The second largest country in the world, Canada has plenty to be proud of: beautiful natural parks, a rich and diverse culture and heritage, a coastline spanning three oceans, Old World charm and New World ideas, hockey. Canada welcomes visitors with wide open arms and vast open spaces. Planning a trip or getaway? Yearning to learn more about the friendly neighbor to the north? Looking to impress a pretty Canuck you just met? General, basic, need-to-know information for those curious about Canada.
Toronto – Canada’s largest city housing a population of 5,429,524 people. It’s the capital of Ontario and has the second largest population of foreign residents in the world. No single nationality holds a significant majority, Toronto meaning is the most multicultural city in the world. Notable attractions include the iconic CN Tower, the Toronto Islands, and Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada.
Montreal – Canada’s second largest city boasting a population of 3,519,595. It’s the capital of French-speaking Quebec and is renowned for being one of Canada’s business centers. Notable attractions include charming Old Montreal (Vieux-Montréal) and Place Jacques-Cartier.
Vancouver – Canada’s third largest city with sizable population of 2,264,823. It’s located in British Columbia and is celebrated for its spectacular wildlife and vibrant culture.
Calgary – Canada’s fourth largest city with a generous population of 1,237,656. It’s located in Alberta and is renowned for its rustic industrial culture and vigor.
Edmonton – Canada’s fifth largest city with a substantial population of 1,062,643. It’s considered to be the gateway to the north and is known for mining.
Ottawa – Canada’s capital, Ottawa has a modest population of 989,657. It’s located in Ontario and provides access to many of Canada’s other commercial centers. Notable attractions include Parliament Hill.
Niagara Falls – The world’s most famous waterfall and Canada’s most-visited tourist attraction. It’s located approximately one hour from Toronto and is widely considered to be one of the natural wonders of the world.
Banff National Park – Home to many unspoiled natural wonders, including the iconic Lake Louise. It’s widely considered to be one of the most beautiful mountainous areas in the entire world.
Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks – An incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site comprised of Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, and Yoho, as well as the Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine, and Hamber provincial parks – it's a wonderland of glaciers, lakes and snow-capped peaks that will take your breath away.
Whistler – A legendary ski-resort town located around two hours from Vancouver – it’s known as being one of the best winter sports locations in Canada.
Vancouver Island – A large idyllic island, famed for exceptional marine wildlife and the Pacific Rim National Park.
Gros Morne National Park – A remote and incredible national park that is located in Newfoundland – it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site that is renowned for its natural beauty.
Churchill – The famed polar bear capital of the world – there’s no better place to see these magnificent carnivores in the flesh.
Old Quebec City (Vieux-Quebec) – A colorful UNESCO World Heritage Site that is considered to be one of Canada’s hidden gems – the vibrant citadel on the hill is absolutely beautiful.
Canada has its own currency, known as the Canadian dollar, abbreviated to CAD or C$. At present, it’s worth slightly less than the US dollar, frequently around 70-80 US cents. The CAD is broken down into the following denominations –
Some places on the US/Canada border accept US currency, although it’s not a great idea to rely on this and only bring American dollars.
Almost every shop/business accepts credit or debit cards and ATMs are common, meaning that you won’t have to bring large amounts of cash with you. ATMs usually charge a withdrawal fee of between $2-5 CAD.
Canada has a total of 6 time zones, which change according to the province that you are in. They are organized according to the number of hours that they differ from Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).
Pacific Time Zone (PDT) – (-8) Yukon Territory (YT) & British Columbia (BC)
Mountain Time Zone (MDT) – (-7) Northwest Territories (NT) & Alberta (AB)
Central Time Zone (CDT) – (-6) Saskatchewan (SK) & Manitoba (MB) + a small portion of Ontario.
Eastern Time Zone (EDT) – (-5) Ontario (ON), Quebec (QC), Nunavut (NU), & New Brunswick (NB)
Atlantic Time Zone (ADT) – (-4) Nova Scotia (NS)
Newfoundland Time Zone (NDT) – (-3.5) Newfoundland (NL)
Canada is a massive country that has some of the most diverse climate conditions in the world. The following information is general and we strongly recommend checking specific information relating to your destination and to the time of year that you're visiting.
Most regions of Canada have four distinct seasons that vary in length and intensity. Almost every part of Canada has a well-defined winter bringing freezing temperatures and significant snowfall. Canada’s summers vary according to region but are usually mild. Below is a short breakdown according to region.
British Columbia – Heavy precipitation year-round (especially on the coast) and moderate summer and winter temperatures. The only place where winter temperatures tend to stay above freezing.
Northern 2/3 of Canada – Similar to Northern Scandinavia, with very cold winters and short cool summers.
