Canada is making progress when it comes to easing the everyday challenges facing people with disabilities, especially the mobility-impaired.
- Many public buildings, including museums, tourist offices, train stations, shopping malls and cinemas, have access ramps and/or lifts. Most public restrooms feature extra-wide stalls equipped with hand rails. Many pedestrian crossings have sloping curbs.
- Newer and recently remodeled hotels, especially chain hotels, have rooms with extra-wide doors and spacious bathrooms.
- Interpretive centers at national and provincial parks are usually accessible, and many parks have trails that can be navigated in wheelchairs.
- Car rental agencies offer hand-controlled vehicles and vans with wheelchair lifts at no additional charge, but you must reserve them well in advance.
- Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
- For accessible air, bus, rail and ferry transportation, check Access to Travel (www.accesstotravel.gc.ca), the federal government's website. In general, most transportation agencies can accommodate people with disabilities if you make your needs known when booking.
Other organizations specializing in the needs of travelers with disabilities:
Mobility International (www.miusa.org) Advises travelers with disabilities on mobility issues and runs an educational exchange program.
Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (www.sath.org) Travelers with disabilities share tips and blogs.
Haggling in shops, markets or restaurants is not an accepted practice. At hotels and for services such as tours and activities, you can ask proprietors if they can cut you a better deal, but generally set prices won’t be altered.
Dangers & Annoyances
Canada is one of the safest countries in the world. Pickpocketing and muggings are rare, especially if you take commonsense precautions. Panhandling is common, but usually not dangerous or aggressive.
- Stay in your car at all times when photographing wildlife.
- Drink spiking is rare but solo travelers should be cautious.
- With the exception of cannabis, recreational drug use in Canada is illegal, including magic mushrooms, and police can stop you any time you're behind the wheel.
- Forest fires, though rare, are a possible threat and should be treated seriously, as they can shift and turn quickly into unexpected areas.
Discounts are commonly offered for seniors, children, families and people with disabilities, though no special cards are issued (you get the savings on-site when you pay). AAA and other automobile association members can also receive various travel-related discounts.
- International Student Identity Card (www.isic.org) Provides students with discounts on travel insurance and admission to museums and other sights. There are also cards for those who are under 26 but not students, and for full-time teachers.
- Parks Canada Discovery Pass (adult/family $68/137; www.pc.gc.ca) Provides access to more than 100 national parks and historic sites for a year. Can pay for itself in as few as seven visits; also provides quicker entry into sites. Note that there's no charge for kids under 18, and a 'family' can include up to seven people in a vehicle, even if they're unrelated.
Many cities have discount cards for local attractions, such as:
- Montréal Museum Pass (www.museesmontreal.org; $75)
- Ottawa Museums Passport (www.museumspassport.ca; $35)
- Toronto CityPASS (www.citypass.com/toronto; adult/child $73/50)
- Vanier Park ExplorePass (Vancouver; www.spacecentre.ca/explore-pass; adult/child $42.50/36.50)
Embassies & Consulates
All countries have their embassies in Ottawa, including those listed here, and maintain consulates in such cities as Montréal, Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto. Contact the relevant embassy to find out which consulate is closest to you.
Emergency & Important Numbers
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Entry & Exit Formalities
Visitors to Canada must hold a valid passport with at least six months remaining before its expiration. Visitors from visa-exempt countries (with the exception of the US) are required to purchase an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA; $7), similar to the USA's ESTA visa waiver, before departing their home country. Visitors from non-visa-waiver countries must apply for the appropriate visa prior to arriving in Canada.
Note that questioning may be more intense at land border crossings and your car may be searched.
For updates (particularly regarding land-border crossing rules), check the websites for the US State Department (http://travel.state.gov) and Citizenship & Immigration Canada (www.cic.gc.ca).
The Canada Border Services Agency (www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca) website has the customs lowdown. A few regulations to note:
Alcohol You can bring in 1.5L of wine, 1.14L of liquor or 24 355mL beers duty-free.
Gifts You can bring in gifts totaling up to $60.
Money You can bring in/take out up to $10,000; larger amounts must be reported to customs.
Personal effects Camping gear, sports equipment, cameras, drones and laptop computers can be brought in without much trouble. Declaring these to customs as you cross the border might save you some hassle when you leave, especially if you'll be crossing the US–Canadian border multiple times.
Pets You must carry a signed and dated certificate from a veterinarian to prove your dog or cat has had a rabies shot in the past 36 months.
Prescription drugs You can bring in/take out a 90-day supply for personal use (though if you're taking it to the USA, know it's technically illegal, but usually overlooked for individuals).
Tobacco You can bring in 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars, 200g of tobacco and 200 tobacco sticks duty-free.
Cannabis Though legal for personal use in Canada, you cannot transport the drug across borders, either into or out of Canada.
