Canada is a vast country, offering an extraordinarily wide range of scenery and experiences – everything from beautiful beaches to snow-capped mountains, wild outdoor adventures to gentle lake cruises. Boasting some iconic wildlife it is also known for the friendly locals and laid-back approach to life.
Western Canada is all about being outdoors, soaking up the dramatic scenery, looking for bears, whales, eagles and a whole host of wildlife, and enjoying the café culture of the cosmopolitan cities. Whilst Eastern Canada has some equally captivating landscapes it also has an interesting history of warring settlers (mainly the French and British) and a colourful fusion of Celtic, Acadian (French) and English heritage seeps from its pores – evident in the buildings, historic sites and lively folk music that reverberates around the rolling hills and valleys.
Whatever you are seeking from your visit to Canada you are sure to be bowled over and it’s the kind of country that quickly captures your heart and soul, so be prepared – one visit is never enough!
Food & Drink
Due to the many cultural influences in Canada there is a great diversity in the food on offer – from a simple burger or Thai take-out, to a lavish three-course meal or wine-paired tasting menu. In many restaurants there is a real emphasis on locally sourced produce and particularly if you do spend a bit more money you will discover some mouth-watering creations inspired by the Canadian landscapes and what grows within them.
In the Maritime Provinces you will find a superb selection of sea-food, with super-fresh fish dishes served in the harbour-side restaurants. Lobster is particularly good in New Brunswick and scallops in Nova Scotia. Originating from Montreal, Poutine is now considered somewhat of a national dish – the slightly odd combination of chips, cheese curd and brown gravy somehow works. And you will, of course, find maple syrup and maple products everywhere so make sure you leave a bit of space in your suitcase to bring some back – it’s much cheaper to buy it over there.
There is a well-established wine industry in Canada and the various wine producing regions tend to grow a wide range of grape varietals, giving you plenty of options for trying a local tipple. However, for a Canadian speciality try Icewine. Made from grapes that have been left to freeze on the vine it has a sweeter and more intense flavour than regular wine and so is often served as dessert wine. A great place to get your hands on some is at the city markets where there are inevitably one or two producers offering you a taster whatever time of the day.
When to Travel
The ideal time for visiting Canada is, broadly speaking, between May and September. It has four distinct seasons and winter can be extremely cold and so best avoided for most visitors. The coastal areas start to wake up in May and in the Rocky Mountains most seasonal accommodation and activities are up and running by the beginning of June. July and August are a popular time to visit as summer tends to bring the best weather, and September in to October can be a wonderful time to see the landscape, particularly in the east of the country, turn to the golden colours of Autumn. Generally, whilst perhaps slightly chillier, the start and end of the travel season can prove more rewarding due to less visitors and a lower cost. The exception to this is for polar bear viewing in Northern Manitoba, when the best time to go is in October and November.
The two main airlines that service Canada from the UK are Air Canada and British Airways. Both have direct daily flights to all the major cities whilst Air Canada also offer an excellent regional service within the country. Flights depart from London Heathrow but connecting flights are available from UK regional airports. Air Transat offer lower budget flights from London and some regional airports in the UK to a handful of Canadian cities, however flights do not depart every day. Flights out to Canada generally depart and arrive on the same day, return flights are generally overnight. Both Air Canada and BA offer a premium economy and business class cabin.
An Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) is required for travel to Canada. It is straightforward to apply for online and must be completed directly by the applicant. You will need your passport, an e-mail address and a credit card as there is a small charge of CA$7 (approximately UK£5). Generally an ETA is approved within minutes of applying. More information can be found here:
Both French and English are the official languages of Canada, with French being spoken more predominantly in the eastern provinces. French is the official language of Quebec, whilst New Brunswick is the only official bi-lingual province. There are also pockets of French speaking population in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Ontario. However, don’t worry if you don’t speak any French as most people in these areas will also speak English and most tours are conducted in both languages.
The French spoken in Canada is Quebecois French, which has a much thicker accent than so called ‘Parisian’ French and a few extra sounds added in for good measure. To the un-trained ear this can be quite hard to understand, and even if you can get by in France you may not be able to strike up a conversation with the locals here. Don’t let that stop you trying though – if an awkward silence arises they’ll probably just repeat what they said in English!
Canada has an electrical supply of 120v. Sockets take a straight, flat, two-pin plug.
