When to buy, when to fly: Tips for checking off the most popular bucket list destinations for Canadians

Do you have a travel bucket list? If you do, you’re not alone. There are so many places to go that making a list of everywhere we want to travel is understandable. But lists are one thing – making those trips a reality is entirely another. So where do you want to go and how can you make it happen? We’re here to help.

The travel experts at Cheapflights.ca polled more than 1,000 Canadians to determine their top bucket list travel goals. We took the 15 most popular results from our bucket list survey, and then we crunched the data and did the research to figure out the best way to make those goals a reality, taking a look at when the best flight prices are available to top bucket list destinations, when the weather is best, when the crowds are at their smallest and more. From diving the Great Barrier Reef to eating your way through Rome, here’s how to knock some of the top travel destinations off your bucket list.

1. Visit the Blue Lagoon, Iceland

Otherworldly Iceland is a bucket list-worthy destination in its own right, but it’s the beautiful Blue Lagoon that’s a major draw for many visitors. The sprawling natural geothermal spa near Reykjavík was named one of National Geographic’s 25 Wonders of the World in 2012 and makes for an ultra-relaxing getaway. In addition to soaking your stress away in geothermal seawater, the lagoon offers a sauna, steam room, waterfall, luxury lounge, a cafe, an in-­water silica bar (to get some skin-soothing silica mud) and an in-water beverage bar when you need some refreshments. You can also opt for in-­water massage and other spa treatments.


When to buy: End of September.

When to fly: End of January.


Tips: Note that while January is one of the most affordable times to fly to Iceland to visit the Blue Lagoon, most museums and attractions are only open from late May to early September. It’s also mandatory to book your Blue Lagoon ticket in advance of arrival, the earlier the better, as tickets for specific days can and do run out.

2. Visit Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Banff National Park, located in the Rocky Mountains of southwest Alberta, has the distinction of being Canada’s first national park as well as the flagship of Canada’s extensive park system. Banff National Park is also part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site, so you know you’ll be in for a treat no matter which parts of the park you visit. Explore more than 190 kilometres of mountain bike trails, hike 1,600 kilometres of maintained  trails, take a canoe ride, do some bird watching and, if you want to get the full park experience, sleep under the stars while you’re there. Choose from thousands of campsites at 13 campgrounds or, if you prefer, stay in the town of Banff or charming village of Lake Louise. Add Banff Upper Hot Springs to your park visit as a relaxing stop amid all the hiking and outdoor activity you might be doing. They’re the highest hot springs in Canada at 1,585 metres in elevation and make for a serene experience while in Banff.


Best airport: Calgary International Airport.

When to buy: Late December, or between late January and early February.

When to fly: Late May or early June.


Tip: Once you get to Calgary International Airport you can utilize the Banff Airporter, a shuttle offering service between the airport and Banff starting at 5 a.m. from Banff and departing as late as 10:30 p.m. from Calgary International. The trip is around two hours, and you’ll find the departure point between exit doors 5 and 6 at area “B” of the main arrivals level of YYC.

3. Visit Santorini, Greece


Santorini via Pixabay.com

Considered one of the most romantic destinations in Greece, it’s understandable that Santorini would find itself on quite a few travellers’ bucket lists. But romance certainly isn’t the only draw. Beautiful beaches, eye-catching whitewashed buildings, temperate turquoise water, jaw-dropping sunsets, well preserved historic sites and a steady supply of fresh seafood and local wine help seal the deal for anyone interested in the trip of a lifetime.


When to buy: Early February.

When to fly: The first week of June.


Tip: It can be slightly less crowded and more affordable to base yourself on the island’s east coast since it’s less elevated than the west. If that appeals to you, think about setting up shop in either Kamari or Perissa.

4. See the Northern Lights over Yellowknife, Northwest Territories


Northern Lights via Pixabay.com

Yellowknife is one of the best locations in the world for viewing the Northern Lights (also called aurora borealis). The capital of the Northwest Territories is a fascinating place to visit any time, but, if you can get there to see the Northern Lights, it’ll be a trip etched in your memory (and hopefully captured in photos) as you watch the sky light up like a technicolour abstract painting.


