Canada is having a moment… and we’ve got 30 amazing travel experiences to tempt you on a trip!
Canada is on a roll. This year, it celebrates 150 years since Confederation, tops both Lonely Planet and The New York Times’ lists of countries to visit, and has opened its national parks (pc.ga.ca) for free. Its famous diversity seems to have found a natural frontman in the Anti-Trump – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – too.
Canada didn’t appear overnight, of course. From the Arctic Circle to awesome cities like Montréal and Toronto; from polar bears to the purest of North American powder, it feels more like a continent than a country. Air access has mushroomed from Ireland, and you’ll get bang for your buck with its dollar, too. Just remember to sign up for the new Electronic Travel Authorisation (canada.ca/eta) before you visit.
Sure, Canada comes in for its share of slagging (we’re looking at you, South Park)… and let’s not start on Justin Bieber. But our Canadian bucket list (below) offers 30 rebuttals to any reputation for boredom. Plus, any destination that can lay claim to Arcade Fire, beluga whales, poutine and Ellen Page is okay by us. Oh, Canada, indeed.
1. Live on the Edge in Toronto
You’ve heard of the CN Tower – the iconic, 1,815-foot needle shooting straight out of Toronto’s skyline. But did you know it now has an EdgeWalk experience (photo top) that allows you to walk around the building’s restaurant level… on the outside? Yes, the outside. Pull on the red jumpsuit, strap into a harness and prepare for an urban adventure to end them all (videos and photos are included in the price). Glass floors will never be the same again. – PÓC
While you’re at it: Don’t want to brave the elements? The CN Tower’s SkyPod (cntower.com) is a viewing deck 33 floors above the EdgeWalk.
Do it: edgewalkcntower.ca; CAN$225/€162pp.
2. Meet a polar bear in Manitoba
Churchill, Manitoba (population 813), might seem like a dot on the globe. But come the winter freeze, the subarctic outpost claims a unique tourism distinction: it’s the Polar Bear Capital of the World. November is the best time to trek north. It’s then that the carnivores migrate along the town’s icy thoroughfares towards the ice caps of Hudson Bay. Locals share stories of encountering the animals outside the local diner, but tourists are thankfully more likely to see them from the safety of a robust tundra buggy. – TB
While you’re at it: Fancy less frostbite? Head to South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park in British Columbia (env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks) to see Canada’s mighty grizzlies.
Do it: greatwhitebeartours.com; day excursions from CAN$475/€335pp.
3. Mountain Biking magic in British Columbia
As some of the most outdoorsy folks on the planet, Vancouverites have mapped some of the best mountain bike trails on the planet. The towns of Sooke and Campbell River on Vancouver Island are two of the biggest hubs for the sport and make the perfect springboard for the nearby natural terrain. Simply pack some trail mix, strap on the GoPro and keep an eye out for bears. – TB
While you’re at it: Hardy hikers can trek the 75km West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island.
Do it: mountainbikingbc.ca; daily bike rentals from CAN$40/€28.
4. Fall in love in Québec City
An increasingly popular weekend getaway for amorous New Yorkers, Québec City’s charm still remains something of a secret affair. The city’s UNESCO-treasured Old Town hosts a bijou box of colonial streets which make you feel like you’re meandering through a French fairy tale. To soak up the oh là là flair, head to Le Château Frontenac hotel (fairmont.com/frontenac-quebec) for a glass of Québécois cidre (cider), or try Le Chic Shack (lechicshack.ca) for a feast of local poutine. – TB
While you’re at it: For more marché madness, visit Ottawa’s ByWard Market – the capital’s retail haven with 600 stores, stalls and restaurants.
Do it: visitquebec.ca
5. Feel the spray in your face at Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls straddles the US/Canadian border, but the best views are from the Canadian side. The drive from Toronto takes about 90 minutes and along the way you’ll pass vineyards selling the local delicacy ‘icewine’, so do pop in for a sample. When you arrive, get up close and personal with the three enormous cascades that make up the falls on the Hornblower Boat Trip. Prepare to get drenched, even with the fetching free raincoat. – MJ
While you’re at it: Stop off for a sambo (with free ice-cream cone) in Old Town Goodies (oldtowngoodies.ca) at Canada’s prettiest town, Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Do it: King Tours (kingtours.ca) does bus tours from Toronto, including the falls boat trip, from CAN$135/€95pp.
