Ontario Top Destinations

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Southwestern Ontario

Arcing around Lake Ontario is a heavily populated industrialized zone encompassing a number of the GTA’s ‘satellite’ cities. Highway 403 will get you to Hamilton and Brantford, but most will take the 401 for Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo and beyond: it’s an impenetrable concrete artery linking Toronto to the US border at Windsor, and the Québec border to the east.

Niagara Peninsula

Jutting east from Hamilton and forming a natural divide between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, the Niagara Peninsula is a legitimate tourist hot spot. Though many only see the falls and Clifton Hill on a day tour from Toronto, there is lots to explore here. Consider a several-day visit to fully experience the delights of the peninsula

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Ottawa

Descriptions of Ottawa read like an appealing dating profile: dynamic, gregarious, bilingual, likes kids and long walks on the river. In person, the attractive capital fits the bill. Canada’s gargantuan Gothic Parliament buildings regally anchor the downtown core, an inspiring jumble of pulsing districts at the confluence of three rivers

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London

Ontario’s third-most populous city (after the GTA and Ottawa), midway between Toronto and Detroit is London, aka the ‘forest city.’ It bears little resemblance to its namesake, short of its substantial collection of fine Victorian homes, River Thames and a plethora of leafy parks and gardens.

St Thomas

St Thomas is a low-key farming community 20km south of London, en route to Lake Erie. It has a well-maintained Victorian downtown and was once the center of rail travel in southern Canada. At its peak, over a hundred trains a day passed through: hard to imagine today.

Kingston

Modern-day Canada’s first capital, albeit for a short time (three years), Kingston was stripped of the title when Queen Victoria worried that it was too close to the American border and could not be properly defended. Today, the pretty city finds itself strategically placed as the perfect pit stop between Montréal or Ottawa and Toronto.

Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay is about as comfortably isolated as you can get – it’s 692km west of Sault Ste-Marie and 703km east of Winnipeg (Manitoba). If you’re arriving by road, it’s a welcome and obligatory return to civilization: no matter how beautiful those forests and that shoreline, it starts to blur together after a while.

Georgian Bay

A vast realm of blues and greens, Georgian Bay is a land of infinite dreaming. Summer breezes blow gently along sandy shores. Maples ignite in the fall and thick pines quiver at winter’s frosty kiss. These ethereal landscapes inspired Canada’s best-known painters and today the bay remains home to scores of thriving artistic communities.

Eastern Ontario

Eastern Ontario encompasses the countryside east of Toronto as far as the Québec border. Not too far past the suburban sprawl of Oshawa, the GTA’s easternmost extent, the fertile pastures of Prince Edward County support a rich farming tradition.

Northern Ontario

‘Big’ is a theme in Northern Ontario. The area is so big that it could fit six Englands and still have room for a Scotland or two. Big industry has made its home here: most of the world’s silver and nickel ore comes from massive local mines and vast forests have made the region a key producer of timber. Even the mosquitoes are big. Really big.

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Niagara-on-the-lake

One of the best-preserved 19th-century towns in North America, affluent N-o-t-L is an undeniably gorgeous place, with tree-lined streets, lush parks and impeccably restored houses. Originally a neutral First Nations village, the town was founded by Loyalists from New York State after the American Revolution and later became the first capital of the colony of Upper Canada.

Lake Erie Shoreline

From the Welland Canal near Niagara to the Detroit River at Windsor, the Lake Erie shoreline is a scenic, thinly populated strip of sandy beaches, small towns and peaceful parks. Many Ontarians have cottages here. Recent environmental efforts are such that you can swm in Lake Erie (the shallowest and warmest of the Great Lakes): but do check with the locals before you go in.

Kitchener-Waterloo

The adjacent cities of Kitchener (formely called Berlin, due to its Germanic origins) and Waterloo, like Siamese twins, are as different as they are connected. ‘Downtown’ Kitchener lacks appeal and although prettier ‘uptown’ Waterloo has some nice sandstone architecture, two universities and the largest community museum in Ontario, neither city is particularly exciting.

Stratford

Stratford is a success story, a wonderful country town that refuses to surrender to the depopulization syndrome plaguing rural centers worldwide.

Hamilton & Brantford

En route to the Niagara Peninsula, blue-collar Hamilton – center of Canada’s iron and steel industries – isn’t famed for tourism, although cleanup efforts and downtown revitalization have improved things for visitors.

