9 Things to Do on Canada’s East Coast
Featured destinations: Canada, Mont Tremblant, Montreal, Niagara Falls, Ottawa, Quebec City, Toronto
Published 20 July 2016
Tell people you’re off to Canada and they’ll most likely assume you’re going to the west coast. After all, the poor east coast plays second fiddle to the west’s dramatic mountains and world-class skiing, doesn’t it? Well, it might lack the towering peaks of the west, but the east is also blissfully short of crowds, and still offers some truly stunning scenery; think thick forests, twinkly lakes and log cabins with open fires. The east is also home to Niagara Falls, one of the most visited attractions in North America, as well as the cities of Toronto, Montreal and Quebec, all of which could give Vancouver a run for its money. Not only that, it’s just a seven-hour flight from London, so compared with the jet-lagged confusion of the west coast, travel here is a doddle.
Angela Griffin, who’s just returned from a trip to the Canadian east, gives us a rundown of the best things to do:
Climb Toronto’s CN Tower
Toronto is Canada’s most populous city. Over half of its 2.6 million inhabitants were born outside Canada, creating a vibrant melting pot of cultures that reflects vividly in the city’s architecture, style and cuisine. The best way to take it all in (other than eating out a lot) is to take the elevator up the 553m CN Tower, the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere. At the top, you’ll be greeted with fabulous views over Lake Ontario and the chance to scare yourself silly on the nerve-wracking EdgeWalk, with nothing between you and the ground but a metal platform and a tightly-fastened harness.
Canoe in Algonquin Provincial Park
The dense evergreen forests of Algonquin Provincial Park hide over 1,500 lakes, many of them connected to each other via short canals or woodland walkways known as portages. The best way to explore is by Canadian canoe; pack a picnic or push the boat (ha!) out and take a tent and an overnight bag. With over 1,000 miles of canoe trails you can easily lose touch with civilisation for a day or two here and, as you paddle, you’ll likely see loons (black and white birds), beavers, deer, and perhaps a moose or two if you’re lucky.
Search for whales in Tadoussac, Quebec
Between May and mid-October, humpback and minke whales enter the chilly waters of the St Lawrence River, attracted to the abundant krill, with blue whales following in August and September. Wrap up warm and prepare to be blasted by the wind as you head out onto the open sea to watch the tail slapping and breaching frenzy. You might even spot the white beluga whale, normally seen only in the Arctic.
Hike Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains
Also known by their French name of Les Laurentides, the 500-million-year-old Laurentian Mountains, 80 miles north of Montreal, are a haven of peace and tranquillity. With the ski resort of Mont Tremblant making a good base, there’s plenty to do among the maple trees and pine covered hills, including hiking, kayaking and biking in summer and skiing and snowshoeing in winter. But the best time to come is in autumn, when the forests explode into a riot of fiery colours.
Soak up the views in St John’s, Newfoundland
The capital of Canada’s Newfoundland and Labrador province, St John’s is the oldest and most easterly city in North America. Its brightly-painted houses are set on steep hillsides surrounding an attractive blue harbour, and the easy-on-the-eye views, best appreciated from Signal Hill, have inspired the various artists and musicians who live here. Be sure to drive to Cape Spear, where an impressive lighthouse marks the continent’s easternmost point and visit The Rooms, a modern cultural centre offering million-dollar bay views from the upstairs restaurant, which serves pretty decent food too.
Feast on fresh lobster in Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island is most famous for inspiring the much-loved LM Montgomery novel Anne of Green Gables. Coated in farms and dotted with golden beaches and bays, the island is popular with tourists coming to admire the rugged coastline and feast on freshly-caught lobsters. Traditionally boiled and served with a huge pile of coleslaw, the lobsters’ popularity has given rise to more upmarket dishes too – try the Lobster ravioli with lobster bisque, pea shoots, garlic brown butter and parsley oil, served at the Lucy Maud Montgomery Dining Room.
Feel the spray of Niagara Falls
One of the most famous and most visited attractions in North America, Niagara Falls can’t fail to impress. You can see the 57m drop from any angle imaginable: above from a helicopter, from behind the cascade, from the walkways and from the water. To feel the true power of Niagara, take a boat cruise right up to the spray of Horseshoe Falls, which along with the American and Bridal Veil Falls make up the three cascades. Waterproofs are provided but prepare to get soaked.
Walk Quebec City’s walls
Feel like you’ve teleported to 17th century France in Vieux-Quebec, Quebec City’s rather delightful old town. In the only walled city north of Mexico, 2.8 miles of fortifications loop around the city’s most beautiful sights, including the fairy tale Château Frontenac, the world’s most photographed hotel. It takes about an hour to circumnavigate the whole thing, but as the walls are not continuous a little bit of stair-climbing is involved. But just think, after all that exercise you can treat yourself to a tasty bowl of poutine, a regional speciality consisting of chips, cheese curds and gravy.
Spot polar bears in Churchill
Okay, so this one isn't technically on the east coast; it's really more to the centre, but at the 58th parallel, on the edge of Hudson Bay, lies Churchill, a town home to just 813 people but 1,000 polar bears, earning it the nickname the Polar Bear Capital of the World. For your best chances of seeing one, visit in October or November when the Hudson Bay ice is thick enough for the bears to walk back north in search of seals – see them by tundra vehicle, stay at a wilderness lodge or canoe the seal river. In summer you can spot beluga whales here too and from November to March the Northern Lights come out to play.