Most international visitors require a passport to enter Canada. US citizens at land and sea borders have other options, such as an enhanced driver's license, permanent resident card or NEXUS card. See Canada Border Services Agency (www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca) for approved identification documents.
Visitors may require a visa to enter Canada. Those exempt require an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA; $7), with the exception of Americans. See www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/eta-start.asp.
Currently, visas are not required for citizens of 46 countries – including most EU members, Australia and New Zealand – for visits of up to six months.
To find out if you need an eTA or are required to apply for a formal visa, go to www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/visas.asp.
Visitor visas – aka Temporary Resident Visas (TRVs) – can now be applied for online at: www.cic.gc.ca/english/information/applications/visa.asp. Single-entry TRVs ($100) are usually valid for a maximum stay of six months from the date of your arrival in Canada. In most cases your biometric data (such as fingerprints) will be taken. Note that you don’t need a Canadian multiple-entry TRV for repeated entries into Canada from the USA, unless you have visited a third country.
A separate visa is required for all nationalities if you plan to study or work in Canada.
Visa extensions ($100) need to be filed with the CIC Visitor Case Processing Centre in Alberta at least one month before your current visa expires.
Visiting the USA
Admission requirements are subject to rapid change. The US State Department (http://travel.state.gov) has the latest information; you can also check with a US consulate in your home country.
Under the US visa-waiver program, visas are not required for citizens of 38 countries – including most EU members, Australia and New Zealand – for visits of up to 90 days (no extensions allowed), as long as you can present a machine-readable passport and are approved under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (www.cbp.gov/esta). Note that you must register at least 72 hours before arrival with an e-passport, and there's a $14 fee for processing and authorization.
Canadians do not need visas to enter the USA, though they do need a passport or document approved by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (http://www.cbp.gov/travel/us-citizens/western-hemisphere-travel-initiative). Citizens of all other countries need to apply for a US visa in their home country before arriving in Canada.
All foreign visitors (except Canadians) must pay a US$6 processing fee when entering at land borders.
Canadians are a fairly relaxed crowd and don’t offend easily; however, some rules of etiquette do apply.
- Politeness Canadians value their pleases and thank-yous. Bumping into someone without apologizing or not thanking someone for holding the door will earned shocked looks.
- Patriotism Commenting that Canadians and Americans aren’t much different is considered highly offensive.
- Language In French-speaking areas, always attempt to speak French before English (regardless of how poor your French is).
- Lining up While Canadians usually tut rather than speak out, jumping ahead in line can cause a full-blown argument.
- Exiting buildings In winter, when someone is about to enter the place you're exiting, let them in first; they're much colder than you are.
- Removing dirty footwear In winter remove your shoes or boots and place them in the tray (plateau) provided. Winter footwear is covered in grit, mud and salt, which can soil and harm carpets and wooden floors.
Make sure you have adequate travel insurance, whatever the length of your trip. At a minimum, you need coverage for medical emergencies and treatment, including hospital stays and an emergency flight home. Medical treatment for non-Canadians is very expensive.
Also consider insurance for luggage theft or loss. If you already have a homeowners or renters policy, check what it will cover and get only supplemental insurance to protect the rest. If you have prepaid a large portion of your vacation, trip cancellation insurance is worthwhile.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online at anytime – even if you're already on the road. Also check the following providers:
Travel Guard (www.travelguard.com)
Checking insurance quotes…
- It's easy to find internet access. Libraries and community agencies in practically every town provide free wi-fi and computers for public use. The only downsides are that usage time is limited (usually 30 minutes), and some facilities have erratic hours.
- Internet cafes are scarce, limited to the main tourist areas in only certain towns; access generally starts around $2 per hour.
- Wi-fi is widely available. Most lodgings have it (in-room, with good speed), as do many restaurants, bars and Tim Hortons coffee shops.
If you are arrested or charged with an offense, you have the right to keep your mouth shut and to hire any lawyer you wish (contact your embassy for a referral, if necessary). If you cannot afford one, ask to be represented by public counsel. There is a presumption of innocence.
Drugs & Alcohol
- The blood-alcohol limit is 0.08% federally, but can be 0.06% or lower provincially, and driving cars, motorcycles, boats and snowmobiles while drunk or high is a criminal offense. If you are caught, you may face stiff fines, license suspension and possibly prison.
- Consuming alcohol anywhere other than at a residence or licensed premises is also a no-no, which puts parks, beaches and the rest of the great outdoors off-limits.
- Avoid illegal drugs, as penalties may entail heavy fines, possible jail time and a criminal record. While cannabis for personal and medical use is legal, driving while high is certainly not, and police can stop you and request a breathalyzer even if you're behind the wheel of a parked vehicle.
- Abortion is legal.
