5 Places to Visit in Canada Before the Summer Ends
Winter is coming.
Okay, not yet. But the summer season is half over, and if you’re like me, getting the most of this warm weather is a must. Now is the time to squeeze in a last minute vacation, whether it’s a day excursion to a local attraction or a long road trip to a new destination.
Though your neighbours might be hopping on the next flight to Europe or the US, why not explore Canada instead? I know, I know…it seems less sexy to vacation at home than to fly 6K kilometres for an overpriced baguette at a Parisian tourist trap, but hear me out. For one, you’ll avoid the overcrowded attractions, as well as all the wasted money associated with making purchases and exchanging currencies overseas. Plus, although the comparative international value of your dollar might increase a bit as Bank of Canada bumps up interest rates, a “stay-cation” in Canada will still likely be far more affordable – and just as fun.
And really, Canada is pretty dang spectacular: from glaciers in the North to white sand beaches in Ontario to wine regions of the East, there’s so much to experience from coast to coast. To kick off your Great Canadian Holiday, I’ve compiled a list of my favourite places to visit in Canada during the summertime.
Surf It up in Tofino, BC
If you crave a tranquil wilderness retreat, take a trip to Tofino – a sleepy surfer town on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island. Famed for its pristine beaches and rainforests, it makes a fabulous destination for active and adventurous vacations, especially with the 150,000-acre Pacific Rim National Park Reserve nearby. A few years ago, I spent three glorious days exploring Tofino’s “Wild West Coast” and did everything from rainforest hiking to whale-watching to gorging on a lot of fresh seafood.
It’s also a surfer’s paradise. With 35 kilometres of white sandy beaches and an exposed coast, Tofino attracts surfers from all over the world and frequently hosts international surfing competitions. There are dozens of surfing schools, where certified instructors teach proper technique, ocean safety, and surf etiquette. So even noobs who have never touched a board are bound to catch a wave by the end of a lesson.
Travel tip: Going surfing? Play it safe and get a travel insurance policy that covers you in case of an accident. Don’t assume that a basic plan covers everything you’ll be doing: adventure activities (like surfing) can be deemed “high risk,” so double check that it’s covered.
A Wine Weekend in the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia
Forget California’s Napa Valley! Canadian wine lovers should head straight to our own Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia. There’s a long tradition of grape-growing here—dating as far back as the 1600s—thanks to the region’s rich soil and cool coastal climate. There are countless Nova Scotian wineries and vineyards to explore in this dreamy destination, coveted for its exquisite ice wines, sparkling wines and signature appellation Tidal Bay—an aromatic white that pairs perfectly with fresh seafood.
Travel tip: Tour and taste the best varieties at Luckett Vineyards, Jost Vineyards, and Benjamin Bridge Vineyards, followed by an incredible dinner surrounded by grapevines, gardens, and cobblestone walkways at the enchanting Domaine De Grand Pre.
A Northern Adventure in Dawson City, Yukon
Canada’s Yukon makes a fantastic summer destination for outdoor lovers. For one, from May to August, the sun shines up to 21 hours a day in this far-flung Canadian territory, allowing you to really soak up the warm days and nights.
I’ve visited the Yukon twice, and both times I’ve been enraptured by its vast wilderness, raw beauty, and endless outdoor activities. From remote hiking in Tombstone Territorial Park to mountain biking trails to taking a glacial flight-seeing tour over the mammoth Kluane National Park and Reserve, it’s no wonder the Yukon has been cheekily nicknamed “the Land of Midnight Fun.”
While the capital city of Whitehorse is a must visit, I recommend heading five hours north to Dawson City, a tiny town that was the hub for the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1800s. Today there’s a different kind of treasure to uncover: the city is hopping with art galleries, museums, restaurants and bars, special events (such as the famed Dawson City Music Festival), and soft adventure. For history buffs, you can relive the rowdy Gold Rush days at Diamond Tooth Gerties (a gambling hall featuring lively can-can performances), and visit museums, cultural centres and historic sites with fascinating gold rush information and exhibits. You can even try gold panning in the creek—a thrilling activity for kids.
Got gold fever? Your best bet is to visit during the Discovery Days Festival in August, a week-long celebration of Dawson City’s “grand history” that features family-friendly events, contests, movies, and a parade. It’s a good thing the sun shines past midnight, so you can get your fill of everything from craft-making to face-painting to walking tours to art shows.
Travel tip: Travelling to Yukon often requires a plane ticket with a hefty price tag (but seriously, it’s worth it), and once there, you’ll need a rental car to get around the vast territory. Rack up mega points by charging your expenses onto the BMO Air Miles Mastercard. It has a 500 Air Mile sign-up bonus, and offers one of the best reward earn rates per dollar spent. Plus, you can get up to a 25% discount at National Car Rental and Alamo Rent-A-Car.
Beach Bumming at Sandbanks Provincial Park, Ontario
Two hours east of Toronto is Ontario’s best-kept secret: Sandbanks Provincial Park. It’s a conservation area that has a stunning 8-kilometre beach that, in my opinion, rivals the white sands of the Caribbean.
Personally, I’ve had a love affair with Sandbanks since childhood, and I visit the destination every summer. On holiday as a kid, some of my best memories involve balmy days playing in the powdery white sand, chasing waves, and wading out in the shallow sandbars of Lake Ontario. Sandbanks makes a great (and cheap!) day trip with family and friends (especially for picnics); and if you want to prolong the fun, just pitch a tent in the park.
Travel tip: If camping isn’t your thing, follow Prince Edward County’s Taste Trail to explore an array of farm-to-fork eateries, wineries, craft distilleries, and artisan shops, and then overnight at the luxurious Drake Devonshire Inn. Don’t forget to pack your American Express Cobalt Card, a lucrative card for Canadian bon vivants who love to travel, dine out, and rapidly accumulate reward points. The Cobalt earns 5 points per $1 spent on eligible eats and drinks (including restaurants, bars, food delivery, and groceries), and 2 points per $1 spent on eligible travel and transit, including airfare, hotels, ground transit, and gas. That’s a lot of potential points to rack up from one trip in Ontario.
A Food-Cation in Montreal, Quebec
Whether you’re looking for an arts immersion, nighttime thrills or a vibrant food scene, Montreal should be on your “holiday hit list” this summer. For one, it’s got an incredible food scene, fuelled by daring chefs, trendy restaurants and bars, and delicious dishes steeped in Montreal history. With the warm weather, you can leisurely wander the food stalls in the Jean Talon Market, take a food tour with Fitz and Fowell Co., and explore the culinary delights of Montreal’s diverse neighbourhoods.
You could spend an entire summer eating your way across Montreal, but I suggest starting the smorgasbord with a Montreal smoked meat sandwich at the iconic Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen, followed by a hand-rolled Montreal-style bagel at Fairmount Bagel. For a poutine pilgrimage, head over to Poutineville, where you can gorge on French fries doused in gravy and cheese curds, as well as other unorthodox toppings like hot dogs or jalapeño peppers and guacamole. However, for me, the highlight is dining at Foxy, a new(ish) eatery that makes exquisite wood-fired fare and has been declared one of Canada’s best restaurants.
Travel tip: For a hotel with a convenient location, Best Western Montreal Downtown Hotel Europa is situated in the centre of Montreal, and you can rack up rewards points (5 per dollar) by charging your room to the Best Western Rewards Mastercard. New cardholders get 20K Rewards points, enough for a free night’s stay.