Known for its vast and unspoilt wilderness, moose, maple syrup and ice hockey, Canada is likely to leave you wanting to emigrate. From Niagara Falls to the Arctic Circle, Canada’s vast untouched natural attractions are what most visitors come for. Not quite sure of their place in the world, Canadians do not take kindly to being mistaken for their southern neighbors. You can shop, swim, skate and live in the world’s largest mall, but the wilderness beyond is much more exciting, with elk, moose, grizzly bears and pesky blackflies. In the east you can find men in kilts, there are Eskimos in the north and lumberjacks in the vast forests. After watching polar bears and whales from your igloo in the north, you can warm up in a mineral spa in Manitou.
Why You Should Go
What’s Cool: Wayne Gretzky, polar bears, maple syrup, French influences, fantastic skiing, Mounties, Niagara Falls, Biôdome in Montreal, high level of safety, the world’s largest mall, Rocky Mountains, beavers, Cariboo Gold Rush route, Monty Python’s Lumberjack song!
What’s Not: Freezing cold winters, short summers, compost toilets, huge distances, pesky mosquitoes, itchy blackflies, marauding moose, rivalry between French Canadians and the rest of the population, raccoons snatching your dinner.
When to Go
Canada’s climate is not as freezing all year round as many visitors believe. It gets colder the farther north you go. The best time to visit is July and August, while November to March is best for skiing.
In summer, the southern provinces are often humid and temperatures can regularly top 80°F.
In winter, temperatures drop below freezing point throughout most regions however the southwestern coast has a comparatively mild climate.
Within the Arctic Circle, average temperatures stay below freezing for seven months per year.
There is lots of rain in western and southeastern Canada, but the prairies are mostly dry.
Getting There & Away
Canada has 13 international airports and many visitors arrive in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. There are also several railway links with the USA. Domestic flights are not expensive, but less interesting than land travel. The coach network is extensive and more convenient than the limited train services. The Toronto-Vancouver train offers some spectacular views, with three mountain ranges passed en route – the Rockies, Selkirks and the Coastal.
Health & Safety
You’re more likely to fall victim to some kind of wildlife assault than to violent crime. Blackflies and mosquitoes are the worst pests. Elk, deer and moose can pose a danger when driving, especially at night in rural areas. In winter, beware of the cold. Never compare Canada to the USA and refrain from taking sides in the French/Canadian issue. Canada is a young nation and its identity is still not firmly rooted.
Food & Hospitality
Canadian cuisine is as diverse as the country. European menus are available in all main cities and the colonial influence can still be felt. In Québec, the French influence is clearly evident in the many restaurants specializing in French cuisine. Wash it down with a rye whisky or a Bloody Caesar cocktail. Accommodation options vary considerably in price depending on time and place. In the countryside, motels are small, hotels are simple and bed and breakfasts plentiful. Remote hunting lodges are ideal for fishing, hunting and hiking fans.
Two weeks is the least you need to spend to take in some of the highlights.
Two or three days in sophisticated Vancouver, surrounded by sea and mountains.
Four or five days in Ontario Province, visiting Ottawa, Toronto and Niagara Falls.
Three or four days in Francophone Quebec, with great nightlife and cuisine in Montreal and Quebec City.
Three or four days in laidback Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, with rustic villages, rugged Atlantic coasts and wildlife.
A couple of days to visit the Biodôme, a natural history museum featuring four skillfully re-created ecosystems.
Four or five days in Banff and Jasper national parks, in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, with some of North America’s most spectacular scenery. Think grizzly bears, moose and salmon.
A week in the Arctic province watching polar bears and whales from your igloo or dogsled.
Four or five days in New Brunswick, a flower paradise criss-crossed with lakes, rivers and streams on which to fish, canoe and kayak.
Two or three days on Prince Edward Island, covered in red sandstone with fine beaches on which to enjoy lobster and new potatoes.
Vancouver: with its historic downtown, multiethnic culture, Pacific coast and stunning scenery, it’s no surprise that most Canadians consider it the most livable city in the country.
Montreal: a bilingual melting pot of 19th century churches, cobbled streets, the Notre-Dame Basilica and a Gallic sense of joie de vivre.
Edmonton: in a beautiful wooded riverside setting is home to the world’s largest shopping mall, gorgeous old buildings and a mineral legacy.
Niagara Falls: can fill your bathtub a million times a minute and your eyes with mist.
Biosphere: is housed in the world’s largest geodesic dome and is a haven for environment fans.
Alberta: is a paradise for nature-lovers, with wide-open spaces and the sensational peaks of the .
Manitoba: home to inhabitants of Icelandic, Japanese and Italian descent as well as wolves, bears, elk, moose, beavers, polar bears and whales.
Saskatchewan: is home to a varied landscape, 100,000 lakes and two national parks.
Yukon Territory: is possibly best-known as the site of the Klondike Gold Rush. Dawson City still offers a glimpse of the spirit of boom and discovery of those times.
Northwest Territories: are home to Inuit and Dene communities, evergreen forests, verdant mountains, bison and grizzly bears.
Walking and hiking: on world-class trails with spectacular scenery, particularly in British Columbia, Quebec, Ontario and Nova Scotia.
Skiing and winter sports: with top-class facilities in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.
Shopping: in the world’s largest mall, the West Edmonton Mall features water and amusement parks, aviaries, aquariums and museums.
Water sports: and the coast and inland include white water rafting, canoeing and kayaking.
Caving and climbing: in the Rocky Mountains, where else?
Whale-watching: on organized trips off both the east and west coasts.
Fishing and ice fishing: for over 68 species of fish in Saskatchewan’s 100,000 lakes, rivers and streams.
Spa treatments: will pamper you at Manitou Springs Mineral Spa, where you can float effortlessly in the very salty, warm, mineral-rich waters.
Wine sampling: along the Okanagan Wine Route in the vineyards of the Thompson Okanagan Valley, the oldest wine producing region in British Columbia.
Watch a hockey game: ice hockey is the national sport and matches are held from fall to spring.
Ice-skating: is a national pastime and you can join the locals on the many public ice rinks or frozen lakes.
Festivals & Events
Little known for its festivities, Canadians do in fact like to get outdoors and party, but they just don’t show off about it as much as other countries.
February: Québec City Winter Carnival features parades, ice sculptures, a snow slide, dance and music.
February: Winterlude fêtes in Ottawa celebrate all things snowy.
June: Ottawa International Jazz Festival features leading Canadian and international jazz musicians.
June/July: Montréal Jazz Festival attracts international and local performers.
July: Caribana in Toronto is a Caribbean festival of music, dancing and wild costumes.
July: Calgary Stampede claims to be ‘the greatest outdoor show on Earth’. Don’t forget your cowboy hat and spurs.
August: First Peoples’ Festival in Victoria features traditional craftwork, dancing and war-canoe rides.
September: Toronto International Film Festival is a prelude to the Oscars race.