A sense of immensity pervades any cross-country tour of Canada. In a space of 3,855,102 sq mi/9,984,670 sq km, just slightly more than 30 million people occupy it, 90% of whom cling to the warmer areas near its southern border with the U.S.
But the country is far from empty. If you're traveling via Canada's excellent road network, you may have trouble concentrating on your driving with the abundance of natural beauty looming beyond your windshield. And you'll be tempted to park your car for days as you enjoy the neighborly hospitality of its world-class cities.
From the fogs of Halifax Harbour to the quaint sophistication of Montreal, the international vivacity of Toronto and the nearby honeymoon mecca of Niagara Falls, the eastern half of the country can easily occupy the span of a multiweek tour.
But the wide-open spaces of the west and the vistas of a wild northern frontier will satisfy the appetite of anyone in search of an adventure in an untamed, magnificent wilderness. From the heartlands of Winnipeg and Saskatoon to the awe-inspiring Rockies surrounding Calgary and Edmonton, Canada's west will elicit the cowboy in even the strictest city dweller. Regardless of where you venture, you'll welcome the opportunity to lose yourself in Canada's vastness.
Quebec City looks, at first glance, much like one of France's Atlantic coastal cities. A UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site, Quebec City has gabled buildings dating from the 1600s and narrow, winding streets made of cobblestones. You can amble through airy plazas—past fountains and statues—as you make your way to Terrasse Dufferin, a wide promenade straddling the clifftop with fantastic views of the St. Lawrence River below. Presiding over it all is the Chateau Frontenac, a grand hotel reminiscent of a French castle.
Stone fortifications, built by the French and improved upon by the British, circle the old center of Vieux Quebec (Old Quebec) and set it apart from any other city in Canada or the U.S. The walls divide Basse Ville (lower town) from Haute Ville (upper town), and are a testament to military conflicts involving the Iroquois, French, English and Americans.
Beyond its deep history, Quebec City offers other enticements: The city's culture revolves around wining, dining and dancing (and more wining and dining). You will eat and drink well there.
Cultural events by the likes of Cirque du Soleil, music festivals with free performances, and caleche horse-and-carriage rides take over the city in the warm-weather months. The capital of the province of Quebec, Quebec City has a bon-vivant temperament that sets it apart from Canada's English-speaking cities.
Which leads us to the language question. Almost all Quebec City residents speak French as their primary tongue, but most who work in the tourist areas also speak some English—and they are friendly and helpful to visitors.
Sights—The distinctive architecture of the Chateau Frontenac; a view of the city from the ferry to Levis; the 4,306-sq-ft/400-sq-m trompe l'oeil mural at Place Royale; vendors selling local produce at the bustling Marche du Vieux Port.
Museums—Artifacts depicting Quebec's past and present at Musee de la Civilisation; regional art at Musee National des Beaux-Arts du Quebec; exhibits showcasing French culture in North America at Musee de l'Amerique Francaise, part of Musee de la Civilisation; the historical sound-and-light show at Musee du Fort; a glimpse at the history of Huron-Wendat culture at the Hotel-Musee Premieres Nations.
Memorable Meals—Steak and fries at Le Cochon Dingue; cipaille, a traditional layered meat-and-vegetable pie at Buffet de l'Antiquaire; rich rabbit stews at Le Lapin Saute; tapas followed by a concert at Le Cercle.
Late Night—Enjoy a flavorful cocktail at Le Boudoir; intimate surroundings at Bar Jazz in the Hotel Clarendon; an exquisite dinner at Il Teatro followed by a live show at Le Theatre Capitole.
Walks—Ride the Funiculaire du Vieux Quebec up to Terrasse Dufferin for the view of the port; Quartier Petit Champlain for shopping and people-watching; a brisk walk by the St. Lawrence River on the Promenade Samuel de Champlain; Grande Allee Est for the buzzing nightlife.
