Canadian cities have a great deal in common with Australian cities. If you’re an Aussie visiting Canada, there’s a good chance of picking any city and feeling quite at home. In fact, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) Global Liveability Ranking and Report for 2015 gave Canadian and Australian cities seven of the top 10 spots. Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary battled it out with Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney and Perth. With so much in common, it’s no wonder Aussies love visiting Canada. So if you’re planning a trip somewhere soon, check out these 10 Canadian cities you’ll love to visit and find out what to do and what’s new.
If you’re visiting Canada for the first time, Vancouver should be your first stop. If you like Sydney, you’ll probably love the similarities between the two cities and I’m sure you’ll be wowed by the differences.
Like Sydney, Vancouver has a spectacular harbour and a famous bridge. But it also has the scenic backdrop of Grouse Mountain, which is an enchanting winter wonderland when the mountains are snow-capped.
Must do: Grouse Mountain, Stanley Park and Gastown. Take the Skyride to the top of Grouse Mountain for a panoramic view of Vancouver. Or if you’re feeling energetic, the 850m track is a challenging hike.
Stanley Park is a picturesque place to hang out and meet the locals (last time I was there I made friends with a racoon).
The once-seedy neighbourhood of Gastown, named after British seaman ‘Gassy’ Jack Deighton, is a delightful maze of boutiques, bars and cafes.
What’s new? Trump International Hotel and Tower is opening in August 2016. The 188m building will be the second tallest in Vancouver. It’s a $360 million development that will house Vancouver’s first pool bar nightclub and Mar-a-Lago Spa by Ivanka Trump.
The thriving metropolis of Toronto is Canada’s largest and buzziest city.
Toronto is the kind of city you’ll never run out of things to do, from going to the theatre to having fun at a festival to wandering around markets.
Among the city’s impressive cultural attractions is the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre, which is one of the world’s last operating double-decker theatre.
A good time to go to Toronto is during the Beaches International Jazz Festival for 16 days of music and fun.
Must do: CN Tower, Art Gallery of Ontario, Hockey Hall of Fame and Niagara Falls (the distance between Toronto and Niagara Falls is about the same as travelling between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast).
Check out the view of Toronto from the SkyTerrace observation area of CN Tower. CN Tower holds the Guinness World Record for the “World’s highest external walk on a building”. Also drop into the Art Gallery of Ontario and Hockey Hall of Fame.
What’s new? Home to Canada’s Giant Pandas, Toronto Zoo’s Augmented Reality Experience is a cool technology that will allow you to stand alongside a giraffe in Africa, petting a polar bear in the Arctic. The attraction is re-opening in spring 2016.
For visitors who have travelled from afar to see the Canadian Rockies, Calgary is a stopover at either end of a thrilling journey through the jaw-dropping scenery of Jasper National Park, Lake Louise and Banff National Park.
If you think of Vancouver as the front door to the Rocky Mountains then Calgary is the back door. But don’t be mistaken, Calgary is actually a happening city in its own right and there are plenty of indoor and outdoor attractions to fill up a few days.
Must do: The Calgary Stampede (in July each year) is an event worth planning your trip around for a mega-dose of cowboy culture with events like cowboys roping cattle and bucking broncos.
Do kit yourself up with a handmade cowboy Stetson hat and a pair of genuine cowboy boots.
If you can’t get to Calgary in July, Heritage Park Historical Village is a worthwhile attraction for a hands-on step back into history.
It offers beer-making, wool-spinning, cooking classes and exhibitions that reveal Canada’s wild past.
What’s new? For music fans, the National Music Centre – Studio Bell is a $168 million attraction opening in spring 2016.
What’s cool is it’s more than a museum. There will be exhibits of over 2000 rare instruments (highlights are the Rolling Stones’ legendary studio on wheels and the piano Elton John composed Tiny Dancer on).
Artists will be able to use the centre’s historic recording equipment (ranging from the 16th century to rare contemporary instruments) to create new works.
Quebec City’s old town is a UNESCO World Heritage wonder with enchanting cobblestone streets packed with restaurants, galleries and cafes.
The atmosphere and horse-drawn carriages are sure to remind you of Europe.
Quebec City has oodles of charm and there’s an air of mystery lurking in the storybook streets of the Old Town.
Must do: Quebec Winter Carnival (January 29 to February 14, 2016) is a wonderland of winter activities, from dog sledding to snow sculpture displays to ice fishing and ice canoe races.
A good reason to put this carnival on your itinerary is it allows you to try all the different winter activities in one place. And there’s a wonderfully festive atmosphere, with parades and other frivolous fun activities.