Best airport: Yellowknife Airport. 

When to buy: Mid-January and early February.

When to fly: Mid-to-late April or early May.


Tips: If you’re visiting Yellowknife after mid-April it’s often too bright to see the Northern Lights thanks to the Midnight Sun (which lasts until around mid-August). The best way to see the lights is via a tour and there are many tour companies to choose from.

5. Hit the beach in Hawaii


Beautiful beach in Hawaii via Pixabay.com

There are many places you can go for a beach vacation, but if you’re looking for something really special – like bucket list special – Hawaii definitely belongs on your must-visit list. Oahu or the Big Island in particular are filled with stunning stretches of shoreline perfect for an unforgettable beach-hopping vacation, whether you’re travelling as a couple, with kids, or with a group of friends.

Best airports: Honolulu International Airport, Oahu or Kona International Airport on the Big Island.


When to buy, Honolulu: Mid-April to early June.

When to fly, Honolulu: End of August and early September.


When to buy, Kona: The first week of May.

When to fly, Kona: End of October.


Tips:  If you’re flying into Honolulu on Oahu, the most famous beach in the area is Waikiki Beach. This three-kilometre stretch of sand is ideal for both swimming and surfing and is home to many resorts, restaurants, shops and attractions. If you’re flying into Kona on the Big Island, make sure to check out Hapuna Beach, Mauna Kea Beach and Waialea Bay. Also check out our tips about seeing Hawaii on a shoestring budget for more advice.  

6. See Machu Picchu, Peru


Machu Picchu via Pixabay.com

Whether you hike the Inca Trail, hop on a train, or go as part of a larger group tour to get there, seeing Machu Picchu in Peru is understandably on quite a few bucket lists. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world and is a fascinating piece of history to witness up close.


Best airport: First to Lima then onward to Cusco.

When to buy: Mid-August. 

When to fly: Mid-September.


Tips: If you want to travel as the Incas did – on foot – the trek from Cusco to the temples will take four days and you need to go as part of a group. If you’d prefer not to hike, the easiest way to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu is to take the train to Aguas Calientes (the town located a few miles from the site, also referred to as Machu Picchu Pueblo). Once you’ve arrived in Aguas Calientes, buses run regularly (every 15 to 20 minutes) to the ruins. Think about staying in Aguas Calientes for a couple of nights before travelling to the site to acclimate to the altitude so your body has some time to adjust.

7. See Sydney Harbour, Australia


Sydney Harbour via Pixabay.com

Sydneyhas a lot to offer in terms of sights and attractions, but one of the most bucket list-worthy has to be Sydney Harbour, with its more than 240 kilometres of shoreline dotted with beaches, historic sites, national parks, sweeping views and endless things to see and do.


When to buy: November.

When to fly: Early April and early May.


Tips: You may also want to spend some time exploring the islands in Sydney Harbour, which all offer their own interesting sights. These include Fort Denison, Shark, Clark, Rodd, Goat and Cockatoo Island (this one is World Heritage listed and was off limits to the public for more than 100 years).

8. Safari in South Africa


Lion on safari via Pixabay.com

Catching a glimpse of the Big Five safari animals (elephant, lion, rhino, leopard and buffalo) is undeniably exciting. Seeing a herd of elephants traipsing by, or spotting a mother lion snoozing with her cubs under a tree is an unforgettable experience and one that shouldn’t be missed. One of the best places to make it happen is in South Africa and in particular, Kruger National Park, the biggest park in the country. In addition to the Big Five, be on the lookout for the Little Five: elephant shrew, the rhino beetle, the red-billed buffalo weaver, the leopard tortoise and the ant lion.


Best airport: Fly first to Johannesburg, then to Nelspruit Airport/Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (MQP), known as the gateway to the southern sector of Kruger National Park.

When to buy: End of September or early October.

When to fly: Early February.


Tip: If possible, give yourself at least three days to see the Big Five. There’s no guarantee you’ll see everything you’re hoping to see, but the more time you can allot, the better your chances.

