New York to Vancouver’s LA. Canada’s biggest, most corporate, most multicultural and—let’s just say it and duck for cover—smartest city. Go for the festivals: Caribana, Toronto International Film Fest, Pride Parade and Harbourfront literary fest—as well as the excellent Art Gallery of Ontario, restaurants, ethnic neighbourhoods (Italian, Portuguese, Greek) and bustling Kensington Market. Side-by-side architectural ying/yang: CN Tower and Rogers Centre (formerly the Skydome). Home to Canada’s only MLB and NBA teams. Jog through High Park, quaff the java at JetFuel Coffee, scarf a baguette at Bonjour Brioche (on Queen Street East) or pizza at Terroni. Go thrift-store shopping—and streetcar surfing—on Queen Street West.
Stylish engine of the province of Quebec is Canada’s most cosmopolitan, most Euro-feeling city. Parlez français. Go for the culture (film, dance, music, literature, poetry), cuisine, political energy and to tune up your French. Canada’s best (big) city for cycling. Hit the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal (Montréal Museum of Fine Arts), explore the grounds of McGill University, stroll through historic Old Montréal. (In summer, stop to eat lunch here, outdoors, at Le Club Chasse et Pêche behind historic Chateau Ramsay.) Investigate Rue St. Laurent in summer. In all seasons, roam the wilds of Mount Royal, where sits Montréal’s visual icon, the Big Cross. Best legacy of Expo ’67: Habitat. Soaring legacy of the 1976 Winter Olympics: Stade Olympique—a.k.a. “The Big O.” Food fame: bagels (try St-Viateur) and heart-stopping poutine (try La Banquise); no visit by carnivores is complete without a smoked-meat sandwich at Schwartz’s. Consider Catholic mass at St. Joe’s Oratory; summertime staples include Festival International de Jazz de Montréal and the Juste pour Rire (Just for Laughs) festival. Catch a Habs game at the Bell Centre (especially if the Leafs are in town).
The kid who got the looks. Visit British Columbia’s hub city for its mountains-meet-ocean beauty, board-shorts ‘n latte lifestyle, restaurants, densely peopled, deep-green downtown core, Chinatown, writers and film fests. Most “must do’s” involve the sea: Tojo’s for sushi; a walk round the Stanley Park seawall followed by an Aquarium visit, an Aquabus puddle-jump to the colourful Granville Island Market. (Ambitious alternative: hike up Grouse Mountain’s Grouse Grind—and come down via the Skyride). Shop downtown’s Robson Street, yes, but ply 4th Avenue in Kitsilano and the east side’s Commercial Drive for the distinctive Vancouver vibe. Catch a Canucks game at GM Place. Then face east and say Namaste—wearing lululemon, of course.
The nation’s capital, and one of the best walking cities in Canada. Go for the architecture: Parliament Buildings, National Gallery, Museum of Civilization. Now you’ve crossed the border into Quebec—it’s right there—so carry on into the Gatineau Hills (cross-country ski there in winter; swim Meech Lake in summer). The Rideau Canal draws walkers, cyclists and joggers in summer; skaters in winter. Warm up with iconic, Obama-approved snack food—the BeaverTail. (Lesser-known can’t-miss snack food: Newfoundland screech cake at the National Arts Centre café.) Best sights and sounds and smells: tulips by Dow’s Lake during Canadian Tulip Fest, bent notes during summer’s Ottawa Bluesfest, fresh bread at ByWard Market.
Canada’s largest Prairie city. In politics and outgoing, can-do hustle, Canada’s most “American” burg—think “Dallas North.” Gateway to the Rockies. A gentler winter city than Edmonton, due to Chinook winds that deliver periodic respites from the cold. Go for the gregarious folk, world-famous Calgary Stampede and Glenbow Museum. Best legacy of the ’88 Olympic Winter Games: Canada Olympic Park (try bobsledding). Culinary whistle stop: breakfast at Avenue Diner on Steven Avenue Walk, caffeine at Phil & Sebastian Coffee in the lunch-friendly Calgary Farmers’ Market, dinner at River Café. Summertime, all roads lead to the Elbow River; walk beside it from Lindsay Park eastward, or float down it in… anything that floats.
North America’s most northerly (big) city is home, not coincidentally, to a famed indoor attraction—the mighty West Edmonton Mall; it once boasted a fleet of subs larger than that of the Canadian Navy. In summer, Alberta’s capital hums with great festivals: Canada’s largest theatre event, The Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival), the Edmonton Folk Music Festival and Capital EX (formerly Klondike Days). The new Art Gallery of Alberta is an absolute must-see. Greatest asset: the North Saskatchewan River Valley, with cycling and walking trails. Best street: Whyte Avenue. While in Old Strathcona, hard by the University of Alberta, buy a book at Greenwoods’ and have a steak at Vons. Best wintertime activity: skating in William Hawrelak Park. Great rivalry with its slightly bigger, and definitely more conservative, Alberta sister, Calgary. Catch an Oilers/Flames game at Rexall Place. Just don’t call Edmonton “Gateway to the Tar Sands” (even though it may be).