Aussie visitors to Dawson City in Canada’s Yukon Territory can expect the unexpected. One of the country’s most historic and quirky townships, Dawson looks like a movie set with its gold-rush era buildings and boardwalks, and is filled with salt-of-the-earth locals, each with a story to tell.

Read on for six experiences you’ll only find in Dawson City.

1.Walk in the footsteps of literary giants

Dawson City is a treasure trove of world-famous wordsmiths. Head to Eighth Avenue where actors in period costume will guide you through the rustic cabin of poet Robert Service, filled with goldrush relics.  Known as the Bard of the Yukon, Service’s  colourful verses brought the Klondike experience alive for millions around the world with his beautiful depictions of life in Canada’s great north, including the mystical northern lights.

On the same street, make a stop at Jack London’s Cabin and Interpretive Centre, legendary for his short stories and books, such asThe Call of the Wild and White Fang. Browse through historical archives and photographs and hear about London’s adventures during the Klondike Gold Rush.

2.First Nations immersion

The first people of Dawson, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, came well before the gold fever. A visit to the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre is a must-do between May and September. Take a guided tour of the Hammerstone Gallery in the Dawson City Museum to understand the First Nation Peoples’ perspective of the gold rush era. Participate in a river walk tour, check out the art shows, and take home a piece of this dynamic culture from the gift shop – from hand-beaded footwear to books, artwork, and locally produced music.

3.Re-live the Klondike Gold Rush

Step back to a time when thousands of miners struggled across the Chilkoot Pass and floated the Yukon River to Dawson City, surviving on stories of riches found in the creek. Gold Bottom Mine Tours offers the only authentic operating placer gold mine tour in the Klondike. Learn the art of panning in the creek and listen to the incredible stories about life in the goldfields.

Now that you’re an authentic prospector, make your own golden dreams come true at Free Claim #6 where you can try your luck. Visitors are welcome to bring their own pan and take away whatever they find. Spend your winnings at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s, a local gambling hall and entertainment venue in a historic building in downtown Dawson City. Catch one of three nightly can-can shows and get the real turn-of-the-century Gold Rush experience.

4.Get to know former residents

To understand what makes this dynamic township tick, you need to understand its diverse history. Make a beeline for one of the many cemeteries and get to know some former residents including Alexander McDonald, whose claims produced $8 million in gold, Merilda St Pierre Pepin, whose wooden grave houses woodpeckers, and ‘The Iron Man’ Percy DeWolfe, who earned his moniker carrying mail between Dawson City and Alaska. Download the guide to go on a walking tour of the cemeteries and read the stories about the former Dawsonites you visit along the way.

5.Bed down in a former brothel

It’s not every day you get to stay in a glamorous former brothel.  Built in 1900, Bombay Peggy’s is a beautifully restored Gold Rush inn featuring classic Victorian decor, antique furnishings, contemporary art and modern amenities. Stop by the adjoining pub for unique Yukon-brewed beers, a fine selection of single malt scotch, and the most creative martini menu in town. Chat to the welcoming locals on the sunny patio, enjoy some live music and check out the contemporary art adorning the walls.

6.Join the Sour Toe Cocktail Club

This is one club you can’t join anywhere else on Earth. For just $5 at the Downtown Hotel Saloon, you’ll be given a shot of whiskey, complete with a severed toe.  The tradition dates back to 1973 with the mummified toe of a miner which had been amputated in the 1920s. Since then, nearly 70,000 people have joined the club simply by following this rule: YOU CAN DRINK IT FAST, YOU CAN DRINK IT SLOW – BUT THE LIPS HAVE GOTTA TOUCH THE TOE. Be brave and earn yourself the official certificate, not to mention the respect of Dawson City locals and the ultimate bragging rights back home.

Getting to Yukon Territory

Air Canada has direct flights to Vancouver from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, with connecting flights to Whitehorse and Dawson City available on Air North.