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Cool mountain peaks and even ‘cooler’ cities, Canada offers a world of experiences

From the towering Rockies bejewelled with glittering lakes and glaciers, to the big-sky country of its prairie heartland and the thundering Niagara Falls, this vast land certainly has its wild side. These natural wonders are balanced with the dignified bustle of its cities and distinctive culture of its historic maritime ports.

Canada is the second largest country on the planet, so it's no wonder there's such a breadth of sights and experiences to behold. Roam the mountain trails of British Columbia's Rocky Mountains and wonder at the sheer scale you encounter there, try out your French language skills in Montreal then tuck into fresh seafood, local wines, traditional French cuisine, and of course, lashings of maple syrup.

 

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Culture and history

What it means to be Canadian depends on which Canadian you ask. Inuits and the First Nations called the four corners of Canada home long before Europeans even set foot on its Atlantic coast. Although the paving stones for colonisation were laid in the 15th century, Canada's sheer size has made each province fiercely independent. Quebeckers are justly proud of their Francophile heritage while the English-speaking provinces can feel more akin to America than one another. And thanks to Canada's open-door policy, pockets of immigrants, such as the Ukrainian villages of the Prairies, add even more colour to Canada's mosaic cultural identity. However, what every Canadian subculture seems to have in common is an unwavering pride in their country.

The first arrivals in Canada were most likely nomadic hunters making the journey from Asia. In search of elk and bison they ventured out over the land bridge of the Bering Strait that once linked Siberia to Alaska. Arriving over thousands of years, they went on to form distinct tribes occupying regions right across Canada. Some of these peoples were the direct ancestors of the Inuits, currently residing in the far north of Canada.

The first European to set foot in the country was a seafaring Viking in around 1,000 AD, but receiving a hostile reception he didn't stick around for long. Some 400 years later in 1497, encouraged by Christopher Columbus' success, John Cabot arrived in Newfoundland under the British Flag. The French got involved soon after and in the early 17th century they established a settlement in Quebec with the aim of controlling the lucrative fur trade. The British and the French went on to wrangle for control for nearly a century, until 1763 when the French were conquered in a bloody battle and forced to hand their territories over to the British. In 1931 Canada became officially independent, although the Queen is still head of state albeit symbolically.

Things to do

With our tours and tours exclusively for solo travellers, no one should miss out on a holiday to Canada. Head deep into the Canadian wilderness aboard the Rocky Mountaineer train, or combine a rail tour of the mountains with a cruise along the west coast and then on into Alaska. Savour that rare moment when you glimpse a bear, eagle or moose in the wilderness on a wildlife tour, or book an active walking holiday in the country's incredible national parkland. Feel the crunch of glacial ice beneath the tracks of a snow-coach, listen to the thunderous applause of Niagara Falls on board the famous Hornblower Niagara, or explore the East Coast island ports of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia by boat on the tail end of a transatlantic cruise.

Newfoundland & Labrador

Labrador and the island of Newfoundland make up the easternmost province of Canada. Known as the 'Big Land', the rocky, windswept and largely uninhabited region of the mainland sweeps north to the Arctic Circle. The majority of the population lives on the island of Newfoundland in the capital city of St John's. This island is where the first European was thought to have set foot in Canada - a Viking who landed at L'Anse aux Meadows in the 10th century. Interestingly, within the boundaries of Newfoundland there resides a small, self-governing French collective. Saint Pierre and Miquelon is the only area that remains under French control all these years after the end of colonial rule.

Nova Scotia

This Atlantic maritime province is blessed with a long coastline and numerous lakes. Here you can spot whales, puffins and seals along the Bay of Fundy or head to the cosmopolitan capital of Halifax for a spot of history, as well as a thriving restaurant and music scene.

Québec

This mainly French-speaking province borders with the US and stretches far north along Hudson Bay. It is perhaps best known for the lively and characterful cities of Montréal and Québec City. Both have their historic colonial centres and, as is fitting for such close relatives of France, exemplary culinary taste.

Ontario

About 40% of the population of Canada lives in the vast province of Ontario. The north is mainly made up of great swathes of forest and arable land, while in the south, near the border with the US, you’ll find the city of Toronto, the national capital Ottawa and the awesome Niagara Falls. This region is extremely multicultural, and nowhere is this more evident than in Toronto, with its Asian night markets, alfresco dining and delicious mix of sights, sounds and cuisines. The province is also home to Cornwall, London, Kingston, Windsor, Chatham-Kent and Waterloo - so us Brits should feel right at home!

