Sometimes, you need a little help to remember what your country has to offer.
As Canadians start travelling again, it’s time to put some of the brightest and most exciting cities at the top of the list: Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax and Edmonton. Pandemic-era challenges sparked creativity and ingenuity in many business owners, leading to innovative pivots and fresh ideas. Now, there are all sorts of new, revamped and reinvigorated destinations for Canadians to discover in their favourite cities across the country.
Explore our spring mini-guides to see the country’s urban hubs as you’ve never seen them before. Keep scrolling, or click below:
Spring is a great season to visit Montréal for the first time or rediscover a city you already know and love. A cosmopolitan city that combines old-world grandeur with up-to-the-minute chicness, it’s chock-full of attractions both rejuvenated and brand new. Here are nine places to check out on your next trip to the city:
1.SHOP + EAT Bazart
You’ll feel like you’ve travelled to the Mediterranean when you visit this new restaurant/gallery/market concept hosted in a historic 1860s-era building in Griffintown. Chef Athiraj Pharsavath from Mercuri and chef consultant Massimo Piedimonte from Le Mousso are behind Bazart’s Greek beachside-inspired menu (think fresh-off-the grill eggplant and octopus). Plus, there’s an NFT (non-fungible token) digital art gallery – the first of its kind in Canada – and an on-site market selling jewelry, handbags and décor, all with that signature laid-back, Greek-island vibe.
2.STAY Humaniti Hotel
Make your Montréal home-away-from-home at the city’s newly opened hotel, Humaniti, which is part of the Marriott’s Autograph collection. Expect a modern interior with soft lines, plush furnishings and pops of colour. You’ll find sculptures and wall art made by Québec artists and local, organic snacks and drinks in the mini-bar. Humaniti’s rooftop pool and bar, one of the city’s few, is a big draw, as is its restaurant, h3, overseen by executive chef Jean-Sebastien Giguère.
Mike Patten / Supplied
One of Montréal’s newest art spaces is also the city’s first run by Indigenous artists. Daphne, which opened in May 2021, aims to help support emerging, mid-career and established Indigenous artists through exhibitions, programming, workshops and residencies. From May 7 to June 18, the centre hosts an exhibition featuring the work of Suzanne Morrissette, a citizen of the Manitoba Métis Federation whose work “[translates] sight into drawing, physical form into sound, sculpture into song, and body movements into audio and video.”
4.EAT Mui Mui
Chef Minh Phat’s Chinatown restaurant Orange Rouge closed at the start of the pandemic during the pandemic, but he’s back with a new concept: Mui Mui, which means “little sister” in Cantonese. Some old favourites have returned, like Orange Rouge’s famous barbecue pork spare ribs, but he’s also refreshed the menu with exciting new items. Phat is a Montréaler born to Vietnamese parents of Chinese descent, and patrons can expect Mui Mui’s menu to reflect that mix, such as duck confit dumplings with a Vietnamese beef salad. For dessert, try a classic French dessert with a twist, like coconut milk crème caramel.
For lovers of art, music, design and technology, the Phi Centre is a Montréal destination not to be missed. A sampling of the Centre’s latest experiential art includes Water Road, a multimedia installation featuring a motion-activated river on the building’s windows; Lashing Skies, an immersive audio journey of five imagined stories during September 11, 2001; Revealing Narratives, an exhibition of photographic work by Vancouver artist Stan Douglas and Eternal, a 20-minute immersive audio experience for one person, in a bed, that explores “the quandary of eternal life.”
6.EAT Sushi Dept
When the pandemic started, upscale Japanese restaurant chain Ryu pivoted by opening Sushi Dept as a ghost kitchen out of Ryu. It’s something of a hip, cool cousin to the original eatery and offers more affordable, takeout-friendly options while still using sustainably-sourced ingredients. Think handrolls, poke bowls and combos that will feed two people for under $40. Pick up a “Chill Box” or “Crispy Lover” combo and head over to nearby Mount Royal for dinner with a spectacular view.
