The 20 best places to visit in Canada for 2018: Go north — way north

Top travel writers from vacay.ca describe this year’s picks for Canadian travel

Following a nostalgia-filled year during which Canada celebrated its 150th birthday, there is a sensation of where do we go next?

Tourism will almost certainly decline following a year that saw an influx of foreign visitors arriving for sesquicentennial parties (and a whopping 5,800 events) that took place throughout the country.

It was the biggest year for international tourism in the country’s history. The nation’s “big stuff” — Banff, Toronto, Montreal, B.C.’s Sea-to-Sky Country, the capital of Ottawa, and Parks Canada properties — enjoyed major exposure abroad and the result was a large economic boost from tourism spending.

This year figures to be different.

In 2018, the idea of what Canada is today and what it will be in the future overtakes the revelry — and sometimes propaganda-tinged navel-gazing — that surrounded the 150th party.

With the focus on exploring the esoteric aspects of nationhood and the tangible exhilaration that comes from journeying the road less travelled, Vacay.ca editors and writers emphasize the North in the digital magazine’s annual ranking of the nation’s top places to visit for the coming year.

Canada’s North is being redefined because of climate change, new infrastructure, and increased tourist traffic. It also provides a chance for Canadians and others to be educated in the lives of the Inuit and other Indigenous people.

The heart-touching encounters with them will compel many visitors to realize — as the Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie, a champion for First Nations rights, did — that improvements are urgently needed to alleviate poverty and suffering among some of Canada’s poorest citizens.

The annual Vacay.ca ranking has proven to be an accurate indicator of tourism activity in Canada. In 2017, it rated Ottawa and Montreal as top destinations, and each city set records for tourism, with Quebec’s largest city seeing $3.6 billion in spending and accommodations in the nation’s capital enjoying incredibly high occupancy rates throughout the year.

1. Arctic Cruise, Nunavut & Other Regions

A polar bear mother and cub stroll an ice floe in Nunavut. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

What’s happening for 2018: This year’s Arctic Safari cruise (Aug. 6-17) starts in Qausuittuq on Resolute Island (named after one of the Franklin Expedition ships) and continues through the waters and islands that occupy Baffin Bay.

Stops include the largest uninhabited island on Earth, Devon Island, and Mittimatalik, an Inuit community in the village commonly known as Pond Inlet. The cruise crosses the Davis Strait for stops in communities on Greenland’s western coast.

Adventure Canada also offers two Northwest Passage cruises (Aug. 17 to Sept. 2 and Sept. 2-18) and a fascinating discovery expedition to Baffin Island (June 6-13) where guests camp at night and search for narwhals and polar bears in the day.

Why you should go: The Canadian North is one of the few destinations on the planet where tourism has not invaded with ferociousness. Even the well-known destinations in Nunavut that are visited by Adventure Canada see only a handful of cruise ships each year — whereas many popular destinations in other places might have six or more boats docked in any given day during high season.

The lack of tourist traffic allows you to feel like an explorer and also to gain an understanding of the Inuit people and their culture in an environment that still seems pure. One of the most unforgettable moments you will enjoy is the chance to participate in sports, playing with and against the residents, many of whom will be excited to welcome visitors from far away.

Vacay.ca managing editor Adrian Brijbassi writes: “The passengers were thrilled with the experience of seeing polar bears at close distance. Some were in tears at the sight. Photographers on board were ecstatic with the images. More than one guest named the experience as the moment the Adventure Canada trip demonstrated its value.”

Discover more: Adventure Canada’s crew delivers epic polar bear encounter

2. Dawson City, Yukon

A tourist tries her luck panning for gold in Bonanza Creek near Dawson City. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

What’s happening for 2018: In July, Dawson City finds out if it is granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status, which would lead to increased attention and visitation. Despite its remote locale, the area has an event-filled calendar, highlighted by the annual Discovery Days festival (Aug. 16-20). The event celebrates the 1896 discovery of gold in a nearby river (since renamed Bonanza Creek) and the explosion of activity it heralded.

Other notable events include the world’s longest river race, Yukon River Quest (celebrating its 20th anniversary, June 27 to July 1). Participants paddle canoes or kayaks 715 kilometres on the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City.

For those who are into more artistic pursuits, the Dawson City International Short Film Festival (March 29 to April 1) is continuing to grow in stature while the Yukon Riverside Arts Festival (Aug. 16-19) takes over the town with a variety of works on display.

The 40th annual Dawson Music Festival (July 19-22) features a kickoff concert at the Palace Grand Theatre, a National Historic Site that will reopen in 2018 after extensive renovations.

Winter sports’ lovers will enjoy Trek Over the Top (March 8-11), which will mark its 25th anniversary of encouraging snowmobilers to travel from Alaska to Dawson City on the groomed trails along the Top of the World Highway.

Why you should go: Dawson City is a magnet for free spirits, entrepreneurs, and risk-takers. The eclectic mix gives the town a light-hearted spirit, making its energy reminiscent of a sun destination like the Caribbean, but with the frontierism for which the Wild West was famed.

According to the Klondike Visitors Association, which markets the town, the UNESCO bid “celebrates our region as a world-class destination, based on the historical significance of the Klondike Gold Rush and Dawson City as a thriving community and meeting place between First Nations people and gold miners.”

There are also those wacky Dawson City traditions, including vile concoctions like the Sour-Toe Cocktail. Beyond the human interactions you might encounter, the beauty of Yukon’s wilderness will pound at your soul, making you realize Canada’s greatest attribute is the vastness of its land and the magnificence within it.

Vacay.ca managing editor Adrian Brijbassi writes: “The Land of the Midnight Sun appears to also be a Bermuda Triangle for those who love fun and a way of life where cubicles are scant, traffic is a rumour, and community is vital.

