Canada – By Sarah Baxter
Canada puts the ‘great’ in the ‘great outdoors’. The world’s second largest country has six time zones, a million moose, massive mountains and vast expanses of wilderness. Canadians know what to do with all that space too. Wherever you are, someone will give you a paddle, saddle, bike or hiking map so you can explore. But it’s not just quantity; Canada’s also about quality. There are dynamic cities across the country, from Toronto to Vancouver to Montreal, that frequently win ‘most liveable’ or ‘traveller’s favourite’ accolades, as well as fascinating First Nations cultural experiences, surprisingly fine wines and some of the planet’s most Instagramable accommodation options. Canada has style and space in spades.
Language: English and French are the official languages. English is spoken throughout; French-speaking Canadians are concentrated in Québec.
Currency: Canadian Dollar (CAD$). ATMs are ubiquitous and major credit cards are widely accepted.
Getting to Canada:
- Canada’s main international airports are Toronto (Ontario), Vancouver (British Columbia), Montréal (Québec), Calgary (Alberta) and capital Ottawa (Ontario), all of which are served by direct flights from Europe. Direct flights also serve other regional hubs. The closest airport to Europe, St John’s (Newfoundland & Labrador), is less than six hours’ flight from London.
- There are more than 100 land border crossings between Canada and the USA. Ferries connect some US and Canadian ports, for example, Maine-Nova Scotia and Washington-British Columbia. Selected transatlantic cruises sail from Europe to the Canadian Maritimes.
Getting Around Canada:
- Canada has an extensive domestic flight network, with national carrier Air Canada and lower-cost WestJet dominating. Many independent airlines serve remote destinations in the north, though a lack of competition can mean high prices.
- Via Rail operates the passenger rail network, including the 4,466km epic The Canadian, which takes three days to travel between Toronto and Vancouver. Private sightseeing rail journeys, such as the Rocky Mountaineer are also available.
- Hiring a car or RV is a popular option. Roads are wide and well maintained, and fuel is much cheaper than in the UK.
- Greyhound buses serve over 1,000 locations.
- Ferries operate between the Maritimes, for instance connecting Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, as well as between Vancouver and Vancouver Island and along the Inside Passage to Alaska.
When To Go To Canada:
- High summer (July-August) is warmest and busiest, a time when accommodation gets booked up well in advance and costs rise. June and September are good alternatives, with lower prices and better availability.
- Ski season is December-April, prime time for hitting the powdery slopes of BC and the Rockies. September to October can produce flaming Fall colours, especially in Québec and Ontario.
- In some areas, such as the far north, the tourist industry largely shuts down between October and May.
Festivals/Events in Canada:
- Montréal has become known as a city of festivals, hosting some real biggies. Visit in June and July for Jazz Fest, July for Just For Laughs, and July and August for Fireworks.
- Winterlude adds family-friendly festive cheer to Ottawa every February. Events include ice-carving, snow slides and skating on the world’s largest rink.
- Perhaps most Canadian of all is the Calgary Stampede, a Stetson-flingin’, foot-stompin’ rodeo held in July, dubbed the ‘Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth’.
Food & Drink in Canada:
- Like the country, portions tend to the huge. The Maritimes serve up sublime lobsters, oysters and scallops. Québec has fine French cuisine and less-fine poutine (chips with cheese curds and gravy). Toronto is an global foodie’s delight, with restaurants serving anything from Vietnamese to Peruvian. The prairies are cowboy country, fuelled by fat steaks and slabs of berry pie. BC offers up succulent wild salmon and seafood, plus great fruit and veg.
- First Nations staples include scone-like bannock and pemmican (a paste of dried meat and fat).
- Good wines are produced in BC’s Okanagan Valley and Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula, with sweet, dessert ice wines a speciality.
Top 5 things to do in Canada
- Meet polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba
- Walk the walls of Québec City
- Kayak with orca in BC’s Johnstone Strait
- Get sloshed in Niagara
- Ride a gold rush train in the Yukon
For more information check out our Top 10 Things to do in Canada
Ultimate Luxury Experience:
- The Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia is a pristine wilderness the size of Ireland, incorporating a quarter of the world’s coastal temperate rainforest and the only home of the rare white ‘spirit bear’.
