19 Jaw-Dropping Places to See in Canada
These historic gems are must-see for newcomers to Canada and locals alike.
As a newcomer to Canada, it can often seem like this is a rather “young” country. But while Canada may have only been officially declared a country in 1867, don’t be fooled — this vast nation has millions of years of natural history and thousands of years of human heritage.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has added 19 sites in Canada to its list of World Heritage Sites. This means that they are places of exceptional natural or cultural importance, and that they should be preserved for all of humankind to enjoy and appreciate.
While some of these sites are located far from major cities, there are many that are near (or even in) provincial capitals. Now that you have moved to Canada, try to visit as many of these heritage sites as possible. They will not only impress and fascinate you, they will help you learn all about your new country.
We have listed the heritage sites from West to East and included the year that they were inscribed on the list. Eight of the sites have been listed for cultural reasons, ten for natural reasons, and one is a mix of both.
Kluane / Wrangell-St. Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek (British Columbia and Yukon Territory, 1979/1992/1994) — Natural
Four stunning national parks that stretch across two countries comprise this world heritage site, home to the largest non-polar icefield in the world. Kluane, Wrangell-St. Elias, Glacier Bay, and Tatshenshini-Alesk are located at the nexus of BC, Yukon Territory, and Alaska, and are known for their jagged cliffs, rugged mountains, and luminous glaciers. It’s not only worth visiting for its landscapes — there are also plenty of opportunities to spot a diverse array of wildlife. Dall’s sheep, grizzly bears, and caribou all call these parks home.
SGang Gwaay (British Columbia, 1981) — Cultural
Visiting SGang Gwaay, an island located off the west coast of Haida Gwaii, is a bittersweet experience, as this site was once home to at least 300 residents. However, diseases introduced by Europeans decimated the local people in the 1880s, and the island is now deserted. The village of Ninstints (Nans Dins) is home to exquisite carved mortuary and memorial poles, alongside houses and lodges, all bearing witness to the advanced way of life in the region prior to colonization.
Nahanni National Park (Northwest Territories, 1978) — Natural
On the banks of the South Nahanni River you will find Nahanni National Park, a jaw-dropping landscape full of massive waterfalls, deep canyons, and wild rushing water. Believe it or not, this majestic river gushes over falls that are twice as high as the famous Niagara Falls! Visitors to Nahanni can also engage in wildlife spotting — although with some of these species, you might want to engage in wildlife avoidance! Grizzly bears, wolves, caribou, mountain goats, and Dall’s sheep all live in the area.
Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks (British Columbia and Alberta, 1984/1990) — Natural
The Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks are some of the most beautiful in the world. The UNESCO site is comprised of the Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, and Yoho national parks, as well as Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine, and Hamber provincial parks, making this a vast and challenging landscape to fully explore. Boasting mountain ranges, waterfalls, trails, glaciers, limestone cave, rivers, and lake after lake, this is the rugged Canadian wilderness you have always dreamt of. While this heritage site is considered a “Natural” entry on the list, there are plenty of interesting hotels, towns, and cultural sites in the region too.
Waterton Glacier International Peace Park (Alberta and Montana, 1995)
Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta was combined with Glacier National Park in Montana in 1932; after all, animals don’t understand international borders! This merger created the world’s largest International Peace Park, home to stunning scenery, glaciers, alpine trails, and many opportunities to spot grizzly bears, mountain goats, wolves, and caribou.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump (Alberta, 1981)
This site is always interesting for newcomers to Canada, because it has such an expressive name! Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is presently located in Fort MacLeod, and the site is home to a First Nations camp where large numbers of buffalo skeletons have been found. The expressive and unique name is derived from an ancient and effective First Nations hunting method, wherein they drive buffaloes off cliffs to slaughter them for use.
Wood Buffalo National Park (Alberta, 1983) — Natural
If you want to feel like you’ve stepped back in time to Canada’s pre-colonial prairie landscape in the north of the country, Wood Buffalo National Park just might be the best place to visit. Home to the planet’s largest surviving population of wild bison, it is in a league of its own when it comes to wilderness. Wood Buffalo is Canada’s largest national park and is home to the world’s largest inland delta: the mouth of both the Athabasca and Peace rivers.
Dinosaur Provincial Park (Alberta, 1979) — Natural
The small town of Patricia certainly doesn’t look like much on the surface, but you have to think like a paleontologist to get excited about this heritage site! The Alberta Dinosaur Trail is in the Dinosaur Provincial Park, and it has been the site of the world’s most important fossil discoveries. More than 35 different species of dinosaur roamed the plains here, making this a beloved place to visit for fans of Jurassic Park, young and old.
