Best places to experience the true spirit of Canada

a Canadian flag and mountain ranges

The Canadian natural and urban landscapes are undeservedly neglected in many travel plans. However, if you are looking for the best places to experience the true spirit of Canada, you have stumbled upon a guide that will list and explain why the home of maple syrup (among other things) should definitely be on your travel horizon.

Essentially, this is a big country that boasts one of the most mesmerizing and impressive landscapes in the world. On the one hand, you can encounter lakes, mountains, and other natural sceneries of indescribable beauty. On the other, Canadian cities are a perfect starting and finishing point on your trip. They offer you a chance to experience incredible architectural gems in a progressive and liberal society. Read on to find out more about the most breathtaking and exciting places in Canada you should visit on your next trip to the Great White North.

Toronto

If you are looking for the perfect city to start your Canadian journey, Toronto is the place for you (and my hometown). It is one of the largest and culturally most important cities in this country. Toronto’s distinguishing landmark is the CN Tower which you must have seen if you have ever received a postcard from Toronto.

When it comes to its tourist potential, Toronto’s transportation system makes movement through the city impeccable, with a network of subways, street cars, and roads. However, if you get bored with Toronto’s bustling urban energy, you can always take the ferry across the harbour to the nearby Toronto Islands.  

a Toronto skyline with skyscrapers and CN Tower
The famous CN Tower dominates the Toronto skyline

Banff

If you are looking to visit the Canadian Rocky Mountains, Banff is a great resort town to start your hiking, biking, or skiing journey from. It is located in the Banff National Park, the first national park established on Canadian soil. As for what it can offer to its visitors, Banff is a town that is brimful of small, local cafes, restaurants, art galleries, shops, and other tourist amenities. You can find the beautiful Mount Norquay towering over this little town and the famous Lake Louise just an hour away from Banff.

Icefields Parkway

Icefield Parkway is a world-famous 144-mile double-lane highway drive between Jasper and Lake Louise. What makes it so epic is that this road offers an incredible overview of the Canadian Rocky Mountains while taking you through orchards, waterfalls, lakes, and other intact natural scenery. This route is fantastic for those who enjoy hiking and camping in breathtakingly beautiful Canadian nature.

a big lake at the foot of mountains in Canada, symbolizing the best places to experience the true spirit of Canada
Canada is home to supreme vistas and natural sceneries.

Vancouver

Vancouver is another big Canadian city that should be on your priority list, especially if you are visiting western Canada. This city is famous for its multiculturalism and green living. Around 50% of its citizens speak languages other than English, making it a truly inspiring and eclectic city. As for what you can do besides the essential sightseeing around the city, Vancouver is a well-known stop for any serious skier given its nearby world-renowned ski resorts such as Whistler Blackcomb. The local city council continuously strive to achieve the best living standard by pioneering and incorporating green design ideas into the city’s infrastructure.

In fact, a rising number of US citizens are moving to Vancouver and other Canadian cities to pursue a cleaner, more humane way of living. If you are considering moving to Canada from NYC, be mindful that you might need to hire an international relocation company to help you get here from NYC, with the necessary vehicles and equipment.

Cape Breton

Cape Breton is a unique part of the province of Nova Scotia located on the east coast of the country. It is one of Canada’s most beloved road trip destinations because of its amazing landscapes that line the famous Cabot Trail – a 186-mile route through the Cape Breton National Park. You will be able to see fantastic nature from Cape Breton’s lookout points, picturesque fishing villages, and one of the most breathtaking scenic routes in the world. A drive through Cape Breton is one to not be missed.

Prince Edward Island

This lovely eastern province and island is famous for its green hills, red cliffs, and amazing seafood everywhere you go. Also, given that most locations in Canada are oriented towards active vacations such as walking or hiking, this island is the perfect getaway where you can relax and enjoy the island scenery. This island is also huge in the golfing world due to its many golf courses available for play. Beside these luxurious, upper-class amenities, the island is also famous for its seal population – as many as four different species of seal inhabit its shores throughout the year.

Niagara Falls

colorful waterfalls and a tree
Niagara Falls are an incredible sight any time of the year and the best place to experience the true spirit of Canada

And, last but certainly not the least, the amazing Niagara Falls. There is hardly a person who has not heard of this collection of waterfalls on the United States and Canada border. The Niagara Falls are indeed a natural wonder that merits at least a day of your attention, especially if you are staying or moving to Toronto in the future. 

The waterfalls – Horseshoe Falls, American Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls – make up an astounding six million cubic feet of water that splash downward every minute. This makes the word wonder in the phrase “natural wonder” a literal description of what experiencing the Niagara Falls is like.

All in all, we hope this short guide has helped you visualize the best places to experience the true spirit of Canada. Of course, there are many more amazing spots which you can visit, especially if you enjoy spending your holiday in the great outdoors. Don’t forget Quebec, Newfoundland and the other provinces and territories (coming in a future post). Whatever your favorite places are, we are confident you will love every minute spent in this beautiful country. Just make sure you stay safe and healthy during your travel.

