Canada, oh Canada! Our lovely and friendly neighbor to the north. In fact I’m half Canadian as my mom was born in Sudbury, Ontario to Finnish immigrants. As of now I’ve been to 5 Canadian provinces (Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Québec and Yukon) traveling to 4 of them in 2013; each one unique in its own right. More fascinating is that majority of Americans have never been to Canada, and they are missing out! Canada has its own culture set apart from us Americans (Americans and Canadians are much alike) although I tend to think of Canadians as a gentler and happier US. Canada’s early history falls in place with much of our own history, although instead of fighting a war against the British, they are a part of the British Commonwealth. For any outdoor enthusiast Canada will suffice just fine. With a low density population and millions of acres of unspoiled land… this is truly the charm of Canada. Visit Canada and you will be amazed by the beauty and nature that exists and how nice the major cities are like Vancouver, Toronto and Montréal. Canada truly is a must visit for any traveler and it may be hard to choose where to start with distinct cities.
(click on a topic to skip to that section)
Getting to/around Canada
Breakdown of Costs
Definitely Do’s and Don’ts
From Splurging to Saving
Good for Gay Lifestyle?
Noteworthy Places I’ve Been To
Vancouver – A fantastic city that offers probably the highest standard of living in North America than any other city. Vancouver is known for its fantastic lifestyle and it’s west coast outdoor living. Mountains are located to the North and East and even within the city limits there is hiking to be had like at Grouse Mountain (take a cable car up or climb it yourself). There is also the famous Stanley Park where people go for hanging out or a quick run in the morning. The city is very walk-able and one of the charms is to be able to explore the city itself.
Calgary – I have not stayed in Calgary for too long but from what I saw I actually like this city. Located east of the Canadian Rocky Mountains on the prairies Calgary is the gateway to skiing and Canadian Resorts like Lake Louise and Banff. in 1988 Calgary became the first Canadian city to host the Olympics.
Banff/Lake Louise – If you plan on going to Calgary than you probably will want to go to the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Banff is a world famous ski resort located about 80 miles from Calgary and Lake Louise is another resort just up the road from Banff. Lake Louise is known for its beautiful blue lake that is walk-able in the winter time as well as Chateau Lake Louise. Banff is small resort that is both great in the summer and winter time. If you’re going to ski there are three major resorts near by. Sunshine Village, Lake Louise and Mt. Norquay.
Victoria – Victoria is located on Vancouver Island just off Vancouver and the state of Washington. To get there you must take a ferry or a small airplane from Vancouver and Seattle but it is well worth it. Victoria is known as the city of Gardens as well as being one of the oldest Canadian cities. Some attractions include enjoying the old architecture of Victoria, whale watching, diving, fishing, skiing and exploring Vancouver Island wildlife and nature.
Montréal – Montréal is actually the second largest city in Canada and is the largest city in the Québec province. As you may know the Québec region is predominantly French-speaking and Montréal is the hub of it all. I went to Montréal in the winter and it was beautiful under the snow but very cold. Vieux-Montréal should definitely be seen as well as Montreal. Vieux-Montréal offers a chance to view an old North American city that happened to be view under French influence. Quite unique. Poutine (type of french fries) is a must try while in Montréal! Also check out the different neighborhoods like the gay section (around St. Catherines street), Mile End (hipster heaven, and Le Plateau.
Québec – The city of Québec is the most French like city in North America. And is one of the few cities that has a wall/fortification in it. Québec is astoundingly beautiful during any season but most come in the summer as Québec winters can be quite snowy and cold. Québecs highlight would no doubt be Vieux-Québec, where I stayed for my time in Québec. To me it felt very French and almost like I was back in France. There is the Notre-Dame de Québec, souvenir shopping, Château-Frontenac, and the old architecture, perfect for taking photos. If you’re there for longer make sure to check out Montmorency Falls and Île d’Orleans (both about 20 minute drive north of Québec).
