Most Popular Cities in Canada to Visit

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    Most Popular Cities in Canada to Visit


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    The most popular cities in Canada cover a range of destination types reflecting the diversity of the country. From sophisticated urban adventures, like Toronto or Montreal, to more laid-back destinations, like Victoria, the following list comprises the top 10 most popular cities in Canada to visit by number of annual visitors (Source: Statistics Canada, International Travel Survey, 2007).

    Pictured above, from left to right, Vancouver, Calgary and Quebec City, Canada.

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    #1. Toronto, Ontario

    ••• Aerial view of Toronto with CN Tower, Rogers Centre and Lake Ontario in background. Photo © Sylvain Grandadam / Getty Images

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    Often mistaken as our national capital (which is actually Ottawa), Toronto is probably Canada's best known city, in large part due to the hubbub around the Toronto International Film Festival, the sky-high CN Tower and major sports franchises, including the Blue Jays, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Raptors.

    Toronto is a bustling, multicultural metropolis, with large swaths of distinct populations and neighbourhoods, such as Greek, Italian, Korean and the second largest Chinatown in North America. Toronto is also the country's financial centre and has lots of men in expensive blue suits swaggering around its downtown. 

    With more than 2.6 million residents, Toronto is Canada's most populous city; however when including the greater metropolitan area, the Toronto population soars to more than 5.5 million. 

    In addition to all the urban finery of a major city (museums, shopping spots, live theatre etc),...MORE Toronto has ready access to miles and miles of Lake Ontario waterfront as well as three rivers that intersect the city and provide a respite by way of trails and parks. 

    Toronto is less than two hours from both the U.S. border and Niagara Falls and within two or three hours of Ontario's cottage country and loads of provincial parks.

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    #2. Vancouver, British Columbia

    ••• Aerial view of Vancouver with False Creek in the foreground and Vancouver Mountains in background. Photo © David Nunuk / Getty Images

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    Vancouver: where the ocean meets the mountains. Aside from spectacular natural beauty, this British Columbia coastal metropolis has a laid-back charm that makes it one of the most popular Canadian cities to visit.

    A great destination in its own right, Vancouver is also a gateway to all sorts of nearby adventures, including Whistler / Blackomb ski resort, and numerous islands off the coast. Vancouver is also a port stop for about a million people on cruise ships, most often headed for Alaska.

    Vancouver has a modern airport, the Vancouver International Airport (YVR), about 20 minutes away from downtown, and boasts an exceptional public transportation system. The city is under 3 hours from Seattle, Washington, U.S.A. 

    The most densely populated city in Canada, Vancouver has a compact, urban core that is home to more than 600 thousand people (as of 2011). The city's ethnically and linguistically diverse...MORE greater metropolis numbers 2.4 million residents.  Vancouver's urban growth has been lauded globally and the city is often recognized as one of the world's most liveable (according to the Economist Intelligence Unit). 

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    #3. Montreal, Quebec

    ••• Old Montreal is a popular tourist draw during the summer months. Photo © Derek Trask / Getty Images

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    French and English are the main influences, but this unique Canadian city is truly international. Montreal has an energy and joie de vivre found only in the world’s best cities. 

    The biggest draw in Montreal is the city's Old Town, which is a central neighbourhood close to the water that is preserved in much of its original state and profuse with French flare. The 17th century architecture and cobblestone streets will have you wondering if you travelled to Europe by mistake. 

    Montreal has a city population of 1.7 million, or 3.8 million when you take into account the greater Montreal region. Though Montreal is officially a French speaking city (as is the province of Quebec), many of its residents, especially those in the retail and hospitality industries, speak English.

    Right up until the 1970's, Montreal was Canada's economic centre until Toronto took the helm. Many important buildings and...MORE landmarks remain, including 50 National Historic Sites of Canada. 

    Read More: Montreal Travel Guide, Montreal Weather, Montreal's Top Attractions

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    #4. Niagara Falls, Ontario

    ••• Niagara Falls with rainbow and Hornblower Boat Cruise. Photo © Brian Lawrence / Getty Images

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    Although the main draw to Niagara Falls, Canada, are the waterfalls, the surrounding area also has much to offer. The Niagara wine region and the Shaw Festival are just two more reasons to visit.

    Niagara Falls, Ontario, on the Canadian side (Niagara Falls, NY, is on the U.S. side) has been historically known as a honeymoon destination, attracting millions of newlywed or just plain passionate couples each year. 

    In the 2000's, Niagara Falls upped its game with the addition of a shiny new casino resort, which in turn brought finer restaurants and shops, as well as big name stage acts. These days, Niagara Falls is especially alluring to families, with hotels, restaurants and attractions all geared toward this demographic. 

    There are two main tourist areas: Fallsview at the mouth of Canada's Horseshoe Falls and Clifton Hill about a mile away. The two are connected by a promenade that runs along the brink...MORE of the Niagara Gorge, but both are gimmicky, neon and charmless. Clifton Hill comprises tourist shops, a mini-putt, haunted house, ferris wheel, more than one waterpark and other ways to empty your wallet and transform your children into demanding holy terrors in record time. 

