Canada hit No. 1 status in 2017, as declared by Lonely Planet’s “Best in Travel” during the year of its 150 years of confederation. Bolstering that cachet, the country added a long list of exciting attractions, headlining concerts, and high-energy festivals. Luckily, most of these will still be going strong for many years to come — perhaps another 150. Don’t miss some of Canada’s very best festivals, from coast to coast.
Folk music in Winnipeg
If you like folk music, or want to get into it, a must-visit is the fun and friendly Winnipeg Folk Festival. Set in pretty, green Birds Hill Provincial Park with glittering views of the city below, these four days in July are all about roots, blue grass, folk, blues, world, country, and gospel, plus Celtic and French Canadian. Of course, there are tons of great food options, unique arts and crafts in booths scattered throughout the grassy outdoor concert area, and of course, world-renowned talents on multiple stages. Fans camp, and you should, too, to really appreciate the scene and enthusiastic crowd. This fest has been going since ’74 and there’s good reason why.
Film and stardust in Toronto
When it comes to generating Oscar buzz, the red carpet-lined Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is the place. This annual festival has been spotlighting indie cinema since 1976, is the world’s largest, and the “most influential film festival, period,” says TIME magazine. It’s really a vacation of its own, too, with nearly 400 films and 300 features — half world premieres — from 83 countries over 11 days. Plan your schedule in advance, then take a seat and enjoy the shows — and parties.
Wintertime in Quebec City
The planet’s largest (and likely most playful) winter festival takes place in Quebec, where the locals giddily delight in the snow-and-ice season. Carnaval de Quebec unfolds in late January-early February in historic Quebec City. Night parades wind through the cobblestone streets of the walled city, as do lively parties and concerts. Thousands gather to watch dogsled competitions, ice canoe races on the frozen river, and polar bear swims starring swimsuit-clad daredevils. There are lavish al fresco parties, free public banquets, sledding, snow slides, snow sculptures and a giant Ice Palace, ice skating and hockey, and a signature masquerade ball. Grab your French-English pocket dictionary and join the fun.
Rodeo extravaganza at the Calgary Stampede
The legendary Calgary Stampede is much more than just a rodeo, though there’s that, too, and it’s bigger than life. Calgary calls it the “greatest outdoor show on earth,” and it arguably just might be. It’s an enormous, boot-stomping, yee-hawing citywide party for 10 days every July that’s not to be missed. The basics are rough-riding rodeo events, chuckwagon races, huge community pancake breakfasts, live concerts, parties at bars, restaurants, and saloons all over, a First Nations Village, and tons of country Western-style entertainment and stick-to-your-bones eats. Pull on your jeans and boots, and bring or buy a cowboy hat to fit right in.
Wine in Ontario and British Columbia
Canada has two top wine producing regions: Niagara in Ontario and British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. Celebrate the harvest with plenty of food and wine in one — or both. There’s the Niagara Wine Festival over three weekends in September, with a focus on the best of the region. Even more interesting is the wintertime Niagara Ice Wine Festival, 17 days in January paying homage to Icewine with outdoor ice bars, glitzy galas, tours, winemaker tastings, chef pairings, VIP vintner dinners, and educational seminars. Niagara leads the world in temperamental Icewine, harvested when the grapes freeze on the vine. Fall is the big 10-day Okanagan Wine Festival, often ranked in the top 10 in many global lists, though there’s one for each season. Fall’s hoopla includes awards, wine crawls, pairings like grilled cheese and wine and chocolate and wine, and fancy gourmet brunches, long table winery dinners, parties, and workshops.
Food and drink in Whistler
A premier North American ski resort, Whistler Blackcomb is already celebrated for its rowdy nightlife. November’s always-anticipated Cornucopia event only amplifies that. In a place known for its exciting dining scene, this is an 11-day food and drink extravaganza. The line-up includes gala tastings, winery dinners, seminars, cocktail making with pro mixologists, cooking classes, star chef showcases, and foodie fun like oyster shucking contests. Of course, this mountainside paradise offers plenty of options throughout the rest of the year: The Telus World Ski & Snowboard Festival in April, August’s Crankworx mountain biking competition and party, September’s Beer Festival, and the film festival in November-December.
Start your vacation wish list by discovering more of what to do in Canada.