I'm sure we've all heard about the Canadian stereotypes, eh?! They have winter all year round. They live in igloos and ride their polar bears to work. They eat nothing but poutine (French fries with cheese and gravy) and Maple syrup. And the most common one: absolutely EVERYONE loves hockey.
This is just a small collection of the things that people told me before I first went to explore the Great White North. The main reason for my visit was to see the stunning landscape, but I also wanted to visit some of the well-known cities.
Canada is a country full of contrasts. It is the second-largest country in the world with an extremely varied topography. More than 30% of the country is covered by forest, it has the longest coastline in the world, and more lakes than all the other countries combined. On the other hand, it has huge cities like Toronto and Vancouver that are full of life and culture.
I spent several months in this beautiful country and had the chance to travel from coast to coast. Some of the stereotypes turned out to be very true (have you ever had maple syrup on pizza? It’s actually quite tasty…) and looking back I can say my time in Canada is just as wonderful as I imagined.
Here are some of my highlights (from East to West):
1. Quebec City, Quebec
The fortified “Old Town” of Quebec City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the oldest and most picturesque spots in Canada, with narrow cobblestone streets and European influenced architecture. The famous Château Frontenac, the world's most photographed hotel, is a great spot for afternoon tea and offers an amazing view over the city.
2. Montreal, Quebec
Montreal has its own charm, or as the Quebecers say: “Joie de vivre”. The second biggest city in Canada is often rumoured to be half European, because of its European inspired architecture, food and fashion. After Paris, it is the largest primarily French-speaking city in the world and when you walk down the streets of “Old Montreal” you can easily imagine being in France. The city is home to some of the best restaurants in Canada and even other Canadians admit that the best “Poutine” can be found in this part of the country (I completely agree on this one!).
The ‘Basilique Notre Dame” is only one of many cultural attractions, but it is my personal favourite, and definitely one of the most beautiful churches I have ever visited.
3. Toronto, Ontario
Toronto is one of the two Canadian cities that everyone seems to know (the other one being Vancouver), and also the leading tourist destination in Canada. It can easily compete with the big US cities when it comes to cultural amenities, arts and entertainment, with many events and festivals taking place in the city throughout the year. It is a diverse and international city with great cultures, people and food. Some highlights are the St. Lawrence Market, the Distillery Historic District, and Toronto Island, from which you can take in the fantastic view of the Toronto skyline.
I really enjoyed my visit to the CN tower, which used to be the tallest freestanding structure in the world. The top floor restaurant turns 360 degrees in just over an hour, and offers an amazing view over the different neighbourhoods, the green spaces and the Harbour front. Plus, the food is delicious!
Niagara Falls, one of the seven wonders, is only one and a half hours from Toronto. Besides the majestic waterfalls, there is also a little town, which has a mini version of the Las Vegas Strip.
Visit Toronto, Montreal and Quebec as part of our "Canada's Maple Leaf Trail" holiday.
4. Rocky Mountains
The breath-taking scenery of the Canadian Rocky Mountains attracts millions of visitors each year. Besides the snow-capped mountains, evergreen forests, turquoise lakes and waterfalls, you can also find many beautiful towns and villages with local restaurants and little shops. Several of the 42 National Parks of Canada are located in the Rockies, such as the famous Banff National Park and the Jasper National Park. There is something new and different waiting around every corner and, if you are lucky, you can even catch a glimpse of moose and bears. I honestly think I could spend months in the Rocky Mountains and never get tired of its beautiful landscape.
5. Vancouver, British Columbia
Vancouver is not only the most densely populated city in Canada, but also one of the most popular. Besides the amenities of a modern, cosmopolitan city (such as international restaurants, theatres and museums), its prime location between the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains offers endless possibilities for a wide range of outdoor activities. Within an hour, you can ski down a mountain and be back in Vancouver to stroll around Canada Place, the homeport for many cruises to places like Alaska.
Stanley Park is surrounded by water and the path along the seawall is always busy with walkers, bikers and roller skaters. The park hosts many festivals and events in the summer time and is also home to First Nations Totem Poles. The collection of nine traditionally carved poles began in the 1920s, with the most recent addition in 2009.
My favourite part of the city is the Gastown district, which is often referred to as the heart of old Vancouver. There are many art galleries, boutiques and restaurants in that area and it's definitely worth a visit.
Visit Vancouver and the Rocky Mountains on our "Western Canada & The Rockies" holiday
6. Victoria, British Columbia
Known as “The Garden City”, Victoria is the capital of the province of British Columbia and is located in the south of Vancouver Island. When I arrived, I instantly understood why Victoria is called the most British city in North America. You can see the English influence in the architecture, gardens and parks; the Parliament building and the famous Fairmont hotel are only two impressive buildings that reflect this statement. The city is rather small and it is easy to get around by foot. Strolling along the walkway around the harbour front was one of my favourite activities. Although the harbour front is very touristic, for me it is the most beautiful part of the city and you can find street performers, food vendors and souvenir shops all along the way. The harbour is also the starting point for many whale watching tours which depart year-round.
Visit Victoria on our "Alaskan Cruise including Vancouver & Victoria"