6. Party 24/7 in Vancouver
Now home to the country’s wildest nightlife, Vancouver’s clubbing scene is out of hibernation with a bang. The main party areas surround Granville Street and Gastown, but keep tabs on pop-up It-spots. Insider tips? Head to Fortune Sound Club (fortunesoundclub.com) to catch star DJs on the decks; Celebrities (celebritiesnightclub.com) for crunk house parties and drag shows, or former porn theatre Fox Cabaret (foxcabaret.com) for some alternate edge. – TB
While you’re at it: Fancy more hops, less octane? Try a chaser of Vancouver’s vibrant microbrewery scene instead (canadiancrafttours.ca).
Do it: tourismvancouver.com
7. Paddle your own Canoe in Banff National Park
If you close your eyes and conjure up an image of an idyllic canoeing scene, the icy blue lakes of Banff will surely appear. With the craggy Canadian Rockies, millions of fir trees and perfectly still waters, the setting is the perfect place to pick up a paddle. – NB
While you’re at it: Things get a little more adrenaline-fuelled at sea – give sea kayaking on Vancouver Island a bash (kayakbc.ca/tofinoseakayaking.com).
Do it: Responsible Travel (responsibletravel.com) has a guided 13-day Canadian Rockies and Wilderness Walking holiday from £1,679/€1,932 (excl. flights).
8. Stay in the John & Yoko Suite
It’s been nearly 50 years since John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their infamous ‘bed-in’ at the Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth in Montréal. But did you know you can stay in that exact same suite? The hotel is undergoing a huge transformation at the moment, but come June 30, the suite will be ready to reopen, complete with Virtual Reality experiences that allow you to live your own bed-in from John and Yoko’s point of view. – NB
While you’re at it: Head to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (mbam.qc.ca); Yoko Ono exhibited there in 2009.
Do it: fairmont.com/queen-elizabeth-montreal; suite from CAN$1,500/€1,057.
9. Head for the Gaeltacht i gCeanada!
Yes, you read that right. The aptly named township of Erinsville in southern Ontario is in fact home to the only official Gaeltacht region outside Ireland. The 60-acre campus was created in 2007 as a kind of cultural crossroads for local hibernophiles and budding Gaeilgóirí. Today, the facility hosts a calendar of events throughout the year from arts festivals to Gaelic games and full-on language immersion weeks. Canadian ceilís, abú. – TB
While you’re at it: Vive le Québec! On June 24, enjoy the fireworks of the fête nationale for the fiercely proud province.
Do it: gaeilge.ca
10. Eat Poutine in Montréal
Poutine is a Canadian delicacy originating in Québec. It’s made with thick chips, slathered in brown gravy and topped off with gloopy cheese, giving a special flavour with big appeal for kids. You won’t go hungry and it’s served almost everywhere. Montréal is a major foodie hotspot, with festivals all year round! – MJ
While you’re at it: Enjoy poutine with mussels and a local brew – try Canadian cider at Le Vieux Dublin (The Old Dublin) pub (dublinpub.ca). Kids love Bec Cola made with maple syrup – the real taste of Québec!
Do it: At Mâche (restaurantmache.com) in the Latin Quarter or Le Fripon (restaurantlefripon.com) on Place Jacques Cartier; see also tourisme-montreal.org
11. Go on an art crawl in Toronto
West Queen West, Canada’s hippest ‘hood, has got some seriously creative curb appeal. It’s home to the city’s thriving design district and streetscapes here are a motley mosaic of contemporary art houses splashed with grungy street art. Spend a morning ambling the on-point galleries from Propeller (propellerctr.com) to the Birch Contemporary (birchcontemporary.com) or take a free graffiti tour with tourguys.ca (tips welcome). – TB
While you’re at it: Check out Pointe-Saint-Charles (aka The Point) in Montréal. The old Irish neighbourhood is now one of the city’s trendiest districts.
