As a Canadian, I’m often asked when is the best time to visit Canada.
Summer is the peak season for travel in Canada, because of the favourable weather. But Canada is a big country, so the real answer on the best time to travel to Canada depends on where you want to go and what you’d like to do.
Best Places to Visit for Winter in Canada
January is One of the Best Times to Visit Alberta, Canada
The start of the year is the best time to visit Canada if you’re ready to embrace all things winter. If you’re deciding when to go to Canada, you should know that January and February are the coldest months of the year, with temperatures in many regions, dropping at times to as low as -20 to -30 degrees Celsius.
So, bundle up and go out to play in the winter wonderland of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. You’ll find world-class skiing at resorts like Whistler in British Columbia as well as Banff Sunshine Village and Lake Louise in Alberta. Not a skier? See my post on top 15 things to do in winter in Banff for non skiers. My favourites are dog sledding near Canmore, and hiking to frozen waterfalls near Banff.
You may also want to visit Edmonton, Alberta to see the incredible, Narnia-like ice castles, in place from early January to mid-March.
For these locations, it’s very important to be prepared for cold weather. Insulated boots like these, ski pants and jackets, with lots of layers, are key.
Where to stay: I love the Banff Springs Hotel, one of Canada’s fairy tale castles. The Moose Hotel and the Mount Royal are also rated well. Due to the limited space in Banff, hotels are pricey and you need to book early. You can always try hotels in Canmore. I like it because it’s not as busy as Banff, yet only 20 minutes away.
In February, Don’t Miss the Quebec Winter Carnival
For the ultimate celebration of winter, you can’t miss Quebec Winter Carnival in Quebec City. The family-friendly event is one of the world’s largest winter festivals. The festival started in 1894 when people decided to hold a party to warm their hearts during a harsh winter.
There are a ton of activities, but look for the ice canoe races, night parades, snow sculptures, ice carving and skating. Try one of my favourite activities as a kid, snow tubing at nearby Village Vacances Valcartier. (It’s sledding using a big inner tube). Be sure to have some maple taffy on snow and to meet Bonhomme, the official carnival representative. He looks a little like a snowman and wears a red tuque (Canadian for woolen hat). If you’re not staying there, don’t miss the chance to take a tour of Quebec’s Ice Hotel (Hôtel de Glace). The tour includes a cocktail in a glass made of ice.
Where to stay: My favourite place to stay in Quebec City is the luxury boutique hotel, Auberge Saint-Antoine, in Lower Town (See my review here). Of course, a stay at the historic Fairmont Le Château Frontenac is a special experience
Winter is One of the Best Times to Visit Toronto
If the options above present too much winter for you, you may want to visit Toronto, Canada’s largest city. Here, you can still “do winter”, but there’s also a wide range of indoor activities. It’s not usually as cold in Toronto as the other spots. Plus, it may be the best time to visit Toronto if you’re watching your budget.
For winter activities, head to Ontario Place on the city’s waterfront for a winter festival which includes skating, bonfires and stunning light exhibition. The most iconic place to skate in Toronto is Nathan Phillips Square, where you can find skates to rent. Take a walking tour through the historic Distillery District, with its Victorian buildings, cobblestones and cute shops.
You might be surprised that winter is one of the best times to visit Niagara Falls. Ice forms at the bottom of the falls and the mist coats everything in frost and there are plenty of fun things to do in Niagara Falls in the winter. One of the easiest ways to get there is a tour from Toronto.
When you need to warm up, head indoors to the Royal Ontario Museum, Ripley’s Aquarium and the Hockey Hall of Fame. It doesn’t get more Canadian! Toronto is a great foodie city and you can take advantage of Winterlicious in the first two weeks of February. Over 100 restaurants offer 3-course prix fixe menus.
Where to stay: I’ve stayed in a number of Toronto hotels and the one I like best is the Toronto Four Seasons in Yorkville. I loved relaxing in the tub looking at the Toronto skyline on one side, and the in-mirror TV on the other. The hotel also has fine dining and a luxury spa.
Where to Go in Canada During Spring
In March, Visit this Sugar Shack in Montebello, Quebec
That thing about Canada and maple syrup? Not a stereotype actually.
Canada produces almost 85% of the world’s maple syrup, and the sap usually gets flowing in March. Sugar shacks are where the sap from maple trees is boiled down into syrup. Traditionally, it’s also where people gathered to celebrate the end of a long Canadian winter. And that celebration involves eating.
At most sugar shacks, it’s all about the pancakes and taffy on snow. In Quebec, there’s usually more, including pea soup, ham, baked beans, meat pie and pork jowls. It’s all served with vats of maple syrup. It’s a maple happiness experience!
You can find sugar shacks mostly in Quebec, Ontario and Nova Scotia. There’s a full listing in this post on where to make this sweet escape.
