Friday, 21 Sep 2018

The ultimate guide to backpacking Canada

When you think of a backpacking trip, most people’s minds go to Europe – to explore historic cities and check twenty countries off their bucket list all while learning about and meeting people from a variety of countries and cultures. Or maybe they think Asia – to explore temples and jungles, play with elephants and monkeys or lounge on a beach.

While those destinations are beautiful in their own right, people don’t realise that they’re missing out on a backpacker’s dreamland: Canada. Its diverse, rugged, and vast landscapes have made it a long time favourite for nature-junkies and road-trippers, and the people you meet along the way will make you feel welcome and maybe even ‘at home’.

It can be hard to find information about backpacking in Canada all in one place, so here’s the ultimate guide to backpacking in Canada. In it you’ll find the best places to visit (and when!), learn how to get to where you need to go, some sample itineraries, and what you need to get (and stay!) in the country in the first place.

Contents

      1. Best time to visit Canada
      2. Visas for Canada
      3. Getting around Canada
      4. Accommodation in Canada
      5. Travel costs & budget
      6. Where to go in Canada
      7. Things to do in Canada
      8. Canadian food
      9. Canadian culture
      10. Travel advice & tips

Best time to visit Canada

The best time to visit Canada varies greatly by region. Whether you’re looking for mountains, beaches, or an urban adventure, Canada’s got you covered; spanning nearly 10 million square kilometres across six different time zones. Canada’s climate varies greatly – your average spring day in Vancouver looks a lot different from that in St. John’s and nothing like what’s happening in Iqaluit (that’s up north btw). This is due to one simple reason – Canada is HUGE. So, broken down into the different regions of Canada, here are the best times to visit.

Weather in Canada

Asking what the weather is like is the same as asking “what time is it in Canada?”. Canadians will often default to what it’s like where they’re from, politely tell you that it depends on where in the country, or just give you a funny look like “really?”, as that answer could vary by about 40°C depending on where you’re referring to.

The best time to visit anywhere is dependent on your travel priorities. Each season presents different activities and events that occur all across the country. Summer is the most popular time for tourism in most regions except for the Rocky Mountains when winter dominates for skiing and snowboarding. Below are some of the best places to visit during each season.

Summer in Canada

West Coast

For those travelling to the West Coast, Summer is a great time to check out Vancouver and Victoria. The weather is warmer and drier from April through October, and rarely gets too hot thanks to the cool ocean breezes. Vancouver’s temperatures average from 18 to 22°C from June through August.

backpacking Canada - Vancouver sunset and skyscrapers

English Bay, Vancouver, British Colombia

?: @mbenna

Prairies 

If you intend on visiting the Prairies this summer, you’ll be in for a treat. The area is great for photographers with beautiful fields and wildlife. Temperatures in Calgary are in mid to low 20s, Regina can reach up to 30°C, and Winnipeg averages around 25°C from June through August.

Central Canada

Central Canada is very popular in the summer, particularly visits to Niagara Falls, camping in Northern Ontario, and spending time in the great lakes. The wonderful summer weather in Quebec make it a perfect destination as well. Toronto weather can get incredibly hot and humid, with temperatures reaching over 30°C. Montreal weather is only a little better, averaging around 26°C. 

backpacking canada - Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls, Ontario

?: Joe deSousa

Atlantic Canada

Atlantic Canada is fantastic in the summer. Spending time on the ocean or hiking, it’s impossible not to have a great time. It’s also one of the best places in Canada to get away from big crowds, as well as the extreme heat. Much of eastern Canada averages in the low twenties with cool breezes.

The Northern Territories

The Northern Territories are typically avoided due to how cold they get. But, in the summer, you have the chance to hike the world’s northern most mountains, check out the Arctic, and admire the stunning natural beauty including breathtaking meadows and majestic wildlife. Thankfully, in the summer, it’s really not that cold there! Summer temperatures in the Yukon can reach the low to mid-twenties, Yellowknife, NT reaches the low twenties, and Iqaluit reaches the low-mid teens. Towns in the arctic circle also experience nearly 24/7 sunlight – a phenomenon known as Midnight Sun.

Overall, summer time is the best time to get the most out of your trip to Canada. From beaches to mountains, exploring cities and jumping from festival to festival, summer is when Canada shines.

Autumn in Canada

Autumn is when you’ll want to spend time in one of Canada’s many forests or National Parks. The fall foliage is to die for. It is peak hiking season all across the country, but particularly in Banff, Algonquin, and Jasper.

Another reason to love autumn in Canada is all the wonderful produce. Farm fresh pumpkins, squash, and apples with many places that let you pick them yourself. If you’re visiting a farm, look for one with fun activities like hay rides or corn mazes. Many cities and towns also have fall markets where you can buy fresh baked pie made with the local produce ?.

Unfortunately, autumn in Canada in fleeting, so take in as much in as you can. In Eastern Canada, temperatures range from 10 to 20°C, but there’s a fair bit of rain. In the Prairies, it can be as high as 18°C in September, but as low as zero in November.

backpacking canada - Autumn in canada - Banff National Park

Larch Valley, Banff National Park, Alberta

?: Craig Zerbe

Winter in Canada

Canada’s winter has a terrible reputation. Blistering cold, snow storms and hail. These things don’t exactly sound fun. Winter is typically December, January, and February, but can even last from November until April in the Rocky Mountain regions, Northern Territories, and the Eastern provinces.

West Coast

While the cold winter is inevitable in most of Canada, the West Coast (particularly Vancouver) has quite moderate winters. It’s a great place to keep from freezing, and you’ll only be a few hours from some of the best ski resorts in the Rockies. The long winter in the Rockies is great for ski season, allowing destinations like Banff and Canmore to have snow into May!

backpacking Canada - Whistler, British Colombia

Whistler, British Colombia

?: @yah.blewit

Central Canada

Central Canada has particularly harsh winters, but they’re not as long. Temperatures as low as -20°C (at least!) aren’t uncommon from December through February, but don’t forget to consider the wind chill. Major snowfalls also tend to happen in January or February, though it has snowed as early as October.

Atlantic Canada

Atlantic Canada isn’t quite as popular as it’s Western counterpart, however, there are plenty of things to do in Atlantic Canada in the winter. Make sure you pack well as winters can get as cold as -40°C! Another way to ensure you are prepared is to keep your eyes on the weather warnings. Many storms hit Atlantic Canada all year, and hurricane season is from June through November. Don’t let this scare you though, Atlantic Canada is beautiful. The national parks are perfect for winter camping and cross-country skiing through blankets of snow.

Northern Canada

The Yukon, Northwest Territory, and Nunavut are the three territories you can visit in Northern Canada. These regions have two basic climatic zones – arctic and subarctic. In Whitehorse, YT, weather averages from -8°C to -21°C from December through February. From -16°C to -27°C in Yellowknife, NT in the same period, and -16°C to -29°C in Iqaluit, NU. During the winter, not only is it cold, but it’s also dark. Sometimes for over a month at a time. Despite this, areas like the Yukon are experiencing a huge spike in tourism thanks to the Northern lights and wildlife abundance. This portion of the world is truly wild and free.

