Looking for the best places to live in Ontario? You’re in the right place.
Ontario is also one of the most exciting provinces in Canada, with the most ‘records’ – the tallest building, the largest city and the highest population. But Ontario is full of natural beauty too – it’s covered with over 250,000 lakes, and 9.5 million hectares of natural protected land.
Ontario is also home to Canada’s capital and some of the most interesting historical discoveries in the country.
Ontario, for many, is one of the most attractive places in Canada to live. There are more jobs and opportunities here than anywhere else in Canada.
However, with that comes some downsides too – Ontario is also the most expensive province and like any other place on earth – there are some drawbacks to consider.
As an Ontarian mom of two, an Ontario teacher, traveller and blogger, and someone who was born and grew up in Ontario – I can offer you some honest perspectives of different places to live in Ontario.
We’re going to go over why these are great places to live, as well as the downsides that you need to be aware of before moving there.
So, let’s jump in – the best places to live in Ontario.
Best Places to Live in Ontario
Here are the best places to live in Ontario, in no particular order. Whether it is a small town or a large city, there are a variety of places throughout Ontario that make good homes
Windsor is a booming city of about 342,000 people right on the border of Michigan. Located on Lake Erie, Windsor is surrounded by water with Lake St. Clair, as well as the Detroit River nearby.
Windsor is far enough from Toronto (over 4 hours drive) to have its own unique vibe. The people of the city are known for being friendly and welcoming, and there’s little to no traffic. You can drive from one end of the city to the other in just 15 minutes.
There are lots of restaurant options, and the downtown by the waterfront is a really nice area for a day out. If you want to live in a mid-sized city right on the water, then Windsor might be for you.
If you want to travel, Windsor has the added bonus of being near the Detroit airport. You can often get cheaper flights leaving from the Detroit airport than from Toronto’s airport.
So, what are the downsides to living in Windsor? One thing to keep in mind is that Windsor has an above-average unemployment rate. It lacks a bit in jobs, and most of the job opportunities it does have are focused on industrial and manufacturing careers. For this reason, I’d recommend having a job lined up before making the move to Windsor.
Keep in mind that being close to Detroit opens up further opportunities, and also gives you easy access to a major city. You don’t need to drive to Toronto to attend major concerts or events because you can find a lot of that in Detroit.
Kingstown is a mid-size city in eastern Ontario, about 2 hours from Ottawa. Being the former capital of Canada, Kingston is one of the most culturally and historically interesting cities in Ontario and is still small enough (approximately 173,000 people) to have a good sense of community.
Kingston is known as the “limestone city” because many of the buildings downtown are made of limestone.
Kingston is also home to one of the most prestigious Canadian universities, Queen’s University, as well as the Royal Military College.
There are lots of parks and a beautiful lakefront in Kingston. The downtown is walkable and bike-able. It also has an award-winning transit system.
So are there any downsides to living in Kingston? Like anywhere else, prices have increased substantially in recent years. It was reported earlier this year by Global News that Kingston’s vacancy rate is one of the lowest in Ontario.
If you can find an (affordable) vacant home, and you love the outdoors and history, then Kingston might be for you.
Waterloo is a part of a municipality that also includes Kitchener and Cambridge. (Waterloo and Kitchener are known as the ‘twin cities.) Combined, the three cities have a population of 647,000 as of 2022. It’s the 10th largest metropolitan area in Canada.
Waterloo is a ‘student’ town – there are two universities, the University of Waterloo and Wilfred Laurier University, as well as Conestoga College.
Because of this, the population of Waterloo goes down quite a bit in the summer months when many of the students have returned home. If you have a family with kids, living in Waterloo may be convenient if they want to attend a post-secondary school near home.
Plus, there are lots of university students looking for part-time job opportunities (great place to hire a babysitter!)
Waterloo is also known for being a tech hub, with lots of jobs in computer science – it is the birthplace of one of the original smartphones, the Blackberry after all.
In addition, there’s the St. Jacob’s Farmer’s Market, and the popular Oktoberfest held in Kitchener every year which draws thousands of people to the city.
