Are you hoping to travel to Canada this summer? How much do you know about this North American country? Known for its vast untouched scenery, high snowy mountains, pristine lakes, and history going back to the Colonialism era, a trip to Canada is sure to appeal to all travelers looking for outdoor adventures and unique experiences. Prepare your travels to Canada to make the best of it, so check our things to know about Canada before you do!
Our selection is based on our interests are primarily outdoor activities and wildlife viewing, with local traditions and events. So you will find here plenty of national parks and local festivals, come summer and winter.
We had the opportunities to travel to Canada several times, both in summer and winter, and can only say we loved every second of it!
🇨🇦 🍁 😷 Note that travel to Canada is currently restricted due to the health crisis the world is facing. However, we can only hope that travel will resume at some point, and Canada will, for sure, be a wonderful country to explore after months of stay-at-home with limited outdoor access. For more on Canada travel access, check the Canadian Government website for the latest information. 😷 🍁 🇨🇦
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Canada: North America’s Largest Country
While the United States of America might appear to be bigger than Canada thanks to the State of Alaska stretching further the North American Continent and the Hawaiian Islands in the Pacific Ocean, Canada is the largest by far. Canada is the second-largest country in the world, the first being Russia. But Canada is only the 38th most populated country in the world, a testament on how untouched and undeveloped most of Canada is!
To give an idea about the size of the country, it takes about 7 to 10 days to drive the 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometers) that stretch from the east coast of Newfoundland to the west coast of British Columbia. Flying will be, of course, faster but still plan for a 4-hour flight between both coasts.
Why is that important? Because the country is so massive, it’s better to figure out what you might want to see before you head there. Depending on what you are looking for, when you are going, and how long your trip is, you might decide to visit one part of the country or another.
Attractions and Places in Canada
With such a vast country, the choice of what to do in Canada is infinite! Everyone is looking for something different, and what might be interesting for one person is not for another.
Our selection is leaning towards outdoors and adventures, and unique traditions, history, and culture. We are skipping most cities unless we felt these had some different to offer than the usual busy metropoles.
10 best places to visit in Canada
- Niagara Falls: the popular waterfalls straddle across the US and Canada, and are famous with its 160 ft (50 m) vertical drop. Gorgeous in all seasons, maybe even more so in winter when the falls freeze up.
- Montreal: The second-largest city in Canada, rich in history, in the French-speaking region of Québec
- Vancouver: Located on the Western coast of Canada, the vibrant city is nestled between the Coast Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.
- The Canadian Rockies: Covering Alberta and British Columbia, the Rocky Mountains of Canada feature incredible national parks, with stunning scenery and endless outdoor experiences.
- Quebec City: The second oldest city in Canada after St. John’s, Quebec City is known for its rich architecture and history, including the Old Town as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Strong European influence and French-speaking population.
- Vancouver Island: Home to Victoria, British Columbia capital city, Vancouver Island offers a perfect mix of urban experience with rugged outdoors.
- The Yukon: A name of epic stories, the Yukon remains a remote destination but worth the trip to see the Northern Lights and travel along the Klondike and Dempster Highways.
- Nova Scotia: One of the original provinces of Canada, the region covers from Cape Breton Island to the Acadian Shores, and is also known for its outdoor activities, European settlers, and seafood.
- The Arctic: Tundra, frozen rivers turned ice roads in winter, home to several groups of the Inuit people, a visit to Arctic Canada is a trip of a lifetime.
- Nunavut: “Our Land” in the language of the Inuit, the territory includes the Baffin Island, Hudson Bay. Probably some of the most remote corners of Canada.
The last four spots in Canada are part of our list though we were lucky to spend some time in the Canadian Arctic in winter! What a blast we had!
There are six provinces in Canada. Here they are from the east to the west, with highlights of what each province has to offer:
- Atlantic provinces with Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick. The region is rich in history, as the city of Halifax, given it was the first one to be explored by the European settlers.