7.EAT Bernie Beigne
Comfort foods have been in high demand over the last two years, so Bernie Beigne, in the Mile End, has been a welcome addition to Montréal’s food scene. Trendy, neon-bright doughnuts might have been all the rage in recent years, but Bernie Beigne’s offerings lean old-school and classic, with options such as glazed crullers, apple fritters and blueberry jam-filled doughnuts. A perfect guilty pleasure on an afternoon stroll, everything is hand-made the traditional way. For the Instagram crowd, there’s a glazing station at the front window of the shop which is a prime spot for social snaps.
AURA is an immersive art experience held in one of Old Montréal’s most iconic attractions, the Notre-Dame Basilica. AURA first debuted in 2017, but COVID-19 shutdowns gave organizers the opportunity to update the show with new music and extended scenes featuring the Basilica’s 1891-era Casavant organ. If you’ve never seen AURA before, it’s a unique experience involving light, projections and music that make it seem as if the Basilica’s Gothic Revival architecture is coming to life before your eyes. And even if you have been before, the new refresh is a great excuse to revisit and be wowed all over again.
9.DO Parc Jean-Drapeau
Located on Sainte-Hélène and Notre-Dame islands, just east of downtown, Parc Jean-Drapeau is arguably the most beautiful place in Montréal to commune with nature. Take a stroll along the Parc’s 10-kilometre pedestrian path, taking in the fall colours and works of public art. Pick up freshly-made crepes at Rolopan and have a picturesque lunch at Floralies Gardens. Rain or shine, pay a visit to the iconic geodesic dome of the Biosphère, where you’ll find exhibitions devoted to social innovation and the environment.
The city of Toronto is brimming with experiences all year long, from shopping to sports to arts and cultural events. But in a place with boundless diversity and so many options, it can be difficult to decide what to do first. Between cherished favourites and new places that are popping up every day, the possibilities are endless. So, we’ve rounded up a list of can’t-miss picks whether you’re new to the city or a longtime fan:
The latest fine dining experience from Toronto restaurateur and club owner Charles Khabouth, Amal serves up authentic Lebanese cuisine in an elegant setting. Opened just last fall, Amal’s menu features middle-eastern favourites like crispy eggplant, seared halloumi and grilled branzino. Ask for a table beneath the intricate, hand-painted ceiling tapestry. Don’t forget to top your night off with a slice of nutty baklava or aromatic rice pudding made with walnut, cinnamon and rose water.
2.STAY 1 Hotel
If you’re looking for a hotel that combines sustainability with gorgeous interior design, look no further than 1 Hotel. Formerly the Thompson, 1 Hotel planted its roots in the heart of King West Village this past summer. With an organic yet posh aesthetic, this hip hotel aims to bring the outdoors in. Lavish rooms are dressed in greenery and handcrafted wood furniture, while the hotel’s premier restaurant, 1 Kitchen, serves responsibly-sourced, farm-to-table cuisine. It’s laid-back luxury at its finest.
Robin Goodfellow, managing partner at Vela, has described the restaurant as an “escape to a timeless era.” Indeed, Vela evokes the glamour and elegance of golden-age hotel lobby bars. This recently opened spot is located in a beautiful heritage building at King & Portland, modernized with visually striking interiors. The menu offers classic American dishes with a twist: think beef tartare made with truffles and their signature caviar sandwich.
4.SHOP Fantastic Baby!
BRODY WHITE / THE GLOBE AND MAIL
This gift-shop-slash-dessert-café opened just before the start of the pandemic, and it’s been steadily gaining fans ever since. Pop by for a mini mousse cake and classic milk tea, then browse through the store’s eclectic collection of items shipped in from South Korea, Japan and sourced from local artists. You’ll find an eclectic array of K-pop memorabilia, K-beauty products, kitchenware, stationary and super kawaii (aka cute) gift items.
© Picasso Estate / SOCAN (2021)
The Art Gallery of Ontario is always a must-visit in Toronto, offering the hottest touring exhibitions and a world-class permanent collection. After pandemic-induced closures, The AGO has roared back with a vengeance. Current exhibits include the stunning, melancholy “Blue Series” paintings of the late Chinese-Canadian artist Matthew Wong (to May 15), photographs and installations by Kanien'kehá:ka [Mohawk] artist Greg Staats (to June 5), Blurred Boundaries: Queer Visions in Canadian Art (to September) and the gallery’s excellent Indigenous Collection, with a focus on contemporary Inuit art.
