More often than I would like to admit, I fall into the trap of thinking that I need to travel a great distance to explore even though I know that’s not the case. I need to remind myself just how much there is to do in our home province so I decided to create my ultimate list of things to do and places to visit in Ontario. I settled on 52 items to check off a bucket list for Ontario – one for each week of the year.
I have already completed about 2/3 so still have quite a few to look forward to. I have a feeling that we will be spending more time close to home in the next year and I should be able to make some progress on my list!
Don’t forget to download and print the Ultimate Ontario Bucket List Checklist at the end of this article so you can keep track of which items you have completed too!
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1. Visit the Royal Ontario Museum
The Royal Ontario Museum (“The ROM”) in Toronto is considered to be one of the world’s leading museums of natural history and world cultures and features exhibits that will appeal to everyone.
2. Take a boat to the base of Niagara Falls
Don a plastic rain poncho and sail right into the basin of the 170 foot Horseshoe Falls aboard one of Hornblower Cruises catamaran boats. It’s a thrilling ride that you will never forget!
3. Attend a Show at the Stratford Festival
The internationally recognized Stratford Festival, founded in 1953, is an annual celebration of theatre that performs several plays (12 in the 2019 season) generally in four permanent venues during a season that runs from April through November. Each season includes Shakespeare, musicals and both classic and contemporary plays – something for everyone!
Read more at Theatre Getaways in Ontario
4. Ride the Chi-Cheemaun Ferry
Manitoulin Island, located in the north channel of Lake Huron, is the largest freshwater island in the world and attracts visitors from around the world as it is a nature lover’s paradise. You can drive to the island through Northern Ontario but it’s both more relaxing and more scenic to take the Chi-Cheemaun Ferry from Tobermory on the Bruce Peninsula to South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island instead.
5. Apple Picking in the Fall
Apple picking is a fall tradition in Ontario for many but everyone should try it at least once. Many of the orchards that have pick-your-own operations also have additional activities making it a fun way to spend a fall day.
6. Visit Niagara-on-the-Lake
The charming town of Niagara-on-the-Lake was rebuilt after the War of 1812 and has been maintained as a lovely 19th century village with period architecture, beautifully landscaped streets, and horse and buggies transporting visitors around town. The town is home to upscale inns, boutique shopping, outdoor cafes, gourmet dining, Cows Ice Cream and repertory theatre and is also the perfect base for tours of the many world-class wineries in the region making it one of the best places to visit in Ontario.
7. Hike on the Bruce Trail
The Bruce Trail is the oldest and longest marked hiking trail in Canada stretching all the way from the Niagara Region to Tobermory (900 kilometres with over 400 kilometres of side trails). It would take months or years to hike the trail end-to-end but anyone can tackle a section on a one day or multi-day hike and enjoy one of the province’s best outdoor activities.
8. Attend the Santa Claus Parade
The Toronto Santa Claus Parade kicks off the city’s holiday celebration in mid-November when thousands of people line the streets along the route for the annual running of the parade that has become a Toronto Christmas tradition. The largest Santa Claus parade in Canada has been spreading seasonal joy for well over 100 years and now features more than 30 floats, dozens of musicians, celebrity clowns and costumed characters.
9. Visit Old Fort Henry in Kingston
At Fort Henry National Historic Site (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site), you will have the opportunity to travel back in time with a tour of this 19th century British military fort.
10. Visit Dynamic Earth in Sudbury
Learn about the Canadian mining industry and experience what it feels like to be a miner at Dynamic Earth in Sudbury where you can descend seven stories underground for a guided tour of a demonstration mine.
11. Skate the Rideau Canal
Skating on the world-famous Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa is a must for all Canadians! Each winter the historic canal, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is transformed into the 7.8 kilometre skateway that is the world’s largest skating rink. The skateway winds through Ottawa’s downtown all the way to Dows Lake and there are food vendors at various locations along the route so you can pause for a BeaverTail or hot chocolate while enjoying Ottawa’s quintessential winter pastime.
12. Stroll Grafitti Alley in Toronto
Just south of Queen Street West in Toronto you will find Grafitti Alley – a half mile of vibrant street murals that shouldn’t be missed on a visit to the city.
13. Pose with the Big Nickel in Sudbury
Take your picture with the largest coin in the world in Sudbury! The Big Nickel is a 13 ton, 30 foot high replica of a 1951 Canadian nickel constructed in 1964 in anticipation of the 1967 Canadian Centennial celebration and is intended to symbolize the contribution that Sudbury’s nickel production has made to the Canadian economy.