12. Drive the Cabot Trail
Canada’s Maritime provinces are too often bypassed, but for seasoned road-trippers Nova Scotia’s Cabot Trail may well be the country’s finest. The spectacular 300km route kisses the coast of Cape Breton while oozing all the rugged charm of a maple-leafed Wild Atlantic Way. Be sure to take a pit stop in the postcard village of Ingonish en route. – TB
While you’re at it: Lake Ontario’s winelands, nestled between Toronto and Niagara Falls, make for a great day trip from the big city (winecountryontario.ca).
Do it: cabottrail.travel
13. Take off HeliSkiing in British Columbia
Are you bored of run-of-the-mill ski lifts and blue slopes? Craving a little more excitement on your skis? Well, throw a helicopter into the mix, and adventure is all but guaranteed. On this jaunt, a chopper will drop you into the stunning mountain wilderness of British Columbia for an off-piste experience you’ll never forget. The terrain is huge, and the log cabins you’ll sleep in are utterly adorable. – NB
While you’re at it: Practise your Torvill and Dean moves at the Olympic Plaza in Whistler (whistler.com), which opens as an ice rink in the winter.
Do it: Scott Dunn (scottdunn.com) has an eight-night luxury, bespoke Ski Canada Adventure itinerary from €8,100pps B&B, including flights and transfers.
14. Skate on the Canal in Ottawa
The 202km-long Rideau Canal is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site; it’s in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s longest naturally frozen ice rink. Open from January to early March, it’s great for all the family and access is free. Warm change huts and snack stations are dotted along the rink; be sure to try BeaverTails pastry (beavertails.com) coated with sugar and cinnamon. – MJ
While you’re at it: Go in February to soak up the atmosphere at the Winterlude Festival. For three weeks enjoy ice sculptures, live music and an outdoor dance festival. See ottawatourism.ca for more.
Do it: Skates cost CAN$13/$9 an hour for adults/kids.
15. See the sunrise in Newfoundland
If you’re looking for some morning zen, what better way to find it than by catching Canada’s first sunrise? Cape Spear, on the outermost fringe of Newfoundland, is the country’s easternmost point, a mere two time zones and 2,000km shy of Toronto. The Cape’s historic lighthouse makes the most dramatic place to downward-dog. Just prepare to share the panorama with the latest flock of hipster birders in from St. John’s. – TB
While you’re at it: Capture the beauty of Lake Moraine in Alberta (wildcanada.net/moraine-lake), a Rocky Mountain postcard and one of the most Instagrammed scenes in Canada.
16. Catch Arcade Fire live
From Leonard Cohen to Joni Mitchell, Drake to The Weeknd, Feist to Neil Young… Canada has given the world some stellar musical icons. For die-hard fans, there’s nothing like seeing Arcade Fire play in their motherland. The band started life in Montréal and continue to gig there fairly frequently. (If that seems too far, remember they’re playing Dublin’s Malahide Castle on June 14, 2017).
While you’re at it: Stroll the streets of Leonard Cohen’s Montréal with any of his albums playing in your ear – it’s impossible not to get misty-eyed.
Do it: Canadian Sky (canadiansky.ie) has a seven-night Eastern Journey tour from €1,299pp including flights.
17. Take the Titanic Trail in Halifax
Ireland might be the last country the Titanic ever saw, but Halifax has a deep connection to the ill-fated liner, which rests some 1,100km east of the town (the survivors went to New York, the recovered dead to Nova Scotia). Pay your respects at the Fairview Lawn Cemetery, or visit the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic (maritimemuseum.novascotia.ca), where heart-breaking exhibits include the famous Unknown Child’s Shoes. – NB
While you’re at it: Drive to Peggy’s Cove, a fishing village famous for its lighthouse (peggyscoveregion.com).