Despite all the cold, there are plenty of activities you can enjoy in the winter. Aside from the perk of winter being ski season, it can also be much cheaper to visit when the temps have dropped. Don’t forget, when you’re travelling through Canada at this time, you can expect delays on roads and with public transit. If you’re driving yourself, be very careful about lack of visibility from blowing snow and icy roads. Winter tires and other safety supplies are recommended!

backpacking canada - Whitehorse, Yukon Territory

Whitehorse, Yukon Territory

?: @ericsandstrom

Spring in Canada

Spring, like autumn, is fleeting in Canada. It comes earlier on Canada’s west coast thanks to milder winters. Once you start seeing tulips, you’ll know that spring is here. While short overall, it can come as early as February and stay as late as June depending on where you are in the country; don’t be too shocked if you experience a surprise snowstorm in April or May!

Western Canada

Spring in Western Canada may include skiing in higher altitudes, but you’ll also get the chance for hiking, wildlife watching, and even beaches! Temperatures in Vancouver vary from 4 – 17°C from March through May.  This is also the time for the most rain in the area so make sure you pack appropriately!

Prairies

Spring is a beautiful time to visit the Prairies too! The blooming Prairie crocus is a sure sign that spring has arrived, it is the floral emblem of Manitoba and the first flower to bloom in the region. You’ll also be surrounded by awakening crops beginning to thrive after a harsh winter. Spring starts a bit later in the Prairies than in other regions, with snow not being uncommon in May. Weather in Calgary ranges from -8°C to 17°C from March through May, from -11°C to 18°C in Regina, and -9°C to 17°C in Winnipeg over the same period.

backpacking Canada - Prairie Crocus in snow

A resilient Prairie Crocus blooms through the snow in Alberta

?: @ericsandstrom

Central Canada

In the provinces of Ontario and Quebec in Central Canada, spring is especially beautiful. It’s perfect for birdwatching, getting some of the best maple syrup in the world (of course), and checking out the world’s largest tulip festival in Ottawa. Classic spring weather comes a bit late in Central Canada, with weather as low as -2°C in March but as high as 19°C in May in Toronto; and as low as -6°C and as high as 17°C over the same period in Montreal.

Atlantic Canada

Spring in Atlantic Canada is the perfect time for nature outings, wildlife spotting and other sightseeing. It is also another popular place for some great maple syrup!  Atlantic Canada has one of the coldest springs amongst the provinces, with weather as cold as -5°C to 11°C in St. John’s, NL, from March through May, -6°C through 18°C in Fredericton, NB, and 4°C to 14°C in Halifax over the same period. Spring snow storms are also common in the area. If you’re visiting during a good weather spell, you’ll be in for amazing sights like watching drifting by icebergs in Iceberg Alley.

 Northern Canada

Northern Canada is where you can find some awe-inspiring wildlife in the spring time. You can witness the great caribou migration in the Yukon or do traditional winter activities like dogsledding and snowshoeing. It’s still quite cold in March through May in Northern Canada. Temperatures in Whitehorse, YT vary from -13°C to 14°C. In Yellowknife, NT, “spring” temperatures vary from -22°C in March to 12°C in May. And in Iqaluit, NU, you won’t see temperatures above zero.

Overall, the best time to visit Canada is May through October. While it varies greatly depending on the region, you’ll get the best weather overall and the most events going on during those months. The only exception to this is if you’re trying to hit the slopes, in which case, either start your trip a little earlier, or stay a little longer!

backpacking Canada - yellowknife, northwest territories - wigwam

Yellowknife, Northwest Territories

?: @kencheungphoto

Canada visa

Canada visa UK:

British citizens (and those from overseas British territories) are visa-exempt when visiting Canada for tourism. They do require an eTA when travelling by air (see more on that below).

Visitors from the UK, among other countries, can typically get up to six months on a visa-free entry to travel Canada. The final say is up to the border services officer who will indicate on your passport the date by which you must leave Canada. If you want to stay longer, make sure to apply for an extension at least 30 days prior to the authorized end of your stay. For more information about visiting Canada as a British citizen check out https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/canada

If you want to work while you’re there, consider applying for a working holiday visa. Officially, it is referred to as International Experience Canada (IEC). To get the IEC visa and enjoy Canada for up to two years you need to have a valid UK passport, be between the ages of 18 and 30, and have enough funds to help cover your expenses while in Canada. For specifics and to apply, you can find out the details here: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/work/iec/eligibility.asp.

Canada visa Application:

All travellers need to get an Electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA) before visiting Canada by air. The only exception is if you’re coming in from the US, or by boat, you do not need an eTA. US citizens are also exempt from the eTA requirement provided they show a US passport.

For everyone else, an eTA is incredibly easy to apply for and can be done online in just a few minutes. It costs $7CAD to apply for and most people are approved within minutes. If, however, you have a criminal background or for some other reason you’re asked to submit supplementary documents it make take several days to process, so keep this in mind before booking your flight.

The eTA is good for five years or until your passport expires. It is linked to the passport you used to apply, so if you have multiple passports make sure you bring the one you used to apply for the eTA when coming to Canada as the flight staff will simply scan your passport to ensure you have a valid eTA and if you don’t you won’t be able to board your flight.

yellow house - Newfoundland St. John's and Labrador

St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador

?: @Cucombrelibre

Arriving to Canada:

On the plane you’ll be given a declaration card that you fill out and give to the officers at customs. Once you reach customs, you may be asked to show that you have enough funds available to support yourself during your stay, even if you’re staying with family and friends.

If they have further questions, you’ll be moved to a separate area. The questioning takes place during your initial entry into Canada, so if you’re taking a flight from Europe into Newfoundland and then another from Newfoundland to your final destination, customs procedures will happen in Newfoundland (or wherever your initial entry point is).

Don’t worry too much, they just want to be sure of why you’re there and that you can support yourself while you’re there. If the questioning takes a while and you have a connecting flight, inform the staff of this and they may move you up in the line or possibly bump you to the next flight.

This is less common on shorter trips and those who have a return ticket. However, if you’re entering Canada for a fairly long period of time (even if you can stay in Canada for up to six months “visa free”) you’re more likely to be asked for supporting documents.

Getting around Canada

Your best options will depend largely on the area you’re visiting and your budget. Unless you’re visiting from the US, it is likely you’ll arrive by plane to one of Canada’s international airports. Due to Canada’s size, many people often take planes to travel throughout the country as well. Domestic flying can be pricey, but with the right planning you can catch some deals. For those travelling a little slower, a car is probably your best option. Public transport is available, but it’s mostly limited to within and between major cities. Take a look below for some of the options for getting around Canada.

