Bay has transformed into a delightful tourist destination that has become increasingly popular with domestic and international tourists alike.

In fact, the city's first real non-native settlement, historic Fort William, can still be visited, and provides a fascinating glimpse into the lives and conditions of the time. Opened to the public as a "living museum" in the 1970s, it now consists of 42 faithfully reconstructed buildings occupied by costumed guides keen to describe their characters' roles and lives "back in the day."

Thunder Bay also boasts a spectacular waterfront, much of which has been the subject of major redevelopment in recent years. Stroll the promenades, and admire the sculptures and parks, all the while catching glimpses of the famous Sleeping Giant, a peninsula of land that really does look like a large man lying down and resting.

Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do in Thunder Bay, Ontario