10 Best Places to Visit in Canada for 2016
10 Best Places to Visit in Canada for 2016
Welcome to the era of the 21st-century road trip. With low gas prices, an anemic Canadian dollar, rising sales of electric cars and renewed anxiety about flying overseas, the idea of exploring close to home and in an automobile is once again immensely appealing. In 2016, there’s another reason why Canadians will be eager to see their country on ground level rather than thousands of feet overhead: nostalgia.
As the nation nears its 150th birthday in 2017, touring through the provinces and territories in a car brings an opportunity for intimate discovery of the nation as well as the chance for Canadians to make a poignant and personal connection with Canada just prior to its landmark anniversary.
In publishing its 20 Best Places to Visit in Canada in 2016 Guide, the travel experts at Vacay.ca have identified road-trip destinations as the spots Canadians and visitors to the nation are most likely to be drawn to during the coming year. Along with destinations you have to venture far to reach, some urban metropolises have also made the ranking because of their new attractions, milestone events or enduring ability to deliver a quality travel experience.
The annual list has proven to be an accurate forecaster and influencer of Canadian travel for the past four years. For 2015, Toronto ranked first overall thanks to the Pan Am Games and 40th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival. The city experienced a surge in visitation and will likely set a record for number of tourists it hosted in one year.
In 2014, Charlottetown was ranked No. 1 and Prince Edward Island tourism businesses reported a record year for tourism-related revenue, which totalled $401 million. In 2013, Vacay.ca ranked Fortress Louisbourg in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia as the No. 1 destination and it saw a 37 per cent increase in visitation from its 2012 levels. In 2012, Calgary topped the list and witnessed record numbers of travellers, many of whom arrived for the 100th Calgary Stampede.
For 2016, domestic travel and car travel are expected to be very high, according to the Conference Board of Canada. Overnight travel within Canada is expected to grow 2.4 per cent in 2016, after seeing a similar year-over-year increase in 2015. A low Canadian dollar will also keep Canadians close to home and the attractive price of gasoline makes road trips more enticing, too.
1. SEA-TO-SKY COUNTRY, British Columbia
What’s Happening for 2016: This year marks the 50th anniversary of Whistler, North America’s largest ski resort. The snow has fallen early, promising a fulfilling season for one of the most fun and exciting vacation destinations in the country. The 2015-16 golden anniversary is highlighted by festivals, parties and new restaurants, including recently opened Bar Oso, a relative of acclaimed Araxi, a perennial member of the annual Top Restaurants in Canada Rankings.
Why You Should Go: For five decades, travellers have driven the 120 kilometres (75 miles) between Vancouver and Whistler without much inclination to stop. That has changed in a big way. Sea-to-Sky Country is the label given to the area that leads from Horseshoe Bay — the upscale West Vancouver community known for its ferry terminal — through Squamish, aka the “Outdoor Sports Capital of Canada,” and to Whistler and its farm-friendly neighbour to the north, Pemberton.
While Whistler is celebrating years of success, Squamish is enjoying new-found glory. The Sea-to-Sky Gondola — and the Summit it leads to — have become darlings of British Columbia’s tourism industry since opening in 2014. The mountain-top views of Howe Sound are among the most spectacular you’ll see anywhere and the hiking trails are family-friendly.
2. CABOT TRAIL, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
What’s Happening for 2016: The Cabot Trail was once considered a drive you completed in a day. Drivers and their passengers would make frequent stops for photographs, grab a lobster lunch somewhere along the way, hike the short Skyline Trail and then cross the experience off their bucket lists. Now, however, there is so much to see and do on the Cabot Trail — and the Cape Breton communities tethered to it — that any traveller who chooses to zoom through would be missing out on one fine vacay. In 2016, the Cabot Cliffs golf course, part of the Cabot Links facility in the town of Inverness, debuts and adds another world-class experience to the island, and the Race the Cape regatta, which began in 2013, promises to continue to increase in stature and entertainment value each year. If you would like to go at a slower pace around the trail, or through a portion of it, there are more guided and self-guided cycling tours than ever before. An Artisan Loop provides an offshoot to the trail that helps immerse you in Cape Breton’s distinct culture. If you want to see fall foliage at its most glorious, then you’ll also enjoy the Celtic Colours celebration that runs from October 7-16. The festival focused on Celtic music and heritage will be celebrating its 19th year.
Why You Should Go: Two-hundred kilometres of bliss. That’s one way to think about the Cabot Trail. The famous highway cuts through a stunning national park (Cape Breton Highlands), passes one of Canada’s finest beaches (Ingonish) and veers close to what is arguably the best golf course in the nation (Cabot Links). You’ll also find superb seafood dishes, fascinating communities full of unique history, and some of the friendliest, most down-to-earth and goodhearted people in the world.
