Back when I was studying at university, long before my summer interrailing Europe, I spent six months living in Canada with a bright green coat and exploring, what is without a doubt, one of the greatest countries on Earth. How’s that for an opening sentence?
Based near Vancouver on Victoria Island, I also made it to Alberta, Whistler and Lake Louise to name just a few incredible locations. Recently, I caught up with American Holidays who run excursions to Canada and active trips to get first timers seeing as much as they can – and there’s a lot to see. In light of that, here’s a post that made me very nostalgic to write, both for being in Canada and being 20 again!
When you visit any country for the first time, you want to try and explore everything on offer. This is simply not possible in a single trip to Canada as its one of the biggest countries in the world! So, as you’ll never be short of options, here are five priorities for anyone exploring for the first time.
Visit Niagara Falls
If you go to Canada, you need to see the famous Niagara Falls. The sight of the huge falls is breath-taking and they attract millions of tourists from all over the world. Of course the falls look great during day, but make a special trip at night to see them lit up in rainbow colours.
Once you’ve got your share of this natural beauty, stick around as Niagra has some pretty strange things on offer. The Nightmares Fear Factory used to be a coffin factory, but has been opened to visitors… you make your way through a maze and whilst it’s kept under wraps so you’re never really sure what’ll happen, around 130,000 people have failed to complete it!
Then if you’re not scared enough, see Niagara Falls from the vantage point of a helicopter ride. It’s quite expensive, so if you want to save your money, head to the Niagara Skywheel instead and get some great photos.
Explore Stanley Park, Vancouver
Thousands of miles away from Niagara, on the other side of Canada lies Stanley Park in Vancouver. This park attracts around eight million tourists every year, and walking around the gardens smelling the flowers and getting accosted by the wildlife is amazing. While you can’t really walk the length of the park you can rent a bike, or if you look young enough, take the miniature train.
As you enjoy the park you’re never far from the city centre but feel like you could be in the middle of nowhere. The tall fir trees are really impressive and it just feels Canadian – huge and beautiful. You can spend a whole day here and to be honest, nothings stopping you. In Autumn, the colours of the trees are also incredibly photogenic.
Treat yourself to Tim Hortons
Ask any Canadian about a place to eat and they will mention Tim Hortons. I wasn’t in Canada more than a day before I heard of it and asked why it wasn’t as big in America. It’s a kind of institution in Canada, think of it as their Starbucks, and somewhere you go for a weekend breakfast. There are over 3,500 chains spread all over the country, so there’s no need to worry, you’ll find one wherever you go and it would make a great stop on a road trip.
Perhaps they’re so popular because of the weather and the fact doughnuts and hot coffee are the perfect antidote to a chill. Just remember to ask for milk in your coffee if you’re not used to it black, and try out some of the syrups.
Experience dog sledding
Who would go to Canada and not try and see the mountains and beautiful snow covered landscapes, from Whistler to Lake Louise? If you head here, one of the ultimate activities is dog sledding, as well as snow walking on what you’d be forgiven for thinking were tennis racquets.
In the early days, dog sledding was one of the most popular forms of transport which helped the locals to reach the more obscure parts of the country. Nowadays, it serves as a memorable and unique way to get around and have fun whilst you enjoy the fast pace and the views. You can either just sit back and enjoy the ride, or you can also take charge of the dogs in the presence of a guide. I wish Instagram had been around for my trip in 2009.
Admire the view
For first time visitors to Canada, camping is an absolute must. The country is home to amazing landscapes and has plenty of great spots for camping. If you want to explore Canada properly, then it is necessary to get out of the cities and go off the beaten track, literally.
You can’t really go wrong but some of the best camping spots are Silent Lark, Ontario or the Lakes National Park in Alberta (also home to Lake Louise). Make sure you wrap up warm; even during the summer months it gets cold at night. You should try and see if you can get a Canadian to join you to make some authentic campfire treats like s’mores. Yum.
Tofino, honourable mention
Now, just a quick honourable mention for any Twilight fans, if you find yourself on Vancouver Island, head up north to Tofino; it’s used in the surfing scene for the first film and nothing does it justice like actually being stood there on the beach, seeing those great waves. This now probably goes without saying, but it looks like a film set and just makes you go WOW.
If you’ve got any tips to add or any questions, leave a comment below. On the other hand, if you’ve just got back from a long trip out there and can’t seem to get used to the ‘non travelling’ life, read my tips here.
I can’t believe it’s been seven years since I visited so I’m hoping it won’t take me another seven to experience it all again.