Wild and beautiful, cosmopolitan and prosperous, Canada is a paradox in more than one way. The second-largest country in the world, Canada has only 39 million people, who despite the 10 provinces and 2 territories, live mostly in just two areas - Quebec and Ontario. Cities (where they exist) are large, busy, and multi-ethnic - you will hear a babble of tongues and see faces from all different nationalities. But wander into a forest or the frozen tundra and you may hear no human voice except your own.
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CANADA QUICK FACTS
- Capital: Ottawa
- Currency: Canadian dollar ($, CAD)
- Area: 9,984,670 km²
- Population: 39,540,419 (2019 est.)
- Languages: Official: English and French (more than 70 indigenous languages are recognised at territorial levels)
- Religion: Roman Catholic 38.7%, Protestant ~17%, No religious affiliation 23.9%, Other ~10%
- Electricity: 120V, 60Hz (Type "A" plug)
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CANADA PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 1 January, New Year’s Day*
- 3rd Monday in February, Family Day/Louis Riel Day (Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan)
- 24 May, Victoria Day (Monday on or preceding)
- 1 July, Canada Day**
- 1st Monday in August, Civic or Provincial Holidays
- 1st Monday in September, Labour Day
- 2nd Monday in October, Thanksgiving Day
- 11 November, Remembrance Day (Government offices and banks only)
- 25 December, Christmas
- 26 December, Boxing Day
Also, Good Friday
* New Year’s Day is observed on the Monday following if it falls on a Sunday.
** Canada Day is observed on the Monday following if it falls on a Saturday or Sunday.
FESTIVALS IN CANADA
- Ottawa Winterlude - (February) The nation's capital puts on a winter festival that features ice-skating on the world's longest rink, ice sculptures, a snow playground, concerts and more.
- Quebec Winter Carnival - (Mar/Apr) The inhabitants of New France, now Quebec, had a rowdy tradition of getting together just before Lent to eat, drink and be merry.
- Canada Day Celebrations - (1 July) Marking Canada's birth as a country, July 1st sees Canadians donning their red and white attire and whooping it up with fireworks and lots of that good Canadian beer. The celebration is nationwide, but Ottawa will show you a particularly good time.
- Vancouver Celebration of Light - (July) The largest fireworks competition in the world is held over several nights every summer in Vancouver. More than just a pyrotechnical extravaganza, the Honda Celebration of Light comprises concerts, food stalls, and the Seawall Challenge, a popular urban adventure race. The festival makes for a great way to get to know the city from a local perspective.
- Calgary Stampede - (July) Each year, more than one million people visit Calgary to partake in this 10-day Calgary Stampede party held every July.
- Edmonton Folk Festival - (August) From its humble beginning in 1980, the Edmonton Folk Festival has grown to be one of the world's premier folk festivals.
BEST TIME TO VISIT CANADA
Canada’s climate varies from temperate in the south to subarctic and arctic in the north. Attempting to distill the climate of Canada into an easy-to-understand statement is virtually impossible, given the vast area and diverse geography within the country. Overall, in most places, winters are harsh compared to much of the world and on par with parts of northern Eurasia. The most populated region, southern Ontario, has a somewhat less severe climate. There are extreme variations across the country even within the same month of the year - the capital of Nunavut (Iqaluit), just south of the Arctic Circle, remains very cold except for the months of July and August, with an average maximum of only 12°C. The coastlines of British Columbia are relatively mild for their latitude, remaining just above freezing for most of the winter, yet they are not far away from some of the largest mountain glaciers found on the continent.
That said, you can visit Canada at any time during the year, as the country has something in store for every season. Generally, the best time to visit Canada is during Spring, Summer, and Autumn, which encompasses the months of April to October. Spring (April to May) is a delightful time - blossoming tulips and daffodils across the country, with the added advantage of warming days and off-peak season tourist rates. Similarly, during Autumn (September to October) you will be able to witnesses the fall foliage in Canada, with temperatures comfortable enough to still enjoy sightseeing and outdoor activities, yet escaping the tourist rush of summer.
The summer season is generally regarded as the peak tourist season in Canada with the summer months of June to August characterized by warm days and cool nights, with some humidity more concentrated along with the coastal areas. During these summer months, city tours, sightseeing, outdoor activities, hiking trails, and the famous Rocky Mountain tours, are all open and packed with visitors. With the increase in demand, prices of accommodation and flights tend to escalate during this period, thus advance bookings are advised if choosing to travel in these months. Some well-known summer festivals during the summer months include the Calgary Stampede, Montreal Jazz Festivals and Caribana.
CANADA WEATHER SYNOPSIS
CANADA TOURIST SEASONS
Most destinations have different times of the year when they’re more or less popular with tourists.
