For a country so obsessed with not making a fuss about things, Canada seems to have a way of working its way into people’s affections and being high up on lists of popular holiday destinations – as well as being consistently the country people want to emigrate to. If you’re a keen traveler, there is no doubt that you’ll find a lot to enjoy in the USA’s chilly Northern neighbor.
Whether you’re looking for a place to spend a few weeks kicking back, or are genuinely into the idea of settling in a new country for a prolonged period, the chances are that you will find what you’re looking for among the vast expanses of this country. And, to ensure that this guide isn’t visited by the cliche police, we’re going to have a moratorium right now on the use of the following words and phrases: Hockey, Syrup, Apologetic, Permanent Winter. So with those ruled out of the equation, why is Canada such an attractive option for so many?
Its cities are wildly diverse in nature
If you spend some time in Toronto, you’ll get to learn pretty quickly that it’s not New York – but it is as close as Canada gets to that feel of a fast-moving metropolis. There is lots to love about this city, which so many people think is the capital – there’s a vibrant sporting culture with NBA, MLB and NHL teams as well as the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts, for one thing. Dining out is a treat, with chain and independent restaurants and great street food (on which we’ll have more to say later).
Toronto, however, is a world removed from the actual capital, Ottawa, which feels so different from a typical capital such as London, Tokyo or Washington. Ottawa is relaxed, bohemian and fun in a classically Canadian way – its best spot for shopping is Byward Market, which is busy enough without being a nightmare to navigate through. Montreal is different again – for one thing, it’s the heart of French Canada and is culturally a mix of both nationalities. It also has the most restaurants per capita in the entire country, and is behind only New York in North America. Meanwhile, Vancouver is the “cool” capital of Canada, with a thriving outsider art scene, and is used by many US TV dramas as a place to shoot.
The landscapes are stunning
Venture far enough north in Canada and you will end up in the Arctic Circle – which could be a positive or a negative, depending on your viewpoint. It is, unarguably, a stunning thing to see, and conservation trips to this part of Canada are well worth taking. As you get back further south, however, and things thaw out (depending on the time of year, anyway), the landscapes get greener, leafier and more jaw-dropping. The views of Moraine Lake at Banff National Park alone – as pictured above – are almost otherworldly in their beauty, and pictures only tell a small chunk of the story.
You don’t have to stray way out into the country to find such beauty, though, as many of Canada’s more urbanized areas are still in incredibly picturesque settings. Victoria, capital of British Columbia, is one of the most beautiful cities you’ll find anywhere, with the flowery Butchart Gardens being a particular standout. Vancouver, meanwhile, offers something only a coastal city can, with its 17-mile Seawall offering incredible panoramic vistas over the North Pacific.
The street food is some of the best in the world
Every nation can make some kind of claim to having great street food. It’s a pretty easy fallback for travel writers who want to demonstrate that they actually ventured off of their itinerary before writing about a place. However, in Canada – and this may be something to do with the cold temperatures making readily available hot food seem like Heaven – the roadside carts really do have something to offer that makes the trip worth it.
Anyone who has been once to Ottawa will hear the phrase “Beaver Tails” and be straight on to the canada-eta.com homepage wondering how quickly they can get back out there. The fluffy fried batter dish, topped with anything from cinnamon sugar to cracked Oreos, is a national institution. So, too, is poutine – a carby, cheesy dream food that actually feels like it’s providing an additional layer of insulation. If you’re in Montreal, then you simply can’t leave without trying the traditional smoked meat – equally popular as part of a sandwich or as a topping for poutine.
It IS a welcoming place
Let’s first of all make one thing clear – you’ll meet welcoming people anywhere in the world, and run across rude or hostile individuals alike. No one city, or country, has a monopoly on nice. With that said, Canada has an encouragement to visit more or less built into the national culture. Immigration is actively welcomed, and is a great deal easier than it is in most of the rest of the world. And whether you’re there for a fortnight or planning to stay for the rest of your life, you’re likely to find people are happy you’re there.
What this means practically is that you’re not going to have to look far for someone to help you out with directions or a recommendation on where to find particular souvenirs or foods. Wherever you go in Canada, the openness that is encouraged both in the cities and in the rust belt makes it easier to enjoy some time as a tourist, or to settle into a new home. Indeed, you may find that you visit once for a break, and find yourself mulling over the idea of returning for a more permanent stay later on.
There is no questioning Canada’s reputation with travelers, and the fondness appears to very much be a two-way thing. A varied feast for the mind, the eyes and the stomach alike, there are plenty of very good reasons why this is a country you’ll want to spend a lot of time in.
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