Yukon – The territory of Yukon is really far north and it’s almost unbelievable that anybody lives up there. I traveled to the Yukon back in July and it was gorgeous and mysterious at the same time. The landscape is bizarre and mountain passes look like something from the moon. The Yukon use to be where gold miners came when there was a minor gold rush. They traveled across the harsh landscape during the middle of the winter for the promise of cold but most would never get a single ounce. Today Yukon is known more for it’s tourism and can be accessed from British Columbia or from Skagway if you’re coming on a cruise. It sure is a must see.
Getting to/around Canada
By Plane – Canada is easiest to reach by plane but it can be expensive. Airports in Canada are always heavily taxed therefore your airline ticket will be more expensive. You can reach Canada from most major airports in the United States, Europe, Asia and South America with airlines like Air Canada, American Airlines, British Airways, Air France, WestJet, Delta, United, etc… The majority of flights fly to Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal but other cities like Calgary are always easily obtainable.
By Bus – You can reach Canada by bus from the US and travel across Canada using a bus. If you’re on a budget this might be a good option for you. Routes like Montreal – New York, Buffalo – Toronto, and Seattle – Vancouver. Check with Greyhound, Coach Canada, New York Trailways, Megabus and Ne-On.
By Train – Trains are an okay way of traveling Canada but remember that Canada is big and most people will opt to drive or fly. Train tickets are cheap and the national train company is Via Rail. There are services from cities like New York and Seattle using Amtrak.
Like the United States, Canada is huge and more than likely you will want to fly or rent a car. Make sure you have your passport if you are coming from the United States! Flying into Canada can be expensive so sometimes it’s better to fly to US cities like Seattle, Detroit, or Buffalo, rent a car, and then drive into Canada… That way you get to see the beautiful country side as well.
Breakdown of Costs
Hotels – I tend to think of Canada as a little bit nicer and a more expensive US. But in reality there are budgets for all types of people. The cost for hotel are really about on par for any hotel that you would pay in the United States. If you’re going in the winter time (depening on where you are going) prices are usually cheaper as this is not the time most people travel to Canada). If you would like to stay at a hostel, then plenty of the major Canadian cities have that type of accommodations. The quality and the room size are also like the United States and are much bigger than any European standard room. Summer time in Canada can become more expensive but if you book far enough out it really shouldn’t be a problem to get a good price.
Food – Food is about on par of what you are going to pay in the United States although I do believe it’s slightly more expensive in cities like Vancouver and Toronto. Traditional Canadian food is really just similar to anything American although Canada is known for some types of food. Like Maple Syrup, Nanaimo Bars, Beaver Tails, Fiddleheads, Caribou, Venison, etc… If you’re in French Canada, which is Quebec, some different meals to try are tourtière, cipaille, cretons, ragoût de pattes, plorine, oreilles de Christ, poutine, a dish consisting of French fries, cheese curds and gravy, croquignoles, tarte à la farlouche, tarte au sucre. French Canada in alot of aspects has it’s own identity and you will notice difference from the English part of Canada compared to the French. Canada is also well known for it’s Chinese food as a lot of immigrants from China have ended up in Canada.
Other Activities – The nature of Canada is what Canada really has to offer. If your head to Canada explore the cities but also rent a car and explore the surrounding areas. Most of the major cities have something to view in nature around them so it would be in your best interest to take a car and explore. Expect prices to be around the same as any touristy thing in the United States. Skiing is always expensive so be prepared for that. Whale Watching is another interesting thing to do but you’re not always guaranteed to see whales and it can be pricey. As a whole a price you would pay in the United States is going to be the price your going to pay in Canada. A lot of cities have summer festivals or some sort of an event. in Quebec there are winter festivals in Montreal and Quebec City. All seasons have something going on in the major cities!
Can you say friendly and courteous! Canadians are known to be some of the nicest, most humble and down to earth people I know (it probably has something to do with the cold). Canadians have always been known as the nicer United States and the people are more than willing to go out of their way to help you. Most likely you will not see much of a difference, if any, from an American to a Canadian (maybe the way they speak). Crime as a whole is way down compared to any major US city. Hate speech is not even allowed and most Canadians have met all types of people.