Airports in Canada

The main airline in Canada is Air Canada, but other popular (and often cheaper!) options include WestJet and Porter.  If you’re going to more Northern or remote areas of Canada you’ll need to use smaller regional airlines like Air North or Canadian North Airlines.

Vancouver International Airport

If you’re starting your journey into Canada in the West, you’ll likely arrive at Vancouver International Airport (YVR). It’s a fairly large airport with three terminals, but has good signage in three languages (English, French, and Chinese) making it easy to navigate. It is the second busiest airport in Canada and is located in Richmond, BC, about 12km from downtown Vancouver. Despite this, it is very well connected. Driving or taking a taxi will take you about 30-45 minutes to get downtown (including traffic), but one of the best ways is to take the Skytrain on the Canada Line. It leaves every 7 minutes (during peak hours – every 15 minutes during off hours). You’ll find signs for it while leaving customs and it’s located across the street between domestic and international arrivals.

backpacking Canada - Vancouver International Airport

Vancouver International Airport

?: @thewzrdharry

Toronto Pearson International Airport

The busiest International Airport in Canada is the Toronto Pearson International Airport. While Toronto is in its name, the airport is located in Mississauga, just outside the city. But once there, there are plenty of ways to get downtown. One of the best is taking the “UP” train which goes from Union Train Station to Pearson airport and back again.

Montreal Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport

Montreal is also a popular airport for international visitors. The Montreal – Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport is the busiest airport in Quebec with the route from Montreal to Paris being the busiest international route from Canada. To get downtown, you can catch a taxi for a flat rate of $40. Alternatively, you can take the 747 bus for $10 which will also give you access to the bus and metro/subway system for 24 hours.

St. John’s Internation Airport

With the increase of budget airlines like Norwegian air and Wow air, many flights are flying into St. John’s International Airport in Newfoundland as their first entry point into Canada. This is a very small airport and classified as an “airport of entry” as most passengers transfer to another flight after arrival. If, however, you do plan on staying in St. Johns, you can take a fifteen minute taxi ride or bus (route 14) to get downtown.

Driving in Canada

Car rental

Driving is the best and most flexible way to explore Canada. There are plenty of car rental options that are popular internationally – like Avis, Hertz, Thrifty, and Budget. You may need an international driver’s license if you’re there for a while, but most countries can use their original license. If you do use an international driver’s license you need to show your original license with it.

Car share program

Plan on doing occasional driving in Canada but rental cars are too expensive? Try a carshare program.

Zipcar is one of the biggest in Canada (and globally!) and you can usually use your existing membership if you’re a member in another country. For their Canadian program you can get memberships for $7 a month and then pay for the time you use it. Zipcar is available in cities within Ontario and British Columbia.

Car2Go is another option without any monthly fees and you pay for only the time you use the car. It is available in Calgary, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver.

If you’re going to be in one area long enough, check into regional car share programs like Evo in Vancouver, or Turo in lower mainland BC and Victoria.

Buying a car

If you think driving will be your main form of transportation in Canada, and you’ll be there for a while and covering some long distances, consider buying your own car. Planning is the key to this endeavour, as buying a car in Canada is one thing, insuring it is a whole other, as it varies province to province. In Ontario and Alberta for example, you can’t get car insurance unless you have a Canadian license, and it’s illegal to drive in Canada without it! British Columbia is the easiest place for a tourist to buy a car, as you can get it registered, licensed, and insured all at the same time. Buying a car takes the most time, planning, and money (upfront), but can save you overall. There are plenty of places in Canada you can’t see without a vehicle, so plan appropriately.

backpacking Canada - Long country road - Prairie

Long country road

?: @holdsworthdesign

Ride sharing

Ride sharing is another popular alternative – particularly for backpackers. Join some groups on Facebook and take a look on Craigslist and Kijiji (Kijiji is more popular than Craigslist in Canada), and you may be able to score rides between cities for as low as $20!

Canada trains

There are few train options to get across Canada. Via Rail is the main passenger train in the country. If you plan on taking the train multiple times, make sure you get a rail pass for the route you plan on travelling, or the Canrailpass to go across the country!

There are four long-distance train routes from Via Rail:

  • The “Canadian” Toronto-Vancouver route, which takes 83 Hours and has three weekly trips. Tickets start at $590.
  • The “Hudson Bay” Winnipeg-Churchill route, which takes 44 hours and has two weekly trips. Tickets start from $170.
  • The “Ocean” Halifax-Montreal route, which takes 21 hours and has two trips per week. Tickets start at $151.
  • The Prince Rupert-Jasper route, which takes 33 hours and has three trips weekly. Tickets start from $163.

The best area to travel by train is in Southern Ontario and Quebec. This area has the “Corridor” route from Windsor to Quebec which brings you through Windsor, ON (where many drivers pass into Detroit, US), Niagara Falls, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City. This same area also has the GO Transit network of trains, which services primarily the Greater Toronto Area, as well as Hamilton, Niagara Falls, Kitchener, and Barrie.

Via trains are very comfortable, particularly in the Prestige and Sleeper classes. Food is available aboard the train (and included in some packages). All trains are smoke free and have washrooms and showers (private ones are available with some packages). The train makes regular station stops where passengers can access WiFi (at Vancouver, Jasper, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto stations) or smoke once off.

There are also private train companies to help you see more of Canada. The Algoma Central Railway gives you access to Northern Ontario, as does Ontario Northland which operates the “Polar Bear Express”. The White Pass & Yukon Route brings you through the White Pass Trail from Whitehorse, YT to Fraser BC. The train is also one of the best ways to see the Rockies on the Rocky Mountaineer or Royal Canadian Pacific.

backpacking canada -Via Rail train in Ottawa

Via Rail train in Ottawa

?: @cjuneau

Canada by bus

The bus is a great way to get between cities and towns within Canada. As far as bus companies go, Greyhound Canada has the biggest network throughout the country (particularly in Western and Central Canada) and can even bring you to or from the US.

If you enjoy long bus rides, Greyhound offers trips between Vancouver-Calgary, Montreal-Toronto, and Toronto-Vancouver, for prices much cheaper than its Via Rail counterpart. The Toronto-Vancouver route starts from $221.50 (web fare – even cheaper if you have an ISIC Card) and takes just under three days. It won’t be the most comfortable ride of your life, but it will get you there.

Other bus companies to get you around Canada include Coach Canada and Megabus (both servicing Toronto to Montreal), Maritime Bus (servicing New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia), and Pacific Coach Line (servicing between Victoria, Vancouver, and Whistler).

Buses and metros in the city

Public transportation in and between cities isn’t as modern, frequent, or connected as many major cities in other countries. This is likely because most Canadians choose to drive when they travel, but if you plan on staying in one area long enough (particularly cities), you should consider getting a bus and metro pass as most cities (big and small) have public transportation.

