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The Big Country

20 reasons to fall in love with Canada

Follow in the footsteps of Harry and Meghan - and let this vast and spectacular nation capture your heart, writes Neil Simpson

For those who want holidays where you escape the crowds, Canada delivers. It is the second-biggest country on Earth but one of the least populated - there are fewer people living in the whole of Canada than in Tokyo's metropolitan area alone. The country also has the longest coastline in the world.
 
Fans of Canada say its natural beauty is finely balanced with fun and sporty experiences, plus a host of urban attractions.
 
THE MUST-SEE SIGHTS
 
1. CN Tower: You'll need nerves of steel during a trip to the top of Toronto's main attraction. Experiences include the EdgeWalk, where visitors are attached to a harness and sent outside on a 'no-handrail' excursion around a 5ft-wide metal ledge 116 storeys above the ground. There is also the Glass Floor (you can walk or crawl across it while looking down 1,122ft), and the SkyPod observation deck which, at 1,465ft, is one of the world's highest viewing platforms.
 
2. Niagara Falls: The white waters and thick mists of Niagara Falls are Canadian essentials. You'll have plenty of opportunities to take fun photos - and get wet - on a classic Horatio Hornblower boat tour.


Spectacular Niagara Falls


 
Alternatively, the Journey Behind The Falls tour takes you down a lift shaft and through a tunnel to a series of observation decks for even more extreme photography.
 
If you want to escape the crowds, go on a two-mile walk through Niagara Glen Nature Reserve, or dive into the Falls View Water Park with its 16 water slides, some of which are six storeys high.
 
GET BACK TO NATURE
 
3. Northern Lights: A great place to see one of nature's greatest shows is in the frontier town of Whitehorse in the Yukon territory.
 
It's a sporty paradise you can fly to with Air North, one of the friendliest airlines in the world.
 
Further south in Saskatchewan, La Ronge has some of the darkest skies on the continent and is also a good base for ice-fishing tours.
 
4. Vancouver Island: Take a two hour ferry ride from Vancouver to Vancouver Island, where you'll find sandy coves and rocky shores. Looking for a place to stay? The island has everything from campsites to five-star spa hotels.


A stunning view of Vancouver


 
The island's cool surf town of Tofino is worth a visit, as is the bigger Nanaimo, where you can try the Nanaimo Bar, a rich, chocolate biscuit.
 
5. Banff National Park: Head to the heart of the Rockies to see glaciers, snowy peaks and turquoise lakes in Banff National Park. Lake Louise is the most famous, but Moraine Lake is quieter and just as beautiful. And the drive on the Icefields Parkway from Lake Louise to Jasper is a stunner.
 
6. Bay Of Fundy: Stay on the glorious coastline between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to watch the world's biggest tidal gap. The difference between high and low tide can be 43ft (the global average is 3ft). The bay is also a great place for hiking and whale-watching.
 
SAVOUR THE BEST FOOD
 
7. Marche Du Vieux-Port Market: Enjoy the flavours of France at this Quebec favourite, where more than 100 stall-holders offer award winning cheese, honey, fine wine, cider and maple syrup.
 
8. St Laurence Market: In Toronto, head to St Laurence Market, parts of which used to house the local jail. Food fans also flock to stalls in the old Evergreen Brick Works and the streets of the Kensington Market neighbourhood.
 
9. Granville island Market: In Vancouver, top billing goes to this waterside venue. Almost 200 stallholders and shop-owners are spread out across formerly derelict buildings - the area also has a thriving brewing and arts scene. Eat under the huge Granville Street Bridge while the city's water taxis shoot past on the river. There is also a children's market to explore.
 
If you fancy a drink, there is a booming wine industry in British Columbia. Most vineyards are located near the town of Kelowna on Okanagan Lake, which is said to contain Ogopogo, Canada's version of Nessie.
 
You can stay in style at the Sparkling Hill Resort, owned by the man behind the Swarovski crystal empire (some 3.5million crystals are embedded in the walls).
 