Off Peak Season
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN CANADA
The snow sports season in Canada can start as early as November and last until April. There are plenty of great skiing and snowboarding opportunities across the country.
HIKING & CYCLING IN CANADA
The best time for outdoor activities in Canada is from July to September. June can be feasible, although some areas may still be closed depending on snow fall.
BEACH OPTIONS IN CANADA
Although Canada is the country with the longest coastline in the world, their beach season is only 3 months long, from June to August. These are some of the best beaches: Grand Beach Provincial Park Manitoba, Sandbanks Provincial Park Ontario, Parlee Beach Provincial Park New Brunswick, Long Beach BC, Havre-Aubert Beach Quebec and Tribune Bay Provincial Park BC.
SURFING IN CANADA
Tofino is the so-called surf capital of Canada with year round surf, but you'll need a 4-6mm wetsuit, gloves, boots, and hood for the cold water! June to August is the best time for beginners, locals say that September to November is the best time overall and December to March brings huge swell. You can also check out Long Beach BC for beginners and Lawrencetown Beach Provincial Park Nova Scotia for more swell.
KITESURF IN CANADA
You can kite and windsurf at the following destinations in Canada: Squamish, Nitinat Lake, Oliphant, Cherry Beach, Humber and Wasaga Beach. You should get suitable winds from late May to early September, with July and August bringing the best wind.
For more details on kite surfing in Canada expand this section!
HEALTH RISKS IN CANADA
Be aware of possible health risks in
Yellow fever - The yellow fever virus is found in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and South America. The virus is spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito. There is no medicine to treat or cure an infection. To prevent getting sick from yellow fever, use insect repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and get vaccinated.
Zika Virus - Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
Malaria - Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans. People who get malaria are typically very sick with high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. Although malaria can be a deadly disease, illness and death from malaria can usually be prevented.
Dengue - Dengue is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. About one in four people infected with dengue will get sick. For people who get sick with dengue, symptoms can be mild or severe.
CANADA TRAVEL COSTS
Canada offers the ultimate luxury for travellers seeking respite from their frenetic, cramped lives with plenty of untouched, open spaces. But there is a price to be paid for this vastness as transportation is not always convenient and sometimes not available at all. However, with some thought and advance planning, it is possible to get around Canada easily and cheaply.
CANADA TRAVEL TIPS
Air travel can be costly and it is best to shop around for a cheap ticket. Advance booking, not taking direct flights, and not flying during peak hours (7 am to 7 pm) offer savings. The two major airlines, both privately operated are Air Canada and Canadian Airlines International. They are both connected with a slew of regional airlines to cover the whole country.
Though the railway used to be a major player in Canada's past, today domestic passenger rail services have shrunk drastically. Both the historic Canadian Pacific Railway and the Canadian National Railway only run freight trains in recent years. However, Canada still has an extensive and interesting passenger train service - VIA Rail, which covers most of the country but is at its best in the Quebec City - Windsor route. Long-distance train travel is definitely more expensive than bus services, and reservations are required. There are some other train services available too - Amtrak, the US rail system, the renowned privately run train service The Rocky Mountaineer, as well as some regional lines such as the British Columbia Rail, Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway, and Ontario Northland.
Renting a car and driving around is one of the best ways to get around Canada. Roads are good and clearly marked but negotiating city traffic during rush hour can be painful. Use of seat belts is compulsory and there are heavy fines for violating this rule. There are plenty of car-rental agencies across Canada and for the best deal, you should book in advance.
Bus services are generally well-organized, cheaper than trains and cover most parts of the country. Safe and comfortable, they run on time and there are some great deals on bus passes available. Apart from large national networks, most provinces have their own lines.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF CANADA
As you travel through Canada, prepare yourself for a veritable feast for your eyes. Blessed with plenty of natural attractions, Canada has managed, both deliberately and at times, inadvertently to make her cities equally attractive and breath-taking.
However, visiting Canada all in one trip is a massive undertaking. Over 7,200 kilometres (4,475 mi) separate St. John's, Newfoundland from Victoria, British Columbia. To drive from one end of the country could take 7–10 days or more (and that assumes you're not stopping to sightsee on the way). A flight from Toronto to Vancouver takes over 4 hours!
Each province and territory of Canada is unique containing its own special attractions:
- British Columbia has much to offer including Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), an ecologist's paradise of pristine wilderness, and Vancouver Island. In the Yukon, you have the majestic Northern Rocky Mountains and the relatively unknown Tombstone Territorial Park.