14. Cycle Along the Niagara River
Enjoy the scenic views, historical attractions, shops, and restaurants with a bike ride along the Niagara River Recreation Trail. The 56 kilometre trail runs parallel to the Niagara River from historic Fort Erie through Niagara Falls to Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
15. Visit Casa Loma
Visit Toronto’s castle built by Canadian financier Sir Henry Pellatt early in the 20th century. Sir Henry had to abandon his dream home when he was forced into bankruptcy during an economic downturn following World War II and it’s now owned by the City of Toronto and open to the public. The gardens are gorgeous in the summer but I also love visiting during the Christmas season when the halls are decked for the holidays!
16. Ski at Blue Mountain
Hit the slopes at Blue Mountain for an alpine adventure without leaving the province! There’s plenty of après-ski activities too – making it the perfect winter escape for everyone!
17. Visit the Art Gallery of Ontario
Visit one of the largest art museums in North America! The Art Gallery of Ontario (the “AGO”) has more than 80,000 works of art including a large Canadian collection as well as many masterpieces of European art, contemporary art and photography as well as family-friendly hands-on learning spaces and activities designed to engage children in the artwork.
18. Sun Bathe on Wasaga Beach
If spending the day on a gorgeous sandy beach sounds like bliss to you then you will want to head to Wasaga Beach along the beautiful shores of Nottawasaga Bay (at the southern end of Georgian Bay). On the world’s longest fresh water beach you can stroll 14 kilometres of white sand shoreline, swim and splash in warm waters and enjoy the beautiful views of the Niagara Escarpment across the bay as well as stunning sunsets. It’s one of the province’s most popular destinations for a reason!
Check out the Wasaga Beach Tourism website for information on the destination.
19. Play at Canada’s Wonderland
Canada’s premier amusement park is a must for the summer bucket list especially for adrenaline junkies! Canada’s Wonderland is home to 17 roller coasters providing endless thrills but also has Planet Snoopy and KidZville for younger family members, a water park with a wave pool, water slides and a lazy river, and live entertainment.
20. See the Spring Tulips in Ottawa
The Canadian Tulip Festival was established to celebrate the gift of tulips from The Netherlands to Canadians as a symbol of international friendship after World War II. Over 1 million tulips bloom in the Canadian capital each May making it one of the largest tulip displays in the world.
21. Visit Black Creek Pioneer Village
A visit to Black Creek Pioneer Village is a great way to learn more about life in the Toronto area during the 19th century. The village is a living history museum spread over more than 30 acres of country property which was once a family farmstead and features heritage buildings that have been furnished with period furniture and artifacts. Historical interpreters and trades people in period dress are also found around the property conducting demonstrations, answering questions and explaining how people lived in the mid 19th century in rural Ontario.
22. A Dog Sledding Adventure
One of the most exhilarating and memorable experience that I have ever had was dog sledding – it’s a winter activity that everyone should try! Dog sledding experiences available in Ontario range from one hour to multi-day trips so you can choose what suits you for the adventure of a lifetime.
Northern Ontario Travel has a great Beginner’s Guide to Dog Sledding in Ontario
23. Fall Pumpkin Picking
A farm visit in the fall to pick a pumpkin is much more fun than buying one at the local supermarket. Many farms also have a schedule of fall festival activities including corn mazes and wagon rides that make a visit the perfect family outing in October.
24. Eat a BeaverTail
BeaverTails is a uniquely Canadian chain of pastry shops serving fried dough stretched to resemble a beaver tail and covered with sweet toppings. There are now franchises across the country but my favourite is the original shop in Ottawa’s ByWard Market.
Read about more things to do in Canada’s capital in Ottawa with Kids
25. Visit the Bruce Peninsula National Park Grotto
The Grotto is a scenic cave containing a pool of blue water, located on the Georgian Bay shoreline in Bruce Peninsula National Park, near Tobermory, Ontario. The water is so blue that photos of it are often mistaken for the Caribbean. It is a bit challenging to get to so anyone with mobility challenges (including the elderly and families with small children) might have to skip the Grotto but can still enjoy the National Park.
Learn more at Bruce Peninsula National Park on the Parks Canada website
26. Visit Cheltenham Badlands
Looking for a unique place to visit in Ontario? The Cheltenham Badlands, located in Caledon northwest of Toronto, is another natural site that should be on your bucket list. The series of barren rolling hills are protected as part of the Ontario Heritage Trust and can now be viewed from an accessible boardwalk.
