Canada is a vast and varied nation, the second largest in the world after Russia – but its population is only around half that of the UK. While that leaves miles upon miles of open road to explore, the concentration of cities to the country's southeast means immersing yourself in the Anglo-Franco culture is an opportunity too good to miss.
We've mapped out a 10-day itinerary that takes you through Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Québec City – and you'll see imposing mountain ranges, clear lakes and tall pine forests en route too. If you’re looking for the perfect Canada road trip, this one will create memories that will last a lifetime.
Day 1-3: Toronto
Toronto is where it all begins for our Canadian road trip. With over half of its residents hailing from overseas, this is a multicultural city pocketed with communities serving up authentic food and fare. Try the welcoming trattorias of Little Italy or the savoury and sweet treats found throughout Koreatown.
Start your first morning by getting your bearings with a climb up the iconic CN Tower by the harbour; the views in all directions are simply breathtaking. If you're feeling especially brave, venture beyond barriers and glass to try out the tower’s famous – or infamous – Edgewalk around its outdoor walkway, 356 metres above the city.
Time to regain your composure on solid ground. Relax by perusing historical artefacts and a spectacular dinosaur fossil collection (including Tyrannosaurus Rex and perhaps the largest land predator the earth has ever known in Giganotosaurus) at the Royal Ontario Museum.
For a few more modern examples of natural history, wander around the world-class Toronto Zoo, which boasts giant pandas, polar bears and rare Sumatran tigers.
As afternoon fades into evening, check out the Distillery Districta, once derelict collection of Victorian buildings that’s been repurposed into a buzzing, social scene. Culture lovers come for its theatre, sculptures and art galleries, then stay the evening at the alternative restaurants and effortlessly cool taverns.
Day 4: Gananoque
The next city on your tour is Ottawa, a four-hour drive east of Toronto – but no road trip would be complete without a slight detour on the way.
The town of Gananoque is your destination – set off early in the morning and you should make it in time for lunch. The town is known as the ‘Gateway to the Thousand Islands’, and a boat trip from here to Boldt Castle on Heart Island is the stuff of fairytales. This is a place so enchanting that even the generator building – known as the Power House – is a beautifully turreted citadel.
Day 5-6: Ottawa
Upon your arrival in Ottawa, Canada’s storied capital, head straight to Parliament Hill. The magnificent gothic revival building here is where the Canadian government sit, and free guided tours are available to visitors every day. Its 92-metre tall Peace Tower features on C$20 notes, and the real-life version can be climbed for an arresting view over the Ottawa River.
A short walk east takes you to ByWard Market, one of Canada’s oldest, and home to stalls and speciality food shops selling delicious local eats, from Canadian cheese to maple-infused chocolate.
Want more local delicacies? Surrounding restaurants and bars serve BeaverTails (sweet fried pastries shaped like a beaver’s tail) and shawarma, a seasoned meat dish similar to Greek gyros.
Across the river is the province of Québec, and French-speaking Canada. That’s where we’re headed next.
Day 7-8: Montréal
Montréal is a mere two-hour drive away from Ottawa on Regional Road 87, so no stops in between cities this time.
Food is a proud tradition here, and you can’t leave Canada without trying a true local specialty. Head to La Banquise, an all-night diner devoted to poutine. These are essentially French fries drenched in gravy and topped with cheese curds – and there are 30 variations of the dish for you to choose from here.
Take a walk along Saint-Paul Street to see Montréal’s European influence by way of some stunning architecture. The Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal is a good place to start (Hôtel-dieu means Hotel of God and is a pleasingly archaic French term for hospital), while the Saint-Sulpice Old Seminary and the Basilique Notre-Dame are close by.
But don’t forget one of Montréal’s greatest charms can be found below its surface. Don’t miss the RÉSO, known in English as the Underground City. Beneath the Downtown area is a 32-kilometre network of tunnels connecting offices, a shopping centre, concert venues and even university halls and apartment blocks.
Day 9: National Parks
The drive from Montréal to Québec takes just under three hours on the highway, but we think the scenic route will prove well worth your while.
So head east instead to find Parc de la Gorge de Coaticook – you won’t need us to tell you the key attraction here. Across the 50-metre deep gorge is one of the longest footbridges anywhere, and a surreal experience to step into the void. The walking trails around the park are a great way to reacquaint yourself with nature too.
Stop off in the nearby town of Sherbrooke for some food, and take your time; you want it to be dusk by the time you reach your destination of Parc National Mont-Mégantic. Here, you’ll find the world’s first International Dark Sky Reserve, so stop in at the AstroLab astronomy centre before taking in a wonderfully clear starry night.
After identifying as many constellations as you can – and perhaps spotting a shooting star or two – it’s time to get back on the open road.
Day 10: Québec City
Our final stop on this Canadian road trip, Québec City is one of the oldest settlements in North America.
The picturesque Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and should be your first port of call. Stroll through Place Royale, where the city was founded, then of course there’s Château Frontenac – an awe-inspiring building that just demands photographing.
Of course, all that walking will work up an appetite, so reward your efforts at Légende, a stylish restaurant with seasonal Canadian dishes, and the perfect place to toast the end of your trip.
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