We don’t know about you, but Canada was our emotional safe haven during the American election. Now that the madness is (more or less) behind us, it’s about time we showed our neighbors to the north some love. And what better way to do so then paying a springtime visit to its cosmopolitan cities, beautiful coasts, and awe-inspiring national parks? Here, the 7 best places to visit in Canada this spring, from an idyllic fishing village in Newfoundland and Labrador to an under-the-radar town in British Columbia.
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador
With its quaint fishing villages, arctic wildlife, and distinct regional accent, Canada’s easternmost province is brimming with maritime charm. Start your adventure in the capital city of St. John’s, a colorful little town with steep streets, clapboard houses, and sea views, and fill up on partridgeberry muffins, a Newfie staple, at Rocket Bakery. There’s Irish dancing and pub food on George Street, the city’s main party drag, but if you’d rather get exploring, hit the road in direction of Fogo Island. The tiny, salt-tanged isle offers fewer than a dozen restaurants and cafes, but makes up for it in a burgeoning art scene and plenty of design-forward accommodations— like the 29-room Fogo Island Inn. Hang there, relaxing in the sleek water-facing guestrooms or cozy library, or embark on a trip to Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site with freshwater fjords and glacier-scoured headlands.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
This Atlantic Canadian city is best known for its pubs, heritage buildings, and gorgeous waterfront (which is why it's often compared to Boston), but it also has a distinctively young, bohemian feel, thanks to its sizable student population, vibrant music and theater scene, and limitless array of fair-trade coffee bars. Strike up a conversation with a friendly local at Seaport’s Farmers’ Market, one of the oldest in North America, where you can browse fresh produce, handmade jewelry, and sample craft brews, then stroll the three-mile boardwalk that stretches along the waterfront. For a great photo op, rent a set of wheels and motor out to Peggy’s Cove, a quaint fishing village home to over 160 historic lighthouses, or, to really make a trip out of it, drive the famous Cabot Trail. The 185-mile highway skirts the edges of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, and at times clings to steep oceanside cliffs.
Montreal winters are blisteringly cold. So when the snow finally melts and the sun starts to shine, you can bet the city really comes alive. Take advantage of the balmy temps by hiking Mont Royal, the city’s most iconic natural landmark, which offers the best view of the skyline and has a park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architecture behind New York’s Central Park. If you work up an appetite, refuel with an avocado and feta tartine at the Turkish-inflected Café Replika in the tony Plateau neighborhood, or head to the hip Mile End ‘hood, Montreal’s answer to Brooklyn, to browse trendy boutiques and funky art galleries. Your home base is Auberge du Vieux, a cozy waterfront hotel in the cobblestoned Old Port.
Whatever the reason (likely Drake— or perhaps the city's red-hot food scene), The Six has emerged as Canada's capital of cool. See what we’re talking about by strolling around the city’s trendy West End, a hipster hub for shops, nightlife, and restaurants. On your hit list: Mjölk (pronounced “milk”), a design store where staged vignettes showcase the best of Scandinavian and Japanese design, and Easy Tiger Goods, an eclectic general store stocked with everything from home décor and jewelry to leather goods. Bar Raval, a Gaudi-esque tapas bar with an extensive craft cocktail list, is right around the corner should you be craving a liquid pick-me-up, or, if you're looking for something more substantial, there's also Torteria San Cosme, a boisterous eatery serving traditional Mexican street-style sandwiches. End the day by perusing paintings by Canada's legendary Group of Seven at The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), the monumental Frank Gehry-designed museum that houses over 80,000 works.
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There’s not a bad time of the year to visit Canada’s oldest and most famous national park. But in the interest of dodging the crowds, we’d recommend visiting in the springtime, when the frost-covered landscape has thawed, giving way to fields filled with mountain flowers, gushing mountain streams, and cloudless blue skies. See it all 918 feet above ground at The Glacier Skywalk, a glass-floored, cliff-edge walkway in neighboring Jasper National Park, where you can look out over glacier-formed valleys and waterfalls. Not one for heights? Lace up your walking shoes and hike the Morraine Lake valley trail for the “Twenty Dollar view,” named for having been featured on the Canadian $20 bill, twice. After, reward yourself with Alberta beef fondue or British Columbia smoked trout at the Grizzly House, a Banff institution known for its fondue dinners and retro décor. Your cozy guestroom at the Post Hotel and Spa is an ideal place to nurse your food hangover.
Vancouver, British Columbia
It’s no secret that Vancouver is one of Canada’s most jaw-droppingly beautiful cities. Between the confluence of mountains and sea, the abundance of parks, and gleaming glass skyscrapers, you don't where to look first. We suggest starting with a bike ride around the city via Cycle City Tours, which takes visitors on a guided tour of must-see attractions like Stanley Park, Granville Island Public Market, Olympic Village, Chinatown, and Gastown. The city's ever-evolving culinary scene means there's a cool, global-inspired restaurant to check out on almost every corner. Our faves? Bao Bei, where you can tuck into handmade dumplings, crispy daikon cakes, and Sichuan cucumbers, and Vij’s, an buzzy Indian restaurant that has played host to everyone from ex-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to Harrison Ford.
Victoria, British Columbia
Victoria often gets overshadowed by flashy Vancouver, but there’s much to love about this postcard-perfect provincial capital—especially in the spring. Stop to smell the roses (and tulips, and lilies, and rhododendrons) at The Abkhazi Garden, a botanical oasis created in 1959 by Prince and Princess Abkhazi, sticking around long enough to partake in the afternoon tea ceremony at the on-site mansion’s former sitting room. From there, taste the island’s coastline by joining Chef Dan Hayes’s West Coast, Best Coast Culinary Adventure, a six-hour boat trip that includes a seafood lunch, cooking class, wine tasting, and spectacular scenery. If you haven’t found your sea legs, you can always stay behind at your digs, the historic Fairmont Empress, and catch some sun on the hotel’s expansive verandah.