Oh Hi Canada!
September 2, 2019 2:52 AM   Subscribe

I (Australian) am travelling to Canada with some friends in January 2020 for two to three weeks. The plan is to spend a week at Whistler snowboarding. After that, though, we are keen to make the most of a rare trip to the other hemisphere and have no further plans.

We're most likely flying into Vancouver and are open to further flying or driving around Canada and/or the US.

We know we have to see a hockey game and eat some poutine. Beyond that, what's good to see in North America? We're in our 30's and enjoy outdoor activities, good food, live music, board games, and a bit of culture. I'd appreciate any suggestions!
posted by roshy to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Flying in and out of YVR is a great reason to check out some parts of Vancouver. There's a whole lot to see and everyone may have different (if overlapping) recomendations. A short list of my favourites:
  • UBC's Museum of Anthropology
  • The Public Market on Granville Island
  • Depending on comfort level and skill (not to mention weather and trail conditions) an option I always like to point out is renting bikes and hitting trails. Some of my favourite are up and down Burnaby Mountain
  • Taking a ferry to the island. Victoria for a day trip, or the triangle (ferry Tsaswassen to Victoria, drive to Nanaimo, ferry back to Vancouver) for a day 'drive' if that's your thing or take the ferry to Nanaimo and head across the island to Tofino/Ucluelet for winter surfing or up island to Mt Washington for winter sports of a more alpine nature

posted by mce at 3:42 AM on September 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Australian who checked out Canada a while ago here: Like Australia, Canada is BIG and impossible to see all of it in one go. I was mostly visiting people I knew, but here's what I enjoyed.

Vancouver is great- like Toronto it has a vibe that is weirdly familiar- there were moments where I was like "am I just dreaming this trip, because this feels like I'm in Melbourne". I loved just wandering around checking out the architecture. I'm a train fan so I loved the driverless public transport trains in Vancouver- you can sit up front and pretend you are driving!

Speaking of trains, I was sad that my schedule didn't accomodate any long distance train travel, looks like the weather won't accomodate you either, (April to October is the season) but for future searchers- https://www.seat61.com/RockyMountaineer.htm
posted by freethefeet at 4:44 AM on September 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think you'd have to squeeze in some time, at least, for Montreal and Quebec City, which are unique in North America for their French influence in architecture, language and history. (I bet you'd find some hockey there as well!) There's a train between them that takes between 3 and 4 hours.

There's also snowboarding near Montreal at Mont Tremblant (accessible via bus from the city, or you can fly there directly on Air Canada Express via Toronto).
posted by mdonley at 4:44 AM on September 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you’ve snowboarded in Whistler, Ontario or Quebec will not be nearly as fabulous for skiing / snowboarding. Montreal and Quebec are awesome but it will be a hefty flight.

It’s worth driving through the Rockies to Banff and Jasper — some more downhill opportunities, plus absolutely incredible mountain environments, hot springs, etc.

If you’re a geek, the Dominion Radioastronomy Observatory in BC is pretty cool and offers tours.

You could pretty easily pop down to San Francisco or LA for a week. I’m not sure how strongly I would recommend visiting Calgary or the Prairies, I’d probably go south over east.

There might be Alaska cruises running, apparently those are cool if you’re a wildlife fan.
posted by sixswitch at 7:00 AM on September 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

Yes, do keep in mind that Vancouver–Toronto is comparable to Sydney–Perth in terms of distance, and Vancouver–Montreal is even farther.

That said, I do like the idea of visiting Montreal for a distinct sort of experience that you wouldn't get elsewhere. Lack of French language skills is generally not a huge impediment in the city of Montreal, particularly if you're polite, know a few basic French phrases, and don't act like speaking English makes you superior.
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:16 AM on September 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

Montreal will be, um, pretty cold and snowy in January, so ymmv. Vancouver will be incredibly rainy :) Driving through the Rockies would be beautiful but somewhat dangerous with the likely weather.

mce gives great Vancouver recommendations, especially the Museum of Anthropology. You could try one of the Gulf Islands instead of Vancouver Island (Saltspring is the go-to, I'd say). Vancouver also has a really great food scene as well, so if you have any specific cuisines you're into, feel free to Memail and I might have a recommendation.
posted by just_ducky at 8:47 AM on September 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have tons of food recommendations for Vancouver! Echoing just_ducky above, if you have specific cuisines/budgets you like, MeMail me and I can recommend some (especially for East & Southeast Asian food)
posted by zima_lengneui at 10:03 AM on September 2, 2019

If you were staying through the middle of February, I'd say -- don't miss Carnival in Québec City. Maybe your dates are a little flexible?

