15 experiences you can only have in Canada

Canada is a multi-faceted country that is bursting with memorable experiences. You have a world-famous mountain range, striking Pacific and Atlantic Ocean coastlines, the world’s highest concentration of lakes, arctic terrain, and cosmopolitan cities.This exclusive mix makes for once-in-a-lifetime experiences that you won’t find anywhere else. Known as Canadian Signature Experiences, these tours and activity packages are offered by local Canadians who are passionate about their country and love to share their knowledge with visitors. There are over 100 experiences on offer, covering everything from ventures into the Arctic to foodie tours in the big cities. There is something for everyone but we have rounded up 15 of most memorable experiences to give you an idea of why Canada is one of the world’s most unique holiday destinations.

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The town centre of Halifax in Nova Scotia

10 things to do in Halifax, Nova Scotia

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Halifax, Nova Scotia is a beautiful town with a fascinating history. It’s also home to an incredible assortment of enriching visitor attractions and the scenic views of the Atlantic Ocean certainly don’t hurt.

Halifax is also small in comparison to other cities, so you’ll easily make your way around all these sights within a weeks holiday. It’s just a matter of deciding which one to start with.

1. Admire Titanic artefacts at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

Nova Scotia is the closest landmass to the final resting place of the ill-fated Titanic. As such, many artefacts washed up on its shores and are now on display in the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. The Museum is home to a permanent Titanic exhibition, which includes wreck wood, mortuary bags (many of those who perished are buried in Halifax), and a pair of washed-up children’s shoes.

2. Discover the stories of over 1 million immigrants at Pier 21

Pier 21 is to Canada what Ellis Island is to the USA. It operated as an ocean liner terminal and immigration shed from 1928 to 1971, and is now the home of The Canadian Museum of Immigration.

At the museum, you can view the crates Dutch immigrants used to bring all their belongings across the Atlantic. Play dress-up in period costumes, and take their Customs Challenge to see which of your items will be allowed.

3. Stroll through the Halifax Public Gardens

The Halifax Public Gardens is the oldest Victorian Garden in North America. Officially opened in 1867, the Public Gardens has retained their original Victorian character, and organise horticultural and historical tours. During the summer the gardens are usually open between 7am to 1/2 an hour before sunset.

4. Experience the craftsmanship of hand-made crystals at NovaScotian Crystal

NovaScotian Crystal is Canada’s (and one of the very few in the world) only maker of mouth-blown, hand-cut crystals. They employ the traditional tools and techniques of European crystal makers that were brought to Canadian shores by Irish immigrants.

NovaScotian Crystal will ship internationally, but they also have a physical store along the Halifax Waterfront. You can also watch their craftsman work their magic in the showroom.

5. Hike along secluded trails on McNabs Island

McNabs Island is over 22 km (14 mi) of hiking trails, a variety of forested and coastal settings, historic sites, and interpretive panels. It once played a major role in defending Halifax Harbour and is home to the fascinating Fort McNab. It is also a hot spot for bird watching.

6. Eat local produce at Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market

Halifax is home to an incredible selection of farms, wineries, and local food manufacturers. One of the best ways to sample these delicacies is to visit the Seaport Farmers’ Market, where you can sample and purchase a wide variety of products from baked goods, hand-made soaps, fresh fish, independent jewellery, locally brewed alcohol, and local crafts.

7. Tour one of the oldest breweries in North America

Alexander Keith Brewery was founded in 1820 and tours are organised by guides dressed in period clothing. India Pale Ale is the most popular beer brewed at Alexander Keith’s Brewery, but you can also try other brews, like Red Amber Ale, Premium White and Original Cider. Tours of the brewery last around one hour, including tastings (if you are of legal drinking age). After the tour, you can shop in its on-site store.

8. Appreciate Atlantic Canada’s largest art collection at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia

The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia collects, preserves, and exhibits more than 17,000 artworks. It focuses on visual artists with strong ties to Nova Scotia (such as Maud Lewis) and the other Atlantic Provinces. Aside from their permanent collection, they also host temporary exhibitions that, in the past, have included Autism Arts, Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience, and Gold: A Nova Scotia Treasure.

9. Become a soldier for a day at Halifax Citadel National Historic Site

Halifax’s ocean-side location has made it a natural target for military invasion over the years – so obviously a good defence lookout was in order. Completed in 1856, Halifax Citadel National Historic Site is officially called Fort George (named after Britain’s King George II) and is actually the fourth in a series of forts to sit atop what is now known as Citadel Hill.

The Halifax Citadel National Historic Site gives visitors the opportunity to explore the history of the fortress. Tour the Halifax Citadel Army Museum, which showcases Canadian military history, starting with the First World War and its “Road to Vimy and Beyond” exhibit through to modern-day conflict. Or sign up for the three-hour Soldier for a Day program where you’ll get fitted for an authentic uniform, learn to drill, and fire a rifle (or, for those under 16, play the British Army’s field drum).

10. Wander along Halifax Waterfront boardwalk at sunset

To mark the end of your Halifax adventure we recommend taking a relaxing sunset stroll along the Waterfront. While many of the businesses and shops (some of which we’ve mentioned above) will be closed by this point, this the best place in the city to catch an Atlantic Canada sunset.

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4 inspirational escorted tours in Canada

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Visiting a new country is sometimes scary, so a helping hand is appreciated. That’s where Escorted Touring comes in. Especially in a country like Canada, which is so diverse and just begs visitors to explore it properly. It’s not the sort of place where you visit one place for two weeks.

Below we’ve rounded up four amazing itineraries that are perfect for discovering the best Canada (and – in some cases – the USA) has to offer. Let us know which one is your favourite.

1. Heart of the Canadian Rockies

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You’ll have a lot of ground to cover when you visit the Canadian Rockies (the mountain range stretches across Alberta and British Columbia for 180,000 km²) so it’s a good idea to know where you’re going. With this itinerary, you’ll start off in the metropolitan Calgary, where you’ll be treated to a city tour. Then you’ll move your way through the Rocky Mountains day-by-day with stops in Banff, Jasper, and Kamloops. Afterwards, you’ll also be treated to four days on the west coast while you flirt between Vancouver and Victoria.

2. New York, Niagara Falls and Washington D.C.

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You can spend months exploring Canada and everything it has to offer, but it also feels like a waste to visit and not stop-by its equally fascinating neighbour. With this itinerary you’ll get to explore three iconic sights within one trip, including an overnight stay in Philadelphia.

3. Canadian Rockies

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If the first Canadian Rockies itinerary didn’t tick all the boxes, maybe this lengthier adventure will. This time you’ll start in Vancouver, where you’ll stay for two nights and be treated to a day-long city tour. Then you’ll start your journey into the Rocky Mountains, with overnight stays in Kelowna, Banff, Jasper, Sun Peaks, and Whistler. Afterwards, you’ll then return to the west coast for two nights in Victoria, before your flight to the UK from Vancouver.

4. Eastern U.S. & Canada

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As we said, it’s well worth stopping by the USA while you’re in Canada. This itinerary offers you a 19-day round trip that starts in the iconic New York City, before you enjoy a one night stay in Boston crossing the border where you’ll visit Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto. You’ll then stop by the Niagara Falls, where you’ll cross the border again and, this time, enjoy overnight stays in Lancaster, Washington DC and Philadelphia.

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The Vancouver skyline and beach at sunset

Staff Travel Diaries: Vancouver & Whistler

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Hi Megan, tell us a little about yourself, what you do at Barrhead Travel and your trip to Vancouver & Whistler?

I work within the Business Development Team here at Barrhead Travel and recently enjoyed a trip to Vancouver & Whistler. I love Canada and have visited Toronto, Calgary and the Rocky Mountains before, but this was my first time in British Columbia. We flew direct from Glasgow and spent 4 nights in Vancouver, and then on to Whistler for a further 2 nights.

