In the United States eight states together make up their Great Lakes region. North of the border this role is fulfilled by a single Canadian province: Ontario. Fresh water probably defines this giant province as much as anything. Not only does the provincial name come from the Huron word for “great lake,” it also contains 250,000 lesser ones. So it’s no wonder that holidays in waterfront cottages have become a way of life for many of the 14 million people who call Ontario home.
Ontario’s most famous sight also is water-based: Niagara whose falls gush 2.4 million liters per second attract 14 million annual visitors. Yet the big draw here is not just a natural wonder to rival the Grand Canyon but also a miscellany of commercial attractions and trappings to rival Disneyland for family fun.
But most Ontarians live in and around Toronto, an ambitious commercial city whose boundaries have become famously hard to determine. Its attractions are typical of many major North American cities: landmark skyscrapers, museums, top-tier sports teams and a cosmopolitan mix of ethnic groups, eateries and neighborhoods. Toronto spreads its tentacles along multiple congested highways to form a 6 million-strong metro area.
Where the urban mosaic begins to thin to the west lies Southern Ontario, with its small relaxed farming settlements and Stratford, a town that has lived up to the reputation of its UK namesake by becoming a major hub for Shakespearean theatre.
On the opposite, eastern, side of the province, lies Ottawa, Ontario’s second most significant city, which effectively straddles the border with Quebec. As Canada’s capital city it is to politics what Toronto is to commerce, yet its far smaller scale makes Ottawa more immediately likable. The presence of foreign embassies also helps assure a reasonably cosmopolitan air, while its 9-to-5 population of bureaucrats and civil servants have plenty of time and energy leftover for festivals and many minor goings on – though the city never quite outdoes Montreal, which lies just a couple of hours away by train or bus.
Much of the rest of Eastern Ontario is cultivated or forested, flat, and, in truth, a little dull, so it’s a relief to find a string of attractions along the Saint Lawrence River, the southern perimeter of the region. Here sights and monuments remember all the important derring-do of the War of 1812, which went a long way to securing Canada’s independence from the US. The Saint Lawrence stuck as the border in these parts, with the islands in this broad waterway falling either side. A gathering of some of the prettiest Canadian islands have become 1000 Islands National Park, a ready gateway to pleasant beaches and relaxed canoeing.
Further upstream, where the Saint Lawrence begins to flow from Lake Ontario, lies the mid-sized University town of Kingston. It began life as an important strategic point and its military base still plays a major part, but it’s small downtown and adjacent waterfront area has a relaxed and likeable air about it.
Kingston’s Central Ontario hinterland to the west is Prince Edward County which occupies a peninsula that juts into Lake Ontario and provides an outdoor playground of gentle charms: orchards, wineries and the pretty and relaxed Sandbanks Provincial Park. North of here – and in an area that extends as far west as Toronto’s outskirts and as far north as Ottawa is a region of low rolling hills popularly dubbed “cottage country”. Specific attractions are thin, but the region is perfect for those looking for a summer lakeside cabin retreat. Things get wilder north of here where a giant swathe of land has been committed to Algonquin Provincial Park. It’s a maze of lonely waterways and pristine forests and a popular spot to load up a canoe with provisions and paddle-away-from-it-all for a few days.
North of Algonquin, in Northern Ontario, Canada’s serious wilderness starts to take over. Several routes connect far-flung settlements and their mixed-bag of attractions which might beckon those driving west to Winnipeg and Manitoba. Otherwise, those who do make a beeline here are looking for serenity and the chance to get back-to-basics in one of Canada’s most accessible wilderness regions. Dedicated hikers, naturalists, and serious canoeists are among them; and it’s particularly popular with hunters and fishermen who’ll pay top-dollar to take bush planes to far flung lodges.
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Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We donât want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in C$.
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $5 per person
$$ => Tickets $6-15 per person
$$$ => Tickets $16 per person
$ => Rooms less than $100 for a double
$$ => Rooms $101-200 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $201 for a double
$ => $1-20 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$ => $21-40 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $41 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-30 per person
$$$ => Tickets $31 per person