Canada Holiday Planning Guide
Most people remember their holiday in Canada by the country's great outdoors, yet this sprawling land of hulking mountains and rocky coastlines also boasts numerous modern cities, home to some of the world's finest dining, shopping, and entertainment options. Made for leisurely road trips, North America's biggest country features vast landscapes still unspoiled by mass tourism. A tour of Canada reveals a place packed with diverse cultures, living in tolerance and enjoying one of the highest standards of living in the world. If the vastness of those natural landscapes overwhelms you at any point during your Canada vacation, head to the openhearted cities of Vancouver, Toronto, or Montreal, ideal destinations for art lovers, history buffs, shopaholics, fashionistas, and impassioned foodies.
Places to Visit in Canada
Regions of CanadaOntario
: A well-balanced mix of dramatic natural vistas and urban city sprawl divided between the north and south, Ontario offers a chance to experience both sides of Canada's diverse character.British Columbia
: The westernmost province on your Canada itinerary, British Columbia sits between rock and ocean, with dramatic landscapes providing an outdoor playground for nature lovers and thrill seekers.Alberta
: Spend part of your Canada vacation in one of the country's only landlocked provinces, Alberta, to discover boundless expanses of ice blue lakes set against soaring mountain peaks and prairies, in some of the oldest national parks in the world. Quebec
: Experience a distinctly different side of Canada with a trip to the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec, a cultural hub bubbling with French colonial heritage and a vibrant city scene.Nova Scotia
: Take to the seas on your Canada holiday with a trip to the maritime province of Nova Scotia, where an eclectic fusion of arts, culture, and the fishing industry create a unique coastal destination chock-full of things to see and do.
Cities in CanadaToronto
: Provincial capital and possibly the most well-known of Canada's cities, Toronto buzzes with fast-paced city life and a diverse culture, where welcoming green spaces punctuate the dense center of soaring skyscrapers.Vancouver
: Where showbiz and nature collide, the thriving western seaport of Vancouver provides a glimpse into one of the most successful film industries in the globe, with a groundbreaking culture set against a backdrop of mountain and sea.Montreal
: Gateway to Quebec, Montreal proves a highlight on any Canada itinerary, with its rich heritage, magnificent museums and cathedral, and vastly diverse arts, music, and theatre venues. Quebec City
: The largest French-speaking settlement outside France, Quebec City oozes with charm; from a World Heritage-listed old town and quaint galleries to its trendy foodie culture and scenic waterfalls, you'll find it hard to not fall for this riverside city. Halifax
: A trip to this provincial capital and thriving business center reveals an invigorating combination of maritime history and outdoor coastal activities, along with one of most influential cultural scenes of the region.
Popular Canada Tourist AttractionsNiagara Falls
: Include these world-famous falls on your tour of Canada for a breathtaking look at nature's sheer power, seen up close on a boat ride or observation deck.Stanley Park
: Verdant neighbor to downtown Vancouver, Stanley Park sits encircled by the city's harbor and bay, and includes a variety of forest trails, beaches, flower gardens, and recreational activities. CN Tower
: Gaze out across the ever-changing urban landscape from the heady heights of CN Tower, an iconic silhouette on Toronto's skyline and home to a popular revolving fine-dining restaurant. Granville Island
: A buzzing, pedestrian-friendly peninsula full of arts and culture, Granville Island gives you a taste of local artist communities through its studios, theaters, and galleries.Notre Dame Basilica
: A celebration of the ostentatious style of Gothic Revival architecture, this historic basilica casts an imposing shadow across its square.Old Quebec
: A World Heritage Site and highlight of many Canada itineraries, charming Old Quebec captures the quintessential sensibility of French colonial style.Old Montreal
: Immerse yourself in the 17th-century neighborhood of Old Montreal, with its French colonial architecture, extensive history, and maze of restaurants scattered across cobbled streets.St. Lawrence Market
: Treat your tastebuds on your Canada vacation at the historic St. Lawrence Market, a local food hub dating back to the 19th century and filled with fresh produce, international delicacies, and Canadian favorites.Ripley's Aquarium of Canada
: Meet the city's underwater creatures at this family-friendly attraction, home to a range of indigenous and international marine life, including sharks, turtles, and countless species of fish. The Butchart Gardens
: Escape from the city with a trip to these verdant gardens--a blossoming sanctuary of flowering displays recently designated a national historic site.
