Authors Michael and Lana Law have resided in BC, Alberta, and Manitoba, and currently call Ontario home. Their extensive travels across the country have fostered a deep appreciation for small towns.
The selection process for our list of the most charming small towns in Canada involved identifying places that excelled in offering scenic views, unpretentious atmospheres, and exceptional attractions—a triumvirate we deem essential for the perfect small-town experience.
While Canada’s major cities boast numerous attractions, exploring small towns presents a unique opportunity for travelers seeking an intimate connection with a place. In these locales, intricate itineraries and extensive guidebooks are often unnecessary; the best adventures unfold through leisurely strolls or engaging conversations with the locals.
Discover the top destinations for your next journey with our compilation of the most charming small towns in Canada.
With its quaint colonial buildings and the iconic Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake earns its nickname, ‘The Loveliest Town in Canada.’ Originally known as Butlersburg in the late 18th century, and later as West Niagara, it served as a refuge for pro-Loyalists fleeing the United States following the American Revolution.
The town boasts landmarks such as the 1840s Old Court House Theater, along with Ontario’s oldest Catholic and Anglican churches: St. Vincent de Paul (1826) and St. Mark’s Church (1791), respectively. From April to November, Niagara-on-the-Lake hosts the Shaw Festival, a theatrical extravaganza featuring plays by George Bernard Shaw and other renowned playwrights.
St Andrews By-the-Sea, New Brunswick
Officially known as Saint Andrews, this town earned its ‘By-the-Sea’ moniker for the obvious reason that it is situated by the sea. Established in 1783 by United Empire Loyalists—individuals who sought refuge during or after the American Revolution—the original sections of the town have been meticulously preserved. The Ross Memorial Museum, a prime example of a 19th-century residence adorned with exquisite furniture, stands as a testament to the town’s historical charm.
Another notable landmark is the immaculate All Saints Anglican Church, while many buildings showcase vibrant and colorful murals. Beyond its architectural appeal, whale watching is a major attraction in this picturesque seaside town.
Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia
This small village on the Atlantic Coast has a rich history rooted in the fishing industry, but since the conclusion of World War II, Peggy’s Cove has shifted its reliance from fishing to tourism. Presently, it is renowned for its charming coastal scenery.
Established in 1811 when six families of German descent were authorized to construct homes here, the town is adorned with charming wooden fishing sheds that epitomize its character. Nestled within its rugged rocky coastline, with the vastness of the Atlantic stretching out as far as the eye can see, Peggy’s Cove stands as a picture-perfect fishing village.
Established in 1828 and named after the British prime minister of that era, this town takes great pride in its aesthetics, as evident in its motto, ‘Canada’s Prettiest Town.’ Furthermore, it has garnered accolades across various categories in the Communities in Bloom competition.
While it is asserted that Queen Elizabeth II referred to it as the most beautiful town in Canada (although there is no recorded visit by a reigning monarch), notable historical landmarks include the 1839 Huron Historic Gaol and the Huron County Museum. However, those with an affinity for the outdoors will find particular interest in the town’s three beaches.
Dawson City, Yukon
Established in 1897 at a First Nations Camp during the Klondike Gold Rush, Dawson City initially burgeoned into a city boasting over 40,000 inhabitants, all lured by the promise of gold. Although it has since diminished in size, the historically rich Dawson City continues to attract visitors.
The term ‘Dawson Historical Complex’ pertains to the charming 19th-century heart of the town; notably, any new constructions must adhere to visual standards reminiscent of the 19th century to maintain its picturesque appearance. Strangely, it is renowned for the ‘Sourtoe Cocktail’ at the Downtown Hotel, which includes a genuine mummified human toe!
Surprisingly, one of the distinctions of this Quebecois town is that it served as the founding location of Cirque du Soleil in 1984. Another, albeit less enjoyable, claim to fame occurred in the 1770s when Dr. Philippe-Louis-François Badelard named a disease he was studying after the town.
However, beyond these aspects, its charming narrow streets adorned with boutiques and art galleries, coupled with historical landmarks such as the 1714 Église de Saint-Pierre et Saint-Paul, contribute to making this town exceptionally picturesque.
Brigus, Newfoundland and Labrador
This quaint fishing village traces its roots back to approximately 1612 when the first governor of the Newfoundland Colony, John Guy, sold half of the bay to the Spracklin family. Today, it is renowned for its picturesque charm and is replete with intriguing landmarks. Notable sites include the 19th-century Convent of Mercy, constructed for Irish nuns, St. George’s Anglican Church, and the Brigus Tunnel, skillfully carved through solid rock to access a deep-water harbor.
Additionally, Hawthorne Lodge, the residence of Arctic explorer Captain Robert Bartlett, stands out as one among the numerous Arctic explorers hailing from this village.
Churchill offers an array of natural wonders, from polar bears and beluga whales to the mesmerizing northern lights. Although Danish explorers first reached this area in 1619, with only three of the 64 expedition members returning to Denmark, Churchill’s more enduring history commenced in 1717. It was during this time that the British Hudson’s Bay Company established the first settlement. Remnants of the Anglo-French dispute over North America persist, exemplified by the impressive 250-year-old Prince of Wales Fort.
In the town, visitors can explore the Eskimo Museum and embark on a Polar Bear Tour, as Churchill proudly holds the title of the ‘Polar Bear Capital of the World.’
Nelson, British Columbia
Nelson, the picturesque mountain town, experienced its initial boom in 1886 when silver was discovered near Toad Mountain. Presently, many structures from that era have undergone meticulous restoration, contributing significantly to Nelson’s timeless charm.