I spent 4 years living in Waterloo while attending Wilfred Laurier. I enjoyed the variety of restaurant options and the city has a decent transit (bus) system. The Princess Cinemas in the downtown core plays indie and international films.
The downsides to living in Waterloo? There is a bit of an economic gap between Waterloo and its sister city, Kitchener. Most of the bigger homes are in Waterloo.
Barrie is a mid-size city of about 350,000 right on Lake Simcoe. The Barrie waterfront is a great place for a morning or evening stroll, and there are playgrounds and water sports on the waterfront.
I go to Barrie often for meals (there’s such a diverse range of restaurants – LOTS of vegan options) and to walk along the waterfront with my husband and kids. There are also many events held on the waterfront, such as fireworks at New Year’s, Hello Winter, Kempenfest in the summer, and Oktoberfest in the fall.
Barrie is somewhat close to Toronto (an hour and 20 minutes without traffic down Highway 400), as well as close to incredible nature in Northern Ontario. Being located on Highway 400 makes it simple to commute to other places you want to go.
Being on the 400 comes with some downsides too, unfortunately. The traffic can get pretty bad, especially on summer weekends. I have had to sit in traffic jams many times, and it is so congested around the Barrie area. This would be a bit of a hassle for residents who commute to work.
If you work in town, remotely or nearby, then Barrie’s a great city to call home.
London, Ontario is a good size city of just over 500,000 as of 2021 – large enough that you have everything you need, but small enough that you can drive across the whole city in just 20 minutes (provided it isn’t during rush hour.)
London is known as the “Forest City” because of its abundance of parks, and great biking trails. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you’ll have enough of what you need in and around London.
London is home to a university – the University of Western Ontario, as well as Fanshawe College. It operates a bus system, and there is a decent amount of diversity in the food scene. You can find Asian grocery stores, and a great music festival held in the summer called “Rock the Park.”
Are there downsides to living in London? I have a few Londoner friends who say that the transit system isn’t great, and the downtown parking is a bit of a pain. In addition, there are more white-collar jobs than skilled trades.
For those reasons, it’s best to have some idea of what you’ll be doing for work before making the move to London.
Located on Cook’s Bay, which is a part of Lake Simcoe, Keswick is a rapidly growing community of close to 30,000.
Being right on the lake provides a lot of outdoor water-based activities, as well as some cultural, and historical features. There is the Georgina Pioneer Village, a military museum, and lots of small business shops on the main street.
Keswick, without traffic, is just a one-hour drive from Toronto down Highway 404, an hour to Barrie and 20 minutes to Newmarket – so although Keswick is a smaller town, you have plenty of larger cities within reach.
The downsides to living in Keswick? Anecdotally, the commute to Toronto is not a nice one due to heavy traffic. If you’re planning to drive to Toronto from Keswick for work, then you’ll likely be fighting rush hour traffic every day through some of the busiest stretches of highway in the province.
For this reason, I’d recommend considering jobs in Newmarket, or Markham in order to be closer to home if you move to Keswick. It will take about an hour to drive from Keswick to the Newmarket area with traffic during rush hour.
Collingwood is one of my favourite cities in Ontario, and probably one of the prettiest. With a population of just over 25,000 people, Collingwood is located right on Georgian Bay and has the beautiful backdrop of the Blue Mountains.
The Blue Mountains are great for skiing and snowboarding in the winter months and provide activities in the summer too. There’s a ziplining, treetop trekking, Scenic Caves and a suspension bridge nearby.
Collingwood also has a quaint historic downtown with decent restaurants and a shopping scene. Blue Mountain Village also has great places to eat and high-end brand stores.
A popular Nordic Spa (Scandinave Spa) is also located right in Collingwood – one of my favourite places to go to feel rejuvenated and relaxed.
You can get to Wasaga Beach (the largest freshwater beach in the world) in 15 minutes from Collingwood.
Because of all these exciting activities, Collingwood is touristy as you can imagine, so it can get pretty crowded on the weekends year-round with people who drive in from the Greater Toronto Area.
However, tourists visit Collingwood for a reason – these might be the same reasons why you would want to call Collingwood home.
