Canada is a country in North America, comprising of 10 territories and 3 provinces with over 35 million residents and the second largest country on the planet in terms of land area! Based north of the United States, Canada covers a large area and is bordered by three different oceans (Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic). Most people live in the south of the country, with a few living in the northern half. In the south, you will find the Capital of Canada, Ottawa, and the largest city Toronto, as well as Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary. Due to its size, Canada offers diversity in terms of culture, tradition, history, landscape and activities. There are impressive mountain ranges in the high alpine areas, sparse plateaus and desert like areas, beautiful bright blue lakes and glaciers and dense forests as well as vibrant and friendly cities. Whether you are an adrenaline junkie, a city dweller or a nature lover, Canada has something for everyone!
Go Travel and Talk TOP TIP: Canada is huge so choose your regions and attractions wisely if you are on limited time. First time visitors tend to head to British Columbia (B.C) and Alberta for it’s scenery and wildlife ~ you will often hear the chant, ‘West coast = Best coast'. Here you will find the Canadian Rockies, glacier lakes, mountain sports, Stanley park and Vancouver, one of Canada’s the most enigmatic and scenic cities.
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Top things to do in Canada:
- Head to the cities: Ottawa, Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal
- Get off the beaten path in Nova Scotia
- Visit Banff National Park and its picture perfect landscape
- Hit the slopes in the Canadian Rockies
- Head to Alberta and British Columbia for hiking, wildlife and stunning scenery
- Check out the wonder of Niagara Falls
- Hike the Pacific Rim National Forest
- Visit Vancouver Island
- Get back to nature and explore The Yukon
- Visit and experience the Calgary Stampede - an annual rodeo show held every July
Climate in Canada
Whist most believe Canada to be cold all year round, this is far from the truth. As most people live in the southern part of Canada, close to the border of the US, the weather is much milder. However, in winter months (November to February), snow is common with temperatures dropping to -20°C (-4°F; milder on the west coast). Expect temperatures to reach 35°C (95°F) in the summer months (June to September) and a little milder in the Autumn and Spring (March-June).
- Arctic and Subarctic: Stretching from the northern islands to Hudson Bay, these parts of Canada experience long winters with temperatures falling to -32°C (-26°F) and 3 months of summer with temperatures rising to 9°C (48°F), with the exception of Yukon reaching 20°C (4°F).
- Rocky Mountains (British Columbia & Alberta): Climate varies according to altitude, but expect cold winters and mild summers. Temperatures vary between -10°C (14°F) and 30°C (86°F).
- Prairies (Manitoba & Saskatchewan): Long and cold winters, short and mild summers. Temperatures can drop to as low as -40°C (-40°F) and reach the heights of 38°C (100°F) in the summer months.
- Pacific Coast (Vancouver): Mild and rainy winters, summers are mild with some bouts of rain.
- South (Montreal & Toronto): Very cold winters, short mild but humid summers. Heavy snowfall is frequent in winter months. Temperatures between -20°C (14°F) and 28°C (82°F).
- Eastern Coast (Halifax): Humid with snowy winters and mild and rainy summers.
To visit central and southern Canada and the major cities, the best time to visit is May - October, especially for those who do not enjoy the cold. Prices of flights and accommodation will be at their peak during July and August.
Currency in Canada
The official currency of Canada is the Canadian Dollar ($ CAD), which come in paper and coin form. There are 6 coins, 5¢ (nickel), 10¢ (dime), 25¢ (quarter), 50¢, $1 (loonie) and $2 (toonie). At the time of writing the conversion rates were as follows:
€1 = $1.50 CAD
$1 = $0.75 CAD
If you need to convert your money when you arrive in Canada, to get the best exchange rate, change your money at a local bank. Make sure your passport with you.
Debit and credit cards are widely accepted across Canada. However, please be aware that when using your foreign debit card for transactions, a transaction fee will apply. To avoid this, use your credit card whenever you can, MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted. ATM’s are plentiful in Canada, but if you are withdrawing money, use the larger more established bank ATMs as the fees tend to be lower.
The Monzo card or Starling Card are great to use abroad due to minimal fees. I would suggest taking two bank cards with you and one credit card and store them separately, so if you lose one, you will always have a back up.
Go Travel and Talk Top Tip: Always let you bank know beforehand that you are travelling abroad and where you are going. This will notify the bank and prevent them from freezing your card which they will do if they think it has been stolen.
Getting around Canada
Due to Canada’s size, it is a country dedicated to having an efficient and multi-modal transport network, connecting cities as well as the more rural areas. Most residents speak English or French, almost all instructions and directions will be in English or both.
Canada has many domestic airports, making it super easy to get around if you are visiting multiple cities, but it doesn’t come cheap. Some of the biggest airports with the highest traffic are: Toronto Pearson International Airport, Vancouver International Airport and Calgary International Airport. Canada's largest air carrier is Air Canada followed by WestJet. If you are travelling from the US or getting a connection from there, check out Spirit Airlines for budget flights.
Canada is one of the best and most scenic countries to explore by car or RV! But the distances are long, so you will need to have a decent amount of time to choose this option! RV’s are a great option as they double up as accommodation, but keep in mind the cost and amount of fuel you will use to cover the distances in Canada. If you wanted to book a RV, head to Outdoorsy. They give great rates and link you up with insurance and roadside assistance and they are relatively budget friendly.
Canada's long distance trains are run by VIA Rail Canada and they offer an incredible way to see all that Canada has to offer. These trains are also famed for their sleeper class trains, where the carriages glass roofs offer beautiful mountain views and a great way to see wildlife on your journey. This offers a truly unique experience, but they come at a price! Regular trains are cheaper than flights but more expensive than buses. Tickets are sold by class, from economy to business. Expect to pay around $40 ($30 USD / €26) for a single ticket for shorter routes, rising up to $160 ($120 USD / €105) for longer routes.