Planning a Canada Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Canada with Kids
A combination of the great outdoors and a wealth of historical and cultural heritage makes a Canada holiday a great choice if you're traveling with children. Venture out to age-old national parks and lakes on a trip to Banff
, which can include hiking, biking, and gondola rides, along with skiing in the winter months (November until late May). The culture-filled fishing province of Prince Edward Island
also offers endless outdoor activities, both along its coastal beaches and out at sea. For a city packed with scenery and entertainment, look to the bright lights of Vancouver
: with its booming film industry and surrounding parks and waterfront, you might even spot some locations of your favorite films. When you want to show the kids some of Canada's history, preserved within the walls of monumental buildings, head to the museums of Montreal
. Finally, no family vacation in Canada would be complete without a trip to Niagara Falls
, whose sheer power and beauty will inspire all ages.
Things to Do in Canada with Kids
Kid-friendly attractions lie virtually everywhere across the country, giving you plenty of family vacation ideas for Canada. Let the kids look out across all of Toronto, zooming up the glass elevator of CN Tower
. See the colorful marine life at Vancouver Aquarium
, or marvel at the giant collection of creepy crawlies at Montreal Insectarium
. Also in Montreal, Biodome de Montreal
provides not only up-close wildlife encounters, but immersive educational displays about the diverse ecosystems of North America. For interactive learning exhibits exploring the history of Canada, visit Avonlea Village
--a must for "Anne of Green Gables" fans, this quaint historic settlement features pony rides and gifts shops.
Balance out your Canada itinerary with excursions to the country's natural attractions, from the peaks of Grouse Mountain
and ski slopes of Whistler Blackcomb
in North Vancouver, to the pristine waters of Brackley Beach
on the east coast. For picnics in one of Canada's oldest national parks, surrounded by thick forest and glacial lakes, try to work in a trip to Banff National Park.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Canada
Canada is big, so getting around by car offers lots of advantages: you won't have to stress about taking young children on public transport; you'll have the independence of exploring your own travel route; and you can go at your own pace. Remember to pack layers, as the weather can be unpredictable and change greatly from region to region. If your family's Canada vacation includes camping, bring plenty of warm clothes, as well as a handy headlamp for when the sun goes down. Remember that in a lot of Canada's camping grounds, you're in bear country, so make sure you and your children know how to avoid any unwanted encounters: keep food packed away, stay in groups, and make plenty of noise as you're walking around.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Canada
Cuisine of Canada
A Canada holiday would not be complete without sampling one of its most famous national specialities, "poutine." Thought to have originated from Quebec, this mixture of gravy, french fries, and cheese curds has grown in popularity across all of the country, served up in diners and at hockey games. For some finer fare, look to Quebec City
, where restaurants tucked away on winding cobbled lanes celebrate French Canadian cuisine. First used by the aboriginals of the country, maple syrup can be found everywhere on your Canada trip, with the country now holding the title of world's largest producer. Have it on pancakes, or, for a true taste of Canada, over some of Toronto's peameal back bacon. If you're still in need of a sugar fix, look out for butter tarts while traveling through Ontario
, with entire festivals dedicated to this sweet treat.