Vancouver

In Vancouver, the pass for the Translink network is called the compass card. A reloadable card that works on all transit in the city, so you can just tap and go. You can get the online, at a vending machine in some bus and metro terminals, and some retailer locations. The card itself is $6 but is refundable, so when you leave Vancouver, you can return it to a customer service centre.

Toronto

In Toronto you should get a PRESTO Pass. They are currently modernizing Toronto’s transit system with this pass to be used on all buses, streetcars, and metros within the city, and frankly, it’s about time. This process should be completed by the end of 2018, however, currently some metro entrances do not accept the PRESTO Pass. If you plan on taking the metro a lot in Toronto, a Metropass may be better at this time. The metro network in Toronto is quite small, with only four lines (though it covers quite a distance) so check where you’ll be going and how frequently if you plan on purchasing a Metropass. The PRESTO pass, however, is also good in cities outside Toronto including Brampton, Burlington, Durham, Hamilton, Oakville, York, and on the Go Transit network and the UP Express.

backpacking Canada - Tram in Toronto

Tram in Toronto

?: @???

Montreal

In Montreal, you use the OPUS Card. It works on the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) network and used by transit companies throughout Greater Montreal. It can be loaded with regular fare tickets and passes, costs $6 for the card, and is non-refundable. If you are a student, you should get the OPUS Card with a photo so you can register it and pay the reduced student fares when travelling.

Accommodation in Canada

The most social and cost-effective accommodation in Canada is to stay in hostels. Hostels in Canada vary greatly across the country from amenities to cost, but you’ll be available to find hostels in every major city across Canada as well as smaller tourist towns.

British Columbia

In British Columbia, you’ll find hostels built for adventure and exploring. Whether you want to spend time in the mountains hiking or skiing, or explore a new city, there are plenty of hostels in British Columbia to suit your needs. The best places to find hostels are Kelowna, Victoria, Whistler, and of course, Vancouver.

backpacking canada - HI Victoria

HI Victoria, Victoria

Alberta

Alberta also has hostels for mountain lovers. With plenty sprinkled within the Rockies in areas like Banff and Jasper. You’ll also find hostels in Alberta’s main cities of Edmonton and Calgary.

Saskatchewan

The province of Saskatchewan isn’t nearly as popular for tourism (particularly for backpackers) as are its Western and Eastern counterparts, so there aren’t many hostels. Don’t worry though, there are plenty of inns and bed and breakfasts where you can rest your head. You’ll have the best luck finding accommodation in the capital, Regina.

Manitoba

Manitoba also experiences limited tourism. If you do plan on visiting Manitoba, go beyond the capital, Winnipeg, and check out Churchill. It is considered to be the polar bear capital of the world and great for other natural wonders like whale watching, kayaking, and experiencing the northern lights!

Ontario

Ontario, on the other hand, has plenty of hostels to choose from. Whether you want to experience the great white north in Thunder bay, see the falls in Niagara, head downtown in Toronto, or explore the nation’s capital, Ottawa, you’ll have plenty of hostels to choose from.

backpacking Canada - Two Peas Pod Hostel - Toronto Hostels

Two Peas Pod Hostel, Toronto

Quebec

Heading into French Canada, Quebec is also full of choices across the province. You can stay in old Montreal or the bustling Latin quarter. Head further north to Quebec City and get a taste of old Quebec while exploring the only fortified city north of Mexico. You can also get some skiing in outside of western Canada, and there are plenty of places to stay near Mont-Tremblant.

Maritimes

In the Atlantic region, the best places to stay are in the larger cities, as choices become limited in this region due to less tourism and weather. In Nova Scotia, you’ll find hostels in Halifax and the beautiful Cape Breton. In New Brunswick, head for the capital, Saint John. On the small province of Prince Edward Island, you’ll find the most accommodation options in Charlottetown. And finally, if you’re headed to Newfoundland and Labrador, your best bet for accommodation is in St. John’s – not to be confused with New Brunswick’s Saint John!

Travel cost & budget

Canada currency

Canada uses the dollar, but specifically the Canadian dollar (CAD). While its value varies, one Canadian dollar equals approximately 0.76 US dollars, 0.65 Euros, or 0.57 British Pounds.

Cost of living in Canada vs. The US

Canada is often compared to its neighbour to the south in terms of costs and standards of living. Both countries are very large, very diverse, and have most of their population living in urban areas. According Statista, 82 percent of Canada’s population lives in cities and 81 percent of the US population lives in cities.

When cost of living is compared, Toronto is 27% cheaper than New York City. Vancouver is 16% cheaper than Los Angeles, and Montreal is 29% cheaper than Chicago.

Despite the overall cost of living being cheaper in Canada when comparing major cities, many Canadians find many things to be cheaper in the US. Rent is higher in the US due to more densely populated cities; some food items in Canada are more expensive due to protectionism. Canada has a much lower population (which creates less demand and less competition), higher taxes on income and services (Canada is much more socialist), and some industry regulations.

Of course, there are some things that are cheaper in Canada, the most notably being healthcare. But, with the vast majority of consumer items being cheaper in the US, many Canadians who live near the border will do some of their shopping there, and many will drive the extra hour or more just for cheaper gasoline! Overall the biggest culprit for the discrepancy is taxes and currency valuation, but for non-residents travelling though, prices are fairly competitive.

backpacking Canada - Cabane a sucre

Cabane à Sucre, Québec

?: Arturo Yee

Cost of travelling in Canada

As someone visiting Canada, your costs are very dependent on how and when you want to travel and what activities you want to do. A good rule of thumb is to budget roughly $100 CAD per day. Hostels can be $30 – $40 per night for a dorm room in major cities, and it can be hard to find one outside of a major city. Transportation can also be a major money drain due to the long distances and limited public transportation. Food costs are quite reasonable and you’ll get the best bang for your buck if you shop at local grocery stores and cook for yourself – make sure to check if your hostel has cooking facilities!

Sample budget for visiting Vancouver for one week

Dorm Room in the City Centre: $40/night (6 nights) = $240
Dorm Room outside of City Centre: $30/night (6 nights) = $180

Groceries: $51.05

5 meals out at low-mid priced restaurants: $99.40

Compass Card + 7 day passes: $77.75

Activities: $200

Total: $607.15 to $667.15 CAD

Sample budget for visiting Toronto for one week

Dorm Room in the City Centre: $50/night (6 nights) = $300
Dorm Room outside of City Centre: $40/night (6 nights) = $240

Groceries: $50

5 meals out at low-mid priced restaurants: $100

TTC Weekly Pass: $43.75

Activities: $200

Total: $633.75 to $693.75 CAD

backpacking Canada - Toronto, Ontario

Toronto, Ontario

?: @berkaygumustenkin

Sample budget for visiting Montreal for one week

Dorm Room in or out of City Centre: $25/night (6 nights) = $150

Groceries: $47.41

5 meals out at low-mid priced restaurants: $90.15

OPUS Card + Weekly Pass: $32.25

Activities: $200

Total: $519.81 CAD

You’ll notice that these budgets are for the major cities in Canada. Staying outside of major cities will lower your accommodation costs among some others, though it will likely increase your transportation costs depending on your mode of transportation.