6.EAT Dzo Viet Eatery
Drawing crowds since it opened in 2021, Dzo Viet Eatery is on a mission to prove that Vietnamese cuisine is more than just pho. This contemporary eatery is centred around Nhậu – the Vietnamese culture of coming together, living free and most importantly, sharing delicious street food. The menu features modern takes on classic recipes and techniques, such as “photine” dac biet (a clever take on poutine) and banh mi sliders.
7.DO + EAT Tasty Tours Toronto
Why try one restaurant when you can sample them all? Join one of Tasty Tours Toronto’s outings to explore exciting new culinary destinations. A tour guide will take you (and your taste buds) to an inspiring Toronto neighbourhood where you’ll experience a selection of top-notch restaurants. You’ll get exclusive behind-the-scenes access while soaking up nuggets of food-scene knowledge. And the best part? You’ll be snacking on local delights the entire time.
8.SHOP Grape Witches
Founded by industry veterans Nicole Campbell and Krysta Oben in 2015, Grape Witches started as a series of educational wine events and a monthly natural wine subscription. In summer 2020, it evolved into a dreamy brick-and-mortar store and “club house” located on Dundas Street West. The shop includes a vast array of organic, natural, sustainable wines – none available at the Change to Liquor Control Board of Ontario – along with beer, cider, and a selection of delectable snacks. Stop by to discover a new favourite or buy a curated pack to take home.
Alberta’s capital city is the kind of place where there's always something happening. It’s got a thriving food scene and vibrant nightlife – and you might just get lucky and see the Northern Lights dance overhead at night. Like most other destinations, Edmonton’s restaurants, shops and hotels had to get creative through the pandemic. Necessity, if we may paraphrase, is often the mother of really cool things, and that’s exactly what these spots deliver:
1.EAT Craft Beer Market
If lounging on an Adirondack chair by a firepit, craft beer in hand, sounds like your perfect way to spend a crisp evening, you’ll love this newly renovated and reopened outpost of the fancy-casual empire first launched in Calgary in 2011. Along with revamping their patio – home to three firepits – they’ve added a games area with nostalgic fun like corn hole and shuffleboard.
2.STAY Metterra Hotel on Whyte
This stylish contemporary hotel was just awarded an almost perfect score in the Loved By Guests Awards. Spend a night in their chic rooms – with complimentary breakfast! – and you’ll see why. The Metterra is also a great base for exploring the historic Whyte Avenue neighbourhood, home to local boutiques, art galleries and trendy spots to eat, like El Cortez for tacos or The Next Act for a local craft brew.
3.DRINK Little Hong Kong
When this speak-easy style bar says they have the world’s best bartender, they mean it literally. James Grant, Little Hong Kong’s man behind the bar, was crowned Diageo World Class Global Bartender for 2021. To taste his fresh-from-victory cocktails – such as the Tea Time, made with gin, campari and Earl Grey tea – head to the back of Baiju. This swanky resto located in the historic Mercer building serves up Asian-inspired snack food like teriyaki wings and fish taco bao.
4.DO Talking Rock Tours
For a new perspective on the landscape in Alberta, join Métis Canadian Keith Diakiw and team for a discovery tour of the Edmonton River Valley, located right in the city. Weaving together Indigenous knowledge and earth science, this fascinating journey allows participants to “walk in the footsteps of Indigenous peoples,” visiting sacred burial grounds and geologic outcrops. The hike also includes a sharing circle with Indigenous music and storytelling.
5.SHOP Rocky Mountain Antique Mall
Noella Steinhauer / The Globe and Mail
In 2021, this 12,000-square-foot spot on Edmonton’s south side got a new owner: an antique-obsessed 22-year-old named Mykel Lewsaw, who’s been collecting unique items and oddities since he was 15. When not travelling the West to pick stock, he’s been making some improvements to this packed-to-the-rafters antique paradise. Whether retro décor is your thing, or records or jewelry or dishware, you could spend hours browsing the aisles for that perfect hidden treasure.
You’ve had ice cream, but have you had Filipino fusion soft serve? If not, make your way immediately to this new, adorable shop named after the Tagalog word for ice. The owners call on nostalgic childhood inspiration for their flavours – ube and honey dew, keso (cheese) and lime – although they rotate every two weeks, so check their social media to see what’s on deck when you go. Don’t forget to snap a pic of your very Instagram-worthy cone in front of their colourful wall mural!
7.SEE Royal Alberta Museum
This cultural institution is back with fresh exhibitions and the collections we know and love. Drive: Reimagining the Ride (to April 2023) is all about the love of vehicles, from stylish sportscars of years past to a creative “amphicar” that slides from land to sea and back again. Kids can try their hand at being a mechanic or build an obstacle course in the Tinker Garage. Then, pay a visit to the Natural History Hall and the Bug Gallery, which celebrates the beauty and diversity of insects, spiders and other invertebrates.
8.EAT La Petite Iza
Named after the owner’s daughter, this classically French bistro (the menu includes steak tartare, escargots and chocolate mousse) will transport you straight to Paris. That is, until you look out the window and catch the stunning river valley views that remind you you’re in picturesque Alberta. On your way out, you’ll pass the resto’s sister bakery, Eleanor et Laurent, and you’d be silly to pass up one of their chewy, crusty, freshly-baked baguettes.
9.SEE Neon Sign Museum
Head to the corner of 104 Street and 104 Avenue and you’ll find the Neon Sign Museum, a collection of lovingly restored retro commercial signage. It’s outdoors, open 24/7 and totally free! These luminous beauties are mounted along the sides of buildings, enabling visitors to immerse themselves in glowing slices of Edmonton history while reading all about them on the city’s website.
No matter what kind of traveller you are – foodie, adventure seeker, history buff, art lover – there’s plenty to enjoy in Halifax. If your feet are getting itchy and you’ve been looking east with longing (aren’t we all?), here are 10 places in Halifax you won’t want to miss:
1.EAT Black Sheep
In fall 2020, restaurant owners John House and David Woodley used the unplanned downtime brought by a pandemic shutdown to completely renovate a new Brewery Market location for their “locally sourced, globally inspired” restaurant, Black Sheep. The lively spot, which opened for business in June 2021, occupies the former Red Stag Tavern inside the historic Alexander Keith’s Brewery building. Expect an expansive menu with inventive takes on comfort food, such as foie gras French toast, tobiko-topped lobster roll and a seafood board – an East Coast take on charcuterie.
2.STAY Muir Hotel
Planning a trip to Halifax? The luxury Muir Hotel is the coolest accommodation in the city, boasting bespoke furnishings, an in-house art gallery and a wellness centre. Even if you’re not a hotel guest, be sure to visit the hotel’s restaurant, Drift. Led by Chef Anthony Walsh of Oliver & Bonacini fame, the waterfront restaurant pays tribute to the province’s culinary traditions with contemporary, elevated cuisine and local ingredients.
3.SHOP Peace by Chocolate
Aaron McKenzie Fraser / The Globe and Mail
When the pandemic hit, Tareq Hadhad, the founder and CEO of Peace by Chocolate, didn’t panic. Instead, he looked at these unprecedented times as an opportunity to grow his business. Hadhad, who founded the Antigonish-based chocolate company in 2016 after arriving in Nova Scotia as a refugee from Syria, opened a second location at Halifax’s Queen’s Marque in March. Stop by to sample the company’s handmade, artisanal bars and bonbons in dozens of flavours, plus hot chocolate, coffee and pastries.
4.EAT Bliss Caffeine Bar
This restaurant-coffee shop-bakery combo has become a Halifax favourite since it opened in April 2021. And it’s no wonder – with its high ceilings, warm colour palette and modern furnishings, Bliss is a beautiful way to kickstart a day of exploring. Founders Jenna Oosterholt and Michelle MacDonald say their goal was to elevate the city’s brunch game. With items like their “Bliss Brekkie” with eggs, bacon, sausage, basil ‘n parmesan roasted potatoes and house focaccia toast, it’s safe to say they’ve succeeded.