Especially for Kids—Summer watersliding and winter ice-karting at Valcartier Vacation Village; bumper cars and the roller coaster at Mega-Parc, an indoor amusement park; the Aquarium du Quebec for critter spotting of species that come from as far away as the Arctic.
Though Nova Scotia is a land tied intrinsically to boating and the sea, the best way to see it today is by car. The province is divided into six tourist areas: Fundy Shore and Annapolis Valley, Northumberland Shore, Cape Breton Island, Eastern Shore, South Shore along with Yarmouth and Acadian Shores.
The provincial government's Web site includes interactive software that lets you plan your route easily. With 11 scenic driving routes, it is easy to investigate everything from Halifax (the capital) to historic forts, superb parks and nature reserves.
The scenic drives are at their best when they take you along the province's ever-changing coast—you'll see working ports, beaches, nautical museums and replicas of historic vessels.
Although there are plenty of activities to discover along the way, you may find that your favorite thing to do is simply drive and look: This is a startlingly beautiful land, full of lush fields, green mountains, ocean vistas and magnificent, rocky shores.
Boston, Massachusetts, is inundated with visitors every year and for good reason: It's partly a walkable historic park (especially the Freedom Trail) and partly a modern waterfront metropolis (the "Hub of New England") with no lack of things to do once darkness descends. Fenway Park—one of the nation's most hallowed baseball stadiums—is a destination in itself.
Although the city has never stopped reaching for the future and now welcomes leading-edge financial services and high-tech companies, it has lovingly preserved the treasures of its past. Boston cherishes its patriotic connections with the Boston Tea Party and Bunker Hill. It is a living symbol of the melting pot early residents fought to create, including lively ethnic neighborhoods, sophisticated centers of academia and sedate sanctuaries of old wealth. Each seems a world unto itself, yet each is an integral part of Boston's urban identity.
Even with so much to do and so many doing it, the city is a relatively easy place to visit. Boston's attractions and historical sites are laid out in simple-to-follow walking tours, and its subway system efficiently whisks passengers around the city. (You won't need a car, which is good: Driving in Boston is hair-raising, even for locals.)
Sights—The Freedom Trail, which passes 16 of the most famous sites from early U.S. history; Boston Common with its wonderful gardens, along with adjacent Boston Public Garden and the swan boats; Newbury Street for its boutiques, ethnic restaurants and art galleries; the North End for old-world, Italian ambience; Fenway Park; Harvard Yard in Cambridge.
Museums—The Museum of Fine Arts for impressionists and antiquities; the interactive Boston Tea Party & Ships Museum; the charming Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum with its stunning three-story garden atrium and important works of art; the Institute of Contemporary Art; the Harvard Museum of Natural History; Cambridge's Peabody Museum.
Memorable Meals—Durgin Park for authentic New England cuisine in the country's oldest functioning restaurant; No Name Restaurant for New England's best seafood chowder; Mooo for mouthwatering local meats; Oleana for excellent organics in season; Flour Bakery for delectable sticky buns.
Late Night—Faneuil Hall Marketplace or Harvard Square (both are well-lit and populated, with bars and restaurants galore); dancing at Jillian's Boston and Lucky Strike on Landsdowne Street; Black Rose (across from Faneuil Hall) for Irish music; Middle East (in Cambridge) for alternative rock and hip-hop; Ryles (also in Cambridge) for jazz.
Walks—The Charles River Esplanade for a romantic stroll or a vigorous jog; Beacon Hill, with its old brick sidewalks and Federal bow-front architecture; Harvard Square; the Commonwealth Avenue Mall from the Public Garden to Kenmore Square; the walking paths through the Arnold Arboretum; the Rose Kennedy Greenway.
Especially for Kids—The New England Aquarium with its giant ocean tank, as well as a shark and ray touch tank; the lowland gorillas at the Franklin Park Zoo; the USS Constitution (better known as Old Ironsides) in Charlestown, the oldest actively commissioned ship in the world; the interactive exhibits of the Children's Museum; the displays, giant-screen Omni Theater and planetarium at the Museum of Science.