Newmarket is a rapidly growing city of close to 90,000. Located in what we call the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), Toronto is easily accessible from Newmarket via Highway 404. You can get to downtown Toronto from Newmarket in less than an hour without traffic!
Newmarket is home to Upper Canada Mall which has over 200 stores, and it has a touristy, quaint Main Street with boutique stores and nice restaurants. There is a water feature downtown where kids play, a farmer’s market, and lots of trails for walks.
I go to Newmarket often for shopping – I enjoy the mall, main street, farmer’s market and the organic grocery stores. My favourite restaurant is Hungry Brew Hops on Main St. I also enjoy hikes along the trails that ring Fairy Lake.
Because I’ve been a frequent Newmarket visitor for the past decade, I’ve seen the traffic and parking get much worse over the years. However, they have tried to mitigate this problem by installing a dedicated rapid transit bus system in recent years.
While I’ve never taken the bus in Newmarket, the vehicles and shelters are all brand-new and many of the stops have shelters to protect from rain, sun and cold temperatures. Hopefully, as more people use the bus, Newmarket will improve in traffic. Otherwise, it is a great city.
Stratford is a mid-size town of just over 30,000 people. The best part about Stratford is it is artsy and has a great foodie scene. There are over 20 restaurants to choose from in the downtown core, with a range of cuisines from ethnic, and fast food to desserts.
In fact, Stratford has a self-guided chocolate tour that you can do. It is also known for its famous annual Stratford Festival which takes place in the summer months, and consists of Shakespearian plays.
Is Stratford a good place to live? While it’s rich in the food scene, it lacks a bit in amenities. Stratford is over 25 minutes from the nearest city (Kitchener-Waterloo) so if you want additional amenities, you have to make the drive. It also gets very busy in the summer with tourists who come to see the plays.
Stratford might be an especially good place to live if you’re interested in a career in the performing, visual or culinary arts as there are many opportunities in those fields.
10. St. Catharines
St. Catharines is the largest city in the Niagara region, with 150,000 people. It’s known as “St. Kitt’s” among locals and for being “The Garden City” because of its lush green gardens and trees. It’s also home to Brock University.
St. Catharines is well located for being able to explore the hiking trails and wine region of the area. You can get to Niagara Falls in 20 minutes, Niagara on the Lake in 30, and Toronto in less than 2 hours.
Like many Ontarian cities, St. Catharines has a nice downtown core. One downside though is that the downtown core is currently being redeveloped to make room for condos, so there’s a lot of construction. This is something to keep in mind.
However, once these condos are finished, it will open up the availability of more homes in St. Catharines.
11. New Tecumseth
New Tecumseth consists of three small towns about an hour and a half north of Toronto- Alliston, Beeton and Tottenham.
New Tecumseth has become a very popular place to move to for people who have jobs based in the GTA. For many, homes are much more affordable than in the GTA, so many people move here and still commute to their jobs in the Toronto area.
Alliston is the location for the largest Honda plant in North America, so this also creates lots of local job opportunities for residents. I grew up in New Tecumseth, and it seemed like half of the population worked at the Honda plant.
New Tecumseth is full of family-friendly subdivisions, parks and splash pads. There are conservation areas for hiking and swimming. Alliston has an outdoor pool for the summer months, and two movie theatres – one old fashioned single-screen theatre, called The Circle Theatre, and one newer multiplex.
New Tecumseth is becoming more diverse, with more cuisine options than ever before. Special events take place in the fall, during the holiday season and Easter. The towns, although they’re increasing in size, have maintained the ‘small town’ charm that many move there for.
One thing to keep in mind about New Tecumseth is that you absolutely need a car to get around – the transit system is very underdeveloped. I’ve seen a lot of people biking in recent years, but there are no bike paths and it doesn’t look safe to bike along the roads which have become increasingly busy.
Huntsville is a small town located in the Muskoka Region, which many Ontario locals refer to as “cottage country.” It’s surrounded by lakes, hiking trails, and provincial parks. Huntsville is only 30 minutes from Algonquin and 10 minutes from Arrowhead Provincial Park.