As a vibrant cultural center, Nelson offers a plethora of activities, including restaurants, cafes, shops, art galleries, and coffee houses. Winter enthusiasts can indulge in skiing and snowboarding, while summer brings events like Market fest, a lively nighttime market taking place on the last Friday of each month in June, July, and August.
Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia
Close your eyes and envision the ideal maritime town. It is likely that your mental image closely resembles Mahone Bay: with charming churches, delightful shops, and houses painted in the colors of Easter eggs.
Situated in Nova Scotia’s Lunenburg County, Mahone Bay currently has an estimated population of 1,036, and this number continues to grow, earning it the distinction of being the fastest-growing municipality in the province.
With a historical background as a shipbuilding town, Mahone Bay preserves numerous references to its maritime heritage. Water remains a significant element in the town, offering opportunities for activities such as stand-up paddleboarding and boating.
Within the town, small shops showcase goods crafted by local artisans, ensuring you’ll find a unique souvenir easily. Additionally, there are excellent options for enjoying a cup of coffee, savoring a fresh fish dinner, or indulging in homemade ice cream.
Whether you’re trekking the Rockies in the summer or skiing them in the winter, Jasper is a paradise for adventurers.
Jasper’s premier activities form the ultimate bucket list for passionate explorers: hiking to alpine lakes, embarking on a wildlife tour, chasing waterfalls, delving into ice canyons, experiencing dog sledding, and ice-skating on a frozen lake, among others. The options seem endless.
Approximately 4,590 residents have chosen Jasper as their permanent home, and it’s likely that nearly every tourist who visits wishes they could do the same. Quieter than Banff but equally breathtaking, Jasper is a must-visit destination for anyone planning to explore the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
Golden, British Columbia
In the realm of small, tranquil mountain towns in the interior of British Columbia, several contenders could claim a spot on this list, but Golden unquestionably earns our top honor. Geographically, Golden boasts a remarkable range: it is situated at the confluence of two significant rivers, the Columbia and the Kicking Horse, surrounded by three breathtaking mountain ranges, and is in close proximity to five major national parks.
For the 3,708 residents of Golden, life revolves around embracing the splendor of the nearby mountains. During the summer months, locals and visitors alike hike through the picturesque landscapes, while winter brings opportunities for skiing or snowboarding at the renowned Kicking Horse Mountain Resort or venturing into the pristine backcountry. Regardless of the season, the town offers stunning vistas that captivate throughout the entire year, solidifying Kicking Horse as one of British Columbia’s premier ski resorts.
Food enthusiasts will be delighted to discover that Golden is home to several outstanding restaurants, providing a delectable culinary experience. After a day of adventurous activities, residents and visitors can head into town to savor a delightful meal.
In the realm of small communities, Elora stands out with its vibrant and diverse offerings.
First and foremost is the renowned Elora Gorge, where the Grand River winds its way through towering 22-meter cliffs. While hiking the trails alongside the gorge is a popular activity, the most thrilling adventures unfold on the water, whether floating down the river on an inner tube or paddling in a kayak. Elora has also become a sought-after camping destination near Toronto.
Second, there’s a cosmopolitan vibe with charming shops, delectable restaurants, and inviting accommodations enhancing the overall experience. Third, the town hosts exciting events and festivals, such as the ever-expanding music festival Riverfest. Held every summer, this event attracts musicians from across Canada and beyond. Elora is increasingly becoming a favored getaway for young professionals seeking the next trendy destination.
Nestled in the heart of the Laurentian Mountains, Saint-Sauveur, with a population of 9,881, could easily be deemed one of the most charming villages in all of Quebec.
Despite being less than an hour from Montreal, Saint-Sauveur exudes the ambiance of a secluded mountain town, especially after a fresh blanket of snow covers the landscape. With six ski resorts in the vicinity, the possibilities are abundant—you could spend a week skiing somewhere new almost every day.
As the snow gives way to the thaw, opportunities for exploration abound by bike or on foot. The area boasts eight golf courses, so bringing along your golf bag might be a good idea.
While Saint-Sauveur’s outlet mall attracts bargain hunters, the stroll-worthy downtown steals the spotlight with its adorable boutiques, bakeries, specialty food shops, and outstanding restaurants. Skiing, shopping, and savoring—sounds like the perfect vacation to us!
Read More: Top Tourist Attractions in Quebec
Squamish, British Columbia
The town of Squamish, BC, encapsulated by the motto “Hardwired for Adventure,” provides a succinct summary of this compact yet swiftly expanding community (population 19,512 and growing) situated between Vancouver and Whistler.
Originating from the logging industry, Squamish has evolved into a hub for high-adrenaline pursuits, with popular activities including mountain biking, rock climbing, hiking, kiteboarding, and trail running.
Its charming downtown, conducive to walking, is adorned with an array of eclectic boutiques showcasing locally made goods and treats. The town hosts a continuous stream of festivals and special events, particularly during the summer. Notable occasions include the Squamish Loggers Sports Festival, the Wind Festival for the Arts, and various renowned bike and running races.
While Squamish used to be a mere pit stop for refueling or a quick bite en route to Whistler, it has now transformed into a destination in its own right.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Canada: Best Areas & Hotels
Q: What makes small towns in Canada charming?
A: Small towns in Canada are charming due to their scenic beauty, rich history, and strong sense of community. They offer a tranquil escape and a connection to Canadian culture.
Q: Are these towns suitable for all seasons?
A: Yes, many charming small towns in Canada offer activities and attractions for every season. Whether it’s hiking in the summer or enjoying winter sports, there’s something for everyone.
Q: Can I experience local culture in these towns?
A: Absolutely! Many towns have museums, cultural events, and festivals that provide a deep dive into Canadian heritage and traditions.
Q: Are these towns tourist-friendly?
A: Yes, most charming small towns in Canada are welcoming