“Necessity breeds an environment where you and your neighbours are friendly and generous — just in case you require rescue if your generator were to run out of power in the middle of a winter night at -40 degrees. There is character in the people and in the place itself.”

Discover more: Trump luck began in Dawson. Could yours, too?

3. Cape Breton’s Golf Trial, Nova Scotia

A tourist tries her luck panning for gold in Bonanza Creek near Dawson City. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

What’s happening for 2018: The main golf experiences on Cape Breton include the two celebrated courses in Inverness, Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs, and the classic Highland Links at the opposite end of the Cabot Trail in Ingonish.

Cabot Cliffs, opened in 2016, is regarded as Canada’s top course, and it attracts golfers from around the world because of the setting along the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the challenge of its play.

While Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs are new darlings, Highland Links has been a perennial star for decades. Designed by famed golf course architect Stanley Thompson, it’s located along the Atlantic Ocean and amid the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. It’s adjacent to Keltic Lodge, a historic hotel that’s home to outstanding rooms and culinary experiences.

Why you should go: Even if you’re not a golfer, Cape Breton will win you over with its charm, magnificent landscapes, culinary flavours, and the poetry of its spirit. It is unendingly graceful, a home to some of Canada’s most picturesque vistas, and culturally rich because of a Gaelic tradition that remains vibrant thanks to community efforts to celebrate the island’s heritage.

If you’ve never been, be prepared because Cape Breton will tee off on your heart. If you haven’t returned in a while, make 2018 the year you renew your affair with Nova Scotia’s easterly gem.

Vacay.ca managing editor Adrian Brijbassi writes: “You could get addicted to this. Like any good intoxicant, Cabot Cliffs makes you giddy and keeps you that way for hours, and when you’re done, you miss it and scheme for a way to get back for more.

“It is the best golf course in Canada — the 19th best in the world, according to Golf Digest — but what also makes Cabot Cliffs remarkable is the entire travel experience associated with it. A luxury-laden list of amenities and spin-offs unfurls for you like one of those seemingly never-ending grassy carpets on the course’s wide, gorgeous par-5 fairways.”

Discover more: Cape Breton tees off on your heart

4. Okanagan Valley, B.C.

Okanagan Indian Band grass-dancer Dyawen Louis performs at Spirit Ridge resort, a property focused on Aboriginal culture in Osoyoos. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

What’s happening for 2018: Growth in Aboriginal tourism offerings is expected to continue as consumers show an increasing interest in understanding and participating in cultural programming rooted in traditional practices.

Quaaout Lodge near Kamloops is showcasing the canoe-building skills of the Secwepemc Nation, who are in the midst of carving two dugout canoes from cottonwood trees. The canoes will be used for tours of the region.

Meanwhile, Area 27, a race course designed by Canadian icon Jacques Villeneuve, enters its first full year of operation. It’s a unique experience that allows gearheads to satiate their need for speed on a track designed to Grand Prix specifications.

And the culinary tourism footprint in the Okanagan only becomes greater with events taking place throughout the year, even in winter. The BC Bacon & Cider Festival (April 27) in Kelowna promises calorie-filled sensations. The third annual Devour! Osoyoos food and film festival (June 14-17) takes over the south Okanagan with a fantastic pairing of critically acclaimed short movies and cuisine from noted B.C. chefs.

Why you should go: The annual Half-Corked Marathon was named the 2017 Canadian Tourism Event of the Year by the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.

It is a spirited, 18-km spring saunter through the vineyards of the Okanagan, with participants clad in costumes and tipsy from the sips they enjoy during the course. Tickets are limited — and coveted — but you don’t have to be in the race to enjoy the festivities. Oliver-Osoyoos Winery Association members set up booths at the finish line to pour their varietals to thirsty race-goers or those who show up to cheer them on.

On top of that fun run, visitors have many other distinct activities to choose, including pow wows on Indigenous territory, a plethora of wine tours, and some of the best golf experiences in western Canada.

Vacay.ca managing editor Adrian Brijbassi writes: “Most telling of all about the Half-Corked Marathon experience is the finish line, where participants have saved so much energy many are able to sprint the final few dozen metres full force to the end. And then do what they’ve really come to the Okanagan to do — grab a glass and head to the tasting booths to sample more vino from Canada’s elite wineries.

“In that way, the event reveals itself for what it is: A cultural celebration of the Okanagan Valley and its unique contribution to the nation’s food and drink scene. A fun destination, whose annual race is just an indication of the laid-back temperament you’ll find in this delightful area in the heart of British Columbia’s interior.”

Discover more: Half-Corked Marathon is irresistible

5. Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories

The ice road may be gone, but the thrills of experiencing winter above the Arctic Circle remain in Tuktoyaktuk. (Colin Field/Northwest Territories Tourism)

What’s happening in 2018: The big story in 2018 is Highway 10, a new $299-million thoroughfare that links the Arctic coastline to the rest of Canada for the first time. It’s not every day that the construction of a highway is such significant news but this one is special.

When it opened in November, it connected the hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk to the Town of Inuvik by a paved road. Inuvik is located on the East Channel of the Mackenzie Delta, approximately 200 km north of the Arctic Circle. Before the completion of this project, the only way to get to Tuktoyaktuk was by sea, bush plane, or winter ice road.

The construction of Highway 10 was hailed as a nation-building project by then-prime minister Stephen Harper. It is hoped that this 137-km all-season road will open up the isolated hamlet to growth and prosperity for the entire region. With the completion of the highway, the Tuktoyaktuk Winter Road is now permanently closed.

Why you should go: This road will impact the Arctic in many positive ways and tourism will be among the major beneficiaries. For millions of Canadians and tourists worldwide eager to go above the Arctic Circle the journey just got easier.

The best road trip to take this year is the drive on Highway 10 from Tuktoyaktuk to Inuvik, because it is the road’s inaugural year. More visitors will be able to immerse themselves among the sights, sounds, and people that make this region unique.