Huntsville only has just over 20,000 people, it has a bustling historic downtown, lined with unique small business shops, great restaurants and souvenir stores.
Huntsville was rated the #1 place to visit in Ontario in 2011 by the Toronto Star. It has great restaurants – my personal favourites are Five Guys and a Stove, and Seng’s Authentic Thai Cuisine. I eat at those places every time we visit Huntsville.
Something to be aware of when moving to Hunstville is that it can be hard to find work, as well as a place to live. However, there are some jobs in tourism, the service industry and outdoor recreation so if you’re willing to work in these fields, then there should be plenty of opportunities.
Although it’s a small town, Huntsville also has a local hospital called Huntsville District Memorial Hospital that employs people as well as serves the community.
13. Thunder Bay
Thunder Bay is the largest city in Northern Ontario, and is known as the “outdoor city.” There are some stunning natural beauty locations on the outskirts, such as Kakabeka Falls (2nd largest waterfall in Ontario) and the Ouimet Canyon.
It has a beautiful waterfront area that is bustling with restaurants and shops, and from which you have a view of the “Sleeping Giant” ( a rock formation that looks like a giant lying on its back.)
From downtown Thunder Bay, you can drive out to the Sleeping Giant National Park in 1 hour for hiking, and sightseeing.
Thunder Bay has a high indigenous population, and sadly, a track record of racism and discrimination against them. There are some books that detail this, Seven Fallen Feathers is one I recommend reading to every Canadian, especially those who live in Thunder Bay.
Thunder Bay’s crime rate is also slightly higher than average; even higher than Toronto’s per capita.
Having said that, I lived in Thunder Bay for a year to get my teaching degree. (Thunder Bay is home to Lakehead Univeristy. )
My oldest daughter was a toddler at the time, and I never personally felt unsafe. Thunder Bay is a family-friendly city, and there were plenty of things to do with kids – interesting museums where you can learn about the cultural heritage of the area and lots of parks and trails.
Ottawa is a gorgeous Canadian city – it’s the capital of Canada, and home to beautiful historic buildings, and is separated from the Quebec city of Gatineau on the other side of the St. Lawrence River.
The museums in Ottawa are phenomenal, so if you’re a history buff, you’ll find many things to keep you busy in Ottawa between some geological, cultural and historical museums located downtown, and the Diefenbunker Cold War Museum which is just 30 minutes east of Ottawa.
Ottawa winters can be pretty cold compared to other southern Ontarian cities, but Ottawa is famous for having the largest outdoor skating rink in the world (the Rideau Canal) and its famous Winterlude festival which is held every February.
There are a range of different restaurants in the downtown area, and there’s also a transit system (bus) to get around the city.
One downside that I’ve heard from many friends who live in Ottawa is that sometimes the job market is very competitive. Being the capital city as well as right on the border of Quebec, many people in Ottawa are bilingual in both official languages (French and English) and many have advanced university degrees, as there are two universities in town – University of Ottawa, and Carlton University.
For this reason, you’re up against some tough competition when it comes to finding work. Having said that, I know people who only know one language find fulfilling work in Ottawa. As you might expect being the capital city, there are lots of government positions as well as government contractors in Ottawa that provide good pay and benefits.
Goderich is a small town with a population of about 8,500 located right on Lake Huron. Goderich has stunning views of the lake, which appears to have a Caribbean turquoise colour.
The first time I visited Goderich, I couldn’t believe how much the colour of the water reminded me of being in Cuba. If you enjoy beaches, and water sports like swimming and surfing, then you’ll love Goderich.
There are many people who have cottages in Goderich who live there only during the summer months. There are some great restaurants in town, but you might miss variety.
If you enjoy the Lake Huron coast and are looking for other options, Kincardine and Port Elgin are just north of Goderich and are very nice as well.
One nice thing about Kincardine is that the main street is a quieter drag (not a highway.) Goderich and Port Elgin have Highway 21 as their main street, so it can be pretty busy and trafficked.
Ultimately, Goderich, Port Elgin and Kincardine are all good options if you crave smaller town life and have always wanted to live on the lake.
Bracebridge is a small (but rapidly growing) town in central Ontario, near cottage country. It’s famous for the Bracebridge Waterfall in the centre of town.
