The Best Cities to Live in Ontario
When I'm talking about the "best cities in Ontario," know that I'm not actually ordering these cities in the form of a hierarchy. Ontario is a diverse and beautiful province, and different cities may in fact be better for different people.
I'm from Toronto, but I know for certain that there are many people in Ontario who don't mind visiting Toronto, but simply aren't excited by the notion of living there, and that's totally fine. Heck, there's probably large swaths that don't even like to visit and that is fine, too.
Recently, as you'll have noticed, I've been writing much more about Canada and Ontario, and that's what inspired me to put together this collaborative post to look at the best places to live in Ontario. I tapped a bunch of my travel writing pals on the shoulder who are familiar with Ontario, and told them to tell me what they felt was the best city to live in Ontario. The response I got was remarkable, and I personally learned more about some cool places in Ontario.
I know that, statistically, I have a fairly decent portion of my readership that hails from Toronto and Ontario, and it's my goal to continue to have people reconceptualize what's possible in this province. I love to travel, and I love to travel half-way across the world, but there's something to be said for at least acknowledging places to go in Ontario.
Now, as I mentioned before, this list of the best cities to live in Ontario is in no particular order, and ultimately only you can decide what truly is the best city in Ontario, but I'd love to hear your opinion. Feel free to comment below if you feel that anyone missed anything, and I may even tap you on the shoulder to write a little something about said city, and ensure we've got as thorough a list as we can.
It's also worth noting that I know this list is incomplete, and there are many more cities that could be added, but this was an exercise in tapping some choice colleagues and friends on the shoulder to see what they thought.
The Best Cities to Live in Ontario/The Best City to Live in Ontario
Sandy from Canadian Blog House:
A perfect blend of small town charm, and big-city amenities, makes the city of Kingston one of the most desirable places to live in Ontario.
This family-friendly Eastern Ontario city, affectionately known as the Limestone City, for the foundation of limestone that Kingston is built on, lies on the beautiful northeast shore of Lake Ontario, at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River and the start of the Rideau Canal. It is Kingston's location, at the juncture of these three bodies of water, that helps to make Kingston one of Canada's prettiest cities. Of course, Kingston is more than just a "pretty face".
Famous for the events that occured during the reign of Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, Kingston is a city steeped in history - just waiting to be explored!
Kingston's vibrant cultural community will delight those interested in music, theater, or the arts. Kingston's foodie scene is one of the Canada's best, and boasts of having the most restaurants per capita in Canada. For the nature lover, Kingston is home to several beautiful conservation areas with great hiking trails, and several walking paths that line the sparkling waterfront.
With the 1000 Islands region at its doorstep, and hundreds of lakes within a half a day's drive, there's no better place to enjoy the great Canadian outdoors in summer, than Kingston.
Hosting a large number of festivals and sporting events, and featuring a downtown hub that is second to none, Kingston truly is one of Canada's most desirable cities!
Taylor from Taylor's Tracks:
Ottawa is Canada’s beautiful capital that is too often overlooked as a place to live or visit. It’s a larger city, around 1 million, but it has got a small city feel where it’s not uncommon to see people you know. Though a government city, Ottawa has recently taken off and is following in the footsteps of other major cities bringing tourism to this pretty capital where a food scene is building, certain areas such as Westboro or the Glebe are becoming extra trendy with independent shops and more people are realizing that Ottawa is more than just where the Parliament buildings are.
What’s so great about Ottawa is that it truly embraces every season. In summer the city comes alive, patios roll out into the streets, events and festivals are on every weekend and everyone flocks to be by the Ottawa River or canal for a dose of vitamin D. In the winter snow activities are abundant surrounding the city in Gatineau Park from skiing to snow shoeing and more. In fall the city turns into a fall foliage lovers dream with colours dotting the streets. And in spring the city awakens with yet more outdoor adventures and festivals begin such as the Tulip Festival.
Ottawa is full of history, shown by buildings throughout the downtown core, it’s ideal for those who love outdoor activities with nature on the city’s doorstep year round from skating on the canal to hiking through Gatineau Park in the summer. It’s the perfect city to chill out it, take in the architecture, roam through the Byward Market and treat yourself to some decadent goodies and find unique places to shop. It’s friendly, warm and inviting. World class arts at the NAC, plenty of museums, decent nightlife in the market and sports, Ottawa has a little something for everyone no matter the time of the year.
If you're enjoying this post, you might also like my post on having the Ultimate Ottawa Weekend, or Visiting the Perfect Island in Ontario, Pelee Island.
Rossana from Life is Full of Adventures:
Located on the southern shores of Georgian Bay and along the Niagara escarpment, Collingwood is more than a town with a ski resort. Although not a resident of the area, we visit frequently throughout the year and always love visiting and exploring the area. The town itself still maintains that small town feel even though it burgeons with tourists during the weekends.