- Alberta is one of the most geographically diverse provinces in all of Canada, with the world-famous Rocky Mountains in the west, the "greatest outdoor show on earth" in Calgary (the Calgary Stampede), West Edmonton Mall in Alberta's capital, the arid badlands near Drumheller, and the wild frontiers of Alberta's northern forests. While the Northwest Territories are relatively unknown, they are the real fisherman's paradise, with thousands of virtually untouched lakes loaded with big game fish, including the mighty sturgeon. Nunavut has some of the most beautiful untouched Arctic lands in the world, tucked away in hard to reach corners like Baffin Island and Ellesmere Island.
- Ontario and Quebec include the beaten-path Windsor-Quebec corridor through the country's two largest metropolises of Toronto and Montreal - both containing huge rural expanses and many remote points where there simply is no road at all. As the national capital, Ottawa-Gatineau has an unparalleled array of museums. Quebec City (1608) and Montreal (1640) are famous for their old towns and architecture, with old Quebec City retaining original walled city fortifications of yesteryear.
- Atlantic Canada has preserved much of its Acadian heritage. Nova Scotia treasures its maritime legacy with a famous lighthouse perched atop the rocky shoreline of Peggy's Cove, historic shipyards at Lunenburg, and a seaside fortress the size of a small colonial village at Louisbourg.
- The coasts of Newfoundland are dotted with tiny fishing villages known as outports and three UNESCO World Heritage sites - Gros Morne National Park, the Anse-aux-Meadows Viking archaeological site on the Great Northern Peninsula, and a Basque whaling camp at Red Bay, Labrador.
REGIONS OF CANADA
- Atlantic Provinces (New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island) - This region is known for its history, particularly during the formation of Canada as a sovereign state. Atlantic Canada is well-known for unique accents, the origin of Acadian culture, natural beauty (particularly around coastal areas), the historic beauty of Halifax, and a huge fishing and shipping industry. It is also home to the distinctive culture of Newfoundland and Labrador, which was simultaneously the first part of what is now Canada to be explored by Europeans and the last part to join the confederation.
- Quebec - Quebec is one of the most unique regions in Canada, and for that matter, North America. Originally settled as part of New France, Quebec is culturally distinct from the rest of Canada. French is the dominant language, unlike the rest of the country, and the province is known for great cultural sites like Quebec City's Winter Festival, Montreal's classic architecture, and maple syrup and poutine (two staples of Canadian cuisine). Montreal is also the second largest French-speaking city in the world, though through centuries of influence from both the British and the French, its inhabitants have developed a distinct sense of identity.
- Ontario - Canada's most populous province is also quite geographically vast, allowing for endless activities to partake in. Toronto, Canada's largest city, is eclectic and vibrant, and prides itself on its multiculturalism. The province is also home to Ottawa, Canada's charming, bilingual capital, as well as Niagara Falls, and the untapped natural beauty of the Muskoka and beyond. All these things and more make Ontario showcase a lot of what is considered quintessentially Canadian by outsiders.
- Prairies (Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan) - Known for their vast open spaces and plentiful resources, the Canadian Prairies are a dynamic set of provinces with some of the most stunning natural beauty in the world. On the western edge of the Prairies, in Alberta lie the mountainous national parks of Banff and Jasper, and on the eastern edge in Manitoba, lies the beginning of the Canadian Shield, which contains some of the oldest rock on the surface of the earth. The major cities of Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg are modern cities with everything from massive rodeos to high-class museums.
- British Columbia - Colloquially known as "B.C.", this province prides itself on being beautiful. From cultured Vancouver, to charming Victoria, to the iconic ski slopes in Whistler, to the wineries of the Okanagan, B.C. is filled with wonder, both natural and man-made. The province also has the mildest winters in Canada on average (though often cloudy), especially in coastal regions, making it popular with Canadians who are less enthusiastic about winter.
- The North (Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Yukon) - The Territories are some of the most remote regions on Earth and constitute most of Canada's landmass. Though more known for their unique fauna and landscapes, the Territories also have some interesting human settlements, including Dawson City, a city that looks nearly untouched from the gold rush of 1898, and Iqaluit, Canada's newest territorial capital, which is home to some interestingly adaptive architecture to the harsh climate of the North.
- Quebec City — The Province of Quebec's capital, founded 1608, well known for its quaint Old City, its grand winter festival and gorgeous architecture like the Château Frontenac.
- Montreal — Once Canada's largest metropolis, Montreal is the core of North America's Francophone culture (you can still get by with English) and is home to some of the finest galleries, museums, venues, and festivals in the country along with great shopping on streets like Saint Catherine and Saint-Denis. Don't miss Mount Royal, either.
- Ottawa — Canada's national capital, this city is home to national government monuments like Parliament Hill, many major museums like the National Gallery, cool urban neighbourhoods like the ByWard Market, and great old architecture.