While each week in each city is under $700 CAD, It is still suggested to budget $100 CAD a day for any more expensive events, bars, incidentals and to have money for transportation in-between cities.

Note for grocery & restaurant prices. According to numbeo, groceries are 2.10% higher  and restaurants are 0.6% in Vancouver than Toronto. Groceries 5.17% lower and restaurants are 9.85% lower in Montreal than Toronto.  

Money tips for backpacking in Canada

Plan ahead. Accommodation, transportation, event tickets, and pretty much everything are cheaper if you book them in advance.

Sales tax. Sales tax varies by province and is added on at the cash register. The price you see is not the price you pay. There are a few exceptions where no additional tax is added, but don’t be surprised if the total is 5-15% higher than the sticker price. This isn’t news to people from the US but can be a bit of a shocker for those from anywhere else.

While overall cost of living is typically cheaper than the US or Europe, food prices can be higher. This is particularly true for alcohol and dairy products.

If you choose to go out for a meal, don’t forget to tip! It is customary in Canada to tip in restaurants, hotels, taxis, and other services like hair cuts. It ranges by service, but 15-20% is most common.

Travel slowly. You’ll often get discounts on accommodation if you’re there for more than a few nights. Many places offer weekly or monthly discounts. Also, travelling slowly would cut down on transportation and really give you a chance to get to know an area.

There are often free events no matter what the season, so check out local publications or online for some ideas. There’s also plenty of space to discover in Canada so talk to the locals and they’ll set you in the right direction!

backpacking Canada - Marmot, Alberta

A marmot enjoying Spring in the Rocky Mountains

?: Florin Chelaru

Where to go in Canada

Whether you’re staying in one region or making your way across the nation, it’s the perfect place for the ultimate road trip! Here are some places to check out in each region.

West Coast

The West Coast of Canada is entirely the province of British Columbia. A beautiful province, home to the Rocky Mountains, great beaches and world-renowned skiing. People from the area (and those who move there) often refer to the west coast as the best coast, and for good reason – there is plenty to see and do in British Columbia.

A place you must visit is the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island. While many people think the capital of BC is the city of Vancouver, they’d be surprised to find out it’s really Victoria. Victoria is known for its outdoor activities, beautiful gardens, and due to its British colonial past – beautiful Victorian architecture.

The city of Vancouver is where many visitors stay and fly into when visiting the West Coast. There is a ton to see while in Vancouver. It is one of Canada’s most diverse cities and a popular filming location, so if you’re lucky, you may just see one of your favourite stars. A spot to check out while in Vancouver include Granville Island – a man-made island (that’s really a sandpit), found under Granville Street Bridge. The island is full of workshops, studios, and markets.

You also can’t miss Stanley Park; a beautiful green space for the city surrounded by Vancouver Harbour and English Bay. If Stanley park isn’t enough nature for you, check out Capilano Suspension Bridge (that is, if you aren’t afraid of heights) and get a great view of the forest below. For an even better view, head up the Grouse Mountain cable car to breathtaking views of the city.

backpacking Canada - Grouse Mountain

Overlooking Vancouver from Grouse Mountain

?: Murray Foubister

Prairies

The most popular province to visit in the Prairies is Alberta. Home to the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, most people visit for skiing or visiting Jasper and Banff National Parks. While there, don’t miss the iconic turquoise Lake Louise and Lake Moraine.

Alberta is sometimes called the Texas of Canada – thanks to the many oil reserves, cattle ranches, and one of the largest rodeos in the world, which is held every year in Calgary. There’s more to the province than mountains and cowboys. In Edmonton, the Albertan Capital, you can visit West Edmonton Mall, which is the largest mall in all of North America. The city also has a thriving nightlife, and many art, nature, and cultural centres; such as, the Art Gallery of Alberta, the Botanic Gardens, and the Elk Island National Park.

The provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba don’t get as many visitors. Many people find them flat and boring. This is particularly true for those who take the Trans-Canada highway across the prairie provinces, which shows you almost exclusively flat farmland. The more diverse lands of the Prairies come when you go further north. Here you can see part of the Canadian Boreal Forest Biome; one of the largest forests on earth. You likely come across some wildlife too! In Northern Manitoba, you’ll find the city of Churchill. Located on the Hudson Bay, this is one of the best places in the world to see beluga whales and polar bears!

backpacking canada - Polar Bears in Churchill

Polar Bears in Churchill, Manitoba

?: @GomezDavid

Central Canada

Central Canada is full of monuments, architecture, nature, and wildlife that are worth checking out. In Ontario, check out Niagara Falls, the biggest falls (by volume) in North America. The best way to see it, is by getting up close and personal in a boat!

About 130km northwest from Niagara, is the city of Toronto. The capital city of Ontario and Canada’s most populous city. While there, you’ll have to check out the CN Tower, the most famous monument of the city. You can also take in a game; hockey, baseball, basketball- dependent on the season you’re there. North of the city, you’ll find Muskoka and Algonquin Provincial Park. These areas a great for hiking, water sports, and wildlife watching; just don’t get too close to the bears and moose!

Further East in Ontario you’ll come across the nation’s capital, Ottawa. Ottawa is beautiful in every season, but winter gets particularly cold. Depending on when you visit, you can see great festivals in Ottawa (see below for must-see festivals). While you’re in the city, visit the Parliament buildings and take a walk along the Rideau Canal. Make your way into lower town and visit the ByWard market for the great food and unique shops.

Ottawa is right on the border with the province of Quebec. Just 200 kilometres away from Ottawa is the city of Montreal. A gorgeous city known for its historic architecture, great food, and nightlife. Check out the Notre-Dame Basilica, the Montreal Biodome, and Mount Royal; here you’ll get the best views of the city. Head a bit further north and you’ll be in the capital of the province, Quebec City. The Old City is the most famous and exciting part of Quebec – a walled city that feels as close to Europe as you’ll get in Canada. It was ranked the best city in Canada by Travel & Leisure in 2017 because it “blends old world charm with new-world sensibility.”

backpacking Canada - Québec City, Québec

Québec City, Québec

?: Nicolas McComber

Maritimes

As you head East to Canada’s Maritime Provinces, you’ll be struck by the natural beauty and history that lies along the Atlantic Ocean. New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy has highest tides on earth and is famous for whale watching. While in New Brunswick, take in the history and visit the museums and cultural sites to learn about the area’s nautical, natural, and anthropological past.  New Brunswick was one of the first places to be settled in North America and was caught between British and French Empires. Later the region, particularly Saint John, grew rapidly due to Irish immigration. Saint John became the first incorporated city in Canada and was one of the four founding provinces of Canada. To learn more about the diverse history, make sure you see the New Brunswick Museum and Acadian Historical Village.