Local History - At one time, it was known as a major shipbuilding area, as well as a major rail area. If you go down to the docks, you can still see the massive grain elevators that stand as a relic of that era when goods were shipped to Chicago and Thunder Bay via rail. That area, a natural harbour ( and the perfect place for the shipyards) has now been transformed into a marina; the surrounding land built up with condos, and shopping areas. You can find out more about its rich history at the Collingwood Museum.
Recreation - Collingwood is an all season destination known for its recreational experiences. In the winter because of the proximity to Blue Mountain, it does become a skiers’ haven, with skiing (both downhill and cross-country) in the day and evening. There is always a hub of activity happening around the resort itself so you will always find something to do!
The area also boasts many activities in the summer including mountain biking, hiking ( the Bruce Trail provides access to the Niagara escarpment), water sports along Georgian Bay, as well some great beaches to just sit and relax.
If you are up for more adventure, you can always head to the Scenic Caves, where you can zipline, explore the history and geology of its caverns and crevasses, go on a tree top adventure, or walk across the 420 ft suspension bridge.
Around Town - In the summer, Collingwood holds many festivals and events, but none is more popular than the Elvis Festival. It is held at the end of July every year and known as the world’s largest Elvis Festival, drawing visitors from afar. Performers, impersonators, and fans come from all over the world for this yearly event.
You can’t leave Collingwood without taking a stroll around the downtown core. Much of downtown area has been designated a Heritage District ( the first municipality in Canada to have the Heritage District designation). The beautiful Century buildings and homes lining the streets are an architectural delight with their gingerbread detailing and wrap around verandahs. The paintings along the sides of some of the buildings are wonderful to see as they usually incorporate some of the local history.
Don’t forget to explore the area shops and amazing restaurants... one of my favourite restaurants is located one street over from Main St. (Azzurra). The creative chef uses mainly local produce; the menu is always incredible and changes frequently.
If you are in town during the winter, the ice sculptures (Frozen in Time Festival) lining the streets and lit up at night are spectacular, and add a magical glow to the night.
No matter what time of the year you visit Collingwood, there is always so much to do in the area!
Claire from Past the Potholes:
If you’re looking for a place to stay for a while, Barrie just might be the perfect location! As a small city it has all the amenities you need for day- to-day living but it’s also just an hour away from Toronto. Barrie is an outdoor lover’s playground with an abundance of sports, nature and year- round activities available.
Activities - Sitting on Kempenfelt Bay, there is a great waterfront area with miles of park, beach and trails right downtown. Try your hand at watersports such as wakesurfing, waterskiing, SUP, rowing, sailing and kayaking or just relax on the beach. In the winter, the frozen lake is a popular place for ice fishing, snowmobiling and cross country skiing.
On a nice day, Barrie is the perfect place for a round of golf with a number of excellent golf courses in the area as well as hiking and biking trails. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, there are movie theatres, shopping malls and kids’ indoor playgrounds among the covered activities available. An indoor trampoline centre as well as just about any kind of club or sport (squash is our favourite!) you can think of is available.
The winter is an equally perfect time to visit Barrie. Situated in the ‘snow belt’, the city receives plenty of lake effect snow and is a paradise for winter sports lovers. Within a short drive you can find a number of ski resorts as well as easy access to Ontario’s snowmobile trails. For those without ski or snowboarding skills, there’s even snow tubing available. Barrie has its own OHL hockey team, the junior level that feeds the NHL, with reasonably priced tickets available at Barrie Molson Centre.
Culture - What about when the sun goes down? Barrie has an emerging craft beer market with at least three microbreweries. Head to Dunlop Street for a great restaurant and bar scene. Catching a movie at the Barrie Triple Drive-In is a great way to spend a summer evening. Watch out for big name concerts coming to town. The MacLaren Art Centre is a popular place for a little more culture.
Accessibility - If that’s not enough, the beautiful Muskoka region is on the doorstep and easily accessible for a day trip. Algonquin Park is an outdoor adventurer’s dream and can also be visited in a day (although we would definitely recommend staying overnight and exploring). With a GO Train taking passengers directly to downtown Toronto, it’s never been easier to get to and from Barrie. If you feel like a night in the big city you can be there within an hour. For travel further afield, Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson International Airport is just a 45 minute drive away. With large town amenities and small town friendliness, Barrie really is the best of both worlds!
Corinne from Have Baby Will Travel:
I am pretty biased when it comes to promoting Toronto as a great destination and a great city to live in. Currently, my family lives about a ten-minute walk from where I grew up, and both of my children were born in the same hospital that I was. Toronto attracts the best and the brightest from across Canada and around the world to live and to visit, and those that were born and raised here (and continue to make our homes here) get to reap the benefits.
