Top Travel Experiences of 2021 in Canada - My top travel experiences of 2021 was actually a tricky list to make! Travel and adventure is life so there is certainly a lot to choose from. This year we have not seen as much of Canada as we would have liked, however we have travelled as a family, as a couple, and with friends. Unlike usual, I've even done a bit of solo adventuring here and there. Therefore it is safe to say, we have been to dozens of cities and towns and hundreds of attractions. Everyday was a new adventure and there were surprises around every corner. However, when I look back on the year, there are a few experiences that really stand out! I almost wish I could include everything, because each adventure, no matter how small, has a special place in my heart, but here are the top travel experiences of 2021 that really stand out.
One of my favourite things to do when I travel is find awesome hidden gem attractions so I can share them with the world! Nova Scotia is one of our favourite places to travel and since we visit several times a year. As a result, we're always discovering new and wonderful things to do! We found this particular attraction while we were looking for short outings to take our kids on. We like to take each child out on their own special adventures, and this one seemed like a great fit for a selfie-loving kiddo. The Downtown Dartmouth area continues to grow and develop and this awesome attraction - the Downtown Dartmouth Art Walk -is one of the newer additions to the Downtown Dartmouth business community. Of course, you can walk through and see the art in the daytime, but it really comes alive at night! A giant neon mural. Displays of ever-changing LED art. An alleyway strung with lights. If you're in Dartmouth and looking for a fun way to spend a couple of hours at night, this is your spot!
I love museums - probably more than any one person has the right to. And over the years we have seen some incredible museums. This year has been no exception, with many new museums under our belts. It is, frankly, hard to choose a favourite! The Museum of Ontario Archeology had an amazing new augmented reality exhibit. The Jet Aircraft Museum let us sit in cockpits and learn everything there is to know about jet aircraft. The Smiths Falls Heritage House also included an art gallery and escape room. The Train Museum of Eastern Ontario is constantly expanding and engaging with the community. But the winner this year has to be Evergreen House in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Not only does it have some fantastic displays, there are interactive elements like Victorian era costumes to try on, a creepy surprise in one of the upstairs rooms (I won't give it away), and a sound booth that is available for community rental! Therefore, if local history is your thing and you love interactivity and little surprises, Evergreen House should be on your museums list.
We have been lucky to stay in some pretty amazing accommodations this year, many of which offered some really fun perks for staying there! Four Mile Beach Inn in Dingwall, NS was basically a local history museum. Bonnie View Inn was full of family memories like paddle boats and firepits. But True North Destinations wins this year for its uniqueness and absolute luxury. When you hear "bubble dome" you may not think "luxury accommodations", but you couldn't be more wrong. These geodesic domes are incredibly spacious and fully loaded with amenities like a TV and well-stocked kitchen. Add the incredible ocean views and the personal hot tub, sauna, and cedar shower and you have your own luxury Nordic spa experience with the best views imaginable at one of the most unique accommodation options I've ever found!
A lot of our time is spent out in nature. When we homeschool, connecting with the world around us is a huge part of our year. As such, we see a lot of parks and trails. Although we've seen a lot of very cool things this year, Cape Breton Highlands National Park wins the title for best park, even if all we took into consideration was the incredible ocean views available as you drive the trail. But there's so much more! We saw moose and eagles galore - and even a whale in the distance. We marveled at the epic geology throughout the park. We hiked in several stunning trails and wandered along beaches. And, all along the way there are cool accommodations, museums and historic sites to explore, and wonderful welcoming people! And, although it was not strictly inside the park, The Atlantic Gondola at Cape Smokey is definitely worth the ride!
I love food. This is certainly no secret. Everywhere I go, I'm looking for the best food and a lot of my spare time is spent cooking and/or eating. If you asked me my favourite food, I might have trouble answering because I love food. But I absolutely can tell you about my favourite restaurant experience. Perhaps not just this year, but ever. Selva is a new restaurant that opened in Toronto in November but it is so much more than just a restaurant. It is a fully immersive art experience, with a floor to ceiling rainforest glowing around you. Pair that with delicious signature cocktails and amazing food prepared by the immensely talented Chef Nuit Regular, and this is an experience that truly can't be missed.
Roadside Attraction: The Dollhouse
Anyone who knows me knows that when it comes to travel, the weirder the attraction, the better! I'm constantly looking for Quirky, offbeat things to do. The Dollhouse, part of our Quirky Toronto Birthday Adventure, certainly fits that description! If you find your way down to Bertmount Ave. in Toronto, you will be greeted with a house that will either delight or horrify you (or a little bit of both). Covered in stuffed animals and other toys from sidewalk to roof, you could stand at the Dollhouse for hours hunting and taking photos and still be finding new things!
