10 beautiful places to explore gay Canada

A North American nation with a heart, Canada is our stellar snow-capped gay travel destination set to please. The planet’s second-largest country proudly welcomes outsiders from all corners, the global LGBTQ+ travel community being no exception. While even in rural parts you’ll be invited in with characteristic Canadian warmth, it’s the cosmopolitan cities that allow for the least inhibited gay romps. Whether it’s happening city nightlife you’re looking for or something a little more downbeat amidst famed Canadian wilderness, the ‘Great White North’ can provide it all in style. Find a rundown of our top 10 beautiful places to explore gay Canada below.

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Yoho National Park | Photo: Elise Zimmerman

1. Calgary

Keeping it weird for a first taste of Canada is the offbeat city of Calgary. The largest city in Alberta province, Calgary also happens to be Canada’s youngest city, meaning that despite proud cowboy traditions and old oil money, things are a’changing. Aside from safe and clean city streets packed with glittering skyscrapers and avante-garde dining experiences, Calgary is very much wild at heart, within distance of the world-famous Canadian Rockies, a hiker’s paradise turned gay landmark immortalised in the Heath Ledger flick Brokeback Mountain. While the mountains can certainly be a gay meeting point, it’s in the city centre that you’ll find the most convenient liaisons. From fancy cocktail bars to live theatre and all the gay dance clubs in between, Calgary is sure to keep you busy despite a sparsity of queer-specific venues.

Its gay scene may be smaller than in Montreal, but gay Calgary wins favour for its sheer openness and diverse population. With one in three residents hailing from elsewhere in the world, this is a city for everyone to enjoy, regardless of ethnicity, religion or orientation. Unlike many cities in Canada, Calgary doesn’t have its own official gay village, in its place however stands hordes of gay-friendly mixed spaces each prizing inclusivity. Rising property prices mean that specific gay venues are becoming ever fewer, but luckily there are still a few Calgary gay bar options dotted around the Beltline neighbourhood not far from downtown (from 6th and 7th streets and between 13th and 14th avenues SW). Get to know gay Calgary a little better with our dedicated Calgary travel guide.

Calgary | Photo: Levi Saunders

2. Banff, Alberta

To see Alberta’s natural side it’s to Banff you must venture. The namesake town within Banff National Park is where you’ll want to base yourself, way up on the slopes of the Rockies overlooking the most stunning views imaginable. Outdoor adventure is the calling here, with the mesmerising lakes and peaks dotting the landscape providing the setting for kayaking, white-water rafting, cycling, mountain climbing, skiing and even golfing. Particularly popular spots within what is Canada’s first national park are Lake Louise, Vermillion Lakes, Sunshine Meadows and Icefield Parkway. If in doubt about what to see in gay Banff, stop by Banff National Park Visitor Centre.

Although Banff National Park was first made famous as a humble hot springs town in the 1800s, it has since swollen to an epic 6,641 square kilometres mountain reserve hosting millions of tourists each year. The Cave and Basin Hot Springs are now kept as a national historic site offering lantern tours in the surrounding marshlands, but visitors wishing to strip off for a spa day can try Banff Upper Hot Springs. While there’s plenty to do in town, such as visiting the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, be sure to head into nature for encounters with the region’s best wildlife, including grizzly bears, caribou and wolves, with fishing and birdwatching tours also available. Travelling during the chilly season? Read all about the best things to do in Banff in Winter.

Moraine Lake, Banff National Park | Photo: Bantersnaps

Photo: Ali Kazal

3. Okanagan Valley

Just when you thought Canada had exhausted its reserves of natural beauty, Okanagan Valley comes into sight in the hills midway between Alberta and Vancouver. The entire valley stretches over 180 kilometres, filled with mainly peach and apricot orchards in one of Canada’s sunniest regions. Wine lovers will also be happy to know the nearby hills host vineyards for days! While late spring and early are considered the optimum times to visit for good weather while avoiding peak summer crowds, winter is also popular for skiers and snowboarders on their way to Big White Resort.

For a summer retreat, Okanagan Valley is enjoyed from any of the towns found along the valley, from arid Osoyoos on the US border to the central city of Kelowna and beyond. Kelowna is the most populated city along the valley, warranting a day of exploring at least. Amble along the Kelowna Marina and Waterfront Park, taking in an outdoor performance or concert made all the more magical by Okanagan Lake scenery. Besides moseying, top ways to spend a day in gay Okanagan include swimming in the lake from Hot Sands Beach or taking a day trip out to Knox Mountain Park for hiking and mountain trails featuring much regional wildlife. Keep your eyes open for rattlesnakes and lynx en route to the summit, where – with good timing – you’ll meet majestic sunset views overlooking Okanagan Lake.