Most visitors to Maine are attracted by the sea, whether they're visiting as sailors or merely want to look at the water from someplace high and dry. Maine's jagged shoreline includes high cliffs pounded by rough waves, centuries-old houses overlooking calm harbors, forested islands and pretty lighthouses.
However, Maine's natural beauty extends far beyond the coast. Pine forests cover a majority of the state's inland areas, and there are lakes and mountains, rare wildlife and white-water rivers, all offering vacation getaways.
A Maine vacation offers opportunities to hike, shop, sail, kayak or simply relax and observe. The most visited destinations during the state's peak summer season are Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park and the Kennebunks.
The town of Bar Harbor, Maine, thrives in the shadow of Acadia National Park. The name of the street that leads into town is Eden, which pretty much says it all. Cadillac Mountain looks over 44,000 acres/17,806 hectares of pine forests stretching all the way to Bar Harbor. To the south, waves crash against steep, rocky cliffs. Dozens of smaller, wooded isles dot the deep blue water.
Bar Harbor sits on Mount Desert Island (pronounced duh-ZERT, as in what follows dinner). Almost half of Maine's largest isle is part of Acadia National Park, thanks to industrialist John D. Rockefeller Jr. and other wealthy summer residents who bought and donated land to protect it from development. The national park, the country's first one east of the Mississippi River, is the island's main attraction, but few visitors leave without sampling the hustle and bustle of nearby Bar Harbor. The town's sprawling mansions, delightful cottages, eclectic shops, international cuisine (not to mention the justly famous lobster) and nearby lighthouses add to its appeal.
Sights—Sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain; the view of Frenchman Bay from Schooner Head Trail and Overlook; standing on the deck of a boat in the Atlantic; touring Acadia National Park in a horse-drawn carriage.
Museums—Native American arts and crafts at the Abbe Museum in downtown Bar Harbor; an intimate look at lobster procreation and the lobster fishing industry at the Mount Desert Oceanarium.
Memorable Meals—Just-caught lobster at Thurston's Lobster Pound; popovers at the Jordan Pond House; wild-Maine-blueberry pancakes at Jordan's Restaurant; eggs Benedict topped with lobster and basil at Cafe This Way.
Late Night—Comedy at ImprovAcadia; dancing at Carmen Verandah.
Walks—A stroll along the Shore Path, with views of Frenchman Bay and magnificent old summer cottages; a hike up Great Head Trail in Acadia National Park.
Especially for Kids—Skip brisk waves at Sand Beach; experience an impromptu touch tank on Diver Ed's Dive-In Theater Boat Cruise; see humpbacks and finbacks on a whale-watching expedition; become a junior ranger at Acadia National Park.
Quebec City is divided into old and new sections. Most of Vieux Quebec (Old Quebec) sits at the top of the cliff in an area that is called Haute Ville (Upper Town). The other part of the old city is crammed between the base of the cliff and the river—it's known as Basse Ville (Lower Town). It has some memorable old structures, as well as shops and restaurants. Quartier Petit Champlain is just below the Chateau Frontenac. Vieux Port (Old Port) lies just north of this district. Most of the city's interesting sites are situated in the upper and lower parts of Vieux Quebec.
The more modern side of Quebec City (parks, office buildings, shopping malls and urban sprawl) is found on the high bluff beyond the walls of Vieux Quebec. The newer section of the city, just west of the old walled city, is the Haute Ville district of Faubourg Saint Jean. The borough of Sainte-Foy is southwest of Quebec City.
Nova Scotia is located at the far southeast edge of Canada, separated from the American state of Maine by the Bay of Fundy. Glancing at a map you might think it's an island, but the province is actually a peninsula, connected to the province of New Brunswick by the 17-mi-/27-km-wide Isthmus of Chignecto. To the north are Northumberland Strait and the Gulf of St. Lawrence and to the east is the Atlantic Ocean.
The terrain ranges from rolling hills and mountains to fairly level farmland. There are excellent beaches, rugged coastlines, lakes, rivers and forests. No spot is more than 35 mi/55 km from the sea. The province includes Cape Breton Island, which has been described by international media as one of the most beautiful islands in the world.
