Did you know that over a third of Canada’s population lives in Ontario? This represents over 13.7 million people. Although Toronto is the province’s largest city, the people of Ontario inhabit a number of urban centres throughout the territory, from the north to the south, east to west, and right dab in the middle.
If you love to explore cities big and small, follow our list of 10 urban escapes in Ontario.
The biggest city in Ontario and the entire country needs no introduction. You probably already know its world-famous landmarks, from the CN Tower to the Toronto Zoo. You’ve probably heard of its cultural attractions, from the Toronto International Film Festival to the Art Gallery of Ontario. And you’ll already know that it’s a hub for great Canadian dining and nightlife, that it’s at the forefront of fashion and has great shopping. Toronto has all the attractions and events of a major global city and it comes as no surprise that the New York Times named it one of the best places to visit in 2016.
Windsor is a city with a rich automotive history, a strong love of sports, and an appreciation for dynamic nightlife. Pay a visit to the Canadian Club Heritage Centre, the whiskey-maker’s former headquarters where Al Capone once ordered supplies during Prohibition. Try and hit triple sevens at the Caesars Windsor, Canada’s largest casino resort, before heading to Ouellette Avenue for a night on the town in one of its 50 bars, clubs, and lounges. Go shopping at the massive Devonshire mall, where brand-name retailers cover 1.1 million square feet alongside a large movie theatre and a fitness club. Or take your exercise outdoors and cycle the popular Windsor Riverfront Trail, stretching 8 kilometres along the Detroit River. With so much to offer, Windsor is a must-visit city in Southern Ontario.
The capital city of Canada, Ottawa is full of cultural offerings and quintessentially Canadian experiences, all wrapped up in a vibrant urban setting. A getaway to Ottawa might involve a trip to Parliament Hill, the Canadian War Museum, and the National Gallery of Canada (what you might call a “learner’s trip”); it might involve a skate on the Rideau Canal, dinner in the ByWard Market, and a massage at the Nordik Spa-Nature (what you might call a “lover’s trip”). Or it might involve a ballet at the National Arts Centre, dancing at the RBC Royal Bank Bluesfest, and a late night jumping between the hottest clubs (what you might call the “culture crawl”). Whatever your ideal urban getaway looks like, Ottawa has you covered.
Sault Ste. Marie
For at least 2,000 years, people have lived on the site of Sault Ste. Marie, on the southwestern border of Ontario, making it one of the oldest settlements in North America. Sault Ste. Marie is an urban centre entwined with nature. Spend the day shopping and then treat yourself to great Italian food. Learn more about the area’s rich history at the Sault Ste. Marie Museum and nearby historical sites. Fulfil your desire for culture at the Art Gallery of Algoma or with a concert at the beautiful Roberta Bondar Park & Pavilion. Then, look out over the landscape that inspired famous Canadian artists the Group of Seven, and head out to explore it by ski, bush plane or train.
Yes, a visit to Niagara Falls usually culminates in a wet trip along the breathtaking natural wonder. But the city has so much more to offer. Thrill your taste buds at restaurants from world-famous chefs like Jamie Kennedy and Massimo Capra. Test your poker face at two casinos or skip the gambling and take in a concert. Shop to your heart’s content and grab a bargain at the outlet stores, watch a comedy show, visit museums, roam among thousands of butterflies, or spend the day in the surrounding area on a wine tour or golfing. Niagara Falls is the perfect quick getaway from Toronto.
Thunder Bay is a city on the shore of the world’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Superior. Locals and visitors alike take advantage of the beautiful nature in this big backyard. Spend a day at the Sleeping Giant, a provincial park with tons of trails to explore, wildlife to see, and incredible views to enjoy. Head to Kakabeka Falls and watch water plunge 40 metres into a rugged gorge, or pass the time at Ouimet Canyon and marvel at the wide gorge and sheer cliffs dropping 100 metres to the canyon floor. With all of this incredible nature so close to the city, sometimes the entertainment within the city itself goes unnoticed. But Thunder Bay is a place to enjoy beautiful Aboriginal art, take in a first-rate play, shop, and enjoy fantastic cuisine.
London, Ontario might not have the recognition of its British counterpart, but it is earning an international reputation. A big part of this acclaim? Great food and even better beer. If you love a strong hopped IPA or a smooth pilsner, you’ll love the local craft breweries and great pub scene. You’ll have your choice of dining, from small cafes to farm-to-table cuisine, to many local farmers markets. Then there’s the entertainment. Visit the Grand Theatre, Canada's oldest and longest-running live professional theatre, or dance the night away at the London Music Hall. If you’d rather head outdoors, visit Boler Mountain for mountain biking, skiing and snowboarding, or a Treetop Adventure Park.
Art galleries, film productions, recording studios… these are some of the tell-tale signs you’ve wandered into Hamilton. The city is a cultural beacon on the western shores of Lake Ontario, a place where artists and art-lovers, performers, and audiences meet to enjoy each other’s company. Visit the Art Gallery of Hamilton, the third largest public art gallery in Ontario, or the McMaster Museum of Art. See some of the biggest musicians in the world at the FirstOntario Centre, or discover new local talent at the Supercrawl art and music festival. If you’re willing to step just outside of the downtown core, you can also explore the over 100 waterfalls of the Niagara Escarpment, or take in the animals of an African Lion Safari.
Like so many of Ontario’s urban centres, Kingston is a city on the water, and visitors can take full advantage. Make your way to the lake, where you can windsurf, kiteboard, kayak, and canoe. Kingston also sits on the edge of the popular 1000 Islands, so set sail on a boat cruise and enjoy the weather. Back in town, visit Fort Henry National Historic Site, a 19th century British fort that will shed light on the city’s history. That history is also on display at Kingston’s 20 museums and galleries, including the popular Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen's, home to over 16,000 works of art. Whether you want to play outside or spend your days immersed in culture and history, Kingston delivers in spades.
Last but not least, Sudbury is a former mining town known for its outdoor adventure, but also has its share of urban attractions. In a single day you can brush up on animal science at the Dynamic Earth museum, then go angling for 38 different species of fish; you could let it all ride on slot machines, or you could go ride snowmobiles; you could hunt for fresh powder on a ski hill, or hunt for great deals at big brand stores. You get the idea. Sports, museums, music venues, bars, restaurants, they’re all here in Sudbury.