Beauty is in the eye of the beholder; at least, that is what they say. Some value nature, with its colorful hues and constantly changing panoramas, while other prefer the careful designs and linear perfection achieved through city skylines. However, some places are so breathtaking we all can agree upon their splendors. Canada is filled with these places from coast to coast - historic cities where architecture spans centuries, sprawling national parklands, and sensational natural spectacles. The country's vastness lends itself to a landscape that impresses at every turn and leaves travelers wondering what is to come. Without further ado, here are the most beautiful places in Canada.
Beginning on Canada's West Coast...
British Columbia, Vancouver Island, and the surrounding archipelagos foster a gorgeous world where nature is king. The cities and towns built embrace the surrounding scenery rather then destroying it, and no matter where your rail vacation takes you, the views are sure to impress. While visiting Canada's Western Seaboard, the most beautiful places include:
- Victoria - Set on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, British Columbia's capital city is beloved for its ambiance. Victoria is nicknamed the Garden City, and rightfully so, with its numerous and immaculate floral displays. One of the most popular is Butchart Gardens, a National Historic Site whose landscapes are perfectly manicured in all seasons. Beautiful Colonial structures, including Craigdarroch Castle and the Parliament Buildings, work with the landscape to form a picturesque scene. The city's historic streets lead to the Inner Harbor, where visitors can look upon ships of all sizes, pods of whales, and the inky blue water. This romantic city has much to offer.
- Vancouver - Not only is Vancouver one of the most beautiful places in Canada but the city is consistently ranked as one of the most beautiful places globally. Lush rainforests and gorgeous sandy beaches line the west coast, and mountains frame the city in the east. In between, a cradle filled with varied architecture and endless culture welcomes travelers to Vancouver. A fantastic array of neighborhoods, from Chinatown to historic Gastown, and Granville Island, makes for an eclectic environment within the city. Plenty of historical sites and cultural attractions complement the architecture to complete the picture. Some of the most scenic and impressive places to visit in the greater Vancouver region include Stanley Park, Capilano Suspension Bridge Park over the Capilano River, and Grouse Mountain.
- Whistler -British Columbia's premier skiing and snowboarding destination is tucked in the Coast Mountains, just two hours outside Vancouver. Evergreen forests blanket the mountainsides and add to Whistler's alpine atmosphere. During the winter, a heavy layer of snow makes the views even more magical. The beauty extends into the resort village at the base of Mt. Whistler, with its pretty buildings and car-free streets.
- Yukon - Heading far north from British Columbia and into the Yukon unveils a world less traveled. This Canadian territory has two significant destinations - Dawson City and Whitehorse - both of which have a rich heritage connected to the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 1800s. Mountains, glaciers, lakes, rivers, and deep valleys form a gorgeous natural backdrop for adventures, and smaller towns and First Nation communities complement the wild landscape. Due to the Yukon's far-north setting, it benefits from nearly 24 hours of sunlight in the summer and 24-hour darkness in the winter. This factor makes the remote areas outside Whitehorse and Dawson City some of the best places in Canada to see the aurora borealis when the conditions are right.
Within the Canadian Rockies…
Dramatic mountain peaks poke into the wide-open sky, and glacier-fed lakes glisten in vivid hues of blue and green. All this is surrounded by lush evergreen forests, ancient sheets of ice, and sprawling valleys where great animals roam. It is no wonder the Canadian Rockies often top lists of the most beautiful places in Canada. Because this region straddles the border of British Columbia and Alberta, it is easily accessible by car or rail, making train tours aboard VIA Rail's Canadian or the luxurious Rocky Mountaineer ever popular. Breathe in the fresh mountain air, and enjoy mesmerizing scenery while visiting places like:
- Banff National Park - Canada's first national park covers over 2,500 square miles, of which 96 percent is remote wilderness. Breathtaking scenes of the Canadian Rockies are punctuated by views of the most vividly colored lakes imaginable. Some of the most popular include Peyto Lake, Lake Minnewanka, and Moraine Lake, nestled in the Valley of Ten Peaks. Even Banff's town site, brimming with culture, shopping, and dining opportunities, blends with the terrific natural backdrop, thanks to wood and stone facades.
- Lake Louise - While Lake Louise is technically located within Banff National Park, its allures make it a destination in and of itself. Peaks of the Canadian Rockies surround this brilliant turquoise lake, and while visiting, you can also spot the massive Victoria Glacier. Its lakeside Chateau, built in a Renaissance Revival style in 1882, only adds to the absolute grandeur of this area.
- Icefields Parkway - Connecting Lake Louise with Jasper National Park, Icefields Parkway is one of the most scenic byways in North America and the world as a whole. The 144-mile road weaves along the Continental Divide, showcasing towering mountain ranges, plunging valleys, glacial lakes, waterfalls, and remarkable sheets of ice. Choosing highlights of the journey is difficult, as there is so much natural brilliance at each angle. Contenders include Columbia Icefield (home to Athabasca Glacier), Sunwapta Falls, and Athabasca Falls.
- Jasper National Park - Approximately 4,335 square miles of nature's glories await in the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies. While Banff is filled with outdoor adventures, it is more commercialized than Jasper and boasts a higher population of visitors for winter sports. Jasper, on the other hand, embraces wild Canada. Look at stunning places like the Sunwapta Valley, Edith Cavell Meadows, Medicine Lake, and Maligne Canyon. One of the most beautiful places in Canada, Maligne Lake, is also within the park. This body of water is so famous that it made its way onto the Canadian $5 bill, and its small island, Spirit Island, is one of the most photographed places in the country. The scenery doesn't stop when the sun goes down, as Jasper is the second-largest dark sky preserve in the world, and countless stars dance overhead.
