Located in central Canada, Ontario is home to approximately forty percent of Canada’s population. Bordered by the Great Lakes in the south, Manitoba to the west and Quebec to the east, it is literally riddled with thousands of lakes and rivers. Ontario is the size of France and Spain combined, and it's easy for travelers and to get lost in its natural beauty: Bucolic rural towns and villages give way to verdant farmland, rich with wildlife, while Toronto’s diverse culture and sprawling metropolis is a destination unto itself. The city of Ottawa is Canada’s capital, home to Parliament Hill as well as a strongly bilingual community, and with some of the coldest, snowiest winters in Canada, it’s a hotbed of activity for winter travelers. Northern Ontario is rich with aboriginal First Nations people, and though the northern part of the province is sparsely populated, there are plentiful outdoor adventures to be had in the summertime. Canoeing and paddle sports are very popular in the north, and enthusiasts come from all over the world to explore the hundreds of miles of rivers that run in all directions, especially through the north west of the province, Thunder Bay and beyond. You will find four popular wine regions in Ontario, the most popular being Niagara and Prince Edward County, both renowned for their wines as well as their locavore food and wine culture. Beaches line the shores of Lake Ontario, but none is quite as spectacular as those you’ll find in Sandbanks Provincial Park: massive sand dunes and white sand beaches stretch for miles, and you’ll find plenty of camping as well as luxury accommodation at your fingertips. For families, couples or larger tours, Ontario definitely has it all!
Things to Do:
It’s easy to spend all your time getting to and from destinations in Ontario, but taken region by region it’s much easier to navigate!
Enjoy some of Ontario’s most popular destinations:
Toronto is one of the world’s top cities, its beauty rivalled only by the diversity of activities it offers to travellers of all ages. The Toronto Harbourfront boasts hundreds of shops, nightclubs, restaurants and hotels, with a shorefront boardwalk that stretches from the beaches in the east end of the city to those on the west side. The Beach is quite popular in the summertime, and the bustling downtown areas of Queen St. West and Yonge St. offer plenty of shopping, people watching and street performers to keep you entertained. Visit the CN Tower, where adventurous sorts can take the Edge Walk – outside the tower on a ledge, three hundred fifty six metres high above the city! Dine at top-rated restaurants, take in a Broadway play, go to the opera or a symphony, or hear a rock band in one of the open-air amphitheatres. Toronto is host to several popular festivals – in fact, listing them all here would be a task unto itself, but see below for some highlights and must-go tips.
Ottawa is the nation’s capital, home to the Parliament Buildings and Canada’s Prime Minister. The Rideau Canal runs right through it, and during the summer months you’ll see cyclists, runners and hikers on the bike path that runs alongside, while in the winter time, the canal itself becomes the world’s longest skating rink. Directly on the border to the province of Quebec, Ottawa’s French next-door neighbour city is Gatineau, which lies on the northern banks of the Ottawa River. With a luxury casino and a decidedly different culture than Ottawa proper, it’s worth the trip across the bridge just to see how different two neighbours can be!
From Toronto, follow the banks of Lake Ontario around its western tip into the Niagara Peninsula. Bordered by Lake Ontario to the north and Lake Erie to the south, its home to the famous Niagara Falls, and is on the border to New York State. Visit the Falls, stroll the quaint loyalist town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, and discover culinary bliss in Niagara wine country. You’ll be treated to beautiful villages, great restaurants, open-air markets and fabulous local wine as well as hundreds of kilometres of trails to hike and explore. You’ll pass through Hamilton on the way from Toronto: home to a thriving live music scene, and if you’re a fan at all, take a couple of nights for some Hamilton club hopping, the better to see and hear all the city has to offer.
Stabbing eastward, Prince Edward County is one of four Designated Viticultural Areas in Ontario, its wine country somewhat more sprawling and less densely packed than Niagara’s. Sandbanks Provincial Park lies in the heart of Prince Edward County, offering white sand beaches the likes of which you will never see anywhere else in Canada. The culinary culture is rich here as well, and most restaurants focus on locally grown and raised product, from farm fresh fruits, vegetables and mushrooms to locally grown pasture-fed lamb and wild game.