What did you get up to while you were there? What attractions did you see?

Vancouver

There is so much to do in Vancouver and it is an amazing city to explore on foot. We spent loads of time walking around the different neighbourhoods and never once had to use a taxi or bus! My favourite part of Vancouver was Granville Island which you can access by Aqua Boat and it hosts an incredible food market and multiple breweries. The market is the ideal place to try poutine, the popular and delicious French-Canadian dish. There are also plenty of bars and restaurants to relax in and take in the city views. A must do for any foodie!

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We did lots of activities while we were in Vancouver. A highlight for me was the Sea Vancouver tour that took us around the city on a zodiac boat and was lovely in the sunshine. I also recommend a trip to Grouse Mountain, which is located just 20 minutes outside the city. Visitors take a gondola to the top of the mountain for breath taking 360 views of Vancouver from above. The mountain is also home to two grizzly bears that you can visit and learn all about.

Anyone visiting Vancouver has to head to Stanley Park. Bigger than New York’s Central Park there is so much to do here and there are amazing views of the city’s skyline. We hired some bikes and cycled the 10k Sea Wall that wraps around the park and I would recommend this to everyone. You can enjoy it at a leisurely pace and there are endless photo opportunities and pit stops to enjoy along the way.

Cycling around Vancouver
The Vancouver skyline during the day

Whistler

Famed for its adventure sports (namely skiing and mountain biking), Whistler is a dream for outdoor and adventure enthusiasts. We opted to take the shuttle bus from Vancouver, which takes approximately 2 hours. The drive itself is stunning as you travel along the famous Sea to Sky Highway, so the 2 hours pass in no time. Whistler itself is fairly compact and has a pedestrianised village, so it is an ideal place for families.

After all our activities in Vancouver, Whistler was definitely more relaxing. We took the Peak 2 Peak Gondola that connects the two mountains in Whistler. It is the world’s highest and longest lift, so as you can imagine the views are spectacular! In the summer this is used purposely as a viewing platform, and in winter it has a more functional use for skiers. Bear viewing is also a major draw for a lot of visitors during the summer months. You can take a guided tour or if you are lucky enough you can see them as you come down the mountain from the gondola – unfortunately we didn’t spot any despite our efforts!

A sign about being Bear Smart
Megan standing next to a sign that shows how tall she is compared to the different bear types.

We took a leap of faith and soared the longest tandem zip line in Canada. A truly exhilarating experience and I would recommend this to everyone! As well as the adrenaline rush, you can see Whistler from a totally different perspective and the views are second to none.

Ziplining in Whistler.

We also took some time to relax in Whistler and made use of the hotel swimming pool and hot tubs. There are lots of great shops, bars and restaurants in Whistler with a truly chilled out atmosphere, so it was the perfect place to end our time in Canada.

What would you recommend someone packs when visiting Vancouver & Whistler?

It depends on what time of year you visit as the seasons vary dramatically. If you visit in summer like us, I recommend taking your usual summer clothes as well as some layers and a light jacket just in case. Although we didn’t experience any rain, Vancouver is known to be quite unpredictable and experiences showers quite often. Be sure to pack flat, comfortable shoes as you will walk for miles in Vancouver!

What are your top tips for someone visiting Vancouver & Whistler?

My top tips are:

  • Plan which activities you would like to do before you go. As well as this, make sure to include some down time. Vancouver is the perfect city to explore at leisure and enjoy some time by the water front, browsing the shops or relaxing in Stanley Park.
  • Vancouver is a popular back drop for movie and TV filming so be sure to keep an eye out for any celebrities! We were lucky enough to see Deadpool 2 filming.
  • If you are visiting Whistler, I recommend pre-booking your activities and accommodation in advance. It is a popular hot spot for Canadians and Americans alike, so it can be extremely busy.
  • Lastly, don’t under estimate the weather. Canada is not always cold and it was a sizzling 34 Degrees °C whilst we were there!
Looking out onto Vancouver with the mountains in the background.
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