I’m probably not alone in thinking other countries are far more exciting and exotic travel destinations than my own.
And then Lonely Planet goes and names Canada “The Best Country to Visit in 2017”.
Apparently LOTS of people think Canada is an interesting, dynamic and beautiful country to visit. And big. Let’s not forget big. Second biggest country in the world big.
From coast to coast, the distance across my home and native land is the same as the distance from London, England to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Most Canadians haven’t traveled coast to coast, or all the way south to north, so if you’re considering a visit, plan accordingly. This isn’t a county you can see all in one go. Unless you have unlimited time and unlimited funds, you’ll have to pick one or two destinations.
So when I had the opportunity to see my country through the eyes of a first time visitor, I jumped at the chance to plan an All Canadian Experience.
Choosing a destination
I’m from Ontario, which is the province that is home to both the capital Ottawa, and the largest city, Toronto. Taking my own advice, I planned visits to Niagara Falls, Toronto, Collingwood, and Haliburton, in what call “cottage country”. All of these are do-able within a 2 week trip. A car rental is a necessity — I ended up driving about 1,000 km. Public transportation between these destinations is theoretically possible using the Greyhound bus system or via organized tour, but it either slow or expensive or both.
Choosing a time of year
Canada is a four season country, but for me the best season is summer. In Ontario summer days can reach 30 degrees Celsius and be quite humid. No parkas or toques necessary! Plan for the occasional rainy day and bring a light jacket or hoodie as the evenings can get cool, especially in “cottage country” near the water. A pair of jeans is a great idea, both for a little extra warmth and to keep the mosquitoes at bay.
It’s an iconic destination, one of the first places many people imagine when they think Canada. Straddling the border between Canada and the United States, the view from the Canadian side is far superior.
There are three falls that make up Niagara Falls — the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls. Although the American Falls are taller, no daredevil ever tried to go over them in a barrel…and neither should you! It’s not only stupid and dangerous, but actually illegal to try to go over the Falls.
You can see the Falls from a boat, from a viewing platform beside the Falls, from behind the Falls or suspended over the Falls.
Buy purchasing a Niagara Parks pass you can see the Falls from just about every vantage point. You will get wet, but you will also be provided with disposable rain ponchos at every attraction. Try to collect the set!
Every night during the summer there is a fireworks show beginning at 10pm over the Falls. Catch them either from the walkway beside the Falls or with a glass of wine from one of the tallest bars in the city, Myst Lounge in the Hilton Hotel overlooking the Falls.
Wine Country – Niagara on the Lake
You may be surprised to discover Ontario has a thriving (and largely internationally unappreciated) wine growing industry. Looking around you can be forgiven if you think you’ve suddenly landed in Tuscany or at a French chateau.
Take a day to discover hidden vineyard gems along the Niagara Wine Trail, or go outside the Niagara-on-the-Lake region to surrounding areas such as The Bench or towns like Lincoln and Vineland. Wineries are well marked and signed, and will be happy to recommend other wineries to try in the area. There are lots of deals on the internet that will make your wine tasting and or tour free of charge. Also, if you purchase a bottle, the tasting will be free. My favourite winery is Konzelmann.
Tours can be done independently (although you’ll need a sober driver!), as a bicycle tour or an organized driving tour. Sadly, the only way to see some of the smaller, more boutique wineries is on your own, but please, don’t drink and drive.
If you’ve never tried icewine, now’s the time to do it! Icewine is made from grapes that have been allowed to freeze on the vine. Each grape produces only a drop of wine, making icewine some of the most expensive wine to try! These glasses are icewine from bottles priced at just less that C$100. Try with some dark chocolate and thank me later!
Next Up: Three Days in The6.