Shopping in Canada
You'll have a diverse range of shopping opportunities while on vacation in Canada, from American-style mega malls to quaint rows of independent boutiques and local handicraft vendors. In Toronto, peruse the designer boutiques and premium brands of Yorkville, a wealthy neighborhood offering the best of the city's high fashion. For some serious retail therapy on your Canada itinerary, head to the enormous CF Toronto Eaton Centre
. Travel to the western provincial capital Edmonton for more mammoth-scale shopping at West Edmonton Mall
, where a combination of entertainment and retail yields scores of shops, ice skating, and an artificial beach. If a more rustic shopping experience appeals, Quebec City is bursting with choices, including Quartier Petit Champlain
, a cluster of boutiques and souvenir shops set in the heart of the old town. When you've filled your bags there, take the short walk to Lower Town (Basse-Ville)
, where a World Heritage Site offers artisan shopping in a historic colonial European setting.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Canada
Interesting Facts About Canada
* Many mistakenly think Toronto is the capital of Canada, and indeed it has held the title twice, once from 1849 to 1852 and then again from 1856-1858, when it lost its title to Quebec. Since 1866, the capital has remained the city of Ottawa
* Canada boasts the world's longest road, stretching 2,000 km (1,242.7 mi) across the province of Ontario
* Canada holds the title of second-largest country by area in the world, after Russia.
* The bear that inspired the world-famous "Winnie the Pooh" books was originally from Canada. The rescue bear named "Winnipeg" from White River
traveled to London Zoo and became a firm favorite of writer A. A. Milne's son.
Things You Should NOT Do in Canada
A laid-back, polite bunch, Canadians don't easily take offense. You might wound their deep sense of national pride if you confuse their country with the United States, and don't criticize their ice hockey--either misstep is sure to receive a frosty welcome.
Holidays & Festivals in Canada
Canada Day ranks as one of the nation's biggest public holidays: on July 1 across the country, expect carnivals, street parties, and plenty of fun. Canada also celebrates Thanksgiving, although somewhat earlier that its American neighbor, choosing to give thanks on the second Monday of October.
A cultural hub of the north, Canada hosts a plethora of festivals celebrating the unique communities and arts scattered across the country. The Toronto Film Festival enjoys a reputation as one of the best in the industry, and is a must for any film buff on holiday in Canada in September. If you're in Canada
in July, you'll notice the city buzzing with excitement for the Honda Celebration of Light Festival, a monumental fireworks competition lighting up the summer sky. For a selection of folk and art festivals, look to the eastern maritime communities of Nova Scotia
, where a quirky schedule of events operates year-round.
Useful Canada Travel Tips
Common Greetings in Canada
Both French and English are the official languages of Canada, with French the first language of Quebec. Quebec's provincial capital Montreal is fairly bilingual, partly due to the vast influx of tourists to the area; however, other regions in the province remain predominantly French-speaking and proud of it, so it's worth remembering a few key phrases to get by. "Bonjour" (good day) or "Bonjour, comment ca va?" (Good day, how are you?) will usually get you off to a good start, and even if your French ends there, most Québécois will simply appreciate your making the effort. "Pardon" (excuse me), "merci" (thank you), and "parlez-vous anglais?" (do you speak English?) are also useful phrases to have up your sleeve.
Climate of Canada
Despite the reputation for heavy snow and freezing winters, Canada's vast size is mirrored in its vastly varied weather, changing greatly from province to province. All the country's residents experience four distinct seasons, particularly those in regions bordering the United States. Spring (late February through June) makes a great time to plan your Canada vacation, with warmer temperatures hovering around 9 to 16 C (48 to 61 F) and less rainfall enjoyed across the country, especially in the later months. Vancouver is known for having far milder winters than anywhere else in Canada, averaging 0 to 6 C (32 to 43 F), partly due to its oceanic location. If you're looking for some warmth in the summer, head to Toronto, Montreal, or Ottawa, all with temperatures averaging around 27 C (81 F).
Transportation in Canada
Greyhound buses serve large portions of the country, providing an inexpensive and easy way to travel across Canada's long distances. Despite this, many visitors opt to rent a car for the duration of their Canada trip, providing ease of travel once they've reached their destination, plus the added bonus of being able to explore independently. The country is also well connected via its transcontinental and intercity railways, with regularly served lines linking cities from as far as Vancouver to Toronto.
Tipping in Canada
Unless mentioned, restaurants do not usually include gratuity in Canada, although large parties do generally have this automatically added. Otherwise, servers expect a tip of 15 to 20 percent for satisfactory service, with adjustments depending on particularly good or poor service. Tipping is also common across other services, including taxis, hotels, and hairdresser's--always at the customer's discretion.