7 Essential Ontario Vacation Spots That Are Closer Than You Think

Well, closer to the GTA at least.

Kayaking in the Thousand Islands in Ontario.

Kayaking in the Thousand Islands in Ontario.

Are you looking for a change of scenery but don't want the hassle of going out of province? Or maybe you're just looking for a way to take advantage of Ontario's new staycation tax credit before the summer's over. Either way, here are several exciting options to consider, all of which don't require you to buy a pricey plane ticket.

Assuming that Toronto is the centre of the Ontario universe — only kidding — these destinations are less than five hours' drive from downtown, making them extra enticing for city-dwellers looking to escape on short notice.

Bay of Quinte

The Bay of Quinte is located on the north shore of Lake Ontario and is host to sandy beaches, clear blue lakes and lush green golf courses. So whether your go-to vacation activity is fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding, golfing or wine tasting, you'll find options here.

Other reasons to go: There's much to do in this region — catch a live show at the Stirling Festival Theatre, or bring along your fav history buff and learn some town lore at the Glanmore National Historic site.

Drive from Toronto: 2.5 hours

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Muskoka

Muskoka has been coined "The Malibu of the North" because even celebrities flock here to vacation, and what's good enough for the stars will hopefully meet your standards too. North of Toronto, the region actually has over 1,600 lakes so there's a lot to discover.

Other reasons to go: This is a place best enjoyed dockside, in an iconic Muskoka chair, at a cottage by the water. Add in a boat ride on the lakes or into the many surrounding ports with cute restaurants and shops and you'll make the most of your vacation.

Drive from Toronto: 2-3 hours

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Niagara Region

Downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Milosk50 | Dreamstime

This suggestion may have locals rolling their eyes since Niagara Falls isn't necessarily the most original suggestion, it's also a notorious tourist hot spot, but there are so many fun things to do in the area that it's still worth a visit.

Other reasons to go: Beyond the Falls, there are several historic towns nearby to check out — Niagara-on-the-Lake is often referred to as the prettiest town in Ontario, and neighbouring St. Catharines has some of the best wineries in the country.

Drive from Toronto: 2 hours

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Ottawa

It's not news that Ottawa is a beautiful place to visit. Between the historic neo-Gothic Parliament Buildings and picturesque canal views, there's a lot to admire. But there are so many things to do in Ottawa beyond sightseeing, and exploring them will help to make a vacation here feel less like your eighth-grade social studies field trip.

Other reasons to go: Ottawa has a thriving food scene, which makes patio and bar hopping, in any season, a must. For outdoorsy types, there is no shortage of parks, hikes and rivers to visit in the surrounding area.

Drive from Toronto: 4.5 hours

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Prince Edward County

Prince Edward County is among the go-to destinations for local winos. Boasting internationally renowned vineyards, it also has a growing food scene and plenty of breweries. But if you're not into grapes, PEC is on the eastern shore of Lake Ontario and home to Sandbanks Provincial Park, which has some of the best sandy beaches in the province.

Other reasons to go: Don't miss out on productions from The Festival Players theatre company, or make plans to attend the Annual Great Canadian Cheese Festival in Picton to indulge in great cheeses, wines and craft beers.

Drive from Toronto: 2.5 hours

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Thousand Islands

Arial view of Thousand Islands region.

Arial view of Thousand Islands region.

Vlad Ghiea | Dreamstime

The Thousand Islandsis something out of a fairytale. It's even got castles! Situated on the St. Lawrence River, separating Canada and the US, the region has a mix of both Canadian and American cultures, which offers a unique experience for visitors.

Other reasons to go: There are several outdoor activities for you to do, including hiking in the Thousand Islands National Park and canoeing down the river. Boat tours, fine dining, shopping and live shows are also plentiful in the area.

Drive from Toronto: 3 hours

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Tobermory

Tobermory is one of these destinations that every Ontarian has to visit at least once in their life. It's an outdoorsy vacation haven because of the Bruce Peninsula National Park, which has some of the most beautiful landforms, greenery and crystal clear waters in Ontario.

Other reasons to go: Apart from being a nature paradise, there are also several quaint shops and cozy restaurants that will warm you up after your outdoor adventures.

Drive from Toronto: 4 hours

Website

So, travellers — go forth and vacation!

This article has been updated since it was originally published on July 12, 2016.

Before you get going, check our Responsible Travel Guide so you can be informed, be safe, be smart, and most of all, be respectful on your adventure.

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