- Toronto — The largest city in Canada, fourth-largest in North America, Toronto is the media, entertainment, business, economic and cultural capital of Canada. Toronto is well known for famous landmarks like the CN Tower, but also has many great museums, theatres, sports venues, shopping districts, entertainment districts, beaches, and recreational parks.
- Niagara Falls - Canada’s major show-stopper is just a short ride from Toronto.
- The Icefields Parkway - Spend a few days immersed in the grandeur of the Rockies on the road to Banff, via the Columbia Icefield and Lake Louise.
- Banff - The capital of the Canadian Rockies is surrounded by mesmerizing scenery, mountain trails, and soothing hot springs.
- Whitehorse — Midpoint of the Alaska Highway, the gateway to the outdoor activities of Canada's far north.
- Vancouver — One of the most densely populated cities in Canada, Vancouver is a city of steel and glass condominiums and outstanding natural beauty. It is unique in that it is a city where one can ski and sit on the beach in the same 24 hours. The city was also the host of the 2010 Winter Olympics and is frequently ranked as one of the most liveable cities in the world.
- Halifax — Home to the second-largest natural harbour in the world is rich in history with architecture dating back from English colonialism. See fortress Citadel hill, the Canadian museum of the Atlantic, and the active nightlife where everything is a short walk away.
- Winnipeg — This city is near the heart of the continent and has a rich French-Canadian and First Nations culture, along with well-preserved blocks of historic commercial buildings, renowned arts and culture, and the vibrancy of the Forks.
- Churchill - Take the train to this Hudson Bay outpost to see hordes of beluga whales and – while you can – polar bears up close.
- Prince Rupert - This port town is the stepping off point for the Grizzly Bear Sanctuary and whale-watching tours.
- Haida Gwaii - Take the ferry across to this magical island archipelago in the Pacific, rich in First Nations culture, flora, and fauna.
- Calgary — A boom-town without a doubt, Calgary is a major Canadian financial city, but for non-business travellers, it offers the world-class Calgary Zoo, the Calgary Tower, the Calgary Stampede, Glenbow Museum, shopping at Chinook Mall and Atlantic Ave, and is only a short distance from the recreation of the Rockies.
WHAT TO PACK FOR CANADA
WHAT TO EAT IN CANADA
English Canadian cuisine varies from region to region. Some specialties include maple syrup, Nanaimo bars (chocolate-topped no-bake squares with custard or vanilla butter filling and crumb base), beaver tails (fried dough topped with icing sugar), fiddleheads (curled heads of young ferns), peameal bacon (a type of back bacon made from lean boneless pork loin, trimmed fine, wet cured, and rolled in cornmeal; eaten at breakfast with eggs or for lunch as a sandwich), and Halifax donairs (sliced beef meatloaf wrapped in pitas and garnished with onions, tomatoes, and a sweet condensed milk sauce similar to Turkish döner). They are an important, if somewhat humble, part of the Canadian culinary landscape.
LGBTQ IN CANADA
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in Canada are some of the most advanced in the Americas and in the world. Same-sex sexual activity has been lawful in Canada since June 27, 1969. Same-sex marriage in Canada was progressively introduced in several provinces by court decisions beginning in 2003 before being legally recognised nationwide with the enactment of the Civil Marriage Act on July 20, 2005.
Canada is considered one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world. The country's largest cities feature their own gay areas and communities, such as Toronto's Church and Wellesley neighbourhood, Montreal's Gay Village commercial district, Vancouver's Davie Village and Ottawa's Bank Street Gay Village. There are Pride events held annually in Toronto and Vancouver, among other cities
WHERE TO STAY IN CANADA
Accommodations in Canada vary substantially in price depending on time and place. In most cities and many tourist areas, expect to pay upwards of CA$100 or more for a good hotel room. If inquiring always ask if taxes are included.
In rural areas, motels (short for "motor hotel") are small, simple hotels where you might pay as little as CA$40-60 for a night's accommodation (especially in the off season.) In many areas, a B&B (bed and breakfast) is a nice option. These are normally people's homes with suites for guests. The price - anywhere from CA$45 a night to CA$140 a night - usually includes a breakfast of some kind in the morning.
Youth hostels are a good choice, offering lodging in shared dorms (CA$20-40) or private rooms (CA$45-80). Most hostels in Canada meet very high standards.
There is a huge number of campgrounds in Canada. These range from privately owned R.V. parks to the publicly operated campgrounds in national and provincial parks, and are almost always well-kept and generally very beautiful.
Other options include cottage rentals on the lakes and in the countryside and apartment rentals in the cities using services such as Airbnb. Prices compare to hotels and motels and this type of lodging provides some comfort of home while you are traveling.