Central + Southern (Canadian Prairies) – Continental climate, very cold winters, hot summers, and little precipitation.
Ontario + Quebec – Hot, humid summers and cold, snowy winters, very dependent on the Great Lakes.
The following list refers to national Canadian celebrations, many regions (particularly Newfoundland) have their own regional celebrations.
National Flag Day (February 15th) – Commemorates the day that Canada’s flag was first raised above Parliament – at 1 p.m. on February 15th, 1965.
Victoria Day – Started in 1845 to celebrate the birthday of Queen Victoria. It remains a national holiday in Canada, as the monarch of Great Britain is still Canada’s Head of State. Many communities host fireworks displays.
National Aboriginal Day (June 21st) – First marked in 1996, it celebrates the place of Aboriginals in Canadian national identity. Many local communities hold celebrations involving traditional singing and dancing, along with arts, storytelling, and more.
Canada Day (July 1st) – Celebrates the creation of Canada in 1869 – expect BBQs, parades, concerts, and fireworks.
Thanksgiving Day (mid-October) – Celebrates the first successful crossing to Canada, by Martin Frobisher. Thanksgiving became a holiday in 1872 and usually consists of a family dinner involving Turkey.
Every foreign national who enters Canada needs to bring a valid passport with at least 6 months validity to show to border officials. Visitors from many countries need to obtain a visa (in advance of your visit) to visit Canada – check out the following link to see if you need a visa.
Visitors from a total of 54 visa-exempt countries, including all EU citizens, US citizens, Australian citizens, and many more, may enter Canada without a visa for up to 6 months.
However, visa-exempt visitors need to acquire an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) to enter Canada via an airport. The eTA costs $7 CAD and requires applicants to answer a number of questions and fill in some personal details. An eTA is not required if you are flying from the United States, for people who can prove that they’re citizens of the United States, or if you’re from the Saint Pierre and Miquelon regions of France.
You won’t need an eTA if you’re entering Canada via land or sea. You don’t need an eTA if you are from a country that is required to obtain a visa. You are required to inform the border official at your port of entry if you plan to stay longer than 6 months.
Every major Canadian city has a dedicated international airport, while many other cities and towns have smaller airports. Below is a list of Canada’s five busiest airports:
Canada has a variety of ports dotted around its coastline, with many ferry routes and cruises offering entry via them. Each port is managed by a provincial port authority – check out this useful list, which gives details of the specific Canadian Port Authorities. Ferry routes are managed by the Canadian Ferry Operators Association.
There are 10 land borders between Canada and the United States. Below is a list of common crossings, also follow this useful link for specific information on each one:
If you would like specific details regarding the waiting times at each border crossing, then visit the Canadian Government’s Border Crossing website.
There is significant variance between road regulations between provinces in Canada. It’s always a good idea to check the specific rules and conditions in the province that you are visiting.
Notable Road Laws
Generally, there are four types of roads:
Canada’s speed limits vary from state-to-state, however, generally the following speed limits apply:
Toronto and Montreal have excellent subway systems. Vancouver also has one, but it's above ground and more resembles a monorail. Calgary, Edmonton, and Ottawa all have light-rail systems. Inter-city trains are operated by Via Rail and they generally run between most major cities.
Busses are the most used type of public transportation in Canada, with most cities and towns having a local system. They are designed for commuting workers (especially in smaller towns); services may be limited or non-existent on evenings and weekends. Busses also run between several major cities and popular tourist destinations.
Taxis are a common form of transportation in Canada. They can be found in all major cities and most towns. They operate on a meter-system with a one-time starting fee of around $2.70 and a continued per-kilometer charge of about $1.75. Uber and similar companies operate in major cities, such as Toronto, but cannot be found in smaller or more remote locations.
Canada's culinary traditions are rich and varied. Food and drink differs from region to region and is heavily influenced by other national cuisines from around the world. The earliest dishes in the country’s history came from England, France, and the First Nations. Continuous waves of immigration from Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean have also left their mark, making the Canadian gastronomic scene one of the most vibrant and diverse in the world. Below is a brief description of some of Canada’s more popular dishes:
Poutine - Voted Canada’s national dish in a 2012 survey, it consists of french fries covered in cheese and gravy.
Maple Syrup – A Canadian staple that and what the nation is best known for, it’s added to both sweet and savory dishes including pancakes, waffles, and bacon.
Montreal-Style Bagels – A smaller, thinner, and sweeter kind of bagel that is popular throughout Canada and synonymous with Montreal.
Salmon Jerky – Dried, smoked salmon that is incredibly popular with locals and tourists alike.
Perogy/Pierogi – A type of Polish dumpling that contains both sweet and savory fillings.
