Ontario & Toronto, Canada

Ottawa's famous Rideau Canal Skateway in winter, Ontario, Canada

Ottawa’s famous Rideau Canal Skateway in – fairly obviously – winter, Ontario. Photo by Saffron Blaze.

Visiting Ontario

Canada’s most populated province in the east of the country is home to the capital city, Ottawa, the largest city, Toronto, the largest waterfall, Niagara, a couple of Great Lakes – Superior and Erie – and many lesser lakes and rivers offering tourists plenty of scope for activities, both outdoor but indoor. Ontario is a huge province but most of the action happens in the south.
Ottawa is more of an outdoor activity destination whereas Toronto is more about urban life, particularly downtown, though it is a pricey city.

(South) Ontario weather

Best weather: May-September. For winter sports, December-March.
Worst: October-March unless going for winter sports.

Toronto and Ottawa’s climates are similar, tending towards cold, white winters November – March, and warm, humid summers with temperatures ranging from 73F (23C) – 88F (31C).

Ottawa Main Attractions

Canada’s national capital is relatively small with a population of well under one million, 35% of whom speak French as their first language.

Ottawa is an eminently liveable city, well-planned, traditional in style and spacious, with an abundance of recreational and cultural activities, but apart from Parliament Hill, the National Museum of Civilization, the fantastic National Gallery and various performing arts centres there isn’t much here that a tourist must do. . . unless you’re a skate freak, in which case the 5 mile long winter rink of the Rideau Canal, particularly during the Winterlude Festival, is made for you.

Ottawa's Parliament Building and the Ottawa River in summertime, Canada

Ottawa’s Parliament Building and the Ottawa River in summertime, a city activity centre. Photo by Suwannee.

Ottawa activities

Skating: on the 5 mile Rideau Canal, with heated changing rooms, from about mid January thru February depending on the weather.

Skiing: there are some OK ski slopes within an hour’s drive though slopes tend to be on hills rather than mountains. The closest slopes start with Camp Fortune; then on to Mont Cascades about 40 Minutes away. Roughly the same distance are: Mont Cascades; Edelweiss; Vorlage near Wakefield. Mont Ste Marie is the furthest from Ottawa at about 1 hour, near Lac Ste-Marie.

Mont Tremblant is about 2. 5 hours from Ottawa and offers the real deal in The Laurentians Mountains.

Note that there is no public transport to these hills/mountains; if you are coming from USA ensure you have Winter tyres, not just All Seasons, or you may find yourself in a lot of trouble. Alternatively fly in and rent locally so the tyres are appropriate for serious conditions.

Walking, jogging, blading and biking: The city has plenty of pedestrian-friendly streets, including downtown’s ByWard Market and Sparks Street. In fact Ottawa boasts 104 miles (170 kms) of dedicated cycle/blade/pedestrian paths, as well as the 125 mile Rideau Trail. Gatineau Park, just across the river from Ottawa is the bikers favourite buzz with 90 kms of trails. Algonquin Park, near Ottawa is huge and full of nature’s best.

Sailing and canoeing: on the ubiquitous Rideau Canal of course.

Beaches: Ottawa offers half a dozen safety-checked lake beaches nearby on the shores of Meech, Philippe, La Peche and Leamy lakes.

Golf: 30 courses near Ottawa Well, what do you expect with all the politicians and businessmen around? April-November.

Autumn maple leaf colour changes: mid-September to mid-October.

More official  Ottawa information.

Algonquin Park

If you’re driving around beware the moose! Large and occasionally aggressive they will not necessarily get out of the way at night and if a moose comes through your windscreen at 90kph you may regret not taking that apparently dumb but possibly suicidal expression seriously.

Moose caution

A female moose in Algonquin Park, Ontario, Canada

A female moose in Algonquin Park, Ontario. Photo by bcameron54.

This lush and lovely nature reserve more-or-less between Ottawa and Toronto offers excellent camping (some of it campgrounds that can only be reached on foot, ski or canoe), hiking, biking, fishing, wildlife-watching, swimming and especially canoeing, though blackflies are buzzing from mid-May thru June and mosquitoes till July.

Take precautions as the West Nile Virus exists in Ontario and is transmitted by mosquitoes. The park is about 3. 5 hours drive northeast of Toronto and 2. 5 hours west of Ottawa.


Sometimes known as Limestone City due to the large number of historic limestone it houses, Kingston is located at the junction of the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario and the Thousand Islands, 93 miles (150 kms) from Ottawa and a few miles further to Toronto.

The city’s main attractions for tourists are Kingston’s picturesque waterfront, historic Fort Henry, freshwater sailing and boat cruises around the Thousand Islands and their castles, and fresh-water wreck diving on a dozen of the best wrecks in the world (out of almost 100 sunk near Kingston).