- Quebec, with Montreal and Quebec City. Thanks to its French heritage, the culture and architecture is such a contrast with the rest of Canada. It might come as a surprise that Montreal is the second-largest French-speaking city after Paris! Winter, while cold, is an excellent time to visit the region, where Quebec City Winter Festival is a popular event. For food lovers, maple syrup and poutine should be on your menu! Quebec City’s Chateau Frontenac is a must-see.
- Ontario, with Toronto, Ottawa, and the famous Niagara Falls. The region features two of the major cities in Canada – Toronto is the largest, and Ottawa the capital, but is probably better known for the Niagara Falls. But there is more to Ontario than just the falls. Top attractions include Bruce Peninsula National Park and the popular Grotto, Lake Superior (North America’s largest of all the five Great Lakes), and Thousand Islands National Park located by the St. Lawrence River. Ontario is also home to a well-renown wine country for those who like to go wine tasting when exploring a new region. Road tripping in Ontario is a great way to explore the area!
- Prairie (Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta), including Calgary and Edmonton, and the famous Jasper and Banff National Parks. Prairie is an interesting name for this region, taking its name from the flat section of Saskatchewan, even though part of Alberta sits on the high mountains of the Canadian Rockies. Alberta Rockies is where outdoor enthusiasts will find most of the national parks. Manitoba is the place to go to see bear watching in Churchill, where Polar bears cross the city on their bi-yearly migration paths. Calgary is home to the Calgary Stampede in summer.
- British Columbia, with Vancouver, Victoria and Vancouver Island, and Whistler. The province has a bit of everything. Historic Victoria is full of charming houses and hotels. Vancouver Island is home to rainforests and wide-open beaches or bike along the Galloping Goose Trail. Vancouver is a busy city with cultural events for everyone. Downhill ski enthusiasts will want to check Whistler ski resort. Wine tasting in Okanagan valley is well-known. And water sports lovers will enjoy the coastal opportunities like kayaking, surfing, or kiteboarding, and even scuba-diving.
- North (Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Yukon): This province is probably the least visited, given the challenging weather and demanding access to many of the locations. Yukon is perhaps the better known of the three thanks to the Klondike gold rush that saw over 100,000 people prospecting in the harshest conditions. Nunavut covers the Hudson Bay, famous Baffin Island, and part of the Arctic Ocean. 70% of the people speak Inuktitut, the traditional language of the Inuit people. Yellowknife is probably better known than The Northwest Territories, where the city lies. Still, the region also features places like Inuvik and the Mckenzie River, which turns into an ice road come winter. Places like Inuvik can be right for Aurora Viewing and dog sledding over the gently rolling hills of the Arctic tundra.
Things to Do in Canada
With a country of that size, it’s hard to list all the things to do in Canada, so we put together what we would love to do as outdoor enthusiasts and adventure travelers.
Top Canada Bucket List for the Adventurous Spirits
- Downhill Skiing in the Canadian Rockies
- Driving Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island along Cabot Trail
- Watch the Northern Lights in the Northern Territories
- See polar bears in Churchill Manitoba in winter
- Observe beluga whales in Hudson Bay in summer
- Hike through one of the numerous National Parks – from Alberta Banff to British Columbia Pacific Rim to Newfoundland’s Gros Morne Park
- Kayak in the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick
- Walk Athabasca Sand Dunes in Saskatchewan
- Go on a horse ride – almost everywhere in Canada!
- Mush your team of dogs’ sled in the Arctic
National Parks of Canada
Within 48 national parks and national park reserves, Canada is a dream come true for outdoor enthusiasts. But how do you pick? Not an easy answer here either!
Best National Parks in Canada
We short-listed what we felt some of the top Canada national parks, and what their highlights are. I am sure we are missing a few! Feel free to let us know which park we should add and why!
- Jasper National Park (Alberta): lakes and mountains galore!
- Banff National Park (Alberta), the oldest national park in Canada established in 1885, with glaciers and ice fields, alpine scenery, and thick forests.