- Travelers should note that they can be prosecuted under the law of their home country regarding age of consent, even when abroad.
Canada is tolerant when it comes to gays and lesbians, though this outlook is more common in the big cities than in rural areas. Same-sex marriage is legal throughout the country (Canada is one of 29 nations worldwide that permit this, up from 21 a few years ago).
Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver are by far Canada's gayest cities, each with a humming nightlife scene, publications and lots of associations and support groups. All have sizeable Pride celebrations, too, which attract big crowds.
Attitudes remain more conservative in the northern regions. Throughout Nunavut, and to a lesser extent in the indigenous communities of the Northwest Territories, there are some retrogressive attitudes toward homosexuality. The Yukon, in contrast, is more like British Columbia, with a live-and-let-live West Coast attitude.
The following are good resources for LGBTIQ+ travel; they include Canadian information, though not all are exclusive to the region:
Damron (www.damron.com) Publishes several travel guides, including Men's Travel Guide, Women's Traveller and Damron Accommodations; gay-friendly tour operators are listed on the website, too.
Out Traveler (www.outtraveler.com) Gay travel magazine.
Purple Roofs (www.purpleroofs.com) Website listing queer accommodations, travel agencies and tours worldwide.
Queer Events (www.queerevents.ca) A general resource for finding events to attend that are aimed at the gay community.
Xtra (www.xtra.ca) Source for gay and lesbian news nationwide.
- Most tourist offices distribute free provincial road maps.
- For extended hikes or multiday backcountry treks, it's a good idea to carry a topographic map. The best are the series of 1:50,000 scale maps published by the government's Centre for Topographic Information. These are sold by bookstores and parks around the country.
- You can also download and print maps from GeoBase (http://geogratis.gc.ca).
- Newspapers The most widely available newspaper is the Toronto-based Globe and Mail. Other principal dailies are the Montréal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Star and Vancouver Sun. Maclean's is Canada's weekly news magazine.
- Radio & TV The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) is the dominant nationwide network for both radio and TV. The CTV Television Network is its major competition.
ATMs are widely available. Credit cards are accepted in nearly all hotels and restaurants.
- Many grocery and convenience stores, airports and bus, train and ferry stations have ATMs. Most are linked to international networks, the most common being Cirrus, Plus, Star and Maestro.
- Most ATMs also spit out cash if you use a major credit card. This method tends to be more expensive because, in addition to a service fee, you'll be charged interest immediately (in other words, there's no interest-free period as with purchases). For exact fees, check with your own bank or credit card company.
- Visitors heading to Canada's truly remote regions won't find an abundance of ATMs, so it is wise to cash up beforehand.
- Scotiabank, common throughout Canada, is part of the Global ATM Alliance. If your home bank is a member, fees may be less if you withdraw from Scotiabank ATMs.
Most Canadians don't carry large amounts of cash for everyday use, relying instead on credit and debit cards. Still, carrying some cash, say $100 or less, comes in handy when making small purchases. In some cases, cash is necessary to pay for rural B&Bs and shuttle vans; inquire in advance to avoid surprises. Shops and businesses rarely accept personal checks.
Major credit cards such as MasterCard, Visa and American Express are widely accepted in Canada, except in remote, rural communities, where cash is king. You'll find it difficult or impossible to rent a car, book a room or order tickets over the phone without having a piece of plastic. Note that some credit card companies charge a 'transaction fee' (around 3% of whatever you purchased); check with your provider to avoid surprises. If you are given an option to pay in your home currency, it is usually better to NOT accept, as they charge a higher interest rate for the point-of-sale transaction.
For lost or stolen cards, these numbers operate 24 hours:
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
Tipping is a standard practice. Generally you can expect to tip:
- Restaurant waitstaff 15% to 20%
- Bar staff $1 per drink
- Hotel bellhop $1 to $2 per bag
- Hotel room cleaners From $2 per day (depending on room size and messiness)
- Taxis 10% to 15%
Traveler's checks are becoming more and more obsolete. Traveler's checks issued in Canadian dollars are generally treated like cash by businesses; those in most other currencies must be exchanged for Canadian dollars at a bank or foreign currency office. The most common issuers are American Express, MasterCard and Visa.
- All prices quoted are in Canadian dollars ($), unless stated otherwise.
- Canadian coins come in 5¢ (nickel), 10¢ (dime), 25¢ (quarter), $1 (loonie) and $2 (toonie or twoonie) denominations. The gold-colored loonie features the loon, a common Canadian waterbird, while the two-toned toonie is decorated with a polar bear. Canada phased out its 1¢ (penny) coin in 2012.
- Paper currency comes in $5 (blue), $10 (purple), $20 (green) and $50 (red) denominations. The $100 (brown) and larger bills are less common. The newest bills in circulation – which have enhanced security features – are actually a polymer-based material; they feel more like plastic than paper.
