Explore Canada the largest country in North America by land area, second in the world overall (behind only Russia). Renowned worldwide for its vast, untouched landscape, its blend of cultures and multifaceted history, Canada is one of the world’s wealthiest countries and a major tourist destination.
Canada is a land of vast distances and rich natural beauty. Economically and technologically, and in many other ways she closely resembles her neighbor to the south, the United States, although there are significant differences between the two countries. While both countries have a long and continuing history of colonialism over the Indigenous people of their countries, Canada is perfectly happy with its British heritage and many Canadians are proud of this. Much of Canada’s current built environment and influence has come primarily from immigrants from two European nations, Britain and France. This dual nature is very different than in the United States, and in some parts of Canada, particularly Quebec and parts of New Brunswick, Canadians primarily speak French. Canada became a self-governing dominion in 1867 by an act of the British parliament, and is still a proud member of the Commonwealth of Nations.
Most travellers entering or transiting Canada by air will need an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) or a visitor visa. (Exceptions include U.S. citizens/nationals and Saint-Pierre and Miquelon residents.) An eTA costs $7 and is valid for five years or until your passport expires, whichever comes first.
Those who are not eligible for an eTA are required to obtain a Temporary Resident Visa prior to travelling to Canada. This can be done at the applicants’ nearest Canadian Visa Office.
You are likely to arrive to Canada by air, most likely into Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary or Vancouver (the 5 largest cities, from East to west. Many other cities have international airports as well, and cheap flights to Canada arrive daily.
Canada is large – the second largest country in the world after Russia. This means that you will need several days to appreciate even a part of the country. In fact, St. John’s, Newfoundland, is geographically closer to London, UK, than it is to Vancouver.
The best way to get around the country is by air. Air Canada is the main national carrier, and has by far the largest network and most frequent schedules but WestJet also offers a very similar service.
Many people choose to rent a car. Although somewhat expensive if you are travelling alone, this can be an economically reasonable alternative if you are sharing the costs with others. However, there are many limitations and drawbacks on car rentals in Canada.
Basically, if you really want to get around in Canada, it’s best to have a car.
Passenger rail service in Canada, although very safe and comfortable, is often an expensive and inconvenient alternative to other types of transport. The corridor between Windsor and Quebec City is a bit of an exception to this generalization. Also, if natural beauty is your thing, the approximately three-day train ride between Toronto and Vancouver passes through the splendor of the Canadian prairies and the Rocky Mountains, with domed observation cars to allow passengers to take in the magnificent views.
Make arrangements ahead of time to get lower fares. VIA Rail is the main Canadian passenger rail company.
English and French are the two official languages in Canada. All communications and services provided from the federal government are available in both languages. Most Canadians are functionally monolingual, although some parts of the country have both English and French speakers. Over a quarter of Canadians are bilingual or multilingual. Many people in Montreal, Ottawa, and Quebec City are at least conversationally bilingual.
English is the dominant language in all provinces except Québec, where French is dominant and actively promoted as the main language. However, there are numerous francophone communities scattered around the country.
What to see. Best top attractions in Canada.
CN Tower A Canadian landmark, a 553-meter tower with a revolving restaurant and a glass floor. It’s located besides the Roger Stadium a 1-minute walk from here.
Roger Centre 1-minute walk from CN Tower and home of the Toronto Blue Jays. Famous for its retractable roof & hosts concerts
Parliament Hill A parliament building on a top of a hill where the government resides
Embassy District A famous district in the capital where many foreign dignitaries stay and live
Old port Montreal Popular complex with shops & activities along the St.Lawrence River
Mount Royal Also known as Mont-Royal in French. A park on top of a hill
Montreal Olympic Park Landmark site of 1976 Summer Olympics
Quebec Citadel Complex featuring a long-standing active fort, plus a museum & changing of the guard ceremonies.
Quartier Petit Champlain Cooperative-owned shopping quarter with independent boutiques, galleries, restaurants & a theatre.
Old Port Quebec City The port of the old-quarter of the city where historic buildings with French Architecture still surrounds to this day.
Art Gallery of the Château Frontenac (Galerie d’Art du Château Frontenac) An art gallery at the heart of Quebec old town
Place d’armes A public squre similar to the one in Montreal with the statue of Paul de Chomedey
Old-town Quebec An old quarter of the city famous for its french architecture and history of French Canada
Stanley Park A vast green open space park located near the Pacific Ocean.
Capilano suspension bridgeThe longest cable-suspended walkway in Canada
Granville Market Located in Granville Island, where you can buy fresh produce.
Gastown quarter A famous district in Canada that is famous for its steam clock.
Robson Street A shopping street lined with shops and restaurants and a shopping mall.
What to buy
Canada’s currency is the Canadian dollar (symbol: $ proper abbreviation is CAD), commonly referred to simply as a “dollar”. One dollar ($) consists of 100 cents (¢).
In general, you should focus on buying brands or specific goods that are available only in Canada or are manufactured there (e.g., Canadian souvenirs).
In all cities and towns, it is possible to convert between Canadian dollars and most major currencies at many banks. In addition, many retailers in Canada will accept US currency either at par or at slightly reduced value, and many Canadian bank branches allow users to withdraw USD cash instead of CAD. All Canadian banks provide currency exchange at the daily market value. In some areas, private exchange bureaus will give better exchange rates and lower fees than banks, so if you have time during your travels to look one up. It might save you some money on the exchange both when you arrive and before you leave, because Canadian dollars may not be worth as much in your home country, particularly the coin.
