Considering heading up north for a romantic getaway or honeymoon? Canada is a gorgeous country with lots to do, and who better than a local can help you plan? Here are 10 things to know before visiting Canada for the first time.
Chanelle is the blogger behind Chasing Chanelle. She has lived in Canada since 2018 and loves exploring the west coast and Vancouver Island. This post may contain affiliate links.
Why travel to Canada as a first-timer?
Canada is a beautiful country with so much to offer, such as towering mountains and winter wonderlands. Additionally, you’ll find pristine nature, bustling cities, and the world’s longest coastline. So, of course, there’s something for every type of couple within the Canadian borders.
But, as the second largest country in the world, Canada also has eight different climate zones, remote untouched landscapes, and 2,875 miles from coast to coast. Unfortunately, for many people, it’s not the easiest country to reach.
Therefore, to make sure you’re prepared for your trip to the Great White North, here are ten key things to know before visiting Canada for the first time.
10 Things to Know Before Visiting Canada for the First Time
1. Prepare for the Canadian weather, no matter the season.
Canada is referred to as the Great White North for a reason. It’s known for being cold and having lots of snow and ice. However, with the exception of Northern Canada, this isn’t the case all the time.
Mountainous areas like the Rockies and many eastern and northern regions tend to get some seriously cold weather in winter. But this doesn’t stop honeymooners from enjoying the outdoors. Consequently, Canada has excellent skiing and snowboarding, ice skating, and other snow sports.
With the right clothes and a good winter coat, you’ll be prepared to make the most of the cold weather and white landscapes.
On the other hand, summers in Canada can be very hot. This is great for exploring the national and provincial parks, visiting key landmarks, and enjoying the beautiful coastline. But you should always prepare for hot weather with sun protection and plenty of water.
The weather in Canada is also known to change drastically very quickly. This is true particularly during spring and fall and in the mountains. One day you can have sunny 80°+ weather, and the next day a snowstorm! And if you’re hiking at higher altitudes, the weather can be very unpredictable, so you can experience all the seasons in one day!
So, one of the most important things to know before visiting Canada for the first time is to pack layers and clothing that will be suitable for all conditions.
You should also keep in mind that Canada can get some pretty extreme weather. It can range from blizzards and ice storms in the winter to wildfires in the summer. So, keep an eye on the weather reports, be flexible with your plans, and take the appropriate precautions to stay safe if there is some bad weather in the forecast.
When you’re visiting Canada for the first time, be sure to pack appropriately. Some areas can get really chilly.
2. Visit Canada at the right time of year for your itinerary.
To make sure you get the most out of your first trip to Canada, go at the right time. It’s important that you visit at the right time of year for what you’re planning to do. Additionally, many activities and popular attractions aren’t available or accessible all year round.
If you’re looking to experience a true winter wonderland or go skiing, January and February will be the best time to visit Canada. Or if you want to see the most vibrant blue water at Lake Louise, you should visit in July or August. And, for the best conditions for hiking, paddling, and exploring the parks, the end of summer and early fall is ideal.
On the other hand, Canada’s cities can be great places for newlyweds to visit at any time of year. But the experiences you will have in the warmer versus colder months are quite different. In winter, you can enjoy cold weather activities, like ice skating and sledding. But a lot of your time will be spent indoors visiting museums, theatres, restaurants, or even going to see a hockey match.
Meanwhile, in the summer, most of Canada’s cities come alive with outdoor festivals and events. As a result, locals flock to the parks and beaches to enjoy the warm weather and sun. Or, if you’re traveling on a budget, visiting Canada for the first time during the in-between seasons could suit you best.
Overall, you should spend some time researching all the attractions and activities you want to see and do in Canada. That way, you can make sure that you visit at the best possible time for you.
Lake Louise is one of the most beautiful spots for first-timers to consider when in Canada.
3. Don’t try to do too much while visiting Canada for the first time.
One of the most important things to know before visiting Canada for the first time is that it’s a huge country. So, there’s no way you will be able to see all of it in one or even several trips.
Traveling from one side of Canada to the other is around a 5-hour flight. Additionally, driving from Toronto to Vancouver will take you 40+ hours on the most direct route. As you probably don’t want to spend your entire Canadian vacation in transit, it’s best to choose one or two destinations to visit. Then, spend your time thoroughly exploring those areas.
For example, you could be to split your time between the Vancouver area and Banff and Jasper. There are so many things to see and do here. You and your partner will have beautiful wilderness to explore, so several days or weeks will go by very quickly. Another good itinerary would be to visit some of Ontario and Quebec in one trip, such as Toronto, Niagara Falls, Montreal, and Quebec City.