For the classic Quebec experience, I enjoyed Cabane à Sucre Brazeau in Papineauville. It’s near Montebello, where you can stay at the world’s largest log cabin, the Fairmont Le Château Montebello. The hotel offers plenty of snow-filled activities like sleigh rides, dog sledding snowshoeing as well as maple treatments at its spa. By the way, the hotel’s maple crepes are to die for!
Don’t miss Parc Omega, a large wildlife park nearby, where you’ll see elk, wolves and Arctic foxes, among many others. As well, the cities of Montreal and Ottawa aren’t far away.
April is the Perfect Time to Visit British Columbia
The great thing about April in B.C. is that spring is fully sprung in Vancouver and Victoria, but you can still go skiing in the mountains.
The famous Whistler skiing mecca is just a two-hour drive from Vancouver and Whistler winter activities are still in full swing.
In Vancouver, you can see the spring blooms in Stanley Park and then take a mini-tugboat ferry over to Granville Island. The Public Market is a food lovers’ paradise and the Island (actually a sandspit) is also one of the city’s most important cultural districts with theatres, artisan workshops and craft studios.
From Granville Island to high tea at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, this city has a vibrant foodie scene. Enjoy the best eats and activities in town by following this Vancouver foodies itinerary.
Spring is a wonderful time to visit Vancouver Island, before the crowds get there. Here are ideas for an itinerary to spend one week in Vancouver Island. It’s one of Canada’s most beautiful nature island spots.
Where to stay: I like the Pan Pacific Vancouver, which is right on the waterfront. Many rooms have fabulous views of the harbour. You can also treat yourself to its award winning spa and salt-water pool.
In May, Go See the Tulips in Ontario
Canada’s capital city, Ottawa, is at its most picturesque during the spring tulip season. The annual Canadian Tulip Festival runs for ten days in mid-May.
The festival signifies a special friendship between Canada and the Netherlands.
During World War II, the Dutch Royal Family was spirited out of the Netherlands to safe exile in Canada’s capital, Ottawa. As a show of gratitude, they presented to the people of Canada 100,000 tulip bulbs, and the family sends more every year.
The event is not just about the fields of flowers. There are concerts and family activities, and it’s a great time of year to see the capital city sights like Canada’s gothic Parliament buildings, the National Gallery and Museum of History. It’s perfect for a sightseeing tour on the scenic Ottawa River. For more on what the festival is like, and lots of flower photos, see my guide to visiting the tulip festival here.
Where to stay: Here’s another chance to stay in a castle! The Fairmont Château Laurier is an elegant and historic hotel right in the centre of the tulip action. One of the best places to see tulips is basically in its backyard.
Best Places to Visit in Canada During the Summer
June is the Best Time to Visit Newfoundland
Early June is the perfect time for for both whale and iceberg watching in Newfoundland and Labrador. An added bonus is that summer is also the best time to see puffins. They gather on the coast to breed, starting in mid-May.
Newfoundland is one of the most spectacular whale watching places in the world, with 22 species of whales in the area. You can get a glimpse of them breaching the water surface on a boat tour, or on a sea kayak. They can even be seen from shore.
Iceberg Alley is an area stretching from the coast of Labrador to the northeast tip of Newfoundland. Every spring, 10,000-year-old icebergs parade down the coast from the Arctic. Click here for the best way to find them.
And while you’re visiting Newfoundland, be sure to take part in a beach boil-up in Bonavista to experience the heart and soul of this province.
Where to stay: I thoroughly enjoyed my stays and the scrumptious breakfasts at Abbott’s Bed and Breakfast in Bonavista, and at Iceberg Alley Bed and Breakfast in Twillingate. In St. John’s, I stayed at this spacious and comfortable AirBnb apartment.
July is a Great Time to Visit Alberta & Banff
It’s tough to make a choice for the month of July. Canada’s birthday is celebrated on July 1st, with the biggest party held in Canada’s capital, Ottawa.
But once that party is over, my suggestion is to get your cowboy on at the Calgary Stampede in Alberta. The Stampede, called “the greatest outdoor show on earth”, gets started early in July and runs for 10 days. The biggest events are the rodeo and the chuckwagon races, but the Calgary spirit is also something special. Everyone wears jeans during Stampede week, and there are free pancake breakfasts every morning.
After a few days of stampeding, head for the hills – to Banff and Lake Louise in the majestic Rocky Mountains. Yes, the mountains are one of the best places to visit in Canada in both winter and summer.
On the way to Banff, don’t miss Canmore and the aquamarine Spray Lakes. While you’re there, take a once-in-a-lifetime helicopter tour over the Rockies. Guaranteed to be spectacular! Get into the western spirit with a one-hour horseback ride along the Bow River in Banff National Park, or a 2-day back country lodge horseback riding trip. Of course, Lake Louse is a must-see, along with the hike to the tea house at the Plain of Six Glaciers. Why not continue on, where you’ll find great outdoor things to do in Jasper, and smaller crowds.
