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I'm going to Canada for the first time in my life. I can choose between Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa. I want to see a place that is very typical for Canada and that also differs from the things I can see in Switzerland.

If that are my only requirements, which of the three cities should I choose to go to?

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How long are you visiting for? And are you hoping to see museums / galleries / old-ish buildings / open spaces / visit restaurants / cafes / do outdoor sports / etc ? –  Gagravarr Jun 7 '12 at 12:12
Vancouver? Vancouver? Come to Vancouver! :) –  Mark Mayo Jun 7 '12 at 16:32
I don't know yet how long I will be there, but we're talking about some days. I'm not interested in museums, galleries and stuff like this. but landmarks, etc. would be cool. And @MarkMayo I'm also coming to Vancouver ;) –  RoflcoptrException Jun 8 '12 at 7:45
If you're into landmarks, Montreal is where you want to go. It's a much older city than Ottawa or Toronto and has fantastic architecture in many styles. Remember, this was at first a French and then a British city. Also there are impressive modern structures such as the Olympic Stadium, St Joseph's Oratory (ok not that modern), and downtown buildings. –  Imray Mar 7 '13 at 23:18

4 Answers 4

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Ottawa we can pretty safely drop from the list -- as a planned city populated mostly by government bureaucrats, it's got a few good museums but very little else to interest the casual visitor, and it's quite hard to get around without a car.

Montreal vs Toronto is a more interesting showdown. Personally, I'd cast my vote for Montreal: it feels a bit smaller and more approachable, with an incredibly vibrant cultural scene, and the presence of French everywhere gives it quite a unique flavor for a North American city. However, if you're keen on something that's less "European" and more like New York or Chicago, then Toronto may fit the bill better.

All that said, my favorite big city in Canada is actually Vancouver, which also has the most scenic location by a long shot and arguably the best climate as well.

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I'm also going to Vancouver ;) –  RoflcoptrException Jun 7 '12 at 11:50
But there you have the mountains, just as in Switzerland ;-) –  user766 Jun 7 '12 at 15:15
But also the sea, which they DON'T have in Switzerland :) –  Mark Mayo Jun 7 '12 at 20:25
But we have some lakes ;) –  RoflcoptrException Jun 8 '12 at 7:45
@user766 The mountains in Canada are far, far more impressive than the ons in Switzerland. At least, that is my opinion. –  Bernhard Mar 8 '13 at 6:45

If those are your three choices, I'd suggest Montreal. Montreal and Ottawa are a less than two hours from eachother, so you can easily take a morning train and spend the day there, before returning to Montreal.

Ottawa is a beautiful city, and is home to some of the best museums in the world (see Museum of Civilization, Air and Space Museum, and more). Also if you are going in the winter, skate through the city on the longest ice rink the world. In the summer, Ottawa is where the Canada Day parties are, and they have one of the largest tulip festivals in the world.

Montreal has a lot to offer too. The nightlife there is one of the best in North America, and there is lots to do at the waterfront (Vieux Port).

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If you mention museums in Ottawa, you should also mention the Canadian War museum. This is really one of the most interesting museums that I ever visited. There is a combined ticket for the Museum of Civilization and War Museum, if you visit them on the same day. –  Bernhard Mar 8 '13 at 6:44

Toronto is the most "typical" Canadian city. It's big (with over 15% of Canada's people), and broadly representative of the country.

As an English-speaking American, I found Montreal to be interesting, because of the interaction between English and French. Of the three, it is most reminiscent of Switzerland, which judging from the question, is not the best thing in the world for you.

Ottawa is the least interesting; it's main interest is as the capital city, and not much else, somewhat like Bonn in the former West Germany.

In Swiss terms, Toronto is "Zurich," Montreal is "Geneva," and Ottawa is "Berne."

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Toronto is an interesting base from which to see things outside of Toronto as well as the city itself. For example Niagara Falls is just about an hour away from Toronto. In the fall, there are bus tours north of the city to see the leaves turn - Montreal may offer that as well. Toronto is also close to Stratford (for Shakespeare etc) and Niagara on the Lake (for Shaw), which are world famous. Depending on the time of year, you might want to see a professional basketball or baseball game - hockey you can see in both cities.

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