Bracebridge has a nice main street with tours and cottage/Canada-themed shops and is close to natural beauty. If you’re an outdoor person, you’ll enjoy Bracebridge.
Bracebridge is one of the best places to visit in Ontario in winter because of its annual Fire and Ice Festival, where the main street is turned into a giant toboggan hill.
Bracebridge’s population currently sits at just over 18,000 as of 2022. There’s not a ton of traffic in town; you can run your errands within minutes.
If you’re not an outdoor enthusiast, Bracebridge might be a bit boring for you after a while – and there’s not a ton of diversity in the food scene. For more options in food, shopping options or things to do, the city of Orillia is around 40 minutes away.
Sudbury is the largest city in Northern Ontario, with a population of 166,004 as of the 2021 Canadian census.
The great thing about Sudbury is that it has everything you want in a small city – decent healthcare services, big box stores, little traffic and fast internet.
Sudbury is great for nature lovers – there are lots of nature trails in and around the city and it is close to Killarney Provincial Park with some fantastic hiking and camping.
An interesting fact about the Sudbury area is that it is located on the 3rd largest known impact crater on Earth, originally formed 1.8 billion years ago. As a result of the impact, the area is very mineral-rich in nickel, copper, silver and gold and so the area has many active mines and many jobs in the mining industry.
For this reason, Sudbury is the defacto hub for industry in North Ontario, so there are a range of job opportunities in fields like government, medical, trades, sciences, and engineering. If you want to live in Northern Ontario but want job opportunities – Sudbury might be for you!
Something to be aware of about Sudbury is the long winters and lack of entertainment options. Toronto is a 4-hour drive from Sudbury.
18. Parry Sound
Parry Sound is a small city with an estimated 46,184 people as of 2022. Parry Sound has some of the big city features you’re looking for like Walmart and Starbucks, but is small enough that it doesn’t have the same downsides as living in the city like pollution and traffic.
Parry Sound is a booming place in the summer, close to lots of cottages and lakes. In Parry Sound, you might even have the chance of having a home on the Lake.
Something to keep in mind before moving to Parry Sound is that there are only really two places to go for nightlife and entertainment (Brunswick Sports and Grill, and a bowling alley open late on Saturday nights) and the restaurant scene is seriously lacking in ethnic diversity.
However, this may change. In 2023, a GoFundMe was started by a couple trying to open up the first Indian restaurant in Parry Sound. Let’s hope to see options like this in the works in the coming years!
19. North Bay
North Bay is another Northern Ontario city. It is slightly closer to Toronto than Sudbury (3.5 hours by car) and is half the size population-wise – 52,000 people as of 2021.
While Sudbury has a more ‘industrial’ feel to it, North Bay is quieter and more nature-based. With lots of granite rocks and trees, many parts of North Bay look like a Canadian postcard.
In a 2021 survey, North Bay was ranked the 48th most livable Canadian city (ahead of Sudbury.)
North Bay doesn’t have a nightlife, and as you can imagine, it lacks variety in the restaurant and shopping scene. You will also have to get used to living with fewer services. Sudbury is an hour and a half away, so it’s a bit of a trek for people who want more options.
NorthBay’s unbeatable landscape and great sense of community might be worth it for those who want to escape living in a large city.
Woodstock is a large town with a population of 46,296 as of the 2021 census. Woodstock is right on Highway 401, which provides easy access to London, Kitchener-Waterloo and Hamilton. (All of which you can get to in under an hour.)
It’s the perfect place to live for those who want the ease of getting to larger cities for work, but want to live in a smaller community.
Woodstock’s downtown area has awesome restaurants and lots of boutique shopping. You can also find bigger box stores 30 minutes away in Brantford or Kitchener.
Many Woodstock residents recognize the famous cow statue (the Springbank Snow Countess Cow monument) as a symbol of ‘home.’
In terms of downsides, the only one I can think of is that the population in Woodstock is exploding (it grew 13% between 2016 and 2021, which is over double the average growth rate) so it might not be the same place in 10 years as it is today.