The Great Waterway is a stretch of bay, lake and river that runs through eastern Ontario, from the Bay of Quinte at Belleville, through Lake Ontario where you’ll pass through Kingston and the Thousand Islands on your way to the Saint Lawrence River and on to Cornwall at the Quebec border before it continues east towards the Atlantic Ocean. Go by water, or follow the Great Waterway by car, and find several waypoints to stop and explore. In the historic and beautiful city of Kingston, visit Fort Henry or take a cruise and drift through the Thousand Islands. Rent a waterfront cottage along the way, camp out at one of many provincial parks in the area, or go in style and stay at a top-rated hotel in one of the waterfront cities of Kingston, Gananoque, Brockville, Prescott or Cornwall. With plenty of cruises and excursions to suit all types of traveler, it’s easy to find an activity or a destination worthy of writing home about!
When visiting the province of Ontario for the first time, it is helpful to know what are considered to be the “must see” and “must do” activities and destinations. Here are some of our top tips, designed to help you plan your trip:
- Toronto Festivals: Toronto is truly a summer city, and with festivals practically every weekend, it’s guaranteed there will always be a celebration. The Canadian National Exhibition runs the last two weeks in August, and features every possible kind of fair exhibit, from rides and a midway, to concerts, nightly fireworks and an entire building dedicated to food as well as one for animals. Taste of the Danforth is Canada’s largest street festival. Taking place in mid-August, Greek Town’s main street of Danforth Ave. is taken over for several kilometres of vendors, concerts, children’s activities and performances of all kinds. The Toronto Beaches Jazz Festival happens over two weeks in mid to late July, and features several stages with performances by internationally renowned jazz artists, as well as countless indoor live music venues, workshops and clinics with top musicians. Enjoy art exhibits and a three-day street festival that sees the entire Beach community come together for the party of the year. Toronto’s Pride Week Festival is one of the world’s largest and best known: this week long street festival happens in late June, in the heart of the downtown gay district. Featuring several stages for outdoor performances, beer gardens, vendors and street performers, it all culminates with several lavish parades on the final Sunday.
- Algonquin Park lies a few hours north of Toronto in the heart of the Muskokas. Largely forested, it is a popular wilderness and camping destination as well as being prime cottage country for many Ontarians. Algonquin is an all-season adventure destination: the warmer months are made for camping, fishing, hunting and playing on one of the many lakes in the area, while the autumn delivers the most incredible shows of fall color that can be had anywhere in the province. Winter may be less traveled in Algonquin, but there are no lack of things to do, with snowshoeing, dog sledding, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and skating all very popular, and there are several resorts which cater to those who embrace the cold and snow.
- Wine, Beer, Cider, and Cheese are all made in Ontario, and you don’t have to be in wine country to enjoy them! Most restaurants and specialty stores in the province feature Ontario made products, and there are plenty of farmers markets, cheese shops and boutique butchers where you can browse locally made artisan products. Toronto, Kingston, Ottawa, most cities, in fact, have an assortment of ‘brew pubs’ that make their own craft brews and serve them up in a restaurant setting. If traveling in January, be sure to check out the Ice Wine Festival in the Niagara region, a celebration of the sweet nectar that can only be made under the coldest conditions.
- Niagara Falls is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The town of Niagara Falls is a little kitschy, and heavy slanted towards the tourist trade, but it’s like a day at the carnival – plenty of things to see and do for families and couples of all ages. There is even a one hundred seventy five foot Ferris Wheel that operates year-round, providing riders with unbelievable views of the falls and surrounding area, and no trip to the falls is complete without a ride on the Maid of the Mist. Historically, Niagara Falls is a top honeymoon destination and it boasts several five-star hotels including a luxurious casino that overlooks the falls. The Falls are lit from behind at night, providing a spectacular display. Every New Year’s Eve there is a massive outdoor party and concert by the falls that features a line-up of some of the world’s most popular artists, and in the summertime there are fireworks every single night. Pure magic.
Winter Activities are abundant, as the cottages and lakeside living of summer gives way to skiing, skating, ice fishing, snowmobiling and snowshoeing. Top resorts for downhill skiing are Blue Mountain, Hockley Valley and Horseshoe, located just north of Toronto. Closer to Ottawa in the east, you’ll find Calabogie, and Loch Lomond is in northern Ontario proper, close to Thunder Bay in the far northwest of the province. All of these beautiful resorts also offer summer activities like golf, mountain biking and plenty of other outdoor adventures.