With the impact of climate change deepening, visitors can witness what is happening to Canada’s far north. This includes seeing the alteration to some of the most northerly beaches in the world.

Vacay.ca deputy editor Rod Charles says: “With increased exposure for the region, local businesses, hotels, restaurants, tour operators, and artists will have greater opportunities, including more access to the rest of Canada. Highway 10 promises to bring more prosperity to the people of ‘Tuk.’ I believe the road is just the first step in connecting residents of southern Canada to more of the nation’s Arctic regions. This highway is long overdue.”

6. Toronto and Algonquin Provincial Park

Who says you can’t escape from the big city? Lounging at the Thompson Hotel rooftop pool is a fine way to spend an afternoon in Toronto. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

What’s happening in 2018: Toronto turns 225 years old in 2018 and, as ever, there are several reasons to visit Canada’s largest city.

We could invest pages upon pages detailing all of the events happening in Toronto, but two festivals stand out. Hot Docs International Documentary Festival (April 26 to May 6) is North America’s largest documentary festival. Hot Docs will be celebrating its 25th anniversary with more than 150 cutting-edge documentaries from Canada and around the world.

Elsewhere, the Art Gallery of Ontario will be the only Canadian stop for the highly anticipated Yayoi Kusama Exhibition (March 3 to May 27, 2018). #InfiniteKusama marks the first North American tour in 20 years for this celebrated Japanese artist.

Other must-see events include the Toronto Light Festival (Jan. 19 to March 4), which will transform the Distillery Historic District into one of the largest open-air galleries in North America. The North By Northeast music and digital media festival (June 8 to 17), entering its 24th year, will return to downtown Toronto after two years at Port Lands on the city’s edge.

This year, Vacay.ca is encouraging travellers to set aside a few days to get out of the city and take the road to Algonquin Provincial Park. Ontario Parks, one of Canada’s largest provincial park systems, is celebrating 125 years in 2018. Established in 1893 with a current size of 7,653 square kilometres, Algonquin is the oldest and largest provincial park in Canada. A three-hour drive from Toronto, Algonquin is the perfect place to celebrate the birth of Ontario Parks and the beauty of Canada.

Why you should go: Toronto’s diverse cultural and culinary scene is known worldwide, and there are many festivals to choose from including heavy hitters such as Toronto International Film Festival, Pride Toronto, Canadian National Exhibition, Honda Indy Toronto, Caribana Toronto, and Canadian International AutoShow to name a few.

On the road trip to Algonquin, tourists will be able to explore Ontario’s rich natural heritage. Activities include backpacking, biking, boating, camping, dog sledding, hiking, and fishing.

Vacay.ca deputy editor Rod Charles says: “Algonquin Park and Toronto provide the perfect balance in 2018. Toronto will spoil you for choice with activities, events, concerts, festivals, and restaurants. No complaints, but sometimes you can overload on human commotion. So when you feel like you’re ready for a break, hop in your car and find peace and tranquility in one of the nation’s great parks.”

Discover more: Check out Alo, Toronto’s best restaurant

7. Fortune, Souris & Charlettown, Prince Edward Island

Michael Smith, Canada’s most well-known chef, has created an extraordinary culinary experience at his Inn at Bay Fortune property in eastern PEI. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

What’s Happening for 2018: When you journey to the nation’s smallest province, the one thing you must pack is a big appetite. That’s because Canada’s giant of a chef, Michael Smith, promises to fill it with delight.

In 2015, Smith took ownership of the Inn at Bay Fortune, where he made his fame decades earlier as a culinary talent imported from New York, and turned it into the leading foodie destination in the country.

His experience includes a farm tour, happy hour where oysters are shucked, dressed and handed into your waiting palm, cocktails made with spirits from PEI, and appetizers that will keep you licking your fingers for more.

It’s the number one reason to visit PEI these days, but far from the only one.

Basin Head Provincial Park in nearby Souris is a gem that was once named by Vacay.ca as home to the top beach in the country. An hour west by car is the province’s capital, Charlottetown, which has been reinvigorated with a youthful enthusiasm and new entrepreneurs.

Fresh tourism offerings include North America’s only Chinese Junk Boat experience that debuted in June 2017 and is operated by a husband-and-wife team with an extraordinary amount of knowledge about the history of China.

The boat is called Hai Long (Sea Dragon) and the tour provides fascinating information about the Ming Dynasty and the history of Chinese immigration in Canada, which — surprise, surprise — has its origins in PEI.

Why you should go: Smith’s Inn at Bay Fortune experience is exceptional for its culinary aspirations as well as its heart. The emphasis Smith and his team place on the farmers and their efforts to cultivate PEI’s bounty of ingredients will move you.

While PEI has had an excellent culinary scene for years, the focus on marketing it as Canada’s “Food Island” is bringing more notoriety and attention to its offerings.

For those who want an experiential delight, The Table is a culinary studio where guests visit with farmers or fishermen and then help a kitchen team prepare a lunch or dinner with those ingredients. And the cooking class takes place in a renovated church, whose stained-glass windows are still in place.

Also not to be missed is the annual PEI Shellfish Festival (Sept. 13-16), where you will be treated to crustaceans and bivalves aplenty.

Vacay.ca managing editor Adrian Brijbassi writes: “It was always a very good restaurant. Now, the Inn at Bay Fortune is a world-class culinary destination. It’s only open 144 nights a year and welcomes 64 guests per evening.

“The food is cooked primarily on the open flame of a 25-foot fire pit kindled using mostly maple and birch wood. … And Michael Smith — all 6-foot-7-inches of him — is everywhere. He leads the tours of the property, he kicks off the dinner with a toast on the lawn to the farmers who helped bring the food to the table, and he’s active in the kitchen, even tossing salad at the pass.”