What makes Toronto a great city to live in is also what makes it a great city to visit. The downtown core is fairly compact and easy to get around—either on foot or by subway—with a number of world-class museums and galleries to explore. Every conceivable type of food and dining experience is available and, if shopping’s your thing, there are lots of shops and districts to splurge in, as well as an abundance of cool vintage shops. And, if your bank account can handle it, on any given night there are a number of music and theatrical events happening, as well as big-league sports teams playing.
I love living in Toronto because I feel like to get to explore the world while still living in my comfortable Canadian bubble. My kids are growing up with an appreciation for other cultures and get excited to visit other countries that their friends are from. We have an international airport with direct flights to just about anywhere, so that has spoiled us for travel as well. It is expensive to live here but we are richer for it, too.
Thunder Bay, Ontario
Kristal from Adventure Dawgs:
Thunder Bay, located on shore of Lake Superior, is the largest city in northwestern Ontario. It has the feel of a frontier city but with all the amenities that you would find in other major urban centres, including an airport if you don’t want to make the 15-hour drive from Toronto. Having said that, the drive along Highway 17 between Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay will take you through some of the most amazing views in the province with plenty of turn-outs and overlooks to stretch your legs. There’s even a chance you’ll see moose or deer from the road.
Once you get into Thunder Bay, you can take a stroll along the pier and if you’re up and about early enough, you’ll be able to watch the sun rise over Lake Superior then stop nearby for some of the famous Finnish pancakes, a local specialty. Or once you’ve spent the day wandering around the art galleries and local shops or caught up on some history at nearby Fort William Historical Park, there's the opportunity to rehydrate with some local brews. With two breweries in Thunder Bay you are guaranteed to find something wonderful.
No visit is complete without stopping at the Terry Fox Memorial just outside of the city. The statue was erected to commemorate Terry Fox and mark the approximate location where he was forced to end his Marathon of Hope.
Thunder Bay naturally lends itself to outdoor adventure and there is no limit of things you can do. Since the city is situated on the largest freshwater lake in North America, it’s only natural to spend some time on the water, either with a tour guide or venture out on your own. If the big lake is too overwhelming, there are any number of smaller rivers and lakes to launch a canoe or kayak.
If you’d rather get out on foot, a network of trails are available that can be used all seasons and for all abilities and with several provincial parks close to Thunder Bay, you have the option of camping or use the city as a base and explore during the day.
Whatever your reason for going to Thunder Bay, you will soon find yourself planning to return.
Ryan from Treksplorer:
Looking for a relaxing alternative to the big city vibes of Ottawa and Toronto? Sudbury, the unofficial capital of Northern Ontario, might just be the new home you've always dreamed of.
With so many Ontarians forgetting that the province doesn't end north of Muskoka and east of Kanata, Sudbury will come as a bit of a pleasant surprise.
I'll admit it: On the surface, Sudbury isn't much to look at. (A city whose skyline is defined by one of the world's tallest chimneys won't exactly land in many winner's circles in urban beauty contests.)
Once you've settled in though, there's a whole lot to keep you going in this good ol' mining town. Throughout the city, you'll find a smattering of cool, ranging from hipster-approved vegan restaurants to vinyl record boutiques to patio bars serving up local & international craft beers.
But all that pales in comparison to what lies in the fringes. Living in Sudbury is an absolute dream for outdoor enthusiasts. Within the (ridiculously massive) city limits alone, there are hundreds of lakes and rivers to while away your day fishing or kayaking.
Or if tackling the deep woods is more your thing, you'll never be far from a relaxing nature trail in Sudbury whether it's discovering a scene that inspired a famous Group of Seven painting at A.Y. Jackson Lookout or simply exploring the city's endless backcountry on your own accord.
Michele from A Taste for Travel:
Located just an hour away from Toronto, yet a world away in atmosphere, the small town of Lindsay is an ideal place to live in Ontario if you love nature and the great outdoors. While proximity to pristine lakes -- such as Balsam Lake known for its angling, canoeing and other outdoor adventures -- is definitely one of the main attractions to living in Lindsay, there are other popular activities beyond its mirrored lakes.
Cycling along Lindsay's dedicated bike paths is one of the top things to do in the Kawartha Lakes region of Ontario. This region is home to the Ganaraska Trail, the Kawartha Trans Canada Trail and the Victoria Rail Trail Corridor all of which adds up to more than 300 kilometres of signed cycling routes and trails.
Lindsay also happens to be located on another trail -- the Kawarthas Northumberland Butter Tart Tour! Established in 2011, this tasty trail features more than 50 spots where visitors and residents can enjoy Canada's iconic pastry in versions such as plain, raisin or raisin and walnut. Food fans will also be keen to sample hand-crafted ales and IPAs produced by local microbreweries.
