Ontario is a thriving province in Canada. Tourism and cultural activities contributed more than $28 billion to the Canadian economy in 2019. More than 24 million tourists arrived in the province, including 7.5 million from other parts of Canada.
If you want to see a little bit of everything that Canada has to offer, you should go to Ontario. But the province is vast, so be sure to identify what kind of trip you're looking for and plan accordingly.
What are the environmental landscapes of Ontario? How can you get from place to place? What are the leading tourist destinations in Ontario?
We answer these questions so you can see what Ontario is all about. Here is your comprehensive guide.
When thinking about Ontario, the city of Toronto might spring to mind first. The city has a lot to offer. But there are numerous environmental ecosystems you can find across the province, including other popular cities.
Ontario borders four of the five Great Lakes. Lake Superior is one of the largest lakes in the world. The lake is largely undeveloped, meaning it is home to over 80 species of fish.
Lake Huron has thousands of small islands. You can visit these islands on boats and walk on their beaches. Many invasive species live in the lake, including mussels that can damage ships.
Lake Erie lies on the border between Canada and the United States. Though it is the smallest of the Great Lakes, it supports several microclimates. The northern shore of the lake supports tomato and vegetable growth while tropical plants grow in the area around Port Rowan.
Toronto and other major cities lie on the edge of Lake Ontario. But large parts of the lake are undeveloped and support habitats for dozens of species. You can walk through forests that support oak and beech trees.
Metropolitan City Centres
Toronto is Canada's largest city. It is an urban mecca home to more than two million people. But there are less developed areas, including the Toronto Islands.
Ottawa is Canada's capital city. Most national museums and institutions lie inside of Ottawa, including the Centre Block on Parliament Hill. Natural attractions in the city include the Greenbelt, which stretches over dozens of miles.
Smaller yet important cities include Hamilton. Hamilton is a port city on the western shore of Lake Ontario, creating a humid and continental climate. You can also find dozens of waterfalls along the Niagara Escarpment inside city boundaries.
The geography of Ontario is influenced by three physiographic regions. The Canadian Shield covers most of the province. The Canadian Shield contains some of the world's oldest rocks, producing rolling landscapes with sharp hills.
The Hudson Bay Lowlands cover the northern tip of the province. The area is flat in some places, with muskeg plains and small ponds. Other areas have marshes next to large boulders, left behind when ice walls shifted thousands of years ago.
The St. Lawrence Lowlands lies at the southeastern tip of Ontario. The lowlands contain numerous plains that have clay and sand floors, while other regions have forests and rocky terrain.
Amethyst is a special type of quartz. It has a rich purple colour, making it perfect for jewelry and artwork.
Many amethyst mines are spread across northern Ontario, especially in the area around Thunder Bay. You can visit these mines and collect your own supply of amethyst. Many people believe in the healing properties of crystals. A trip to the mines can help one fill up their home with good energy.
The Indigenous people of Canada settled in Ontario more than 12,000 years ago. Many communities lived in the area, including the Iroquois. The word, "Ontario," may come from an Iroquois word for a beautiful body of water.
French and British settlers entered Ontario during the 1600s. Some settlers interacted positively with the Indigenous people, even intermarrying with them.
But other settlers were violent, dispossessing Indigenous people from their land. By the end of the Seven Years' War in 1763, the British had claimed most of the land in modern-day Ontario. Dozens of First Nations communities do remain in Ontario today, accounting for 23% of Canada's Indigenous population.
Many American colonists who remained loyal to the British crown moved to Ontario after the American Revolution. This caused the settler population to swell dramatically.
In 1791, the British enacted the Constitutional Act to split the population up. The land was split into two areas, Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lower Canada (Quebec).
During the early decades of the 19th century, immigrants began arriving in Upper Canada. In order to organize the population better, the city of Toronto was established in 1834. In 1867, Ontario and Quebec were established as separate provinces within the Dominion of Canada.
Getting Around Ontario
Ontario can be hard to get around because of how big it is and how many landscapes it contains. You should plan out your means of travel before you go on vacation to Ontario.
Ontario is located toward the centre of Canada. It is to the east of Manitoba and it is west of Quebec. It is easily accessible from these provinces, though residents further away can access it by air.
Toronto, Ottawa, and other major cities lie in southern Ontario. Northern Ontario is more rural, but you can access portions of it through highways.
Canadians who want to travel to the United States can travel through Ontario to get there. Ontario borders Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. You can plan a Toronto to Buffalo road trip and reach the city in less than two hours.
Toronto Pearson International Airport is the main airport that serves the Toronto metropolitan area. Nearly all major international airlines connect to the airport. You can also find flights from domestic airlines that serve all other major Canadian airports.
If you want to fly to northern Ontario, you can fly to Thunder Bay Airport. Air Canada provides several flights a day to the airport, and you can find connecting flights to other cities.
Via Rail provides the main interprovincial train service in Ontario. Their corridor connects Toronto to Montreal, Quebec, and Windsor. They do not offer extensive access to northern Ontario.
Provincial highways stretch across the province, though road access in more remote areas is limited. Driving from the western provinces of Canada to Ontario will take days. You should fly to Ontario if you live in British Columbia or the Northwest Territories. The best way to get around Ontario is by car. Consider renting a car to get the most out of your trip to Ontario.
1. Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls is a must-see attraction on the Canadian-American border. The falls formed from shifting and melting ice sheets. The water from these sheets broke rock formations down, slowly carving out the falls over time.
If you’re ready to get up-close and personal with the falls, then you’ll enjoy the Journey Behind the Falls. Visitors descend 125ft by elevator, where you emerge onto the observation deck behind the falls. So pull on your complimentary rain-poncho because you’re likely to get sprayed with some water! Walk around and explore what lies behind one of the most spectacular waterfalls.