    That said, the Falls themselves are spectacular to behold and the Hornblower Boat Cruise brings you right into the spray, so you get a sense of the water's intense power.

    But as far as value? Check out the surrounding region, especially Niagara-on-the-Lake, for a more local, authentic experience.

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    #5. Victoria, British Columbia

    ••• Victoria, British Columbia, Parliament Building illuminated for Christmas. Photo © Bill Grove / Getty Images

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    This capital city of British Columbia is located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island (an island that is confusingly not home to the City of Vancouver).

    Victoria is a charming harbour city that is a gateway to all the wonderful towns, inlets, coves and Pacific Ocean scenery that is Vancouver Island. The city is home to more than 80,000 people, with the population swelling to more than 340 thousand when you consider the greater metropolitan area. 

    With a rich history dating back to the 1840s when the city was established as a trading port, Victoria also has provenance as an aboriginal community, a mining town and economic hub. Today, people can still enjoy well-preserved 19th and early 20th century architecture, most dramatically by way of the Parliament Buildings and the Fairmont Empress Hotel, both of which are postured on the city's scenic and iconic Inner Harbour (as pictured above). 

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    #6. Halifax, Nova Scotia

    ••• Darwin Wiggett / Getty Images

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    Nova Scotia's capital city has the amenities of a big city but the charm of a smaller town. Part of Halifax's allure is the hospitality of the people, something for which the whole Maritime region is famous. More of the city's charm can be attributed to an oceanside location, rugged shorelines, sandy beaches, nearby fishing villages and historic architecture.

    Further, Halifax is rumoured to have more bars per capita than any other Canadian city. Even if this is not technically true, the fact that the prevalence of drinking establishments is fodder for Halifax gossip bodes 


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    #7. Quebec City, Quebec

    ••• Quebec City at dusk. Chateau Frontenac sit prominently above the Saint Lawrence River. Photo © David Sanger / Getty Images

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    Quebec City offers an experience unlike any other in North America. 

    Quebec City’s Old Town itself is a work of art: cobblestone walkways, well-preserved 17th century architecture, café culture and the only North American fortress walls that still exist north of Mexico - all of which has given it status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. French is still the prevalent language spoken in Quebec, which adds allure to this already alluring town. Don't necessarily rush to learn French before your visit. Staff at many restaurants, hotels and shops speak English. 

    Quebec is situated at the most narrow part of the Saint Lawrence River and much of the Old Town sits high above the water - capped by the famous Chateau Frontenac.  This dramatic location was well suited during the city's role as a military fortification, many aspects of which can still be seen today. 

    Quebec is a jovial city - manageable in size,...MORE especially, if like many tourists, you stick to the Old Town, though there is plenty more to see - and the fun continues year round by way of festivals like Winter Carnival, Summer Festival and New France Festival

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    #8. Calgary, Alberta

    ••• Calgary skyline, Alberta, Canada. Photo © Jim Boud / Getty Images

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    The Calgary Stampede put Calgary on the map, and the city's role as the first Canadian host of the Winter Olympics in 1988 solidified its place as one of Canada's top destinations. The Old West spirit is alive and well in Calgary where cowboy hats and line dancing are always in fashion.

    With a population 1,096,833 and a metropolitan population of 1,214,839, Calgary is Alberta's biggest city and the third largest municipality in Canada. It is also home to many corporate head offices and thus has all the hospitality infrastructure such as hotels, restaurants and other niceties that accompany a flush urban centre. 

    Calgary has enjoyed great prosperity since the 1990s and grown significantly. Calgary's proximity to Banff, the Rocky Mountains, ice fields and other natural sensations is a big part of the city's draw. 

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    #9. Ottawa, Ontario

    ••• Ottawa, Ontario, is Canada's national capital. Photo © Image Source / Getty Images

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    Though Toronto and Montreal may be better known, Ottawa, Ontario, is Canada's capital city. Ottawa is a charming city to visit; it has a cultured, yet friendly atmosphere.

    So much of Ottawa’s allure is due to the well-planned city that is pedestrian friendly and human in scale. The many historic buildings – most prominently the Parliament Building and the Château Laurier – are lovingly preserved.

    One of the most famous landmarks in Ottawa is the Rideau Canal that cuts through the city and in below freezing temperatures, turns into the world's biggest skating rink. 

    Read More: Top Ottawa Attractions, Ottawa Tulip Festival, Chateau Laurier

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    #10. Edmonton, Alberta

    ••• Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Photo © Miles Ertman / Getty Images

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    Edmonton is not necessarily a destination that people choose but more somewhere you happen to end up because you are in between places or are there on business. 

    Not to say there isn't stuff to do when you're there. In fact, Edmonton has made a name for itself as a city of festivals, the two most famous being the Edmonton Folk Music Festival and the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival.

    Good or bad, Edmonton also has the distinction of being home to the world's largest shopping mall, the West Edmonton Mall. Locals confess to rarely frequenting the massive structure that houses a hotel, roller coaster and waterpark, but visitors abound. 

    Edmonton is also known as the Gateway to the North, with ready access to Jasper and the Rocky Mountains as well as Canada's northern territories, Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon.