There are scenic drives and then there are cosmopolitan escapes. If you’re more into the urban sprawl than countryside and prefer cityscapes to nature, here are your best bets for discovering Canada’s fine dining, shopping and arts scene via automobile. You could spend a couple hours on the road or a couple weeks, the choice is yours.
Road Trip 1: Calgary to Edmonton
The Queen Elizabeth II Highway (QE2), officially known as Alberta Highway 2, provides a direct link between Calgary and Edmonton. Two of the biggest cities in Canada, the drive takes only about 3.5 hours and spans 180 miles. The truly adventurous have biked the route in as little as a few days.
What to Do in Edmonton
The West Edmonton Mall is the largest in North America and has over 800 stores, a true shopaholic’s dream. With an indoor theme park, water park, sea lion habitat, ice rink, mini golf, and even shooting range, you could literally live here and not be bored. Explore Churchill Square, the main spot for arts, fashion and festivals. Between the street performers and regular events held here, there will be something going on. If you’re visiting in the summer, try to catch a performance at the Heritage Ampitheatre, Western Canada’s largest outdoor music venue with amazing natural acoustics. Fine dining restaurants to try include Hardware Grill and Red Ox Inn and you absolutely must have high tea and finger sandwiches in the afternoon, which has become an Edmonton staple at the Rutherford House.
What to Do in Calgary
Known mainly for its big rodeo and stampede, Calgary has its share of culture too. Explore Canada Olympic Park, site of the 1988 winter Olympics. With year-round activities for families, try the luge, bobsled, zipline or even mountain bike. The trendy Inglewood district is an escape to France’s wine country just minutes from downtown. Dine at Rogue, a historical garden home and the former property of prominent Canadian rancher, Albertan A.E. Cross. Wander through Prince's Island Park and shop along bohemian 17th Avenue, who’s touted "Street to Chic, Hip to Haute and Funky to Fabulous.”
Road Trip 2: Montréal to Ottawa
Within reasonable driving distance of each other, you can make it the 124-mile trek from Montréal to Ottawa in less than two hours withstanding a major snowstorm. Simply take Autoroute 40 (Quebec) to the Queensway 417 (Ontario).
What to Do in Montréal
The first North American city to be appointed a UNESCO City of Design, Montréal, the second largest city in Canada, holds nothing back when it comes to impressing visitors. Chic, cutting edge and fashion-forward, it is the gastronomic capital of the country with nearly 65 restaurants per km2. Wander the Jean-Talon Market to sample fresh produce. Have a cocktail at Jello Martini Lounge, the most famous bar in the region with over 65 drink concoctions. Enjoy a cultured night out at Friday Nocturnes du MAC at the contemporary art museum (Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal) in the heart of the Quartier des spectacles, a splendid mix of music and modern design.
What to Do in Ottawa
Canada’s capital, Ottawa is a dynamic city of over a million people. Seeped in history, explore the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Van Gogh exhibit at the National Gallery and Parliament Hill, a towering Gothic Revival building that hosts free outdoor yoga classes in the summer. At night, their Mosaika lights and sounds show provides a powerful backdrop to see Canada’s raw beauty.
Road Trip 3: Halifax to Peggy’s Cove
A short daytrip of only 28 miles, Peggy’s Cove, the self proclaimed most photographed lighthouse in the world on Nova Scotia's Bluenose Coast is only an hour away. Take Prospect Road (Route #333) for a beautiful drive along the Atlantic coast to discover secret turnoffs and hidden alcoves.
What to Do in Halifax
Halifax has been a harbor town since the 1700s, but this is no sleepy seaside village. The capital of Nova Scotia has sleek, modern glass and steel architecture, and its galleries, libraries and museums are perfect to explore on foot before enjoying the bustling boardwalk and casino for fun after dark. A noted wine destination, Canada’s east coast has culinary festivals and events every month of the year.
What to Do in Peggy’s Cove
A peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle, Peggy’s Cove is an upscale escape with divine lobster, boutiques and, of course, the iconic lighthouse. You can tour the region in a sidecar or spend the day whale watching and kayaking.