Photo Courtesy of Kalen Emsley
Canada spans six time zones, and some say that it boasts the longest street in the world. This nation gave the world Leonard Cohen, Leslie Nielsen, Mounties, Tim Hortons, Superman, zippers, the light bulb, and the snowblower. This is a place where polar bears, poutine, and epic panoramas predominate…. Canada's wilderness beckons adventure-seekers from the world over, while the country's cultural attractions, culinary marvels, hockey rinks, and artistic landmarks thrill visitors of all stripes.
What to know before you go to Canada
The best time to visit Canada depends on what you wish to experience. The snowy months of winter allow for world-class skiing, snowshoeing, and hockey games. Summer is ripe for sunseekers to explore both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, the lakes of Ontario, and the wild country of the North. Spring turns the West into one gigantic flowerpot, while fall transforms Eastern Canada into a kaleidoscope of colors. Keep in mind that many Canadians travel during the summer months. Also, national parks and big cities attract thousands of visitors from the United States during school holidays and long weekends, when prices can soar in destinations like Toronto, Vancouver, Jasper, Montreal, Banff, Calgary, and Halifax.
Major international airports are spread across the country from Vancouver in the west to Halifax in the east. Many international visitors choose to arrive at U.S. border cities (e.g. Seattle, WA and Buffalo, NY) and then drive across the border. This can be a cheaper way of entering Canada, but be prepared for traffic and extended waits at border checkpoints during peak travel times.
Major cities like Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal, and Halifax have excellent public transportation networks: taking the bus, riding the metro, or hailing a cab is a breeze. Smaller cities and rural towns are walkable, but you'll need a car to get out into the countryside. Public transportation in and out of national parks is virtually nonexistent. The space between metro centers can seem daunting, so consider flying if you wish to cut down on travel times.
Canadian cuisine is as diverse as the country is expansive. On one city block—or on one menu—you may find restaurants serving Ukrainian, Chinese, Irish, German, Portuguese, Haitian, Nigerian, and Ethiopian dishes. Each province and city has its own culinary flair: you'll find unique Western fare in Calgary and Edmonton, gastro-nouveau in Toronto and Vancouver, fine French dining in Montreal and Quebec City—and the best the ocean has to offer in Halifax, Charlottetown, and St. John.
Have you come for the great outdoors, or Winnipeg's Folklorama? Perhaps you're in town for Toronto's MuslimFest, or you made the trek to quirky little Maxville, Ontario, for the Glengarry Highland Games. Massey Hall in Toronto has hosted the world's largest musical acts for decades, while the Quebec Winter Carnival is Canada's premiere winter event. The Edmonton International Fringe Festival, held every August, is the largest and oldest fringe fest in North America.
Canadians love to party. Canada Day (July 1) is celebrated from coast to coast, with Canadians and visitors packing public squares, stadiums, parks, and concert halls for massive festivals. The Calgary Stampede takes over Alberta's largest city every July; Montreal's International Jazz Festival (June 29–July 9) welcomes 2.5 million visitors each year; and Pride, Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival, The Canadian National Exhibition, and the Toronto International Film Festival bring revelry to Ontario's capital.
English is Canada's common tongue, though French is spoken throughout Quebec and in many Atlantic cities. That said, you'll hear nearly every other language in the big metro centers. The currency is the Canadian Dollar ($). Tipping is required (15%) in restaurants, and it is generally expected in taxis and hotels. ATMs are everywhere, and major credit cards are accepted across the country. Electricity is 110v.
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Flash Parker is a writer, photographer, and photojournalist originally from Toronto, Canada. His work has been published by AFAR, GQ Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler, Lonely Planet, USA Today, Voyeur Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Get Lost Magazine, Asian Geographic, Escape Magazine and more; additionally, Flash was nominated for a PATA Gold Award in destination journalism.