That said, Vancouver / Victoria are going to be the warmest parts of Canada that time of year. If you don't want winter weather to be the main feature in your trip (aside from the skiing), stick to the west coast. Absolutely do not try to drive cross-country in the dead of Canadian winter, it's not undertaken for fun or lightly by natives and tourists should absolutely not attempt it.

I love Toronto and most of what's to do here is enjoy the diversity of cultures we have and how they interact and intersect in creating food, music, art and so on. While Toronto is arguably the most Canadian of cities, it's the "new" Canada, where the lack of a dominant culture IS the culture. "Old" Canada usually either features a lot of winter sports, natural beauty, the triumph of colonialism or some combination.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:15 AM on September 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

I also want to echo Montreal/Quebec in general. I've been to most of the major Canadian cities as a tourist and I think that Montreal/Quebec will offer the most interesting and different experience, particularly for a place that's still located within the "core Anglosphere" countries (i.e. places like Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, or Ireland).

Nearly everyone who works in the tourist sector in Montreal and in Quebec City is bilingual in French and English, so you are unlikely to have any language problems unless you really get off the beaten path. But of course, I second Johnny Assay's recommendations.

Vancouver is great, it's very scenic, and the food is spectacular. However, the good Asian, and particularly Chinese, food is one of the principle (though not only of course) culinary attractions. From what I understand, there is plenty of excellent Chinese and Asian cuisine in Australia, so I'm not sure it would be as much of a draw if you are coming from there.

Yes, it will definitely be cold; I've been in Montreal in January when it was -20C, without windchill. But I presume (hopefully!) you are planning this trip in full awareness of the fact that you are traveling in Canadian winter, since you're going skiing. The Canadian west coast is the warmest part of the country in the winter, but it's not particularly warm by Australian standards -- Vancouver is somewhat colder in January than Canberra in July.
posted by andrewesque at 12:56 PM on September 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


We're pretty similar (30s, snowboarding, board games). I've lived in Van for the last 5ish years.

On the boarding front: Whistler is cool and would be very difficult to fully explore in a week, however unless you're big into the party scene I'd suggest checking out another mountain in the province while you're here. Big White, Silver Star, Revelstoke, Fernie, Red Mountain, Kicking Horse, Sunshine, Lake Louise, Jasper, Kimberly, Sun Peaks, etc are all going to be "close". You'll lose the tourist parties, but have shorter lift lines, better snow, etc.

In Vancouver, what other people have said about the good food being predominantly Asian, and thus likely not super novel to you is true. For poutine, Mean Poutine on Granville or La Belle Patate on Davie. The former is great for late night inebriated poutine, and the latter has been highly recommended to me. There are some good fish joints, Blue Water Cafe for $$$ and The Fish Counter on main for much more relaxed, cheaper fare. I'm happy to provide more on the food front if you have specific wants.

If you like beer, I'd suggest a mini-brewery tour. North and Northwest from Broadway and Main street there are a bunch of breweries within a few blocks of each other. I'd suggest, in no order: Brassneck, 33 Acres, R&B Brewing, Faculty Brewing.

If you like coffee, the city has a few nice coffee shops: Matchstick, Revolver, Pallet, and Nemsis.

For board games, the local game bar is the Stormcrow. It has two locations -- the one on Commercial is much nicer in my opinion. Plus, Commercial Ave is a cool street to walk around on (hipster trinkets, coffee, etc). There is also Strategies on Main Street, which usually has people in the back playing games. Main Street is also a cool street to walk around on, similar in nature to Commercial.

In terms of outdoor stuff, the low elevation hikes will likely be good to go, but no peaks. There is also mountain biking but unless you have some past experience the north shore in january is going to be a rough learning curve. In the city, the seawall is basically a sidewalk for bikes/walking that wraps around the entire city. If you get a clear day, walking around stanley park or out near Jericho on the seawall will be absolutely beautiful.

For culture and live music, the suggestions to fly to Montreal are pretty spot on, though Montreal will be cold as shit in January. In Vancouver, depending on the exhibit, the art gallery downtown can be cool. Someone else mentioned the UBC anthropology museum, which is also pretty cool. The Aquarium in Stanley park is one of my favorites and if you're into aquariums I'd highly recommend it.

You can get around Vancouver reasonably well with a compass card + the Transit app. If you're going to be spending a week or more in Vancouver you can also rent cars through our car share programs: Evo and Modo for longer term stuff, Car2Go for quick trips. Avoid Air B&B's in the Downtown East Side/Hasting Sunrise/Strathcona...

Hope this helps, feel free to memail me if you have questions, etc.
posted by yeahwhatever at 2:00 PM on September 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

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