Oh Canada, home and native land. I’ve got to be honest, that’s the only line I know of the Canadian national anthem and it was stuck in my head throughout my entire trip! I spent 2.5 months traveling through this massive country and it was a pretty epic adventure. I knew Canada was big, but you don’t really realize how big until you try to travel across. Especially being Dutch and being used to driving just a few hours to the nearest country.
I started my trip in Vancouver and explored parts of British Columbia before heading east. From there I visited Alberta and flew to Quebec, skipping the prairies of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. Even though I only ended up visiting 3 provinces, I covered huge distances. Although some places couldn’t win my heart (Vancouver, Whistler, Edmonton), others turned out to be very charming. These are my top five places to visit in Canada:
Rocky Mountains, Banff and Jasper National Park
The Rocky Mountains are definitely the crowning glory of Canada. This massive mountain range is open to visitors through seven National Parks of which Jasper and Banff are the most famous. These are two I visited, although I also drove through Yoho and Kootenay.
The Canadian Rockies were my top reason for wanting to visit Canada, and they did not disappoint. It is simply such an immense mountain range and I had never seen anything like it. From the rugged mountains with snow capped peaks to the lush green valleys and bright blue lakes, the Canadian Rockies are breathtaking. I would say it is definitely one of the must see places to visit in Canada.
Both Jasper and Banff are popular ski resorts in the winter and hiking destinations in the summer. Especially on the weekends it was crawling with tourists, which slightly ruined the experience for me. The trick is to forego the big attractions and hike out to find the hidden gems instead. I loved Hector Lake (pictured above) and there were maybe 10 people there all day!
The Rockies are a hiker paradise with challenging trails and amazing views. Not to mention all the wildlife you can spot here! Although incidents are rare, always be safe, take precautions and respect the wildlife (especially grizzly’s!). Be sure to ask at the visitors centers about good hikes for you, weather conditions and wildlife.
Driving around and camping in the Canadian was the highlight of my 2.5 months in Canada. I cannot recommend it highly enough that you go and see this marvel of nature for yourself.
Where to stay: While I was in the Canadia Rockies, I stayed with friends and toured around in a van. There are several campsites in the parks as well as free overnight camp spots, you can find them using iOverlander. There is also an HI hostel in Banff.
Victoria, Vancouver Island
If you love quaint little towns with colorful buildings and mysterious alleyways (and who doesn’t?) than you’ll love Victoria. Everyone I spoke to kept telling me to visit Vancouver Island and Victoria in particular.
And they were right! I immediately loved Victoria. It has a very European feel and a fun yet relaxed atmosphere. The historic city center is really cute and has some very pretty buildings. Victoria is also loaded with boutiques, cozy pubs and hip restaurants. It’s a tad touristic, but still livable. I recommend just strolling around and taking in the sights. Be sure to also check out the harbor, Chinatown and Beacon Hill Park.
Where to stay: while I was traveling in Canada, I mostly stayed in HI Canada Hostels. If you get an HI membership, you receive a discount at HI hostels all around the world and partner businesses, such as restaurants, shops and tours. Perfect for thrifty travelers! HI Victoria isn’t the best hostel I’ve ever been, but it’s certainly not the worst either. The staff is friendly and they offer free breakfast.
Okanagan Valley, BC
Okanagan Valley is famous in Canada for its delicious fruit and wine. I never even knew there was such a thing as Canadian wine! Turns out, it’s pretty good.
The Okanagan river runs through British Columbia and the fertile and relatively sunny hills along the river are perfect for orchards and vineyards. Driving through the Okanagan Valley region was breathtaking. The scenery reminded me a bit of Italy or southern France. The water is clear and blue, the hills are green and the drive offers some spectular views.
Be sure to stop at Kelowna where you can enjoy some time on the beach at Okanagan Lake. It’s also a great base for exploring the region and visiting some wineries. It might not be everyone’s first pick, but I think it’s one of the best places to visit in Canada.
Tadoussac is a small village but a big tourist destination for one reason: whales. At Tadoussac the Saint Lawrence River and Saguenay River meet.
The mixing of the cold, fresh water and warm, salty water leads to an abundance of krill and plankton, which happens to be the favorite food of whales. This makes Tadoussac one of the best places in the world to go whale watching. You can spot some 13 different species of whales that swim here year round, but generally June to September is peak season. Although you can often see whales from the shore, the best way to see them up close is from the water.
There are different types of tours on offer in Tadoussac. Obviously, the high number of tourists and boats are not optimal for the whales. The most environmentally friendly option is a kayaking tour from Mer et Monde. Unfortunately, when I was in Tadoussac in late September it was too cold, so I opted for a zodiac tour instead. These are small motorized boats for up to 12 people.
My tour with Tadoussac Autrement was awesome and totally worth the money! I saw several giant whales up close, which was incredible. Apart from the whales, Tadoussac is a really cute town with a great microbrewery, a fun hostel and great hiking.
Where to stay: there is only one hostel in Tadoussac, so you don’t have much of a choice.
So, only one big city made my list of best places in Canada for a simple reason: Canada to me is nature first and foremost. Most cities I visited were interchangeable to me with most other modern big cities. They lacked the charm, beauty and soul I know from old European cities. High rises and strip malls are just not my thing I guess.
But Montreal I immediately loved. The architecture, the bikes, the vibe: I immediately felt at home. Montreal is multicultural, young, vibrant and just plain fun. If you visit any city in Canada, I think Montreal should be it.
What are your favorite places in Canada? I’d love to read about them in the comments. If you liked this post, please share it on social media.