And if you’re coming from overseas, you could add a short city break at the start or end of your trip before heading on to your next destination. Most international flights only fly to Canada’s major cities.
But don’t worry if you can’t fit everything in that you were hoping to do. It would probably be impossible to do so anyway, and you want to take the time to enjoy the places you visit. Plus, this is a great excuse to come back to Canada again in the future.
When you’re visiting Canada for the first time, you should see a city such as Vancouver.
4. Plan your Canadian visa and entry requirements ahead of time.
For many people, Canada is an easy country to reach. But you should still know the immigration and entry requirements before visiting.
Depending on where you’re from, you may not need a visa. However, with the exception of the US, you will still need to obtain an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) before traveling to Canada. Although this is usually a relatively instant process, delays can occur. Therefore, it’s best to apply for it in advance.
If you do require a visa, the application process can be long and difficult for some nationalities. Getting a visa might even require the assistance of a Canadian immigration lawyer. And, in most cases, you should apply 3 to 6 months before your travel date.
Even if you’re coming from the US and don’t need a visa, you will still need to make sure you have an appropriate travel document (such as a passport or other approved document) and that it’s valid for the entire duration of your stay.
And you should always check local travel advisories in the lead up to your romantic trip for updated information, as travel regulations can change.
If seeing the Canadian side of Niagara Falls is on your bucket list, be sure you have the correct documentation with you.
5. Familiarize yourself with local laws, rules, and etiquette in Canada.
Before visiting anywhere, it’s important to know the local regulations, and Canada is no exception. In particular, some key things to familiarize yourself with, which may differ from elsewhere in the world, are the legal drinking age, the cannabis laws, and some of the driving rules.
The legal drinking age in Canada varies by region. In most provinces and territories, it’s 19 years old, except for Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec, where it’s 18.
Cannabis is legal for recreational use in Canada, so you will likely see (and smell) it everywhere. It’s easy to buy as there are cannabis stores on almost every street. However, there are some regulations regarding its purchase and consumption. The legal age for purchasing and consuming cannabis is 18 or 19, depending on the province.
Some things to note about driving in Canada are that you drive on the right-hand side, speed limits are in kilometers rather than miles, and you can usually turn right on a red light. It’s also important to know that seatbelts are mandatory for everyone, and there are strict car seat rules for children.
And don’t forget that Canada is a bilingual country. Although most of Canada is English-speaking, Quebec’s official language is French. Of course, there aren’t any laws around which language to speak. Additionally, in popular tourist destinations, you will find most Quebecers speak at least some English. However, it’s still a good idea to learn some basic French before traveling to Quebec. Plus, it’s always polite to at least greet locals in French first before switching to English.
When visiting Canada for the first time, expect to hear lots of English. However, French is the official language of Quebec.
6. Don’t be afraid to explore the beauty of Canada’s natural areas.
One of the biggest draws to Canada is the pristine natural beauty and vast wilderness that covers much of the country. Although there are a lot of very remote areas in Canada, there are also a lot of very accessible natural landscapes and landmarks. Therefore, you and your partner can experience Canada’s nature no matter your level of outdoor experience.
Canada is home to stunning national parks with well-maintained trails suitable for various skill levels. National parks like Banff and Jasper in Alberta or Joffre Lakes Provincial Park in BC have spectacular views and easy-to-moderate day hikes.
Or, if hiking’s not for you, you can also take in breathtaking views from the comfort of your car. Canada has some of the most scenic drives in the world, including the Icefields Parkway in Alberta, the Sea to Sky Highway in BC, and Nova Scotia’s Cabot Trail.
And there are plenty of beautiful places and natural landmarks you can experience first-hand without venturing too far into the wilderness. Some of Canada’s most iconic sites, like Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and Niagara Falls, can all be reached by car or bus. These areas also have plenty of infrastructure, making them accessible to everyone.
Plus, in Canada’s many mountain resorts, you can also take gondolas up the mountains instead of hiking. And, if you are interested in exploring more remote areas but lack the experience, there are plenty of guided tours you can book. So don’t let a lack of experience prevent you from experiencing the best of Canada’s natural beauty.
When planning on visiting Canada for the first time, include exploring natural areas on your romantic trip.
7. Adequately prepare for the activities you want to do in Canada.
If you are looking to explore Canada’s wilderness or take part in any physical activities like hiking, kayaking, snowshoeing, skiing, or snowboarding during your trip, make sure you’re sufficiently prepared!