Pimachiowin Aki (Ontario, 2018) — Mixed
Pimachiowin Aki translates to “The Land That Gives Life,” and is one of the most important heritage sites in all of Ontario. This lush and varied landscape is home to lakes, wetlands, rivers, and boreal forest. However, this is not solely a natural site. It is also part of the ancestral home of the Anishinaabeg First Nations people, where they have fished, hunted, and lived for thousands of years. The UNESCO site includes some of the traditional lands of four different Anishinaabeg communities (Little Grand Rapids, Bloodvein River, Pauingassi, and Poplar River).
Rideau Canal (Ontario, 2007) — Cultural
The Rideau Canal is a beloved Canadian site and an example of the kind of monumental construction that was starting to blanket the country in the early 19th century. It spans 202 km of the Cataraqui and Rideau rivers, stretching from Ottawa to Kingston Harbour. Ottawans enjoy the canal all year round; for jogging and festivals in the summer, and as the longest skating rink in the world during the winter months.
Historic District of Old Québec (Quebec, 1985) — Cultural
Wander cobblestone lanes, listen to the street performers play the accordion, gaze up at 17th and 18th century architecture, and dine on soupe l’oignon. You’re in Paris, right? Wrong! This is the Historic District of Old Quebéc. Founded by French settlers in the 17th century, this is the most “European” of all cities in North America.
Miguasha National Park (Quebec, 1999) — Natural
You’ll find Miguasha National Park on the southern coast of the Gaspé peninsula in south-eastern Quebec. Why would you want to visit? This paleontological site boasts the planet’s most complete fossil record of the Devonian Period, also referred to as the “Age of Fishes.”
Joggins Fossil Cliffs (Nova Scotia, 2008) — Natural
The Joggins Fossil Cliffs are found along the cliffs of majestic Nova Scotia. This region has the world’s highest tides, and it was here that archaeologists discovered the most complete fossil record of the “Coal Age” on earth. This time period was a staggering 100 million years before the appearance of the first dinosaurs. The site is spread across 14.7 km of cliffs, sandy beaches, rocky platforms, and bluffs, and is home to three distinct ecosystems.
Landscape of Grand Pré (Nova Scotia, 2012) — Cultural
Farming is one of the most important innovations in the modern world, and the Landscape of Grand Pré helped shape its development. Farmers on this marshland used dirt, dykes, and their own creativity and skill to transform thousands of acres of what should have been infertile, unfarmable tidal salt marshes into thriving farms. Explore the dykes on foot and learn all about the birthplace of Acadian culture.
Old Town Lunenburg (Nova Scotia, 1995) — Cultural
Despite its positively Scandinavian name, Old Town Lunenburg remains one of the best examples of a British colonial town in all North America. Settled in the mid-18th century, this colourful little port town is home to cobble stone streets lining the harbour, independent shops and restaurants, and exquisitely preserved historic homes.
Gros Morne National Park (Newfoundland, 1987) — Natural
Gros Morne National Park is located on the edge of Newfoundland and is an awe-inspiring natural landscape owing to millennia of grinding glaciers and ever-colliding continents. Words cannot do the rugged scenery justice, with jagged rocks of Earth’s mantle poking up out of the rough sea. You can explore the Western Brook Pond and its walled gorge, hike up to alpine terrain, and meet the locals in the seaside communities that dot the coast.
Red Bay Basque Whaling Station (Labrador, 2013) — Cultural
Basque (a semi-autonomous region between France and Spain) whalers have been coming to Canada since at least the 15th century, and the Red Bay Whaling Station was founded in the 16th on the Strait of Belle Isle. This area used to attract huge amounts of bowhead and right whales, enticing whalers from the Basque region to make the month-long trip across the Atlantic. The oil from the whales lit the lamps found across Europe, providing an enormous financial incentive for whalers to make the unrelentingly dangerous trip.
L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site (Newfoundland, 1978) — Cultural
Newfoundland is home to many natural and cultural historic sites, but none is more interesting than L’Anse aux Meadows. Lying at the very tip of the province’s Great Northern Peninsula, this site is home to the ancient remains of an 11th century Viking settlement. Canadian First Nations people didn’t leave behind these types of structures, so the wood-framed peat-turf buildings (akin to those found in Norse Greenland and Iceland) are some of the oldest built heritage in the country. You can tour the Viking ruins and do your best Viking impression.
Mistaken Point (Newfoundland, 2016) — Natural
You’ll find Mistaken Point at the south-eastern tip of Newfoundland. This natural heritage site has a series of jagged cliffs 17 kilometres in length, where one of the world’s oldest array of fossils has been found. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of these fossils. After nearly three billion years of the evolution of microscopic entities, they illustrate the moments when biologically complex large organisms begin to appear on the fossil record. This one is must-see.
The Tentative List
In addition to the 19 sites that have been officially inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, there are also 12 sites that are currently on the ‘Tentative” List. This means that they will be carefully considered for future nomination to official status.