Updated: Jan 09, 2024
Whether you’re looking for a vibrant, cosmopolitan city or a quiet, picturesque location, Canada has it all. With the second biggest landmass in the world, and the 38th largest population (36.5 million – just over half that of the UK), it could be described as pretty sparse. The vast majority of people live along the southern border with the United States in the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta, with about 40% living in Ontario alone. Canada is a place to visit any time of year. Whether it is for relaxing by a lake on a sunny afternoon or skiing up in the Rockies. Before you plan your visit, you should get an understanding of Canadian entry requirements.
If you are traveling from a Visa Exempt Country, you will only need your passport to enter Canada, but if you are flying into a Canadian airport you will also need an eTA, which stands for Electronic Travel Authorization. The process of applying for an eTA is fairly straight forward. You should submit your application within several weeks or months before your planned departure. You will usually receive a decision on your application within 72 hours of submission. Note that an eTA is linked to your passport so if you lose that or it expires, you will have to apply for another eTA.
If you do need a visa, you can apply online at the Government of Canada website. You will need to provide your biometrics, including your photograph and fingerprints, as well as pay an application fee. Biometric information is provided at a local collection service point, which will require scheduling an appointment. You will receive a letter telling you when and where to do this and you have 30 days from the date of the letter to provide your biometrics.
You may be asked to provide further information or to attend an interview. Furthermore, you may also need a medical exam or a police certificate. All of this will be explained to you in communications from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). The entire application process should take around three or four weeks to complete, provided you promptly supply all the necessary information. If successful, the visa will be stamped inside your passport. Your application is not successful, you will be notified of the reasons with advice on what your options.
When you arrive in Canada with a visa, you will have your fingerprints checked to verify that you are the person on the passport, and if there are any discrepancies with this or your documentation you will be denied entry, so it is vitally important that you do everything correctly. Usually, you will be permitted to stay in Canada for up to six months, but the border services officer may vary this to suit the purpose of your visit.
Once you obtain your Canada eTA or visa, you can start considering a number of the following locations for your itinerary. This list is not exhaustive, but provides more popular options that have become tourist favourites over the years.
The capital of British Columbia, Victoria is on the southernmost tip of Vancouver Island. It is famous for its elephant seals and it’s a great spot for whale watching. Whilst there, you must visit the Inner Harbour and China Town. The Legislative Assembly of British Columbia is a fine example of neo-baroque architecture, just off the Inner Harbour Causeway.
What some describe as the best place to live in the world, Vancouver is in a unique setting, with a mountainous backdrop, lake and seafront beaches, and the biggest fishing port in Canada. Granville Island is a place to visit for its eclectic mix of street cafes and restaurants rich with seafood, fresh from the Pacific Ocean, and the Public Market overflows with fish, meats, fruit and vegetables, all locally sourced. For those who like to ski, there is the Grouse Mountain Ski Resort just 12km to the north, and 110km further north is the famous Whistler resort.
The capital of Alberta, Edmonton is situated in the middle of the province on the North Saskatchewan River. It is within easy reach of Elk Island National Park where elk and bison roam free. Being so far north it benefits from long summer days but also long, cold winter nights. It is a modern city with few old buildings, but worthy of note is the Fort Edmonton Park living history museum.
Around 520km to the east of Edmonton lies Saskatoon. Here you can take a riverboat ride along the South Saskatchewan River through the Meewasin Valley, where the Wanuskewin Heritage Park is situated with exhibitions of the indigenous Aboriginal culture. Saskatoon has the second largest population of First Nation people in Canada behind Winnipeg. There are several provincial parks around Saskatoon, including the Beaver Creek Conservation Area, and the Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park & Zoo to the east of the river.
The capital of Manitoba, Winnipeg is the largest city in the province with a population of just over 700,000, of which 12% are First Nation people. It was established in 1738 on the intersection of the Red and Assiniboine rivers as a trading post and was incorporated as a city in 1873. It is now referred to as the “Gateway to the West” and has become a major multi-cultural city with over 100 languages spoken there, English being the most common. It is not everyone’s first choice as a tourist destination, but there is still a lot to see and experience. If you like ethnic food, you can visit the West End district, and The Forks National Historic Site, which is packed with restaurants and shops as well as lots of leisure activities.
Not just home to the most famous waterfall in North America, if not the world, Niagara Falls is a city in its own right, nestled on the west bank of the Niagara River. It has many recreational facilities, including MarineLand Theme Park, a golf course, and Willoughby Marsh Conservation Area. However, most tourists visit for the Horseshoe, American, and Bridal Veil Falls, which combine to form the historic Niagara Falls.
On the banks of Lake Ontario, and bordering northern New York state, Toronto is the largest city in Canada and the capital of Ontario, and with over 140 languages spoken. Toronto is one of the most diverse, multicultural cities in the world. The 90m CN Tower, once the largest in the world, is an iconic landmark that dominates the skyline. If you like sports, it’s home to the Vancouver Maple Leafs ice hockey team. If you want shopping, the Eaton Centre is the largest shopping mall in the city. With its mix of ethnic and fast food outlets, you will not go hungry there. There are many places to visit, such as the Casa Loma, an early 20th-century castle, and Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada.
The Canadian capital, Ottawa is much smaller than Montreal and Toronto but that gives it its charm. Despite its size, Ottawa boasts some of the finest architecture in Canada such as the Parliament Buildings, the Natural History Museum, and the more modern National Gallery. If you like water sports, the Rideau Canal is popular with boaters and in the winter, it becomes an ice-rink. The Ottawa River also provides an opportunity for white water rafting.
With over half the population speaking French as their native tongue, it’s easy to forget you are in one of the oldest urban settlements in North America. Montreal has a real European feel to it, with its old cobblestone streets and 17th-century buildings, but it is also a modern, cosmopolitan city with a vibrant nightlife. There is a metro system connecting all the districts, and an “underground city”, a collection of offices, hotels and residential buildings linked by a series of tunnels.
The capital of the province and also the oldest, Quebec City dates back to the 15th century and the walled city of Old Quebec, with its cobblestone streets and 17th-century buildings, is a place to consider visiting. The 19th century Château Frontenac Hotel stands proud above the north bank of the St Lawrence River, and The Citadelle, the largest British fortress in North America, is now an active fort and museum. This French-speaking city boasts the finest countryside in all of Canada, with the Jacques-Cartier National Park situated to the north.
The provincial capital of Nova Scotia, Halifax sits on the eastern coastline of the province overlooking the vast Atlantic Ocean. Its location made it the first port of entry for immigrants in the mid-18th century, which helped establish it as a city in 1842. The waterfront boardwalk is lined with shops and restaurants centred around the harbour, with its famous Seaport Farmers’ Market selling freshly caught produce. Whilst there, you must visit The Citadel National Historic Site, the star-shaped fortress that overlooks the harbour.
The most easterly point of North America, St John’s is the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador province. It is the oldest city in North America, dating back to the 15th century, and from here you can see several species of whale including the humpback and the minke. Places to visit include the historic fishing village of Quidi Vidi, where you can sample the local seafood, and the colourful houses along “Jellybean Row”.
Canada offers business and tourism travellers a variety of options when it comes to experiencing Canadian culture, history, entertainment and food. This article reviewed a number of cities for visitors to explore when they next plan on coming to Canada. Before you book your itinerary, make you sure you obtain a Canada eTA or visitor visa if you are not a Canadian or U.S. citizen.