- Gros Morne National Park (Newfoundland): deep fjords and forests
- Waterton Lakes National Park (Alberta): waterfalls and wildlife, including bisons
- Kluane National Park and Reserve (Yukon). ice fields, forests, peaks, and Grizzly bears
- Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve (British Columbia). Fjords, mountains, salmon, tundra, and Haida Heritage Site
- Cape Breton Highlands National Park (Nova Scotia). Boreal forests and steeps cliffs, and the famous Cabot Trail coastline
- Elk Island National Park (Alberta): Important conservation of the American bison
- Kootenay National Park (British Columbia), great for bear watching, including Grizzly bears
- Prince Edward Island National Park (Prince Edward Island): Sandy beaches, red cliffs, dunes, and lighthouses. Cycle a seashore path, or kayak along the rugged coastline
- Yoho National Park (British Columbia): Alpine lakes, cliffs, and wooded trails.
- Pacific Rim National Park Reserve (British Columbia): Rugged costs of the Pacific Coast, rainforests, known for the excellent kayaking in the Broken Group Islands, and trekking along the West Coast Trail.
Canadian National Park Pass
If you are planning on visiting a couple of parks, consider buying a Canadian national park pass. The entrance fee each park is around CAD$10 per person per day. However, the annual pass for an adult is roughly CAD$ 40, and for a Family / Group (which covers up to 7 people in a vehicle) around CAD$ 140.
Canada Itinerary Suggestions
Given the size of the country, pick a couple of things you want to do, and focus on the region. Otherwise, you might be running from one place to the other without taking the time to enjoy what you are seeing. One of the great ways to visit the country is to go on a Canada road trip. Rent a car will give you the liberty to explore at your will, and with so many national parks, a car is a must.
A Canada 2-weeks itinerary is what we recommend to enjoy your trip without rushing it. Of course, you can still see a lot in a week if you plan a road trip in Canada around one specific region.
Again, our itineraries for Canada focus on outdoor activities, national parks, and local traditions. Our Eastern Canada trip, for example, skip Toronto and Ottawa that most classic East Canada two-week itinerary cover, and head to Nova Scotia instead.
- One-week itinerary: Quebec City and Montreal for sure, but also Tadoussac National Park and Saguenay Fjord
- Two-week itinerary: Add some of the Atlantic provinces and head to Nova Scotia and include Truro and the Bay of Fundy and Saint John
- One-week itinerary: British Columbia with Vancouver and Victoria
- Two-week itinerary: Add Alberta national parks for another 7-day of stunning vistas, creating a Calgary to Vancouver road trip for a cross Canada road trip. You can also make it the way around as a Vancouver to Calgary road trip.
- Nunavut Cruise Itinerary would include Baffin Island and a chance to see the aurora borealis and midnight sun and learn about ancestral Inuit groups.
- Yukon: The Golden Circle Route itinerary takes you from Whitehorse to Haines, Skagway, Carcross, and back to Whitehorse. Drive through the scenic White Pass and along the Dempster Highway!
- Winter in the Arctic: Yellowknife, Whitehorse, and Inuvik are the perfect hubs for exploring the Arctic in the winter, dog sledding, or camping in the tundra. Check out our experience in Inuvik, mushing our sled dog team.
How to travel in Canada
You have the choice of cities for your arrival in Canada. From Vancouver to Toronto, Calgary, or Vancouver, or even through the United States, the selection of flights and companies is wide.
For the best prices, book your ticket in advance, especially in summer.
Make sure to check any travel restrictions that might be in place with the current virus crisis.
Independent Road Trip to Canada
Probably one of the best ways to travel in Canada, rent a car or even an RV, and hit the road. Such a trip will require some planning, from picking up your route, booking your hotels or campsite, but you are in for a treat.
Organized Canada Tours
If you don’t like driving or don’t want to spend time organizing your hotels, joining a tour will give you peace of mind. We recommend small-group tours for a more intimate experience away. Small-group buses will access remote roads more easily; a smaller group will let you enjoy the quiet of the outdoors.
Tours to Canada
Tours in Canada are almost infinite. They can be a day trip, overnights, or last over several days. Day trips can also be good options even if you travel independently as guides might take you to place you can’t go on your own or provide knowledge hard to find in a book.
