Canada is a land fully appreciated only after a lifetime of exploration; one time will only pique your interest, while a handful will only prove how much there is left to see, to experience. The second largest country on Earth, you've got thousands and thousands of miles of that boundless Canadian wild to navigate, with a climate that can vary from arctic to temperate and landscapes to inspire all manner of adventurer, from intrepid skiers to hot-tubbers who will settle for nothing less than a steaming rock pool in a stand of cedars. You've also got widely varying cultural terrain, from liberal and youthful Vancouver (less than 150 years a city) to the massive, contemporary cultural center of Toronto to the original "New France," i.e. Quebec, where you'll feel as if you have ditched the Americas for a lively and vibrant world across the seas.
Canada has made its name with activities like dog-sledding, hockey, wildlife viewing (if you want to see anything from grizzly and polar bears to whales and mountain goats, you can do it in Canada), and a range of excellent festivals that range from Quebec City's Winter Carnival to Toronto's renowned film festival. And how could we not mention the exceptional regional and national parks all across Canada, which provide the opportunity to do some of the best rock climbs, ocean dives, mountain hikes, glacial treks, crater explorations, aurora borealis viewings, and whitewater rafting in the world? That's just the tip of the adventure iceberg; our Canada adventure page will give you further details.
If you're willing to overlook a foray into Canada, then you apparently have not been listening. Do us a favor and take a look through our selection of activities or get in touch with our Canadian community members. For where else in the world can you book a chateau on a glacial mountain lake, view an extraordinary level change in the tides, explore some of the largest artificial reefs on Earth or clog your arteries with gravy slathered french fries? It's a rhetorical question. Only in Canada!
With much of its population living within a few hundred kilometers of the United States, it may not be a bad idea to combine your Canadian adventure with one or more of the major metropolitan areas that lie just across the border (Seattle, Detroit, Buffalo; bigger tourist destinations like Chicago or New York City aren't much further). All travelers require a passport and identification when entering Canada, whether by train, plane, or automobile. The only exceptions include U.S. Citizens who own an enhanced driver's license (issued in New York, Washington, Vermont, and Michigan as of this time), or a NEXUS card that be applied for at U.S. Customs. If you aren't a citizen of the United States, check here for visa/passport requirements.
The exchange rate between the Canadian and US dollar is generally quite even and major cities will have banks where you can make exchanges or establishments that allow you to pay by American credit card, which will often have a favorable exchange rate. You can find the updated value of the Canadian Dollar here. link title
Known formally as Her Majesty's Government, the Canadian system consists of a federal constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy based in many ways on that practiced in England. The crown is the supreme power in the land and unifies the judicial, legislative, and executive powers of government, although many political decisions are made by the appointed governor general and the ministers of the Crown in the cabinet. The head of the cabinet, the prime minister, is the highest democratically-elected representative of government, while the supreme court is the highest judicial court, and the bicameral parliament (Senate and House of Commons) represent the legislative faction.
Canada recognizes both French and English as the country's official languages, although the bulk of Canadians are native English speakers. The only province where there is a French-speaking majority is Quebec, while New Brunswick is home to a large minority. Even in Quebec, you'll find adequate signage in English, although recent resurgence of Francophone nationalists in the province's government have seen a renewal of age-old language wars that have repressed the use of English in public transport, business establishments, and more. There are still plenty of English speakers in the province, especially in tourist destinations like Montreal and Quebec City, so there should be little concern in being able to find your way or communicate effectively.
Crime and Safety:
When traveling in Canada, you can take comfort in the fact that many of the more popular destinations are well-policed and have little no to reputation for criminal activity. With about one-quarter the total number of crimes committed as the United States (according to nationmaster.com) and crime rates that have been declining over the last decade, you will rarely feel at risk in Canada. This doesn't mean that you should hang out in dark alleyways in Toronto or fall asleep on the Montreal subway with hundred dollar bills jutting from your pockets, but the common sense necessary in traversing the urban areas of any country should be enough to avoid any criminal situations. According to McLean's, provinces like Ontario and Quebec are the safest places to be, while Winnipeg is one of the larger cities that has consistently seen crime levels higher than the national average, while the poorer Canadian north has also been a region of more concern. Then again, Canada is safer than many areas of the United States, so go ahead and enjoy yourself.
Modes of Transportation:
The transportation infrastructure is excellent and reliable, whether you are taking flights, buses, or renting a car, this massive country is well-serviced, particularly between the Quebec and Ontario regions, where much of the Canadian population lives. Transportation within cities is largely the same, with major cities relying on varying methods of public transit to meet the needs of the population. Rental cars are a best bet for those traveling frequently, especially outside of the city, although Canada is still considered generally safe for backpackers that prefer to hitchhike. Via Rail provides passenger train services from coast to coast, including a 21-day pass that includes 7 one-way trips called Canrailpass ($630 economy in low season). Then again, if you're looking to get to far away destinations more quickly, flying is your best option. A one-way flight from Vancouver to Toronto, for example, would cost upwards of $500.
