Discover Ontario, Canada’s most southerly region, home to a large proportion of the country’s 30 million people, its largest city, Toronto, and its biggest tourist site, Niagara Falls. The great waterfalls straddle the border between Canada and the United States, and there is enthusiastic competition between the two to lay on the best tourist facilities – you can balloon over the falls, sail under them, or walk through behind or beside them. The famous Maid of the Mist boats operate from the USA but there are plenty of options on the Canadian side of Niagara, including helicopter rides, the Skylon Tower with its observation deck, the Skywheel and even zip-lining beside the Falls.
Drive about 90 minutes from Niagara to Toronto, a financial and industrial powerhouse but a good family city break destination in its own right, as well as a launchpad for exploring further afield. This vibrant, appealing city has some great family attractions. The CN Tower, the world’s tallest free-standing building, has glass-fronted elevators whizzing you up to its viewing platforms plus the opportunity for those aged 13 years and up to do the hands-free but harnessed EdgeWalk around the circumference of its roof. The Royal Ontario Museum, Centreville Amusement Park, Toronto Zoo and the outstanding themepark Canada’s Wonderworld are just some of the other things to do in Toronto with kids. Some of the city's attractions are on the Toronto Islands within Lake Ontario. Alternatively, about 90 minutes north of Toronto is lesser-known Georgian Bay, a beautiful waterscape of islands and lakes.
Explore another highlight of family holidays in Ontario, about 450km north-east of Toronto: the country’s capital Ottawa, which has changed enormously since a government spending spree. In the heart of the city is Mooney’s Bay, with a sandy beach with swimming in the river, volleyball, biking paths and cross-country skiing on illuminated trails, plus a ski school, according to season. In autumn people head here to see the beautifully coloured foliage.
Note that Ottawa is part of the National Capital Region together with neighbouring Gatineau, which is in the French-speaking province of Quebec. The Gatineau Hills themselves are a popular skiing destination among inhabitants of both cities and Ontario as a whole, as well as having nothing less, in winter, than the world’s biggest skating rink in the form of the two-kilometre-long Skateway on the UNESCO World Heritage listed Rideau Canal. The city of Gatineau, meanwhile, is home to the Canadian Museum of History, which contains the Canadian Children’s Museum, with permanent displays, temporary exhibitions and special events. Read our dedicated guide to family holidays in Quebec, including skiing with kids in Tremblant.
Venture into the Maritime Provinces – gorgeous, sleepy Nova Scotia, pristine Prince Edward Island and imposing New Brunswick. These areas are not for the fainthearted (and whatever you do, don’t come in winter), but those who appreciate spectacular natural beauty and don’t mind struggling a bit to find it will have a wonderful holiday here. Base yourselves in Halifax and take a boat to remote Newfoundland, the setting for The Shipping News, to admire floating icebergs.
Go west, far west, for the delights of British Columbia, a land of untainted wilderness, with mountains, forest, coastal fjords, giant ranches, plains and immense lakes – everything is on a large scale. Book a family holiday in British Columbia, which has more flora and fauna than the rest of Canada put together, and you can ski (especially at world-famous Whistler in the north of the province), hike or sail, or to try your hands at salmon-fishing. It’s more or less all about the coast here: the interior is hard to get to, and it’s hard to find somewhere to stay when you do make it. Discover beautiful Vancouver with kids; most of the BC population is based here and it has lots of family attractions.
Venture inland of BC to breathtaking Alberta to be bowled over by its Rocky Mountain landscapes and world-class ski resorts. Among its treasures are six UNESCO World Heritage Sites, five national parks, two of the biggest Dark Sky Preserves in the world and nearly 600 species of wildlife, including grizzly and black bears, moose and elk. Don’t miss Elk Island National Park, the only fully enclosed national park in Canada, with more than 700 free roaming bison.The dinosaur-filled scenery of the Badlands is the place for unforgettable outdoors adventures, while diverse, modern Calgary and the provincial capital Edmonton promise urban discoveries galore. When winter arrives, the Canadian Rockies are perfect for family adventures – head to Banff, Jasper, Lake Louise and Kananaskis Country for dog-sledding, snowshoeing, skiing, snowboarding and ice-skating. Make sure to drive the Icefields Parkway, one of the world’s iconic road trips, with lots of glaciers to spot.
Head into the north (the provinces of Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut) – the final frontier. Its reputation as a land of perpetual winter, a frozen wasteland, means few people visit, but come in summer and find it transformed into a beautiful place of extraordinary sporting opportunities, fascinating cultures and wonderful landscapes, flora and fauna. Visit the Skeena Valley or the archipelago of Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands). Drive the 2240km Alaskan Highway, connecting the USA to its state of Alaska via Canada, camp out in the Nahanni National Park or take your kids glacier-hiking on Baffin Island in Auyuittuq National Park. If this is a little too ambitious to tackle independently, go with one of the many excellent guided tours.