Did you know that over a third of Canada’s population lives in Ontario? This represents over 13.7 million people! Although Toronto is the province’s largest city, the people of Ontario have come together in a number of urban centers throughout the territory, from the north to the south, east to west, and right dab in the middle.
If your idea of a great vacation is exploring cities big and small, we’ve gathered a list of 10 urban escapes in Ontario that are all worth a visit.
As mentioned, Toronto is the biggest city in Ontario and the entire country. Toronto doesn’t need a new introduction to the world. People know its landmarks, from the CN Tower to the Toronto Zoo. They know its cultural attractions, from the Toronto International Film Festival to the Art Gallery of Ontario. They know that it’s a hub for great Canadian dining and nightlife, that it’s at the forefront of fashion and has great shopping, and that it’s the place to run into big athletes and big stars in the same night (who hasn’t seen Drake at a Raptors game?). Toronto has all the attractions and events of a major global city, is diverse and multicultural, and is accessible and close to the U.S. It’s hardly surprising that the New York Times named it one of the best places to visit in 2016.
Right across the water from Detroit sits Windsor, another city with a rich automotive history, a strong love of sports, and an appreciation for good nightlife. Pay a visit to the Canadian Club Heritage Center, the whiskey-maker’s former headquarters where Al Capone once ordered supplies during Prohibition. Try and hit triple sevens at the Caesars Windsor, Canada’s largest casino resort, before heading to Ouellette Avenue for a night on the town in one of its 50 bars, clubs and lounges. Go shopping at the massive Devonshire mall, where brand name retailers cover 1.1 million square feet alongside a large movie theater and a fitness club. Or take your exercise outdoors and cycle the popular Windsor Riverfront Trail, which stretches 5 miles along the Detroit River. With so much to offer, Windsor is a must-visit city in Southern Ontario.
The capital city of Canada, Ottawa is full of cultural offerings and uniquely Canadian experiences, all wrapped up in an urban setting. A getaway to Ottawa might involve a trip to Parliament Hill, the Canadian War Museum, and the National Gallery of Canada (what you might call a “learner’s trip”); it might involve a skate on the Rideau Canal, dinner in the ByWard Market, and a massage at the Nordik Spa-Nature (what you might call a “lover’s trip”). Or it might involve a ballet at the National Arts Centre, dancing at the RBC Royal Bank Bluesfest, and a late night jumping between the hottest clubs (what you might call the “culture crawl”). Whatever your ideal urban getaway looks like, Ottawa has you covered.
Sault Ste. Marie
For at least 2,000 years, people have lived on the site of Sault Ste. Marie, on the southwestern border of Ontario. While this makes it one of the oldest settlements in North America, Sault Ste. Marie brings a lot to the table today, as a city completely intertwined with nature. Spend the day shopping and then treat yourself to great Italian food. Learn more about the area’s rich history at the Sault Ste. Marie Museum and nearby historical sites. Fulfill your desire for culture at the Art Gallery of Algoma or with a concert at the beautiful Roberta Bondar Park & Pavilion. Then, look out over the scenery that inspired famous Canadian artists the Group of Seven, and head out to explore it by ski, bush plane or train
Yes, a visit to Niagara Falls usually culminates in a wet trip along the breathtaking natural wonder. But the city has so much more to offer. You can thrill your taste buds at restaurants from world-famous chefs like Jamie Kennedy and Massimo Capra. You can test your poker face at two casinos or skip the gambling and take in a concert. You can shop your heart out at outlet stores, watch a comedy show, visit museums, roam among thousands of butterflies, or spend the day in the surrounding area on a wine tour or golfing. Niagara Falls is a true urban center, and the perfect destination for a quick escape to Canada.
Thunder Bay is a city on the shore of the world’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Superior. As you might imagine, locals and visitors alike tend to take advantage of the beautiful nature in this big backyard. Spend a day at the Sleeping Giant, a provincial park with tons of trails to explore, wildlife to see, and incredible views to enjoy. Or head to Kakabeka Falls and watch water plunge 130 feet into a rugged gorge. Or maybe pass the time at Ouimet Canyon, and marvel at the wide gorge and sheer cliffs dropping 325 feet to the canyon floor. With all of this incredible nature so close to the city, sometimes the entertainment within the city itself goes unnoticed. But Thunder Bay is a place to enjoy beautiful Aboriginal art, to take in a first-rate play, to shop and dine and generally enjoy life in a mid-sized city.
Art galleries, film productions, recording studios… these are some of the telltale signs that you’ve wandered into Hamilton. The city is a cultural beacon on the western shores of Lake Ontario, a place where artists and art-lovers, performers and audiences, meet to enjoy each other’s company. Visit the Art Gallery of Hamilton, the third largest public art gallery in Ontario, or the McMaster Museum of Art. See some of the biggest musicians in the world at the FirstOntario Centre, or discover new local talent at the Supercrawl art and music festival. If you’re willing to step just outside of the downtown core, you can also explore the over 100 waterfalls of the Niagara Escarpment, or take in the 1,000 animals of an African Lion Safari. Hamilton is a city that surprises
London, Ontario might not have the recognition of its British counterpart, but it is earning an international reputation. A big part of this acclaim? Great food, and even better beer. If you love a strong hopped IPA or a smooth pilsner, you’ll love the local craft breweries and great pub scene. You’ll have your choice of dining, from small cafes to farm-to-table cuisine, or many local farmers’ markets. Then there’s the entertainment. Visit the Grand Theatre, Canada's oldest and longest-running live professional theater, or dance the night away at the London Music Hall. If you’d rather head outdoors, visit Boler Mountain for mountain biking, skiing and snowboarding, or a Treetop Adventure Park.
Like so many of Ontario’s urban centers, Kingston is a city on the water, and visitors tend to take full advantage. People leave their hotels for the lake, where you can windsurf, kiteboard, kayak and canoe. Kingston also sits on the edge of the popular 1000 Islands, so set sail on a boat cruise and enjoy the weather. Back in town, visit Fort Henry National Historic Site, a 19th century British fort that will shed light on the city’s history. That history is also on display at Kingston’s 20 museums and galleries, including the popular Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen's — home to over 16,000 works of art. So whether you want to play outside or spend your days immersed in culture and history, Kingston delivers.
Last but not least, Sudbury is a former mining town that has come to be known for outdoor adventure, but it also has its share of urban attractions. In one day you can brush up on animal science at the Dynamic Earth museum, then go angling for 38 different species of fish; you could let it all ride on slot machines, or you could go ride snowmobiles; you could hunt for fresh powder on a ski hill, or hunt for great deals at big brand stores. You get the idea. Sports, museums, music venues, bars, restaurants, you can find them all in Sudbury.