Nearly impossible to pinpoint due to the overwhelming landmass of the country, Canada ranges in climate depending on how coastal you are and how far north toward the Arctic Circle you plan to be. Nearly all of Canada will see snow during the winter, while most cities toward the southern border will experience all four seasons fully. Precipitation will vary greatly, with it staying much dryer during the west coast's summer months and tending to fall with more monthly regularity as you move inland. Think of it this way: no matter what, if you go during the winter, don't pack your swimwear, pack your skis.
Eating and Tipping:
Although a cultural mosaic of people, Canada has very few famous dishes or culinary specialties. Because of a large minority of Chinese immigrants, particularly in major cities, Chinese takeout is prevalent, although often tweaked to the tastes of the region. If we had to choose a national food, we'd pick the Montreal staple, poutine. A plate of French fries lathered in cheese and gravy, there are a ton of variations that often include a meat of some kind. Although more of a condiment, Canadians also have an attachment to maple syrup, while salmon jerky and Montreal-style bagels are also contenders for national food.
Tipping is expected in most human service industries, including restaurants and hotels, at a 15%-20% rate. Gratuity is usually included in the bill for large groups. Also of note, depending on which province you're in, most goods you purchase will include a national Goods and Services tax (5%), as well as a provincial tax that can inflate the total tax to as high as 15%. Tipping etiquette is further specified here.
The drinking age in most provinces is 19, although it is 18 in Quebec, Alberta, and Manitoba. In most provinces, alcohol can only be purchased for off-site consumption in specially licensed stores (privatized Beer Stores or those run by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario), although variations do occur because each province is in charge of its own liquor laws. For more information on some of the laws that differ between provinces, this article is informative.
Alcohol has deep ties within Canada, from supplying bootleggers with whiskey during the North American Prohibition to its current rate of consumption at 50% above the world average (according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health). Canadian Whisky is exported internationally (i.e. Crown Royal), while beer brands like Labatt's and Molson have enjoyed popularity beyond the Canadian borders as well. But what do Canadians drink? Unknown outside of Canada, the Caesar is a regionally famous mixed drink made from Vodka, Clamato, and Worcestershire sauce that originated in Calgary. Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, and Vancouver are going to be the best places to try quality microbrews, whether it's at a tasting or or popular craft brewpub; check out this map to see exactly where these places are.
Interesting Cultural Fact:
In Dawson City, Yukon's Downtown Hotel there is a tradition started in 1973 called the Sourtoe Cocktail Club. If you want entrance into such a unique society, you need only to drink a cocktail with a legit human toe in it and be sure that said toe touches your lips at least once. Yeah, really gross, but that won't stop you from reading more about it here.
Peak season:Varies. For most areas it is summer, although many place have skiing, festivals, or other winter-related activities that draw tourists in high numbers.
Language:Largely English, although French is the official language in Quebec.
Celebrated during the few weeks or so that traditionally lead up to Lent, the Winter Carnival is the best time to brave the cold and enjoy the Victorian boulevards of Quebec City as they become of spectacle of lights and merriment. The largest of its kind in the world, highlights include dogsled races, night parades, intricate ice sculptures (including the festival centerpiece, the Ice Palace), a bevy of snow-related sports and entertainment, and (of course) one hell of a party. There are also free food banquets and a lot more activities to keep a traveler from ever wanting to return to the more literal (and much less figurative) warmth of his cubicle workspace.
Vancouver Symphony of Fire
Held annually at the end of July and beginning of August, the Celebration of Light is an international fireworks competition where the best in pyrotechnicians from across the world display their craft on 3 different nights. Shot from a barge on English Bay, the fireworks are choreographed to music as thousands of onlookers fill the beaches and grandstands along the bay. It's the biggest fireworks event on Earth, so consult the website for this year's dates and think about building your trip around it!
Toronto International Film Festival
Held for 11 days every September, the Toronto International Film Festival is a public film festival to rival esteemed competitions like Cannes and Sundance. This festival, which previews hundreds of submissions from countries all over the globe to hundreds of thousands of theater-goers, is the place where many Academy Award-winning films have premiered (American Beauty, Ray, 127 Hours, etc.). If you don't want to deal with the crazy Yorkville crowds that flock to see the stars, you can visit the Bell Lightbox at King and John Streets for the cinema and galleries exhibiting art and film history.
One of the rare festivals where every adventurer can moonlight as a cowboy (although usually a less than graceful, drunken one), the Calgary Stampede is billed as The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth. Replete with rodeos, the hugely popular chuckwagon race, concerts by international country musicians, carnival rides and games, and a parade to open the festivities. Attended by over a million folks for 10 days each July, you don't have to love country music and chew tobacco to have a good time. It's just a huge party and no matter you're interest, you're invited!
North by Northeast
A concurrent music and film festival modeled after the seminal South by Southeast in Austin, Texas, we chose to include NXNE over the many great music festivals held across Canada because of its support of independent, creative, and cutting edge film and music. With over 50 venues and 650 bands involved, Toronto comes alive every June and rocks for 5 straight days. Alumni include Dinosaur Jr., My Morning Jacket, Devo, and tons more. Check the official site for more info!