Hot Air Balloon Festival in Ottawa, Ontario© David LewisHot Air Balloon Festival in Ottawa, Ontario
© David Lewis
From Pelee Island, a Lake Erie haven at the same latitude as northern California, to the subarctic shores of Hudson Bay, Ontario offers visitors more holiday choices than many small countries. At 1.1 million km2 (416,000 square miles), it's three times the size of Germany and twice as large as Spain. So where do you start when planning your Ontario vacation?

It all depends on what you like. If luxurious boutiques, pro sports events and a glittering film festival thrill you, try Toronto, the country's largest city. At one point, Toronto was so strait-laced that it was known as "Toronto the Good." But the last few decades have shaken its once-staid demeanour to a delightful degree, with the arrival of waves of immigrants—Portuguese, Italian, Chinese, East Asian and more, from all corners of the globe.

For history and pageantry, there's Ottawa, the nation's capital. There you can thrill to pipes and drums during the Changing of the Guard, explore national museums, watch Question Period in the House of Commons, or cycle along 160 kilometres (100 miles) of recreational trails.

Gourmets, meanwhile, head to the Niagara Peninsula. As well as world-famous Niagara Falls, this region is home to some 60 wineries and at least a dozen top-drawer restaurants. Postcard-pretty Niagara-on-the-Lake hosts the Shaw Festival, the world's largest theatre festival dedicated to the plays of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries. A couple of hours' drive west, the Stratford Festival has been bringing classic Shakespeare to summer audiences since 1953 (thespians ranging from Alec Guinness to, um, William Shatner have graced its stages).

Canadian Tulip Festival, Ottawa, Ontario© Rob HuntleyCanadian Tulip Festival, Ottawa, Ontario
© Rob Huntley
Looking for something wilder? Not to worry. Nineteen out of 20 Ontarians live in the southernmost stretch of the province, closest to the U.S. border, leaving 85 percent of the landmass barely populated. Fly into a fishing lodge, canoe across lakes where your only companions will be loons and bears, or camp on a rocky outcrop on the shores of Georgian Bay, the wild landscape that inspired the groundbreaking artists known as the Group of Seven.

by Laura Byrne Paquet

Stock Photos from 123RF

Stock Photos from 123RF

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