Or, if you’re seeking a more thrilling experience, try WildPlay Zipline to the Falls. Strap in and soar from 67 metres high along a 670 metres long zipline at speeds 70+kph. You’ll see the vast Niagara River pour into the falls from new heights. There are also plenty of cruise opportunities, helicopter rides, and tours that can take you around the falls.
While exploring Niagara Falls, be sure to check out the local area. There is tons of family fun for everyone! Whether you’re into haunted houses, mazes, go-karting, or bowling, there are amazing attractions around Niagara Falls. For the adults, there are casinos, golf courses, and fantastic nightlife. Be sure to catch a show while you’re there!
Niagara Falls is so much more than a natural beauty. There is something for everyone to enjoy while you’re visiting.
2. CN Tower
The CN Tower is 1,815 feet tall, making it the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. It was the tallest building in the world, but it has been surpassed by the Burj Khalifa and other structures.
The CN Tower was built in 1976 by Canadian National. It is a communications tower, supporting several television and radio broadcasters. But the building doubles as a tourist attraction.
You can ride an elevator up to the observation deck and take in Toronto from more than 1,100 feet in the air. The deck has a small glass floor, which you can jump and walk on. If you're afraid of heights, don't look down!
If you want an even better view, you can go to the SkyPod. This deck is more than 1,400 feet above the city, and you can see Niagara Falls on clear days.
Thrill seekers assemble! EdgeWalk lets you walk on top of the observation deck. You will remain tethered in, but you are free to walk around and lean over the edge.
If you prefer to eat and drink, you can get a meal at 360 Restaurant. It is a revolving restaurant, so you can get 360-degree views of the city while you are sitting down.
You need to purchase a ticket in order to go to the observation deck. The SkyPod and EdgeWalk require separate tickets. A ticket for an adult to ride the elevator to the main deck is $40.
Casa Loma is another attraction in Toronto. It is a mansion that is open to the public for tours and events.
Sir Henry Pellatt was a railway and hydroelectric entrepreneur. The mansion was built for him in 1914, and he lived in it for nearly a decade.
After Pellatt moved out, investors bought the property and turned it into a hotel. It was then established as a museum in the 1930s.
The mansion has a lot to offer. The Oak Room is a luxurious dining room with a plaster ceiling and wood panels. You can view this room and others, as well as a series of photo exhibits.
The mansion also supports a steakhouse and a restaurant that serves Mediterranean diet options. If you are looking to host a formal event in Toronto, you can rent rooms inside Casa Loma for your guests. This is a very popular wedding venue for those looking for a luxurious, fairytale wedding.
Casa Loma also has special events for the holidays! Plan your visit around Halloween or Christmas for an extra special experience.
Touring Casa Loma requires tickets. One for an adult costs $30. The mansion is currently closed for guests, though the restaurants are open for outdoor dining.
4. Toronto Zoo
Toronto Zoo is Canada's largest zoo. Its large size accommodates numerous distinct exhibits.
The African Rainforest Pavilion offers a gorilla habitat along with homes for hippos and crocodiles. If you want to study Australian animals, you can visit the Australasia Pavilion and see kangaroos. Eurasia Wilds is the oldest part of the zoo, and it contains exhibits with tigers and pandas.
Besides animal exhibits, you can ride ziplines and climb on a ropes course within the zoo. You can also walk through a greenhouse, learning about different kinds of plants.
Access to the zoo requires tickets, and attractions like the zip lines require separate payments. A ticket for an adult costs around $30. Children's tickets are just under $20 and any child under 3 years of age is free.
5. Rideau Canal
The Rideau Canal lies in Ottawa. It connects the city to Lake Ontario and the Saint Lawrence River.
The canal is famous as a commercial waterway, helping Ottawan businesses launch boats. Many people love to canoe or kayak down the canal, but it is also famous for its ice skating.
When the canal freezes, the city of Ottawa allows guests to skate on the canal and buy food from kiosks. The skating season depends on the conditions on the canal. But you can skate during most years between January and March. It's sometimes a faster way to get to work than by driving!
Besides Ottawa, the canal runs along Westport and Kingston. You can also visit blockhouses and historical buildings along the canal.
Bonus: Royal Ontario Museum
Since is it too hard to limit to top 5 only we included this as a bonus. The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is an art and natural history museum in Toronto. The museum was established in 1912 by the Government of Ontario and the University of Toronto. The building has expanded gradually over the last 100 years, and it is now the largest museum in Canada.
ROM's collections contain millions of items. The Natural History galleries display dinosaur fossils, taxidermied animals, and wax sculptures. The Royal Ontario Museum Bat Cave uses sculptures and videos to stimulate the experience of walking through a cave.
The World Culture galleries display objects from numerous world cultures. You can view classical antiquities from ancient Rome and East Asian temple art.
If you want to experience most of the museum's galleries, you should prepare to spend a few days inside. A general admission ticket costs $23 and covers one day of entry.
If you plan on visiting ROM alongside the other attractions in this article, you can buy a CityPASS. The pass costs less than $100, and it saves you more than $50 on admissions fees. You can visit the attractions plus Ripley's Aquarium of Canada in any order you want within nine days.
Pack Your Bags and Head to Ontario Today!
Ontario has so much to offer. The Great Lakes offer scenic views of the water. Toronto and Ottawa are two of Canada's leading cities.
Though Ontario lies toward the centre of Canada, it is hard to access from the coasts. You should fly into Ontario and then use highways to get around.
The leading tourist destinations in Ontario include the CN Tower and Toronto Zoo. Be prepared to spend several days touring ROM and other areas in Toronto.