- For changing money in the larger cities, currency exchange offices may offer better conditions than banks.
Opening hours vary throughout the year. We've provided high-season opening hours; hours will generally decrease in the shoulder and low seasons.
Banks 10am–5pm Monday to Friday; some open 9am–noon Saturday
Restaurants breakfast 8–11am, lunch 11:30am–2:30pm Monday to Friday, dinner 5–9:30pm daily; some open for brunch 8am to 1pm Saturday and Sunday
Bars 5pm–2am daily
Clubs 9pm–2am Wednesday to Saturday
Shops 10am–6pm Monday to Saturday, noon–5pm Sunday; some open to 8pm or 9pm Thursday and/or Friday
Supermarkets 9am–8pm; some open 24 hours
- Canada's national postal service, Canada Post/Postes Canada (www.canadapost.ca), is neither quick nor cheap, but it is reliable. Stamps are available at post offices, drugstores, convenience stores and hotels.
- Standard 1st-class airmail letters or postcards up to 30g cost 90¢ within Canada, $1.27 to the US and $2.65 to all other destinations.
- Travelers often find they have to pay high duties on items sent to them while in Canada, so beware.
Newfoundland & Labrador
Prince Edward Island
Canada observes 10 national public holidays and more at the provincial level. Banks, schools and government offices close on these days.
New Year's Day January 1
Good Friday March or April
Easter Monday March or April
Victoria Day Monday before May 25; called National Patriots Day in Québec
Canada Day July 1; called Memorial Day in Newfoundland
Labour Day First Monday of September
Thanksgiving Second Monday of October
Remembrance Day November 11
Christmas Day December 25
Boxing Day December 26
Some provinces observe local holidays, with Newfoundland leading the pack.
Family Day Third Monday of February in Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia; known as Louis Riel Day in Manitoba
St Patrick's Day Monday nearest to March 17
St George's Day Monday nearest to April 23
National Day Monday nearest to June 24 in Newfoundland; June 24 in Québec (aka St-Jean Baptiste Day)
Orangemen's Day Monday nearest to July 12 in Newfoundland
Civic Holiday First Monday of August everywhere except Newfoundland, Québec and Yukon Territory
Discovery Day Third Monday of August in Yukon Territory
Kids break for summer holidays in late June and don't return to school until early September. University students get even more time off, usually from May to early or mid-September. Most people take their big annual vacation during these months.
Uniquely Canadian Celebrations
National Flag Day (February 15) Commemorates the first time the maple leaf flag was raised above Parliament Hill in Ottawa, at the stroke of noon on February 15, 1965.
Victoria Day (late May) This day was established in 1845 to observe the birthday of Queen Victoria and now celebrates the birthday of the British sovereign, who's still Canada's titular head of state. Victoria Day marks the official beginning of the summer season (which ends with Labour Day on the first Monday of September). Some communities put on fireworks shows.
National Indigenous Peoples Day (June 21) Created in 1996, it celebrates the contributions of indigenous peoples to Canada. Coinciding with the summer solstice, festivities are organized locally and may include traditional dancing, singing and drumming; storytelling; arts and crafts shows; canoe races; and lots more.
Canada Day (July 1) Known as Dominion Day until 1982, Canada Day was created in 1869 to commemorate the creation of Canada two years earlier. All over the country, people celebrate with barbecues, parades, concerts and fireworks.
Canadian Thanksgiving Day (mid-October) First celebrated in 1578 in what is now Newfoundland by explorer Martin Frobisher to give thanks for surviving his Atlantic crossing, Thanksgiving became an official Canadian holiday in 1872 to celebrate the recovery of the Prince of Wales from a long illness. These days, it's essentially a harvest festival involving a special family dinner of roast turkey and pumpkin, very much as it is practiced in the US.
- Smoking Banned in all restaurants, bars and other public venues nationwide. This includes tobacco, vaping and cannabis.
Taxes & Refunds
Canada's federal goods and services tax (GST), aka the 'gouge and screw' or 'grab and steal' tax, adds 5% to just about every transaction. Most provinces also charge a provincial sales tax (PST) on top of it. Several provinces have combined the GST and PST into a harmonized sales tax (HST). Expect to pay 10% to 15% in most cases.
Tax Rates by Province
Percentages represent federal and provincial taxes combined:
Newfoundland & Labrador
Prince Edward Island
You might be eligible for a rebate on some of the taxes. If you've booked your accommodations in conjunction with a rental car, plane ticket or other service (ie if it all appears on the same bill from a 'tour operator'), you should be eligible to get 50% of the tax refunded from your accommodations. Fill out the GST/HST Refund Application for Tour Packages form, available from the Canada Revenue Agency (www.cra-arc.gc.ca).
