Article by Ceri Wheeldon
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have chosen to make Canada their new home (at least for the time being), and it is easy to see why they would choose to do. I lived there myself for seven years back in the eighties. It is a stunning country of contrasts.
But what about those who are looking to holiday there – what should you aim to see?
Having visited three times over the past eighteen months I thought I would provide some of my personal favourite places to visit – and some general tips.
Before you book your flight to Canada- apply for your eTA
I had not been to Canada for a few years , and just booked my flight online as I would normally do so, only to receive a pop up warning from the airline asking if I had an ‘eTA Canada ‘which is now essential for travelling to Canada by plane. In fact they advised not to book your flight without an eTA. Canada has adopted a similar system to the USA in terms of issuing travel visas prior to entry into the country. In most instances applying for your eTA Canada should be very straightforward and approved within 72 hours – my application wasn’t straightforward as I had to provide extra documentation having lived there previously to confirm that I had no plans to resettle there and that I was fully resident in the UK (not sure why they weren’t keen to have me back!). Once my additional paperwork was accepted (within 48 hours) I was issued an eTA which was valid for multiple trips for the time remaining on my passport. Unfortunately that was only a few months in my case, so I had to reapply for a new eTA for a subsequent trip – although this time the process was very straightforward – and I simply had to provide the reference number of my initial eTA Canada– which came through very quickly and is valid for multiple visits for five years.
With the Sussexes basing themselves on Vancouver Island, following their lead a trip to British Columbia on the West Coast might seem like a good starting point. The scenery is beautiful, mostly unspoilt, and a trip to Tofino renowned for whale watching is a popular tourist destination – although I was unlucky with the weather – it bucketed down with rain during the few days I was there. Wet weather walking gear is a must, and Tofino itself is a very small town . There is very little to do in terms of entertainment – there are just a few very basic shops and restaurants. This is true of most of Vancouver Island – a visit is all about taking in the scenery and wildlife. People visit the region to hike and kayak. Victoria (on the island) is the capital of British Columbia – very traditional – and a stark contrast to Vancouver back on the mainland which has changed dramatically over the past thirty years to become a vibrant modern city with the skyline dominated by skycrapers.
Again, although there are elements of city life to enjoy in Vancouver, life there is still about enjoying the great outdoors, with lots of hikes around lakes. I would suggest googling walker reviews to have an honest assessment of the degree of difficulty. Most of the walks I did ( such as one around Rice Lake) were pretty straightforward, but Deep Cove which is designated as suitable for beginners I found to be anything but easy – with extremely steep terrain at the beginning of the walk which was very slippery due to a prolonged period of wet weather. On all the walks the scenery and views are stunning. While on the West Coast take a trip to Whistler.
In total contrast to the modernity of Vancouver, over in the eastern part of the country Quebec City is definitely worth a visit. Steeped in history it has a sense of permanence. Walking down some streets you could imagine yourself in Paris, while turning another corner you can arrive at a square and believe that you are in a corner of Provence. Lunch at the Fairmont hotel offers sweeping views across the water. It is a city I would like to spend more time getting to know.
I lived in Ottawa when I was working in Canada- I probably appreciate the beauty of the city far more now when I visit than I did when I lived there. It has a mix of the old and new. The parliament buildings dominate the city centre – although you have a far better view of the buildings themselves if you cross over to the Quebec side of the Rideau river and look across. A great vantage point is from the terrace outside the Canadian Museum of History (well worth a visit – and I’m pleased I went ahead of my trip to Quebec City as the feel of the city made so much more sense). A stroll around Ottawa’s Byward Market (reminiscent of Covent Garden) is nice way to spend a couple of hours – and a good place to have lunch on one of the outdoor continental style terraces. Look to see what plays and events are on at the National Arts Centre – an interesting programme and its restaurant (by the canal) a good venue for a pre-performance dinner – its best to book ahead.
Having lived there I have my favourite places to visit – including what may well be the best restaurant for pizza I have had anywhere. I used to go there in the 80s and the Colonnade’s pizza is still just as good today. People travel for miles to eat there – or politicians simply stroll the couple of blocks down from Parliament Hill
Over on the Quebec side of the river , Gatineau Park offers great walks and scenery. In the autumn the colours are spectacular. You can go back in time and visit the MacKenzie King Estate – the summer home of Canada’s longest serving Prime Minister (50 years) who steered the country through both world wars.
Montreal is just over a two hour drive from Ottawa – if you take the scenic road along the Quebec side of the river – take a break at the Chateau Montebello – more like a large hunting lodge than a traditional chateau, with enormous open fires in the lounge areas – for lunch (or an overnight stay) and stroll along the riverbank. Montebello itself has some quaint shops . An oasis of calm before venturing to the very metropolitan city of Montreal.
Other things to consider:
Canada is a country of contrasts from a scenery perspective – it is also a country of contrasts from a cost point of view as well. I found eating out in Vancouver very expensive – a pasta dish and glass of wine for two in a simple restaurant cost close to $100, whereas lunch for three with wine at the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City – a far more upmarket venue cost $80. Ottawa prices were far more reasonable as well. Something to consider when planning a trip. As is the weather! Unless you are a fan of winter sports Ottawa is best avoided in the winter – ultimately it was the harsh weather that prompted me to return to the UK to live– although in summer there are few places I would rather be! I had two visits to Vancouver fairly close together – one in September where I was lucky with the weather and enjoyed mostly blue skies – the other in December when over a three week period there was only one day when it didn’t rain.
Be realistic about how many places you can visit in one trip. Distances between cities are immense. The train network is not as ‘joined up’ as here in the UK and typically journeys can take longer than travelling by car – investigate the bus/coach timetable. Also, many of the rail lines cross First Nations land, and due to ongoing issues regarding historic land treaties, many train services have been subject to strikes in recent months. Check before you plan your travel within Canada. One other point. Your eTA Canada will allow you make multiple trips – but there is a maximum time limit of 6 months per stay.
Canada is a beautiful country – which I plan to visit many times more in the future.