7 tips for solo female travelers

woman in the desert looking at a map

If you are a free-spirited individual and you want to travel on your own, you will surely hear cautionary tales about how precarious it is to do so, how you can get lost, bored, hungry, mugged, attacked, etc. Although there is an element of danger involved in traveling alone, especially during these turbulent pandemic times, we believe that the benefits significantly outweigh the risks. For this reason, we have seven tips for solo female travelers which will equip you with the necessary knowledge about what it actually looks like to travel alone as a woman. And, even more importantly, what you really have to take into consideration in terms of accommodation, transportation, money, safety, local culture and the like.

Safety first!

Your personal safety should be at the top of your priority list every time you hit the road. Some women associate safety exclusively with potential muggings, so they make sure they take self-defense lessons before they go on a big journey to unknown regions.

However, it is not only strangers that are potential sources of havoc. Depending on where you are traveling, you need to make sure you have all the necessary supplies. Avid travelers know that it is helpful to research the topographic characteristics of the terrain to decide on the type of clothing and shoes that you may need. You should also know what you absolutely have to have in your backpack – water, knife, lighter, first-aid kit, maps, insect repellent, medication, etc.

Listen to your gut

As any woman who likes to travel alone will tell you, eventually you will develop a keen ‘sixth sense’ for detecting potentially dangerous places and people. We all have it in us; you just need to get on the road to finetune your decision-making. Being too fearful can make the journey tedious and less than enjoyable, whereas having no inhibitions can naturally put you in tricky situations. Since we do not live in an ideal world, solo female traveling may come with challenges, but in most cases, these bumps in the road will make your journey thrilling and unforgettable.

Be informed

Basically, it is essential to know where you are traveling to – weather changes, availability of potable water, food, healthcare, and medication in the given country or region are all important factors to consider. Another factor you have to take into consideration is the cellular coverage in the region. Although your phone and internet may work in the hostel you are staying at, that might not be the case once you leave urban areas.

woman pointing to a place on a map
Carefully planning your journey is more important than seems at first glance.

No woman is an island

Yes, traveling to a completely novel environment alone is a deeply gratifying experience, but it is a mistake to think that you have to be alone all the time. Be on the lookout for travel tours that offer assistance in the form of local guides. These types of offers provide you with the chance to seek help when you need it, but without forcing you into traveling in somebody else’s shoes, so to speak. For example, suppose you want to go on a photo safari. In that case, you have workshops led by wildlife photography experts who can brief you about the best timing and position from which you can take pictures of the savanna nature and wildlife. 

If you are looking to spend a longer period of time somewhere, it might be useful to join a traveling group. In this way, you can plan group journeys when you feel like it; you can meet like-minded travelers upon which you will be able to rely during your stay and still retain the sense of choosing your own itinerary for the day.

people jumping in the sunset
Solo female travelers are usually surprised to find that they have met so many amazing people on their journey. 

Meeting new people is part and parcel of traveling solo

From expats to locals, from flight attendants to hitch-hikers, be sure to delve deep into the melting pot of different faces and experiences that come your way. The journey to yourself is, for most people, actually the journey towards new friendships.

Talking to people has a practical side for solo women travelers as well. Especially if you do not speak the local language, you might miss out on important information of all sorts. People you meet will surely share their experiences with you, and you will most easily travel the country by knowing where to go and where you can go.

Meeting yourself is also part and parcel of traveling solo

If you are a sociable person, you might easily succumb to the urge to be surrounded by other people. It is understandable, and it may be tempting to form a group to travel together in unfamiliar surroundings. Although this is not necessarily wrong, at times, this approach to traveling might obscure the bigger picture – that you are traveling solo for a reason.

There are many things to learn about yourself that, perhaps, you cannot find out in your hometown. Learning to enjoy nature, silence, and your thought processes will be a life-long lesson that traveling solo will bestow upon you.

a woman standing between a gate made of rock
You might be more capable and adventurous than what you give yourself credit for

For instance, it may happen that you do not have any money left. You may find out that you can sell your photographs or artwork or earn money by doing land work. These kinds of revelations will reveal to you something you may not have known about yourself – that you are resilient, resourceful, and streetwise.

Book a bed in a hostel or private accommodation 

Immersing yourself in local culture by staying in a shabby hostel or renting a room from a local will widen your horizons and give you a more accurate picture of the local environment. There is a chance that you will meet someone who speaks the same language as you do – both literally and figuratively.

Furthermore, you will always have someone to ask for help or advice, even if you are not that into the idea of making friends. It is usually challenging to get through to hotel staff in such a way. Also, hostels are generally well prepared for solo female travelers, and they probably already have the answer to any of your questions.

Christmas in Vienna

A Christmas in Vienna is one not to be missed. The Christmas markets in Vienna are truly something magical. Soft sparkling lights, gently falling snow, the smell of freshly roasted chestnuts, and musicians marching through the streets. It sounds and feels like a fairytale, but Christmas in Vienna is very real. It’s worthy of “bucket list” inclusion and one you will always remember.