Discover more: Chef Michael Smith reaches new heights

8. Banff and Calgary

Magnificent Moraine Lake is one of the highlights of a visit to Banff National Park. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

What’s happening in 2018: It’s been 30 years since Calgary hosted the Olympics, yet the legacy of that event remains. Both Calgary and Banff are ideal for cheering on Canadian athletes, and participating in winter sports that will own the spotlight during the PyeongChang Games.

Head to the WinSport facility to test your skills in bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton, or hit the slopes in and around Banff for premier skiing. Once winter ends, attention turns each year to the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, and this year’s Calgary Stampede (July 6-15) will feature its usual array of thrills and concert headliners, including country superstar Luke Bryan.

Both Calgary and Banff have an innovative yet down-to-earth food and beverage culture in Canada, highlighted by two events in 2018. Circle The Travelling Food, Beer & Music Carnival (Sept. 9) is a one-day, family-friendly event with food trucks, live bands, and roaming circus performers.

Banff holds its Craft Beer Festival (Nov. 23-25) in the home of Canada’s first national park and the setting for what could be the most beautiful beer fest in the world. Visitors will sample food from some of Banff’s best pubs and restaurants, as well as beer from Alberta’s breweries.

Why you should go: Sure, Montreal may have culture, Toronto is famous for its diverse neighbourhoods, and Vancouver is the place to go for easy access to outdoor activities, but Calgary and Banff can lay a strong claim to having all of that and more in a friendly, easy-to-manage setting.

Both places are renowned for their arts and culture. Love food and live music? Every neighbourhood in Calgary has its own favourite spots where locals will welcome visitors like family. If you’re into something a bit livelier and a lot more raucous, head to Cowboys Dance Hall, which USA Today called one of the top three mega-bars in North America.

Vacay.ca’s Guillermo Serrano says: “Calgary and Banff always surprise. Just when you think you know them both and have them figured out, something comes up to make you realize dynamic, thriving, culturally diverse Calgary and Banff, just an hour-and-a-half drive away, are always up for challenging your beliefs.

“The brash spirit is there, as always, but both are also contemplative and wise and proud of their history and excited about their future. One of my favourite events in Calgary, now in its 30th year, is the Stage One Festival of New Canadian Work where one-act stage plays have their debuts. Clearly, Calgary and Banff have more than one act in their playbook, and many reasons to visit this upcoming year.”

Discover more: Banff Springs offers mountains of food

9. Vancouver and Sea-to-Sky Country

The D6 lounge at the Douglas, one of two hotels at the Parq Vancouver complex, has been a hot spot for cocktails since opening in September. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

What’s happening for 2018: Get ready for Osheaga West. That’s what the SKOOKUM Festival (Sept. 7-9) may just be nicknamed once its inaugural year is wrapped up.

Like Montreal’s famed annual multi-day summer concert party, SKOOKUM is held in a park. Not just any park. It plans to take over iconic Stanley Park for a mix of music, food, and art.

Performers will be announced in spring and you can expect some major names to be on the bill. After the concerts end each night, SKOOKUM After Dark aims to take over bars and clubs in the city with more tunes and a late-night party atmosphere.

More music festivities happen in March when the Juno Awards come to Vancouver, hosted by Michael Buble.

Some out-of-town revellers will no doubt end up at Parq Vancouver, the glam hotel and casino complex that opened in September. Two Marriott brand luxury hotels, eight restaurants and lounges, and a casino with private gaming are among its highlights.

“The Age of Amazement” is the catch phrase for this year’s TED Conference (April 10-18), a brainy meet-up that has positioned Vancouver as a destination for thought leaders and trend-setters.

Up the Sea-to-Sky Highway, Squamish continues to draw attention for its outdoor fun.

Meanwhile, after being sold to Colorado-based Vail Resorts in 2016, Whistler-Blackcomb Village — North America’s largest ski resort — announced a plan for the biggest investment in its history, a $66-million upgrade that will add another gondola at the top of the two mountains and an additional 21 km of mountain-bike trails.

Why you should go: Vancouver has been a destination for travellers around the world for years. Recently, though, it has also served as an anchor point for visitors from afar who are keen to explore southern B.C.’s majestic landscape.

The drive along the Sea-to-Sky Highway (aka Highway 99) offers thrilling views and outstanding stops along the way, including in Squamish, the small city equidistant from Vancouver and Whistler, and which is burgeoning with activities and attractions. Whistler, of course, is a premier all-season destination that continues to add to its stellar programming.

Vacay.ca managing editor Adrian Brijbassi writes: “While Toronto and Montreal are known for the diversity of their neighbourhoods and their attractiveness for travellers, Vancouver has lacked the same appeal. Yaletown and Gastown are where most tourists congregate.

“Those who travel to the west end tend to stay along the seawall or in Stanley Park, rarely exploring within the residential neighbourhood, and while Kitsilano and Point Grey are among the best districts in Canada to live, they’re thin on places to visit besides their beaches.

“What makes the neighbourhood of Mount Pleasant worth exploring is the blend of artistic establishments and residential diversity. There are century-old houses on the same block as new high-rise towers populated by a younger generation eager to add some cool elements to their neighbourhood.”

Discover more: Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant hits a peak

10. Fogo and Change Islands, Newfoundland & Labrador

The Fogo Island Inn beckons guests to a luxury setting on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean. (Paddy Barry photo courtesy of Fogo Island Inn)

What’s happening in 2018: On March 17, Hockey Night in Fogo Island arrives with several alumni of the Montreal Canadiens. Those former NHL pros will take on the Fogo Islanders during St. Patrick’s Day festivities. While tickets for the game are probably a long shot, odds are you may be able to see a few Habs legends hanging around town.

One of Canada’s most acclaimed culinary talents, Jonathan Gushue, is the new executive chef at Fogo Island Inn, the luxurious property that has transformed northeastern Newfoundland into a global destination for elite travellers. The hotel will be a hot spot during the Fogo Island Partridgeberry Harvest Festival (Oct. 5-7) and Canadian Thanksgiving (Oct. 8) as there will be plenty of nightly live music, a guided berry-picking excursion and a chef’s dialogue brunch.

