CANADA FOR BEGINNERS
How to start planning your first great northern adventure
SNOW-CAPPED PEAKS, IRIDESCENT BLUE LAKES AND A MENAGERIE OF NATIVE WILDLIFE – THE ROCKIES DELIVER
With mountain vistas, world-class snow sports, captivating wildlife and cultural mix, Canada promises no shortage of bucketlist travel experiences. From British Columbia’s ruggedly handsome West Coast, to the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, all the way through the interior’s windswept prairies, to French-infused Quebec, and the historic east coast Maritimes, plus the impossibly friendly people who call these places home – it’s the “It” country of the moment. The trick is knowing where to start planning your own Canadian adventure and what to save for your next visit.
5 AMAZING EXPERIENCES EXPLORE THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS, ALBERTA
Jagged, snow-capped peaks, iridescent blue lakes, and a menagerie of native wildlife – the Rockies truly do deliver Canada’s money shot. See vibrant Lake Louise mirroring the glacier-sculpted mountains that surround in summer, or ice skate across it in winter. Party in the ever-popular ski resort town of Banff after spending a day hiking around frozen waterfalls.
Or venture north to Jasper, where the crowds are fewer and landscape wilder, keeping watch for bears, elk, moose, caribou and chipmunks.
HIT THE SLOPES IN WHISTLER, BC
With two award-winning mountains, more than 3235ha of terrain on each, a record-breaking gondola, and reliably deep snow, Whistler Blackcomb earns its crown as North America’s number one ski resort. Located on British Columbia’s west coast, 120km north of Vancouver, this seismic resort proves as popular off the slopes with an impressive array of bars for après, five-star dining, spas, shopping and night-life – all with breathtaking alpine views.
SEE NIAGARA FALLS’ BEST SIDE, ONTARIO
Straddling the international border between the province of Ontario and the US state of New York (130km southwest of Toronto), you’ll find the most photogenic angle of Niagara Falls on the Canadian side.
Walk around the western rim of Niagara River and take in panoramic views of three thundering waterfalls that make up this natural wonder – American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Horseshoe Falls.
Get up close to the action on board a catamaran or jetboat tour, or do the “Journey Behind the Falls” experience, involving a 45m elevator ride to two dramatic outdoor observation decks, prime seating to watch one-fifth of the world’s freshwater crashing into the basin below.
EAT YOUR WAY THROUGH MONTREAL, QUEBEC
The largest city in the province of Quebec (570km northeast of Toronto, Ontario), Montreal is considered the heart and soul of Canadian French culture. Characterised by its European flair, French majority, and diverse immigrant population, Montreal is the cuisine capital, boasting the highest number of restaurants per capita in Canada (arguably within North America).
It also claims to be the modernday home of smoked meats, maple syrup delicacies, and Canada’s hearty national dish, poutine. A coronary-inducing combination of french fries, squeaky cheese curds, and thick gravy, this decadent dish is said to have been created in Quebec in the 1950s, but today you’ll find variations (and regional specialties) right across Canada.
While you’re in town, catch one of the blockbuster events that cement Montreal as the country’s cultural epicentre, such as the International Jazz Festival, Formula 1 Grand Prix
SUMMER’S THE BEST TIME OF YEAR TO EXPERIENCE ICONIC CANADIAN EVENTS SUCH AS THE CALGARY STAMPEDE
du Canada and Montreal en lumière, one of the largest winter festivals in the world.
WATCH WILDLIFE ON VANCOUVER ISLAND, BC
Just off the west coast of British Columbia, Vancouver Island is not only home to Victoria, the province’s capital city (115km southwest of Vancouver), it’s also a hotspot for animal encounters.
With some 7000 known species that inhabit the area, there are more than 200 species of migratory birds and 33 species of land mammals.
Whether it’s kayaking with orcas (killer whales) around Telegraph Cove, snorkelling with harbour seals in Nanaimo, swimming with thousands of salmon in Campbell River, or spotting any of the black bears, elk or deer that inhabit the temperate rainforests that grow across the island, there is no shortage of opportunities to get up close with some of Canada’s most fascinating wildlife.
