Destination Guides

Exploring Canada: 5 of the finest towns and cities

Shaun Edmond

6th March 2024

Canada, Old Quebec City tourist attractions, Petit Champlain lower town and shopping district.

Canada not only has breathtaking landscapes but dozens of historic towns and cities, filled with charming architecture, fascinating museums and galleries and delicious food. Here is our selection of some of the highlights:

Québec City

Quebec City

If any place could be described as quintessentially Quebecois, it would surely be Québec City. Its cobblestone streets and stone houses are the first sign of how deep the French influence permeates around here – the next are the boulangeries, cafes, creperies and flags adorned with the fleur de lis, the symbol of pre-revolutionary France. If you fancy a pint, there are also numerous Irish pubs across the old town, a mark of its subsequent waves of immigrants from the Emerald Isle. Dating back to 1608, Québec City has an essay’s worth of historical superlatives – here you’ll find the only city walls in the Americas north of Mexico City, the oldest shopping street, church and continuously operated grocery shop. Not to mention the birthplace of Poutine!

And when it comes to where to stay there are a few places worth mentioning. Standing tall over the city, the fairytale Château Frontenac holds the honour of being the most-photographed hotel in the world (so be careful how you approach the windows). Then there’s the Hotel de Glace – a modern addition to Québec City’s hotel scene, it is the first and only ice hotel in the whole of the Americas.

Montreal

Montreal

When compared to Quebec City, Montreal is often seen as the more modern of the two – but for the history lover, it’s perhaps more apt to call it a complete tapestry of Canada’s history. Its Old Town, smaller than its counterpart in Quebec City but dating from around the same period, makes for a pleasant place to while away a couple of hours, strolling down the cobblestones and enjoying a coffee al fresco.

Step into the Notre Dame Cathedral to admire its opulent interior, and Pointe-à-Callière, the city’s cutting-edge archaeology museum, for a look into the lives of the area’s first inhabitants as well as an excavated fort. The economic boom of industrialisation and immigration that characterised much of 19th-century Canada saw Montreal flourish. So branch out north into Chinatown, Downtown Montreal and Little Italy for a taste or two of this period’s legacy.

Lunenburg

Lunenberg

This quaint fishing village in Nova Scotia delights everyone who casts eyes on it, and a short stay will be enough for anyone to see why it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walking down a typical street, the first thing you’ll likely notice is the pallet of coloured clapboard houses. Lobster red is the most iconic thanks to the Fisheries Museum, whose seafront location graces every cover photo of the town. But stroll one or two blocks inland and the streets become multi-coloured, showcasing houses in blue, yellow, orange and green. Look closely at some of the houses and you may notice the distinctive Lunenburg Bump, a five-sided overhanging dormer in the front-centre of many a house’s roof. Situated by the sea with all its bounty, you’ll be in for a treat with fresh seafood in every restaurant. Two popular dishes are Solomon Gundy, marinated herring with sour cream, and seafood chowder, a potato and seafood soup specific to Nova Scotia.

Louisbourg

Louisbourg

Originally a fort constructed by the French, the original Louisbourg met its demise at the hands of the British in 1760 when their hitherto European rivalry took on a global dimension. Two centuries later, a quarter of it has been meticulously restored, and its costumed actors give the place a feel of stepping back in time. For those who aren’t fans of historical recreations, there is a trail that leads through the remaining three-quarters of the fort that were left as they were for visitors to walk through. A small fishing village across the bay of the same name boasts homely guesthouses and one of the postcard-pretty lighthouses that Atlantic Canada is renowned for.

St Andrews

St Andrews, a former fishing town, transitioned to tourism much earlier than its counterparts elsewhere in Atlantic Canada. At the turn of the 20th Century, wealthy city dwellers seeking to escape the summer heat flocked to the town in droves thanks to a newly constructed railway. An abundance of elegant summer homes and resorts followed, resulting in a fusion of different architectural styles from Cape Cod to Shingle Style and Georgian. St Andrews continues to retain its charm and abundance of things to do, including whale watching in the bay.

L’Anse aux Meadows

L'anse aux Meadow

Sitting at the tip of Newfoundland island is the site where Leif Erikson and his fellow Vikings set up the first-ever European settlement in North America. Although a somewhat disconnected prologue to the story of Canada’s history – historians doubt Erikson’s travels had any bearing whatsoever on Columbus’ voyage – the site is a fascinating one nonetheless. What you’ll find here today is a modest cluster of houses – or rather, three reconstructions complete with mannequins and a collection of unearthed ruins. When you’re done here head to the nearby fjords of Gros Morne or watch icebergs drift by on the coast, and imagine Viking longboats sailing through – albeit, blissfully unaware of the vast continents that lay to the south.

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