Do it: From June 28 until August 31, ASL Airlines France (aslairlines.fr/en) will fly from Dublin to Halifax direct on Wednesdays, from €329 one way.
18. Hit the beach in Toronto
Known locally as Sugar Beach, this beauty spot has unspoilt views of Lake Ontario and is located next to Redpath Sugar Refinery. In autumn, the public promenade is tree-lined with spectacular colour, and in summer it’s a welcome retreat from the heat of the city. Enjoy a picnic with your toes in the sand. – MJ
While you’re at it: Take a trip with Toronto Bicycle Tours and get to see Kensington Market, Chinatown, the Financial District and more. You’ll get your bearings for the entire city.
Do it: See torontobicycletours.com for tours with snacks and water included. A 3.5-hour tour costs CAN$70/€49pp for groups of four-plus.
19. Go Beluga-watching in Nunavut
It is scientifically impossible to be sad while looking at a beluga whale. So, theoretically, a holiday spent tracking them down would be one of the happiest you could ever take. This epic, seven-night adventure is spent at Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge, 800km inside the Arctic Circle. You’ll encounter the most incredible variety of wildlife, all under 24 hours of daylight. – NB
While you’re at it: Go orca-spotting in Robson Bight (kayakbritishcolumbia.com/orcas-in-the-wild) – just don’t call them killer whales!
Do it: The Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge Experience costs €6,250pp, excluding flights, based on a June 30 departure with Trailfinders (trailfinders.ie).
20. Enjoy Lobster in New Brunswick
New Brunswick knows its lobster (just don’t tell that to Mainers across the border). Come mid-July, seafood lovers swarm to the small fishing town of Shediac for its annual lobster festival. And it’s kind of a big deal. Expect tonnes of deliciously buttered fresh lobster with all the trimmings – and some raucous party antics in the Giant Lobster Trap tent, to boot. – TB
While you’re at it: To savour the West Coast seafood scene of wild salmon, oysters and Dungeness crab, visit Joe Fortes (joefortes.ca) in Vancouver.
21. Stay at Fogo Island Inn
If you want a real bucket-list hotel, this one’s a winner. Fogo Island Inn has the look of a futuristic spacecraft, plonked down on a rugged island off the coast of Newfoundland. Each of its 29 suites are kitted out with pieces made by local artists, and the wood-fired hot tubs on the rooftop are perfect for drinking in those killer views. Worth a trip in itself. – NB
While you’re at it: Hit up Newfoundland’s Iceberg Alley (icebergfinder.com) and watch the ‘bergs float on by.
Do it: fogoislandinn.ca; rates from CAN$1,575/€1,100 per night, all inclusive.
22. Stargaze in Jasper
With its vast, star-filled skies and low levels of pollution, Jasper is one of the world’s largest accessible Dark Sky Preserves, meaning the conditions for stargazing are perfect. Each October, the Jasper Dark Sky Festival welcomes expert-led workshops, guided walks and events with guests like George Takei and Bill Nye. – NB
While you’re at it: Test your nerves with a trip to the Glacier Skywalk (brewster.ca), a cliff-edge walkway with a glass platform 280 metres over waterfalls and valleys.
Do it:jasperdarksky.travel; mostly free, Oct 13-22.
23. Go Grape-grazing in Okanagan Valley
As well as being a dreamily pretty region, the Okanagan sure knows how to make a good wine. There are 929 vineyards in the valley, surrounded by mountains, lakes and beaches, and a dizzying array of grapes are grown – the Pinot Noir is a stunner. Keep an eye on your intake, though, or you might spot the Ogopogo, Lake Okanagan’s answer to the Loch Ness Monster. – NB
While you’re at it: Why not vineyard-hop on two wheels, touring the Niagara winelands by bike (niagaracyclingtourism.com/bike-routes/wine-route).
Do it: experiencewinetours.ca; from CAN$139/€98pp.