Okanagan Valley | Photo: Kym Ellis

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Presenting the best Asian cuisine in North America as well as a ‘locavore’ movement promoting fresh local produce, Vancouver is the place to taste the world

4. Vancouver

A diverse city regarded as the foodie capital of Canada, Vancouver is truly a model global city. Presenting the best Asian cuisine in North America as well as a ‘locavore’ movement promoting fresh local produce, Vancouver is the place to taste the world. For lunch, opt between Vietnamese banh mi or deli-style wild salmon lunches, indulging in Fraser Valley lamb and foraged morel mushrooms for dinner, all washed down with a locally brewed craft beer at any hip bar in town. Don’t get too full on hops however because you’ve still got an entire city to explore, its diverse mini districts easily reachable by public transport. If it’s shopping you’re after, look for the independent boutiques on Main Street, following up with a coffee on Commercial Drive, incidentally the heart of bohemian Vancouver’s lesbian community. Besides the beloved Stanley Park, popular outdoors hangouts include Kitsilano Beach with its heritage houses, beach park and the Museum of Vancouver moments from the shore.

Come night fall, stick to the waterfront for live music, art and theatre events, such as the popular Shakespeare shows throughout summer or the open-house art crawl come November. For some of that renowned IPA though, it’s the redbrick bars of Gastown set to serve you best. Davie Village meanwhile is the heart of gay Vancouver and the city’s LGBTQ+ community, featuring a great many gay bars, clubs, fashion stores and gay saunas for your perusal. While you could easily spend days uncovering the downtown culture beyond Vancouver’s glittering skyscrapers, don’t forget that this is British Columbia, one of the few places on earth where you can ski and beach bathe on the same day. Look to the North Shore for those epic picture-perfect mountains, where you’ll find snow sports, hiking and mountain biking opportunities depending on the season.

Staying in Vancouver for a few days? Get all the insider scoop with our Vancouver travel guide, optimising your trip with our insights on How to have the perfect weekend in Vancouver.

Vancouver | Photo: Brayden Law

Vancouver | Photo: Nikita Ignatev

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Toronto has not one but two gay villages; the Gay Village at Church & Wellesley is the one for gay-owned lodgings, queer theatre, bookstores and quirky gay bars, while the Queer West Village brings some added sass with is edgy post-gay bars and alternative restaurants

5. Toronto

If you’re gay and in Canada then Toronto is a true must-visit. Sure, the rest of the country can easily be deemed gay paradise, but it is gay Toronto where the queer community is at its most alive. Just to prove it, Toronto has not one but two gay villages; the Gay Village at Church & Wellesley is the one for gay-owned lodgings, queer theatre, bookstores and quirky gay bars, while the Queer West Village brings some added sass with is edgy post-gay bars and alternative restaurants. Old Cabbagetown is also on the up-and-up as potentially Toronto’s third gay neighbourhood. Though it’s easy to find a gay party any time of year in Toronto, calendar highlights include pride week in June and the Church Street Fetish Fair in August.

Aside from gay life, Toronto has so much more to offer its visitors and the 200 global cultures taking up roots in the city. Behind the ultra-shiny skyscrapers and business districts there lies a diversity of cultural attractions with an exceptional dining scene to boot. Within town, take a day to explore attractions such as the Art Gallery of Ontario or the stately Casa Loma, venturing to Toronto Islands for a recreational beach day should you need one. Stay in Toronto for a little longer using our Toronto travel guide for all the juicy top spots, or embark on an epic road trip to Niagara Falls and Buffalo from Toronto.

Toronto | Photo: Marcos Paulo Prado

Toronto | Photo: Mwangi Gatheca

6. Ottawa

Finally, we meet the capital of this beautiful nation, two hours west of Montreal and five hours northeast of Toronto straddling the provincial border between Ontario and Quebec. Despite being the political centre of the nation, home to the Houses of Parliament and Supreme Court, Ottawa is actually more down to earth than it might at first seem. Besides ostentatious neo-gothic institutions around Parliament Hill, Ottawa finds pride in its outdoors culture, including Confederation Park and the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO-listed attraction which in winter turns into the world’s largest skating rink. Also in winter, gay visitors can gear up for Winterlude and the queer favourite, Snowblower Festival. At all other times in Ottawa, you’ll never be short of a festival or two; there’s Tulip Festival in May, Canada Day in July, Fall Rhapsody in October and Centertown’s Christmas light festival in December. The highlight for gay Ottawa meanwhile lies in late August when Capital Pride festival kicks off.

Ottawa offers some of the best museums and galleries in the country, in addition to heritage spots such as the Chateau Laurier and Lord Elgin Hotel dotted throughout. There’s a never-ending supply of shopping opportunities downtown, on Sussex Drive and Sparks Street especially, but don’t skip out on crossing the bridge to sister city Gatineau for cultural institutions like the National Gallery of Canada, the National Arts Centre and the Canadian War Museum. After filling up on culture, wind down with gourmet coffee at the Glebe, moving towards Elgin for restaurants and nightlife.

Most of the gay bars Ottawa has to offer lie in the six-block section of Bank Street, which is the city’s semi-official gay village home to many nightlife hot spots, shopping, and support services for the LGBTQ+ community. The Byward Market area is another option for gay bars in Ottawa, by day hosting the oldest farmers’ market in the city.