- Quebec and Montreal tours 3-day Essential in East Canada | Outdoor Activities around Quebec | Sugar Shack Maple Syrup tour | Montreal Sightseeing Tours
- British Columbia tours:
- Vancouver Canada tours: Click here for Vancouver Activities Or check these individual tours: Vancouver to Banff tour | Vancouver city tour with cultural visits | Vancouver day tours | Vancouver sightseeing tours
- Vancouver island tours: Click here for tour ideas on Vancouver Island. For topic-specific tours: Victoria Tours from Vancouver | Victoria BC tours | Grizzly Bear Viewing & Indigenous Cultural Tour
- Alberta Tours
- The Canadian Rockies Tours
- Canada rocky mountains tour ideas, including some of the best Canadian Rockies tour from Vancouver
- Canada winter tours
- Western Canada tours and any of the several Canada travel tours are available on multi-day excursions. Click here to find the different tour options.
With such an expansive coastline, cruising in Canada gives a different perspective. On the east coast, cruise from Halifax to explore Newfoundland and the fishing villages along the Labrador coastline. Arctic Cruises will include Baffin Island to see belugas, polar bears and learn about Inuit Culture. From Vancouver, cruise by the forests and mountains of the British Colombia coast.
- Vancouver cruises: Click for cruises from Vancouver
- Sailing from Halifax
- Ontario and Niagara Falls Cruises
Canada Train Tours
Exploring by train takes you through incredible scenery while sitting comfortably from your wagon window. Travel Coast to Coast, or board one of the Canadian Rockies train tours from Seattle or to Vancouver on the Rocky Mountaineer.
Canada Indigenous Peoples
The Indigenous people of Canada are Canadians, also called the Aboriginal Canadians, include the First Nations, Inuits, and Métis.
Canada is home to 634 First Nations and over 50 separate languages, people that settled in Canada around 1,000 BC. These First Nations are spread across Canada, like fourteen First Nations are in the Yukon. The Inuit live in the northern regions of Canada, as well as the United States and Greenland. Metis are of mixed heritage from indigenous Canadians and European ancestry.
We were lucky to attend an Inuit festival during our weeklong stay in Inuvik, where we attended the Muskrat Festival. Incredible performances from the Inuvialuit Inuits and we can only recommend learning about the local traditions and culture.
Expect to enjoy different tastes of Canadian cuisine depending on the provinces you are in. In addition to First Nations elements, French and Scottish flavors have impacted what you can savor today. First Nations brought maple sirup, game, and “salmon jerky.” European settlers brought in bagels and smoked meat.
Must-Try Canadian Food
- Maple syrup prepared as maple taffy on the snow – or tire d’ érable sur la Neige as the French speakers call it. The boiling maple syrup is poured over the cold now, which freezes it instantly. Roll it over a stick. Enjoy!
- Poutine: the famous french fries and cheese curd served with brown gravy is quintessential Canadian food. Originated from Quebec, it’s more than French-Canadian food, now it’s an iconic Canadian meal!
- Seafood – East Coast, West Coast – be ready for fresh seafood galore.
- Local game: venison, caribou or moose depending on where you are
- Smoked salmon and salmon jerky. Make sure to pick some for your trip, tasty and yummy. I have never tasted anything like that outside Canada!
- Nanaimo bar, a no-bake dessert from the city of the same name on Vancouver Island. Three-layers of wafer base, a mix of nuts, coconut and custard, and a chocolate top
- Bannock, a legacy from Indigenous Canadians and Inuits, and now a staple anywhere in the country. Simple bread served with bacon – preferably peameal bacon or Canadian bacon – or other toppings
- Saskatoon berry served in a Saskatoon berry pie!
- Beaver tails were one of the protein sources of the Indigenous people and are known to be rich and butterlike. Note that there is another type of Beavertail, a fried-dough pastry pulled by hand to look like the flat tail of a beaver. Fill it with everything you want though classic combinations include cinnamon or Nutella (for the modern flavor!). Whichever you choose, the meat savory or the sweet one, you are in for a treat.