Canada's phone system is extensive and landlines reach most places; however, cell service can be spotty. Truly remote areas may not have any phone service at all.
Domestic & International Dialing
- Canadian phone numbers consist of a three-digit area code followed by a seven-digit local number. In many parts of Canada, you must dial all 10 digits preceded by 1, even if you're calling across the street. In other parts of the country, when you're calling within the same area code, you can dial the seven-digit number only, but this is slowly changing.
- For direct international calls, dial 011 + country code + area code + local phone number. The country code for Canada is 1 (the same as for the USA, although international rates still apply for all calls made between the two countries).
- Toll-free numbers begin with 800, 877, 866, 855, 844 or 833 and must be preceded by 1. Some of these numbers are good throughout Canada and the USA, others only work within Canada, and some work in just one province.
Dial 911. This is not the emergency number in the Northwest Territories, which is usually the regional three-digit code and then 2222 for fire, or 1111 for police.
Local SIM cards can be used in unlocked GSM 850/1900 compatible phones. Other phones must be set to roaming. Coverage is spotty.
- If you have an unlocked GSM phone, you should be able to buy a SIM card from local providers such as Telus (www.telus.com), Rogers (www.rogers.com) or Bell (www.bell.ca). Bell has the best data coverage.
- US residents can often upgrade their domestic cell phone plan to extend to Canada. Verizon (www.verizonwireless.com) provides good results.
- Reception is poor and often nonexistent in rural areas no matter who your service provider is. Some companies' plans do not reach all parts of Canada, so check coverage maps prior to purchase.
- SIM cards that work for a set period, such seven, 14, 20 or 30 days, can be purchased online, often with United States and Canada voice, SMS and data bundled together.
Coin-operated public pay phones are fewer, but still out there. Local calls cost 50¢; many phones also accept prepaid phonecards and credit cards. Dialing the operator (0) or directory assistance (411 for local calls, 1 + area code + 555-1212 for long-distance calls) is free of charge from public phones; it may incur a charge from private phones.
- Prepaid phonecards usually offer the best per-minute rates for long-distance and international calling.
- Cards come in denominations of $5, $10 or $20 and are widely sold in drugstores, supermarkets and convenience stores.
- Beware of cards with hidden charges, such as 'activation fees' or a per-call connection fee.
- A surcharge ranging from 30¢ to 85¢ for calls made from public pay phones is common.
- Canada spans six of the world's 24 time zones. The Eastern zone in Newfoundland is unusual in that it's only 30 minutes different from the adjacent zone. The time difference from coast to coast is 4½ hours.
- Canada observes daylight saving time, which comes into effect on the second Sunday in March, when clocks are put forward one hour, and ends on the first Sunday in November. Saskatchewan and small pockets of Québec, Ontario and BC are the only areas that do not switch to daylight saving time.
- In Québec especially, times for shop hours, train schedules, film screenings etc are usually indicated by the 24-hour clock.
Time Differences Between Cities
When it's 3pm in Vancouver, it's:
- 6pm in Montréal and Toronto
- 6pm in New York City
- 7:30pm in St John's (Newfoundland)
- 11pm in London
- 8am + one day in Melbourne, Australia
- Canada has sit-down toilets, labelled as Washroom.
- On the whole, public toilets and those in hotels and restaurants are clean.
- Private businesses usually only allow customers to use washrooms and often have a key to enforce this.
- Shopping centers and town or city centers have free public washrooms.
- Particularly at universities, Canada is beginning to have unisex washrooms.
- The Canadian Tourism Commission (www.canada.travel) is loaded with general information, packages and links.
- All provincial tourist offices maintain comprehensive websites packed with information helpful in planning your trip. Staff also field telephone inquiries and, on request, will mail out free maps and directories about accommodations, attractions and events. Some offices can also help with making hotel, tour or other reservations.
- For detailed information about a specific area, contact the local tourist office, aka visitor center. Just about every city and town has at least a seasonal branch with helpful staff, racks of free pamphlets and books and maps for sale.
Provincial Tourist Offices
Newfoundland & Labrador Tourism (www.newfoundlandlabrador.com)
Northwest Territories Tourism (www.spectacularnwt.com)
Nunavut Tourism (www.nunavuttourism.com)
Ontario Tourism (www.ontariotravel.net)
Prince Edward Island Tourism (www.tourismpei.com)
Tourism British Columbia (www.hellobc.com)
Tourism New Brunswick (www.tourismnewbrunswick.ca)
Tourism Nova Scotia (www.novascotia.com)
Tourism Saskatchewan (www.tourismsaskatchewan.com)
Tourisme Québec (www.quebecoriginal.com/en)
Travel Alberta (www.travelalberta.com)
Travel Manitoba (www.travelmanitoba.com)
Yukon Department of Tourism (www.travelyukon.com)
Travel with Children
Deciding where to go with your kids in Canada can be a daunting decision. Mountains, prairies, beaches and easy-going cities are strewn across six time zones. Luckily, between wildlife sightings, cowboy encounters, hands-on pirate history, hunting for dinosaur fossils and ice-skating on mountain lakes, it's impossible to make a bad choice.