Although its main attractions are in a relatively compact area compared to other large cities, Boston is made up of distinct districts. Knowing where the most popular ones lie will help you find your way.
The central city sits on a peninsula, surrounded by the Charles River, Boston Inner Harbor and Fort Point Channel. Downtown is roughly in the middle of the peninsula and encompasses many of the Freedom Trail's historic sites, as well as the Financial District and City Hall. Adjoining downtown to the west are Beacon Hill (also rich in history) and the green expanses of Boston Common and the Boston Public Garden. Farther west is Back Bay (a prime shopping, entertainment and dining district), and then the Fenway area.
Northeast of downtown—on the tip of the peninsula—is the North End, the atmospheric Italian neighborhood. South of downtown are Chinatown and the South End. Across the Charles River from downtown (directly north) is Charlestown, home to the Bunker Hill Monument and the USS Constitution.
Cambridge, across the river, is another popular area for visitors and home to Harvard and MIT. Boston and Cambridge may often be spoken of in one breath, but locals never fuse the two. If they were sisters, Boston would be the traditional, practical one and Cambridge the hip, liberal academic. But like any sisters, they have more in common than they will ever admit.
When getting an address for a Boston destination, be sure that you ask not only for the street address but also for the neighborhood, any nearby landmarks and the nearest T stop (subway station). For instance, a cabdriver may not recognize a Dalton Street address for your hotel, but if you mention "It's in Back Bay behind the Pru (the Prudential building)," he or she will find it.
Bar Harbor is a small coastal town on Mount Desert Island, the largest of more than 3,000 islands off the Maine coast and the largest rock-based island on the Atlantic seaboard. The town is surrounded on three sides by Acadia National Park, one of the country's most-visited national parks, and has rocky shores abutting the Atlantic on its fourth side. The town itself is 27,000 acres/10,926 hectares and enjoys about 28 mi/45 km of coastline.
After you cross the bridge from the mainland, there are two routes into Bar Harbor: Route 3 leads to the downtown section and is considered the more direct and traditional route. Route 102 winds through the quaint village of Town Hill, with its farm-to-table restaurants and artists' studios, and from there to the ultra-exclusive summer community of Northeast Harbor.
The Iroquois are thought to have been the first people to paddle through the area. The First Nations called the place Kebec, which in Algonquin means "place where the river narrows." (Quebec City is located on the north shore at the narrowest point of the St. Lawrence River.) Although historians are unsure of the precise location, they know that the Iroquois established a village named Stadacona within what is now Quebec City. French explorer Jacques Cartier landed there in 1535, and in 1608 Samuel de Champlain founded a fur-trading post there.
A steady supply of animal pelts transformed Quebec City into a major port, and it was highly sought after by both the British and the French in the wars of the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1759, the city finally fell under English control after a short, decisive battle on the Plains of Abraham (just outside the city walls). French Canada became a British colony and later the province of Quebec in an independent Canada.
Although many Quebecois continue to advocate Quebec independence from Canada, the issue has lost steam in recent years. A 1995 referendum on sovereignty failed narrowly and has not been repeated. Still, the issue has not been put to rest—particularly in Quebec City, where nationalist sentiments traditionally run high.
But whether an independentist or a federalist, francophone, anglophone or allophone, all residents of the city (and indeed the entire province) are alike in their fierce pride of Quebec's capital: The year-long, feverish and spectacular celebration of the city's 400th anniversary that took place in 2008 is a case in point.
The first people to behold the beauty of Nova Scotia are thought to have arrived around 10,000 years ago. They were the ancestors of the Mi'kmaq—the First Nations people who inhabited Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island when the Europeans first arrived.
Some think the Vikings arrived in the province a millennium ago, although the most prominent evidence, a "runic stone" currently on display in a Yarmouth museum, has never been proven of Norse origin. Another disputed visitor is Prince Henry Sinclair, a Scots nobleman who might have sailed from Italy to near Canso in 1398: A granite monument has been erected at the site by those who believe he made the trip.