- Butter Tarts for the sweet tooth, a pastry shell filled with a mixture of butter, sugar, syrup, eggs, and raisins.
- Okanagan wine tasting. The Okanagan Valley is known for its top-quality wines, many that won international awards.
Festivals in Canada
We usually try to squeeze a few festivals if we can while traveling. While there are way more than what we listed there, we wanted to focus on the ones we felt unique and with local traditions.
- Quebec City Summer Festival, Quebec (Festival d ‘été de Québec) in July. An 11-day music festival in downtown Quebec City is probably one of the most significant events in Canada.
- Montreal International Jazz Festival (Festival International de Jazz de Montréal) in June/July
- Pacific National Exhibition, Vancouver. A summer fair late of August, early September
- Québec Winter Carnival. For over two weeks from the end of February, the famous festival is known for its Le Bonhomme Carnaval snowman mascot.
- Ottawa Winterlude features the world’s longest ice skating rink and other winter activities.
- Pacific Rim Whale Festival usually runs between late March and early April when gray whales migrate from the Baja Peninsula in Mexico to the Western Coast of Vancouver Island.
- Calgary Stampede. The 10-day festival is a significant rodeo event featuring cowboy culture.
- Grand River Pow Wow. The Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve are hosting in July what many considered to be one of Canada’s largest First Nations festivals.
- Celtic Colours International Festival: The 9-day event promote Festival music in Cape Breton in October, a great time to enjoy fall foliage colors
- Attend smaller local events and traditional performances like the Muskrat Festival in Inuvik
What is the best time of the year to visit Alaska? Well, good question! Not an easy answer, though.
Canada is a true 4-season weather country, though winter might feel it never ends! The country is famous for its severe winter weather when ice storms and blizzards are frequent. The cold season can last between five to six months, with February considered the coldest month. Temperatures can reach -40 degrees Fahrenheit (-40 degrees Celsius).
When to visit Canada depends on what you are interested in doing. Summer is the perfect season to go hiking in Alberta, kayaking in British Columbia, road-tripping through Nova Scotia. Winter is ideal for skiing in Whistler, dog sledding in the Arctic, or ice hiking in Banff.
The best time to visit Canada is from September to November. While the temperatures are cooler than summer, there are fewer people around making traveling in Canada, which makes enjoying the park better. Plus, you get to enjoy the fall colors!
Due to the current travel restrictions, make sure to check your nearest consulate to verify the latest requirements.
Most people need a Canada travel visa, which is also called Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA).
US citizens and Saint-Pierre and Miquelon do not need a travel visa for Canada to enter. Until 2009, US citizens could enter Canada and go back to the US with their driver’s license or birth certificates, but the regulations have now changed. A valid passport is currently required to enter Canada and reenter the United States of America [CHECK]
Residents of the EU, the UK, Australia, and another 20 or so countries don’t need a visa to travel to Canada per se but must have an eTA for air entry. Other nationalities are required to apply for a visa (also called a visitor visa, temporary resident visa, or a tourist visa) in advance at their nearest Canadian Visa Office. Make sure to check the latest requirements for your Canada travel document as conditions change rapidly.
How to Apply for the Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA)
Most visitors can stay for six months from the day of entry, though border officers might decide to you a shorter stay. Make sure to check your passport to see how long you can stay in Canada.
After your fill your Canada eTA application, you can always check your eTA status online.
An eTA is also required to transit through a Canadian airport. For transiting through other points of entries, be it by bus, car, boat, cruise ship, or train, you might need an eTA visa as well. The required transit document will depend on how long your transit is, your nationality. Make sure to verify the transit requirements that fit your specific conditions, and ensure you have the correct documents for travel to Canada.
Studying and working are not allowed under a tourist visa, and eTA, and both require different work permits. Canadian permanent residents with PR cards don’t need an eTA.
If your Canadian itinerary is taking to the US, you most likely need an American visa as well. Visa Waiver Program travelers must have an ESTA visa, and other travelers should check the visa requirements based on their nationalities. Check out our things to know about traveling to the US, including some visa tips, for more details. Allow for some time for border crossing.