3. TOFINO, British Columbia
What’s Happening for 2016: It’s been a marvellous 20 years for the Wickaninnish Inn, one of Canada’s most acclaimed hotels. Family-owned and operated, the venerable Wick kick-started a tourism boom that has not abated in this fishing village on Vancouver Island. Located just outside the town of Tofino on the Pacific coast, the Wickaninnish Inn is a landmark set amid century-old fir trees and craggy rocks and boulders glazed daily by a fresh swell of ocean waves. Its 20th anniversary will be celebrated through the year and is also a time of reflection for a community that has risen from anonymity in the world of tourism to a destination adored by travellers from around the world. More importantly for road-trippers, much of the construction on the Pacific Rim Highway that caused long delays into and out of Tofino will be complete. Increased flights from Vancouver also offer another transportation option.
Why You Should Go: Tofino is more of a community than a tourist destination. That feature enriches it with a depth of authenticity missing from many coastal locales with luxury hotels, boat tour operators and fine restaurants. You will get to know the people here, as well as their culture and the history of this region that remains vitally important to First Nations communities as well as the artisans who have worked hard to maintain its character. While there is definitely a sophistication to Tofino in its vibrant restaurant scene and the quality of its spa experiences, it is not lavish. It celebrates the luxury of its surroundings as well as any location in North America.
4. IVVAVIK NATIONAL PARK, Yukon
What’s Happening in 2016: Exploring the Canadian Arctic is one of our country’s iconic adventure travel experiences. But until recently it was prohibitively expensive for many travellers. Now, visitors to remote northern parks like Ivvavik can take advantage of Parks Canada’s Basecamp program to spend up to a week immersed in epic, austere natural grandeur without breaking the bank because Parks Canada now handles flight logistics, removing the costly need to charter a plane, as well as providing comfortable, catered campsites.
Why You Should Go: On Parks Canada’s Ivvavik adventure you’ll fly over the massive Mackenzie Delta in an iconic Twin Otter bush plane into the heart of the rugged ridges and peaks of the British Mountains that once formed part of a vast ice-free land mass called Beringia. You’ll then spend several days exploring this hiker’s paradise of pristine alpine wilderness intercut by fast-flowing rivers when not relaxing at your comfortable Arctic basecamp under the midnight sun.
Situated in Yukon’s northwest corner, adjacent to the Beaufort Sea and Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Ivvavik is the largest of North Yukon’s five wilderness parks.
Meaning “a place for giving birth, a nursery” in the language of the Inuvialuit, this vast swath of jagged peaks and winding river valleys where the tundra meets the taiga (boreal forest) was the first national park in Canada to be created as a result of an aboriginal land claim agreement. It protects the habitat and calving grounds of the Arctic’s renowned Porcupine caribou herd. The Gwich’in and Inuvialuit people of North Yukon have occupied this land for centuries and depend on the herd for food and other traditional uses.
5. TORONTO, Ontario
What’s Happening in 2016: Sports and more sports. Toronto is known for many things — restaurants, museums, festivals, fashion and movie stars — but with the success of the 2015 Pan Am Games, the city has truly established a reputation as a sport tourism destination and 2016 will be no different.
The big surprise is the Toronto Blue Jays, aka Canada’s Team, that jolted the baseball world and united the entire country with a jaw-dropping season that saw the Boys in Blue come within two victories of reaching the World Series. If the Blue Jays, who will be celebrating their 40th anniversary in 2016, can have similar success as they enjoyed last year then Toronto is in for a very exciting October.
It’s a good time to be a fan of Canada’s other team, the Toronto Raptors, who are currently holding on to first place in the Atlantic Division. Great news but there is another reason why it’s a good time to be a hoops fan in Canada — the NBA All-Star Weekend, will take place in Toronto from February 12-14. Expect fans to descend on Toronto to see the best players in the world show their stuff on Canadian hardwood.
Besides baseball and basketball, Rogers Centre will also be hosting the 104th Grey Cup on November 27. To top it all off, Toronto will host of the World Cup of Hockey (September 17 to October 1), featuring more than 150 of the NHL’s best players.
Why You Should Go: Toronto was the Vacay.ca top pick to visit in 2015, driven in no small part because of the successful Pan Am Games that electrified the city. Toronto continues to be one of the most important cities in the world for major sporting events. There are many wonderful reasons to visit the city, but sports, culture and shopping will be what drives tourism to the Ontario capital in 2016.
6. IRISH LOOP, Newfoundland & Labrador
What’s Happening in 2016: Ferryland, which is one hour south of St. John’s, has two annual experiences that offer visitors excellent opportunities to indulge in Newfoundland’s unique food and music. The Shamrock Festival, which began in 1986, runs from July 23-24 this year and is dedicated to traditional music from Canada’s easternmost province. Meanwhile, in May, the chefs at Lighthouse Picnics begin another season of serving delicious fare prepared daily at the Ferryland Lighthouse. In St. John’s, newly opened Merchant Tavern is on all foodies’ must-try list. It is owned by the same team that operates Raymonds, the two-time winner of the Vacay.ca Top Restaurants in Canada Rankings.
Why You Should Go: The Irish Loop is 312 kilometres of beauty and charm. It starts in St. John’s and travels south along Routes 90 and 1 to distinct towns such as Ferryland, Aquaforte and Trepassey, site of the 1928 flight when Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. You will see whales, caribou, ptarmigans and likely lots of moose. The magic of Newfoundland will beguile you as you drive this route that hugs the seashore and enriches you with splendid scenery and even more splendid people.