Ottawa | Photo: Edna Rabago

7. Montreal

A classy pearl of a city with its fair share of gay offerings and an impeccable food scene to match is the French-Canadian capital of Montreal. Fusing North American openness with Parisian styles, Montreal forges its own culture where heritage and hedonism collide to fantastic effect. The city’s attitudes lean oh-so liberal, particularly within gay Montreal village, one of the biggest and best gaybourhoods in North America. Running 12 blocks and certain to satisfy any kink, ‘Le Village’ has everything from drag and cabaret to leather and bear bars, with a good amount of dance clubs, strip clubs and pubs mixed in. For something a little more steamy, take your pick from among North America’s largest selection of gay bathhouses.

Fierté Montréal may be the high point of the city’s LGBT calendar but an event equally as huge is the Montreal World Film Festival held in late August annually. As well as brushing shoulders with independent film directors and stars, make sure to check the screening schedule on the MWFF website as a good way to revive after a big weekend. Find out what else makes this French capital tick with our full Montreal travel guide.

Montreal | Photo: Matthias Mullie

8. Québec

Capital city of the province with the same name, Québec is quite possibly the world’s most accepting city for the global queer population. Safe and community-minded lying east of Ontario, Québec is a majority French-speaking city that prides itself of Francophile heritage while also embracing modernity by way of street festivals and energetic nightlife. Learning a few words of French can help you to get by while in Quebec, regardless of what you have planned. Soak up the old-time atmosphere on colonial streets hemmed in by fortress walls, watching the sunset on Governor’s Promenade before being tempted to Quebec’s many gastronomic delights.

Like Calgary, gay Quebec doesn’t have its own gay village, but nevertheless, the Quebec gay scene is out and proud across the city, particularly in the Saint-Jean Baptiste neighbourhood. Here you’ll find the best bar gay Quebec has to offer – Bar St-Matthews is our favourite – as well as a million other queer spaces such as Le Drague Cabaret Club and ForHom social club, close to the ever-popular Sauna Bloc 225.

Québec | Photo: Tim Geenens

9. The Maritimes

Journeying out to Canada’s more rural regions takes us to the Maritime Provinces that cover Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Comparatively close to Europe, the Maritimes offer underrated coastal retreats for travellers unafraid of biting winds and rugged character. While each province is distinct, the Maritimes are proud fish mongering communities blending Irish, Scottish, English and French influence resulting in some pretty cool local dialects and accents. One of the most popular destinations of the three is Nova Scotia, headed by the provincial capital of Halifax. Nicknamed ‘Canada’s Ocean Playground’, Nova Scotia offers picturesque coastline beside weathered landscapes of cliffs and forest, with Halifax at its centre. To explore the Maritimes in their entirety, hiring a car is essential, making the Cabot Trail and trips to outlying lands such as Cape Breton Island a breeze.

Though often overlooked in favour of the islands, New Brunswick on the mainland makes for a great scenic diversion on your maritime road trip. Travel through the gritty port town of Saint John, along the Acadian Coast and the Bay of Fundy, an area known mostly for its crashing waves and whale watching prospects. From there, cross the epic Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island where culinary delights and sandy national park trails await. If time allows, Charlottetown is just a short distance away with her charming seaside café culture. However, you choose to travel, starting and ending in Halifax is a good call. Gay Halifax is host to the largest gay community in the Maritimes, and the Halifax gay bar scene is not too shabby. For an up-to-date look at gay bars Halifax, LGBT hangouts and events, go to Halifax Rainbow Encyclopedia.

Photo: Tim Foster

Photo: ArtTower

10. Newfoundland and Labrador

Northeast of the Maritimes is the rugged province of Newfoundland and Labrador, only officially a part of Canada as late as 1949. For this reason, many visitors to the region feel as if they are entering an entirely different country, one which hosts an unique mix of dialects and old European heritage on sparsely populated wilderness. Even the most populated city of St John’s is rarely crowded, allowing for a leisurely introduction to local life by way of museums, foodie culture and folk music. Though it may be easy to get side-tracked by the bears of gay Newfoundland’s best bars and clubs, don’t forget there’s a whole natural world out here on the Avalon Peninsula and beyond! Start by whale-watching at Bay Bulls, posing by Cape Spear lighthouses and finally embarking on an all-out expedition along the East Coast Trail, covering meadow, cliff and forest.

That’s not all, however, as the Bonavista Peninsula also yearns for your attention.  The equally charming Trinity and Twillingate are the largest port towns here, though trips to Fogo Island best offer a glimpse into traditional lifestyles. Other worthy peninsula excursions include Burin peninsula, with an optional ferry ride to St Pierre et Miquelon, the last remaining French territory in North America. Then there’s the mountains and glacial lakes of Gros Morne National Park, or the Norse heritage setting of L’Anse aux Meadows 300 kilometres further afield. Back on the mainland towards Greenland, Canada’s rural region gets ever vaster. The further you venture, the better you’ll get to know the cultures of Labrador’s Inuit and Innu communities, in amongst jaw-dropping mountain ranges and forested wildlife reserves flanked by coast and studded by lake. Though none of these places are easy to reach, the scenic roads make for an unforgettable trip. If driving, however, slow down and buckle up because these roads are notorious for moose collisions!

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Maligne Lake | Photo: Tom Gainor

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