5 reasons you should visit Canada this Winter
This year, Canada is celebrating its 150th birthday – congratulations! So 2017 is an excellent year to choose to visit Canada, a truly beautiful country. Don’t worry just yet if you think you’ve missed the boat and are too late to plan your summer holiday there; there’s always winter in 6 months’ time! There’ll be a lot of additional celebrations happening around the country in celebration of this milestone anniversary, which will make your trip even better than it would have been anyway, but here I’m going to give you 5 reasons you should consider travelling to the world’s 2nd largest country during the coldest months of the year.
1. The stunning scenery
Canada is famed for its breathtaking landscapes, which can be found all across this vast country. Forests, mountains, glaciers and lakes all look beautiful in the summer, but even more striking in the winter covered in snow that sparkles in the sunlight. Think real-life scenes from the Chronicles of Narnia or Frozen.
2. Snow sports
If there’s a winter sport you want to do, then surely Canada is the place to do it. It’s previously played host to two Winter Olympic Games (Calgary, 1988 and Vancouver, 2010) and is also home to Whistler Blackcomb, one of the largest ski resorts in North America. Canadian ski resorts are renowned for being particularly snowboarder-friendly, especially compared to their French counterparts. Don’t forget though, when you visit Canada it’s not all about skiing and snowboarding – there are also countless opportunities to go snowshoeing in the woods and ice-skating in the parks in the city, which are much more affordable winter sport alternatives.
3. Other, less strenuous recreational activities
For those who are perhaps less actively inclined, Canada can offer some much more relaxing recreational activities. Maybe you want to stay near a ski resort, where you can enjoy the après-ski (without the ski) and unwind in a hot tub on the porch of a traditional log cabin. Or, if you’re based in a city, you might want to just head straight to the spa; my favourite is Bota Bota located in the Old Port in Montreal on a converted boat, where you can get a full Nordic spa experience, as well as therapies and massages. The spa is open throughout the year, including the hot tubs outside on deck – just watch out for the ice! Another popular option for those who want the ultimate chilled experience when they visit Canada is the famous Hôtel de Glace in Quebec City, the first ice hotel in North America.
4. The weather
I’m not kidding with this one; people are constantly telling me I’m mad for insisting I actually prefer Canadian winter weather to the milder winters we experience here in the UK. This is typically based on one factor: the temperature. However, you’ll get to experience real snow if you visit Canada in the winter, as well as those crisp winter days you long for with blue skies and sunshine that makes the ground glitter. You rarely get this in the UK as it’s basically raining 24/7. Admittedly, it can get bitterly cold in Canada during the winter (up to -40°C with wind chill), but the cold is dry rather than damp and extremely invigorating! If you really can’t handle sub-zero temperatures, consider heading to Vancouver on the west coast for milder winters and much less snow in the city!
5. Retail therapy
You don’t have to spend all your time enjoying the great outdoors in Canada; there’s also the great indoors in the form of the underground shopping centres in both Toronto (PATH) and Montreal (the Underground City), for when both visitors and locals just have to escape the elements. Both of these huge shopping centres connect shops and subway stations just so you don’t have to brave the winter weather but can still enjoy the great selection of shops offered in these great cosmopolitan cities. Montreal also claims to have the largest food court in North America, which forms part of its subterranean shopping network, so you won’t go hungry!
So what next?
So now you’ve been inspired by all the great things there are to do if you visit Canada during the winter, how do you go about planning your trip? Here’s some practical info to help you on your way:
How to get there: Canada’s major cities are very well-connected with lots of direct flight options to the UK at various different price points. Airlines you can fly with are British Airways, Air Canada, Air Transat and WestJet. The shortest flight from the UK takes around 5h45 from London to St. John’s and the flight time to Vancouver on the far west coast takes around 9h30.
Currency: Canadian dollars (CAD). The currency has been fairly weak over the last couple of years compared to the US dollar. Currently, 1 GBP = 1.75 CAD.
Language: Most provinces and cities speak English. Certain parts of the country are more French (northeastern Ontario, Montreal and Quebec City in Quebec) but don’t let this put you off visiting the francophone areas. The vast majority of people will speak English in Montreal and people in shops and restaurants in Quebec will also speak English. You only really need to brush up on your French if you’re venturing into more rural areas of Quebec.
Culture: Canada is made up of 10 provinces and 3 territories, each with its own distinct culture. You’ll even find cultural differences from city to city. However, in general Canadians from all parts of the country are very friendly and happy to help you as you discover their beautiful country. In the major cities you’ll have access to a wide range of shops, restaurants and services with long opening hours (also at the weekend). You can get basically any food you want (Asian food is particularly good in Vancouver), as well as trying some of the local delicacies, such as poutine in Montreal, beaver tails in Ottawa and maple syrup anywhere!
Getting around: Public transport is by far the best way to get around most cities, closely followed by Uber. Toronto and Montreal both have easy-to-navigate metro systems. Vancouver is slightly trickier as there’s no metro and Uber currently isn’t available as it’s apparently too much competition for the elusive taxis that can be quite difficult to hail at times. If you’re staying downtown, Vancouver is quite walkable and the buses are good for getting around. If you’re heading out of the cities, a car is going to be your best friend for getting around – try to stick to the major roads that should be clear of most of the snow and ice.
What to wear: Clothing is the most important thing if you’re going to visit Canada in the winter and actually enjoy it! Essentials if you’re visiting any of the coldest cities on the east of the country or Calgary are: winter jacket, snow boots, gloves, hat. If possible and your budget allows, I’d recommend buying from a Canadian retailer, either before or as soon as you arrive if you’re planning on spending any time outdoors. Although your ski gear is fine when you’re doing strenuous exercise on a hill all day, the jacket might not cut it if you’re out for a stroll around the park in sub-zero temperatures. My coat is from Arctic North, but another popular brand worn by Canadians is Canada Goose. My boots are by Sorel – another popular brand amongst the locals. I can honestly say I’ve never had cold toes when wearing my Sorel boots! I tend to wear my ski gloves (these are pretty thick) and then a woollen hat. Mine is from the Hudson’s Bay Company in Canada but this should be pretty easy to pick up anywhere.