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Canada Coast to Coast: It Contains Multitudes

Drive down Alberta for scenic views and tranquil surroundings.

Destination Canada

Ten provinces, three territories, and the world’s longest coastline – there’s a whole lot to love here.

This story is part of our guide to traveling in Canada, created with support from Canada.

The world’s second-largest country can hardly be contained, even with its relatively few 40 million inhabitants. “Canada has a huge diversity of landscapes, ecosystems, and humans with their own histories and stories,” says Vancouver-based Virtuoso travel advisor Anjuli Bhatia. “Rather than a melting pot, it’s a multicultural mosaic.”  

Consider its Indigenous communities, more than 600 of which call Canada home. Over the past decade, with the help of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, the country has emerged as a leader in First Nations, Métis, and Inuit tourism. Travelers can connect with Indigenous Peoples in Canada through outdoor adventures, food, and the arts, “all while feeling a deeper connection to the lands they’re visiting,” says Tamara Littlelight of the Indigenous Tourism Association.  

Landscapes attract many travelers to Canada in the first place. From Iceberg Alley along Newfoundland and Labrador’s east coast to biodiverse Haida Gwaii – known as Canada’s Galápagos – in the Pacific, “it’s a very outdoorsy country,” says Toronto-based Virtuoso advisor Jane Hart. Whether you seek nature, culture, or a bit of both, the 13 provinces and territories have you covered. Here’s how to start exploring Canada from coast to coast. 

Top of the World 

Above 60 degrees latitude, three territories – Yukon, Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories – account for 40 percent of Canada’s landmass and just three percent of its population. Here, wilderness thrives. For aurora hunters, winter’s long nights offer prime opportunities to see the northern lights. In the Yukon, dogsledding, snowmobiling, ice fishing, and snowshoeing are enhanced by the passed-down wisdom of Indigenous storytellers and guides.  

Virtuoso advisers can organize trips in the Northwest Territories to fish for arctic grayling and northern pike, as well as journeys through Nunavut to boat in beluga-filled estuaries and tour Viking archeological sites. Offshore, Quark Expeditions, Lindblad Expeditions, and Hurtigruten explore the remote Northwest Passage, providing views of vast glaciers, polar bears, bowhead whales, and the rare narwhal on marine expeditions entirely unique to Arctic Canada. Some of the country’s largest Indigenous populations also call these remote destinations home, making them true cultural treasures of the north. 

The hotel's 29 rooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows along "Iceberg Alley."

Fogo Island Inn

Puffins, Icebergs, and Norse Settlements 

The Atlantic island of Newfoundland – known as the Rock – and its mainland companion Labrador tell the story of human settlement in Canada, from the Vikings to nearly 500 years of cod fishers leading up to today. This is where icebergs drift down from Greenland and North America’s largest colony of puffins populates the shores of Witless Bay. The road-trip-friendly coast is covered in charismatic fishing towns.  

Nearly 300 miles north of Newfoundland’s capital, Saint John’s, a modernist hotel built between rock ledges and the ocean has revived Fogo Island’s former fishing village. Combine a stay at Fogo Island Inn with Canada by Design’s 14-day self-drive road trip, filled with whale-watching, coastal hikes, and visits to colorful clapboard villages as well as L’Anse aux Meadows, site of North America’s earliest known European settlement. 

Peggy's Cove Lighthouse beams through Nova Scotia's South Shore.

Destination Canada

The Seafaring Maritimes  

Canada’s Maritime provinces – tiny Prince Edward Island; its neighbor island, Nova Scotia; and mainland New Brunswick – celebrate the sea in their own distinct ways. PEI’s red-sand beaches shelter a bucolic interior that inspired Anne of Green Gables. Fishing villages dot the coast of Nova Scotia, guardian of North America’s Gaelic culture. And the highest tides in the world sculpt the towering rock formations of New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy. 

Tours often double up on the Maritimes. Intrepid Travel’s six-day trip to PEI and New Brunswick introduces travelers to local lobster fishers and Mi’kmaq guides who teach bannock (traditional bread) making, before visiting storybook Cavendish and the Bay of Fundy’s pottery-like sandstone stacks.  

Cruises provide another easy way to province-hop. Toronto-based Virtuoso advisor Sandie Harman recalls a 16-night Princess Cruises voyage from Québec City that included excursions to Green Gables Heritage Place on PEI, Halifax’s museums, and a traditional Gaelic jam session, or ceilidh, on Cape Breton Island. “Down East, the people are so friendly,” she says. “You feel like they’re family within half an hour.” 

Walk the cobblestone streets in the historic city of Old Montréal, Quebec.

