Canada virtually owns the rights to the words "great outdoors". It is second only to Russia in terms of land size and its climate, which varies from temperate in the south to subarctic and arctic in the far north, means that most of the population (about 30 million) live in the south along the border with the US. This leaves vast tracts of land that are under-populated and unspoilt.
In the east, Toronto, Ottawa (in Ontario) and Montreal (Quebec) give way to lakes and rivers, national parks and the rugged Atlantic coast. In the west, a journey through British Columbia could take several weeks such is the diversity on offer - from swimming at the beaches of Vancouver to skiing at Whistler, taking the ferry to Victoria (B.C.'s capital) and outlying islands and exploring the interior. Hop over to the next province - Alberta - for a trip to the majestic Rockies.
Cheap flights to Canada land in the biggest cities - Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa and Calgary. The cities are clean, green, and extremely livable. Canadians know how to make life easier; the cities are safe, getting around on public transport is a pleasure, and Canada's tolerant multiculturalism ensures bustling and exciting city centres.
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Canada is an enormous country and its climate ranges from long, cold winter nights in the Arctic Circle to the mild seasons of British Columbia. Both Montreal and Quebec City have warm summers that can become hot and humid. The cities’ winter season lasts from October to early May with cold and snow. You‘ll find the warmest summers in Toronto. The bitter winter cold has become part of the country’s culture. In Ottawa you can enjoy the warm summer days, but head inside to escape the chilly nights that can drop below zero degrees. Snow starts to fall in October and temperatures can drop close to zero.
When to fly to Canada
Canada's peak season really depends on what you are going for. For winter-sports enthusiasts, November to March offer the best chance of good snow. For those keen to go outdoors - camping or caravanning, to the lakes, national parks, or beaches of British Columbia - late-May to early September (Victoria Day to Labour Day) enjoy the best weather. Temperatures are warm, but not unbearable. Canada flights are at their most expensive during the summer time. Several airlines offer relatively cheap flights to Canada for January/February - perfect if you're going for the snow.
Canada has a very well-developed winter tourist season. In addition to superlative skiing and snowboarding facilities, snowmobiling, dog-sledding, ice-fishing and snowshoeing are also on offer. If you are not keen on these pursuits, November to February visits are best abandoned.
Getting around Canada
Given the huge distances between cities, flying is a good option. CanJet serves 15 destinations in Canada and the US including St. John's, Halifax, Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. Air Canada Jazz, a regional airline, serves more than 70 destinations in Canada and the US.
The train offers a good way to see the countryside, and VIA Rail Canada offers several packages for intrepid travellers. The one most often recommended however is the Canrailpass, which offers 12 days' travel anywhere in Canada during a 30-day period.
Renting a car can give you the freedom to follow your own itinerary. Car rental companies are represented at all the major airports.
Canada insider information
- Although not well-known, Canada's capital is a charming cosmopolitan city and possibly the most British of the Canadian cities. Downtown Ottawa has renovated Victorian houses serving as homes, restaurants, and shops. The architecture and historical significance of the Parliamentary buildings attract visitors, as does strolling along the Rideau Canal and watching boats go through its eight locks.
- Vancouver is a cosmopolitan city known for its natural beauty and mild climate. As a year-round tourist destination, there's always something to do: water and land sports and film, jazz, folk, and theatre festivals. Vancouver also offers opera, ballet, symphony, and an exciting nightlife. Vancouver will be hosting the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.
- Parts of Canada are transformed into winter wonderlands by the snowy weather and several cities make the most of the big freeze including Quebec City (Winter Carnival and its ice hotel), Montreal (High Lights festival) and Ottawa (Winterlude, a winter carnival) to name just three.
- On Sundays, entire families do the Grouse Grind in Vancouver. An almost 3-km trail takes you up the face of Grouse Mountain, more than 900 metres (nearly 3,000 feet). If you are fit, it should take about 50 minutes. Hike up, but take the gondola down to protect your knees of course.
- Visitors to Montreal should take note of the "Sunday Tam-Tams" in Mount Royal. Tam-tams are a type of hand drum, and hundreds of Montrealers and visitors turn up on summer Sundays to play around the monument to Sir George-Etienne Cartier.
- As well as nearby Niagara Falls, Toronto claims the world's tallest building. The CN Tower stands at 553 metres (1,815 feet). Once at the top - by elevator naturally - there is plenty to do including walking on a glass floor, eating at the revolving restaurant and enjoying the view.
- Bring your Stetson. The Calgary Stampede takes place in July, and is the province's most popular tourist attraction. It features a rodeo, chuckwagon races, concert and amusement park.
- If you're looking for somewhere to stay in Canada, a popular site for user reviews is Trivago. Take a look at their pages on hotels in Vancouver, hotels in Ottawa or hotels in Montreal.