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Located in the central part of the country, Ontario is home to Canada's capital, Ottawa, and its largest city, Toronto. From buzzing cities to vast wildernesses, Ontario has an answer for every craving. High-energy adventure and the tranquillity of nature await visitors to Canada's most populous, and one of its most picturesque, provinces.
Travellers flock to Toronto for a taste of its world-class attractions, entertainment, shopping and restaurants. The city has also put itself on the international map as a renowned cultural hub, thanks in part to the influence of nearby Montreal and New York. Vibrant multicultural neighbourhoods have given Toronto a cosmopolitan edge, though not at the expense of its signature and world-famous politeness.
Ottawa and Toronto are in the southeastern corner of the province, around the massive Lake Ontario. The north is bear country and largely uninhabited, and the rest is scenic and filled with various natural wonders.
Indeed, the awesome Niagara Falls and legendary Great Lakes of North America make this region a nature lover's dream destination. Canoeing, swimming and diving are popular activities, while the province's sprawling forests make it a priority stop for hikers.
Ontario is crammed full of tourist attractions. The urban hubs of Toronto and Ottawa dominate the cultural landscape, while seven national parks and more than 300 provincial parks provide scenic outdoor recreation.
Ontario's celebrated national parks are the UNESCO-listed Bruce Peninsula National Park, the Fathom Five National Marine Park, the Thousand Islands National Park, the Georgian Bay Islands National Park, the Point Pelee National Park, the Pukaskwa National Park and the St Lawrence Islands National Park. The most popular natural attractions in the province include the awe-inspiring Niagara Falls, the Thousand Islands which stretch for miles in the St Lawrence River, and the rugged coastlines of Lake Superior.
Ontario also boasts fun theme parks, numerous world-class museums, living history attractions and as much shopping and nightlife as anybody could want in the big cities. Toronto is the main urban drawcard and its top sightseeing attractions include the lofty CN Tower, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Toronto Zoo and the theme park Canada's Wonderland.
Casa Loma is the only full-sized castle in North America. Formerly the home of Canadian financier, Sir Henry Pellatt, the massive structure is a wonderland of secret passageways and elaborately decorated rooms. Pallet used his immense personal fortune to build the chateau, though financial troubles meant he could not sustain it. Today, the City of Toronto owns the castle and welcomes a daily influx of guests. Visitors enjoy touring the authentically furnished rooms and splendid gardens, and drinking in the stunning views of Toronto from one of the castle's towers.
Standing 1,815ft (553m) high, Toronto's CN Tower was the world's tallest building until 2007. Today, it remains a renowned architectural masterpiece and is arguably Canada's most iconic landmark. One of the tower's top attractions is the award-winning revolving 360 Restaurant, which offers guests breathtaking panoramic views of the city, as well as delectable dishes created with the finest Canadian ingredients. Another drawcard is EdgeWalk. At 1,168ft (356m) above ground, it is the world's highest hands-free external walk and a must for thrill seekers.
The Royal Ontario Museum treats visitors to displays of art, culture and nature from around the globe and across the ages. It ranks as one of North America's premier cultural institutions, and is Canada's largest and most comprehensive museum. Its 40 galleries and exhibition spaces house 13 million artworks, cultural objects and natural history specimens, including dinosaurs, galleries of Chinese art, a bat cave, a gem and gold room, exhibits on Ancient Egypt and Nubia, and the Samuel European Galleries. Visitors will not be disappointed.
The Toronto Zoo is one of the largest zoos in the world and has a big focus on conservation, with more than six miles (10km) of walking trails spread over 700 acres. More 5,000 animals and over 450 species call it home. Visitors will enjoy touring the zoo's seven geographic regions and encountering animals that are native to them. Favourites include hippos, lemurs, otters, gorillas, bears, Giant Pandas, snow leopards, lions, penguins and cheetahs. Award-winning exhibits await the entire family, as do many seasonal activities. The zoo's interactive wildlife experience is especially popular with kids.
Parliament Hill is a grandiose complex where visitors can embark on tours, observe parliament in action and experience ceremonial spectacles such as the Changing of the Guard. Its centre block houses the Senate and Commons chambers, with its distinctive Peace Tower a perfect vantage point for vistas of the capital. The historic east block contains restored offices of Canada's first prime minister and other early statesmen, while the west block houses the offices of parliament members and is closed to the public.
The Canadian Museum of History was created to enhance the country's understanding of its own past, with tremendously fascinating exhibitions focusing on Canadian history, world history and civilisation. Visitors arriving with kids may want to check out the Canadian Children's Museum too. It offers a child-friendly experience by including games, toys, costumes and hands-on props. The museum also has a 500-seat theatre, and a 295-seat cinema equipped with a giant 3D screen. All told, the combination of attractions should keep the entire family happy for hours on end.
Located just 15 minutes from downtown Ottawa, Gatineau Park is the capital's conservation and outdoor-recreation haven. Travellers can expect a fun itinerary of activities, regardless of the season. Swimming, hiking, biking, camping, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are all on offer within an area renowned for its hilly woodlands and clear lakes. Visitors typically enjoy exploring the beautiful Luskville Falls, the diversity of forests along the King Mountain Trail, and the marble and geological phenomenon of Lusk Cave.
