For those who don’t know what a Loonie is, now is the time to learn. The Canadian dollar — minted in a coin known as the Loonie for its image of the common loon — hit its lowest value in a decade earlier this year. It continues to hover around 75 cents to the U.S. dollar. For those contemplating a vacation north of the border, here are some great places to enjoy the roughly 25 percent discount your U.S. dollars will secure. All prices are in Canadian dollars.
An increasingly cosmopolitan city in a francophone region that remains sylvan and unspoiled, Québec has layers of history going back to the 16th century, but has developed a vibrant and epicurean culture. After exploring the city’s Old Town, a labyrinth with museums, cafes and picturesque inns, venture beyond the city’s walls and cycle the Route Verte, a system of bike paths throughout the province of Québec that winds among vineyards, fromageries and chocolateries. Particularly alluring is the pastoral Île d’Orléans, a hub of agritourism where you can stay in a comfortable old stone mansion like Dans les Bras de Morphée (from $138).
The American Falls are majestic, but the Horseshoe Falls in Canada will impress for the sheer volume of water plunging over a fault in the riverbed. While the town of Niagara Falls has the feel of a small Las Vegas, with casinos, strip joints and shops marketing to honeymooners, the Niagara Peninsula has a uniquely humid climate that has spurred the growth of award-winning wineries. Sip an indigenous ice wine in Niagara-on-the-Lake, one of the best-preserved 19th century towns in North America. There are shops, museums, a fort and the Shaw Festival, where the plays of George Bernard Shaw are expertly performed from April to October (shawfest.com).
Picture an empty white sand beach on a blue sea with a gently blowing breeze. A small Caribbean island? No, the eastern coast of Nova Scotia. The sea is cold, even in warmer months, but the pristine beaches in this Atlantic province can hold their own against any tropical beach in the world. And there are lighthouses, Victorian homes, seaside cottages, flowering trees and lupine-freckled fields besides. Visit the historic waterfront of Halifax, the provincial capital, along with the picturesque fishing village of Lunenberg. For an even wilder feel, drive the scenic Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, a northern island in Nova Scotia.
Banff is located in Alberta’s Canadian Rockies in one of the world’s oldest national parks, which would be reason enough to visit. But nearby is also rugged Jasper National Park, along with the aquamarine gem Lake Louise. The Columbia Icefield and glaciers appeal to geology buffs and outdoor adventurers, while wildlife enthusiasts can gawk at moose, elk and grizzlies. A fun time to stay is during the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival, which celebrates mountain culture over nine fall days (this year, Oct. 29-Nov. 6). For those spending U.S. dollars, it’s a good time to indulge yourself at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, an opulent old lodge with blissful views on the shores of Lake Louise (from $589).
The city of Vancouver may well have it all. A gorgeous natural setting means you’re never far from forest-covered mountains or the glittering sea. Outdoor pursuits range from skiing and biking to kayaking and cruising. But the city itself is an amalgam of Native American influences along with European and Southeast Asian culture that’s hard to find elsewhere. Soaring, light-infused skyscrapers of sea-green glass sit beside the heavy brick-and-stone architecture of Gastown. There are museums and art galleries, delicious ethnic and locally sourced cuisine, and trendy shopping boutiques, but a Vancouver visit isn’t complete without a stroll through Stanley Park, one of Canada’s finest city parks.
NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR
For a different experience entirely, head to Newfoundland, where you can visit what is said to be North America’s oldest city, St. John’s. The province is Canada’s easternmost, located in its own time zone, speaking its own dialect. Colorful St. John’s may be cosmopolitan enough to fit into the Bay Area of California, but outside the city are tiny fishing villages and national parks that feel like a step back in time. Vestiges of the Vikings remain, such as L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site (whc.unesco.org), where Leif Eriksson and his fellow travelers settled circa AD 1000. There’s hiking and kayaking galore in Gros Morne National Park, while boat tours offer the opportunity to view whales, puffins and even icebergs at Witless Bay Ecological Reserve (www.env.gov.nl.ca).
Another study in isolation is the Yukon Territory — sparsely populated by everything but wildlife. Only experienced outdoor adventurers need apply (or those with a good guide). Kluane National Park, pictured, has jaw-dropping natural vistas, including the world’s largest ice fields below the Arctic, along with Canada’s five tallest mountains. For the less rugged, there’s Dawson City, known for inciting a gold rush. The city’s Front Street has picture-ready buildings replicating those found during the late 19th century, as does the Westmark Inn Dawson City (from $139 a night). Also fun is the Jack London Interpretive Center (dawsoncity.ca) at the cabin where the author wrote some of his most memorable stories about the Yukon.
Walking Toronto — a multicultural city where more than 140 languages are spoken — can feel like a global tour, with the unique sights, sounds, flavors and aromas of so many cultures. Aside from historic and ethnic neighborhoods, Toronto has had hip enclaves developing in recent years, like Queen Street West, South Riverdale and Leslieville. See the entire city from the iconic CN Tower where the truly brave can EdgeWalk — take an outdoor, harnessed walk around the perimeter ($195, edgewalkcntower.ca). Or for a change of pace, ride a ferry to visit the city’s charming islands in Lake Ontario. Pictured: Canadian Press reporter Alexandra Posadzki
INFO seetorontonow.comCanadian Press reporter Alexandra Posadzki walks close to the edge, 1,168ft over Toronto's downtown, while participating in a media preview of the EdgeWalk attraction on the CN Tower Wednesday, July 27, 2011. Participants are strapped into a harness as they walk along a walkway around the tower. (AP Photo/Darren Calabrese, The Canadian Press)
No need for expensive euros to visit a city with European flair. Montréal has maintained the culture and language of its first settlers while adding the best of the New World. In summer the city hosts a Formula One event, the Grand Prix du Canada, that attracts all the jet-setters (June 10-12, grandprixmontreal.com), as well as the popular International Festival de Jazz, with some of the world’s biggest jazz and blues performers (June 29-July 9, montrealjazzfest.com/default-en.aspx). Stroll down cobblestone streets in Old Montréal, tour the city’s many magnificent churches, and down a drink during “cinq à sept” (5-7 p.m., the happy hour). The Parc Olympique, a masterpiece of modern architecture celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, offers tours of the Montréal Tower, the tallest inclined edifice in the world.
This alpine village may be one of the world’s favorite ski resorts, but it has much to offer in the summer months too, including mountain biking and nerve-racking but glorious zip line runs. At Whistler’s 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games venue, there are summertime bike tours. And at Whistler Sliding Centre, you don’t need winter temperatures to ride a bobsled. From July 1 through Sept. 4, the Bobsleigh on Wheels program will get you up to speeds of 55 mph on “Thunderbird Corner” ($99; children ride free with an adult; whistlersportlegacies.com). To top it all off, Whistler offers world-class hiking and river rafting.