Fancy a trip to the majestic nation of Canada but don’t know where to go? We’ve got you covered
Canada is the USA’s cooler, more laid-back cousin. It doesn’t shout, it doesn’t get into unseemly arguments, it just gets on with the job of being nice. It’s also one of the most popular travel destinations right now as well, with people discovering its mix of friendliness, hospitality, cultured cities and wild, untamed nature. So with this in mind, we’ve prepared a quick list of the places to consider when planning your Canadian adventure.
Sometimes overlooked by outsiders, the capital of Canada has the highest standard of living in the country, and is home to around 1.3 million people in its metropolitan area. Ottawa offers a great mix of culture and recreation; it’s home to both the National Arts Centre and the National Gallery of Canada, and there are various festivals running throughout the year based on subjects as diverse as folk music, flowers and dragon boating!
In the summer you’re never far from the countryside and the cycling is excellent, with people staying in cottages and spending the weekends on two wheels. In fact it was a bike friendly city well before it became trendy to embrace bikes. In the winter you can skate on the Rideau Canal or cross country ski in the Gatineau.
The largest city in Canada, Toronto is great fun. Lively and cosmopolitan with a student population numbering over 200,000 and a multicultural demographic including people from some 200 different nations, it jumps and dances with a vivacious spirit. Its nightlife scene is strong, with a burgeoning foodie scene – “fresh and local” seems to be the unwritten motto of the city’s chefs.
Other cultural highlights range from the Frank Gehry-designed Art Gallery of Ontario to the city’s centuries-old neighbourhoods, as well as the chance to see three top sports teams – namely the Blue Jays (baseball), Toronto FC (Major League Soccer) and their beloved hockey team, the Maple Leafs. Shopping-wise, there are any number of big name department stores, or you could head on down to Kensington Market to pick up a treasure from one of the many vintage and second-hand shops.
The lesser-visited west coast is where we find Vancouver, one of Canada’s most densely-populated and ethnically diverse cities. A place where you can head up into the mountains to ski – or take a couple of days to head all the way to the famous ski resort of Whistler – before being back in the city and enjoying a cocktail by nightfall. More so than any other Canadian city, the street food boom has seriously taken off here, with over 100 food trucks supplying hungry residents with everything from fish and chips to Chinese delicacies.
New media has made Vancouver its home as well: since 2014, it’s been the permanent home of the TED conference, and the city has gained the reputation of being Hollywood North because of the amount of films and TV shows that have been filmed here, including X-Men, Godzilla and Deadpool. Add to that the 1,000 or so acres of beautiful Stanley Park right on the edge of downtown, as well as beaches, a fabulous aquarium and a cool craft beer scene, there’s something for everyone.
Founded in 1608 as a French outpost, Québec City still feels like that. Not only is French widely spoken, it’s a city a city whose reinvigorated neighborhoods are bursting with sexy nightclubs, funky restaurants, and a laissez-faire French vibe. Evenings spent talking long into the night over a bottle of wine and delicious nibbles are the thing to do, and all of this will be done somewhere affording a spectacular view of city lights and the St. Lawrence river.
The Old City is the place to start. Take the funicular down to the Petit Champlain district to do some window shopping in this tourist hot spot before hiking up the steps back to the Frontenac, and check out the stores on nearby Rue Sainte-Jean. You could do it the other way round, but with all the amazing food and drink you’ll be consuming, this may be your only nod to real exercise. Other than that, it’s a perfect city for walking aimlessly and immersing yourself in a city that feels more European than anywhere else in North America.
Described by local chef Caroline Dumas as “a city on a very human scale”, that’s the perfect way to describe it. Mount Royal Park – from where Montréal gets its name – is the green heart of the city, adored by locals and tourists alike. Mile End was the historic centre of the city’s 19th century immigrant population, and was a tough old melting pot of Italian, Greek, Jewish and Irish. Today, it’s still the best area of the city to grab a great pastrami sandwich.
Each year, two events bring the city to the attention of the world: the world-renowned Jazz Festival in late June, and the Formula One race that takes place on a man-made island in the St. Lawrence Seaway at the end of spring. Both events enliven the whole place even further and attract people who love both the event and the city itself. As will you.
A bright, young city and a gateway to the Rockies, Calgary is also well-placed to access the National Parks of Banff and Jasper. In fact, if skiing is your thing, Banff National Park has three ski areas, covered by the tri-area lift pass: Mount Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise – which holds the distinction of having been named Canada’s best ski resort three years in a row at the World Ski Awards.
The Calgary craft beer scene is one of the main reasons people visit, and enjoying a delicious pint or three in laid-back surroundings is a fine way to spend and afternoon or an evening if being energetic isn’t totally your thing. It might not be the most historically attractive city in the country, but being young, modern, and so far from anywhere it feels nicely different – especially with it being one of the few large Canadian settlements steeped in cowboy culture. In fact, every July the city hosts the Calgary Stampede, a huge festival and rodeo!
Gros Morne National Park
“Gros Morne is a combination of a protected area and small coastal communities. They have a rich tradition of fishing, logging, and a relationship with the land in terms of subsistence, but also artistic as well. If you walk to the wharf you might speak to a lobster fisherman and it might be the same person who sings in the pub at night.” These are the words of park employee Sheldon Stone, and they explain why people love this, one of the lesser-known National Parks.
It’s open all year round, and there are hardcore hikes and off-piste skiing to be found, as well as kayaking and fishing. Many communities host festivals, including Norris Point’s ten-day Trails, Tales and Tunes that happens every May, featuring folk and bluegrass music, cooking workshops, special meals, and hikes.
When residents of Manitoba say they’re going to “the coast”, they mean the thousand-plus miles of sandy shore surrounding one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. There are more than 30 communities within easy reach of the lake – including Winnipeg, about an hour away – but because there are so many beaches to choose from, it never feels crowded. Kiteboarding, windsurfing, swimming and fishing are all extremely popular activities, as is just lying back and soaking up the sun in summer. When you’re tired of the beach, there are plenty of cycling and hiking trails in the surrounding areas, and if you get hungry, try some of the local Scandinavian specialities in the Icelandic-settled town of Gimli.
Battered by the winds of the North Atlantic, Halifax is a major shipping port and home to just under half a million people. It’s dominated by the Citadel, a star-shaped fortress dating from the 1850s. Despite being thought of as blustery and far away, there’s still a lot happening in this corner of Canada. Explore the oldest continuously running farmers’ market in North America at the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market, or you could visit Alderney landing on the Dartmouth Waterfront and have a poke around the shops, art gallery, community theatre and the numerous restaurants.
The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 was opened to the public in 1999 and is one of many places that showcase Halifax’s role as the most important maritime city in the country. Trek out to the coast to see beautiful Victorian lighthouses, and walk along cliff tops, tasting the salt in the air as the winds whip your hair in every direction.
Hire a car and drive south from Montréal where you’ll enter Eastern Townships, a region that resembles a slightly more rugged version of New England. You’ll be welcomed at the cosy inns and bed & breakfast places dotted throughout the area, and there are plenty of cycle routes and walks to help you fill your lungs with clear, Canadian air. By car, your options include (but of course aren’t limited to) Quebec’s wine route, taking you to local vineyards known for their ice wines and rosés, or maybe you fancy the Townships Trail, a route through 31 picturesque towns, via grand Victorian-era houses, farms and barns, and over covered bridges. If you’re looking for more natural beauty, the 100-mile Summit Trail leads to scenic viewpoints, parks, and hikes.