Manitoba

This is Canadian prairie land, though further north the gentle, southern farmland gives way to Arctic tundra and the icy coastline of Hudson Bay. Winnipeg is the lively capital, not far from the tip of Lake Winnipeg, which stretches north for over 400 kilometres. To the west is Riding Mountain National Park, a forested land dotted with pristine lakes where you'll spot wildlife such as moose, elk and black bear, as well as numerous species of birdlife.

Alberta

This western province is home to some of the country's most breathtaking mountain scenery. The wild and magnificent Banff and Jasper national parks welcome skiers in the winter months and walkers in summer. Here too is the mighty Columbia Icefield and the lovely Lake Louise. The capital Edmonton and neighbouring Calgary are the main cities in the province. But make no mistake - Alberta is all about the natural splendour of its imposing peaks and national parks.

British Columbia

Home to the lion's share of the Canadian Rockies, British Columbia stretches along the Pacific Coast bordering both Washington and Alaska. At its south-western tip is the fun-filled city of Vancouver, while in the Rocky Mountains you'll find the charismatic ski resorts of Whistler, Fernie and Kicking Horse. In winter BC may be a playground for snow bunnies, but in spring and summer it is the domain of walkers and wildlife lovers and it offers some of the most impressive mountain scenery in the world.

Northwest Canada

The far north is made up of three icy and expansive provinces - the Yukon Territory, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Bordering Alaska to the west and stretching north along the Arctic Ocean, Baffin Bay and Greenland, it won't come as much of a surprise that this somewhat chilly region is not a prime holidaying spot - we'll leave it to the penguins then.

Flight time

From London to Halifax: 6 hours

From London to Calgary: 8 hours 30 minutes

From London to Ottawa: 7 hours and 40 minutes

From London to Toronto: 8 hours and 5 minutes

From London to Vancouver: 9 hours 25 minutes

Currency

Dollar -

The Canadian dollar is divided into 100 cents. You may recognise the following terms - a penny for a cent; a nickel for five cents; a dime for ten cents; and a quarter for 25 cents - but less obvious is a loonie for a dollar coin (so called for the loon depicted on them) and a twoonie for a two-dollar coin which has a gold rim around a silver centre.

Passports and visas

A full ten-year passport is required for British Citizens but visas are not.

Phrases

Hello/Good morning – Bonjour

Good evening – Bonsoir

Yes – Oui

No – Non

Please – S’il vous plait

Thank you – Merci

You’re welcome – Bienvenue

Good-bye – Au revoir

May I speak to you in English? – Est-ce que je peux parler anglais?

I don’t speak French – Je ne parle pas français

Timezone

Canada is so large it spans six time zones:

  • Pacific Standard Time (GMT -8)
  • Mountain Standard Time (GMT -7)
  • Central Standard Time (GMT - 6)
  • Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5)
  • Atlantic Standard Time (GMT -4)
  • Newfoundland Standard Time (GMT -3.5)

Electricity

An adaptor is an essential travel companion since standard American flat-pin plugs are used (mains voltage is 110 volts AC, 60 Hz).

Language

English,French - Canada is bi-lingual with English and French the official languages. French is the first language of Quebec so making the effort to learn a few handy phrases will go a long way.

Tipping

Tipping is a way of life in Canada although you should only reward service that you feel warrants it.

At restaurants and for taxi rides, a tip of 15% for good service is considered the norm.

Climate

Canada may be famous for its skiing, but outside the mountain resorts its southern half enjoys a temperate climate similar to the United Kingdom with four distinct seasons that match ours month by month. That makes packing a cinch – if in any doubt, opt for layers as you can always pile more on if you get a bit chilly.

Anticipate hot summer days with cool evenings. A waterproof jacket will ward off any wet weather and comfy shoes are a must if you plan on joining any walking tours either in the city or great outdoors.

And if you travel in the winter, anticipate snow everywhere but Toronto, where you’re more likely to get rained on!

Health

It’s worth noting that flying insects like mosquitoes get everywhere, so you’ll want to be prepared and take plenty of insect repellent!

As health information can change at any time, we’d advise you to consult your GP at least 12 weeks before departure.

Country-specific information and advice on possible health risks is also published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre, and The British Foreign and Commonwealth Travel Advice Unit provides important health and safety information for British nationals travelling abroad.

Population and size

At 35 million, Canada has little more than half the population of the United Kingdom.

In fact, more people live in the state of California than they do Canada! However, as the northern half is rather inhospitable, most of the population is squeezed into cities that have higher population densities than their European counterparts.

Smoking

Smoking is banned in most public areas.


Places in Canada

Step aboard Rocky Mountaineer

Discover the Canadian Rockies


Climate

Banff at sunrise

Head off on a Canadian adventure

Go for it and explore a winter wonderland

EXPLORE CANADA