SUMMER VERSUS WINTER
With pros and cons to every season in Canada, it’s important to understand that given the immense geographic size of the country, weather patterns do vary drastically between provinces (and even within provinces). With this in mind, be sure to plan around the specific region you’re visiting.
Generally, summer (June to August) is peak season in Canada, with long sunny days proving prime time to explore the abundance of stunning hiking trails, camp sites, and pristine lakes.
It’s also the best time of year to see much of Canada’s wildlife, lap up Toronto’s cosmopolitan bar culture, and experience an array of iconic Canadian events such as the Calgary Stampede in Alberta, Just for Laughs festival in Montreal, and Ottawa Bluesfest. Of course, peak season also means peak prices across flights, hotels, and transportation.
On the flip side, winter (December to March) has its own appeal with most of the country under snow. Even if skiing or snowboarding down Canada’s famous slopes is off the cards, most ski destinations offer winter activities that novices can enjoy, such as snowshoeing in Whistler, BC, dog sledding in Charlevoix, Quebec, or ice-climbing and skating at Happy Valley Adventure Park in Big White, Alberta.
Winter is also synonymous with Canada’s national pastime, ice hockey. Religiously followed by Canadians young and old, you can get swept up in the passion watching an NHL home game.
Heading north to the Yukon, winter is the best time to see the mesmerising aurora borealis (aka the Northern Lights) swirl across the arctic skies, as it’s often not dark enough throughout summer.
However, if you do plan a winter trip, be prepared for seasonal transport challenges, especially if you’re self-driving.
ESSENTIAL TIPS CANADA IS ENORMOUS
Made up of 10 provinces, three territories, and five time zones, Canada’s land mass covers almost 10 million square kilometres, making it the second largest country in the world (after Russia). To put this in perspective, it takes a minimum 50 hours behind the wheel to drive from coast to coast.
With such a vast area to explore, it can be challenging if you only have a limited time to travel.
Consider choosing just one region, such as the Rocky Mountains or BC’s West Coast, or book one of the many reputable tours that operate throughout Canada, which specialise in maximising time and sightseeing opportunities.
TAX AND TIPPING When buying anything in Canada, you’ll notice the price is higher at the checkout than what’s on the shelf (or menu). That’s because sales tax isn’t included in the display price, so expect to pay an extra 5-15 per cent, depending which province you’re in.
Then there’s the art of tipping. While not mandatory in Canada, it is generally expected as most service providers receive a relatively low base wage. But you only need tip when a service is involved, such as for waiters and bartenders, taxi drivers, beauticians and tour
While tipping 15-20 per cent of the cost is considered standard, some people tip less if it was poor service or more if it was exceptional.
The good news is that the Canadian dollar is relatively on par with the Australian dollar (unlike in the US), so it’s easier on your pocket.
CANNABIS IS COMMON, REALLY COMMON
You needn’t travel far to notice (or smell) that Canadians take a relatively liberal stance on cannabis. At present, pot is legal for medicinal purposes only, but it is a grey area as recreational marijuana is on track to be legalised in Canada by July. Already there are upwards of 200 dispensaries (shops that sell cannabis) nationwide, to mention a growing number of gourmet edible producers and cannabis-friendly travel experiences.
CANADA IS A BILINGUAL NATION
you arrive at any Canadian airport, you’ll notice there are two official languages, English and French. Everything from signage to packaging comes in a bilingual format. While English is the dominant language in most areas, French is the mother tongue in the province of Quebec. What’s more, the Québécois language involves a particular twang and slang that differentiates it from Parisian French.
But multiculturalism doesn’t end there, with Canadians representing a vast range of nations, races, religions and heritage. From Vancouver’s vibrant Asian community (with the third-largest Chinatown precinct in North America), to the rich Irish culture of Newfoundland (also with their own hybrid accent), and the unique First Nations cultures that can be seen from coast to coast.
YOU NEEDN’T TRAVEL FAR TO NOTICE CANADIANS TAKE A RELATIVELY LIBERAL STANCE ON CANNABIS
Canada has an incredible view of Niagara Falls in Ontario (main picture) and captivating wildlife. Winter is the best time to see the Northern Lights and locals love an ice hockey game.
French is the mother tongue in the province of Quebec.