Perth is a town in eastern Ontario, of about 6,500 people. Located between Kingston and Ottawa, Perth is history-rich with a quaint downtown area, multiple lakes and provincial parks.
Perth arguably has the best craft breweries in eastern Ontario (The Perth Brewery and the Bridge Master’s Brewing Company.)
Kingston and Ottawa are each just over an hour away, as well as Calabogie Ski Resort. Kanata is a good place to run errands (there’s a Costco and bigger box stores) and is just 45 minutes away.
In 2021, it was found that the population of Perth had gone up 9.1% from 2016. (Which is higher than the average growth rate.)
However, from a visit to the town, you can see why it has become so attractive as a place to live. It’s still small enough to have a good sense of community, but plenty of things to do within a reasonable driving distance.
Peterborough is a small city (83,651 people as of the 2021 Canadian census) surrounded by the beautiful landscape of the Kawartha Lakes.
Because of the access to lakes, you can do boating, swimming, canoeing and other water sports nearby.
Peterborough is home to Trent University and Fleming College, and it is a great place for young families and students.
Peterborough has a nice downtown area. It’s smaller than other central Ontario cities such as Oshawa but has a larger, more walkable downtown core.
There are pockets of green space in Peterborough that can feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere while still being in a city. One of the best outdoor areas is Jackson Park, with a stream-side trail amongst trees and gardens.
You can find most of the amenities you need in Peterborough, such as grocery options, like Walmart and Costco. Peterborough also has festivals – the most popular of which is Musicfest, which is Canada’s largest-running free concert series.
Like many Ontario cities outside of Toronto, the transit system in Peterborough isn’t the best, as the buses can be a bit unreliable at times.
Burlington is just over an hour southeast of Toronto and is known for having a beautiful waterfront with Lake Ontario views, access to the Bruce Trail, and over 1,000 acres of parkland space. The city earned a shoutout from Barack Obama who visited there in 2008.
Burlington is perfect for people who want the balance of nature and city life. There’s plenty to do in the downtown core; with one of the oldest shopping centres in Ontario, bars and live music and a decent restaurant scene. You have access to several major highways from Burlington as well as the GO Station if you commute to Toronto.
Burlington can get pretty chilly in the winter when the wind comes off the lake.
Burlington has a population of 194,175 as of 2022. There are plenty of historic homes and some new builds. One nice thing about Burlington is that there are really no ‘bad’ areas. I would recommend the Mountainside neighbourhood in particular if you want a large lot with a big backyard.
For those who can swing it financially – living in Toronto has a lot of perks. Toronto is the largest city in Canada, with a pretty low crime rate per capita when compared to other Canadian cities such as Vancouver or Thunder Bay.
People have been known to move out of Toronto to escape the ‘city’ atmosphere, but often when I’m visiting, I notice how relaxed and slow-paced some of the downtown neighbourhoods seem. Many of the neighbourhoods are very walkable, with people being able to do all their errands on foot.
It has a nice waterfront, decent parks and green space, and lots of places to get outdoors in both summer and winter.
If you want to live somewhere where ‘it’s happening’ then Toronto is it. Major concerts play at the Roger’s Centre, Budweiser Stage and Scotiabank Arena. Toronto is also home to the largest museum in Canada, the tallest rollercoaster (Leviathan at Canada’s Wonderland) and one of the best foodie scenes in the country.
It also has an efficient transit system (subway, streetcars and buses) and lots of access to entertainment and nightlife. The Entertainment District is a great place for a night out on the town.
One of my favourite things about Toronto is the cultural neighbourhoods that make you feel like you’ve travelled abroad – Chinatown, Greektown, Little Italy, Little India, Koreatown, and much more. As you can imagine, Toronto has a lot of exciting cultural festivals.
I have to admit that I was hesitant to put Toronto on this list because it is the most expensive place to live in Canada. The average single-family home in Toronto is currently selling for around 2 million dollars. Many people reading this may be trying to move out of Toronto purely because of the cost of living.
If you want to live in Toronto, but the downtown area is too pricey, there are several suburbs that are popular residential areas to consider- Etobicoke, Brampton, Scarborough, North York and Vaughan. areas are family-friendly. All of these places are accessible to downtown Toronto via public transit.