Visitors can travel back to 1816 at Fort William Historical Park, an authentic duplicate of the North West Company's inland headquarters. Located at Thunder Bay, this company was a major player in the fur trade, once a massive industry and an indelible part of Canada's colourful past. The fort brings this history to life through recreations of the characters, sounds, sights and smells that would have existed almost two centuries ago. The sprawling 250-acre site contains more than 57 heritage structures and more modern buildings, which visitors are free to explore. Visitors can also enjoy overnight experiences, education programmes, artisan workshops, conferences, banquets and festivals.
Amethyst is Ontario's official gemstone, and is just one of the many natural gifts unearthed on the north shore of Lake Superior. The semi-precious stones native to this area come in various beautiful shades, such as Precious Purple and Thunder Bay Lavender. Visitors can mine their own at the Panorama Mine, 35 miles (56km) east of Thunder Bay, which contains the largest amethyst deposit in Canada. All visitors need is a bucket and spade to enjoy a fun mining experience.
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park is set on a rugged peninsula near Thunder Bay, where keen hikers can tackle trails running to the tops of granite cliffs and opening onto spectacular views of Lake Superior. These excursions aren't reserved just for sunny weather; winter travellers explore these routes on skis or snowshoes. The park also supports an exceptional mix of plant life, with two rare orchids, the Adder's Mouth and the Striped Orchid, growing in its southern parts. In fact, 24 types of orchid grow in the park, as do ferns, while wildlife includes more than 200 species of bird, white-tailed deer, red foxes, porcupines, moose, bears, wolves and lynx.
Lake Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes of North America, and the biggest freshwater lake by surface area in the world. Ontario shares this vast expanse of water with the American states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. The lake's rugged shoreline and beautiful wilderness landscapes make for great hiking, while the lake itself presents endless opportunities for all manner of watersports, fishing and boating.
The Distillery Historic District is a much-loved centre for arts, culture, food and entertainment in Toronto. Said to contain the finest collection of Victorian-era industrial architecture in North America, it is indeed a worthy national historic site, and certainly worth a visit.
The district had its beginnings in 1832 and eventually became the largest distillery in the British Empire. It assumed its current role as an arts and culture centre during the 1990s, doubling as one of Canada's most popular film locations. As of 2003, it has been a pedestrian-only village dedicated to the arts. Anyone visiting Toronto should explore the district's many art galleries, artisan boutiques and restaurants, and make sure they book tickets for one of the many festivals and special events held here.
The Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto Canada (MOCA) aims to exhibit, research, collect and promote innovative art by Canadian and international artists whose works tackle the most relevant issues of our times. Formerly the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, the institution has been praised for its incisive, artist-centric approach to its programmes, and its friendly visitor experience. The MOCA is very much a hub for creative exchange and is definitely worth a visit.
Housed in an award-winning piece of architecture, the Gardiner Museum of Ceramics showcases a craft that has existed for centuries. With earthenware of all different shapes and sizes from the ancient Americas, China, Japan, the Italian Renaissance and more, a tour through the museum will shape visitors' understanding of the ceramic process and its place in world history. The museum hosts classes for both kids and adults, and the accompanying Clay restaurant provides the finest of seasonal produce to complete a busy day browsing the museum.
Kensington Market embodies Toronto's multicultural society. Since the 1960s, immigrants from Eastern Europe, China and the Caribbean have injected their customs into the market, creating an area that is a model of open-mindedness. Today, this national historic site remains one of Toronto's oldest, most diverse and liveliest neighbourhoods, containing an eclectic mix of cafes, restaurants, vintage stores, bars and speciality food shops where nobody is really foreign.
The Harbourfront Centre remains at the heart of what's current and creative in Toronto. The innovative non-profit cultural organisation has been around for more than 40 years, and specialises in creating events and activities that charm and entertain a diverse public. Locals gather at the centre's distinctive waterfront venues for some weekend gallery hopping, biking and concerts. Visitors also enjoy strolling along the promenade, indulging in theatrical performances and browsing craft boutiques, or they head to Queen's Quay Centre for some superb retail therapy. Year-round features at this urban playground include film, dance, theatre, music, kids shows and marine events.
Avid ice hockey fans should make a point of it to visit Toronto's Hockey Hall of Fame. Within this shrine to Canada's favourite pastime, visitors can learn about the history of the game through memorabilia from every era, hockey artefacts from around the world, themed exhibits, multimedia stations and images of great moments in hockey history. Iconic players' gear, skates and sticks are also on display. Visitors usually relish having hands-on access to the Stanley Cup, and trying out state-of-the-art games that challenge shooting and goalkeeping skills.
Boasting more than 200 attractions, including Splash Works and a huge variety of roller coasters, Canada's Wonderland is deservedly the country's favourite theme park. Its inviting array of rides includes carousels, train rides and the Time Warp â€' Canada's only flying roller coaster. The park also has lots of shopping and dining options. The sheer variety of rides and amusements here ensure that everyone will have a good time regardless of age, making it a must for the entire family.