From mid-November until the end of December, Austria is the place to enjoy traditional Christmas markets. Festive lights, seasonal treats and snow-covered roofs make for a special experience that only Austria can provide. Austrians often refer to the Advent period as the country’s “fifth season”. Vienna is arguably the top place to visit in Austria. It always shines, but during the Advent season, it dazzles. Festivities take place in historic squares and pedestrian areas, making long walks from cafés to museums and shops even more enjoyable.

Christmas Markets in Vienna

In Vienna, the markets are an age-old tradition that put a smile on everyone’s face and provide an overwhelming spirit of Christmas. The forerunners of the present-day markets date back to 1298 in the Middle Ages when the Duke of Austria granted Vienna’s citizens the privilege of holding a “Krippenmarkt” or December Market. The character and prevalence of these markets has naturally changed considerably over the centuries.

Vienna itself says that there are 20 official Christmas Markets. There are in fact many more smaller ones. As you walk through the central old city, you’ll come across small squares (or platz) where small markets and vendor booths are open and waiting for you.

The most well-known and largest market is at Rathausplatz and known as Vienna Christmas World. The market sits right in front of the Rathaus (Town Hall) with some 150 booths. The adjacent City Hall Park has an ice rink, ice paths through the park, and a children’s area with nativity path, reindeer train, ferris wheel and carousel. The unique arts and crafts blend perfectly with baked goods and sausage stands.

A short walk away is the Christmas Market on Maria-Theresien-Platz, between the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna and the Naturhistorisches Museum Vienna. Over 70 booths offer traditional Christmas handicrafts and original gifts throughout the season of Advent. There are regular visits by Gospel choirs and music groups to amplify the festive mood. The Christmas Village then transitions seamlessly into the New Year’s Eve Village.

Christmas in Vienna

The Imperial and Royal Christmas Market on Michaelerplatz, in front of the Imperial Palace features Austrian products, sweets, pewter figures, hand-made crafts and more in its white huts. The Christmas Market on Stephansplatz focuses more on tradition, with some 40 booths and huts beside St. Stephen’s Cathedral offering high-quality Austrian products. The Advent market at the Opera House has gingerbread, cheese, meats, punch and wine from regional producers in Austria.

The best time to head to the markets are weekdays and early evening when the lights come on and the day turns into evening. Weekend days are very busy.

Enjoy the Lights Above The Graben And Kärntner Strasse

The Christmas lights of Vienna shine with a magical beauty. Thousands of crystals within giant chandeliers make you feel like you are at an Austrian Ball as you waltz along the main pedestrian areas in the old city center. Start a walk at dusk from behind the State Opera House building, down Kärntner Straße to passing Stephen’s Cathedral. Keep walking along the Graben and up Kohlmarkt through the gates of Hofburg Palace. Walk through the Palace grounds and you’ll end up back at Ring Strasse (and just a few blocks from your starting point).

Christmas in Vienna - The Graben

Walk the Ringstrasse

The Ringstrasse is the grand boulevard that circles the historic Innere Stadt (Inner Town) where ancient fortifications once stood. Along the “Ring” you’ll see museums, parks, restaurants, five-star hotels, luxury stores and Christmas markets. Ringstrasse is decked out with lights and many Christmas displays to highlight Vienna’s impressive architecture. You can walk the “Ring”, get on a public bus or tram, or take a scheduled sightseeing tram with guide.

Weihnachtspunsch Or Glühwein?

Most street corners and markets feature a mulled wine or punch stand where locals and visitors gather for a warm drink and conversation. The local Lions Club has a number of drink stands along with a slightly lower price and a Styrofoam cup. The markets serve their punch in collectable mugs with a unique design for each market. You’ll pay a deposit when you order your drink, so you can keep the mug (or just buy the mugs separately). The slightly more popular steaming mug of warmth is Weihnachtspunsch (Christmas punch). It comes in dozens of flavours across the old city. The more traditional drink is a mug of hot Glühwein (mulled wine). You can’t go wrong with either and should try both. Either choice will take the chill away on a cold winter’s evening. Multiple drinks into the evening may have you singing songs from the “Sound of Music”.

Christmas in Vienna

Try Maronis (Roasted Chestnuts)

You’ll find at least one “Maroni Stand” at every market and at many major street corners in the winter months. Vendors are selling roast chestnuts from one steaming steel barrel and some are also selling roasted potato snacks from another barrel. It’s a Christmas experience that goes back to the Middle Ages. Now you can follow the tradition and blow on a hot, freshly peeled chestnut to cool it down

Christmas in Vienna - Roasted Chestnuts

Eat Sausage or Leberkäse? (or both)

Sausage stands are year-round in Vienna, but they seem more inviting in winter. Austrians love their meat and the roadside stands don’t disappoint for taste. If you need a little food energy and break from exploring, try a Käsekrainer or Bratwurst. The other must try Viennese snack is Leberkäse. It is a kind of rectangular sausage cut as a thick slice of meat on a fresh bread roll with mustard. It is an Austrian staple, cheap and delicious (trust me- I’ve eaten a lot of Leberkäse).

The Austrian capital is the perfect destination for a holiday hiatus. Vienna combines history, traditions and culture into the world’s most livable city.

Your Christmas spirit will come alive in this fairytale setting. Vienna is really the perfect destination for Christmas – this is Christmas in Vienna.