After opening its doors in October 2020, it didn’t take long for this fast, casual joint to accumulate a devoted fanbase for its crunchy, spicy, saucy Korean fried chicken. With eight varieties of chicken, from Hot (seasoned with fresh chilli pepper and other spices) to Queen (maple-garlic-butter sauce) to Snow Onion (coated in a creamy mayo-based sauce and topped with fresh onion slices), there’s something for every palate. A perfect late-night hunger-buster.
As a port city, Halifax has always played a role in welcoming immigrants to Canada. Pier 21 was the Canadian point of entry for one million immigrants between 1928 to 1971. Now, the site is a museum that tells the stories of immigrants in Canada with powerful, immersive storytelling. Current exhibition The World of Yousuf Karsh: A Private Essence (to October 16) features over 100 portraits of major 20th century figures by the famed photographer, who came to Canada in 1924 as an Armenian refugee.
7.SHOP Slowly Slowly
A newcomer to the city’s shopping scene, Slowly Slowly is an ethical fashion and beauty boutique that stocks clothing, beauty products and home goods from independent designers who prioritize sustainability. Look out for beautiful offerings from local designers, including colourful, contemporary clothing by Maggie Jayne, genderless fragrances by perfumier Barre and accessories by Calica Studio.
History comes alive at this star-shaped citadel, which is made up of a series of forts that protected the city’s harbour from 1749 to 1906. Take part in a tasting hosted by Compass Distillers; a kilted 78th Highlander will explain how the British military used spirits during the 19th century, then offer taste tests of a gin, genever and rum alongside artisanal crackers and cheeses. Finally, if you’re brave enough, end your day with a ghost tour through the citadel’s cobblestone alleys and even down to its subterranean prison cells.
9.EAT Hop Scotch Dinner Club
After two years of running their buzzy dinner pop-up, chefs Brock Unger and Stephanie Ogilvie (who’s also Top Chef Canada runner-up) decided they wanted to put down roots. They took over the space occupied by farm-to-table pioneer Chives Canadian Bistro, where they now offer sophisticated à la carte dinner items, as well as brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. Serious foodies should stop by on a Wednesday, when the regular dinner menu is replaced with a special chef’s choice tasting menu.
10.EAT Vandal Doughnuts
Is there anything more satisfying than a box of fun and fancy donuts? We think not – and neither do fans of this quirky bakery located in the city’s North End. Flavours include mango meringue and The Munchie, an indulgent combination of Reese’s, Oreos, Golden KitKat, peanut butter and a pretzel. And you can feel good about these indulgent treats; during the pandemic, the bakery has sold a different charity doughnut each month and donated the proceeds to organizations including Feed Nova Scotia and the Residential School Survivors Society.
As Western Canada’s most populous city, Vancouver has long been a top travel destination for sophisticated dining, mountain air and stunning views. This year it’s truer than ever: between new establishments and iconic locales that have been reinvented in 2021, here are nine places you just need to visit on your next Vancouver vacation:
Named after famed Haida artist and master carver Bill Reid, this is the only gallery in the country dedicated to contemporary Indigenous art of the Northwest Coast. The gallery's current exhibition (until June 5) features the powerful work of artist and activist Sho Sho Esquiro. The show “celebrates the beauty, strength and resilience of First Nations communities in the face of historical and ongoing trauma,” and includes a selection of Esquiro’s stunning couture gowns, made with materials sourced directly from the Yukon.
2.EAT Oh Carolina
Café and grocery store Oh Carolina is where nostalgia meets reality. In a bid to become “the store on the corner that becomes a second home,” the owners opened Oh Carolina in summer 2021, and they’ve been building community ever since. The store offers a consciously-sourced selection of grocery items, but the main attraction is the menu of superlative sandwiches, salads and fabulous coffee. Grab a smoked sockeye salmon toast, pastrami sandwich or grilled cheese on sourdough. Be sure to watch their Instagram for pop-ups (a recent one involved prawn rolls and beer).