Bad for the environment but great for diving, zebra mussels have invaded the area recently and cleared the water to a remarkable degree so visibility is startling.

Southwest Ontario cities worth visiting if time is available: Windsor, Stratford and Kitchener.
North Ontario attractions: the city of Thunder Bay, Quetico Provincial Park, Muskoka and Parry Sound.

Ontario’s Main Festivals

February, weekends only, Ottawa Winterlude Festival features parades, dances, snow races, ice sculptures, sleigh rides and more, but especially skating. If you love skating, this is a definite must-do.

Mid-May, Ottawa Tulip Festival, a five day city-wide street party for all ages surrounded by 100, 000’s of tulips.

End of July-August, one week, Toronto, Caribana Caribbean carnival, complete with parades of calypso bands, parties, ethnic foodstuffs and dancing in the street.

July, Ottawa, Canada Day, free concerts, marching bands, fireworks and other events.

May-November, Niagara-on-Lake, Shaw (theatrical) Festival.

For some more precise dates see: English Speaking Festivals

Visiting Toronto

Toronto's Lake Ontario shoreline, Canada

Toronto’s Lake Ontario shoreline. Photo by taxiarchos22.

Tourists in search of a lively and sophisticated urban experience could do a lot worse than a few nights in Toronto, Canada’s biggest city and champion at eating, drinking and making merry.
The city is well set up for walking with pedestrian areas and routes known as Discovery Walks, an excellent variety of activities, attractions, shops and little cafés to hold the visitor’s attention.

On the shore of Lake Ontario, Toronto is an energetic, diverse and scattered city with a high standard of living and a low crime rate, but unfortunately regularly ranks as the most expensive Canadian city – it is home to the country’s main financial and business services, after all.

Public transport involves the usual buses and an efficient subway system, but also less efficient though pleasant streetcars.

The city’s main tourist focus is downtown with attractions are the Harbourfront Centre that buzzes with markets, galleries and boat trips; the CN Tower for sensational views; the Royal Ontario Museum (World Culture and Natural History), Ontario Science Centre, Casa Loma and several other interesting museums and the Toronto Islands via a short ferry ride – with walks, restaurants and amusements.

There are various beaches both on the city shore – such as the Beaches district – and on the south shore of the Toronto Islands in Lake Ontario via a short ferry ride.

Toronto Skating Rink, Canada

Toronto Skating Rink. Photo by John Vetterli.

Toronto Main Attractions

• The Harbourfront Centre that buzzes with markets, galleries, boat trips and excellent innovative theatre on the Word Stage.

• The St Lawrence Market for stunning architecture and food.

• CN Tower’s observation deck for costly but sensational views and even a seriously scary outdoor hanging walk two-thirds of the way up the tower at 356m (over 1, 000ft). It’s called EdgeWalk and open from May to October.

• Royal Ontario Museum (World Culture and Natural History), Ontario Science Centre, Casa Loma and several other interesting museums.

• Toronto Islands Park via a short ferry ride – with walking trails, restaurants and children’s amusements; more of those at Ontario Place park.

• Steam Whistle Brewery’s fun and good value tours.

• An hour/90 minute drive will get you to Niagara Falls, quaint little Niagara-on-the-Lake (for a blast-from-the-past atmosphere, fine wines and cute shops) or to the USA via the Peace Bridge.

The nearest, best beach to Toronto is Wasaga Beach. Canada

The nearest, best beach to Toronto is Wasaga Beach, about 2 hours drive. Photo by Christian1311.

Toronto activities

Beaches: there are various so-so beaches both on the city shore – such as the Beaches district – and on the south shore of the Toronto Islands in Lake Ontario via a short ferry ride. Wasaga beach is two hours drive away.

Walking, biking, roller blading: Plenty of possibilities including downtown, the Lakefront, Harbourfront and many parks.

Sailing and canoeing: in pleasant enclosed Toronto Harbour as well as around the Toronto Islands chain. Rentals available.

Scenic Train Tour: the Agawa Canyon train tour is a famously twisting, ooh-err rail ride above deep gorges, past lakes and hills and around the wilds of north Ontario.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls, Canadian side, Ontario, Canada

Niagara Falls, Canadian side, Ontario.

The world’s most photographed sight keeps on thundering over the top, even though tacky attractions now envelop it like mist.
You should take a boat under the deluge to really appreciate the spectacle.

Around the Falls there is also the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory and Niagara-on-Lake’s ‘British’ village with its well-known Shaw Festival. More information and Niagara Falls pictures.

St Lawrence River

Boldt Castle's power house on one of the Thousand Islands of the St Lawrence River, Canada

On one of the Thousand Islands of the St Lawrence River, Boldt Castle’s power house. Photo by Hamidreza.