Canada is the second largest country on Earth, has the world’s longest coastline, has coastlines on three different oceans, and its largest island - Baffin Island - is almost twice the size of the UK. Most visitors head to the western provinces of British Columbia and Alberta or the eastern provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
The country’s western-most province, British Columbia, is everything you have imagined Canada would be. It has untamed coastlines and islands, snow-capped mountains, iconic wildlife species and cosmopolitan cities. Beautiful Vancouver is the gateway to BC’s natural wonders but also a fantastic place to visit in its own right. It has a creative side and a bit of a hipster vibe as well as everything you would expect a world-class city to have – museums, galleries and many restaurants, bars and big brand shops.
The neighbouring provinces of Ontario and Québec are the cultural heart of Canada. Four of the country’s major cities sit within 500 miles of one another – perhaps a great distance in the UK but a relatively short hop, skip and a jump in Canadian terms. The country’s largest city, Toronto, and its capital Ottawa are in Ontario while the more French-influenced settlements of Montréal and Québec City are in Québec. The provinces’ rural areas range from riverside hills and forest-covered mountains to a vast network of lakes that are surrounded by charming cottages.
Islands and mountains
Just across the Strait of Georgia is Vancouver Island, a land mass not far off the size of Switzerland. There are few other places in the world where you can hike through ancient rainforests, seek marine giants out on the water and kayak around islands and into deep inlets before settling down for a Relais & Château dining experience all within the space of a day.
Europe has the Alps, Asia has the Himalayas, South America has the Andes and North America has the Rockies. Canada’s section of this iconic mountain range stretches for approximately 900 miles from the border with the states of Idaho and Montana to the north of British Columbia. They also span the provincial line between BC and Alberta. The Rockies are the poster child of the west, if not the whole of Canada. The serrated peaks and turquoise lakes are constantly gracing the covers of travel magazines and once you see them for yourself, you’ll understand why; at times the landscapes almost seem unreal. There are five national parks within the mountain range, three in BC and two in Alberta. The twin parks of Banff and Jasper are the most famous, however, the smaller parks of Revelstoke, Glacier and Yoho should definitely be added to your itinerary, even if it’s just a short stop en route to your next destination.
If you want to find Canada’s most charming side you need to head east to the maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland & Labrador and Prince Edward Island (or PEI to the locals). Celtic traditions are really evident in this corner of the country thanks to the thousands of Irish and Scottish immigrants who settled here in the 18th Century. You can enjoy lively ceilidhs, listen to live fiddle music at a cosy pub and, if you visit Cape Breton Island at the beginning of July, experience the show of strength at the Antigonish Highland Games. This is the most easily accessible region of Canada for us in the UK; St John’s in Newfoundland can be reached in just under six hours from London while Halifax, Nova Scotia is a seven hour flight away.
Like its neighbour the USA, Canada is a joy to drive in, particularly in the west and the Atlantic provinces. The roads are wide and open and there are plenty of attractions en route to break up longer journeys. You can hire a car and travel from hotel to hotel or enjoy the freedom of travelling in a motorhome and stopping where the mood takes you. We have chosen a selection of self-drives to inspire you. These can be booked as they are or tailored to fit in to your plans.
Canada’s rail network is run by VIA Rail, and travelling across country by train is a better option than covering vast miles by road. Train travel is also the best option if you’re hopping from city to city in eastern Canada. The stations tend to be right at the heart of town and within very easy reach of most of our featured hotels. The Rocky Mountaineer is one of the world’s most scenic rail journeys and a great way to travel between Vancouver and Banff or Jasper.
Food and drink
Can you even say you’ve been to Canada without trying poutine? In this Québécois staple, fries are covered with a rich gravy and cheese curds to create a rather sinful but incredibly delicious dish. Trust us, you need to try it to fully appreciate it. Across the country in British Columbia, seafood – and in particular salmon and Dungeness Crab – is the food of choice. Thanks to Vancouver’s multiculturalism, you can sample some of the finest dishes from around the world at the city’s many, many restaurants. Over on the Atlantic coast, it’s also the fruits of the sea that grace the plates of many visitors. Fish and chips is something of an institution here so you’ll definitely feel at home, and locally-caught lobster is especially mouth-watering.
Best time to visit
With a country as vast as Canada it’s really no surprise that there are large differences in regional climates. Most of the population lives within a hundred miles of the USA-Canada border and along these latitudes there are distinct seasons with extremes of temperature; it can get incredibly cold in winter and they have very warm and humid summers. Spring and autumn are much like they are at home with beautiful blossoms and colourful leaves respectively and pleasant temperatures. These ‘shoulder’ seasons are a good time to visit. In the Rockies, the first snow of the year can fall as early as September or October and the snow may not completely melt until mid-June or even July. Much of the northern expanse of the country – which includes the town of Churchill, Manitoba – has a subarctic climate which means they have long, incredibly cold winters and cool summers that only last a couple of months.
Canada is split up into six time zones between GMT -3½ hours to GMT -8 hours
Canadian Dollar (CAD)
Calgary 9¼ hours; Vancouver 9½ hours.
English and French
An Electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA) is now required for British citizens travelling to Canada, please speak to a Personal Travel Expert for details
Many Canadians in the service industry rely on tips to supplement their income. Tips or tax are not usually automatically added to a bill in Canada, but you should always check. Taxi drivers, hairdressers and waiters are generally given 10-15%. Bellhops, porters and doormen are generally paid Can$1 per item of luggage. It may be advisable to carry small change for this purpose. These figures are for guidance only and assume that service has been good.
February: Family Day
May: Victoria Day
01 July: Canada Day
September: Labour Day
Most goods are available slightly cheaper than the cost at home. Canadian arts and crafts fashioned from pewter, wood, silver and pottery (as well as Native Canadian art like soapstone-carvings, totem poles and weavings) are best found in the regions where they are produced.