9. Take a gondola ride in Venice, Italy


Venice gondola via Pixabay.com

Is there a more quintessential Venice experience than taking a gondola ride? If cruising the city’s canals is on your bucket list, it’s easier than you might think to make it happen. The most popular area to find a gondola is on the shore right in front of St. Mark’s Square. Standard fare for a gondola ride is EUR 80 (100 in the evening, after 7 p.m.) for a 40-minute ride and six-person maximum per gondola. Regardless of the standard fare, you’ll likely still need to haggle a bit. Take your time talking with various gondoliers and go with whomever you feel most comfortable with and who seems the most flexible in terms of price.


When to buy: The first half of September.

When to fly: The first half of October.


Tips: Since your bucket list goal in Venice is to be on the water, why not start right from the airport? You can get into the city from the airport via water bus. After exiting the Arrivals hall, look for the covered walkway on the left and follow the walkway for around seven minutes until you reach the dock. Water bus stops in Venice include San Marco, Rialto, Fondamenta Nuove and Le Guglie.

10. See the Grand Canyon, Arizona, U.S.


Grand Canyon via Pixabay.com

Many people consider a visit to the Grand Canyon to be a trip of a lifetime. Those sweeping, panoramic views over stunning gorges and rock formations is something you have to see to believe and photos just don’t do it justice.  One of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon is well worth a spot on your bucket list.


Best airport: Las Vegas, Nevada or Phoenix, Arizona.

When to buy, Las Vegas: January and February.

When to fly, Las Vegas: Early May.


When to buy, Phoenix: The last week of September.

When to fly, Phoenix: The last two weeks of January.


Tips: January is one of the cheapest times to travel to the Grand Canyon, and while winter might not seem like the most ideal time to visit, you will be avoiding the huge spring and summer crowds. The South Rim, the most accessible part of the park, is open all year. You’ll need to bundle up, but the backdrop of snow against a clear sky can be extremely pretty and offer a unique experience compared to a spring or summer visit.

11. Visit Bali, Indonesia

It’s no surprise that the island of Bali winds up on so many bucket lists. Emerald green rice terraces, cheap and delicious food, idyllic beaches, rich culture, artistic vibe and stunning natural surroundings make Bali appealing to many different types of travellers. Add to that an abundance of affordable accommodations, great shopping and a high concentration of spas and you have the makings of a truly bucket list-worthy vacation.


Best airport: Denpasar.

When to buy: May and June.

When to fly: Late October.


Tips: At the airport, you’ll find the official taxi counter located outside the arrivals hall. Tell the attendant your destination, pay the fare according to where you’re heading (prices vary) and head to the taxi with the receipt.October is the most affordable time to fly to Bali, but it’s also rainy season. Don’t let this deter you though – discounts on hotels and tours during this time can be great and rain tends to fall in quick downpours so you can still sight-see.

12. Eat your way through Rome, Italy

Foodies rejoice – you won’t be disappointed by a bucket-list trip to Rome. So, what should you focus your foodie goals on once you arrive? Here are a few things you won’t want to miss. In addition to the Italian classics like pizza, pasta and gelato, try some local Roman specialties as well. You can’t go too far in Rome without hitting an artichoke, an extremely popular vegetable in the city – so you’ll likely want to add artichokes to your culinary to do list. There are two ways that artichokes are prepared in Rome; alla giudia and alla Romana. For alla giudia (the Jewish style), the entire artichoke is deep fried. For alla Romana, artichokes are stuffed with garlic and a local wild mint and braised in olive oil and a little white wine. You’ll also want to fill up on filetti di baccalà (fried salt cod fillets) and fiori di zucchini (fried courgette flowers stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies.)


When to buy: Late August and early September.

When to fly: Mid-September through mid-October.


Tips: Pick up a 48-hour or 72-hour Roma Pass to get around to your favourite foodie spots. The pass includes transportation on the metro, buses and trams for the duration of your pass, as well as admission to one or two museums of your choice (one for 48 hours, two for 72 hours) and discounts on various attractions.