- Yoho National Park - Together with Banff, Jasper, and Kootenay, Yoho National Park is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site. While less visited than their neighbors, its protected lands pack a major punch in the scenery department. Visitors can see one of the tallest waterfalls in Canada, Takakkaw Falls, and Wapta Falls, the largest on the Kicking Horse River. Sprawling Emerald Lake is also a must-see in Yoho National Park.
The Most Beautiful Places in Interior Canada...
Come into view as the country's mountain ranges fade into the backdrop and visions of windswept prairies, lakes, and the rocky Canadian Shield break on the horizon. This part of the country is more urban, with a higher population density than the rest of Canada. Of course, there is beauty in that, too. Different cultures meld together to create diverse neighborhoods and architectural styles. Just outside the city limits, nature takes its hold once more and creates sights you cannot see anywhere else. While venturing through Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec, consider adding these destinations to your itinerary:
- Niagara Falls - Located just outside the cultural epicenter of Toronto is one of North America's great wonders, Niagara Falls. The Canadian Horseshoe Falls impress at 188 feet and plunge into the Niagara River below. While visiting, you can explore the walkways around the falls or board one of the boats that head right into the mist. The Niagara Gorge and Niagara Whirlpool add further intrigue to this marvelous site, and nearby, Niagara-by-the-Lake is the perfect place to sip local wine and enjoy 19th-century ambiance.
- Quebec City - The feel of old-world Europe wrapped in historic buildings and connected by cobbled streets awaits in Quebec City. This central Canadian city is beloved for its romantic atmosphere and rich history dating to the 1600s. It is the only remaining fortified city north of Mexico with its original walls intact. Old Quebec is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with numerous historic sites and beautiful old buildings. Walking along its narrow labyrinthine streets presents the one-of-a-kind feel of this gorgeous city one step at a time.
- Charlevoix Countryside - Following the St. Lawrence River out of Quebec City and toward the east, the lush surroundings of the Charlevoix Countryside welcome visitors. This area is all rolling hills and riverside mountains, and its fertile soils are home to endless orchards and farms. Small towns dot the shoreline, inviting adventures of all types, including whale watching. The St. Lawrence River houses populations of pilot, beluga, sperm, minke, humpback, and fin whales. Various porpoises and dolphins also live in the water. Whether exploring Charlevoix aboard the Train de Charlevoix, on one of the scenic drives, or while cruising the river, the region's beauty is immediately apparent.
Finally, in Eastern Canada's Maritime Region...
Mountains, lush seaside forests, and rocky coastal views beckon. The provinces that make up the Eastern Seaboard - New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island - have been affectionately nicknamed the Maritime Region due to their location along the Atlantic. Many of Canada's first settlers arrived through this area; therefore, the history is as immense as the ocean itself. Over the years, seafaring, fishing, and ship-building traditions overtook the region, and the evidence remains in charming villages along the coast to this day. Find yourself delighted by their offerings and the wild, waterside beauty that surrounds you as you explore:
- Lunenburg - Set on the seaside in Nova Scotia, colorful Lunenburg is a place unlike any other. Time-trapped buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries meet a picturesque harbor filled with boats. Lunenburg is a joy to discover on foot and is brimming with restaurants, shops, boutiques, and all the seaside charms one could hope for. Because Old Town Lunenburg is the best-preserved example of a British Colonial settlement in North America, it has earned UNESCO World Heritage status.
- Cape Breton Island - The untamed eastern tip of Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island, is as wild as it is beautiful. Forested mountains plunge into the blue Atlantic, and seaside cliffs offer excellent vantage points over the postcard-perfect scenery. On Cape Breton Island, Cape Breton Highlands National Park is a natural playground with year-round appeal. The park is home to over 25 gorgeous hiking trails and numerous beaches to explore. Perhaps the most popular attraction on the island, though, is the Cabot Trail. Meandering 185 miles around Cape Breton Island, this scenic roadway reveals the most impressive points along the coast, within the forests, and beyond. A portion of the Trail passes through Cape Breton Highlands National Park, while other stretches explore small seaside towns. Uncover hidden gems and enjoy the peaceful surroundings only Maritime Canada can offer.
- Peggy's Cove - Over 200 years of history await your discovery in the sleepy shoreline village of Peggy's Cove. This beloved destination is one of the most popular places to visit in Eastern Canada, and it is easy to see why. In addition to housing one of the most famous lighthouses in the Maritimes, Peggy's Cove has an array of colorful houses around a quaint inlet, a thriving art community, and boatloads (pun intended) of old-world Atlantic appeal. Watching the sunrise over the ocean - especially with the lighthouse in view - is magical, and the crashing waves upon the ocean rocks form a majestic scene. Whether you crave history, pretty buildings, or the unruly grandeur of nature, Peggy's Cove delivers.
- The Bay of Fundy - Few places inspire as much wonder as the Bay of Fundy off the coasts of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. This bay is known to have the highest tides in the world, and whether travelers visit at high tide and watch them go out or low tide and watch them come in, the experience is nothing short of breathtaking. High cliffs surround the bay, many of which are adorned with emerald-hued trees. They stand alone during low tide, offering a reminder of the power that is to come as the water returns. Visitors can watch whales from the shoreline and cliffs, as this region is home to approximately twelve species, and visit Hopewell Rocks, an amazing natural site carved by the tides.
Beautiful places in Canada abound, so where will your journey take you? Whether your interests lie in the deep rainforests and towering mountains of the West or the urban splendors in the country's heart, there are plenty of choices here. If you cannot commit to just one scenic region, consider a trans-Canada rail vacation that takes you from one coast to the other via a series of thoughtfully coordinated train adventures. Contact a Rail Specialist to unveil Canada's allures.