Orangeville has a nice, quaint small-town feel and is just a 1-hour drive from Toronto. Orangeville is a large town of 30,167 as of the 2021 census and has both the amenities of a city, but still a lot of small-town character, and is close to natural beauty.
There’s plenty to do on the weekends, such as nearby antique markets, outdoor art galleries, an old theatre, scenic hiking trails and plenty of great hole-in-the-wall restaurants.
One of my favourite restaurants in Orangeville is Forage. I also know people who drive 30-40 minutes just for the Indian and Mexican food options in Orangeville.
You can shop or read a book in a café on the main street, or go hiking nearby in Mono Cliffs or Island Lake Conservation Area.
Orangeville also has a handful of unique festivals, such as the Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival, a food festival (Taste of Orangeville ) a harvest festival, and more.
Oakville is a great option for people who want to easily commute to Toronto but live outside the big city. In 2018, Moneysence Magazine identified Oakville as being the best city to live in Canada.
It’s not too hard to see why – Oakville is said to be Ontario’s largest town at 213,759 people as of the 2021 census. It’s known for being safe, and family-friendly with a more relaxed environment than the GTA.
People who live in Oakville tend to be successful, as the town was originally established as a neighbourhood for people who wanted to live in a ‘nice’ area, but still have the convenience of being near the city.
If you’re looking for nightlife, you won’t find a lot of it in Oakville. But there are bike lanes, parks, and trails, and the town is extremely well maintained with good services (including a top-tier hospital.)
Being an affluent community close to the city and right on a lake has its downsides too. In 2021, Oakville was listed as one of the most expensive places to rent in Ontario (at an average of $2,473 per month.)
27. Owen Sound
Owen Sound is an artsy town surrounded by lush, natural beauty. It is close to several waterfalls (Ingliss Falls, Jones Falls) as well as the Bruce Peninsula National Park.
Owen Sound has a population of 21,612 as of the 2021 Canadian census. You can find art galleries, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and cafés on the main street.
For a small town, Owen Sound has some amazing restaurants. One of my favourites is Sabitri’s which serves Nepalese and Indian cuisine.
Owen Sound is only 30 minutes to Sauble Beach, and an hour and 20 minute drive to Tobermory, a popular summer tourist destination known as the “scuba diving capital of Canada.”
Guelph, known as The Royal City, is a city of 165,588 about an hour and a half east of Toronto.
It’s a great place to have all the amenities you need while having lots of great day trip options. It’s within an hour’s drive to St Jacobs, Elora and Fergus, and Kitchener-Waterloo.
The historic church, Church of Lady Immaculate is one of the main tourist attractions. There’s also the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada nearby – a great family-friendly place where you can meet adorable rescued donkeys.
Guelph is home to the University of Guelph, and the University of Guelph Arboretum is a 400-acre biodiversity conservation land which is open to the public and free to use.
Besides the arboretum, Riverside Park is another one of the best green spaces in the city.
Guelph is growing rapidly. Its population had a 9% growth between 2016 and 2021, which is higher than the national average.
Hamilton, just southwest of Toronto offers a mix of city life and nature. Hamilton is known as the “waterfall capital” with over 156 waterfalls located just outside the city limits.
With its proximity to waterfalls, an abundance of accessible green space and a waterfront area within the city, Hamilton is a great place for photographers, hikers and people who generally love outdoor beauty.
Hamilton is also a student town with liberal values. It’s home to McMaster University, as well as Mohawk College.
Hamilton’s population in 2021 increased by 6%, which is a higher-than-average growth rate. The current population sits at over 700,000.
Something to keep in mind is if you’re moving from Toronto, you might find that Hamilton is not as walkable. The two central roads, Main and King, have a lot of South/North traffic. The good news is that the city council has been working on trying to find ways to mitigate the traffic problem with a plan to build a modern Light Rail Transit system across the city core.
30. Centre Wellington
Centre Wellington is a municipality with two different small towns (Elora and Fergus) about 90 minutes from Toronto.
