When you don’t have time for an extended vacation, but you need to get away from it all, a day trip to a nearby town is the perfect option. It’s an opportunity to explore a new locale, experience a different community, and escape your hectic routine. These picturesque towns, located less than a few hours away from major Canadian cities are filled with culture, heritage, beautiful scenery, and quirky attractions. Whether you’re bonding with the family or spending some quality time with your sweetheart, you’ll return from your mini-break feeling happy and relaxed.
Port Hope, Ontario
The “antique capital of Ontario,” located 100 km east of Toronto, is a goldmine for shoppers who can easily wile away the hours browsing through quaint craft shops and boutiques. The downtown area, which is the province’s best-preserved 19th century district, is the perfect backdrop for a day of treasure hunting. When the fatigue of shopping finally sets in, you can rest-up at the Capitol Theatre, the oldest atmospheric theatre in the country. Enjoy a play, concert, dance performance or classic film under a beautifully fabricated starry sky.
Located 50 km north of Edmonton, this tiny bilingual town, home to less than 1500 people, is a fascinating example of French Canadian culture. Thanks to an innovative project spearheaded by a local cultural organization, Legal is home to 35 beautiful French Murals displayed on walls and buildings throughout the town. It has been recognized as the largest French Mural capital in the world. If you’re an art fan it’s the perfect opportunity to admire impressive paintings while learning a little history at the same time. Bilingual tours are available for visitors who want a more guided experience.
Once christened “the prettiest town in Canada” by Queen Elizabeth, the town of Goderich sits on bluffs that overlook Lake Huron, making it a perfect spot to watch the sun set—twice. More than a quarter of Goderich is devoted to parkland, and the town boasts three beaches with a mile-long boardwalk for strolls along the shoreline. One of the town’s most unique features is its downtown octagonal traffic circle, which residents call “The Square.” The historic county courthouse stands in the middle of the square, and each weekend during the summer you can attend farmers’ and antique markets between the courthouse and the quaint village shops. Though fewer large trees remain after the town was ravaged by a tornado in the summer of 2011, it’s still well worth the drive if you’re heading out for a day trip along “Ontario’s West Coast.”
St. Andrews, New Brunswick
Canada’s oldest seaside resort town is a short drive from both Fredericton and Saint John, with a permanent population of 1800. It’s the perfect jumping-off point for a whale-watching excursion in the gorgeous Bay of Fundy. Those who prefer to stay on dry land can play the day away at the impressive 7,000 yard, par 72 golf course at the Algonquin Resort. When it’s time for dinner, there is an array of seafood restaurants to choose from, but your best bet is a fresh lobster roll.
Lunenburg, Nova Scotia
This one-of-a-kind town outside of Halifax, established by German, French, and Swiss settlers in the 1700s, was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage sight in the ’90s. Photography enthusiasts will be blown away by the arresting architecture and vibrant homes painted in bright shades of pink, green, and purple. CBC personality Rick Mercer even named it one of his five favourite towns in Canada. One of Lunenburg’s most popular attraction is the famous historical racing schooner known as the Bluenose.
Seeped in old English country charm, Hudson was founded by immigrants from England, Scotland, and Ireland. It’s located 60 km west of Montreal and has a local population of 5000. Over half the businesses in town are based around crafts, which means there are plenty of options for avid fans of artistry. The town’s famous flea market, Finnegan’s, is held just outside of town on a large farmer’s field. Foodies will be enchanted by Hudson’s first class dining options, a mix of tea rooms, bistros and purveyors of local, organic cuisine.
The 18th century comes alive in this scenic harbour town three hours outside of St. John’s. Only 200 people live here year-round, but the village attracts a constant flow of tourists. The quaint streets are lined with old churches, museums and restored saltbox houses that history enthusiasts will admire. Movie buffs can take a special tour of filming locations from the Kevin Spacey film, The Shipping News. You’re not likely to get lost in this tiny town, but if you do get turned around, street signs painted with old fashioned calligraphy will set you back on your path.
Bowen Island, BC
Day trippers in the mood for an outdoor adventure will be thrilled with the options on Bowen Island. It’s only a 20-minute ferry ride from Vancouver’s Horseshoe Bay and boasts four popular swimming beaches—Sandy Beach, Tunstall Bay, Cates Bay, and Bowen Bay. The local population is 3500, most of whom commute into the city for work, but the town attracts tons of tourists during the summer. Boaters can rent kayaks at Snug Cove and paddle around the island. Hikers can trek up to the top of Mount Gardner to enjoy the panoramic view.
It doesn’t get more small town than this 4-block fishing village located an hour outside of Charlottetown. With a population of only 200, a visit to this lovely seaside offers a unique glimpse into a warm, tight knit community. After you’ve bonded with the locals, you can take a tour of an old-fashioned lighthouse or stroll along one of P.E.I.’s famous red-sand beaches.
St. Jacobs, Ontario
Situated near a 4000 strong Mennonite community in the Waterloo region, St. Jacobs provides a rare opportunity to do some horse and buggy watching. The town is a hot spot for farming and hand-crafted goods and visitors travel here to experience the country’s largest year round farmer’s market. It’s packed with delicious local produce, hand-made cheeses and artisan food products. There is also a petting farm that will delight children and animal lovers.