27. Visit the Hockey Hall of Fame
Hockey fans of all ages should pay a visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame in downtown Toronto. Visitors can tour the largest collection of hockey memorabilia in the world, play interactive games and have photos taken with the Stanley Cup.
28. Top of the CN Tower
Standing more than 1,800 feet tall, the CN Tower is the most recognizable building in Toronto and a must for any Ontario bucket list. Thrills start with the high-speed glass-fronted elevator that whisks passengers to the Look-Out Level in about 58 seconds at a speed of 22 kilometres (15 miles) an hour. One level down from that you can pose on a glass floor with a view of the ground more than 1,000 feet below. Serious thrill-seekers can also participate in the Edge Walk which is the world’s highest full-circle hands-free walk on a 5 foot ledge outside the main pod of the tower.
29. Attend a Pow Wow on Manitoulin Island
A Pow Wow is a celebration of indigenous culture and community spirit that includes music, food, storytelling, and traditional dancing with brilliantly coloured regalia. There are Pow Wows held on Manitoulin Island and in other parts of the province each year that are a great way to learn more about First Nations culture.
The Wiikwemkoong Annual Cultural Festival, held on the August long weekend on the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Indian Reserve on Manitoulin Island, is one of the largest and longest running Pow Wows in Northeastern North America.
Check out Ontario Pow Wow Guide for information on dates and locations.
30. Canoe in Algonquin Park
It doesn’t get any more Canadian than a canoe (or kayak if you prefer) ride in Algonquin Provincial Park so this has to be on your Ontario bucket list! The only way to explore the interior of the park is on foot or by canoe and there’s a canoe route network of over 2,100 km available of pristine wilderness to be experienced.
Friends of Algonquin Park sells a printed version of the Official Canoe Routes Map of Algonquin Park which illustrates canoe routes, campsites, portages, lakes, access points and much more.
31. Visit National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa
The National Gallery of Canada, founded in the late 19th century as a place to showcase Canadian art and to preserve our nation’s cultural heritage, has an incredible collection of Canadian art as well as some distinct architectural elements including the soaring ramp of the Colonnade and the soaring windows of the Great Hall with spectacular views of Parliament Hill. Don’t forget to take a photo outside with ‘Maman’ – the 30 foot high bronze spider sculpture!
32. Tour Canada’s Parliament
Parliament of Canada tours provide insight into the functioning of Canadian government and they’re free! Centre Block including the Peace Tower is currently closed to the public for a long-term restoration project so while that is happening there are two separate tours – a tour of the interim House of Commons set up in West Block and a tour of the newly renovated Senate of Canada building in Ottawa’s old train station one block away from Parliament Hill.
33. Skate at Nathan Phillips Square
Skating outside at Nathan Phillips Square is an iconic winter activity in Toronto. The reflecting pool in the square outside Toronto City Hall becomes one of the most popular and largest outdoor skating rinks in the city. Admission to the rink is free.
34. Visit the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg
The McMichael Canadian Art Collection exhibits the distinctly Canadian landscape work of The Group of Seven and their contemporaries as well as First Nations, Inuit and other Canadian artists in a beautiful location in Kleinburg north of Toronto.
35. Attend a Toronto Blue Jays Game
Head out to the ballpark to support Canada’s major league baseball team and cheer Go Blue Jays! (Okay I’m partial to the Jays but if baseball isn’t your sport then there’s always the Maple Leafs, the Raptors, the Toronto FC or even the Argonauts.)
36. Visit the Diefenbunker Museum in Ottawa
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in an underground bunker? Well you can find out at the Diefenbunker Museum – Canada’s Cold War museum in Ottawa. The Diefenbunker is a massive four-story underground bunker, built during the Cold War so that top officials would have a safe place to take shelter in the event of a nuclear war. It was an active Canadian Forces station until 1994 and today operates as an award-winning museum that you can tour!
37. Visit Queen’s Park in Toronto
Learn more about government in the province and tour the historic 19th century building on a visit to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in Queen’s Park, Toronto.
38. Pose with the Wawa Canada Goose
Do you like to pose with fun roadside attractions? Then head to Northern Ontario to find the famous 28 foot tall Wawa Goose at the junction of the Trans-Canada Highway and Highway 101. The monument which is the largest of its kind in Canada and one of the most photographed landmarks in North America was constructed in 1963 to draw visitors into town after the new highway bypassed the downtown core.
We didn’t travel much as a family when I was growing up in Northern Ontario but I do remember stopping to take photos with The Goose on a road trip to Thunder Bay to visit family! Fundraising is currently underway to replace the Goose as it needs significant repairs.
