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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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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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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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Calgary Stampede
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Billing itself as the greatest outdoor show on earth, you can expect something special at the Calgary Stampede. And with everything you’ve come to love about rodeos, state fairs, grandstands, concerts and carousels, something special is what you get. Every year since 1923, this ten day event annually attracts more than a million people who come to see what happens when you offer the biggest payouts to rodeo contestants and marry it with chuckwagon races, blacksmithing competitions, midway, markets, dancing, singing, and a heavy native people’s participation. It’s an event of grand scale that kicks off with an opening parade featuring dozens of marching bands, over 150 floats, clowns, dancers, politicians and business leaders. It’s extravagant, beautiful, dusty, and it smells like funnel cake and horses – in short, it’s the defining event of Calgary, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Maligne Canyon
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A natural geological feature measuring more than 160 feet high (50 meters), Maligne Canyon is one of the deepest river canyons in the Canadian Rockies and a popular destination in Jasper National Park for both sightseeing and exploration. A striking geologic formation, Maligne Canyon is a classic example of karst topography, which occurs when water carves out bedrock, creating a deep canyon with smooth walls.

The parks service has created a self-guided trail, which describes the geological history of the area; several bridges span the gorge, allowing for spectacular views of the canyon. For a more interactive view of crystal pools, waterfalls, bubbles from underground lakes and more, take the short loop that tours the upper reaches of the canyon or the longer loop that follow the gorge and exits at a fifth and sixth bridge at a lower point. In the winter, join a tour company for a guided walk down into the canyon or try ice climbing.

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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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Whistler-Blackcomb Mountains
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North America’s major ski resort focuses on Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, attracting up to two million winter and summertime visitors a year.

Linked by the groundbreaking Peak 2 Peak Gondola, the two mountains peer over the pretty alpine town of Whistler Village.

The official skiing venue for the 2010 Olympic winter games, the Whistler and Blackcomb resorts merged in 1997 and together have a total of 38 ski lifts and more than 200 ski runs.

In summer the ski runs transform into mountain-bike trails for nail-biting thrills, and the alpine meadows are crossed by hikers and nature lovers.

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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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CN Tower
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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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More Things to Do in Canada

Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake

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Named for its intense shades of emerald green water, it’s no big surprise that Emerald Lake is considered a must-see destination along Yukon’s southern Klondike Highway. It’s easy to access, too, as it’s literally best viewed from a roadside pullout just 12 kilometers north of Carcross.

Unlike many lakes in the Canadian Rockies that are colored jade-green by glacier silt suspended in the water, Emerald Lake’s brilliant color comes from beneath its crystal-clear waters. A layer of white ash, deposited after a huge volcanic eruption nearly 1,500 years ago near the Yukon and Alaska border, reflects light in varying intensities depending on both depth and time of day. The result is an ever-changing liquid landscape set amid the spectacular mountains of the southern Yukon.

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Calgary Tower

Calgary Tower

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Calgary Tower is a city landmark, teetering over the city’s downtown skyscrapers since 1968.

Atop the tower’s shaft you’ll find ‘the pod’, home to an observation deck and revolving restaurant. From here you have stunning views over the city, all the way to the snow-capped mountains fringing the horizon.

Peer through the binoculars on the observation deck, walk out on the glass floor rimming the edge of the observation deck if you dare, and dine in the revolving restaurant, Sky 360.

During special events, the Winter Olympics cauldron on the tower’s summit is lit, re-creating the Games magic.

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Yukon River

Yukon River

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Montmorency Falls Park (Parc de la Chute-Montmorency)

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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Prince Edward Island National Park

Prince Edward Island National Park

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Okanagan Valley

Okanagan Valley

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British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley is a popular Canadian holiday destination, famous for its warm dry summers, lakeside beaches, vineyards and mountains. Nicknamed the “Napa Valley of the North,” millions of juicy grapes ripen among the rolling hills around Okanagan Lake, and summertime temperatures are generally hotter than they are in Napa itself. Okanagan’s wine scene is dominated by sweet whites, and the local ice dessert wine is a must-try; it is made using grapes that have frozen on the vine during Canada’s chilly winter nights.

Orchards bursting with juicy peaches, apricots and cherries are also in abundance in Okanagan Valley, as well as plenty of outdoor activities. Popular among watersport aficionados, golfers, mountain bikers and hikers, the valley hosts more than 300,000 people, with the liveliest and largest city being Kelowna. Other popular cities to stay in around the lake are Vernon and Penticton.

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Granville Island

Granville Island

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Brimming with arts and crafts studios, bars and restaurants with eye-popping views, Granville Island is a popular spot for visitors and locals alike. Though it’s really a peninsula, jutting out into False Creek, the island draws those who come to wander the pedestrian-friendly alleyways while enjoying the sounds of the buskers and the sights along the waterfront.