Best Regions for Kids
No kid on the planet can be ho-hum about seeing T-rex and his friends brought vividly to life, or yawn about finding real-life dino fossils in the multicolored clay hills.
Sandwiched between sea and mountains, build a sandcastle one day and go snowboarding the next while enjoying the comforts of the city.
- Canadian Rockies
Hike, ski, camp or snowshoe while looking out for moose, bear, elk and whistling marmot.
Get a taste of Québecois bonheur in the historic streets, year-round ice-skating, inner-city beach and the Biôdome full of critters.
- Maritime Provinces
Climb a lighthouse, sail on a pirate ship, whale-watch and beach hop in summer; see the trees turn red, orange and gold in fall.
Chase through parks in summer, ice-skate in winter and don't forget to visit nearby Niagara Falls!
Canada for Kids
As if seeing moose, eagles and whales or running around in the snow, on the beach or in the woods all day isn't fun enough, everywhere you turn, those crafty Canadians have cooked up some hands-on learning experience, living history lesson or child-oriented theater.
Museums & Monuments
Most large Canadian cities have science museums that specialize in hands-on activities, while at historic sites strewn across the country, costumed thespians get you right into the period and often give demonstrations of everything from blacksmithing to cooking. At some of these places there are also puppet or theatrical performances for children and other events, such as hayrides. Teens usually enjoy these sites as well, since they are often large and diverse enough for self-exploration and touch on subjects they've studied at school.
Canada is all about open spaces, fresh air, rivers, lakes and mountains, snow, sand and wildlife. Kids are often admitted free or at reduced prices.
- Most Canadian cities are endowed with parks and promenades set up for even the tiniest cyclists, but finding a child-sized bike rental can be hit or miss. For a cycling-oriented holiday, try the mostly flat Confederation Trail, which traverses bucolic Prince Edward Island, or the traffic-free Kettle Valley Trail (KVR; British Columbia) that's one of the least strenuous stretches of the Trans Canada Trail. You will likely want to bring along your child's bike helmet.
- The Canadian National Park system contains easy strolls as well as longer hiking trails that teens might enjoy. Horseback riding is widely on offer and can be especially fun in cowboy country around Calgary.
- Most lake areas offer canoe rentals perfect for leisurely family outings, while seafront regions are packed with kayak outfits. For a bigger adrenaline rush for older kids, try white-water rafting or 'playboating' spots, particularly on the Ottawa River in Beechburg.
- There are plenty of fishing lodges, but you'd be surprised at how lucky you can get just casting into any lake or river. Likewise, try clamming (Prince Edward Island and British Columbia are tops) – ask locals where to go and bring a shovel and a bucket.
- On the coasts and the Bay of Fundy, whale-watching can be thrilling, but be prepared with seasickness pills, extra snacks, sunscreen and warm clothes.
- The tiny summer waves on the east and west coast are an excellent way to start learning to surf; rent a board or wet suit or take a class.
- Heading out skiing or snowboarding is an obvious family choice. Children under six often ski for free, ages six to 12 usually pay around 12% to 50% of the adult price and ages 12 to 18 pay a little more than 33% to 75% of the adult price. Then, of course, there's also ice-skating, sledding and snowshoeing.
Everywhere you turn in Canada you'll find fast food and fried fare. If you're health conscious, a hurdle can be finding more wholesome options in small towns; however, you can usually find at least one cafe with sandwiches and wraps or you can self-cater. Fortunately, there are plenty of cabin- and family-suite-style options that allow you to cook for yourself, and some B&Bs will also let you cook. In cities, every restaurant option is available from vegan to steakhouses.
Easy-to-find Canadian foods your kids will love if you let them include poutine (French fries topped with brown gravy and cheese curds), fish and chips, Montréal-style bagels (wood-fired, dense and slightly sweet), pancakes or French toast with maple syrup, bear-claw doughnuts, butter tarts, and Nanaimo bars (crumb crust topped with custard and then melted chocolate). You may all gain a few kilos on this trip!
Most Canadian restaurants offer booster seats and child-friendly servers as soon as you steer your progeny through the door. However, families with even the most well-behaved children may not feel comfortable at fine-dining establishments.
