Ontario is a place where there’s more than meets the eye. Though most are familiar with the capital city, Ottawa, and the big urban center, Toronto, much of this massive province goes undiscovered.
So here’s our invitation to explore (and be a bit surprised by what you discover), to go off-the-beaten path and see something outside of the touristy norm. Instead, uncover the places and spaces that bring travelers and locals together — through culture, a love of outdoors, and adventure.
Library of Parliament
Located in Ottawa (on the Parliament Hill, to be exact), the Parliament Library is an architectural marvel. Built in 1876, this piece of Canadian history (and home to information and research for the Parliament of Canada) will transport you to a different time through its buttresses, carvings, and towering shelves.
No, Ontario doesn’t have the ocean, but it does have rivers, lakes, and bays for you to jump into. In fact, Bruce Peninsula National Park on the edge of Georgian Bay will likely bust all your preconceived notions about Ontario with its crystal blue waters and ancient trees. Dive in and explore the waters and swim through the grotto for the full experience.
Known as the “Waterfall Capital of the World,” Hamilton is home to almost 100. Some require a hike in, some require a short walk from the car, and all are absolutely stunning. Pick and choose the ones you want to see most, but definitely stop by Albion Falls with its beautiful rock ridges and different vantage points — perfect for photos.
Off the coast of Tobermory (just over 4 hours by car from Toronto), you’ll find Flowerpot Island. To get here, you’ll have to hop on a boat, but once you arrive, you’ll be greeted by some of the most unique scenery — including (as you’d expect) rock formations that look just like flower pots. Explore by hiking a loop of the area, taking time along the way to enjoy the azure waters along the shores.
Absolute World Towers
Move over Dubai, Mississauga’s got two towers that give most major skylines a run for their money. Standing out among the low-lying grey landscape, these twirling towers are often called the Marilyn Monroe Towers. Brought to life by Fernbrook Homes and Cityzen Development Group, the largest of the towers (there are five in total), twists 209 degrees from the bottom to the top, making for one dizzying design.
Explore Ontario’s underground in Eganville. Encased in limestone, these caves are a cool (literally) place to explore on a summer day. Take a tour through the caves, learn about the geology and history of this phenomenon, then head to the river (a short walk from the caves) for an afternoon picnic.
The Sleeping Giant
Out on the Sibley Peninsula, you’ll find the Sleeping Giant. No, no, not a real sleeping giant, but instead, a natural formation that from above, resembles a large person asleep, covered in trees. Voted (by audience choice) as one of the Seven Wonders of Canada by CBC (Canada’s NPR), the park the giant sleeps in is also home to great hikes and a ton of staggering views.
You don’t need salt water for surfing and Lake Huron certainly proves it. Head to its shores and sign up for a lesson to experience the swell (albeit smaller than other popular Canadian surfing destinations). Then, brag to your friends about doing something they definitely thought was impossible: Surfing in Ontario.
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
A sacred place, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is a uniquely intricate building between Toronto and Brampton that will have you doing a double take when you arrive. Its gleaming white exterior and lush, colorful landscape are perfectly balanced, inviting you to snap the most jealousy-inducing photos imaginable. After admiring the outside, head on in and check out the Haveli (an intricately hand-carved courtyard), the Nilkanth Abhishek Mandapam (a sacred space for rituals), as well as areas that showcase video presentations and exhibitions — just make sure you read the visitor guidelines to ensure you’re being sensitive to the rich culture of the space.
Sandbanks Provincial Park
Home to the world’s largest baymouth dune formation, this park is worth the sand in your shoes. Check out the three sandy beaches, along with trails that meander through the dunes. If you really fall in love with this paradise, consider camping for a few nights to really allow yourself time to uncover the natural wonder of the area.
As cliché as it sounds, Ontario is full of surprises. Time to add these stops to your bucket list.
Find more Ontario inspiration by visiting the Ontario Travel website.