Lodging in Canada
All types of accommodation are available in Canada. Luxury hotels, cheap motels, lakeside cabins, camping, and chalets in the mountains – everything is there.
We use Booking.com for most of our trips when we are not camping.
Canada Travel Tips
Here are our travel tips on what to know about Canada before you head to the country:
- Time Zones: There are six time zones in the US, starting with Newfoundland in the east to Alberta and the Northwest Territories in the west. When it’s 8:30 am in Vancouver, it’s 1 pm in St. John’s on the other end of the country.
- Canadian currency is the Canadia Dollar, usually listed as CAD or CA$. Since the neighborhood in the South also uses $, make sure to specify or verify that CA$ is the currency used.
- Official languages are French and English primarily, though English is mostly spoken across the country and French dominant in the Quebec province. About 76 indigenous languages, including Inuktitut, are still used in different parts of the country, based on their strong heritage and connection to the land.
- Canadian English and Canadian French: They are both slightly different than American English or French French.
- Border crossing with the US requires a visa or travel authorization like eSTA to enter. Note that there are also restrictions to the goods that you can bring into America, be it alcohol, food, as well as inspection of your digital devices.
- Learn to speak hockey. Forget Baseball, American Football, or Soccer (European football); hockey is the sport that gets Canadian up and about.
- Tipping: Like in the US, tipping is an extra 15% to 20% on any bill. While tipping is not mandatory, it’s part of Canadian culture.
- Sales Taxes: Similarly, federal sales tax, as well as provinces, add additional fees to any bill.
- Smoking: It is illegal to do so in public places, including restaurants, shared areas of rental, and hotels.
- Electric Plugs: Canada uses the two-prong North American-style plug. Note that third-prong plugs (for grounded electrical outlets) are also used. Bring an adapter that fits both. Most wall outlets use 120 volts and not the 240 volts that most European appliances would require. So you might need a voltage converter as well.
- Driver’s Licenses: If you are planning on driving by yourself, check you have the right documents. US driver’s licenses are accepted for driving in Canada, but other nationalities might need to bring an International Driving Licenses.
- Pack warm clothes, regardless of the season. Weather changes very quickly, and summer nights might be cold. Make sure to wear layers and always have warm clothes handy.
- If you are on your road trip in winter, watch for extreme conditions on the road, and take all precautions with extra food and water, warm clothes, and fuel.
- Sensitive topics: Be mindful of not discussing Indigenous affairs as these topics are considered sensitive in Canada. Avoid using terms Eskimo, Indian, or Native, which are considered racial slurs. Politics are another hot subject, especially Québec’s independence.
- Canada uses the metric system, so forget feet and miles, ounces and pounds, and think meters and grams! Temperatures are also in Celsius and not in Fahrenheit. Speed limitations are listed in km/hour, not in miles/hour. If you are renting a car from the US, make sure you have a car that features both miles and kilometers. Or be sure to calculate to the right values. One mile is about 1.6 km, so divide the Canadian speed limits by 1.6 to get the miles equivalent. For example, a 100km/h speed is 62mp/h. For our US readers, here is a quick conversion guide to the world of metrics:
- 1 mile = 1.61 km / 1 km = 0.62 mile
- 1 in = 2.54 cm / 1 cm = 0.39 in
- 1 foot = 12 inches = 0.33 yards = 30.48 cm / 1 m = 39 in
- 1 ounce = 28.35 g / 1 g = 0.035 ounce
- 1 pound = 16 ounces = 453.59 g / 1 kg = 2.2 pound = 35 ounces
- 1 gallon = 3.79 l = 16 cups / 1 l = 0.26 gallon
- 50 F = 10 C
- Canada Travel Guide Books: Grab a copy of the Lonely Planet Canada, Lonely Planet Vancouver, Lonely Planet British Columbia, or Lonely Planet Banff. Other useful books to consider: English-French phrasebook.
Have you been to Canada? What was your experience or preferred thing to do in Canada? Share with us your adventures!
If you are looking for more Canada trip ideas, Canada tours, or outdoor adventures, check out our Canada travel blog posts.
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