Gaming: Zombie VR at Dreamland VR
Now, if you follow me, you know I do a lot of things. Like, a LOT of things. And, on top of that, I love gaming. So when I say that this is probably the coolest thing I've done to date, those are some big words! When we visited Dreamland VR for an interview, my eldest daughter Lily and I decided to hop into a VR rig and give some Zombie slaying a try. Of course, this place had VR pods that would be similar to putting on an Oculus at home, and they even had a VR escape room, but the real crowning glory was the holodeck. Yes, holodeck - a huge room where you could move about while immersed in your game. We were kitted out with full VR gear - hand and foot sensors, backpack, headgear. We could see each other in the game and if we high-fived in the game, we'd be doing the same in real life. We had five games to choose from on the holodeck, including two Indiana Jones style adventures, two zombie slayers, and a player vs player option. Lily and I chose zombies! We had to make our way from the ground floor through many levels of a building down to the basement to download the files of patient zero, all while surrounded by zombies and completing some tricky tasks along the way. I won't give away all of the secrets, but if you are ever in London, Ontario, run to Dreamland Virtual Reality!
This was a tricky one. I've had several active adventures this year that gave me great joy, either because they were super-relaxing family time like paddle boats at Bonnie View Inn or they made me nervous and excited like paddle boarding at Pedal & Paddle. But, the frontrunner in this category is definitely the Treetop Adventure Park at Boler Mountain. I was thrilled, challenged, and a little bit terrified. Although the course started off relatively easy, the challenges, or "games" as they called them, quickly ramped up. We started out at the practice course, which was already a bit nerve racking (in the best way possible) before moving onto the course and eventually to the GIGANTIC zipline. I absolutely had the time of my life. I only wish I'd put aside more time to play and I already can't wait to go back with the kids!
Halloween Attraction: Phantom's Freakshow
I'm a huge horror lover and October is my month to shine! Not only do we decorate like crazy, we make a point of it to hit up as many Halloween attractions as humanly possible and this year was no exception! The thing that struck me was that each and every attraction we visited this year had something that could arguably make it the best! The Sawmill was amazingly interactive and ended in a courtyard with a bar and food trucks; Ghost Walk for Charity in Cornwall was huge and incredibly well-designed, with an awesome photo area at the end and all proceeds going to great causes. But the winner this year has to be Phantom's Freakshow in Kentville, NS! This haunt is run by a duo of special FX make-up artists and every single detail is stellar. To my surprise, every minute is like walking into a new scene in an epic horror movie. So, on top of being full of awesome scares, this haunt was artistically masterful. To make it even better, I'm told they change it up every year, so it's always different. Better yet, a portion of proceeds go toward mental health initiatives at the local children's hospital.
Art: Screaming Heads
I enjoy art in all forms, but I am especially fond of art that surprises and delights me. I also like weird things in general, not only in art! This fall, we made the drive to the Screaming Heads in Burk's Falls. Yes, screaming heads. Yes, this is art - amazing, weird, sprawling art! Across acres of fields you'll find giant concrete sculptures of screaming heads, trees, and horses; giant hands emerging from the ground. Furthermore, there's a castle. There are even white peacocks roaming the grounds. Seriously, this place actually exists. It is, in fact, so bizarre and awesome that if I had seen this place as a child, I probably would have assumed by now that I'd actually dreamt it. So, if you'd like to explore some art that makes you feel like there's an off chance you're actually in some weird fever dream, make your way to Burk's Falls!
Lichens: Kejimkujik National Park and Historic Site
This may seem like a strange category to include, but I am completely obsessed with lichens so, to me, it is absolutely relevant! Lichens are beautiful and a tiny reminder that if we look closely, the art and beauty of nature is everywhere. Everywhere we go, I am looking for lichens, ready to snap a close-up and learn more. Kejimkujik, by far, was the best source of lichens I've found so far! With exciting variety and density, it was difficult for me to go ten steps without getting excited by new lichens! So, if you're a nature freak like me, Grab an OTentik or an Oasis Pod for the night and get out there and explore!
And there we have it! Although there is so much more I could include in my top 2021 travel experiences, we're going to declare these the overall winners that made a stand-out impression in some way. I feel so lucky to have the life I do, travelling and recommending great experiences to everyone and I can't wait to create more awesome memories to share in 2022!
© Sarah Stewart Photography Adventure Seeker Sarah