Canada is so hot right now. Canada.
But seriously, everyone seems to be adding a trip to Canada to their 2017 bucket list. Thank You, Lonely Planet!
I'm kicking off The Spirited Sloth's Canada celebration (it'll last all year) with a roundup of the absolute best of Ontario and where to stay when you're there. Don't worry, I'll get to the other provinces later.
I was born in the States, moved around a bit with my mom, and ended up a Canadian at the tender age of ten (dual citizenship high five, anyone?). I am now a stupidly proud Canadian, and I'm excited to share all of my favourite spots in Ontario with you.
So grab your toque, get some poutine, and head North to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday this year! If you are in the Great Wild North over July 4th, make a point to spend the holiday in Ottawa. I've gathered the best of all worlds, with AirB&Bs ranging from modest, to moderate, to magnificent, and magnificent-er.
Where To Go, Where To Stay, What To Do, What To See
1. Niagara Falls
Plenty of Americans agree; the Canadian side is better. Plenty of us visit on a day trip form Toronto or other nearby areas, but stay awhile and check out beautiful Niagara on the Lake (one of North America's most well-preserved 19th Century towns), take a winery tour (the Niagara Peninsula is one of Ontario's many wino hotspots), and blow all your cash at a casino if you're into it. Niagara Falls is Ontario's Vegas, after all.
The falls themselves and the town through which they flow are both spectacles in and of themselves. Day or night, summer or winter, the falls are captivating. My favourite time to see them is at night in the winter, all lit up, with everything around covered in a sheet of ice from the mist. Try not to slip. I have, many times.
Toronto has everything. Check out my favorite poutinerie, Poutineville (yes, poutine is the most important, first-on-the-list thing to list when talking about certain Canadian cities). In the city, of course visit the CN Tower (it is worth a trip up, but the elevators can be a pretty big wait), the ROM, and the Distillery District is pretty cool. Don't forget about Canada's Wonderland!
If you stay in Toronto, don't feel stuck in the city; The Scarborough Bluffs are just a short drive away and are one of Ontario's most spectacular natural sights. Visit year round for breathtaking views of Lake Ontario, and if you're there in the summer you will most definitely, 100% require a thick coating of bug spray.
I had to include the magnificent-er listing in here because it's just bonkers. There's a picture of Gigi Hadid lounging in this place in the AirB&B listing. It's $4000 a night, but if you and 20 of your closest friends go, it's only $200 each. What a steal!
Parliament Hill is gorgeous and exciting all the time, but it may be the place to be in early July this year. You won't find a bigger Canada Day (July 1st) party anywhere. The parliament buildings stand tall above the Ottawa River and are some of the most photographed attractions in Ontario. You might be lucky enough to see the changing of the guards in front of the Houses of Parliament if you're there in the warmer seasons.
There are a ton of parks, lakes, waterfalls, and beaches around, so if you need to escape the city, you won't have a problem. You can easily stroll across the border to Gatineau, Quebec, where you may see my Grandfather riding his bike home from the Byward market.
4. Thousand Islands
The Thousand Islands are a group of over 1800 islands dotting the St. Lawrence River from Brockville to Kingston (a city worth visiting all its own). As one of the oldest, and still most popular holiday destinations in Ontario, you'll find picture perfect cottages/mansions, friendly people sure to invite you for a drink on the dock, and you'll find yourself wanting to buy a boat. But why not rent one! Or better yet, rent a place that comes with one!
5. Muskoka and Cottage Country
More cottage country! Ontario is full of cottage country. About three hours North of Toronto, you'll find yourself driving through a slew of quaint but upscale towns, lakes, and vast forests with towering evergreens. Through there are several small towns in the expansive area, including the popular Gravenhurt, my favorite Muskoka area surrounds the little town of Huntsville. Take a drive around "Millionaire's Row" on Lake Muskoka to ogle the McMansions.
6. Thunder Bay & Co.
I haven't visited Thunder Bay since that time I dropped by ice cream cone at the zoo, and the fact that that's what I remember should tell you that that was a long time ago.
The city itself is nice enough as a secluded metropolis, but explore the Thunder Bay area for the amazing natural sights. Head to Sleeping Giant National Park, which got its name because the mesa making it up looks like a huge man sleeping on his back (complete with Adam's apple). And don't miss Kakabeka Falls, Hillcrest park, and the Forth William Historical Centre.
7. Bruce Peninsula & Sons
Georgian Bay, Bruce Peninsula, and Manitoulin Island are a series of lovely areas overlooking and enveloping Lake Ontario. They're an extension of Muskoka's cottage country. Are you detecting a theme, here? Ontarians love their cottages. Explore Flowerpot Island in Tobermory, the Georgian Bay Grotto, and Wasaga Beach (the longest freshwater beach in the world). Get over to Manitoulin Island for a real feeling of escape. It's the largest freshwater island in the world, with several small (and hard to pronounce) communities located several kilometres apart. Manitoulin means "spirit" in Ojibwe, and a visit to Manitoulin Island is sure to refresh yours.
8. Prince Edward County
Prince Edward County is, in my opinion, Ontario's winery hotspot. Explore some of the 40 wineries in the area, get out on the water or on some of the great hiking trails, and wander some of the County's adorable little towns. You'll be treated to some of the best farm to table fare in Canada at a variety of excellent bistros, hotels, and maybe even your Airbnb! Prince Edward County is where people go to live off the land in luxury.
9. The North
Northern Ontario is big. Really big. You might even say it's "yuge".
In Canada, most schools do a "grade 8 trip" for students ending their middle-school careers and heading off to high-school. Most schools take the kids to Ottawa for two days of valuable Canadian history lessons and fun.
My school, and my graduating class of 4 (along with our grade 7 companions, another group of 4), went to Northern Ontario's Temagami for a week-long canoe trip. Complete with portages and huge water-barrel backpacks. During those 7 days (save for the few hours we spent exploring the kickass candy store in the small town of Temagami), I would've killed a person to be able to go home.
At the end, when I was home, showered, and plastered in after-bite, I was grateful for the experience. Getting stuck in a mud-puddle over a 2 kilometre portage with black flies eating me alive and a 100lb box of water strapped to me was, in fact, a valuable learning experience. I am still a little mad about the "pancakes" they served us every morning, though (there must've been a better way).
Anyway, I wanted to end with what is now my favourite, big-ass piece of Ontario: The North. Pick a place, any place. Northern Ontario is where you'll find vast, awesome, real Canadian wilderness (beware of bears). There are thousands of lakes here (thousands), and you can't go wrong with any one of them. The iconic Polar Bear Express runs from Cochrane to Moosonee, an isolated aboriginal reserve, canoers and kayakers dot the lakes, but you likely won't run into any of them, and Algoma County boast the world's largest natural game reserve.
I've included more fun Airbnbs here because from 66$ yurts and slightly nicer yurts to $1000 glamping, from cute cottages on the water and rentable McMansions to a private island...
You'll find what you're looking for in Ontario.