Another cool event is an official visit from the founders of Devour! The Food Film Fest on Nov. 2-4 featuring a six-course dinner with a curated food-and-film pairing.

Why you should go: The Flat Earth Society of Canada believes Fogo Island — especially Brimstone Head, a towering rock that gives the best views of the dramatic ocean — is one of the four corners of the earth. The entire region gives you a sensation like you are falling off the edge the world. If you want to feel like you are really stepping off the cliff, head for the Brimstone Head Folk Festival (Aug. 3-5).

Don’t even think of visiting Fogo without hopping over to the Change Islands. Known for beauty and history, the Change Islands offer hiking, outdoor adventures, and opportunities to play in the ocean.

One of the cool things to see on the islands — and a big reason to visit the area — are rare ponies. Founded in 2005, the Change Islands Newfoundland Pony Sanctuary is dedicated to protecting the province’s first heritage animal, the endangered Newfoundland Pony. The impact of human interaction has been devastating as the number of ponies has plummeted from 13,000 in the 1960s to fewer than 400 today. During your visit you will be able to learn how you can sponsor or adopt a pony.

Vacay.ca deputy editor Rod Charles says: “Newfoundland has a way of mixing its rugged and rustic charms with state-of-the-art modern attractions. Nowhere is this better represented than in the northeastern part of the province where the world-class Fogo Island Inn seems right at home along the jagged shores of the Atlantic Ocean.

“An architectural wonder, the inn has established Fogo and Change Islands as a bucket-list destination for any traveller who wants to experience a distinct sense of place and exceptionally fine luxury at the same time.”

11. Montreal

Jacques Cartier Bridge. (Martine Doyon)

What’s happening in 2018: This city has no shortage of winter activities. Igloofest (Jan. 18 to Feb. 3) is Montreal’s annual outdoor music festival, where attendees put on their full winter gear and enjoy electronic music at the Old Port.

Fête des Neiges (Jan. 20 to Feb. 11) is a popular family-oriented event with a program geared toward those who love the outdoors. Montreal en Lumiere (Feb. 22 to March 4) is one of the largest winter festivals in the world with food, music, and theatre.

Back for a second year and running during the same dates as Lumiere is Illuminart, a new circuit fusing art, lighting and technology, unfolding through downtown Montreal. Another outstanding event not to be missed is Nuit Blanche (March 3), featuring almost 200 cultural, musical, and culinary activities, most of them free.

Why you should go: Montreal is a city that received quite a few cool legacy projects for their 375th birthday and now you, the lucky tourist, gets to enjoy all of them.

The big gift to see is the illumination of Jacques Cartier Bridge, which launched under a sea of fireworks to the cheers of millions of hyper people — by far the biggest statement made by Montreal to celebrate its 375th. These new lights have turned the bridge into an attraction with technology that brings the structure to life.

Another legacy project is Cité Mémoire, where visitors can see illuminations of the city’s history displayed on trees, buildings and cobblestone streets of Old Montreal.

For the next four years, tourists will be able to see mini-movies in different languages with a free app that you can get from Montreal en Histoires. These illuminations showcasing some of Montreal’s best stories are an enjoyable way to learn about the city.

Other legacy projects include the Bonaventure Project, revamping the Alexandra Pier and cruise terminal, Parc Jean-Drapeau amphitheatre, and the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion for Peace.

Vacay.ca deputy editor Rod Charles says: “The people who made Montreal’s 375th birthday celebrations a reality — from the mayor and premier’s offices to the organizers, emergency staff, city workers, business leaders, faith community leaders, restaurateurs, entertainers, and thousands of volunteers — should be extremely proud of their accomplishment.

“Montreal has stellar legacy projects to enjoy in coming years but the greatest attribute of all is and always will be the people of Montreal who make this one of the most fun and creative cities in the world.”

Discover more: Warm up to local culture in Montreal

12. Halifax

Kayaking in Halifax harbour. (Len Wagg)

What’s happening in 2018: Several notable anniversaries will be celebrated in Halifax in 2018. The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia marks its 110th anniversary, while the National Historic Site, Pier 21, is celebrating 90 years of operation.

The Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo (June 26 to July 2), a festival that spotlights military regalia, promises a colourful party to honour its 40th anniversary.

Symphony Nova Scotia hosts its 35th anniversary event and the Atlantic Canada Harmonica Festival (May 4-6) kicks off its 15th season in Lake Charlotte. The city is also hosting the annual East Coast Music Awards (May 2-6).

Why you should go: Halifax is a youthful, dynamic and vibrant city on the move — a fact reflected in its three universities and multiple college campuses (including Dalhousie University, which celebrates its 200th anniversary in 2018).

The city’s vibe is also reflected in the new Halifax Convention Centre, scheduled for completion in February. It’s a project that should draw more tourists and business meetings to the city.

Halifax’s bustling boardwalk is a must-see attraction. Visitors will want to check out the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic for a look back at Halifax’s rich history, including artifacts from the Titanic disaster and Halifax explosion.

Speaking of history, be sure to see the Halifax Citadel for a glimpse at the city’s beginnings and a view you won’t forget.

Another reason to journey to the Nova Scotia capital is the bustling food scene. Seafood is always a must in Halifax but something else you need to try is a donair (a pita snack stuffed with meat and sweet sauce) because, well … in Halifax, that’s just the thing to do.

In 2015, the Halifax Regional Municipality actually proclaimed the donair to be the official food choice of the city. The donair was reputedly invented in Halifax more than 40 years ago and the restaurant, King of Donair, claims to be the first place to serve the meaty delight.

Vacay.ca deputy editor Rod Charles says: “Halifax is one of those places that seems to reveal a little more of itself after every visit. History and art flourishes in some of the best museums and art galleries in the country.

