One thing I frequently get asked when I’m travelling outside of Canada is, “Is Canada a good tourist destination?”
Travel + Leisure seems to think so since it named Canada its 2017 Destination of the Year. I actually started this post before that came out and that’s what’s prompted me to actually finish the post.
So is Canada a good tourist destination worthy of such an accolade?
Unlike the vast majority of Canadians, I’ve travelled just about the entire country. I’ve been to nine of the ten provinces, two of the three territories, visited most of the major cities, been to almost every major “tourist trap,” and have experienced just about every ecosystem Canada has to offer, from desert to tundra, rainforest to plains, mountains to ocean coast, and more. So I can speak for all of it, not just the part where I’ve lived my whole life and so I believe I’m particularly qualified to answer this question of whether Canada is a good tourist destination.
My answer, with a some reservations tailored to the individual, is YES, Canada is an absolutely amazing tourist destination! And let me add that I feel so privileged to have had a chance to knock off about 99% of my Canada bucket list!
Before I get into the good stuff, let me get the negatives out of the way.
First, Canada is an expensive country. An asker from, say, Western Europe, wouldn’t get nearly the same sticker shock as someone from, say, the Balkans or Mexico. But there are some things in Canada that are pretty much universally prohibitively expensive:
- Groceries. While restaurant prices are quite on par with countries in Western Europe that I’ve visited (Spain, the Netherlands, the UK), groceries themselves are not. Our dairy products and produce are much costlier than I’ve seen in other countries. Someone from Japan might find them cheap, but Canada has thus far been the most expensive place I’ve ever had to buy groceries. So self-catering isn’t a guaranteed way to save when visiting Canada, depending on your style of travel. I find that in some more remote locations, you can actually eat much better quality food at a more reasonable price at a restaurant.
- Telecom prices in Canada are stupid. You are likely better off to get a Canada add-on to your existing cell phone plan than to buy a pay-as-you go SIM there. For Mexicans, I tell them to look into TelCel’s “sin fronteras” plan before going to Canada.
- Travel within Canada is very expensive. I had one lady in Spain say that she wants to visit Montreal and Vancouver. So she thought to fly to Montreal and then, “since [she] would already be in Canada, [she] could just get a cheap flight to Vancouver and fly home from there.” She was shocked to discover that the cost of flying from Montreal to Vancouver was more than the price of flying from Spain to Montreal! I really think that the best way to visit Canada, if you can take the time, is to come for many months and road trip it, preferably in an RV, and that’s not just because I’m biased towards RV travel. It’s what folks who have done it both ways have told me.
Now, what to see in Canada? Well, what do you like? Canada has something for everyone and I cannot off the top of my head think of a tourist trap that isn’t still worth visiting. For the urban-minded, we have world-class cities filled with museums and other cultural events, as well as shopping if that’s your thing. For the outdoorsy type, there is so much choice, from taking a canoeing trip on a lake to kayaking on the Arctic ocean, surfing in the middle of winter on the Vancouver Island, horseback riding on the prairies, and choosing from a myriad of hikes. If you like history, how about visiting Viking ruins, citadels, and ancient totem poles? Quebec offers non-French speakers a chance to travel somewhere that should feel more than a little exotic, plus old Montreal and Quebec City offer a taste of Europe. Canada has a lot to offer foodies as well. Depending on the region you are in, you will find foods from all over the world as well as some interesting local delicacies (Eskimo ice cream or prairie oysters, anyone?).
Really, Canada has so much to offer as a travel destination that it makes me dizzy!
For those on a tight budget and schedule, I highly recommend visiting the National Capital Region. Some will call me biased because Ottawa is my favourite city in the world. But really, coming to this area will give you access to some of Canada’s best museums, easy access to one of our magnificent national parks, and a chance to experience francophonie when you cross the Ottawa River into Gatineau. With extra time, you can also easily get to Kingston, Toronto, and Montreal. But of course, going there means missing out on our quirky Maritimes, all that Newfoundland and Labrador have to offer, our under-appreciated Prairies, and the incredible diversity of British Columbia’s landscapes, never mind the diversity of our northern territories where you can step back in time in an authentic gold rush town or experience life as it has happened for thousands of years in a small native fishing village.
Canada’s climate reputation is generally unwarranted. Regardless of where you go, you can pretty much be guaranteed decent weather three to four months of the year in the summer. In fact, I’ve had nicer summers in Yukon than much further south. For winter, don’t be fooled. 5C in Vancouver in January might sound nice, but it will be very rainy and overcast. You might actually be more comfortable in Regina at -30C, where it will be dry and sunny. The biggest mistake I see tourists make when they come to Canada is to make assumptions about the weather and then being completely inappropriate dressed for it (and it’s usually over dressed!). Do research about the climate of the specific area where you are going at the time of your adventure and then build your wardrobe around that information and the activities you plan to do.
I hope that some of my readers who have never been to Canada will eventually do so. Thank you, Travel + Leisure, for making my home country your 2017 Destination of the Year!