For inner city transport, Montreal (AMT), Toronto (GO Transit) and Vancouver (West Coast Express) also have commuter rail services. For all the information you need about rail travel in Canada head to the Man in Seat 61.
Most Canadian cities have public transport in the form of buses. But some also have metro systems (Montreal), Subways (Toronto) and Sky Trains (Vancouver).
For longer buses journeys, you will most likely book your tickets with Greyhound Canada. Greyhound Canada is the biggest bus network in central and western Canada as well as frequent links into the USA. Amenities onboard are good (wifi, air con, toilets, reclining seats and movies) but bring a jumper, it gets cold! Discounts for students, military and seniors apply. Another popular choice if travelling from Toronto is Megabus, with services between Toronto and Montreal via Kingston, tickets are bought online and if booked in advance, you can pick up a ticket for as low as $1 CAD!.
Go Travel and Talk TOP TIP: The earlier you book your bus tickets for the longer journeys, the cheaper they will be.
Other options within cities:
UBER, Taxi and Cycling! Ride sharing via UBER is a great and economical way to get around, or you can bike share, using a bike from a docking station in the major cities. Make sure you download the UBER app before you set off on your travels.
Travel Insurance for Canada
You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries and it is the only travel insurance we will ever use! It is designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
WorldNomads.com is backed by a suite of strong and specialist travel insurers who provide you with great cover, 24 hour emergency assistance and the highest levels of support. The WorldNomads.com prices are some of the most competitive online and if you need to change plans, you can buy more cover or claim online while you are still away. You can even buy a World Nomads policy if you're already travelling. They also offer travel safety advice and tips online through the World Nomads Travel Safety Hub and WorldNomads.com members can learn the local lingo through a series of iPod & iPhone Language Guides and can stay in touch with family and friends with an online travel journal. You can find out more about why travel insurance is important for your trip. If you have any questions about your travel insurance or travel safety in general, please contact WorldNomads.com directly.
Medical Advice for Canada
When you know where you want to go in Canada, go to your doctor’s and ask to see the nurse to discuss travel vaccinations. They will go through your travel plans and suggest the appropriate vaccinations. Some of the vaccinations may just be boosters for you (if you have had them before) which will bring the overall cost down. It is likely that you will need:
- Flu, MMR
- Diphtheria, Tetanus
- Potentially Hep A and Hep B
In the UK, some of the vaccinations will be free of charge through your doctor’s, and some will cost. To keep the cost down, you can always visit a travel centre instead, where the injections are slightly cheaper. When thinking about vaccinations for your trip, the following website can be really helpful: Fit for Travel.
What to pack for Canada
- Long sleeved tops and long trousers if you are hiking.
- Warm clothes, a fleece, wind jacket, jumper, warm socks / gloves / hat / scarf
- Dresses / shorts / light T-shirts
- Good walking shoes / sandals / trainers
- Waterproof clothing / rain jacket / poncho
- Travel pillow
- Packing cubes. Get different colours to separate your clean and dirty clothes!
- Life Straw. This is an amazing accessory to have when you are trekking and a cheap alternative to buying water along the way, it also saves on buying plastic bottles and for every purchase, a child in a developing country, receives clean drinking water for 1 school year!
- Zip lock bags for traveling with left over food items / prevent liquid items from spilling
- First aid kt
- Battery pack / electronics
- Money belt
- Padlocks x3
- Ipod / music for the long bus journeys
- Biodegradable soap (especially when you are camping and washing in nature)
- Sunscreen and bug spray
Safety Consideration in Canada
Canada is very safe and there have been very few reports of crimes against foreigners. However. as with other countries, it is important to always remain aware of your surroundings and take precautions with regards to your safety.
- Always keep your valuables hidden or locked away, especially when travelling on the bus.
- Always keep your valuables in your small backpack and wear it on your front, with your big backpack on your back.
- Always choose an ATM inside of a bank rather than on a street. Put your cash in your money belt, under your top. If you feel nervous, go with someone else.
- If you are travelling on buses, do not store your small backpack overhead or in the back of the bus, keep it on you at all times. For extra security: put your passport, money and phone in a money belt around your waist, under your clothes.
- When travelling on buses, always padlock your big bag and put your protective cover over it.
- Do not walk around at night on your own, always take a taxi, even if it is a short distance.
- Always ask your hostel about the area and for safety advice.
- Keep your bank/credit cards separate, so if anything happens, you have a backup.
- Always have a photocopy of your passport, so if you lose your passport, you have a copy.
- Bring another form of identification with you (driver’s license).
- Do not leave your drink unattended
Budget for Canada
Canada is not cheap to explore but rates depend a lot on where you are staying and what you are going. Food, accommodation and activity prices are comparable to Europe and remember, tax is not included in most things, so the price you see can be very misleading. If you are eating and drinking out, tipping is also expected (15%).
However, it is possible to travel on $80 USD / €70 per day if you were to stay in hostels, choose your eateries and restaurants wisely, be selective with your activities and travel in low season (Spring). But it depends on how you want to travel. A more comfortable budget would be $150 USD / €130 per day.
Go Travel and Talk Top Tip: If you want to cut costs further, you could Couchsurf which is common in the major cities. Alternatively, if camping is your thing, there are plenty of options all around the country. Expect to pay around $8-20 USD per night for a basic pitch. If you are travelling in high seasons (June-August) you will need to book in advance.
Don't forget to buy your Travel Insurance...