In 1613, the British attacked the Habitation, kicking off a century in which ownership of the colony seesawed between France and England seven times. In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht gave mainland Nova Scotia to the British and Cape Breton Island to the French. The French settlers who continued to farm on the mainland of Nova Scotia (Acadians) were officially neutral, but when the English (again at war with France) required that they swear allegiance to the British crown, they refused. In 1755, thousands of Acadians were deported to Quebec, the U.K., France, New England and what is now the southern U.S. (where the word Cajun was derived from Acadian).
Some Acadians escaped the deportation, and others managed to return several years later. Today, many place names in Nova Scotia are French, and approximately 15% of the province's inhabitants are of French descent. Much of their land was given to New Englanders who relocated to Nova Scotia in the 1760s. In the 1770s, the first major wave of Scots arrived in New Scotland with the arrival of the immigrant ship Hector in September 1773. At the same time, more than 1,000 Yorkshire folk settled along the shores of the Bay of Fundy.
In 1783, British Loyalists fleeing the U.S. colonies at the end of the American Revolutionary War moved to the colony, including a large contingent of freed Black Loyalists. Great numbers of people in Scotland and Ireland emigrated to Nova Scotia, followed (at the turn of the 19th century) by people from the Caribbean, Europe and Russia; the result is a remarkable mix of cultures. In 1848, Nova Scotia became the first British colony to be given responsible government.
Nova Scotia is situated near some of the world's richest fishing waters—the Grand Banks. Fishing has been a crucial source of revenue since the early 16th century, but overfishing over the past number of years has meant that some of the province's historic fisheries have had to be shut down. Forestry, manufacturing, life sciences, information technology, and offshore oil and natural gas drilling have helped diversify the economy in recent decades. As well, Nova Scotia's natural beauty has lately been coupled with generous tax incentives to make the province a popular destination for film production. A number of Hollywood movies have been shot at least partially in Nova Scotia, and it's not hard to find a local who's had a close encounter with at least one international celebrity.
The Boston area was inhabited by several Wampanoag tribes before the arrival of Europeans, who brought with them various diseases and an ambition for land that greatly reduced the Native Americans' numbers. The first permanent English colonists, led by separatist (from the Anglican church) John Winthrop, settled in 1630 and named their settlement after the city of Boston, England. Winthrop's ambition, as he said in his shipboard sermon "A Model of Christian Charity" (1630), was to create a place of great virtue, "as a city upon a hill."
Boston prospered and soon became the capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. By the mid-1700s, it had become an important seaport and trading center, second only to Philadelphia and perhaps New York City in terms of influence and power. As the colonists grew more successful—and self-reliant—England became more controlling. Increased taxes on sugar, stamps and, finally, tea helped push the wheels of the American Revolution into motion.
During the 19th century, waves of immigrants were drawn to Boston for the manufacturing jobs generated by another revolution—the Industrial Revolution. The Irish who settled on the fringes of the city eventually put as strong a stamp on Boston's character as the patrician residents of Beacon Hill, who bolstered the city's status as a center of learning and culture. Charlestown and South Boston, which is known locally as "Southie," remain Irish enclaves. A large influx of Italian immigrants settled the area known as the North End, African Americans settled in Roxbury and Chinese established themselves in Chinatown.
After World War II, Boston's importance as an industrial hub faded. However, it grew in prominence as a center for education and high technology, largely because of the presence of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University in nearby Cambridge, as well as Boston University, nearby Tufts and Brandeis universities, and Babson and Wellesley colleges. For its size, the metro Boston area has more colleges and universities than any other city in the Western Hemisphere.
The city's importance as a seaport has declined, but cruise-ship traffic has increased enormously, and Boston Harbor remains a defining presence.