From New Brunswick, take Canada’s longest bridge, the Confederation Bridge, to Prince Edward Island. When you’re there, visit Green Gables – the site that inspired the book series. Check out the beautiful beaches, camping, and don’t forget to try the seafood!

In Halifax, Nova Scotia, go see Pier 21 in the Halifax Harbour. This was the gateway for over one million immigrants into the country from 1928 – 1971. Peggy’s Cove should also be on your Nova Scotia bucket-list. Be sure to see the Peggy’s Point Lighthouse – the main attraction on the Lighthouse Trail.

Finally, in the eastern most province of Newfoundland and Labrador, watch icebergs float by on the coast of Labrador. While on the water, keep an eye out for seabirds and whales! Back on land, be sure to visit Gros Morne National Park, Gros Morne’s ancient landscape was shaped by glaciers and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Whilst there, keep your eyes open to spot moose, caribou, and if you hike to alpine highlands on Gros Morne Mountain –  giant Arctic Hares.

The North

Northern Canada is getting more and more popular among tourists, and for good reason too; the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut have a ton to offer. The north is home to the Arctic Cordillera, which are the highest mountains in Canada, as well as boreal forest, tundra, and thousands of bears and other wildlife.

The Yukon is home to Dawson City, where part of the Klondike Gold Rush occurred. In the North West Territories, you’ll have a hard time getting to many places other than Yellowknife (the territory’s capital). In Nunavut, Canada’s newest territory, many people come to see the amazing landscapes and to experience Inuit culture. It’s home to beautiful national parks, such as Auyuittuq National Park, which is located on Baffin Island. Iqaluit is the capital and the most modern town in the territory, it is also where you’ll find activities like skiing, dogsledding and snowmobiling.

Things to do in Canada

With all these places to visit, you’ll never run out of things to do in Canada. While many activities and events are dependent on the season you’re visiting, there are plenty of things to do all year round as well.

Monuments & sites

Regardless of where you go in Canada, there will also be plenty to see. Here are some monuments and sites worth stopping for during your trip.

Totem Poles: found all over the country, these spiritual symbols of the First Nations People serve a variety of reasons; spiritual, memorial, and as records. Each tells a different story. The best places to see totem poles in Canada include Brockton Point in Stanley Park in Vancouver, at The Canadian Museum of History, in Gatineau, Quebec, and the Two Brothers Totem Pole, in Jasper, Alberta. As you’re travelling through Canada keep an eye out for when you enter Indigenous reserves (there are over 3100 of them in Canada) as you may see some while you’re there.

Magnetic Hill: Found in Moncton, New Brunswick, this hill is an optical illusion that makes it appear as if it’s heading uphill, when really it is going downhill. You can’t miss it! It’s well advertised, just off the Trans Canada Highway. Just follow the signs and you’ll be there.

Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse: An iconic symbol of Canada and the most photographed lighthouse, Peggy’s Cove lighthouse is found in Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia, just under an hour’s drive from Halifax. Settled on massive rocks and over-looking the beautiful tides of the Atlantic Ocean – just don’t let them sweep you out to sea!

World’s Largest Coke Can: In Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, you’ll find the world’s largest coke can standing at 26 metres tall. It’s an easy stop just off the Trans-Canada Highway.

CN Tower: CN, standing for Canadian National, the company which built the tower, is found in Toronto, Canada. The tower was the tallest in the world until 2007 (currently it’s the 9th tallest), and is still the tallest in the Western Hemisphere. Offering more than just a great view of Toronto, the CN is full of attractions. The most popular being the rotating restaurant, lookout points (including a glass floor), and the EdgeWalk, where you can get strapped in and walk along the outside of the tower.

Centennial Flame: Located in the Nation’s capital of Ottawa on Parliament Hill, the Centennial Flame was created to celebrate Canada’s 100th anniversary as a confederation. It is surrounded by a fountain with plaques for each province and territory.

backpacking Canada - Peggy's Cove Lighthouse

Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse, Nova Scotia

?: @NSPaul

Canada parks

Canada is full of huge National and Provincial Parks that are perfect for various activities throughout the seasons. In warmer months you can go kayaking, canoeing, and hiking. As it gets cooler, you can go cross-country skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing. In many you can camp year round!

Banff National Park: One of the most famous parks in Canada, and Canada’s first national park, you can find Banff in the Rockies in Alberta. Many people visit for activities like white-water rafting or horseback riding, as well as to awe at Lake Louise; a glacier-fed lake known for its turquoise colour.

Jasper National Park: Jasper National Park is also in the Albertan Rockies. It’s full of backcountry trails, ice fields, and abundant wildlife like bears, elk, moose, and wolves. People visit for activities like rock and ice climbing, dog-sledding, fishing and so, so much more.

Dinosaur Provincial Park: Another reason to visit Alberta is Dinosaur Provincial Park – smack dab in the middle of Alberta’s badlands, and home to some of the most important fossil discoveries ever made of more than 44 species. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage site where you can learn about dinosaurs in the visitors centre and through tours, go camping, and hike one of the parks many trails.

Wood Buffalo National Park: This park stretches across northern Alberta and into the North West Territories. It is the largest National Park in Canada (second largest in the world) and home to the world’s largest dark sky preserve, making it the perfect spot to experience the northern lights. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its amazing biodiversity including wild bison, whooping crane, bats, night hawks, and owls.

Cyprus Hills Interprovincial Park: This park straddles the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan and is Canada’s only interprovincial park. Here you can do tons of activities like zip lining, mountain biking, fishing and a variety of water sports. The park is also home to another dark sky preserve – perfect for star-gazing.

Pacific Rim National Park: This park reserve is separated into three regions: Long Beach, the Broken Group Islands, and the West Coast Trail. Long Beach is the most popular of them, especially among surfers! The park is also a perfect spot for whale-watching.

Algonquin Provincial Park: Just a few hours drive north of Toronto you’ll find Algonquin Provincial Park. It was the first provincial park in Ontario – one of the best spots to view wildlife. It is popular for summer and winter camping, boating, and hunting.

Sandbanks Provincial Park: Found in Prince Edward County, Ontario, the Sandbanks Provincial Park is most known for its sandy beaches. Its also been seen in films like Fly Away Home, and Resident Evil: Afterlife.

Point Peele National Park: Point Pelee National Park is the southern most part of mainland Canada and is a peninsula in Lake Erie. It is a conservatory and a great spot to view migratory birds and butterflies.

Mont Tremblant National Park: This park is popular among skiers in central and eastern Canada. It is also popular for its beaches, hiking, climbing, wildlife watching and white-water rafting along the Jacques-Cartier River.

Cape Breton Highlands: While here, you’ll want to check out the Cabot Trail. An incredibly scenic route to drive along and enjoy views of the ocean and cliffs. Whilst here, take in a lobster dinner after a hike through the highlands.

backpacking Canada - Pacific Rim National Park, Vancouver Island

Pacific Rim National Park, Vancouver Island

?: @ericsandstrom

Events & festivals in Canada

There are so many events throughout the year in Canada, many of which are well worth planning your trip around. Here are the events you can’t miss and when and where to catch them.