7. CALGARY, Alberta
What’s Happening in 2016: The National Music Centre has been talked about for years and after months of construction the downtown space will finally open in the spring. The centre, which will definitely be a reason to go to Calgary this year, is a hub for music and technology with more than 2,000 rare instruments, exhibits and sound equipment from Canadian music memorabilia. There’s also performance space for collaborations, community cultivation, engagements and exchanges. Fittingly, the Juno Awards will take place in Calgary around the same time the opening of the NMC is scheduled. The 45th annual Junos will be held on April 3 at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Why You Should Go: The culinary scene in Calgary has gone through significant changes for the better and as Vacay.ca writer Sarah Deveau wrote earlier this year, one of the biggest new openings was Parc Brasserie, a 120-seat restaurant offering traditional French bistro fare. The city’s public art is always worth a visit. Vacay.ca editor Guillermo Serrano noted that the art is available to the public at any time with pieces like the Stephen Avenue Walk Trees and the Chinook Arc offering visitors a sense of place in a city where beauty and innovation have found a spot to exist together.
8. GJOA HAVEN, Nunavut
What’s Happening in 2016: Two years ago, history was made in Nunavut with the discovery of HMS Erebus, one of two vessels that was lost during the Franklin Expedition. Since the discovery, attention has focused on the northern territory and Gjoa Haven, a village in proximity to the 19th-century wreck.
HMS Erebus is now protected through designation as a National Historic Site and is currently closed for visitation while archaeological research is conducted. Visitors to Gjoa Haven can experience the Nattilik Heritage Centre, where a small exhibit and interpretation of the Franklin Voyage is provided.
For those who are unfamiliar with the story, Sir John Franklin sailed from England in 1845 with two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. His goal was to find the elusive Northwest Passage, a route that runs through what is today Canada’s Arctic and if discovered would serve as a commercially viable western sea route between Europe and Asia.
The expedition was never seen again and an exhaustive search was launched, with no luck. The location of at least one of those ships remained a mystery until the discovery of Erebus at Gjoa following an expedition led by Parks Canada. As time goes on, the Erebus discovery and the legacy of Franklin promise to grow tourism to this isolated part of the country.
Why You Should Go: With the discovery of Erebus and the worldwide attention that came with it, Arctic travel has never been more exciting or accessible. This location oozes maritime history but, unlike Halifax or Quebec City, Gjoa Haven touches on a part of history that goes back before Canada even existed. Gjoa Haven has played an important role in some key historic events. Besides being the final resting place of HMS Erebus, Gjoa Haven has welcomed the John Ross Expedition as well as Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who wintered here with his ship the Gjøa in 1906. Gjoa Haven is named after that vessel.
9. MONTREAL, Quebec
What’s Happening in 2016: Quebec is known for supplying Las Vegas with plenty of talent for its entertainment seekers. In 2016, it gets one of its own back. Celine Dion takes up residence at Bell Centre for 10 shows running from July 31-August 17. It will be the concert event of the year in the city, if not the country. Montreal, of course, is loaded with a string of fantastic annual events. North America’s leading festival city promises another year of diverse celebrations in art, music, sports, cuisine, media and fashion.
Among the notable additions for travellers is the new Renaissance Montreal, a stylish hotel set to debut on January 18 in the city’s downtown at corner of Cathcart Street and Robert-Bourassa Boulevard. It claims to feature the only rooftop terrace in downtown.
Why You Should Go: Every year Montreal makes this annual ranking of the best places to visit in Canada for one succinct reason: It doesn’t disappoint. Montreal is one of the most risk-free choices you can make for a vacation. You book your trip knowing the city will not only be worth the time and the money, it will likely charm and surprise you. At its worst, Montreal satisfies; at its best, it exhilarates, intoxicates and inspires you to come back for more.
10. CANMORE AND BANFF, Alberta
What’s Happening in 2016: This year’s Canmore Winter Carnival, which has been celebrated for more than 20 years, is bigger than ever with two World Cup events adding to the 45 days of activities that include ice carving and snow sculpting. In the summer, the Banff Marathon, which takes place on June 19, may well be the most picturesque run in Canada and definitely should be on any runner’s bucket list.
Why You Should Go: The annual number of tourists increased by more than 10 per cent to the Banff area in 2015 and with a lower Canadian dollar and cheaper gas, more people are expected to journey to one of Canada’s true world-class destinations this year. This is one time you should join the crowd. Whether it’s a winter trip, a summer one, or anytime in between, visitors have a lot of options when they visit Canmore and Banff. Surrounded by Rocky Mountains and roaming wildlife used to sharing their incredible landscape with humans, the outdoor activities in this geographic jewel will keep the heart pumping. There is also a recently opened National Historic Site (Cave and Basin), a Via Ferrata experience, and a range of cultural events and activities that add even more pleasure to your time spent in the awe-inspiring beauty of the Rockies.