Destination Canada

Francophone Québec and Outsize Ontario

By size and population, respectively, Québec and Ontario are Canada’s largest provinces and some of its most culturally rich. Stronghold of the country’s French roots, which date back to the sixteenth century, Québec encompasses one of North America’s oldest European settlements – Québec City – as well as ski villages along the Saint Lawrence River. “Québec City has such a European flavor, you feel like you’ve gone to France,” says Harman, who prefers to stay at the Renaissance-style, 611-room Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, a palatial landmark overlooking the Saint Lawrence.   

Montréal blends artistic creativity – it’s the home of Cirque du Soleil, after all – and an internationally acclaimed restaurant and bar scene. There’s no better way to sample Québécois cheeses, sausages, and salmon than on a private tour of Marché Jean-Talon with Context Travel. To combine both major Québécois cities, take a weeklong road trip, stopping overnight at the elegant Manoir Hovey, a family estate turned inn and spa set on 30 wooded acres. 

Neighboring Ontario holds the nation’s capital, Ottawa, as well as its largest city, Toronto, home to the Art Gallery of Ontario, which spotlights Canadian and Indigenous artists – the Group of Seven and Annie Pootoogook among them – alongside international works. “Toronto has the largest theater community outside of New York and London,” adds Harman, who recommends attending the seasonal Nutcracker-themed tea at the 202-room Shangri-La Toronto before catching the National Ballet of Canada’s annual holiday performance (or else a Broadway production such as Six) in the city’s Theatre District.   

Together, the two provinces thrill in the chill. “Nobody knows winter like Canadians,” Bhatia says, singling out Québec City’s Winter Carnival and ice-skating on Ottawa’s Rideau Canal as two prime attractions. “Eastern Canada is my go-to for a quintessential winter wonderland.” 

Wanuskewin Heritage Park includes 20 Northern Plains Indigenous archeological sites that span almost 6000 years of Saskatchewan history.

Destination Canada

Of Prairies and Polar Bears 

Surprises await in Canada’s vast interior: sand dunes, Arctic landscapes, star-filled dark skies, and chains of hundreds of thousands of lakes. Due to its prolific northern lights and massive bird migrations, Saskatchewan is known as the Land of Living Skies. Entrée Canada’s tour of the province surveys its sunsets over seven days with a visit to the Northern Plains Indigenous archeological site at Wanuskewin Heritage Park, a seaplane trip to a remote fishing lodge, and time to explore lively Saskatoon. Polar bears and beluga whales, both found around Churchill on Hudson Bay, entice travelers to Manitoba, where Abercrombie & Kent’s 13-day foray takes wildlife lovers north from Winnipeg, home to the groundbreaking Canadian Museum for Human Rights. In summer, Natural Habitat Adventures’ seven-day trip launches kayaks into the Churchill River estuary amid some 3,000 of the white whales and sends helicopters over the tundra to spy polar bears.

The Wild West 

Home to cowboy culture, Canada’s first national park (Banff), and abundant dinosaur fossils, Alberta knows no off-season, particularly in the Canadian Rockies, where mountain towns such as Banff and Jasper attract World Cup ski racers. pairs access to heart-pumping runs with pampering overnights at a series of Fairmont hotels, led by the palatial 757-room Fairmont Banff Springs, built in the nineteenth century by the Canadian Pacific Railway to tempt travelers across the country. “It has a very romantic connotation and speaks to the grandeur of the time,” Bhatia says. 

In summer, travelers riding the Rocky Mountaineer train delight in the passing scenery of high-altitude peaks, waterfalls, and glacial lakes. With routes in Alberta and British Columbia, the train’s glass-domed carriages traverse the mountains by day for best viewing, then overnight in lively towns such as Jasper. “It’s awe-inspiring,” Harman says. “You get to go where there are no highways or roads, just the tracks. It’s like your own wilderness.”  

Beautiful British Columbia 

From the Kootenay Rockies’ ski areas to Vancouver Island’s temperate rain forests, “British Columbia is nature on steroids,” says Bhatia. A popular cruise port, Vancouver models B.C.’s versatility: It’s a global trade and film capital with a rain-forest park as its centerpiece and the famed Whistler Blackcomb ski resort less than two hours away.  

Of the many ways to play castaway in B.C., wilderness lodges top the list. Fish, hike, and disconnect at Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge, a remote glamping compound of 25 tents in a 600-acre nature reserve on Vancouver Island. In the nearby Discovery Islands, soak in natural hot springs, take a heli-glacier tour, or spot grizzly bears gorging on salmon near the 88-room Sonora Resort. Organized trips to the islands of Haida Gwaii steep travelers in nature and Indigenous Haida culture. But the province’s real surprise comes farther inland: “I love recommending this not-well-known destination to foodies,” says Bhatia of Okanagan Valley wine country, where 11 subregions produce notable New World styles of pinot gris, pinot noir, riesling, and more.  

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