One of the highlights is the Granville Island Public Market, where you can trawl the deli-style food stalls and artisan stands. Art lovers can wander through the three galleries of up-and-coming artists at the Emily Carr Institute of Art & Design. For the under-10 set, the Kids Market bristles with kid-friendly stores, mostly of the toy variety. For a little respite, entice the kids away from the shops and head to the huge Granville Island Water Park.

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Capilano Suspension Bridge Park

Capilano Suspension Bridge Park

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As you walk gingerly out on to the world's longest (140m/460ft) and highest (70m/230ft) suspension bridge, swaying gently over the roiling waters of tree-lined Capilano Canyon, remember that the thick steel cables you are gripping are safely embedded in huge concrete blocks on either side. That should steady your feet - unless the teenagers are stamping across to scare the oldsters...

The region's most popular attraction - hence the summertime crowds and relentless tour buses - the grounds here also include rainforest walks, totem poles, and a swinging network of smaller bridges strung between the trees, called Treetops Adventure. This series of open-ended suspension bridges link eight towering Douglass fir trees. At heights of up to 25m/80ft above the forest floor, the bridges have viewing platforms where Capilano’s naturalist hold court on the area’s ecological attributes.

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Old Port of Montreal (Vieux Port de Montréal)

Old Port of Montreal (Vieux Port de Montréal)

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The epicenter of the city’s sea trade back in the 17th-century, Montreal’s Old Port lost its role as a trading post in the 1970s, falling temporarily into ruin until a major renovation transformed it into one of the city’s most important entertainment centers in the 1990s. Today, the vibrant waterfront district is home to an IMAX cinema, the acclaimed Montréal Science Centre and a landmark Clock Tower, as well a large outdoor skating rink in winter and an urban beach in summer. The scenic Old Port makes an atmospheric spot for walking, cycling and Segway tours, but other popular pastimes for visitors include river cruises, renting a paddleboat (pedalo) to paddle around the calm waters of Bonsecours Basin Park or soaring overhead in a seaplane for a unique bird’s eye view of the historic waterfront.

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Stanley Park

Stanley Park

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The magnificent Stanley Park certainly enjoys one of the world’s most breathtaking settings: the park is surrounded on three sides by the ocean and loomed over by the snow-capped North Shore mountains. The park’s perimeter seawall stroll is one of the best ways to spend your time. Stanley Park is big enough to have quiet parts whenever you’re seeking seclusion, while wildlife lovers can always spot raccoons on the ground or eagles high in the trees.

Within its 1,000 acres/400 hectares you’ll find forests of cedar, hemlock and fir, mingled with meadows, lakes, and cricket pitches. There are also a couple of excellent beaches – ideal spots to perch on a driftwood log with a picnic and catch a kaleidoscopic sunset over the water.

But the park isn’t just for dewy-eyed nature lovers; other highlights include the collection of totem poles by the shore, Second Beach Swimming Pool, and Vancouver Aquarium.

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Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)

Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)

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With six million objects in its impressive collection, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is Canada's biggest natural history museum. With its new eye-catching, über-modern Daniel Libeskind design, the main building is now a magnificent explosion of architectural crystals, housing six galleries, including the new “Renaissance ROM” building.

ROM's collections bounce between natural science, ancient civilization, and art exhibits. The Chinese temple sculptures, Gallery of Korean Art, and costumery and textile collections are some of the best in the world. Kids file out of yellow school buses chugging by the sidewalk and rush to the dinosaur rooms, Egyptian mummies, and Jamaican bat cave replica. The cedar crest poles carved by First Nations tribes in British Columbia are not to be missed; the largest pole (278 feet/85 meters) was shipped from the West Coast by train, then lowered through the museum roof.

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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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Gastown

Gastown

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A highly evocative neighborhood of excellent character bars and a smattering of good restaurants, Gastown is Vancouver’s best old-town area. The Victorian era resonates in the cobblestone streets, antique lamps, and old buildings, adding to the neighborhood’s distinctive ambiance.

Gastown is the place to pay your respects to Vancouver’s founding father, "Gassy" Jack Deighton – a bronze statue of him salutes Maple Tree Square. On Water Street stands the famous Steam Clock, a charming little artifact, built to resemble London’s Big Ben. The neighborhood has also become a hotbed for local designer-owned shops, drawing a new crowd of regulars to the area. It’s also place to look for a new art gallery or a piece of beautiful, hand-carved First Nations art in one of the galleries along Water and Hastings streets. Microbreweries and brewpubs have sprung up across the city in recent years, and many of the best beer havens are in Gastown. Steamworks is the most accessible.

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