39. Visit the Canadian Museum of History
The Canadian Museum of History located in the National Capital Region of Ottawa/Hull is one of Canada’s oldest public institutions and the most-visited museum in Canada. Highlights include the Canadian History Hall, the spectacular Grand Hall with a display of six Native houses, a fun children’s museum where kids can travel the world, and a 3D dome theatre.
40. Go to the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE)
Let’s go to the EX! The Canadian National Exhibition is one of the most anticipated events in the Toronto area each summer. Founded in 1879, the end of summer annual ritual takes place over 18 days leading up to and including Labour Day weekend. Highlights of The Ex include entertainment, rides, exhibits, food and the 3 day Air Show over Labour Day weekend featuring the Canadian Forces Snowbirds.
41. Cruise the 1000 Islands
The popular 1000 Islands region is located along the border between Northern New York and southeastern Ontario near Kingston. Sightseeing from the water on a cruise from Kingston or Gananoque is a great way to explore the area. You can choose 90 minute or 3 hour cruises that leave from Kingston on three types of vessels – a catamaran, a triple-decked paddlewheeler or a replica St. Lawrence steamer. If you want to visit Boldt Castle on the U.S. side then you’ll have to take a 5 hour cruise from Gananoque (and your passport).
42. Visit the Ontario Science Centre
Playing at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto is so much fun that you won’t even realize how much you’re learning at the same time! Be sure to see a film in the Omnimax Theatre with its giant dome screen and state-of-the-art sound system – it’s an incredible experience!
43. Tour the Kingston Penitentiary
A tour of the Kingston Penitentiary is a fascinating glimpse into what life was like at Canada’s oldest and most notorious maximum security prison. The penitentiary, which closed in 2013, is a National Historic Site pre-dating Confederation and guided tours are now available to take visitors behind the walls of this historic building.
44. Visit Sainte-Marie among the Hurons
The Sainte-Marie among the Hurons historical site in Midland, Ontario was the site of the first European settlement in Ontario as construction began in 1639 to set up a French Jesuit mission to the Huron Wendat nation. Daily programming with costumed staff provides insight into 17th century European and Native culture in the area of New France that is now Ontario.
45. Take the Ferry to Toronto Islands
Take the ferry to Centre Island – there’s lots to do on the island including Centreville Park if you have young children but the ferry ride is worth doing just for the spectacular view of the Toronto skyline.
46. Spend Canada Day on Parliament Hill
Every Canadian should spend July 1st on Parliament Hill at least once – it’s the biggest Canada Day party in the country with entertainment, family activities and spectacular fireworks!
47. Visit the Royal Botanical Gardens
The Royal Botanical Gardens, located in Burlington, Ontario, is both the largest botanical garden in Canada and a National Historic Site. It’s one of the loveliest places in southern Ontario to spend a summer day and they also have extensive programming at Halloween and during the Christmas season.
48. Terry Fox Memorial in Thunder Bay
The Terry Fox monument on the outskirts of Thunder Bay is a 9 foot high bronze statue that was erected in memory of a courageous Canadian who embarked on his Marathon of Hope in 1980 to raise funds for cancer research. The memorial is located not far from the spot where Terry was forced to end his cross-Canada run when the cancer returned.
49. Attend Winterlude in Ottawa
Celebrate Canadian winter at the annual Winterlude celebration in Ottawa which includes ice sculpture competitions, snow playgrounds, skating and more.
50. Visit a Maple Syrup Sugar Shack
Is there any food product more Canadian than maple syrup? Canada produces about 85% of the world’s maple syrup and you can see the process for yourself during the late-winter maple syrup season. There are many maple syrup festivals to choose from where you can visit a sugar bush to learn about the process of tapping trees and boiling the sap to make syrup. Most importantly you can also eat pancakes, maple taffy and maple candy!
51. Visit Hamilton’s Waterfalls
Did you know that the city of Hamilton, Ontario is known as the Waterfall Capital of the World? I lived there for 4 years while attending university and I didn’t know until recently! There are actually more than 100 waterfalls within city limits – some which are easily accessible and some not so much.
Hamilton, Halton, Brant has a list of Hamilton waterfall hikes that is a great place to start.
52. Visit Flowerpot Island in Tobermory
Flowerpot Island in Fathom Five National Marine Park is famous for its “flowerpot” rock pillars that have been carved by the water over time. The island is only accessible by boat and there are tours operating from Tobermory Harbour from May through October.
Are there any places on your Ontario bucket list that I missed? Let me know in the comments below or send me a message on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
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