“The food and drink scene continues to thrive. The ocean is always close and the music never seems to stop. With so much to see and learn, you can visit this city 10 times and not make the same trip twice.”

Discover more: Why the Museum of Immigration in Halifax hits home

13. Waterloo region, Ontario

Breakfast at Langdon Hall. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

What’s happening for 2018: Food, lots of it and much of it delectable. It’s what you’ll find in many corners of Waterloo Region, which includes the cities of Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge, and smaller townships around them.

The St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market has long been one of Canada’s leading gathering places for farmers to showcase their products. It is the nation’s largest year-round farmers’ market and has big covered spaces where vendors serve an assortment of homemade products as well as sell artisan clothing and crafts.

The area is invigorated by its restaurant scene as well, with anchor property Langdon Hall at the head of a list of strong culinary players in Waterloo Region.

Craft breweries, led by Innocente Brewing and Block Three Brewing Co., and an outstanding coffee house, EcoCafe in St. Jacobs, are also very good reasons why you should make the drive south from Toronto to this region known for its tech boom and university crowds.

Why you should go: Get to Langdon Hall now before a wave of international travellers descends on it. If accolades begin to pour in for the restaurant as expected, the wait for a reservation could be colossally long.

Besides that fine-dining highlight, you’ll want to visit for the annual Oktoberfest (Oct. 5-13), called the largest such celebration outside of Germany. Kitchener-Waterloo’s Oktoberfest takes over festival halls throughout the region whose Bavarian roots remain robust.

The traditional Oktoberfest has locked out craft brewers, though, as it opted to take big dollars to serve only Molson Coors products, but that decision has inspired a cool new event, Craftoberfest, that focuses on the area’s growing list of outstanding beer makers.

On the music front, the Kitchener Blues Festival (Aug. 9-12) has proven to be a strong showcase of local and international talent.

Vacay.ca managing editor Adrian Brijbassi writes: “Chef Jason Bangerter’s kitchen has challenged itself to eclipse past achievements. The tasting menu is a well-orchestrated affair that showcases the chef’s creativity and ambition. He works diligently at making diners connect with the origins of their food.

“In warm weather, guests can explore the Langdon Hall garden, a flourishing carpet of colour and goodness that Bangerter’s brigade utilizes to magnificent effect. Walk with Bangerter and he might pull out a radish for you to try straight from the earth, sprinkled with a touch of water, or snatch a marigold and explain how the soft citrusy notes in its flavour can propel a recipe.”

Discover more: Delicious flavours of Waterloo Region

14. Charlevoix, Quebec

L’Isle-aux-Coudres in Charlevoix. (Peg Fong/Vacay.ca)

What’s happening in 2018: For three days starting on July 19, the streets of Baie-Saint-Paul, one of the Charlevoix region’s towns, will be filled with music and performing arts thanks to Le Festif!, an inclusive event spread over more than 18 sites in the heart of the charming downtown.

It has become a not-to-be-missed rendezvous for Quebec music lovers and it now welcomes the greatest artists from the province and abroad.

In September, Rêves d’automne kicks off its 28th year. Artists from around the world arrive in Charlevoix to paint the famous landscape of this region with their own visions and dreams of the stunning golden and orange and red colours of fall.

Why you should go: If you’re thinking ahead for fall travel, there’s no place like Charlevoix. It’s so famous for its vibrant autumn colours that painters travel from far afield to capture on canvas what was once inaccessible landscape.

It’s easy to reach now with the Train de Charlevoix, a railroad that criss-crosses the Saint-Lawrence’s shoreline.

The scenery is stunning any time of the year, but there’s also an abundance of things to do for visitors on the hunt for something more active.

Take a hike on the legendary Acropole des Draveurs trail in one of the core zones of the Charlevoix Biosphere Reserve or discover the history, fauna, and geology of the Parc National Des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie.

One of the world’s most unique whale observation experiences is within this stretch of the St. Lawrence River, where blue, minke, fin, and humpback whales frolic with belugas.

Vacay.ca editor Petti Fong says: “One of the highlights for the year of travel for me was a visit to an island in the Charlevoix region. A ferry ride from St-Joseph-de-la-Rive takes you to Isle-aux Coudres where a bike ride along the 23 km of the island is breathtaking (not breathless because it’s mostly flat) with stops at orchards, miniature lighthouses, and house replicas.

“The flavour trail here is in abundance with must-do stops at the Cidrerie et Vergers Pedneault, a three-generation winery and cider shop and for baked goods such as Tarte aux Sucre (sugar pie) and Pets de Soeurs (nuns’ farts) at the most scenic picnic spot on the island at the Boulangerie Bouchard.”

Discover more: Is this Paris or is it Charlevoix?

15. Pacific Rim National Park & region, B.C.

A black bear cub in Clayoquot Sound. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

What’s happening for 2018: Festivals galore, including some quintessentially West Coast events such as the annual Pacific Rim Whale Festival (March 10-25), Tofino Shorebird Festival (May 4-6), and the Queen of the Peak women’s surfing competition (September), will draw visitors throughout the year.

Culinary-focused events include the Tofino Food & Wine Festival (June) and Feast Tofino (April 20 to May 6).

In the national park, you’ll find the same draws as usual, with those giant Douglas fir and Sitka spruce trees just a bit older and taller and more inviting for you to touch, hug, and photograph.

Why you should go: Besides the outdoors delights for hikers, kayakers, and surfers, the Pacific Coast of Canada is a quirky destination with an eclectic mix of hippies, blue-collar workers, millionaire homeowners, luxury resorts, incredible restaurants, and stunning wildlife experiences.

It has much of what you expect from a first-rate destination and the added touch of deep spirituality, which can be felt all around its national park and the environment of Clayoquot Sound.

