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11 Best Cities in Canada

Written by Magee Walker
Mar 6, 2020

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 million 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 deserve 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

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 over 37 million people, which is why it earned the top spot on this list.

First, there are 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 destinations like Toronto Island, Casa Loma, and the Toronto Zoo as well.

There are world famous museums, like the Art Gallery of Ontario (the AGO) and the Royal Ontario Museum (the ROM), and other major attractions like the Hockey Hall of Fame and Nathan Phillips Square.

Then, there are the sports teams. Toronto hosts the most professional sports teams in the entire country — seven in total — and you don't have to be a rabid sports fan to enjoy taking in a game. No matter what time of year you're visiting, there's probably a pro sports game taking place — whether it's catching the Toronto Blue Jays play a baseball game, the Toronto Raptors (2019 NBA champions!) play a basketball game, or the Toronto Maple Leafs play a hockey game.

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 the Danforth (home to a large Greek community), you can experience food from around the world by hopping from neighborhood to neighborhood.

After you've filled your belly to your heart's content, get out and explore the city's natural beauty: take in a stroll along Lake Ontario in The Beaches or wander High Park, Toronto's largest public park.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Toronto: Best Areas & Hotels

2. Quebec City, Quebec

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 Museum of Civilization (or Musée de la civilisation) 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.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Quebec City: Best Areas & Hotels

3. Vancouver, British Columbia

Vancouver, British Columbia

Vancouver is easily the most beautiful city in Canada. With mountains to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the enormous Stanley Park right downtown, the city's landscapes are jaw-droppingly gorgeous.

Whether you're exploring the beaches in Kitsilano, meandering the trails of Pacific Spirit Park by the University of British Columbia campus, or cycling along the seawall downtown, there are plenty of ways to enjoy Vancouver's natural beauty. Thanks to warm, sunny summers and mild (though often wet) winters, it's easy to enjoy spending time outdoors year-round.

Many of Vancouver's neighborhoods are easily walkable, and there are hidden gems around virtually every corner. The downtown core is prime for finding a seat at a coffee shop and watching the world go by, while nearby Gastown offers a mix of quirky, contemporary, and cool shops and restaurants.

Granville Island features its famous market laden with all kinds of goodies, and Main Street is a foodie's paradise, with restaurants serving the best local fare. It's tough to see the entire city in one visit — but it's sure fun trying to do it all!

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Vancouver: Best Areas & Hotels

4. Calgary, Alberta

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 revolving restaurant atop the Calgary Tower, or meander along the Bow River through the 50-acre Prince's Island Park.

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, odds are good that you'll have great weather.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Calgary: Best Areas & Hotels

5. Ottawa, Ontario

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.

A guided tour of Parliament Building on Parliament Hill will give you a peek into the world of Canadian government — and the building itself is quite the masterpiece. The city is also 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.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Ottawa: Best Areas & Hotels

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

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 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."

9. Whitehorse, Yukon

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.

10. Halifax, Nova Scotia

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.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Halifax: Best Areas & Hotels

11. Banff, Alberta

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.

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