3.DO Enhance Arts Spa
It's not selfish if it's self-care. Inspired by the notion that every single person deserves a chance to enrich, energize and enhance their bodies from "head to heart," Tila Huynh co-founded Enhance Arts Spa in February of this year. With treatments ranging from their BB Glow facial treatment to reflexology to Thai body massage, this beauty bar and spa hybrid allows visitors to restore and revitalize their minds, bodies, spirits and lashes.
4.EAT Cantina Norte
Jason Benson / Supplied
Back in the late 80s, Café Norte was Vancouver's most-awarded and much-loved Mexican restaurant. Due to unfortunate circumstances, the owners, Philip and Linda Mitchell, had to close its doors in 1998. Now, the owners’ children, Jeremy and Katie Mitchell, have brought back the beloved flavours of the past with a new resto called Cantina Norte (located steps from the original). The upscale casual restaurant offers favourites like quesadillas, enchiladas, tacos and other Mexican favourites. Try the scallop aguachile made of fresh local scallops, thinly sliced and cured with green chili and cucumber.
5.EAT Salmon n' Bannock
PYT Photography / Supplied
An Indigenous-owned and operated restaurant, Salmon n' Bannock aims to “feed your spirit.” In a room filled with First Nations artwork, the restaurant serves creative traditional fare like bannock tacos, smoked salmon burgers and bison pot roast. Committed to using traditional ingredients, Chef Inez Cook and her team prioritize Indigenous suppliers and use organic, free-range game meats and wild-caught fish. Sample the mushrooms on toasted bannock with melted brie, sage-blueberries and bison gravy (rumoured to be good enough to drink from a wine glass).
6.STAY Fairmont Waterfront
It’s probably been a while since you’ve travelled – why not make your first hotel stay a luxury experience? Fairmont hotels are famous for beautiful locations and ample amenities, and the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel is no slouch. Located on gorgeous Vancouver Harbour, it’s close to just about everything, with elegant guest rooms and fabulous dining. If you really want to turn up the luxury, the hotel is offering a special package that includes a private helicopter ride to the B.C. backcountry for a chef-curated picnic lunch by a lake or on a mountain-top.
7.EAT Yuzu Vancouver
With a focus on sandwiches and desserts in aesthetically pleasing Japanese convenience store packaging, Yuzu Vancouver is the perfect grab-and-go joint to hit before a long walk, a picnic or any activity that requires snacks. With options such as pork, teriyaki chicken, beef and tofu, Yuzu Vancouver's katsu sandwiches are as cute as they are delicious. For dessert, a brown sugar pudding or yuzu panna cotta, then finish your meal with an iced barley tea.
8.DO + EAT Granville Island
A longtime artistic and cultural hub, Granville Island is located on Vancouver's urban waterfront and is always a great place to while away an afternoon. Pick up a curry or some fresh fish ‘n’ chips at the Public Market, peruse an art gallery or pottery studio, take a leisurely walk along the seawall. This spring, renowned Haida carver Clarence Mills is back at Granville Island, giving visitors a chance to see an authentic Haida artist at work as he transforms cedar into embodiments of the mythology of his culture.
9.EAT Lunch Lady
A collaboration between local restaurateur Michael Tran and Vietnamese food stall owner Nguyen Thi Thanh, Lunch Lady is bringing globally popular Vietnamese street-eats to Vancouver. (Nguyen was dubbed “Lunch Lady” by the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain during an episode of No Reservations.) The eatery offers daily noodle rotations such as bún bò huế (a soup with rice vermicelli and beef) and bánh canh cua (crab tapioca noodle soup), as well as mouthwatering mains like clams steamed in lemongrass broth and garlic fried noodles.
This content was produced by The Globe and Mail’s Globe Content Studio on behalf of Destination Canada. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.
CREDITS: Concept and oversight by JESSICA ROBINSON; Editing by SHELLEY WHITE; Art direction, design and development by JEANINE BRITO; Project management by CHRISTINA LIPPA