Butter Tarts – Canada's favorite dessert consisting of a small pastry tart with a sweet filling.
Canada's vast size means that even the best mobile networks only cover around 30% of the country in total. Your choice of phone network heavily depends on where you are going or where you would like to go. Particularly remote areas may not have any cell-coverage so, if you are planning on visiting the backcountry, always inform someone of where you are going and when you plan on returning. Urban areas, such as Toronto, Calgary, Montreal, Vancouver, and the like, all have near total cell coverage.
Click here for more details and an interactive map displaying which areas are covered by which company. Below is a list of the most popular cellular networks in Canada and how much of the country they cover:
Freedom: 0.46% 4G coverage
Canadians typically greet each other with a handshake (make sure you look the person in the eye while doing so), except in parts of French Canada and especially Quebec where, like many Europeans, they kiss on both cheeks.
Canadians share a similar tipping culture with Americans. You should expect to pay a tip at the end of a ‘sit-down’ meal. Most guides recommend 15% of the bill, although over-tipping is not uncommon. Not tipping is considered rude in Canada.
Canada's First Nations, Inuit, and Aboriginal peoples are the original inhabitants of the land. Early European colonists often referred to them as ‘Eskimos' and the word still appears in certain culture's perceptions of them. However, the word is now considered a form of racial abuse and should never be used in Canada (or anywhere else).
Visitors to Canada are subject to a number of taxes that often surprise them. They tend to vary according to region, meaning that it’s always wise to look for specific information regarding the place that you’re visiting.
Is there Canada Sales Tax?
Goods and Services Tax (GST) – Charged at 5% throughout Canada, it is not shown on price tags or restaurant bills and is added at the till often surprising visitors.
Provincial Sales Tax (PST) – Charged at 10-15%, depending on the province, it’s also not added until you pay. Not applicable in Alberta, Nunavut, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories. (Some provinces have a Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), which blends the GST and PST together)
Municipal and Regional District Tax (MRDT) – A local tax that is often collected in tourist areas to promote or support tourism operations.
You may be eligible to be refunded for some of these paid taxes upon exiting Canada. Visit this page for more information.
Canada has a universal healthcare system, granting all Canadian citizens and permanent residents free healthcare at the point of delivery. All Canadian provinces and territories also provide emergency care to visitors who do not have a government health card. You will need to get health insurance coverage before you visiting or you may face a hefty medical bill following any emergency care.
The legal drinking age in Canada is determined by the province. Most provinces have a legal drinking age of 19, yet some are 18. Below is a full list of the legal drinking age in each province:
Cannabis was legalized in Canada in October, 2018. Adults are now allowed to carry up to 30 grams of cannabis for recreational use. The minimum age to possess cannabis is the same as the legal drinking age in each province, so in Alberta you must 18 and in British Columbia you must be 19 to partake.
There are two official languages of Canada – English and French. In practice, the vast majority of the country speaks English. Eight of Canada’s ten provinces consider English to be their official language with just Quebec and New Brunswick recognizing French as their official language.
Canada is renowned for having four distinct seasons, each varying greatly depending on what part of the country you are in. We recommend looking at information specific to the place that you are visiting. Below is an overview of Canada’s four seasons:
Winter generally runs from late-November to late-March/early-April depending on your location. The eastern regions generally see longer winters, which can last from November to April. At the peak of winter, temperatures are below freezing everywhere (apart from the coast of British Columbia). Significant snowfall is expected across the country, especially in places such as the Canadian Rockies.
Spring comes at various times throughout the country. It arrives earliest on the west coast, with temperatures rising from February onwards. Spring comes much later in other parts of the country, usually around April and lasts until June. However, the weather remains unpredictable and you may experience moderate snowfall throughout Canada.
Summer takes place between June and August and temperatures vary widely depending on location. Central and eastern cities, such as Toronto and Montreal, are surprisingly hot and humid. Summers on the west coast are cooler, while the Northern regions have even more cool summers. Some Northern cities are known to have up to 20 hours of daylight.
Fall lasts from September to November. In central and eastern Canada, it’s cooler and less humid than in the summer. The colors in Canada during this time of year are spectacular, bringing magical shades of orange, red and yellow. Fall is an excellent time to visit Vancouver as it’s driest period of the year.
The Saint Lawrence River flows 744 mi (1,197 kilometers) north-east from the eastern edge of Lake Ontario and empties into the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Connecting the Great Lakes to the Atlantic, the Saint Lawrence serves as the primary drainage route for the whole Great Lakes Basin.
Stretching across Ontario and Quebec with the US border to the south, the river connects several of Canada's largest cities and the area surrounding the river is home to a majority of Canada’s population.