It's that time of year again when schools are closing their doors for summer break and families are planning vacations. Haven't booked a family vacation yet? Don't panic - there's still time to plan a fabulous holiday for your family without leaving Canada and I have a few suggestions to get you started.
There's no shortage of things to do with the family in Canada's most populous province whether you want the thrill of a big city vacation, the relaxation of a lakeside resort or the solitude of wilderness camping.
The nation's capital, Ottawa, is a fabulous place for a summer vacation. Start with a stroll on Parliament Hill, cruise the Ottawa River for a splendid view of the city, relax in countless parks and green spaces, shop and eat in Byward Market, visit one of the many museums in the city or tour Rideau Hall to see the official residence of the Governor General.
Toronto is the country's largest city and has endless activities that will interest both kids and their parents. Spend some time in world-class museums and art galleries such as the Royal Ontario Museum, the Ontario Science Centre and the Art Gallery of Ontario; stroll lively neighbourhoods such as Chinatown, Little Italy and Greektown; cheer for the home team at a Blue Jays baseball game; take the ferry to Centre Island; explore an honest to goodness castle at Casa Loma; visit the Toronto Zoo to meet the the new baby polar bear and the African penguin chicks; or attend a performance at one of the city's many theatrical venues. You will run out of time before you run out of things to do in Toronto.
Niagara Falls is an ideal destination for a fun family holiday as the area is bursting with activities for kids (and adults) of all ages. Kids will enjoy the natural wonder of the falls itself, amusement park rides and fun-filled shows starring dolphins, walruses and sea lions at Marineland, the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory and the Clifton Hill entertainment district. Parents can even sneak in a little education at fun historic sites such as the Laura Secord Homestead, the Fort George National Historic Site or Brock's Monument. If you really want to impress the kids then book a room at a water-park hotel such as Great Wolf Lodge Niagara and they may never want to leave.
Muskoka - If you don't have a cottage then consider a stay at one of the many resorts in Canada's playground north of Toronto. The Rosseau Muskoka is located in the heart of the historic resort area on one of cottage country's most beautiful lakes and has a recreational schedule that will keep even the most active family busy. Boating, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, canoeing, water-skiing, and swimming are just a few of the activities that will tire out the kids during the day and then after the sun has gone down they can roast s'mores over the fire pit at the front of the resort. It may just become a family tradition.
Some of the other options in the province include camping in Algonquin Park, visiting the historic town of Kingston and cruising the Thousand Islands in eastern Ontario, or venturing farther north to Sudbury, Manitoulin Island, or up to Lake Superior country and the city of Thunder Bay.
A trip to historic Québec City can be a superb introduction to European culture for the kids and the perfect opportunity for them to practice their French skills. Within the walls of the historic area nearly everything can be explored on foot, or by horse-drawn calèche, starting with La Citadelle, Château Frontenac and the street performers on Terasse Dufferin in Haute-Ville (Upper Town). Basse-Ville (Lower Town) and the Rue Petit Champlain shopping area can be accessed by either the funicular or the Escaliers Casse-Cou (the Breakneck Stairs) and the kids will love both methods of descending. The Musée de la Civilisation can be a lot of fun and while you are in the area be sure to check out the mural in Place Royale which depicts 400 years of Québecois history - kids love to pose as if they are part of the painting.
Montréal is one of Canada's largest cities and also has a vibrant historic neighbourhood with cobble-stoned streets and horse-drawn calèches carrying tourists around. In the family-friendly Old Port area you can rent quadricycles, take an amphi-bus tour of both the streets of Old Montreal and the St. Lawrence River, or visit the Montréal Science Centre and view one of the latest IMAX films. The family will find hours of enjoyment at the popular Olympic Park area which has the Biodôme, Botanical Garden, Planetarium and Insectarium. On top of all this, Montréal is one of the best places to eat in the country and has a long list of festivals that take place during the summer months.