MEGA-MUSEUMS
 
10. Canadian Museum For Human Rights: Head to Winnipeg to explore the country's first new national museum in half a century. The structure is an explosion of glass and stone that stands alongside Bilbao's Guggenheim for pure drama. Inside, there are sobering exhibits about shocking events from the past, but visitors say they leave uplifted.
 
11. Vancouver Police Museum: There is a dash of the macabre here - the museum occupies a building that used to be the city morgue. Fans of real-life crime dramas try to solve some of the city's most notorious cold cases. See confiscated guns and counterfeit currency and take guided Sins Of The City walking tours through nearby Gastown and Chinatown.
 
12. Biosphere Environment Museum: Step into a scientific world at this museum in Montreal - it's set inside a giant geodesic dome which fans may remember from TV's Battlestar Galactica. Exhibits take you 50 years into the future (not pretty, it seems).
 
There is also an Ecolab for handson experiments, and this year's big feature is The Killer Net, a representation of how plastic is destroying the oceans.


Sit back and watch the world drift by


TAKE THE TRAIN
 
13. The Canadian: Spend four nights and cover 3,000 miles in the iconic stainless-steel carriages of The Canadian from Vancouver to Toronto (which has a stunning Golden-Age station) via Saskatoon, Jasper and an endless series of forests, lakes and rivers. Eat in a vintage dining car and sit back in a glass-topped observation carriage. You can book an en suite cabin or a more modest 'corridor berth', where your bunk is shielded from others by thick curtains.
 
14. Rocky Mountaineer: Equally famous are the blue, white and gold carriages of The Rocky Mountaineer. The train covers a range of routes from its home station in Vancouver, including First Passage To The West, which passes Kicking Horse River, the mountains of Banff and the short coastal passage between Vancouver and Seattle (you'll need your passport and an ESTA or visa to enter the United States). Splurge on Gold Leaf class for the best seats and service.
 
15. White Pass & Yukon Railway: It was called 'the railway to hell' in the gold-rush days of the 1890s, but that doesn't deter today's travellers on the White Pass & Yukon Railway. The colourful, vintage coaches still pass through tough terrain and past sites such as Bridal Veil Falls and Dead Horse Gulch.


Victoria's vibrant waterfront


 
FANTASTIC FESTIVALS
 
16. Folk on the Rocks: Party under the midnight sun as this festival celebrates its 40th anniversary this year in the pioneer city of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories (another great spot for the Northern Lights). The event, to be held in June, attracts fans from all over the world and acts will perform on six outdoor stages.
 
17. Just For Laughs: Comedy connoisseurs converge on Montreal in July. Just For Laughs was founded in 1983, and this year some 1,500 performers will appear in theatres, bars and in the street. You can buy a ticket package for access to most shows, or just turn up.
 
BE A GOOD SPORT
 
18. Ice Hockey: The sport might be 'shared' with the US in a joint National Hockey League but it's still a classic Canadian experience. Seven Canadian cities have NHL teams - Edmonton in Alberta is one of the most hockey-mad, so watching the Oilers play in front of 18,000 fans at Rogers Place is hard to forget, especially in a local derby with the Calgary Flames. Top tip - Take a hat to throw on to the ice in case any player scores a hat-trick. The hats are scooped up and donated to charity.
 
19. Montreal Olympics: The 1976 Games cast a long shadow - organisers went massively over budget and locals call them 'the Olympics with a capital Owe'. See how the money was spent by taking a two minute ride up the Montreal Tower, the world's tallest 'incline tower' that leans over the main stadium. Bring your costume and you can swim in the Olympic pool.
 
BEST FOR KIDS
 
20. Dinosaur Provincial Park: Dig for bones in a recreated quarry at the Royal Tyrrell Museum amid 'the badlands' of Alberta. About 130,000 bones and fossils are on display, mostly found nearby in Dinosaur Provincial Park, one of the world's richest fossil fields. Further east, you can see Scotty, the largest tyrannosaurus rex ever found (Scotch was raised to toast its discovery in 1991), at the new T.rex Discovery Centre in Eastend, Saskatchewan.



First published in the Mail on Sunday - January 2020

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