Visitors can explore and connect with nature on their own or, ideally, through one of the Aboriginal activities that are increasing in availability and popularity on Vancouver Island.

Vacay.ca writer Mark Sissons writes: “Coming into its own is what Ucluelet — which means ‘people of the safe harbour’ in the Indigenous Nuu-chah-nulth language — is all about these days.

“Long in the shadow of Tofino, its funkier and more famous neighbour 40 km to the north, this unpretentious working harbour town the locals affectionately call ‘Ukee’ is becoming a popular wild west coast getaway.

“Today, it offers visitors everything from whale-watching and kayaking excursions to fresh dining options and a range of accommodations. Take Wya Point Resort, for instance. Located a short drive north of Ucluelet on its own stretch of private beach, this First Nations-owned and -operated ecolodge set on 600 acres of old-growth forest offers three tiers of accommodations.”

Discover more: Uncover the charms of the Pacific Rim

16. Kluane National Park & Reserve, Yukon

A plane fro Icefield Discovery tours sits on a glacier in the Saint Elias mountain range of Kluane National Park. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

What’s happening for 2018: The third annual Northern Nights festival (Sept. 21-22) includes stargazing, art workshops, storytelling, and live music, and this year visitors should have the option of staying overnight at new accommodations at the Kathleen Lake Campground.

Construction of five Parks Canada oTENTik cabins is scheduled to be complete during the summer. (The oTENTiks are the popular part-tent, part A-frame cabin that continue to pop up at Parks Canada properties.)

Throughout the summer, visitors to Kluane can also join in on interpretive programming ranging from guided walks to evening campfire discussions.

Why you should go: Canada’s tallest peaks are here, and if you take a ski-plane ride you just might be able to land at the base of them (if weather permits).

You’ll also spot moose and possibly grizzly bears as you zoom around the territory. Haines Junction, the town closest to Kluane National Park, is home to fishing lodges and guiding operations to help plan your stay.

Vacay.ca managing editor Adrian Brijbassi writes: “The pilot flies the Helio Courier aircraft in the direction of Mount Logan — Canada’s highest peak — before slowly, smoothly performing a U-turn. He then pumps the landing gear with his fist to lower the skis attached to the base of the plane and sets us down — on a glacier.

“A minute or so later, I am walking on ice and snow in Kluane National Park while our plane sits quietly behind us. Though increasingly frequent, the glacier landing is still rare. The conditions need to be precise. The pilot must be confident he or she can get down and back up before winds increase or cloud cover descends.”

Discover more: A glacier landing in Kluane is heavenly

17. Ottawa

An inviting skating rink holds office outside of Parliament Hill. (Stephane Ippersiel/Vacay.ca)

What’s happening in 2018: Making its North American debut on the Rideau Canal between May and October is Le Boat, a new activity that will undoubtedly add a wrinkle to the way tourists explore Canada’s capital region.

These luxury self-drive boats will give tourists the opportunity to explore Ontario from Kingston all the way to downtown Ottawa at their own convenience.

The 40th edition of Winterlude (Feb. 2-19) takes place with snow, ice-sculpture competitions, and sporting events.

The 25th anniversary of the Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival (June 21-24) will leave fans smiling when the weather gets warm. This free admission event, recognized as North America’s largest dragon-boating festival, features amusement attractions and sports demonstrations.

Mainstay events such as the Canadian Tulip Festival (May 11-21) and the Ottawa Bluesfest (July 5-15) also draw thousands of people each year.

Tourists can also look forward to a revamped light-rail transit system. The city’s largest infrastructure project since the building of the Rideau Canal, the system’s Confederation Line opens in 2018, connecting 13 stations.

Why you should go: There is no rest for Canada’s flagship city, which did an outstanding job representing the nation during the country’s 150th birthday celebrations.

Ottawa has built a solid reputation as a hip destination with several wonderful activities including cutting-edge museums and what feels like a different cultural landmark on every corner.

For every Canadian and visitor to the country, Ottawa is a city you need to check off your to-do list. The Rideau Canal, Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, will be up and running this winter so bring your skates.

On the topic of skating, there is now a giant rink on Parliament Hill. The rink operates until Feb. 28 (meaning it will be open during Winterlude) and features seating for approximately 1,000 people. The public can reserve free, timed tickets through the ticketing system at www.canada150rink.ca. When the weather warms up this rink will be donated to a local community.

The Canada Science and Technology Museum, known for the Crazy Kitchen and locomotive collection, recently reopened after $80.5 million was spent on building repairs and upgrades.

Other legacy projects to check out include the Canadian Museum of Nature, the National Gallery of Canada, and the Bank of Canada Museum, which reopened on July 1, 2017 in a completely renovated building.

Vacay.ca deputy editor Rod Charles says: “Following a full year of festivities celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday one might bet that Ottawa would take a step back, catch its breath, and enjoy some much-deserved peace and quiet. Well, you would lose that bet big time.

“What has always impressed me with Ottawa is its ability to cater to any type of visitor at any time of the year — from young families to older couples, gal pals to road trippers, sports junkies, fans of architecture, fitness freaks, foodies, history buffs — doesn’t matter. Head for Ottawa in 2018 if you can — I give you a Vacay.ca guarantee that the party is far from over.”

18. Salt Spring, Galiano & other Gulf Islands, B.C.

Salt Spring Island is worth more than just a peek when you’re travelling through B.C. (Reuben Krabbe/Destination BC)

What’s happening in 2018: Visit one of the best arts and culture scenes in Canada with a trip to Salt Spring Island and Galiano Island for its February Festival and 2018 Literary Festival.

During February, Salt Spring Island will play host to musical and arts performances at various locations including local galleries, pubs, and concert halls, and the island’s dynamic ArtSpring, a 259-seat centre.

