Sunrises in Calgary are spectacular, when the gleaming skyscrapers are silhouetted against the white peaks of the Rockies. This city of big business and small-town prairie life feeds our fascination with the Canadian Wild West, while keeping us entranced with all the draws of a burgeoning city. We love imagining what life was like pre-1914 at the Heritage Park Historical Village. The park’s restored buildings, characters in heritage costume and working steam locomotive are the perfect environments for practicing our cowboy swagger.
Billed as 'the greatest outdoor show on Earth', the Calgary Stampede 10-day festival is the highlight of the year in Alberta. Thousands of hedonistic revellers looking for a taste of the cowboy life descend on the city for a succession of rowdy rodeo shows, marching bands, live country music and chuckwagon races — the action doesn’t stop for a second at Stampede. Each day wraps up with the Grandstand Show, an incredible show of music, pyrotechnics, death-defying stunts and performing horses. When you’re not at a jaw-dropping show, follow your taste buds around the venue. With dishes like bacon-wrapped pork belly on a stick, deep-fried donut bacon cheeseburgers and chocolate-dipped cookie dough, Stampede food embraces a reckless attitude towards the waistline. The diet can wait until you get home.
As you approach the gate of Fort Calgary’s reconstructed wooden fence you’re met by a red-coated Canadian Mountie, just like back in 1875. The establishment of this outpost marked the beginning of Calgary and now acts as a living history museum keeping the city connected to its past. Take the tour of the Fort to step into the Canadian Wild West of yesteryear. Actors in authentic late-19th century costume take you around the park while telling you of the defining moments in the city’s history. After, suiting up in a full Mountie uniform for a photo, you’ll have the chance to take a virtual scenic streetcar tour or get behind the wheel of a 1928 Ford. Leisurely afternoons are well spent wandering around the park where the Bow and Elbow Rivers meet.
Taking you 191 metres above the city, Calgary Tower boasts the best view in town. Take a tentative walk across the glass floor to feast your eyes on 360-degree panoramas across the city, prairie and Rocky Mountains beyond. The complimentary tour that points out all the city’s landmarks is a great way to start your city break; while the Tourism Calgary’s Visitor Information Centre, located at the base of the tower, stocks everything you need to start your day of exploring. If you can’t get enough of the view, you can enjoy a delicious meal paired with award-winning wine at the revolving Sky 360 restaurant. Over 155 metres up, the restaurant revolves once every 45 minutes to an hour, allowing you time to appreciate the views without ever leaving your seat.
Calgary loves its sports. Whether you want to partake or just watch the athletes in play, it’s easy to find a bit of sports action in Calgary. The Calgary Flames Hockey Club lives up to its name at the Scotiabank Saddledome; when each time the home side scores actual flames fire above the players’ heads. You can catch the Calgary Stampeders Canadian football team at the McMahon Stadium or visit the Canada Olympic Park, prime venue in the 1988 Winter Games, to try skiing, snowboarding, luge and bobsleigh rides, or whizz down North America's fastest zip line from the 90-metre-high ski jump tower. Canada's Sports Hall of Fame tells the tale of Canadian sporting history, with over 1,000 sporting artefacts and 50 interactive exhibits, including simulated shadow boxing with Lennox Lewis.
There are a number of carriers offering flights to Canada from the UK.
Direct Carriers: Air Canada offers direct daily scheduled services from London to many Canada cities; including Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver.
British Airways offers direct daily scheduled services from London to Calgary, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.
Air Transat offers direct charter services from London to many Canada cities; including Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver. Regional services from Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle, Exeter, Glasgow are also available.
Indirect Carriers: Delta Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways and Continental Airlines all offer flights to Canada from London via the USA.
None for British citizens
The official currency is the Canadian Dollar, which you can buy them before leaving the UK. There are no restrictions on taking local or foreign currency in and out of the country, but amounts of 10,000 CAD or more should be declared. If you need to buy currency in Canada, you can do so at any bank or currency exchange and at some hotels.
Major debit and credit cards like MasterCard, Visa and American Express are accepted everywhere except some rural areas. Cash machines are easy to find in towns and cities, and traveller's cheques can be used in banks, hotels and tourist establishments. Before travelling to more remote areas, make sure you have a good supply of Canadian Dollars in cash as you may not have access to banks, currency exchanges or cash machines.
It is normal practice to tip your server 15 percent or more in restaurants, bars and nightclubs. In your hotel, leave maids and cleaners two or three Canadian Dollars and tip porters one or two per bag. Taxi drivers tend to expect a 10 to 15 percent tip.
March - April
September - October
No special vaccines required.
As the second largest country on Earth, Canada's weather varies greatly from coast to coast, so it's best to check the weather for your chosen destination. However, as a general rule, pack thermals, woollies and serious winter gear from October to April, waterproofs all year round, and a mix of summer clothes, layers, lightweight jumpers and jackets from May to September.
Light to mid-weight clothing and layers in summer;
Comfortable walking or hiking shoes for exploring;
thermals and cold weather clothing in winter;
sunglasses and sun hat during the summer;
A camera and binoculars
essential for capturing Canada's scenery and wildlife;
A thick jumper;
Electrical plug adaptor (the power supply in Canada is 120 volts at 60 hertz).