Where to stay: I love the Banff Springs Hotel, a perfect winter fairy tale castle. The Moose Hotel and the Mount Royal are also rated well. Due to the limited space in Banff, hotels are pricey and you need to book early. You can always try hotels in Canmore. I like it because it’s not as busy as Banff, yet only 20 minutes away.
August is the Best Time to Visit Nova Scotia
Every summer, the maritime province of Nova Scotia hosts a number of international boating events. You can also see the iconic Bluenose II, shown on the Canadian dime, in her home port of Lunenberg.
Other must-sees in Nova Scotia include the historic port city of Halifax, which was the gateway into Canada for one million immigrants, and the Peggy’s Point Lighthouse, one of the most photographed sites in the province.
You should also be sure to take a drive along the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton Island to see some of the most dramatic coastal landscapes in the country. Plus, don’t miss the beautiful beaches, wineries and fun things to do in Tatamagouche.
Where to stay: The Prince George Hotel in downtown Halifax has a view to the harbour and friendly and efficient service.
Best Places to Visit in Canada During Fall
September is the Best Time to Visit Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province, is known for its red-sand beaches, lighthouses, and fertile farmland, as well as its seafood. You can always find a classic lobster supper in a church or community hall, where the menu includes a steaming plate of mussels, a whole lobster, and pie (usually lemon meringue). Lobster bibs are recommended!
In September, there are foodie events all over the Island as part of the annual Fall Flavours Festival, highlighting local specialties and music.
Of course, Prince Edward Island is also popular with fans of the novel, Anne of Green Gables. A popular tourist destination for these kindred spirits is Green Gables House and several museums located in Cavendish in Prince Edward Island National Park. This is the setting that inspired L. M. Montgomery’s novel about the beloved red-haired orphan.
It may be small, but there’s a ton of things to do in Prince Edward Island.
Where to stay: Enjoy a boutique experience at The Great George in Charlottetown. It’s a cluster of restored heritage buildings in the city’s National Historic District.
October is the Best Time to Visit New Brunswick
The tourism slogan for New Brunswick is “east of ordinary” and that well describes this scenic province.
Where else could you see a place called Reversing Falls, where the rapids flow backwards at high tide. It’s caused by the Bay of Fundy, a large bay in the Atlantic Ocean that is shaped like a funnel, creating the highest tides in the world. The high tide pushes against the flow of the river and reverses it.
Likewise, the Hopewell Rocks are a top sightseeing draw at both high and low tides. At high tide, the Flowerpot Rocks look like tiny islands and kayakers paddle between them. When the tide level drops, visitors can walk on the ocean floor and look up at the heavily eroded pillars.
New Brunswick is especially beautiful when the fall colours are at their best. Check out these five scenic drives guaranteed to be Instagram-worthy.
Where to stay: The City of Moncton is most commonly used as home base for exploring the Bay of Fundy. The clean and comfortable Four Points by Sheraton Moncton is known for its professional service.
November is the Best Time to Visit Churchill, Manitoba
November is prime viewing time for polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba, a bucket list item for me.
This is when the bears begin their move from their summer habitat on the tundra back to seal hunting territory on the pack ice that forms every winter over the Hudson Bay. It’s one of the few human settlements where polar bears can be observed in the wild. The most common way to see them is from local tundra vehicles, designed to move well over snow and ice and to protect passengers from hungry bears. To get all the details on how to get to Churchill and what it’s like to see these endangered animals in the wild, see this post on polar bear town.
It’s not the best time to see the northern lights (that’s February or March), but there is a chance to see them from Churchill in November.
Will it be cold? Definitely, but its worth it to see these majestic creatures. Make sure you’re prepared for cold conditions with several layers of clothing, a parka, insulated boots like these and mitts.
Where to stay: Many travelers opt for a package that includes their hotel and tours to see the polar bears.
December is a Great Time to Visit Quebec City
Old Quebec City is a magical place to visit over the holidays. Founded four centuries ago by the French, the city exudes an old world charm that becomes even more enchanting when it gets decked out for the holidays.
The cobblestone streets, gabled rooftops and quaint cafes will make you feel as though you’re strolling back in time through a European village. There’s even an old-fashioned Christmas market. The tasteful Christmas decorations enhance that ambiance, and don’t go overboard with flashy lights or plastic Santas. You can see more photos and get details on things to do in this guide to Quebec City at Christmas.
You can’t help but feel festive as you wander these streets, celebrating the holidays and everything that Canada has to offer.
Where to stay: My favourite place to stay in Quebec City is the luxury boutique hotel, Auberge Saint-Antoine, in Lower Town (See my review here). Of course, a stay at the historic Fairmont Le Château Frontenac is a special experience (see my review here). Here is a list of all my suggestions for where to stay in Quebec City, organized by neighborhood.
By Travel Bliss Now