Image credit: Sea To Sky Gondola/Paul Bride
Nikki Bayley finds the best family fun in Canada
10 of the best family experiences
Planning a family holiday in Canada offers a wealth of kid-friendly attractions from coast to coast, season to season.
Whether it’s the soaring natural beauty of British Columbia’s coastal mountains, the awesome sight of whales and icebergs in Newfoundland and Labrador, or an old-fashioned bucket-and-spade break in the Maritimes, Canada has something to suit the tastes and budgets of a range of families.
1. Sea to Sky Gondola
Recently voted one of the 52 ‘must visit places in 2015’ by the New York Times, Squamish in British Columbia is riding a tourism wave thanks to the recently opened Sea to Sky Gondola, which transports visitors 885 metres above sea level up the imposing granite Stawamus Chief peak, through picturesque coastal forest.
Beyond the gondola ride, which will give families a thrill, there are also superb hiking, kayaking, biking and windsurfing, making this laid-back little town the perfect holiday destination for active families, just a 45-minute drive from Vancouver.
Stay in a cabin on the Cheakamus River and book a day’s guided white-water rafting with Sunwolf, which comes with a lunchtime picnic on a private island.
2. Victoria, BC
Families can splurge on the thrilling 30-minute float-plane ride with Harbour Air, or take the more relaxed ferry route from Tsawwassen, a 30-minute drive from Vancouver airport, over to Victoria on Vancouver Island – it’s one of Canada’s most kid-friendly cities.
Victoria is packed with attractions for children, from the creepy-crawly delights of the Bug Zoo to the charming lure of the tiny scenes of fact, fiction and fantasy that is Miniature World (the button-operated trains are especially cute).
The city centre Beacon Hill Park has the world’s largest free-standing single-log totem pole, a petting zoo and wading pool, and makes the ideal spot in which to enjoy a picnic with artisan treats from the nearby public market.
3. Québec Winter Carnival
Image credit: TQ JFHamelin
Embrace winter at Canada’s most exuberant snowy celebration. Québec City’s Winter Carnival comes complete with its own celebrity high-kicking snowman, Bonhomme.
Attractions include ice skating, sleigh rides, a sliding park, dog-sledding, stunning ice sculptures and live entertainment including a night parade and dancing at Bonhomme’s ice palace.
Beyond the festival, Québec City boasts plenty of attractions within its ancient city walls, not least poutine, a more-delicious-than-it-sounds dish of chips, gravy and cheese curds. Take the train from Montreal to soak up some of the truly gorgeous scenery of ‘la belle province’.
4. Prince Edward Island beaches
Schedule in a stop on Prince Edward Island during a Maritimes tour to enjoy some traditional bucket-and-spade fun on Canada’s most beautiful red-sand beaches.
Boasting pristine waters – the warmest north of the Carolinas – many of the beaches have excellent facilities such as changing rooms, picnic areas and kitchen shelters.
Walk on the gleaming quartz dunes at Basin Head Provincial Park to experience the ‘singing sand’ phenomenon, explore the island’s many lighthouses and feast on its legendary seafood including ocean-fresh lobster, mussels and oysters.
Winnipeg in Manitoba rolls out a prairie welcome for kids of all ages with a packed programme of events and top-notch attractions.
These include simple pleasures such as corn mazes and hay rides, plus the Children’s Museum at The Forks (complete with a toddlers-only space), Assiniboine Park Zoo’s polar bears (pictured below) and the living-history museum at Fort Gibraltar, where kids can learn about life in 1815 for the fur-trading voyageurs.
Blow off steam in the sunshine – Winnipeg’s summers are warm, with temperatures nudging 30C – at Fun Mountain water park.
6. Dinosaur Provincial Park
A three-and-a-half-hour drive along the splendidly scenic Trans-Canada highway from the mountains of Banff through to Alberta’s prairies, Dinosaur Provincial Park is a must-visit for any dino-mad kid.
The park boasts the planet’s richest deposits of dinosaur bones and has a world-class programme of family-friendly activities that run from the end of May till mid-October.
Booking is essential for popular events such as the guided excavations (minimum age 14) or Palaeo Lab, where children aged seven and upwards can learn about fossils and make a take-home replica.
7. Whales & Icebergs
Just over a five-hour flight from the UK, Newfoundland and Labrador offers families the chance to be wowed by stunning natural beauty in its chilly waters. Late May and early June are the best time to see icebergs from the Arctic drifting past the coast, along Iceberg Alley.
It’s also one of the best whale-watching areas in the world with some 22 species of whales including minke, blue and orcas crowding the sea between late May and September, feeding on capelin, krill and squid. Take a boat tour or paddle out in a kayak to watch nature do her thing.
8. Calgary Stampede
Unleash your inner cowboy at the Calgary Stampede. Families with younger children and teens will love the thrill of the rodeo and the non-stop excitement of the Midway as well as the old-fashioned fun of the SuperDogs show, and Weadickville, a traditional town set in 1912 Calgary.
Head to the Kids’ Midway to check out the child-friendly games and 26 exhilarating rides, along with plenty of opportunities to learn about animals in the Agrium Western Event Centre. All that plus live music, TV characters and pedal-powered John Deere tractor pulls.
9. Ottawa's Canada Day
Image credit: Ottawa Tourism
Celebrate Canada Day (July 1) in the nation’s capital to experience Canadian pride at its finest. City museums offer free entry and special activities on Canada Day.
A must-visit for younger kids is the superb Children’s Museum, in the Canadian Museum of History, where they receive a passport on entry and collect stamps as they explore.
Hop on the free shuttle bus to Jacques-Cartier Park for sand sculptures, games and slides, or enjoy the free festivities on Parliament Hill, from the flag-raising ceremony in the morning to an evening fireworks performance and live music from big-name acts.
10. Toronto's Waters
Canada’s biggest city, Toronto, is packed with family-friendly attractions. But for a change of pace, take a day trip to Canada’s Wonderland, a 330-acre theme park just 25 miles from the city.
The park is open from May to September and boasts 16 rollercoasters, a huge water park and dedicated areas for younger children.
For a more natural high, head 90 minutes away from the city to Niagara Falls to board the new Hornblower boat tour, which takes in the American Falls, Bridal Veil and Horseshoe Falls.
News from Canada
Air Transat will launch a direct flight from Gatwick to St John in Newfoundland and Labrador on June 18, departing London on Tuesdays and Thursdays and returning on Mondays and Wednesdays.
The flight will continue from St John to Halifax in Nova Scotia and will run until September 3. The airline is increasing frequencies on its London routes, with 10 weekly departures to Toronto, two to Montreal and Halifax, six to Vancouver and three to Calgary.
Also new this summer, Westjet will operate a direct daily service from Glasgow to Halifax from May 29 until October 23.
KLM will launch flights to Edmonton in Alberta via Amsterdam on May 5. The service will initially be three times a week – on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays – with a Friday flight added on June 22.
The Le Massif scenic train will be replaced this summer by the Charlevoix Light Rail Transit service, linking Québec City, Côte-de-Beaupré and Charlevoix.
The service will run from June 13 to October 11 with three journeys at day. It will also call at Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré and Petite-Rivière-Saint-François.
Meanwhile, safety testing is taking place ahead of the opening of the Union PearsonExpress – a fast rail link between Union Station in downtown Toronto and Toronto Pearson International airport.
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