Incorporated as a town in 1857, Lindsay's downtown area has been remarkably well preserved and features restored buildings, murals and quaint locally-owned boutiques and shops. There are many outdoor cafes, pubs and classic watering holes in Lindsay's historic downtown where you can relax and enjoy a pint or two.
Kaila from Nomlist:
Hamilton is a really great place to live. Within the city limits is a solid university and there is a strong, youthful community that is ambitious. There is also a thriving community, with art walks
and other hip, cultural events. There are also many parts of the city that are very affordable to live in. It's a really friendly city!
You'll likely get to know your neighbors, who are more often than not polite and incredibly friendly. Don't be surprised if people say hi to you as you pass them by. It's really easy to make your own place in the community and it's easy to get around, the transit system is first rate.
There is also plenty to see! Dundurn Castle is located in Hamilton, it's a gorgeous castle of the neoclassic style. There is also a UNESCO heritage site within the city limits: the biospheres and it's the waterfall capital of the world! Besides that, there are endless parks and conservations areas where you can walk, run, or hike in.
Hamilton was originally known as the Steel City because it was heavily entrenched in the steel industry, but now it is a hub for young entrepreneurs looking for an affordable place to live. Because of this, there are now some killer restaurants, new apartments, and events that are popping up all of the time. If you are craving more of the hustle and bustle of the big city, Toronto is just a 45-minute drive away!
If you like this post, you might also like to read about Winter Activities in Killarney, Ontario, or one of Toronto's top tourist experiences, Medieval Times.
Port Colborne, Ontario
Samah from God and Wanderlust:
Port Colborne is located along the coast of Lake Erie in southern Ontario. In the midst of nature, it's a beautiful city that boasts many outdoor activities with picturesque scenery, making it the perfect place to live or raise a family. A must visit is Ball's Falls, a breathtaking waterfall, which requires a hike to its upper and lower falls.
A must-do activity is visiting Horseplay Niagara to go horseback riding. The riding trail will lead you past a quarry with people diving into its crystal blue waters, through forests and onto the white sandy beach, straight into the waters of Lake Erie. If you look up on a clear day, you'll often see a small plane with people diving off - yes skydiving is also a nearby option at Skydive Burnaby.
Port Colborne also boasts a portion of the Welland Canal - ship canal that connects Lake Erie to Lake Ontario and helps move cargo and ships down the Niagara Escarpment. You can take a tour of the docks, go fishing or boating in the canal or even hike along it's side noting the unique wildlife! Even on weekends, you'll notice the serene atmosphere of the city, as it sits a little over an hour away from the hustle and bustle of Toronto.
Niagara Falls, Ontario
I promised I wouldn't meddle in this, and would let my travel writing friends decide the best cities to live in Ontario, but I did want to add Niagara Falls. In this instance, I'm more pointing towards Niagara Falls one of the places to go in Ontario, or even just one of those cool places in Ontario. What I know is that a large portion of my friends who come to visit me in Toronto, inevitably want to visit Niagara Falls and, when they do, they're rarely disappointed.
Niagara Falls is a fun city, plain and simple. The city is filled with restaurants, bars, nightclubs, casinos, and a whole host of places aimed and keeping tourists and residents happy. Naturally, the highlight is the falls themselves, and taking a ride on the "Maid of the Mist," is an absolute must.
The city of Niagara Falls is also a great place to live because of your proximity to a very prominent and prosperous wine region. It's definitely not a place that everyone would want to live, especially if you're raising a young family, but it has some allure in the same way that tourist cities like Vegas do. It's not on that scale, but, like Vegas, it's a city that has the potential to entertain you 24/7.
So, What is the Best City to Live in Ontario?
The great part about thinking about a question like, "What is the best city to live in Ontario?" is that there is no right answer. Ultimately, we're blessed to be in a province where you can legitimately create a list of this length and, more than likely, add ten more places to the list without anyone batting an eye.
There are just so many places to see in Ontario, which is what has made this past year so special. While Bri and I are happy to live in Toronto, we also recognize that we could likely be just as happy in cities like Kingston and Ottawa, and every city in Ontario has something to offer.
As I said before, I'd love you to chime in on this. Is there a city that's completely missing? I'm even open to having readers write blurbs to continue to make this the definitive list on the internet is the best cities to live in Ontario! This site, and the community that has formed around it, has surpassed my greatest expectations, so thanks for being along for the ride.
If this list from my colleagues and I has inspired you in some way, we've done our job. Now, stop reading, and get exploring - Ontario awaits.
I'd love to hear what you think! Is there any one city here that you really love and appreciate? Are there any cities in Ontario that you feel should have made the list? I'm all ears, my friends.
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