Toronto to Ottawa: A Celebratory Canadian Road Trip

Canada is celebrating its 150th birthday in 2017, with festivities from coast to coast. But nowhere will the party be bigger all year long than in Ottawa, the nation’s capital.

To get you to Ottawa, we’ve designed a week-long road trip that starts in Toronto and meanders through several uniquely Ontario experiences, from toasting Canada’s birthday in a growing wine- and beer-producing region, to exploring the country’s first capital, en route to Ottawa’s bang-up festivities.

lawn sign spelling out Canada 150
Canada is celebrating its 150th birthday in 2017. Photo © Carolyn B. Heller.


Take time to explore Canada’s largest city before you hit the road. If you’re into art, don’t miss the Frank Gehry-designed Art Gallery of Ontario, where a new contemporary art exhibit for Canada’s sesquicentennial, Every. Now. Then: Reframing Nationhood, runs through mid-December. Or check out the many other Canada 150 events in Toronto.

Prince Edward County

Leave Toronto on Highway 401 east, then turn south into Prince Edward County, 2.5 hours from the city. Hike over the sandy dunes along Lake Ontario at Sandbanks Provincial Park, or stop to sip at Norman Hardie, Rosehall Run, or any of The County’s 40+ wineries. Craft beer is booming here, too, so check out newcomers like Parsons Brewing Company and Midtown Brewing, who’ve starting pouring their beers this spring.

The county’s coolest lodging is the Drake Devonshire, a Toronto import with thirteen rooms and an enviable location overlooking the lake. New this season is the June Motel, where two young entrepreneurs revamped a roadside motel with bright floral wallpaper and fun retro style—perfect for a girlfriends’ getaway or a road-trip overnight.

sand dunes backed by blue sky and a line of trees on the horizon
Hike over the sandy dunes along Lake Ontario at Sandbanks Provincial Park in Prince Edward County. Photo © marevos/iStock.


An hour’s drive east of Prince Edward County via Highway 401 is Kingston, which became Upper Canada’s first capital in 1841, before the nation’s founding in 1867.

Tour the stately limestone City Hall, intended to be the capitol building, until leaders of the fledgling nation, fearing that Kingston was too close to the United States for safety, relocated the government further north. Then explore Fort Henry, built in the 1830s, where you can learn to fire a musket or take in the drill formations and parade music at the summertime Sunset Ceremonies.

Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, started his career in Kingston. Visit his former home, now the Bellevue House National Historic Site, to learn more about this complicated man. While this “father of Confederation” helped build modern Canada, the exhibits at the site’s visitor center don’t shy away from his drinking, anti-aboriginal policies, and other flaws.

view of Kingston City Hall from below
Kingston City Hall. Photo © Carolyn B. Heller.


From Kingston, follow Highways 401 and 416 northeast to Ottawa, a two-hour drive. Canada’s national capital always has plenty to do, but throughout 2017, there are more festivities than you could pack into a single trip.

The Canadian Museum of History unveils its signature Canadian History Hall on July 1, while the new Canadian and Indigenous Art galleries at the National Gallery of Canada are showcasing the country’s art over the past 2,000 years. The Canada Science and Technology Museum reopens in November after a complete overhaul, with new exhibits celebrating Canada’s technological and scientific achievements.

tulips blooming in front of the National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. Photo courtesy of the National Gallery of Canada.

Other Ottawa 2017 events and attractions include Inspiration Village, a series of shipping containers displaying highlights from each of Canada’s provinces; Kontinuum, a “wow” multimedia experience in an under-construction light rail tunnel; and a weekend of Canada Day celebrations (June 30 to July 2), including a spectacular fireworks show.

Tip: If you haven’t already booked accommodations in Ottawa, get on it right away. Think beyond the summer, too. A road trip through the fall foliage season will still bring plenty of Canadian birthday fun.

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