Summer

Major festivals happen across the nation during the summer, especially outdoor ones. One festival you can celebrate anywhere is Canada Day. Held on July 1st, this day marks the anniversary of when Canada became a confederation in 1867. One of the best spots to celebrate is in the nation’s capital, Ottawa, but you’ll have a good time anywhere with a good view of the fireworks.

Festivals you can’t miss in British Columbia:

  • Vancouver Island Music Fest
  • Centre of Gravity
  • Vancouver Folk Music Festival
  • Rock the Shores
  • Rockin’ River Music Festival
  • Shambala

You’ll also find the Festival of Lights held every summer for two weeks from the end of July into August in Vancouver. It has light shows, fireworks, and performances.

Top festivals in Alberta:

  • Sled Island
  • Calgary Folk Fest
  • Chasing Summer
  • Edmonton Folk Festival

Despite all these amazing music festivals, the biggest draw to Alberta in the summer has got to be the Calgary Stampede. Held in July, it’s one of the biggest Rodeos in the world and is called “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.” Over ten days there are musical performances, parades, agricultural competitions, a midway, and of course, a rodeo.

backpacking Canada - Calgary Stampede, Alberta

Calgary Stampede, Alberta

Must go festivals in Ontario:

  • VELD
  • Dreams Festival
  • NXNE
  • Escapade
  • Ottawa Bluesfest

Another festival you can’t miss is Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition (CNE). Its typically called the Ex, it’s Canada’s largest annual fair.

Great festivals in Quebec:

  • Osheaga
  • MUTEK
  • Festival d’été de Québec

Another festival in Montreal is the Just For Laughs Festival. The world’s largest comedy event, it’s held in July and has stand-up comedians, films, and sketches from people around the world.

backpacking canada - just for laughs festival - Osheaga, Montreal, Québec

Osheaga, Montreal, Québec

?: @tkaravou

Autumn

As Autumn is fleeting and unpredictable in Canada, festivals are much less popular at this time. Some annual ones you can’t miss include the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). It’s a world-renowned festival held every September in downtown Toronto and has over 500,000 attendees every year. It brings in stars from all around the world and gives you a chance to see some of the years upcoming films.

If you’re spending your Autumn in Nova Scotia, you’ll want to head to the Celtic Colours International Festival. It’s held in mid October on Cape Breton Island and hosts concerts, dances, and workshops throughout the community.

The Fall Okanagan Wine Festival in late September in Okanagan valley is British Columbia’s largest wine tasting and farmer’s market. Perfect for foodies and wine lovers. And for those that didn’t get enough food and wine there, they’ll have to check out the Rocky Mountain Wine and Food Festival held in mid October in Calgary and mid November in Edmonton.

Winter

There are many winter, lights, and ice festivals throughout the country. Some of the most notable are Ice on Whyte, in Edmonton, Lake Louise Ice Magic Festival, and the Winter Festival of Lights in Niagara Falls.

It is also the perfect time for classic Canadian winter sports like skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing. There are many winter festivals that highlight these like Jasper in January, or the World Ski and Snowboard Festival in Whistler.

The best events in winter; however, happen in Quebec and Ottawa. The Quebec Winter Carnival is from late January and continues into mid-February in Quebec City, Quebec. Here you can enjoy traditional winter activities like skating, as well as special activities like a canoe race, a 400 foot long ice slide, ice sculptures, parades and concerts.

In Ottawa, you’ll fined Winterlude happening around the same time. Here you can skate on the world’s largest skating rink, check out the ice and snow sculptures, go tobogganing, and enjoy the art and musical performances.

Spring

Spring, like Autumn, is short in Canada and often spoiled by rain. The most notable spring festival is the Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa in May. It’s the largest tulip festival in the world. Another beautiful spring flower festival is the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival.

Things to do for animal lovers

Canada is an animal lovers’ paradise. There are many types of wildlife that you can only see here. The best places to see wildlife is in the national parks (see above). The most popular animals people come to Canada to see are whales, bears (especially Polar bears), moose, and bison.

backpacking canada - Roaming bison, Waterton National Park

Roaming bison, Waterton National Park

?: @LaurieSH

Where to go whale watching

You can spot whales on the East, West, and North coasts of Canada. There are thirty-three different species you can spot during your trip to Canada. The best places include Telegraph Cove, in British Columbia where you’ll find a sanctuary for Orcas. You can also head to Tofino, BC, Tadoussac, QC, Cape Breton Highlands, NS, and Churchill, MB.

Where to see bears

You can find black bears and grizzlies in nearly all the national parks mentioned above. If you specifically looking to see polar bears, you’ll have to head up north. The best spot to find polar bears is the polar bear capital of the world, Churchill, Manitoba. Other places to see polar bears include Ungava Bay in Northern Quebec, and anywhere in the arctic circle.

backpacking Canada - Mama black bear and her cubs in Tofino

Mama black bear and her cubs in Tofino, BC

?: @wanderluster

Other wildlife

You can find moose in nearly all the national parks mentioned above. For those looking for bison, head to Wood Buffalo National Park, Prince Albert National Park, and Elk Island National Park. For an even more interesting wildlife experience, head to Narcisse, Manitoba for the world’s largest gathering of garter snakes. These snake dens end up with thousands and thousands of snakes mating in them, and the best time to check them out is in spring.

Skiing in Canada

There are ski hills across the entirety of Canada (Even in the Prairies!), which offer terrain for every skill level, as well as lessons and equipment rentals. Grouse Mountain, Cypress Mountain, and Whistler Blackcomb are easily accessible from Vancouver, British Colombia. Whistler Blackcomb is the largest resort in Canada, and even has hostel options that are right near the lift. Further East into BC is Kelowna, which has hostel accommodation and relatively close access (within a 2.5 hour drive depending on the hill) to five world class resorts. BC is also home to the Powder Highway, which consists of eight resorts that are renowned for their snowfall and mountain community vibe. Moving in to Alberta, there are the options of Marmot-Basin near Jasper, or you can stay in Banff and ski the Big Three- Norquay, Sunshine Village, and Lake Louise. Ontario and Quebec also have their fair share of ski resorts, although the terrain is much different. Blue Mountain and Mount St. Louis are among the largest resorts in Ontario, and  Quebec’s are Mont-Sainte-Anne and Bromont. A simple search for ski resorts near Toronto, Montreal, or Quebec City will show you where you can hit the slopes from your hostel!

Trans-Canada Trail

The trans-Canada trail, also called the great trail, is over 24,000 kilometres long and goes through each province at territory. It’s the world’s longest network of recreational trails. The main trail was completed in 2017 in honour of Canada’s 150th anniversary.

On the trail, you can hike, bike, cross country ski and many other recreational activities. There’s no way you could complete the entire trail, so pick the parts that fit in best with your trip. In includes both a land and water trail. You can plan your trip through an interactive map on their website. On the trail you’ll come across the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America, called the Columbia River Skywalk. The largest stretch of the trail is found in Ontario, with 5,200 kilometres of the trail within the province.

Canadian food

Like everything else in Canada, the popular and traditional dishes vary widely depending on the region you’re in. While there’s great variety, if there’s one dish you try while there, it has to be poutine!

Poutine is the ultimate Canadian dish that originated in Quebec. It’s so popular in Canada that you’ll find some version of it as a side at nearly every restaurant, and even fast food classics like McDonalds and KFC. Traditional poutine consists of French fries, cheese curds (if you’ve only tried ‘poutine’ with shredded cheese, you haven’t tried poutine), and gravy. Beyond the base there are so many different toppings you can try; pulled pork, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, whatever you want really! You can also switch out regular fries for a sweet potato variety to mix it up a bit.  There are few festivals in Canada that are all about poutine like Le Grand PoutineFest in Montreal; Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver all have their own festivals as well.

backpacking Canada - Poutine

Poutine ?

?: Guilhem Vellut

Traditional Canadian food

Canadian food has a lot of influences due to the waves of immigration throughout its history. Food from Canada’s first nation’s peoples is the most traditional of Canadian food and includes items like bannock (a type of bread), salmon jerky, and maple syrup!

With more and more immigration from England, France, Scotland, and later Asia and the Caribbean, “Canadian” food changed greatly, with no single definition. Former prime minister Joe Clark described it well when he said “Canada has a cuisine of cuisines. Not a stew pot, but a smorgasbord.”

Regardless of where it came from or how it came about, some other foods you must try while in Canada include:

  • Beavertails: a dessert of fried dough topped with sweets.
  • Butter tarts: a sweet tart filled with butter, sugar, syrup, and egg with a crunchy top.
  • Nanaimo bars: a never baked dessert bar with coconut, custard, and chocolate.
  • Caesars: the Canadian bloody mary.
  • Ice Wine: a sweet dessert wine.

While those last two aren’t food, they’re drinks that are incredibly popular in Canada. The Caesar is a take on the Bloody Mary, but with clamato juice (don’t worry, it’s not as terrible as it sounds). Ice wine is a sweeter dessert wine made from grapes that have been frozen on the vine, thanks to Canada’s long winters, it’s not surprising that Canada is the world’s largest producer of ice wine.

For more Canadian food, check out 17 Traditional Canadian Foods You Need To Try, or if you have a sweet tooth, read through our list of Amazing Canadian Desserts!

Canadian culture

Before discussing culture in Canada, let’s review some misconceptions about Canada. Like weather and time, culture isn’t the same across Canada either, but one thing is for sure, Canadians aren’t all igloo-living, pet beaver having people constantly apologising and saying “eh”.

Well, the “eh” part may be true. There are also a few more that are quite popular. The love for maple syrup and hockey rings pretty true throughout the nation. And while they don’t live in igloos, Canadian winters can get pretty merciless; good thing there’s Tim Horton’s Coffee to warm ourselves up with.

Now, onto a more serious note about culture in Canada, Canada is usually described as multicultural.

What is Multiculturalism?  While this idea varies from person to person, it is defined as the preservation of different cultures or cultural identities within a unified society, as a state or nation.

The US is often described as a “melting pot” which refers to how a nation assimilates all of its citizens into a particular culture. Canada; however, is more of a mosaic. In Canada, the diversity of immigrants is celebrated. This was best expressed by former Prime Minister (and father to current Prime Minister), Pierre Elliott Trudeau, when he said:

“There is no such thing as a model or ideal Canadian. What could be more absurd than the concept of an ‘all Canadian’ boy or girl? A society which emphasises uniformity is one which creates intolerance and hate.”

backpacking canada -Rideau Canal, Ottawa

Rideau Canal, Ottawa

?: @Robbie1

Life in Canada

Life is different for those on the coasts than in the Prairies, or for those from than north than in the south, but overall, life in Canada is pretty pleasant. Overall, people get along; there’s minimal crime to worry about, and you get used to the winters (really, you do). For new comers, beyond the winters, one thing to get used to is all the driving. Most Canadians drive and are no strangers to spending a long time in a car. Driving a few hours for a trip to the city just to spend a few hours then and drive back isn’t uncommon.

Overall Canadians have a good quality of life and the country always appears on ‘best country to live in lists’ due to economic and political stability, education, gender equality, and social services like public healthcare.

Some quick facts about Canada:

  • Canada’s official languages are English and French. Most of the country speaks English but you’ll also find a large French speaking community in central and eastern Canada.
  • Everything is far, wear comfortable clothes for long car/train/bus/whatever rides.
  • Pay attention to the weather forecast, sure it was 20°C yesterday but that doesn’t mean it won’t snow tomorrow (you think I’m kidding).
  • Yes, the one dollar coin is called the loonie, and the two dollar coin is called the twoonie… seriously.
  • Despite its popularity, cannabis still isn’t technically legal yet, wait until after October 2018.

Canada travel advice & tips

What time is it in Canada?

When travelling really long distances, you’ll need to keep an eye on your watch. Canada covers six different time zones so keep this in mind when taking long distance transport.

Stay connected

Cities in Canada are pretty well connected and offer fast mobile speeds. If you’re spending a lot of time in the country, consider getting a local sim card to save costs. The biggest networks are Bell, Telus, and Rogers. There are smaller companies too, but they’re often affiliated with one of these networks anyways, and you’ll get the best coverage with one of those three. If you plan to travel very far north or go camping into parks and forests its unlikely you’ll get phone coverage.

Like most of the world, Canada uses a GSM network (CDMA was phased out in Canada in 2016) but if you’re coming from the US and are with a provider like Sprint or Verizon and are still on a CDMA network, your phone might not work. Ensure your phone is unlocked in order to get a local SIM, otherwise the SIM won’t work.

backpacking Canada - Northern lights over a grain elevator - Saskatchewan

Northern lights over a grain elevator, Saskatchewan

?: @boblolaw

Holidays in Canada

On statutory or “stat” holidays in Canada, most things are closed. Around these times are also busy travel times that makes prices go up and traffic terrible for travelling. Avoid long travels at these times:

  • New Years Day: January 1st (traffic is bad for about a week around this time as many people are off work and school)
  • Family Day: February (date depends on province; travelling is fine, businesses may be closed)
  • Easter
  • Victoria Day: Monday preceding May 25th (commonly called “May 2-4” weekend)
  • Canada Day: July 1st
  • Labour Day: First Monday of September
  • Thanksgiving: Second Monday of October
  • Christmas: December 25th (busy travel for a few days before and after Christmas)

 

Now you know everything you need to know to have a successful trip through Canada and make the most of your time in the Great White North! Please leave a comment below when you use the guide or if you have something to add, we love to hear about your experiences!  ??

 

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