Besides being Toronto's largest public park, High Park is also one of the city's most important natural areas. Visitors will encounter woodland, wetlands, a beautiful lakefront, prairie habitats and a preserved slice of the black-oak savanna ecosystem that once covered most of southern Ontario. It all makes for an idyllic setting in which to enjoy the park's playgrounds, zoo, dog park, hiking trails, greenhouses, picnic areas, eateries and sporting facilities. Parking is convenient and public-transport access is easy. All said, High Park makes for a fun family day out.
Ontario's climate is continental, meaning the province experiences hot, humid summers and very cold winters with heavy snowfall. Spring and autumn tend to be milder. Due to the Great Lakes, the province experiences far less variation in its temperatures year round, and more precipitation than would be expected for such a central region.
Cities located farther away from the lakes in the south of the province are much hotter, and temperatures can reach around 80°F (27°C), with possible heat waves. In winter, areas north of the Great Lakes tend to be much colder, with more severe winters caused by arctic air currents. Temperatures can range between 36°F (0°C) and 14°F (-10°C).
Located within the sophisticated setting of the Metropolitan Hotel, Lai Wah Heen is renowned for turning the finest local produce into authentic dishes from different regions of China. The large menu offers some of the best dim sum in the city, as well as other intriguing options. Service is attentive and the food is elegantly served. The restaurant opens daily for lunch and dinner.
Senses Cafe is the perfect place to launch a bright day in Toronto. Fresh-brewed artisanal coffee, decadent treats, seasonal fruit and guilt-free comfort food are all on offer to feed the body and nourish the soul. Patrons enjoy themselves before emerging into a city full of possibilities.
For those wishing to sleep in, the cafe does made-to-order brunch favourites on weekends, and a selection of chef-curated lunches on weekdays.
Named after Toronto's latitude, North 44 has been one of the city's most genteel eating places for many years and is an experience in pampering. The artistic interior bathes diners in a warm glow, the food is superb and the service flawless. The seasonal menu is influenced by Mediterranean, American and Asian flavours and might include pepper and sesame crusted tuna, lamb shank or stuffed quail, as well as a few exciting pastas and pizzas. Desserts such as the lemon meringue mille-feuille are the best in town. Reservations essential. Closed Sunday. Dinner only.
For foodies visiting Toronto, 360 Restaurant is a definite bucket-list item. Located in one of the world's tallest free-standing structures, the CN Tower, it offers patrons breath-taking, revolving views of the city, and dishes created with the finest Canadian produce. Daily lunch service runs from 11am-3.15pm. Dinner is from 3.30pm-10.15pm. Visitors should also note that the summer menu starts in May, while the winter menu begins in November.
Established over 30 years ago, Bangkok Garden is noted for introducing Thai cuisine and culture to Toronto. The Thai Consulate has since awarded the restaurant the Thai Select Premium designation, recognising the authenticity of its food and the tremendous quality of its service. Bangkok Garden is open Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner, while Saturdays and Sundays are dinner only.
Widely considered one of the country's best restaurants, Canoe is renowned for crafting dishes that reflect Canada's diverse landscape and heritage. House chefs use only the finest produce from around the country, sourced through their close relationships with domestic farmers and suppliers. Canoe is open for lunch and dinner from Monday to Friday, while Saturdays and Sundays are for private events.
Straddling the Canadian-United States border between Ontario and New York, the awesome Niagara Falls attracts millions of tourists every year. The visit makes for a spectacular day trip from Toronto with plenty of action and activities on the Niagara Peninsula. Apart from marvelling at one of the tallest waterfalls in the world, perhaps from a spray-filled boat tour or from a magnificent perch along the cliffs, visitors can enjoy wine tasting, spectacular helicopter flips above the thundering falls, and even skydiving.
The Toronto Islands are only a short ferry ride from the mainland, and provide a peaceful green refuge from the hubbub of the city. Visitors can enjoy a world of tree-filled picnic spots, pedestrian streets, quaint old cottages and beachfront attractions. Paths, bridges and boardwalks connect Toronto Island's three major islands: Centre, Ward's and Algonquin. Short walks or bike rides separate visitors from four sandy beaches named Centre Island Beach, Gibraltar Point Beach, Hanlan's Point Beach and Ward's Island Beach. Centre Island is usually a hit with kids, who relish its huge picnic areas, bike paths and maze. It even has an amusement park, a petting zoo and picturesque swan boats for younger children.
Jungle Cat World Wildlife Park is one of Ontario's most popular tourist attractions. Just 45 minutes east of Toronto, the park is home to a diverse collection of mammals, such as wolves, skunks, lemurs and chimpanzees. That said, its collection of big cats is what makes the park truly special. When it opened in 1985, the park's purpose was primarily recreational. These days, it has taken on a more pronounced environmental-education role. Its chief enterprises include housing rare and endangered cats, and running a variety of fun, kid-friendly programmes. The goal is to educate visitors about the dire need to protect snow leopards, Siberian tigers and the other magnificent animals that sanctuary here.
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