Vancouver is always a top contender for the world’s most liveable city. The stunning natural setting and abundance of outdoors activities have something to do with it – but the vibrant foodie scene probably doesn’t hurt, either. Chefs are spoilt for excellent local produce (especially seafood) and, thanks to an ethnically diverse population, you’ll find every style of cuisine.
Microbreweries and craft distilleries are popping up everywhere, the street-food scene is thriving and restaurants are quick to embrace the next hot gastro trend. Over at Granville Island Public Market, the stalls are piled high with artisan breads, meats, cheeses and other goodies – perfect for a superlative picnic.
Think Canada and beaches don’t spring to mind, but there are some belters just outside Moncton. A short drive north east brings you to the broad expanse of Parlee Beach, with surprisingly warm seas and a three-day mini rock festival each summer. For a photo-op bonus, the route takes you past the world’s largest lobster – 50 tons of concrete and steel in shellfish form by the roadside in Shediac. Head south of Moncton and you come to the Bay of Fundy, home to the highest tides in the world. Visit the beautiful Hopewell Rocks at low tide and you can wander along the sand marvelling at the flowerpot rock formations towering up to 70ft above you. A few hours later, after the tide’s rushed in, the stacks have turned into little islands, and you’ll need a kayak to get around.
Alberta’s second largest city isn’t without its claims to fame. It’s home to the largest shopping and entertainment centre in North America (West Edmonton Mall), one of Canada’s largest living-history museums (Fort Edmonton Park) and a humongous collection of insects (at the Royal Alberta Museum).
Edmonton also lays claim to the largest area of urban parkland in North America. The banks of the meandering North Saskatchewan River are lined with parks and golf courses, wilderness areas and ravines, creating a ribbon of green running through the heart of the city. One minute you can be striding the streets with skyscrapers on either side, the next you’re strolling through woodland, thinking, “Hello clouds, hello sky”, and keeping your eyes peeled for deer, coyote and other resident wildlife.
You’d expect the capital to have a fair few cultural attractions and Ottawa doesn’t disappoint. Among the national museums here are the country’s most popular: the Canadian Museum of History, where exhibits include the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles, and the National Gallery of Canada.
At the Canada Aviation and Space Museum you don’t just get to look at the exhibits (including more than 100 aircraft), you get to try some of them out, too. Visitors can take the controls in a flight simulator, head up in a helicopter or don helmets and goggles for a ride in a vintage open-cockpit biplane. Time your flight during the annual Tulip Festival and the city below will look spectacular, as thousands of bulbs donated by the Netherlands after the Second World War burst into colour.
If you live in a city where winter temperatures can plummet to minus 20C°, and you frequently wake to find your car buried in a snow drift, all you can do is learn to embrace it. And that’s just what the residents of Winnipeg do – finding all manner of ways to liven up the big chill, from snowshoeing and tobogganing to snow-sculpture competitions.
When the Red River freezes over (as it always does), it is transformed into the longest naturally frozen skating trail in the world, dotted along the way with “warming huts”, which international architects (Frank Gehry, for example) compete to design each year. The frozen river also provides a home for one of the newest winter attractions – a pop-up restaurant called “RAW: almond”, where visiting chefs from around the world serve up fine dining on ice.
Montreal has form when it comes to staging major sporting events – after all, the Olympics Games were held here in 1976. Yes, they may have saddled the hosts with such enormous debts that the Olympic stadium nicknamed “the Big O” became known as “the big owe”, but they also witnessed the first perfect ten in gymnastics from a 14-year-old Nadia Comaneci.
The city puts in a similarly stellar performance on the festivals front. Pretty much all year round there seems to be some kind of celebration going on but things really go into overdrive during the summer, with a string of overlapping events including the International Jazz Festival (26 June–5 July), the Circus Arts Festival (2–12 July) and the Just for Laughs comedy festival (8–28 July).
Prepare to party…