Holidays in Canada offer a smorgasbord of culinary delights that starts with day-fresh seafood like salmon, lobster, scallops and crab; moves to succulent steak and flavoursome game like venison, elk and bison, and takes in influences from French and German to Asian and Ukrainian. Then there's the drink; from the national whiskeys and beers to sweet ice wine, a Canadian speciality made from grapes frozen on the vine.
A classic French-Canadian meat pie traditionally served at Christmas, tourtiere is usually made with diced pork, beef or veal, often with wild game for extra flavour. Slow cooked in a deep dish, with mushrooms, onions and garlic to soak up the juices and cinnamon and cloves adding a warm spiciness; tourtiere is often served with a tangy chilli relish.
The BC Roll
British Columbia is famous for its wild Pacific salmon, and this sushi roll is a delicious use of the local produce. Wrapped in nori (seaweed), it contains barbecued salmon, cucumber, and often barbecued salmon skin in a sweet sauce. There are many variations, like the addition of mayonnaise, to try throughout the province.
Where would the humble pancake be without Canada’s most famous sweetener? Also smothered on French toast, waffles, porridge, and used to add a warming, sugary burst of flavour to all kinds of cooking; this delicious syrup is made from the sap of the maple tree. Three-quarters of the world’s maple syrup is produced in Québec, which exports over 145 million Canadian Dollars’ worth every year.
Canada does some seriously tempting sweet treats, and the Nanaimo bar is a national favourite. Named after a city in British Columbia, this no-bake dessert is a crumb biscuit bar, usually layered with vanilla or custard buttercream and topped with chocolate. There are loads of varieties to try, including mint, mocha and, our favourite, peanut butter flavour buttercream.
Many of Canada’s major cities have a thriving food cart scene, with the flavours changing from region to region. Go to Québec and find poutine everywhere you go, while Ontario loves its hot dogs, and British Columbia craves smoky Ukrainian sausages. Vancouverites devour sushi and pizza, Ottawans snack on falafel and ‘beaver tail’ pastries, and both cities’ foodie markets will have you filling your baskets and your stomachs. Be careful to only order street food from vendors whose food is clean, fresh, and cooked right in front of you.
Québec slang for ‘a mess’, poutine may not be Canada’s most elegant dish, but it’s frequently voted it’s favourite. Best enjoyed after a night out, this is a mound of French fries topped with thick brown gravy and cheese curds that make a squeaking sound as you eat them. For extra wow factor, other ingredients like beef, pulled pork, lamb, lobster or truffles can also be added.
Montréal Smoked Meat
If you are still searching for your perfect sandwich filling, this may just be your holy grail. This smoked, cured, kosher beef is seasoned with cracked peppercorns and aromatic spices like coriander, then left to absorb the flavours over a week. Pile it high on rye bread slathered with mustard and find yourself in sandwich heaven.
An Ottawan trademark, these fried whole-wheat dough pastries are hand-stretched to resemble a beaver’s tail. Try one with a drizzle of lemon juice, a sprinkling of cinnamon and a dusting of sugar, especially from ByWard Market in Ottawa after a stroll along the Rideau Canal.
Costs on Canada holidays vary from five dollar poutine to five-star fine dining. On average though, a three course meal for two in a mid-range restaurant will set you back around 60 Canadian Dollars, with a bottled beer about six Canadian Dollars. In a store, a 1.5 litre bottle of water is usually around two Canadian Dollars.
Like the UK and United States, Canada is a cosmopolitan society with a mix of cultures, most notably in its French-Canadian communities. As a general rule, codes of social behaviour here are pretty similar to those in the UK. Without wanting to stereotype, Canadians are usually patient, tolerant, and friendly people.
When it comes to etiquette, keep the following in mind:
• A handshake or simple hello is the usual form of greeting. Close friends often kiss each other on the cheeks, especially in French-speaking areas.
• Smoking has been banned in most public places.
• It is considered rude to eat while walking on the street in many French-speaking areas.
• Upmarket bars and restaurants often require more formal dress.
• It sounds obvious, but avoid referring to Canadians as Americans.
Canada's wildlife is truly iconic, with all kinds of animals you may only have seen in the movies. This huge country is famous for large beasts like moose and grizzly and black bears, not to mention wolves, bison, beavers, racoons, porcupines, skunks, coyotes, elk, mountain lions, and even polar bears. Meanwhile, whales, dolphins, seals and walruses make themselves at home in the expanse of surrounding waters.
Whale and Dolphin Watching
Whether you do it by boat or kayak, Canada’s endless coastline means plenty of opportunities for whale and dolphin tours. The best whale watching is in British Columbia, home to one of the world’s highest populations of orcas as well as grey, minke and humpbacks. The best time to see them is from April to October.
Seeing bears in the wild is one of Canada’s most thrilling experiences. Grizzlies are found in British Columbia, feeding on salmon, plants and berries. While black bears can be seen in most parts of the country and you may even spot them at the side of quieter roads. The best bear watching tours are available from Vancouver Island.