With its scenic landscape, vibrant cities and natural wonders like the Northern Lights — as well as quirky attractions like giant statues of sausages and hockey sticks — Canada is just a road trip or plane ride from the U.S. An international destination without the jet lag.
You can use points and miles to get there on Air Canada and all the major U.S. airlines, as well as a few smaller outfits like Sun Country and WestJet. And tons of new routes have been added recently.
Here are 11 reasons why you should visit Canada this year.
From the diverse, multicultural population of Toronto to the French-influenced Montreal and Quebec City to the Pacific Northwest haven of Vancouver, Canada has some fantastic cities. To experience the maritime culture along the Atlantic Ocean, visit Halifax, Nova Scotia. To get a taste of British society, try Victoria, British Columbia, and to feel like you’re in the Wild West, head to Calgary, Alberta.
The Canadian dollar (sometimes referred to as the “loonie” because of the one-dollar coin with a loon on it) is almost always worth less than the U.S. dollar, so things are generally cheaper here. It’s a trip that won’t break the bank.
Canadians really know how to celebrate. The country has so many festivals it’s hard to keep up, but it’s worth checking out some of them, like the Montreal Jazz Fest, Luminato in Toronto, Ottawa’s Tulip Festival and the Calgary Stampede. Some lesser-known but no less incredible celebrations are: Vancouver’s 5X, the Edmonton International Fringe Festival and Baie St. Marie in Nova Scotia.
French culture without going to France
Quebec was settled by the French in the 1600s and has retained its French heritage. In fact, going to Montréal, Quebec City or the Quebec countryside is a great way to get a taste of France without the jetlag. You will see Gothic Revival architecture and a unique café culture. And, of course, you’ll have the opportunity to speak and hear French. The official languages of Canada are French and English.
Breathtaking national parks
Canada is a popular destination for nature lovers. An extensive national park system celebrates the country’s natural wonders. From popular parks like Banff and Jasper in Alberta, Pacific Rim and Yoho in British Columbia and the Cape Breton Highlands in Nova Scotia to lesser-known gems like Riding Mountain in Manitoba, Ivvavik in Yukon and Gros Morne in Newfoundland, the parks encompass snow-capped mountains, deep fjords, lush islands, massive glaciers, teal lakes, rainforests and gushing waterfalls.
See the northern lights
Although there a few places in the northern U.S. where you can spot the aurora borealis, Canada is typically the closest place to see them routinely. It’s possible to see the lights (almost) anywhere in Canada during all four seasons, but the northern half of the country is where they are the most active most of the time. The Northwest Territories, Manitoba, Yukon, Nunavut, and Newfoundland and Labrador are your best bets.
Visit a museum
This year, Manitoba celebrates its 150th anniversary and in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the Inuit Art Center opens. Also in Winnipeg, is the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, the only museum in the world exclusively dedicated to human rights.
Taste Canadian cuisine
Yes, we all know about poutine (that’s French fries smothered in gravy for the uninitiated) and maple syrup, but there are also butter tarts, Nanaimo bars, Montreal-style bagels, bannock bread, Saskatoon berries, smoked meat, Prince Edward Island oysters and the Caesar cocktail — all waiting to be sampled. So pack your stretchy pants.
See amazing animals
Canada is a great destination for animal lovers and wildlife spotters. There are polar bears up north and grizzlies, moose, bison, pronghorn, lynx and mountain lions. But if a controlled environment is more your thing, you can see long-haired Highland cattle on the farm behind the Le Germain Charlevoix Hotel & Spa in the Quebec countryside.
Unexpected wine country
No, we don’t just mean ice wine (although that is a Canadian specialty). As climate changes and some of the world’s most vaunted grape-growing regions have to adjust, the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia is emerging as a prime wine-growing region (with a climate similar to Napa a few decades ago). Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia are not far behind.
It has a thing for giant statues of odd things
Canada has an unprecedented number of gigantic statues devoted to everything from a lobster to a coffee pot to a Canada goose and a rocking horse, so if you’re one for wacky roadside attractions, Canada is for you. Several of these odd statues hold records for being the largest in the world, like the giant hockey stick and puck in Duncan, British Columbia; the massive axe in Nackawic, New Brunswick; the sausage in Mundare, Alberta; and the enormous mosquito (really) in Komarno, Manitoba, which is known as the mosquito capital of the world (maybe not something to brag about).