Credit cards are widely accepted, with Visa and MasterCard being accepted in most places, and American Express somewhat less frequently and Diners Club only in the more upscale restaurants and hotels. Discover is usually accepted at places geared towards Americans such as hotels and car rental agencies. Generally, using a credit card also gets you a better exchange rate since your bank will convert the currency automatically at the prevailing daily rate.
The banking system is well developed, safe and technologically advanced. ATM usage in Canada is very high. There is a safe and widespread network of bank machines (ATMs) where you may be able to use your bank card to withdraw money directly from your account at home, but the fees involved can be more than for credit cards. If possible, try to use chartered bank ATM machines as the fees are often cheaper than the independent ATM machines. All Canadian banking institutions are members of the Interac international financial transaction network. Most retailers and restaurants/bars allow purchases by ATM card through Interac, even if they do not accept major credit cards, and many Canadians rarely use cash at all, prefering electronic forms of payment. Other ATM networks, including PLUS are widely supported and will be indicated on the ATM screen.
Be aware that you will almost always pay more than the prices displayed, as listed prices usually exclude sales tax.
Taxes will be added on top of the displayed price at the cashier. Exceptions where the displayed price includes all applicable taxes are gasoline (the amount you pay is as it appears on the pump), parking fees, and liquor bought from liquor stores, some groceries, and medical services such as eye exams or dentistry.
Accommodations in Canada vary substantially in price depending on time and place. Fortunately you can find some of the best cheap hotels in Canada. In most cities and many tourist areas, expect to pay upwards of $100 or more for a good hotel room. If inquiring always ask if taxes are included, because some offer it with taxes included, some not.
Safety in Canada is not usually a problem, and some basic common sense will go a long way. Even in the largest cities, violent crime is not a serious problem, and very few people are ever armed. Violent crime need not to worry the average traveler, as it is generally confined to particular neighborhoods and is rarely a random crime. Drug-related crimes also happen. Street battles between gangs happen rarely but have made national headlines, these outbreaks of violence usually happen in bunches over a given area because of a turf war or drug supply shortage. Overall crime rates in Canadian cities remain low compared to most similar sized urban areas in the rest of the world.
Police in Canada are almost always hardworking, honest, and trustworthy individuals. If you ever encounter any problems during your stay, even if it’s as simple as being lost, officers will be able to help you.
Canadians take drunk driving very seriously, and it is a social taboo to drink and drive. Driving while under the influence of alcohol is also punishable under the Criminal Code of Canada and can involve lengthy jail time, particularly for repeat offenders. If you “blow over” the legal limit of blood alcohol content (BAC) on a roadside Breathalyzer machine test, you will be arrested and spend at least a few hours in jail. Being convicted for driving under the influence (DUI) will almost certainly mean the end of your trip to Canada, a criminal record, and you being barred from re-entering Canada for at least 5 years.
Buying sex services is illegal everywhere in Canada. Expect to be fined at least 300C$. Sometimes, the police may raid brothels and arrest you.
You are unlikely to face health problems here that you wouldn’t face in any other western industrialized country.
Be aware that most Canadian provinces have banned all indoor smoking in public places and near entrances. Some bans include areas such as bus shelters and outdoor patios. See Smoking.
The communication infrastructure of Canada is what you would expect for an industrialized country. However, the cost of voice and data communication tends to generally be more expensive compared to most European countries.
Cell phones are widely used, but due to Canada’s large size and relatively sparse population, many rural areas that are not adjacent to major travel corridors have no service.
All of the major national carriers offer pre-paid SIM cards with start-up packages in the range of $75 with a specified amount of airtime included. Prepaid plans usually have a per minute rate of $0.25, but many have “evenings and weekends” add-ons for around $30/month.
There are many ways to access the Internet, including a number of terminals at most public libraries.
Most large and medium-sized towns will have Internet and gaming cafes.
Wi-Fi access is common in cities and can be found at most coffee shops, public libraries, and some restaurants. Although some locations charge an excessive fee for its use, others provide free Wi-Fi. Note that purchasing the establishment’s product is expected, even if they are charging for internet access. Buying a small coffee or tea typically meets this requirement. Most airports and certain VIA Rail stations also offer free Wi-Fi in passenger areas.
Explore Canada and its near by cities
Canada’s southern neighbor, the United States, can become a side trip from Canada or even a major part of your vacation. Places like Niagara Falls, New York State, New York City, Detroit, and Seattle are easily reached on public transportation or on foot in some cases. See the main article on the U.S. for entry requirements – if you need a visa be sure to apply well in advance.
Saint-Pierre and Miquelon are two relatively small islands off the coast of Newfoundland. Despite their small size and relative proximity to the Canadian coast line, they are overseas Departments of France and the only vestige of French colonialism in North America. To step into this charming French seaside community, take the car ferry from Fortune, Newfoundland during the summer, or scheduled flights from Montreal, Halifax, and St. Johns year round.
Greenland, Canada’s major eastern island neighbor, despite being separated by less than 50km of water in some locations is not easily accessible from North America. The flag carrier Air Greenland flies from Iqaluit in Nunavut (YFB) to the capital Nuuk (GOH) twice a week from June through September. Seasonal flights are also available from Reykjavik, Iceland (KEF) and year round via Copenhagen (CPH). Another, albeit more expensive option are the summer cruise ships originating in both the U.S. and Canada. Despite the relative difficulty of reaching the island, the untouched natural Arctic beauty of one of the most remote places on earth makes it well worth the effort.
Official tourism websites of Canada
For more information please visit the official government website: