Travel to Canada: the essential guide to visit Canadaby | August 14, 2023
Canada is the second largest country in the world and a popular travel destination internationally. To travel to Canada will be one of the best experiences of your life. Discover all the general information you need before a trip to Canada.
Flag of Canada
In the early days, Canada’s flag was actually that of the United Kingdom (the Union Jack). The French flag was also flown. However, several attempts were made starting in the 1960s to create a new flag.
The Dean of Arts at the Royal Military College in Ontario, George Stanley, was the one to present the design we associate today with Canada’s flag: a red maple leaf on a white background surrounded by two red vertical stripes.
It was approved in 1964 and made official in 1965 with a proclamation from Queen Elizabeth II.
The maple leaf has been a symbol of national identity for Canada since the 1700s. It represents pride, loyalty and courage: it was carved into the headstones of fallen soldiers of the two World Wars. Red and white were France’s and England’s colors, and became the national colors of Canada in 1921.
Geography of Canada
Canada’s area is 9.984.670 km². Canada’s population is 39.566.248. The capital of Canada is Ottawa, Ontario, and it’s located near Montreal. As you can see in Canada’s map, the country also includes thousands of islands. The most well-known would be Newfoundland to the east.
Canada shares borders with:
- The Arctic Ocean to the north
- Greenland to the northeast
- The Atlantic Ocean to the east
- The United States to the south
- Alaska and the Pacific Ocean to the west
Canada’s map is divided into five regions:
- The Atlantic region: includes the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
- Central Canada: includes the provinces of Quebec and Ontario.
- The Prairie provinces: they are the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
- The West Coast: it includes British Columbia.
- The North: the name for the provinces of Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon Territory.
Canada’s landscapes are extremely diverse. If you explore the country, you will be able to find mountains, arctic tundra (in the North), rivers, lakes, prairie grasslands and all kinds of forests.
The Great Lakes can be found on the border with the US. They are the lakes Superior, Michigan (only in the US), Huron, St. Clair, Erie and Ontario. They are the largest group of freshwater lakes in the world by area and the second largest by volume.
Time zones of Canada
Canada’s time zones are 6 and most observe Daylight Savings Time (DST).
The areas that don’t have Daylight Savings Time are Yukon, most of Saskatchewan, parts of Quebec, Southampton Island and parts of British Columbia.
Here’s a complete list of Canada’s time zones:
- PT (Pacific Time): UTC-8 / UTC-7 (DST)
- MT (Mountain Time): UTC-7 / UTC-6 (DST)
- CT (Central Time): UTC-6 / UTC-5 (DST)
- ET (Eastern Time): UTC-5 / UTC-4 (DST)
- AT (Atlantic Time): UTC-4 / UTC-3 (DST)
To the East of Canada you can find Newfoundland and Labrador. This province has its own particular time zone:
- NST (Newfoundland Standard Time): UTC-3:30 / UTC-2:30 (DST)
History and Heritage of Canada
European settlers, both English and French, came to Canada in the 16th century, but they weren’t the first inhabitants: there were already several communities of First Nations people and Inuits living in what is now Canada’s territory. In fact, they’re responsible for the name “Canada”, as it derived from a Native word for village, kanata.
Even though these European settlements were growing (especially the English), it wasn’t without conflict: both between the English and the French, and between the settlers and the First Nations.
First Nations people were moved from their lands and homes to make way for the settlers. Because of the diseases brought by the foreigners and the armed conflicts, their numbers steadily declined until the 1950s, when they began to rise again.
By the 1700s, England and France were at war over Canada. The English ultimately won and ended France’s influence in North America. The French settlement in Québec became the Province of Québec. The English approved the Québec Act in 1774, which awarded the French (who were Catholic) religious freedom and the possibility of being in public office.
Québec was split into two colonies in 1791: Upper Canada (English) and Lower Canada (French).
After years of political unrest, especially from the French in Québec, the Act of Union was passed in 1841: this gave birth to the United Province of Canada, which would assimilate all Canadian provinces into one.
In 1867 the Dominion of Canada was formed. This new form of Canadian territory was split in two again: the province of Ontario (for the English) and the province of Québec (for the French). New Brunswick and Nova Scotia joined and all four of them became the first of Canada’s official provinces. After them joined Manitoba, British Columbia and Prince Edward Island.
In 1868, the Hudson’s Bay Company (the once biggest fur-trading company in the country) ceded its territories in North-West Canada and made way for the eighth and ninth provinces: Alberta and Saskatchewan.
World War I (1914-1918) had a great impact in Canadian politics. Being forced to fight in support of Britain reminded Canadians that, although growing more powerful and larger by the day, they were still subjects of British rule. French-Canadians were especially against the war and fought constantly against a national draft.
After the war ended, an Imperial Conference took place in London in 1926 which awarded all colonies equal status in relation to England. In 1931 the Statute of Westminster was passed, which awarded Canada the right to make its own laws instead of them being approved in England.
The last British law for Canada was the Constitution Act of 1982. This piece of legislation established that Canada was officially a bilingual country (aiming to finally put an end to French-Canadian unrest and to protect their culture and language). However, Québec didn’t sign it, and still hasn’t! Despite their rejection of English rule and a cultural mesh with English-Canadians, their two referendums to gain independence from Canada failed, with the second and last one being in 1995.
Culture and Traditions of Canada
If you want to visit Canada and blend like a local you must know a few things about Canada's culture. Canada’s culture mixes American, British and French influences. But indigenous populations maintain their own cultures, especially in the north.
To avoid being engulfed in American culture, the Canadian government has been pushing forward Canadian culture since the 1950s. There are several programs of financial assistance and the Canada Council for the Arts was founded in 1957.
In a broader sense, Canada’s culture is regarded as one of peace, pluralism and tolerance, they are famed for being well-mannered and welcoming of immigrants.
In Canada language reflects the cultural diversity existing: the official languages are both English and French.
Most of Canada’s people speak English (half of Canada’s population). French is only the official language in Quebec. The two most common indigenous languages are Cree and Inuktitut (the Inuit’s language).
Canada has a large number of immigrants who speak their own languages, mostly Italian, German and Chinese. They have also managed to maintain their original cultures, which can be seen, for example, in the vast amount of international restaurants available in urban centers.
Canada’s religion is mostly Roman Catholic and Protestant.
Gastronomy of Canada
You won’t find a unified gastronomy during your Canada trip: there are many different influences, and also regional differences in cuisine. But Canada’s people love food so much that they dedicated an entire day to it: National Poutine Day, celebrated every March 5th.
Of course, if we explore the gastronomy of Canada, a special mention has to be made to maple syrup (they call it “liquid gold”). Most of Canada’s maple syrup is extracted in Quebec: the city is responsible for 96% of Canada’s export and for two thirds of all the maple syrup available in the world.
Here are some regional treats you will be able to try if you travel to Canada, although most will be available in every city you visit:
- Toutons (Newfoundland)
- Poutine (Quebec)
- Smoked meat (Montreal)
- Lobster rolls (Atlantic)
- Steamies or steamed hot dogs (Montreal)
- Split pea soup (Montreal)
- Tourtière (Quebec)
- Peameal bacon or Canadian bacon (Ontario)
- Bannock (Indigenous)
- Canadian baked beans (Indigenous)
- Fiddleheads (Indigenous)
- Nova Scotia donair (Nova Scotia)
- Sucre à la crème (Quebec)
- Saskatoon berry pie (Canadian prairies)
- Beavertail (Ontario)
If you love Canadian food, you’re in luck: you can get tons of recipes from the official government website!
Weather in Canada
To travel to Canada, you must know what is the weather like there. In Canada weather varies greatly according to each region. It’s no surprise considering Canada’s area is enormous.