A History Lesson
- Dinosaurs Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, Drumheller (Alberta), Dinosaur National Park (Alberta)
- Indigenous Peoples Haida Gwaii (British Columbia), Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage site (Alberta), Indigenous Experiences (Ottawa), Wanuskewin Heritage Park (Saskatchewan), Huronia Museum (Ontario)
- European Colonization L'Anse aux Meadows (Newfoundland), Louisbourg National Historic Site (Nova Scotia), Fort William Historical Park (Ontario), Fort Edmonton (Alberta), Ste-Marie among the Hurons (Ontario), Fort Langley (southern BC)
- Winter Carnivals Québec City Winter Carnival, Cavalcade of Lights (Toronto), Vancouver Festival of Lights
- Ice-Skating Rideau Canal (Ottawa), Lake Louise (Alberta), Harbourfront Centre (Toronto), Lac des Castors (Montréal)
- Skiing, Snowboarding & Sledding Whistler-Blackcomb (British Columbia), Norquay (Banff), Mont-Ste-Anne (Québec)
- Dogsledding Yellowknife (Northwest Territories), Iqaluit (Nunavut)
Critters of the Great North
- Moose Nearly everywhere but especially Algonquin National Park (Eastern Ontario), Gros Morne National Park (Newfoundland) and the Maligne Lake area in Jasper National Park (Alberta)
- Polar Bears Churchill (Manitoba)
- Whales & Orcas Vancouver Island (British Columbia), Québec, Bay of Fundy (New Brunswick & Nova Scotia), Newfoundland
- Bald Eagles Brackendale (British Columbia), Jasper & Banff (Alberta), southern Vancouver Island (British Columbia) and Cape Breton Island (Nova Scotia)
Wet & Wild
- Beaches Prince Edward Island and British Columbia
- Surfing Lawrencetown Beach (Nova Scotia), Tofino (British Columbia)
- Kayaking Salt Spring (British Columbia), Georgian Bay (Ontario)
- Canoeing Algonquin National Park (Ontario), Bowron Lakes (British Columbia), Kejimkujik National Park (Nova Scotia)
- Fishing Lunenburg, Nova Scotia (lobster), Point Prim, Prince Edward Island (clams), Northern Saskatchewan (freshwater fish), Maritime Provinces (deep-sea fish)
- Snorkeling Fathom Five National Marine Park (Ontario)
- Vancouver's outside action Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, Stanley Park
- Ottawa's museum mission Canada Agricultural Museum, Museum of Nature, Science & Technology Museum, Canadian Museum of History
- Toronto's heights & depths CN Tower to the subterranean corridors connecting downtown
- Montréal's culture infusion Old Montréal, Little Italy
- Halifax's Titanic connection Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Titanic graveyards
- Saskatchewan's discoveries Wonderhub Children's Discovery Museum, Saskatoon
Theme Park Delight
- Canada's Wonderland (www.canadaswonderland.com) Amusement and water park, Toronto
- Galaxy Land (www.wem.ca/play/attractions/galaxyland) World's largest indoor amusement park, Edmonton
- La Ronde (www.laronde.com) Amusement park, Montréal
- Calaway Park (www.calawaypark.com) Amusement park and campground, Calgary
- Playland (www.pne.ca/playland) Oldest amusement park in Canada, Vancouver
Traveling around Canada with the tots can be child's play. Lonely Planet's Travel with Children offers a wealth of tips and tricks. The website Travel For Kids (http://travelforkids.com) is another good, general resource.
Extras By Age
Babies & Toddlers
- Kids' car seats: car-hire companies rent them for high rates; in Canada babies need a rear-facing infant safety seat, while children under 18kg (40lb) must be in a forward-facing seat.
- A front or back sling for baby and toddler if you're planning on hiking and a stroller for city jaunts (nearly everywhere is stroller-accessible).
- Sandcastle- or snowman-making tools.
- Kids' car seats: children between 18kg (40lb) and 36kg (80lb) should have a booster seat. Seat belts can be used as soon as a child is either 36kg, 145cm (4ft 9in) tall or eight years old.
- Binoculars for young explorers to zoom in on wildlife.
- A bear bell for hikes.
- Field guides about Canada's flora and fauna.
- A camera to inject newfound fun into 'boring' grown-up sights and walks.
- Kite (for beaches).
- Bike helmet that fits well.
- Canada-related iPhone or Android apps.
- Canada-related novels (find a list of Young Adult Canadian Book Award winners at www.cla.ca).
- French-Canadian phrasebook or translation app.
The Fine Print
Children who are traveling to Canada without both parents need authorization from the nonaccompanying parent. Sometimes this is enforced and other times not, but to play it safe you're better off with a notarized letter. Divorced parents should carry copies of legal custody documents.
When to Go
Festivals fill Canadian calendars year-round and most are very family-oriented. Summer is the most festival-heavy time, with lots of outdoor get-togethers from jazz festivals to rodeos. Fall is a lovely time to visit Canada if you can arrange it around your children's school schedule. At this time the trees are changing colors, daytime temperatures are still manageably warm and most of the crowds have gone.
