The Insider’s Guide To Canada

Posted on: 24 February 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

From Arctic frontiers to open highways, we select some of the best journeys across Canada, including road, rail and cruising options.

Economically and technologically, Canada resembles the United States, and shares with it the longest undefended border in the world. It’s a land of vast distances and rich natural beauty waiting to be explored.

Coast To Coast

Since the “Last Spike” completed the transcontinental railway in November 1885, travelling by train has been the favourite way to see Canada. Thanks to panoramic windows and dome cars, the big country rolls by while you sit back and relax.

Page & Moy’s Trans-Canadian Railroad Adventure starts in Toronto, takes in Jasper and Banff, then continues to Vancouver aboard the Rocky Mountaineer train.

This 15-day escorted tour includes some meals, excursions in Toronto and Vancouver, a side trip to Niagara Falls and more, from £2,199.

For more information visit

For the budget conscious, Travelsphere has a 17-day Across Canada escorted trip that also begins with Toronto and Niagara Falls, but goes on to Montréal and Québec City, followed by Calgary and the Rockies, Vancouver and Victoria.

It costs from £1,699, including internal transport and city sightseeing and can be booked online at


With English as the common language and miles of well-maintained and open highways, go-as-you-please, fly-drive holidays are a pleasure – as long as you resist the temptation to cover too much ground.

In the east, towns and attractions are closer together, with plenty to see along the way.

Ontario and Québec have been neighbours and rivals for centuries. Compare and contrast francophone and anglophone Canada on a two-week Canadian Affair fly-drive.

Its Ontario, Québec Highlights itinerary takes in the big city buzz of Toronto, Ottawa, Montréal and Québec City, as well as the natural beauty of Algonquin Provincial Park and Niagara Falls.

It costs from £799 and for more information visit

In the west, classic fly-drives start or finish in the gateway cities of Vancouver and Calgary, traversing the Rocky Mountains. Like a 3,000-mile long spine down North America, the Rockies are at their most majestic in western Canada.

A natural border between Alberta and British Columbia (always referred to as BC), they encompass the national parks of Banff, Jasper, Yoho and Kootenay, natural playgrounds for hiking and riding, river-rafting, walking onto glaciers, and even bathing in natural hot springs.

Although most tour operators list this standard itinerary, they are happy to tailor routes to fit your requirements: extra nights in Banff and Jasper, perhaps, or time to explore the Pacific coast.

Prices range from budget to luxury. For example, Holidays2Canada has a cost-conscious fly-drive package that begins in Calgary, includes the mountains and ends in Vancouver – from £989 for 11 nights.

By contrast, Bridge & Wickers books you into Fairmont and other resort hotels for its Peaks & Grapes circular route from Vancouver.

The “peaks” are in Jasper and Banff; the “grapes” in the Okanagan Valley, home to many of BC’s award-winning vineyards. Eleven nights cost from £1,571.

North Americans love touring in recreational vehicles that eliminate the cost of hotels and reduce the price of meals yet retain the freedom of the road. Connections has two weeks in a 27ft RV that sleeps four and comes with power steering, air-conditioning, bunk beds, kitchenette, fridge and shower.

For a trip from Calgary to Vancouver, budget £1,265 per person, based on four sharing, including transfers, one hotel night on arrival, 950 free miles and one-way drop-off fee. 

Often an add-on to West Coast visits, the 280-mile-long Vancouver Island deserves to be a destination in its own right. Walk along miles of empty Pacific beaches and into rainforest with ancient 200-ft (60 metre) tall cedars.

Go whale watching to get up-close photos of orcas, minkes and greys. Fly by float plane to Knight Inlet and spy on grizzlies. Spend time in Vancouver and Victoria, the provincial capital, where nearby Butchart Gardens are Canada’s answer to Kew.

Golden Canada’s nine-day Whales, Bears & Vancouver Island package costs from £1,694.

Rail & Coach

With so much to look at out of the window, drivers can feel short-changed. The answer is to travel by train or coach. Although the rail routes between Vancouver and Banff/Jasper are the best known, there is magnificent countryside ready and waiting to be seen elsewhere.

Rocky Mountaineer’s Fraser Discovery Route links Jasper with Whistler, while Via Rail’s Skeena Line connects Jasper and Prince Rupert via Prince George on the Pacific coast.

North American coaches are luxurious. Titan HiTours has a popular 14-day Canadian Rockies and Vancouver tour from £1,745 that also has time in Victoria.

For a coach trip with a theme, consider the Hidden Treasures of the Maritimes, new for 2009 with Explorations by Collette. In a small group, you taste local wines and eat some of the world’s best seafood in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

As well as natural wonders, such as the Bay of Fundy’s fierce tides and water-sculpted Hopewell Rocks, you also see “economuseums”. These specialist craft workshops produce and demonstrate the making of maple syrup, quilts, and more. The cost is from £2,349 for 10 days, including breakfast, some lunches, dinners.


Cruise on the east coast; cruise on the west coast; now cruise the Northwest Passage. Long dreamed of as a short cut from the Atlantic to the Pacific, this could soon become a reality as the Arctic warms.

As well as Billy Connolly’s television show, see the special Northwest Passage exhibition at London’s National Maritime Museum (May 23-Jan 2010).

More conventional is a Titan HiTours cruise on the St Lawrence River, through the 1,000 Islands. The 750 mile-long St Lawrence is the “main road” that connects Lake Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean.

Villages, forts and private estates stand on the banks; islands galore dot one of the prettiest sections of the waterway. Travel aboard the Canadian Empress, a replica Victorian steamboat; stop in Ottawa, Montréal, Toronto, Kingston, as well as Upper Canada Village, a living history museum that takes you back 150 years. The cost is from £2,475 for 11 days, including full board on the cruise.

On the west coast, cruising from Vancouver to Alaska has long been holiday. Why not potter around the islands of the Inside Passage, using BC Ferries’ network of routes?

An exceptional trip is to the remote Queen Charlotte Islands, or Haida Gwaii, the home of the highly-artistic First Nations’ Haida tribe. See their monumental carved totem poles and log-built long houses at the new Haida Heritage Centre in Skidegate. Wild and beautiful, Haida Gwaii is accessed by ferry from Prince Rupert, itself known for its fine museum, fishing and grizzly bear watching.

  • Unless otherwise stated, prices are for one, based on two sharing, including flights, car hire/transport and accommodation. The phone code for Canada from the UK is 001.

For more information about Canada as a tourist destination, visit

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