With everything from dramatic cityscapes to untouched wilderness, Canada is a favourite destination for tourists from all over the world. But what if you want something a bit different?
As the world's second biggest country, Canada has plenty of room to conceal some of its finest sights and activities. Here are our top three non-touristy experiences...
Meet the Vikings at L'Anse Aux Meadows
Yes, you read that right - Vikings, in Canada. While Christopher Columbus has become a household name as the European explorer to first discover the 'New World', far fewer people know that everyone's favourite Scandinavian scoundrels actually beat him to it.
L'Anse Aux Meadows is situated on the beautifully rugged northern most tip of Newfoundland and was a place mentioned in surviving Viking sagas, but its exact location remained a mystery until its discovery in the 1960s. As the first confirmed Viking outpost in North America, with the earliest surviving evidence dating back to 989 AD, this windswept spot is of huge historical significance, not only to Canada, but to world exploration as we know it.
And it's still attracting adventurers today. Visitors can immerse themselves among the ruins and fully equipped replica buildings to gain a snapshot of a day-in-the-life of the Vikings of L'Anse Aux Meadows. There are also informative exhibitions where you can learn why and how these Norse explorers came to be so far from home.
Today, most visitors start their journey to the site at Newfoundland's Deer Park Airport. From here, a five-hour drive will see you traverse scenery ranging from awe-inspiring mountains to the famous Newfoundland coast. This is Canada at its most beautiful and least tame.
L'Anse Aux Meadowse opens for the summer season on 01 June and remains in action until early October. During these months, as well as the archaeology itself, you have the opportunity to see whales and even icebergs drifting lazily past the coastline. You don't get much more remote than this.
Canoe downtown Toronto
From one of Canada's wildest regions to its biggest city. The idea of going canoeing or kayaking in Canada is hardly ground breaking, but not so many tourists think to do it in the heart of Toronto itself. Before you start to worry, Toronto hasn't taken a leaf out of Venice's book, but it does happen to be the perfect place for urban water sports enthusiasts. These activities give you an opportunity to see the city from an entirely different perspective and explore hard-to-get-to areas.
Here are some of the best places to take to the water in Toronto:
- High Park and Humber River - Launching on the Humber is perfect for those who prefer river paddling over lakes. While it's a good idea to keep an eye on the current, this will also help you drift down to the lush Grenadier Pond where you will find a variety of interesting bird species and maybe even turtles.
- Secret Beach - This tranquil stretch of beach to the west of Bluffer's Park is a favourite with locals hoping to escape the bustle of city life and find some peace and quiet.
- Toronto Islands - The beauty of this option is that the two legs of the journey are so utterly different. Paddling towards the islands you leave the bustle of cars and pedestrians behind and quickly become immersed in the beauty of the waterways, whereas on the return journey, you will find yourself heading straight for the CN Tower and the rest of the iconic skyline.
It doesn't matter if you've been on the water since you were a child, or if this will be your first time with a paddle in hand. When it comes to hiring equipment there are plenty of options that can cater to different group sizes, timeframes and abilities.
Canoeing or kayaking in downtown Toronto is a great way to experience the city in a way that most tourists simply don't think to try. It also shows that even in Canada's largest urban area, nature is always just around the corner!
Discover Haida Gwaii
If you want to take getting away from the crowds in Canada to new extremes, Haida Gwaii (or the Queen Charlotte Islands) is the place for you. Located a little over 100 kilometres off the coast of British Columbia, this archipelago is a nature lover's dream, and is also known as the Canadian Galápagos.
With animals such as the Haida Gwaii black bear that exist nowhere else in world and 20 species of dolphins, whales and porpoises in the surrounding waters, only a handful of visitors are allowed on some islands at once in order to protect the natural environment. For those who do come, a variety of hikes, boat tours and kayak excursions are just some of the ways to experience the pristine beauty of the area.
Flights take off daily from Vancouver, with less frequent, seasonal options from other locations. May, June and July are the best months to go as you can experience between 18 and 20 hours of sunlight a day and avoid the busier period between July and mid-August.
Haida Gwaii is also a great place to learn about the history of Canada's native peoples as about half of the islands' populations belong to the Haida First Nation. Walk through ethereal forests on Anthony Island where carved poles mark the final resting places of past chiefs or visit the Haida Heritage Centre in Skidegate to witness regular dance performances. The locals have a reputation for hospitality, so don't be surprised if you're invited to an evening beach fire!
Whether you're looking for wilderness or metropolitan buzz, Canada has the variety to offer a unique and different experience to every visitor to her shores. The key is knowing where to look.
Our travel agents are here to help you plan the perfect trip, tailoring each step and experience to your individual preferences. To get started, get in touch with your local Travellers Choice agent today.