Apr 07

O’Canada – An overview to making a trip up North

by in Canada

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Top Cities to Visit in Canada

Montreal

Visiting Montreal is like getting two vacations for the price of one. You get a Canadian stamp on your passport, but you also get to experience a city that feels very European. If you want to practice your French and a plane ticket to Paris is too pricey, Montreal is your go to option.

Ottawa

Although many people assume that Toronto or Montreal are Canada’s capital city, they’re not. It’s Ottawa. Ottawa is between Toronto and Montreal and worth a stop rather than just zooming through. One thing we’ve learnt about travelling is that you can’t always guess in advance which cities you’re going to like best (or dislike). Therefore if you’ve got an easy opportunity to visit a city on the way to/from somewhere else, then why not take it.

Quebec City

Quebec City is the oldest French speaking community in North America and the oldest walled section of town is very quaint with narrow, cobbled streets – reminiscent of Europe. Amongst many things it is famed for the Quebec Winter Festival which is celebrated each February.

Toronto

Toronto is Canada’s largest city. The greater Toronto area has a population of over 5 million and over half of it’s inhabitants hark from outside Canada. Because of this Toronto has vast cultural diversity so you’ll find tons of ethnic restaurants and neighborhoods to enjoy and explore. Toronto has great shopping and be sure to check out the cool, hipster neighbourhood of Kensington Market. A popular event held in the city each September is Toronto’s VegFest (as in vegetarian festival). Other popular things to do in Toronto are visiting the city’s landmark CN Tower (the tallest stand alone structure in the western hemisphere) and the Harbourfront Centre with it’s galleries, restaurants and promenade walk along the edge of Lake Ontario. For nature lovers amongst you the Toronto Zoo is world famous and currently has 2 Pandas on loan from China! And remember Niagara Falls is only approx.2 hours drive from Toronto, or 3 hours by train.

Vancouver

All of the above cities are most easily visited from the East or Midwest of the USA. Vancouver on the other hand, is all the way across the continent on the West Coast. Because of Canada’s vast size, you’re probably not likely to make it all the way across the continent. The population of Canada is much smaller than the US, so a road trip across Canada won’t have the density of famous sights, the way a road trip across the US does.

One of the reasons Vancouver is popular is because the famed Whistler ski area is just North of Vancouver.

Canada’s other Western city, Calgary, has a bigger population than Vancouver but doesn’t get as many tourists, thanks in part to how easily accessible Vancouver is from Seattle (Calgary isn’t on the coast and is a 10 hour drive from Vancouver).

Getting Around

Road tripping it.

West Coast: Seattle to Vancouver is under 3 hours driving. A northern West Coast road trip could start at San Francisco and take in Portland, Seattle and Vancouver.

Mid West: There are lots of route options for road trips to Canada from either the Mid West USA or East Coast. For example, if you’re doing a cross country road trip, it’s easy to access Toronto from Detroit (4 hours). If you’re doing a road trip that takes you through the deep south, you can visit deep south locations like Nashville and Memphis and then make your way North. If you don’t want to go via Detroit then Chicago to Toronto is only 8 hours drive. From Detroit to Niagara Falls is 4 hours drive.

East Coast: It’s only 6 hours drive from New York to Montreal, and around around 7 hours to Niagara Falls. The train, will take a little longer. If you’re on a super tight budget, there are cheap bus options e.g., Megabus.

Training it

If you want to kick back and relax, without having to worry about traffic or possible flight delays, then traveling across Canada by train is a great option. The journey between Vancouver and Toronto on the world-famed “Canadian” takes 3 days and 4 nights and you’ll travel through 4 provinces on your approx. 4500 km journey, passing through the Rocky Mountains, prairie lands, and the great lakes along the way. Take a day trip to the Niagara Falls and then journey by VIA Rail to Montreal which will only take you half a day. From there you’ll travel via Quebec to Halifax on the North Atlantic coast, on Canada’s other great train, the Ocean.
If your time is limited to the west coast then a train excursion from Vancouver to Calgary via the the Rocky Mountains would be a highlight of your trip. The journey on the aptly named “Rocky Mountaineer” takes 2 days and one night. There are a number of different Rocky Mountain train route options available e.g Whistler and Jasper.

Flight secrets

From the USA:

If you’re making a trip to Hawaii, you may find it cheaper to book a flight home from Hawaii to Canada with a “stopover” in your home city. Don’t ask me why but flights from Hawaii to Canada are often cheaper than from Hawaii to the USA. You can try this trick with trips to Europe too. It’s a way to get at a free one way flight to Canada. This is likely to work best if you live somewhere like NYC, or another airline hub city, where a connection between Hawaii and Canada makes sense.

From further afield:

If you’re traveling to North America from Australia or New Zealand, then Air New Zealand’s flight from Auckland to Vancouver is often a bargain. One option would be to open-jaw and fly into Canada and out of San Francisco or Los Angeles, or vice versa.

If you’re wanting to reach Vancouver from Asia, check the prices for flights to Seattle too. It’s only a short distance between the two and if you’re interested in Seattle as well, it may make sense for you, especially if the flight prices are cheaper.

Weather

Canada gets extremely cold in Winter and often isn’t that warm in summer. If you’re traveling in North America in summer but don’t like hot weather, then you’ll probably like Canadian summer.

Image by Scott Taylor under Creative Commons license.

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