Time to update your bucket list. Niagara Falls is incredible but take a local’s advice: wandering on to the nearby wine region makes the experience even better. Want to see the Northern Lights? Do it from a glowing teepee in autumn. Some of Canada’s most incredible experiences are off the tourist radar…
There’s more to Niagara Falls than the water
“I love that at Niagara Falls you can get incredibly close to one of the wonders of the world,” says Solmaz Khosrowshahian, a food and travel blogger who has called Toronto, Ontario, home for 15 years. “I still remember the first time I saw Niagara Falls and experienced sensory overload from the roar, the crash and the spray. Since then, I’ve been back more than 50 times because every season is so different.
“Fall is my favourite time to visit. I’ll never forget the time I flew over the falls with Niagara Helicopters while the trees dotting the escarpment were bright red, orange and yellow above the blue rush of the water and the mist was creating its own rainbows. On the water, Niagara City Cruises goes right up to the falls until you can feel the spray hitting your face. You really sense the power when you’re right under it!
“In winter, Niagara Falls is serene. Everything is frozen, there are fewer tourists and sometimes it’s so quiet that you’ll hear the crackling of the ice.
“Many people take daytrips because Toronto is less than two hours’ drive away, but if you instead follow the river downstream you’ll reach Niagara-on-the-Lake, a heritage town with street lanterns and horse-drawn carriages that looks like it belongs in a film. I recommend staying at 124 on Queen – the exterior of this boutique hotel fits the Old Town vibe but the rooms are modern and there’s a beautiful wellness spa. The in-house restaurant, Treadwell Cuisine, offers fabulous farm-to-table dining.
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“My favourite thing to do is rent a bicycle and wander around Niagara wine country. A stop at Two Sisters Vineyards is a must for a leisurely Italian meal overlooking the vineyards while sipping the elegant cabernet sauvignon. Ravine is more rustic and lives by the region’s seasonal farm-to-table ethos. Perch on their patio and order a glass of their creamy barrel-fermented chardonnay. You won’t go wrong with anything on the menu. The Niagara region is known for its icewine made from grapes that have frozen on the vine. Pop by Inniskillin to try their unique vidal or sparkling icewine – the 2019 Sparkling Cabernet Franc Icewine is my favourite.”
If you like the thrill of Niagara Falls, you’ll love these epic surprises hidden around Canada…
Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland and Labrador
You’ll love… Big adventure
It seems crazy that this goliath on the east coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, home of one of the highest waterfalls in eastern North America, isn’t already on every adventurer’s bucket list. Then again, maybe it is: it’s easy to lose a crowd across 1805 square kilometres of UNESCO World Heritage wilderness. You can hike huge old-growth forests, scale the second highest mountain in Newfoundland and Labrador and cross otherworldly tablelands that were pushed up from the Earth’s mantle 450 million years ago. Or you can cruise and kayak majestic fjords while whales and icebergs drift past. The perfect place to start? On a stand-up paddleboard tour with Wild Gros Morne, peering over the edge of your board into the bright underwater habitat of Bonne Bay.
Local tip: The park is dotted with stays and campgrounds. At the sustainably-run Gros Morne Inn, rooms for couples or families of four have views, the kitchen serves locally sourced shrimp rolls and the heritage town of Woody Point is nearby for other supplies.
Dawson City, Yukon Territory
You’ll love… Driving through the technicolour tundra
On the edge of the Arctic Circle in August, the sun blazes late into the night and the vast tundra landscape explodes into colour. Travel back in time while exploring the sepia-tinged Klondike Goldfields near quirky Dawson City, then drive along the brightest part of the epic Dempster Highway on a daytrip with Klondike Experience. As you head from Dawson to the hiking wonderland of Tombstone Territorial Park, forests of birch, aspen and willow forests flank the road in a sea of fiery crimson and burnished copper that stretches all the way to the horizon.
Local tip: Bombay Peggy’s is the most colourful stay in this heritage frontier town. Rooms have clawfoot tubs and goldrush-era charm while the bar mixes cocktails with a burlesque twist (ask for the list of ‘naughty martinis’).
Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia
You’ll love… A maritime road trip
The Cabot Trail is a 300-kilometre odyssey around Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, through rugged coastal scenery and quaint fishing villages where Celtic songs are still sung in pubs. Get a handle on Cape Breton Island’s Gaelic-Canadian culture at a ceilidh in Baddeck and acquire your sea legs on Bras d’Or Lake with Cape Breton Sailing Charters. Driving through Cape Breton Highland National Park, see where giant rivers have carved out deep canyons and craggy headlands in the landscape. Golfers can’t miss the links course at historic Keltic Lodge and nobody wants to miss the gondola ride above Ingonish Beach – you’ll skim 320 vertical metres up to the top of Cape Smokey in eight minutes.
Back on the ground, keep an eye out for minke and pilot whales on the Skyline Trail walk that clings to the side of cliffs above the Atlantic Ocean. Local lobster, of course, abounds on this island – some of the best is served in the shadow of a charming lighthouse at The Chowder House in Neil’s Harbour.
Local tip: The trail is a loop but for the best coastal views from the outside lane, head anti-clockwise.
Yellowknife, Northwest Territories
You’ll love… A teepee under the Northern Lights
Deep in the forest outside Yellowknife in Canada’s remote Northwest Territories, a cluster of glowing teepees sits under the swirling aurora borealis for 200-ish nights every year. Marvel as the sky above Aurora Village is transformed into a giant moving canvas, then deepen your understanding of this astonishing natural spectacle as the Indigenous owners explain its significance and their connection to this magical environment. Inside teepees, log fires and hot drinks keep you cosy and walking trails are groomed so it’s easy enough for kids to keep up on the light-hunting mission. You can book three-night packages including light-chasing at Aurora Village and a stay in Yellowknife. The Explorer Hotel is a good pick for easy dining and Capital Suites has roomy family apartments.
Local tip: The lights aren’t just a winter thing. Visit for summer and autumn aurora from August to October, when the lights are still active and the nights are milder.
Image credits: Destination Canada (Niagara Cruises; Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon Territory; Keltic Lodge Resort; Niagara Falls); Destination Toronto (Two Sisters Vineyard).