Lake Huron Shoreline

Lake Huron has some of the cleanest waters of the Great Lakes and is wide enough that the sun sets on the waterline of its western shore: expect wonderful sunsets. If you’ve been lingering around Toronto and Lake Ontario, Lake Huron’s ‘blueness’ will be both surprising and refreshing, as will its whitish sandy beaches. Highway 21 hugs the underpopulated shoreline, in parts.

Sudbury

Sudbury gets props for making something out of nothing. In the 1880s, it was but a desolate lumber camp called Ste-Anne-des-Pins. Then, when the Canadian Pacific Railway plowed through in 1883, the discovery of a motherlode of nickel-copper ore transformed the dreary region into the biggest nickel producer worldwide.

 Sault Ste Marie

Sudbury gets props for making something out of nothing. In the 1880s, it was but a desolate lumber camp called Ste-Anne-des-Pins. Then, when the Canadian Pacific Railway plowed through in 1883, the discovery of a motherlode of nickel-copper ore transformed the dreary region into the biggest nickel producer worldwide.

 Midland & Penetanguishene

The native Huron-Ouendat people first settled the region and developed a confederacy to encourage cooperation among neighboring Aboriginal tribes. This alliance attracted French explorers and Jesuit missionaries eager to save their souls. Much of Midland’s fascinating history focuses on the bloody altercations between the Huron and the Christian stalwarts.

 Windsor

At the end of the highway on the southwestern tip of Ontario (across the river from Detroit, USA) this once booming center for trade and manufacturing has seen better days. Recent approval to commence work on the New International Trade Crossing, a bridge that will increase the volume of trade and speed of passage over the border, may change all that.

 Bruce Peninsula

The Bruce is a 100km limestone outcrop of craggy shorelines and green woodlands at the northern end of the Niagara Escarpment. The fingerlike protrusion separates the cooler crystal waters of Georgian Bay from warmer Lake Huron. Owen Sound is the largest regional center, while delightful Tobermory is the reward at the tip of the peninsula. Visit www.explorethebruce.

 Algonquin Provincial Park

Established in 1893, Ontario’s oldest and largest park is a sight for sore eyes, with 7800 sq km of thick pine forests, jagged cliffs, trickling crystal streams, mossy bogs and thousands (thousands!) of lakes. An easily accessible outdoor gem, this rugged expanse is a must-see for canoeists and hikers.  Hwy 60 intersects a small portion of the park near its southern edge.

 Guelph

Founded in 1827 by a Scottish novelist who planned the town’s footprint in a European style, Guelph is best known for its popular university and…beer! Sleeman Breweries and two microbreweries call Guelph home.

 Elora & Fergus

No longer one of Ontario’s best-kept secrets, the delightful Wellington County riverside towns of Elora and Fergus, straddling the banks of the twisty Grand River, await your visit. Both have done a magnificent job preserving their heritage facades and streetscapes.

 Prince Edward County

Photographers will delight in the sweeping expanses of dappled branches, undulating pastoral hills, rugged bluffs and windswept shorelines of Prince Edward County. Golden fields yield bountiful harvests in this region rich in farm-to-table cuisine, peppered with providors of the finest foods, inviting B&Bs and up-and-coming wineries.

 Leamington & Pelee Island

Lakeside Leamington is the ‘Tomato Capital of Ontario,’ though most people come here just to get the ferry to Pelee Island. Southeast of town, Point Pelee National Park (the southernmost point of mainland Canada) is a pit stop for thousands of migratory birds during spring and fall.

 Manitoulin Island

Manitoulin (meaning ‘Spirit Island’ in the Ojibwe language) is a magical and remote place. There’s a real sense of being ‘away’ up here.

 Owen Sound to Tobermory

The 100km stretch of highway from Owen Sound to Tobermory is monotonous at best. Consider taking a side road or two to get a taste of the scenery that makes the Bruce so special.   From Owen Sound, follow Grey County Rd 1 which winds along the scenic shoreline of staggering pines between Owen Sound and the quaint village of Wiarton.

 Owen Sound

Owen Sound has a sordid past as a port rife with booze and prostitution. Things got so out of hand that alcohol was banned here for over 60 years – hard to believe, today. By the time the embargo was lifted in 1972, the town had transformed into a thriving artists’ colony and remains so today: check out the Owen Sound Artist’s Co-op when you’re in town.

 Collingwood & Blue Mountain

Pretty lakeside Collingwood and neighboring Blue Mountain, a handsome ski resort and summer playground, have become a year-round mecca for those who enjoy activity with their scenery. The area is called Blue Mountains, the resort is called Blue Mountain. If healthy outdoorsy pursuits aren’t your thang, why not sink your teeth into the Apple Pie Trail: www.applepietrail.