13. See the sites in London, England


Big Ben via Pixabay.com

London has many iconic landmarks; the London Eye, London Bridge, the Thames River and Big Ben chief among them. Found in the Elizabeth Tower at the north end of the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, Big Ben is actually the name given to the huge 13-tonne bell inside the tower. Note that refurbishment work started on Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben earlier this year with work scheduled to last three years. This means the tower is currently scaffolded and the clock mechanism is stopped (so no chiming or striking). You can still gaze up at it, however, and at least one of the four clock faces should still be visible.


When to buy: Late August and early September.

When to fly: Mid-January to early February.


Tip: There are many airports to choose from when flying into London, some of them (like Gatwick and Heathrow) being easier to access via public transportation than others (Luton and Stansted). When factoring in total cost of airfare, be sure to do some research into how you will be getting into the city so you know the total cost of door-to-door transportation.

14. Dive the Great Barrier Reef, Australia


Great Barrier Reef undersea life via Pixabay.com

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the natural wonders of the world. Larger than the Great Wall of China, the reef is the only living thing on earth visible all the way from space. It’s the world’s largest single structure comprised of living organisms and is home to nearly 3,000 individual reefs, 600 continental islands and 300 coral cays. Needless to say, you’ll have the chance to see some seriously unforgettable underwater creatures on your dives. One of the best cities from which to access the reef is Cairns, where you can find a PADI Dive Shop by using the PADI search tool.There are options for first-time divers as well as experienced underwater explorers.


Best airport: Brisbane and then onto Cairns.

When to buy: June and July.

When to fly: September.


Tips: June to November is considered high season, which means more visitors, but also more dive boats, are available. If you are going during high season, it’s best to book your dive well ahead of time.

15. See the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France


Eiffel Tower via Pixabay.com

Paris is one of those destinations that winds up on a lot of must-visit lists for travellers of all kinds, from backpackers to honeymooning couples. And, of course, one of the biggest draws once you’re there (aside from all those freshly baked baguettes and croissants) is the Eiffel Tower. Built by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 Exposition Universelle to celebrate the 100th year anniversary of the French Revolution, the tower has remained a must-see attraction in the City of Light.


When to buy: Late August to mid-September.

When to fly: Late January to early February.


Tips: Rather than wait two hours (or more) for the elevator, take the stairs (there are 704 of them) if you can. Or, skip scaling it all together, since views from the top of the tower will be noticeably missing the tower itself (once of the most iconic parts of the Parisian skyline). Opt instead for views from Montparnasse Tower’s panoramic observation floor or the Arc de Triomphe, both of which offer sweeping views of the city, Eiffel Tower included. Try to time your climbs for after sunset hours when the tower sparkles for five minutes every hour on the hour.

Want to see how your bucket list stacks up against other Canadians? Take the quiz and see then results here, then let us know in the comments below.

QUIZ: What tops a Canadian traveller’s bucket list?

QUIZ: What tops a Canadian traveller’s bucket list?

There are so many wonderful adventures to be had in the world – from hiking through Banff National Park to...
Jess Hopper
When to buy, when to fly

When to buy, when to fly

Travel is a lot like real estate: Timing and location are the keys to get maximum value. To help you...
Jess Hopper
10 iconic Canadian things to cross off your bucket list this year

10 iconic Canadian things to cross off your bucket list this year

Canada is a huge country, made up of 10 distinct provinces and 3 territories, encompassing mountain ranges, vast prairies, charming...
Jessica Padykula
Travel tips See all
12 things I wish I’d known before visiting Iceland

12 things I wish I’d known before visiting Iceland

There’s no denying Iceland is hot right now. From natural wonders to art and culture to a laid-back city centre full...
Amanda Festa
10 tips for exploring Hawaii on a shoestring budget

10 tips for exploring Hawaii on a shoestring budget

Paradise usually doesn’t come cheap. But there are some little-known Hawaii deals that will let you see the Aloha State on a shoestring budget. Here are 10 travel tips.
Jessica Padykula