Maine has long been a popular place where Native peoples were living in the area at least as early as 3000 BC, and possibly earlier. More recent settlers were the Maliseet-Passamaquoddy people of the northern reaches and the eastern Abenaki (including the Penobscot, Kennebec, Arosaguntacook and Pigwacket) of central Maine. Before the tribes had contact with Europeans, they had invented snowshoes and toboggans, and they used the hides and pelts of moose, deer, beaver and other mammals for clothing. Ironically, the very animals that protected them from the elements brought quick encroachment on their territory once the New World was discovered: Demand for these pelts became the prime motivator for colonial settlement of the area.
Viking explorers flirted with Maine's coastline almost 1,000 years ago, and there is some opinion that they landed. But the European first known to have set foot in Maine was British explorer John Cabot, in the late 1500s. Though Plymouth, Massachusetts, gets all the glory, the first European settlement in New England was established at the mouth of Maine's Kennebec River in 1607. The colonists met with hard times, however, and returned to England a year later. It wasn't until 1624 that a permanent settlement was established, at York.
Territorial disputes between British-held Maine and French Canada led, in part, to the French and Indian War of the 1760s. Though the English emerged victorious in that conflict, many Maine colonists rebelled against Britain in the Revolutionary War. Portland was set ablaze as punishment for the insurrection.
Initially governed as part of Massachusetts, Maine had to wait until 1820 to become a U.S. state in its own right. It entered the union under the Missouri Compromise, in which Maine joined the U.S. as a free state and Missouri entered as a slave state.
Maine prospered throughout the 1800s and early 1900s on the strength of its shipyards—some of the best and fastest vessels in the world were built by Maine's expert artisans. Although shipbuilding and boatbuilding are still important in the state's economy (and its pride), lumber now provides the greatest source of revenue. Fishing and tourism add substantially to the till.
The state's culture has benefited from diversity. Its low crime rate and affordable cost of living have made it a favored place for immigrants from poorer countries, including a number from Somalia. Thousands have transferred their families, lyrical language and colorful traditions to Maine's cities. Recently, rural Aroostook County has attracted the attention of those of the Amish and Mennonite faiths looking to escape the crowds and influence of Lancaster County.
Mount Desert Island's first seasonal visitors were Native Americans who lived on the mainland and ventured to the coast for its mild temperatures and abundant food resources. French explorer Samuel de Champlain was the first European to visit the island when he ran aground there in 1604. He named the island Isle des Monts Deserts for the rocky, barren mountain summits he saw.
For centuries, the Native American Abenaki people had stalked deer, fished, dug clams and paddled birch-bark canoes along the island's shores. It wasn't until 1763 that English fisherfolk and farmers settled the area. In 1796, they incorporated the town they named Eden. The last Native Americans left the island by the end of the 19th century, and the town was rechristened Bar Harbor in 1918.
In the mid-1800s, Bar Harbor attracted poets and artists, who were soon followed by wealthy U.S. tycoons who visited each summer to rusticate, as they called it, in the wild, albeit in many cases in sumptuous surroundings. The area's blossoming tourism development can be credited mainly to Thomas Cole and Frederic Church, notable and influential artists of the Hudson River School. Soon, wealthy art patrons with a desire to explore the area they so often saw captured in paintings began to seek respite in the area's dramatic landscapes.
The first significant hotel catering to the influx of visitors was built in 1855. Although many hotels followed, there was a limit to how rustic these visitors were willing to get. Still desiring the comforts of home, many visitors built their own palatial Newport-like cottages to serve as their summer residences.
This world of privilege was wiped out by the Great Fire of 1947, which leveled most of the mansions and took nearly a month to extinguish. A definitive cause of the fire was never discovered, although evidence points to a rubbish fire at a tow dump; but rumors that the fire was intentionally set by townspeople disgruntled with the community's growing opulence were unfounded.
The devastation forever altered the island's landscape and character. Bar Harbor was rebuilt as a more democratic resort, with hotels and motels largely replacing the summer palaces. Almost all of those same inns are chock-full these days during the Maine summer and into autumn, when the village's permanent population nearly quadruples with present-day rusticators.