- Exclusive Nimmo Bay Resort, only accessible by air, is a cluster of nine rustic-lux log cabins tucked away among the greenery. It offers a huge menu of activities, from bear-watching, whale-spotting and salmon-fishing to kayaking, remote island-hopping and helicopter adventures into even more remote reaches of the rainforest.
Ultimate Family Experience:
- Alberta’s badlands are one of the world’s richest regions for dinosaur fossils. More than 150 skeletons have been unearthed amid the strange, semi-eroded steppe of Dinosaur Provincial Park, where families can join guided paleontological tours to explore a real-life Jurassic World.
- Nearby is the Royal Tyrrell Museum, home to a huge dinosaur collection. It also runs programmes such as The Dig Experience, which get kids burrowing around with proper palaeontology tools.
- Finish in Drumheller, where you can climb a 26m-high fibreglass Tyrannosaurus rex.
What To Pack When You Go To Canada:
- Pack for the specific climate or climates you’ll be exploring, though be aware the weather can turn at any time. If travelling in winter, you’ll need plenty of high-quality warm kit, such as snowboots, down jacket, waterproofs, hat and gloves, and lots of layers (merino wool baselayers are a good option).
- Summer travellers should pack sunscreen, mosquito spray and tough walking boots, if hiking.
- Electrical sockets take type A plugs with two flat pins; bring an adaptor if necessary. Take out travel insurance as the cost of medical treatment can be very high.
Health & Safety in Canada:
- Overall, Canada is very safe with a low crime rate and no required vaccinations. The greatest danger is the weather, which can be severe in winter; even in the south, temperatures plummet well below freezing.
- Canada is vast, and it is extremely dangerous to set off into the wilderness unprepared. Be especially mindful in bear country; check local bear-activity reports before hiking, carry pepper spray, dispose of rubbish and store food in airtight containers. For more info check here…
Travel Tips for Canada:
- If you’re planning to spend more than a week visiting Parks Canada sites, consider a Discovery Pass, which covers unlimited entry to all parks for one year. For example, one-day entry to Banff National Park costs CAD$9.80 per adult, CAD$19.60 per group (up to seven people in a vehicle), whereas a Discovery Pass costs CAD$67.70 per adult, CAD$136.40 per group. See www.pc.gc.ca.
- Sales tax (which varies by province) generally isn’t included in displayed prices – remember to account for the extra cost when paying bills.
- Since November 2016, visa-exempt foreign nationals have been required to hold an eTA (Electronic Travel Authorisation) before travelling to Canada. An eTA costs CAD$7 and is valid for up to five years. Apply online here…
- Newfoundland’s Fogo Island Inn, a bold, architectural statement, whose local owners are passionate about preserving the traditions of this tiny fishing isle – One of Curious Travel’s favourites.
- Fairmont Banff Springs in Banff, Alberta opened in 1888, a castle-like Rockies landmark that offers a little luxury right in the mountains.
- Toqué! in Montréal. Injecting fun into fine-dining. this Québécois spot, a multiple-time winner of Canada’s Best Restaurant, serves local market-fresh ingredients with invention and playfulness.
- Vancouver’s Blue Water Café is the place for sustainable seafood. Fish fans should try the ‘Seafood Tower’, a two-tier feast of oysters, prawns, red tuna, salmon tartare, jellyfish, scallop ceviche, clams and mussels.
You have to go to…
- L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland & Labrador to explore the only known Viking site in North America, a small encampment of timber-and-sod buildings proving Europeans stood here over 1,000 years ago.
- Toronto’s Ice Hockey Hall of Fame is also a must. If you can’t make it to an actual match, visit this celebration of the national sport to learn what Canadians are so obsessed about.
Before you go…
Travel coast to coast on the page by reading…
- Windswept Newfoundland in Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News (1993)
- Rural Prince Edward Island in LM Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables (1908)
- Toronto with Margaret Atwood in Cat’s Eyes (1988)
- The prairies in WO Mitchell’s Who Has Seen the Wind? (1947)
- Albertan First Nations culture in Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water (1993)
- The Yukon gold rush with Robert Kroetsch’s The Man from the Creeks (1998)
Our Other Current Guides…
Sarah Baxter is a travel writer and editor, working for outlets such as The Telegraph, The Independent, Lonely Planet, Wanderlust and others. She is the author of several books, including A History of the World in 500 Walks (Aurum) and Spiritual Places (Aurum). Follow Sarah on Instagram @sarahbtravel.