The best time for fresh snow and snow sports is January to April. Santa Claus parades usually kick off the holiday season in November and early December. Around the same time or just after, you can expect fireworks, parades and Christmas tree lightings at the festivals of light.
Hotels and motels commonly have rooms with two double beds. Even those that don't have enough beds may bring in rollaways or cots, usually for a small extra charge. Some properties offer 'kids stay free' promotions, while others (particularly B&Bs) may not accept children. Ask when booking.
Another good option are cabins, which are usually rented out by the week and come with kitchens, any number of bedrooms, and other perks such as barbecues. You can find full listings with each province's visitors guides online and in print (order them for free at each province's tourism website).
Camping is huge in Canada and many campgrounds also offer rustic cabins (bring your own bedding) that sometimes have kitchens, fire pits or barbecues. Some grounds offer exotic options such as tipis or yurts, while others have swimming pools, mini-golf or might be on a lake. Bring bug spray.
What to Pack
Canada is very family friendly so anything you forget can probably be purchased in-country. Breastfeeding in public is legal and tolerated, although most women are discreet about it. Most facilities can accommodate a child's needs; public toilets usually have diaper-changing tables.
What you will need is layered clothing for everyone, as it can get spontaneously cool even during the summer months. Sunscreen is a must – you'd be surprised how much you can burn on the greyest of days – as are rain gear and bug spray. It's also a good idea to bring activities for lengthy car rides, since getting anywhere in Canada can involve very long distances.
Volunteering provides the opportunity to interact with local folks and the land in ways you never would just passing through. Many organizations charge a fee, which varies depending on the program's length and the type of food and lodging it provides. The fees usually do not cover travel to Canada. Groups that use volunteers:
Churchill Northern Studies Centre (http://churchillscience.ca) Volunteer for six hours per day (anything from stringing wires to cleaning) and get free room and board at this center for polar bear and other wildlife research.
Earthwatch (www.earthwatch.org) Help scientists track whales off the coast of British Columbia, track moose and deer in Nova Scotia, and monitor climate change in Churchill, Manitoba or the Mackenzie Mountains of the Northwest Territories. Trips last from seven to 14 days and cost from $2250 to $5050.
Volunteers for Peace (www.vfp.org) Offers tutoring stints in indigenous communities in Canada's far north, as well as projects in Québec.
World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (www.wwoof.ca) Work on an organic farm, usually in exchange for free room and board; check the website for locations throughout Canada.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Canada officially uses the metric system, but imperial measurements are used for many day-to-day purposes.
Canada is generally a safe place for women to travel, even alone and even in the cities. Simply use the same common sense as you would at home.
In bars and nightclubs, solo women are likely to attract a lot of attention, but if you don't want company, most men will respect a firm 'no, thank you.' If you feel threatened, protesting loudly will often make the offender slink away – or will at least spur other people to come to your defense. Note that carrying mace or pepper spray is illegal in Canada.
Physical attacks are unlikely, but if you are assaulted, call the police immediately – dial 911 except in the Northwest Territories – or contact a rape crisis center. A complete list is available from the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres.
Resources for women travelers include:
Her Own Way (www.travel.gc.ca/travelling/publications/her-own-way) Published by the Canadian government for Canadian travelers, but contains a great deal of general advice.
Journeywoman (www.journeywoman.com) Travel links and tips for women with a section on Canada.
In almost all cases, you need a valid work permit to work in Canada. Obtaining one may be difficult, as employment opportunities go to Canadians first. Before you can even apply, you'll need a specific job offer from an employer, who in turn must have been granted permission from the government to give the position to a foreign national. Applications must be filed at a visa office of a Canadian embassy or consulate in your home country. Some jobs are exempt from the permit requirement. For full details, check with Citizenship & Immigration Canada (www.cic.gc.ca).
Employers hiring temporary service workers (for hotels, bars, restaurants and resorts) and construction, farm or forestry workers sometimes don't ask for a permit. If you get caught, however, you can kiss Canada goodbye.
Students aged 18 to 30 from more than a dozen countries, including the USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and South Africa, are eligible to apply for a spot in the Student Work Abroad Program (www.swap.ca). If successful, you get a six-month–to–one-year, nonextendable visa that allows you to work anywhere in Canada in any job you can get. Most 'Swappers' find work in the service industry as waiters or bartenders.
Even if you're not a student, you may be able to spend up to a year in Canada on a 'working holiday program' with International Experience Canada (www.canada.ca). The Canadian government has an arrangement with several countries for people aged 18 to 35 to come over and get a job; check the website for participants. The Canadian embassy in each country runs the program, but basically there are quotas and spaces are filled on a first-come, first-served basis.