24. Catch a transcontinental train
Epic rail trips were made for bucket lists, and VIA Rail’s cross-country journey aboard The Canadian is the most blockbuster of them all. The four-night journey links Toronto to Vancouver on the Pacific coast and features gentle prairie sunsets, dramatic Rocky Mountain panoramas and everything in between. No wonder this train ride has its very own Instagram feed. – TB
While you’re at it: An alternative to the Canadian is the eastbound Ocean train, an 800km coastal route from Montréal to Halifax in Nova Scotia.
Do it: viarail.ca; from $434/€305 one way.
25. Try the Great Spirit Circle Trail in Ontario
Get back to nature and learn about the culture of the indigenous people of Lake Ontario at the Great Spirit Circle Trail. Set in northeastern Ontario on Manitoulin Island, a mixture of ecotourism and soft adventure make this place great for all the family or anyone who enjoys the great outdoors. – MJ
While you’re at it: Take a Medicine Walk for only CAN$33pp and learn how trees, shrubs and plants are used for medicinal and spiritual practices.
Do it: The 2.5-hour Mother Earth Hiking Trail costs CAN $49.50/$44 for adults/students (circletrail.com).
26. Trip the Northern Lights fantastic in The Yukon
Northern lights, camera tripod, action! Seeing the aurora borealis in full sky-dance motion captures you like nothing on earth, and Canada’s Yukon territory is one of the best places to make it happen. The small town of Whitehorse is the main gateway for aurora borealis tourism, with November to March the peak months for activity. Once there, you can snow-shoe, snowmobile or even dog-mush into the wilderness. – TB
While you’re at it: If you’re visiting in summer, experiencing the midnight sun over Yukon’s wildflower meadows is a real trip to the light fantastic.
Do it: visityukon.com
27. Get up close to an ice hockey game
If you think hurling or Gaelic football are brutal, then brace yourself for ice hockey, where you might just catch some loose teeth flying through the air. Canadians go crazy for hockey, and the best place to catch a game is Montréal, home to the Montréal Canadiens – one of The Original Six teams from the NHL, and the franchise that has won the most Stanley Cups. Go Habs, go! – NB
While you’re at it: Visit the Hockey Hall of Fame (hhof.com) in Toronto.
Do it: nhl.com; ticket prices vary.
28. Live the beach life on P.E.I.
Thinking of an alternative summer vacation? How about a beach cottage getaway on Canada’s only island province? Marrying the quaint, cosy feel of New England with the rugged remoteness of the Maritimes, pocket-sized Prince Edward Island (PEI) has a quirky charm all of its own. To really soak in the shore vibe, rent a traditional chalet cottage via Airbnb (airbnb.ie) along the dunes of dreamy St. Peters Bay. – TB
While you’re at it: Since it’s a foodie heaven and home to the world’s best mussels, don’t forget to cook up a shellfish supper while in PEI.
29. Go wild camping in Ontario
Hearing the call of the wild? Algonquin Provincial Park, two hours north of Toronto, is one of Canada’s most accessible wilderness paradises. Here, in its mesmeric boreal blend of pristine lakes and evergreen forests, you’ll find campers nodding off to howls of wolf packs and the strums of campfire ukulele sessions. The park has a dozen well-kitted-out scenic campgrounds, or you can even rent a kayak and pitch your tent on a paddle-in island. Bliss! – TB
While you’re at it: Feeling intrepid? Hike to Columbia Icefield Campground, Canada’s highest campground, set in Alberta’s Jasper National Park (jaspernationalpark.com).
Do it:algonquinpark.on.ca; camp from $40/€28 a night.
30. Come and go with the Bay of Fundy tides
If you wanted to add a natural wonder to your bucket list, why not try strolling on the ocean floor? The remote Bay of Fundy, tucked in between the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, is the site of one of Canada’s more curious spectacles. Twice daily, the Atlantic empties billions of tonnes of water into the cove, swallowing the beach and stunning cliff faces in what is the highest tidal wave in the world. You can kayak or walk, depending on what stage the tide is at. – TB
While you’re at it: For a bird’s eye view of the wonder, buckle up on the Cape Enrage zip line (capeenrage.ca; CAN$50/€35).
NB:All prices are subject to change/availability