Elora and Fergus are both small, quaint historical towns that have a combined population of 31,093 people as of the 2021 Canada census. They’re about 5 km from each other (a 10-minute drive.)
Elora is famous for its town of limestone buildings overlooking the Grand River, the Elora Gorge and Elora Quarry, and for having the only ice climbing wall in Ontario.
There are some great British-style pubs in both towns – the Fergusson Room or the Goofie Newfie in Fergus, or the cozy Shephard’s Pub in downtown Elora.
Elora and Fergus are growing at a rapid rate, in fact – they grew 10% between 2016 and 2021, which is faster than most areas around the country. Residents find the growth a bit alarming according to a news report and are hoping that the small-town feel can be maintained for years to come.
31. Sault Ste. Marie
Sault Ste. Marie, known as “The Soo” by locals, is in Northern Ontario, right in the heart of the Great Lakes – over a 7-hour drive from Toronto. With a population of 70,000 people, Sault Ste. Marie is a large town.
Being far from Toronto and surrounded by a lot of natural beauty gives Sault Ste. Marie some obvious pros. The housing is much more affordable than in southern Ontario, there’s little traffic and it’s easy to get around.
If you’re looking for a low-stress, simplistic lifestyle, the Soo might be it. From downtown Sault Ste. Marie, you can drive 15 minutes in any direction and end up at a body of water where you can visit beaches, do canoeing, fishing, and other water sports.
There are also lots of hiking trails nearby, and good service offered by the town – snow removal in the winter and well-maintained parks year-round. Sault Ste. Marie is great if you enjoy nature.
There are a few downsides to consider about Sault Ste. Marie before moving there; the most important being that it has a higher than average crime rate for an Ontario city. According to statistics analyzed by the Crime Severity Index, Sault Ste. Marie is worse than the average Ontarian city when it comes to both violent and non-violent crime. Being the only major city for hundreds of kilometres leaves Sault Ste. Marie vulnerable to this.
Less importantly, there is little to no nightlife in Sault Ste. Marie and it doesn’t have a ton of diversity in the food scene. (Although there are some really good Italian places – check out Arturo Ristorante or Giovanni’s!)
If you enjoy outdoor activities and won’t miss city life, then you might like Sault Ste. Marie. If you love the outdoors and nature-based activities, then Sault Ste. Marie might be for you.
What You Need to Know About Living in Ontario
Generally, it will be more affordable to live in smaller towns, and further north of Toronto, but it’s important to know that prices have recently been escalating in many desirable areas in Ontario.
Let’s be honest – housing has become difficult to afford for many in Ontario, especially in southern Ontario. While there are many people trying to move to Ontario, there are also many who are looking to move to other provinces with lower costs of living.
Best Places to Live in Ontario: FAQs
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about living in Ontario
Where in Ontario has the lowest crime rate?
According to the Crime Severity Index, there are dozens of towns in Ontario with crime rates that are below the national Canadian average. Some of them include Orangeville, Brockville, Orillia, Essex, Mono, North Bay, Ottawa, Parry Sound, Petawawa, and many more.
What is the best area to buy a house in Ontario?
The best area to buy a house depends on your priorities. If affordability is a priority, then you will have more options if you look in places that are far away (2-3 plus hours) from the Greater Toronto area. The closer you get to Toronto, the higher the prices will be.
Where is the most affordable place to live in Ontario?
If you want to buy a house in Ontario for as cheap as possible, then you want to stay as far away from the big cities (Toronto, Ottawa) as possible and look into small towns in Northern Ontario.
Where is the best city to live in Ontario?
The best city to live in Ontario depends on which source you’re referring to. Moneysense Magazine, a Canadian lifestyle and financial magazine, has identified both Oakville and Newmarket as being some of the best places to live in Ontario.
Best Places to Live in Ontario: Conclusion
Ontario is a big place, most of which is uninhabited. The 31 places covered in this article each have their unique lists of pros and cons; but all in all, they’re good places to live for many.
I’ve lived in numerous places around Ontario, and been fortunate to visit and spend time in many of the cities and towns. I hope that this gives you a realistic picture of living in Ontario, as well as each of the individual places that I covered.