- The Atlantic region: it has cool winters and cool, humid summers. The Atlantic Ocean influences the weather.
- Central Canada: it has cold winters and warm, humid summers.
- The Prairie provinces: it’s a dry region. The winters are cold and the summers are hot.
- The West Coast: it has a temperate climate all year long due to the Pacific Ocean. There’s little snowfall in the winter.
- The North: it has long, cold winters and short, cool summers. During the summer, daylight can last up to 24 hours. They call it the “Land of the Midnight Sun” because during the winter, the sun sets for three months and the region is covered in darkness. The region is huge but very sparsely populated because of this.
The best time in Canada for traveling will depend on the activities you like the most. Exploring a National Park is not the same as traveling for snow sports, which are better done in the winter.
Currency of Canada
Canada currency is the Canadian dollar (C$). The exchange rate is:
- 1 C$ = 0,75 USD
- 1 C$ = 0,70 euro
You will find banknotes of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 1.000 C$. The coins are of 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 cents; and also 1 and 2 dollars. Both have inscriptions in French and English to reflect the duality of Canada’s language.
Things to do in Canada
Canada’s territory is vast and varied and, as such, it has many types of activities awaiting its visitors. Discover a few things to do in Canada:
The city of Vancouver is located in British Columbia. It has the best of both worlds: it’s an incredibly modern city, but with access to amazing natural views and attractions.
From March to October, if you’re in Vancouver, you could take part in a whale-watching expedition, where you might also see dolphins in action.
Visit Stanley Park to enjoy a quiet afternoon in the city, explore Grouse Mountain or visit Science World for an educational experience.
Brush up on your French! Québec is both a city and Canada’s largest province. Since it occupies such a huge part of Canada’s territory, it should be no surprise that there’s many different things to do here.
In terms of wildlife, Québec is the best spot to join a whale and/or bear-watching expedition. But you can also do watersports and visit Montmorency falls to enjoy being out in nature.
If you’re in the city, you can’t miss the Château Frontenac while you explore Old Québec.
For a funky and different attraction, visit the Ice Hotel which, as the name implies, is a hotel made entirely out of ice.
Even though Canada’s capital is Ottawa, Toronto might be the most well-known city in the country and it’s certainly the largest.
In this multicultural and modern city you can visit places such as the CN Tower (an iconic landmark), the historical center of St. Lawrence and the Distillery Historic District.
It’s also worth mentioning that Toronto is the best spot to start a trip to the next tourist attraction of Canada: Niagara Falls. They are almost in front of each other, separated by Lake Ontario.
Niagara Falls is shared between the US and Canada, and it’s also a city in Ontario. These high and powerful waterfalls attract millions of viewers from all over the world looking for exciting experiences.
The Canadian falls are called Horseshoe Falls and it’s the largest: its height is about 57m. The US has two: Bridal Veil Falls and American Falls. The best time to visit Niagara Falls is during the summer, but it’s also the height of the tourism season so beware: it’s going to be crowded.
Banff National Park
You can enjoy views of the Rocky Mountains, hike, mountain bike, do water sports and so much more. A treat for outdoorsy people!
Gros Morne National Park
Visiting Gros Morne National Park will make you feel like part of a fantasy world.
Mountains, green forests, fjords and more beautiful landscapes await your arrival.
Safety in Canada
Is Canada safe? It is extremely safe to travel to Canada. It has a minimum crime rate, a strong police presence and no particularly unsafe areas (except in some major cities).
The main thing to watch out for is the weather. The winters are quite extreme and icy roads can cause issues and accidents.
eTA Canada: Canada tourist visa
An eTA is only available to travel for tourism and for stays of less than 6 months. If you don’t meet one or both of these requirements, then you will be obligated to apply for a Canada visa. To learn more about the application process, read our article on how to get a visa for Canada. Remember to check Canada entry requirements with anticipation: they may change over time.