Le Château Montebello which is located along the shore of the Outaouais River midway between Montréal and Ottawa is ideal for a family resort vacation in Québec. The red log cedar château is the world's largest log cabin and the resort has a lengthy roster of year-round activities that kids will love including horseback riding, tennis, golf, bicycling, and swimming. Guests can also visit the nearby Whitefish Lake Picnic Area to swim in the lake, try canoeing and kayaking and have a picnic lunch. Visitors interested in wildlife can join the resort's Bear Observation guided tour or visit nearby Omega Park to view a wide variety of wild animals from the safety of their own car or visit up close with some friendly deer on the walking paths.
The province of Newfoundland is a wonderful vacation destination for families with older children. In the area around St. John's, start at Signal Hill National Historic Site for a breathtaking view of the city and harbour where you just might see an iceberg if you are lucky, stand on the most easterly point in North America at the Cape Spear Lighthouse, and learn about the history of the area at the historical fishing village of Quidi Vidi. Drive out to the Avalon Peninsula to visit Witless Bay and the Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve to see tens of thousands of puffins and other seabirds. In Western Newfoundland, a boat tour through the majestic fjords of Gros Morne National Park will impress outdoor enthusiasts and a visit to the L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site will educate about the first Viking settlements in North America while the nearby Norstead, a re-created Norse trading post, will entertain.
In Nova Scotia, families can visit the capital city of Halifax and learn more about the Titanic and the Halifax Explosion at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, tour the city and the harbour on the Harbour Hopper amphibious vehicle and explore the Halifax Citadel to see what life was like in the fort in the 1800s. An enjoyable day trip from Halifax is the drive to see the famous red and white lighthouse at picturesque Peggy's Cove and then on to the historic village of Lunenburg where the famous tall ship Bluenose II may be docked. On Cape Breton Island visitors can drive the stunning Cabot Trail, experience what life was like for early settlers at the Fortress of Louisburg National Historic Site (North America's largest living history museum) and learn more about inventor Alexander Graham Bell in Baddeck.
New Brunswick the charming seaside village of St. Andrews-by-the-Sea where the kids will be thrilled to go on a whale watching tour in the Bay of Fundy. The Bay of Fundy experiences the highest tides in the world and at the popular Hopewell Rocks visitors can walk around on the ocean floor at low tide and return later at high tide to kayak in the bay. Families will also enjoy a fun day outside Moncton with a visit to the Magnetic Hill and the nearby Magic Mountain Waterpark and Magnetic Hill Zoo.
The province of Prince Edward Island is one of the most family-friendly destinations in Canada. Families can learn about the formation of Canada in Charlottetown, build castles on the red sand beaches, play at the amusement parks and attractions in Cavendish, indulge in daily ice cream cones at Cows, learn all about the island's beloved spunky character Anne of Green Gables, enjoy a delicious lobster supper or play a round of golf on one of the championship courses.
If your family would like to experience some rodeo culture then a summer visit to the city of Calgary for the Calgary Stampede, which celebrated it's 100th anniversary in 2012, would make a great summer holiday. Visits to National Parks in Banff and Jasper or to Lake Louise will provide the family with plenty of outdoor activity such as hiking, biking or mountain climbing. If you have teenagers who love shopping then you might be required to detour into Edmonton to visit the West Edmonton Mall which at 5.3 million square feet is the size of a small city and the province's number one tourist attraction.
British Columbia's capital city, Vancouver is widely considered to be one of the world's most livable cities and it's one of the most fun to visit as well. Be amazed by the size of the trees in Stanley Park, visit a beluga whale at the Vancouver Aquarium, check out the steam clock in historic Gastown, take an aqua bus to the market on Granville Island, visit the Vancouver Art Gallery to see the work of Emily Carr, shop in North America's second largest Chinatown, hike on Grouse Mountain, and cross the swaying Capilano Suspension Bridge if you dare. A ferry will transport you to Victoria to visit the British Columbia Parliament buildings, have tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel, and wander through Butchart Gardens. Tired of the city? Then head up the Sea to Sky Highway to commune with nature and enjoy the majestic Rocky Mountains in Whistler where you can hike, mountain bike, enjoy a breathtaking gondola ride, try ziplining or even some summer glacier skiing.
From coast to coast, families are spoiled for choice when it comes to planning a summer vacation in Canada. Whether you are a Canadian family looking for a vacation close to home or a family visiting from abroad, there's an incredible summer adventure waiting for you. Summer has arrived - make your plans today!
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