On Galiano, the Literary Festival (Feb. 23-25) is one of the most popular events of the year with visitors from all the major southern Gulf Islands and from the mainland of B.C. arriving at the Galiano Island Bookstore. Mary Walsh, creator of CBC’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes, will be one of the many acclaimed authors at the event and will read from her latest novel “Crying for the Moon.

Why you should go: The southern Gulf Islands give Canadians the “island time” we crave with one big advantage. There’s no need to get on a plane to reach this paradise off the west coast midway between Vancouver and Victoria.

The islands have a Mediterranean climate, with protected shorelines and thriving seaside villages. There’s history within these communities that were forged by generations of islanders.

On Mayne Island, you can visit a museum that was once a jail built in 1896. Every year on Canada Day, the biggest Gulf Islands party of the year is on Saturna Island, where a huge lamb BBQ brings in boaters and visitors from around the region. And on Galiano Island, Pilgrimme restaurant has established itself as a must-visit establishment for connoisseurs and lovers of farm-to-table dining.

Vacay.ca editor Petti Fong says: “There are around 200 Gulf Islands but the main ones, Galiano, Mayne, Saturna, Pender, and Salt Spring, have their own distinctive character.

“Galiano has a thriving arts and literary culture, and a noted restaurant in Pilgrimme. Mayne is known for its collection of 19th-century buildings and stunningly serene Japanese garden. Pender’s two islands, once joined by a peninsula, have dense forests and small, secluded beaches. Saturna is the least developed and most sparsely populated, but has a popular winery and Salt Spring, the largest of the islands, is home to artists and food artisans. Explore each one to gain insight into west-coast island life.”

Discover more: Salt Spring’s hippies are a trip

19. Saskatoon

Madeleines, served with a decadent chocolate sauce, is a perfect ending to a meal at Ayden Kitchen and Bar in downtown Saskatoon. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

What’s happening in 2018: The city will host Interpride (Oct. 4-7), by far the largest Pride conference in the world.

The 10th anniversary of the PotashCorp Fireworks Festival (Aug. 31 to Sept. 1) brings a bang to the late summer. This free festival features unique choreographed fireworks displays, food trucks, and entertainment for all ages.

Nuit Blanche (Sept. 29) celebrates anniversary number five with even more art spread through more neighbourhoods.

You’ll find more art at Remai Modern, the new gallery that showcases an extensive collection of linocut prints by Pablo Picasso. (In case you’re wondering, a linocut is a relief print produced in a manner similar to a woodcut but with linoleum as the medium.) Displayed in chronological order, “Faces of Picasso” uses linocuts to show how the famed artist developed his images through different trial proofs and colour states. The exhibition ends Feb. 25.
The big news out of Wanuskewin Heritage Park is a $40-million expansion that includes a plan to bring back a live herd of bison and the introduction of new experiential offerings such as dogsledding.
Wanuskewin, currently up for UNESCO World Heritage Status, is home to the longest-running archaeological dig site in Canada. A National Historic Site, Wanuskewin is built on a 6,000-year-old meeting ground for multiple Indigenous tribes. To put that into perspective, that’s twice as old as the Egyptian pyramids!

Why you should go: Vacay.ca has documented how delightful Saskatoon’s food scene is with star restaurants like Ayden Kitchen and Bar, Calories, Little Grouse on the Prairie, and Amigos Cantina playing leading roles. But it doesn’t stop there.

Saskatoon is continuing to make a name for itself in the beverage biz, and two new breweries and one new distillery are scheduled to open this year. Shelter Brewing (located downtown) forages some of the ingredients they use in their seasonal brews. Distiller Black Fox Farm & Distillery, owned by an entrepreneurial husband-and-wife team, will debut the second round of its mustard gin in the summer.

Vacay.ca managing editor Adrian Brijbassi writes: “Saskatoon is one of the fastest growing cities in Canada, thanks to consistent economic increases in a variety of industries and the return of proud citizens who have travelled the globe and opted to come back home because of family ties, reasonable real-estate prices, and an eclectic arts scene.

“While it still isn’t regarded as a tourism hot spot, it should be. There are plenty of reasons why you might consider making a visit — not the least of which is the impressive quality of its restaurants.”

Discover more: Finding peace at Wanuskewin Heritage Park

20. Point Pelee National Park, Ontario

Stargazers are out in force at Point Pelee National Park, home to one of Canada’s few dark-sky preserves. (Photo courtesy of Point Pelee National Park)

What’s happening in 2018: Point Pelee National Park celebrates its 100th anniversary. While there are no details announced for celebrations yet, stay tuned — it should be quite a lengthy series of festivities.

Why you should go: Because it’s a natural wonder, that’s why. Point Pelee National Park sits at Canada’s most southern point – in fact, many people do not realize that Point Pelee is farther south than California’s northern border.
The park is one of Canada’s designated dark-sky preserves and features “dark sky nights” during the year so tourists can join the Royal Astronomical Society for stargazing events.
In another nod to Mother Nature, the park hosts the Festival of Birds, an annual event taking place the first three weeks in May and featuring Point Pelee’s more than 390 species of birds.
To help make all this exploration even easier, Point Pelee National Park will have 24 of Parks Canada’s popular oTENTiks.
Vacay.ca writer Tamara Baluja writes: “The Festival of Birds is one of the most incredible experiences I have had in a national park. The annual event takes place in early to mid-May at Point Pelee at the southern tip of Canada, near Leamington, Ont., roughly a four-hour drive from Toronto.
“Each year, Point Pelee comes alive with the sound of migrating songbirds. And it’s honestly a great experience for people of all ages — the park is small and easy to get around. The terrain is flat, which makes it easy for seniors to navigate and kids have plenty to do — especially when you get them involved in bird-spotting. The only thing you really need to bring is a pair of decent binoculars.”
Discover more: Point Pelee is paradise for birdwatchers
By Adrian Brijbassi, Rod Charles, Petti Fong, and Guillermo Serrano

Vacay.ca editors and writers

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