Canada as a whole has two languages that are widely spoken, English and French. Majority of Canada only speaks and understands English. Because Quebec has had a French influence most people there speak French as their first language and English as their second. Up in northern Canada and in undeveloped parts there are Indigenous Canadians and the First Nations. They speak different languages altogether but most likely you will never encounter them unless you actively seek it out.
Definitely Do’s and Don’ts
Do travel to the major cities of Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and Calgary. They are some of the most beautiful cities in the world and have some of the highest standards of living.
Don’t forget your passport and to change you money into Canadian Dollars. A lot of Americans still believe that they do not have to go to Canada without a passport. This if false.
Do try Quebec food if you are traveling in French Canada. French Canadians have added their own unique flair to Canadian food and some of that has even spread throughout other parts of Canada
Don’t offend the First Nations of Canada by calling them Indians or Eskimos. This is not politely correct in Canada. Also note that gays and lesbians and other minorities are widely accepted in Canada and being prejudice is widely looked down upon.
Do enjoy the Canadian outdoors. Canada is vast and has so much unspoiled nature (around 75% of Canadians live within 100 miles of the US border… leaving vast lands up north that are not touched by humans).
Don’t expect to bargain while in Canada. Most prices are fixed just like in the United States.
Do think about flying into US cities like Seattle and Buffalo. They usually have cheaper flights and the drive to Canada is not that far.
From Splurging to Saving
Canada use to be a little bit more pricier than the United States. At one point their dollar was worth more than the American but not they are about equal in value. Canadians use to come to the United States to shop as the price was cheaper in the United States but now that isn’t true anymore. Most things in Canada cost about the same as the do in the United States. So simple rule. If you can afford it in the United States then you can afford it in Canada. If you can’t afford it in the United States then you can’t afford it in Canada.
If you’re on a budget it will be a little bit harder to do all of the things you want to do. All of the nature and outdoor events could cost you… like going white water rafting, hiking, whale watching, skiing etc… these tickets add up (entrance fees like for skiing could easily cost you 100 dollars once you obtain the passes, gear, etc). Now if you’re exploring the city you will need to save for museums passes and other tickets to see some sites. If you would like to stay at a hostel, you can find some hostels in the big cities and book through sites like hostelworld.com. All major Canadian cities are going to have all of the designer brands that adorn major cities in the United States. Make sure you plan you budget before you go on your trip so you don’t overspend.
Good for Gay Lifestyle?
If I found a job in Canada I would be interested in taking the position for many reasons but a strong reason would be because Canada is one of the leading countries for LGBT rights in the Americas and across the world. As of now gays can go to Canada and get married and gays have most rights as any other straight citizen. Same-sex sexual acts are also not decriminalized but the age of consent is 18 years old.
The gay scenes in the major cities are probably the best in the Americas and rival that of most cities across the world. Prides in cities like Montréal, Toronto, and Vancouver are massive and a large part of the city takes place. Each of these cities have a neighborhood that is devoted towards a gay lifestyle… kind of like Boystown in Chicago. The average Canadian has a positive view on gay people although if you were to go out into rural parts of Canada they might have a more conservative view. Overall Canada is a great place to be gay!
Go on the whale watching tours that are offered off of Vancouver and Victoria… they are kind of spectacular.
Bring credit cards or cash, both should be fine in Canada (make sure you tell your bank before leaving so they don’t shut down your credit card).
Canada is massive so if flying is possible do that. But also Canada is beautiful and so if you have time… take a car and start driving around!
Cold takes another form in Canada in the winter time. Bring the appropriate clothing if traveling in the winter (temperatures below 0F are very common).
Be prepared to want to go back… Canada is just that amazing!
(I currently have no pictures of my own travels in Canada at this time… hopefully I can scan some or see if I have some extra on my computer).
Posts on Canada
image by: gord