Self-drive is the best way to explore Canada – it means you can stop at any points of interest that you stumble across, jump out to take photos of the spectacular views along the way and take the journeys at your own pace. The roads are generally a lot wider than in the UK and outside of the towns and cities there is notably less traffic so whilst driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road can seem a little daunting, with the right vehicle it needn’t be. All road signs are in English, distances are in kilometres and there are plenty of rest stops and picnic areas which means that the journey is often as enjoyable as the destination. As part of your self-drive itinerary we will book a car hire for you and make suggestions for your free time so you can pick and mix between this and any other ideas you may have to create your own schedule.
There are often locally payable fees for one-way car rentals in Canada and we will always advise you of any applicable charges in your quotation.
There is no reciprocal healthcare system in Canada and a visit to a G.P. or a hospital can be extremely expensive. It is therefore absolutely essential that you take out travel insurance for your trip.
Is it not necessary to have any vaccinations in order to visit Canada, however, if you are in any way concerned about your health and fitness we highly recommend you contact your G.P. for expert advice before you start planning. We also like these guys (though this does not replace a trip to your G.P.): The Travel Doctor, an interactive website providing specialist health information for travellers plus tips and advice on a range of common travel related topics.
Money & tipping
The currency in Canada is the Canadian dollar ($). Credit and debit cards are accepted at most hotels, restaurants, shops and service stations. ATMs are available in most towns, however in more remote areas local stores may only accept cash.
Tipping is expected in Canada for pretty much everything so ensure you factor this in to the cost of your trip. In restaurants expect to add 10% – 15% on to your bill and keep change handy to give taxi drivers, valet parking and hotel porters a couple of dollars. You may also wish to tip tour guides and our guideline would be around $5-$10 per person for a half day small group trip or $10-$20 per person for a full day, depending on the quality of guiding you have received. In more remote wildlife lodges and on cruise ships a daily tip is expected which is distributed between all staff – the amount can vary and will be advised in your itinerary / final documents.
Service in Canada
The service you receive whilst in Canada can vary enormously from place to place. In larger resort towns and certainly larger hotels it’s worth bearing in mind that many staff are seasonal and so at the beginning or end of the season service may not be quite up to standard as the staff are either learning the ropes or winding down for winter. Regardless of the quality of service you have received tipping is expected, and whilst you can normally get away with tipping the bare minimum for bad service if you don’t tip at all be prepared to be challenged on it. Unfortunately, hospitality staff are often paid a very low wage and tipping is an essential supplement to their income.
Travellers Code of Conduct
– We provide all of our clients with a “Travel Facts” document upon confirmation of your booking. This details useful facts and travel advice for your chosen destination, including restaurant recommendations, reading tips, basic language, cultural traditions, climate information and brief historical overviews. We feel that this offers a useful insight into the country you are visiting, and can help you interact with local residents in a more sensitive, well informed manner. Please try to take the time to read this information before your visit, if at all possible.
– A number of the countries in which we operate holidays are religious societies with a widely observed set of customs. Always respect these norms, particularly when visiting religious buildings.
– To the best of our knowledge, all of the hotels, lodges and camps within our portfolio operate stringent measures to minimise water usage. Many of our destinations have issues with water supplies to a certain extent so feel free to raise any possible wastage should you encounter it during your stays, either with the accommodation or with us upon your return.
– Please ask before taking photographs of people, and respect their wishes should an individual not be happy to be photographed. We find that friendly requests and a smile are usually met with assent.
– Strive where possible to make your own contribution to environmental practices within the destination you are travelling. This might include minimising your electricity usage, avoiding smoking in protected areas, sticking to marked roads at all times while self-driving, avoiding coral while snorkeling and safely disposing of all litter (recycling where possible).
– Where possible, try to purchase from local suppliers. This includes shopping for souvenirs, eating out in restaurants and booking further excursions during your free time. In areas where haggling is an accepted part of daily life, don’t become angry or offended if you are unable to obtain what you perceive as a fair price for an item. We emphasise to local suppliers that our clients should never be taken on unsolicited shopping trips, but if this does happen, try to retain your sense of humour, provide a firm refusal to participate and tell us about this on your return. We pass on all feedback from every trip undertaken with Holiday Architects to the relevant local suppliers, who share our commitment to travelling with sensitivity.
– Please don’t remove any indigenous items from their natural habitat and attempt to bring them back as a souvenir. This particularly applies to coral, shells, plants and food in the natural world, and to cultural artifacts and antiques.
– If you are unsure about anything relating to the above, please feel free to ask our local suppliers or your Holiday Architects specialist. All of these people either live or have travelled extensively in the country you are visiting and will be more than happy to offer their considered advice.
Various images on the website provided courtesy of: The Canadian Tourism Commission, Atlantic Canada Tourism Partnership, Destination British Columbia, Tourism Vancouver Island, Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership, Travel Manitoba.