From coast to coast to coast, these delightful small towns in Canada deliver on adventure, charm, and hospitality.
While Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal often steal the spotlight, Canada is dotted with its fair share of delightful and laid-back small towns. From charming fishing villages in the east to atmospheric mountain towns in the west, many of these communities are gateways to outdoor adventures. Stay awhile, though, and you’ll discover artisan shops, microbreweries, farm-to-table restaurants, and friendly locals to guide the way.
With three coastlines — the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic — impressive mountain ranges, and the largest protected boreal forest on the planet, Canada has no shortage of awe-inspiring landscapes. Whether you’re considering a scenic road trip or a quick city getaway, here are a few Canadian towns worth exploring.
Golden, British Columbia
Surrounded by six national parks (Banff, Glacier, Jasper, Kootenay, Mount Revelstoke, and Yoho), Golden is an ideal base for exploring the Canadian Rockies. Beyond the obvious draws, it’s also home to Canada’s highest suspension bridge, the Golden Skybridge, whitewater rafting spots along the Kicking Horse River, a wolf sanctuary, and a burgeoning craft beer and food scene.
Baie-Saint-Paul ranks among Canada’s cultural capitals, thanks to its lively art scene. Case in point: Cirque du Soleil got its start here in the early 1980s. Today, you can still find musicians, painters, and acrobats performing in the streets — not to mention plenty of charming bistros and one of the nation’s highest concentrations of art galleries. A little over an hour’s drive from Quebec City, this destination is the epitome of French Canadian charm.
Known as the polar bear capital of the world, Churchill draws wildlife lovers from far and wide. Located on the shores of Hudson Bay, it’s also a stellar spot for beluga whale watching and chasing the northern lights, which are visible up to 300 nights of the year. There are no roads that lead to Churchill — it’s only accessible by flight or train, which adds to its remote allure.
Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia
Colorfully painted Victorian homes, artisan studios, and heritage gardens make Mahone Bay one of the most picturesque towns in Atlantic Canada. It’s often included as a stop on the popular driving route from Peggy’s Cove to Lunenburg, but you could easily spend more than an afternoon here. In addition to visiting the world-famous three churches, head to Amos Pewter to see artists turn molten pewter into handcrafted pieces, bike the Dynamite Trail (bicycles can be rented from Sweet Ride Cycling), or grab a craft beer with the locals at Saltbox Brewing Co.
Tofino, British Columbia
The coastal town of Tofino on Vancouver Island is treasured among surfers, foodies, and outdoor enthusiasts alike — and for good reason. Situated within the traditional territory of the The coastal town of Tofino on Vancouver Island is treasured among surfers, foodies, and outdoor enthusiasts alike — and for good reason. Situated within the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and surrounded by the UNESCO-recognized Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve, it’s an ideal location to immerse yourself in one of British Columbia’s most culturally significant swaths of nature. Outdoor adventures here include whale watching, riding waves, hiking, kayaking, biking, and more. And with plenty of accommodations options, from the harborside Tofino Resort + Marina and the beachfront Pacific Sands Beach Resort to rustic coastal campsites, travelers are spoiled for choice in more ways than one.
Though it’s just a 90-minute drive from Toronto, Elora feels like a world away from the big city. Historical 19th-century buildings form an idyllic town that’s been kept alive by a vibrant community of artists, chefs, and entrepreneurs. While it’s easy to spend a day wandering through the charming shops, the star attraction here is the Elora Gorge Conservation Area, a magnet for hikers, swimmers, and anyone adventurous enough to go tubing down the rapids of the Grand River.
Victoria-by-the-Sea, Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island is filled with quaint villages, but Victoria-by-the-Sea is arguably one of the most beautiful. The best way to soak it up is by simply exploring the coast lined with relics of the past, including its famous red-and-white lighthouse. Clam digging and kayaking hybrid tours are a popular daytime draw, while evenings are best spent eating oysters and lobster or catching a play at the historical Victoria Playhouse, PEI’s longest-running little theater.
Nestled within Banff National Park, this historical town checks all the boxes for a cool mountain town: friendly locals, postcard views, and après-adventure restaurants and bars like Park Distillery. Whether you’re here for a quick hike up Mount Rundle, a full day of skiing, or paddling at one of the many nearby glacial lakes, adventuring is a year-round affair.
Famed for its sun-drenched vineyards and charming heritage homes, Niagara-on-the-Lake gives visitors to Niagara Falls a good reason to stay, sip, and savor the countryside. And if the award-winning wineries and restaurants weren’t enough, events like the theater-focused Shaw Festival keep the town buzzing with life. Thanks to its well-connected shuttle system, WEGO, and numerous bike rental shops, you don’t even need a car to explore all it has to offer.
St. Andrews by-the-Sea, New Brunswick
A 30-minute drive from the border crossing between Calais, Maine, and St. Stephen, New Brunswick, St. Andrews by-the-Sea is a perfect stop on the way to Canada’s iconic Fundy National Park. Cute restaurants like Char and Chowder and The Clam Digger serve up delicious fried clams, burgers, and seafood. For a truly unique experience, drive your car to the historic Ministers Island — only accessible via the sandbar that appears at low tide.
During the height of the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898, Dawson’s population exceeded 30,000; as of 2021, it hovers just over 1,500. Vestiges of those glamorous days remain in the frontier-style buildings, including Canada’s oldest gambling hall, and the interactive exhibits at the Dawson City Museum. The midnight sun also guarantees epic nightlife — just ask the thousands who have dared to try the Sourtoe Cocktail (a shot of whiskey served with a mummified human toe floating in it) at the Downtown Hotel.
Beautifully preserved saltbox houses, calligraphed street signs, and a thriving theater tradition make Trinity one of Newfoundland’s most storied towns. Watch a blacksmith at work, learn about barrel making, or spot whales while hiking the Skerwink Trail. In the summer, local actors and singers in 1700s garb transport visitors to the past through scenic walking tours during the New Founde Lande Trinity Pageant. Meanwhile, restaurants like Twine Loft at the Artisan Inn use fresh seafood to showcase the town’s culinary past and future.
Julia Eskins is a Toronto-based writer and editor who covers travel, design, arts and culture, wellness, and the outdoors. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.