All these activities require at least some basic knowledge or experience and specific equipment. If you don’t have prior experience, it’s best to book a lesson or a guided tour. Alternatively, if you will be trying these activities in a beginner-friendly environment, do your research ahead of time.
Such as making sure you understand the safety requirements, have the right gear, and are comfortable with the equipment. And don’t hesitate to ask questions from your gear rental company, a parks office, or an information center.
Even exploring a city by bike can be dangerous if it’s not something you’re used to. Therefore, spending some time familiarizing yourself with the local road rules and the city’s network of bike paths can make a big difference to your safety.
And, if venturing into the Canadian wilderness, there are some key safety precautions you should always take. Firstly, make sure to research your trail or route ahead of time so you understand the difficulty, distances, and any elevation or obstacles you might encounter.
Plus, it’s a good idea to download an offline map and let someone know where you’re going and when you will be due back. Unfortunately, there’s no cell service in the backcountry.
You should also pack some key safety equipment, such as sufficient water or a water filtration system, a warm layer, and a basic first aid kit. And, if you’ll be heading into bear country, you should always have bear spray with you, kept on your front within easy reach.
In fact, one of the most important things to do before visiting Canada is to familiarize yourself with general wildlife safety so you know what to do if you encounter a bear, moose, or other animal in the wild.
If you’re heading into the backcountry of Canada, you need to be adequately perpared.
8. Expect to pay taxes and tips during your first trip to Canada.
When budgeting for your trip to Canada, don’t forget to factor in tax and tips. Like the U.S., Canada does not include sales tax in the advertised prices for goods and services. And the tax can be quite high. For example, in some provinces, it’s up to 15%!
On top of this, Canada has a big tipping culture. And this doesn’t just apply to restaurants and bars. Tipping is also expected for other food services and food delivery, personal care services, and rideshares and taxis.
Generally, you should expect to tip between 15-25% in Canada. 15% if the service was OK, and up to 25% (or more) for exceptional service. Once you add the tax and tip to your bill, it can almost double. So, be prepared for this when eating out or purchasing services in Canada. Those visiting Canada for the first time can find the taxes quite a surprise.
Whether you’re hiring a boat in Toronto or eating at a restaurant in Saskatoon, you’ll need to consider tipping and tax.
9. Try lots of local Canadian food and drinks while in town.
Canada might not be known for its culinary delights like many countries in Europe or Asia, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some fantastic local specialties of its own. There are a few foods and drinks which you should make an effort to try when visiting Canada.
Poutine is, of course, at the top of the list as Canada’s national dish. Essentially, it’s just a plate of fries topped with gravy and cheese curds, but it’s super hearty, tasty, and quintessentially Canadian.
For an unusual but delicious Canadian drink, you should try a Caesar. This cocktail is basically a bloody Mary with the addition of clamato juice (a blend of clam and tomato juices). It might sound gross, but it’s actually really good and adds a slightly sharper taste.
As for sweet treats, butter tarts, beaver tails, and Nanaimo bars are a must-try. And don’t forget to stop in at Tim Hortons (or ‘Timmie’s’), which is practically a Canadian institution. For the most Canadian experience possible, order a double-double (coffee with two creams and two sugars) and some Timbits (bite-sized donuts). Although most Canadians will admit that the coffee isn’t great, the donuts are!
When visiting Canada for the first time, add poutine to your list of must-try foods.
10. Book activities in advance when visiting Canada for the first time.
Finally, if you’re planning to visit Canada, you should try to book as far in advance as possible. Canada is a very popular travel destination, and not only do things book up early, but prices also increase a lot closer to the time.
To make sure you get the best possible deal on domestic flights, hotels, car rentals, ski passes, and tour packages, it’s best to book early. Plus, this will give you enough time to organize anything else you need ahead of your trip for the activities you plan on doing, like purchasing and testing hiking gear or brushing up on your French.
Save things to know before visiting Canada for the first time!
Canada is a beautiful and diverse country with a lot to offer. But visiting can come with some logistical challenges, and it’s a destination you need to be prepared for to make the most of your trip.
Hopefully, this list of things to know before visiting Canada for the first time has helped you start planning your Canadian adventure. And by doing your research, putting together a realistic itinerary, planning in advance, and packing for the right activities and weather, you will have an amazing time in Canada.
Whether you’re traveling for your honeymoon or a romantic getaway, Canada has plenty to offer couples traveling together.