What’s new? Keen sailors should mark the 9th Transat Québec Saint-Malo in the diary. The west to east boat race across the Atlantic starts on the Saint-Lawrence River (10 July 2016) and ends in St-Malo in France. The race record was set in 1996 by Fujicolor (official time of seven days, 20 hours and 24 minutes).
A vibrant coastal city on the Atlantic, Halifax is rich in Celtic traditions and has a distinctive Scottish flair.
Halifax also has a notable nautical pedigree – it was the birthplace of Samuel Cunard (founder of Cunard Shipping Line) and was the closest city to the spot where the Titanic sank.
Must do: The Halifax waterfront boardwalk is packed with excellent museums, such as the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic (for seafaring history and displays about the Titanic) and the Canadian museum of immigration at Pier 21.
What’s new? Cabot Cliffs Golf Course in the town of Inverness on Nova Scotia’s west coast opened in July 2015. Designed by two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, the new course has an unusual configuration of six par-threes, six par-fours and six par-fives. What’s more, to complete the Scottish experience WestJet has flights to Glasgow.
Heritage architecture, beautiful gardens and oodles of old-world charm are the hallmarks of Victoria, the capital of British Columbia.
Canada’s most patrician city is a top spot to feel grand with a cocktail, craft beer or a spot of afternoon tea.
Foodies will love the Victoria Public Market, which is housed in the historic Hudson Bay Company building and is a treasure trove of food stalls where you can taste a cornucopia of local produce in one spot.
Must do: High Tea at the Fairmont Empress (a tradition since 1908) and Butchart Gardens for stunning floral displays.
The 22ha garden is a paradise at Christmas time, when the gardens are a page out of a fairytale with twinkling lights.
If your dream is to see the polar bears up close you can do so from the safety of a Tundra Buggy or stay in a remote wilderness lodge for a more adventurous experience.
In recent times, Winnipeg has grown into a city worth exploring in its own right with world-class city diversions.
Must do: Visit the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, for thought-provoking exhibits and eye-catching architecture.
The Assiniboine Park Zoo has a fantastic polar bear exhibit where you can see the bears floating above your head through a transparent floor at The Journey to Churchill.
What’s new? Both attractions are constantly evolving and there are new exhibits each year. At Assiniboine, McFeeters Heavy Horse Centre is now home to four Percheron horses.
Ottawa delivers all the attractions you’d expect of Canada’s capital – Parliament Hill and the famous “Mounties” (or Royal Canadian Mounted Police), excellent museums and galleries, including the National Gallery, fabulous festivals and shopping in Westboro Village.
Must do: Parliament Hill for a 360-degree view of Ottawa and its twin city, Gatineau (which is on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River) and a boat cruise down the Rideau Canal.
What’s new? Here’s one for Star Trek fans. The Canada Aviation & Space Museum is the first stop of a multi-city North American tour of a major Star Trek exhibition (May to September 2016). The Starfleet Academy Experience will explain the science behind tricorders, warp drive theory, phasers and teleporters.
An elegant city of creativity and style, Montréal showcases design, art and architecture with Quebecois flair. And so it should. After Paris, Montreal is the second largest French-speaking city in the world.
In 2007, Montréal was the first urban centre to sign the National Geographic Society’s Geotourism Charter. And it’s also a city for foodies, with over 6,000 restaurants dishing up Quebecois and international cuisine.
Must do: Wander around Old Montréal, visit Mount Royal Park and visit Space for Life – the Biodôme, Insectarium, Botanical Garden and Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium.
What’s new? Passeport MTL provides access to key Montréal attractions and the city’s public transit system (the 24-hour card sells for $64 and the 72-hour card for $109).
Alberta’s capital city, Edmonton, is a city in the wilderness. A hub for trade, culture and entertainment, locals describe Edmonton as authentic, rugged and original. For sure, of the major cities in Canada, Edmonton is pretty down to earth.
Must do: If you’re travelling with kids, West Edmonton Mall is definitely worth a visit. The mall is the size of a small city and accredited as a zoo; there are 800 shops, 100 dining venues, two hotels and nine major attractions, including Galaxyland, the world’s largest indoor amusement park.
What’s new? Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival (Aug 11 to 21, 2016) turns 35. The largest and oldest fringe festival on the continent is a mega festival with 170 shows from around the world and more than 1500 performers.
Christina Pfeiffer first visited Canada at the age of five. She has travelled to Canada many times, most recently as a guest of Canadian Tourism Commission.