Planning a trip to Canada and figuring out an itinerary may seem monumental due to the size and geographical layout of the country. Bordered by three oceans, the Canadian motto “from sea to sea to sea” becomes more relevant when you start planning a cross country tour. Most travelers with a limited amount of time tend to focus on one area of the country. This is a good idea unless you incorporate some long distance internal flights. Canada stretches more than 5,500 kilometers from east to west, and much of the remote north is all but inaccessible.
Vancouver and the West Coast
Spend a couple of days seeing the sights of Vancouver. Drive or catch a bus up to the posh ski town of Whistler for a day, a fun destination any time of year, and head back down to Vancouver where you can catch a ferry to Victoria. For some people, depending on how much time you allow in Vancouver and Victoria, this might be enough to fill seven days. However, if you find you still have more time, there are some great side trips from Victoria. For a day trip from Victoria catch a car ferry to Salt Spring Island for a day of sightseeing, or visiting local farms and artisan studios. With a few days available, drive up to Vancouver Island to Tofino for a night or two, where you can stay in a seaside lodge. Spend some time surfing or walking along the beaches in Pacific Rim National Park, enjoy a day hike near the village of Ucluelet, and see the pristine coastal forest all along this remote stretch of the island.
A car makes this trip simple and is the best way to see the attractions. If you are using public transport, it will be cheaper and include a bus to Whistler and walk-on ferries to Victoria and Salt Spring Island. With a car, be aware that taking a car ferry may require some wait time, especially around holidays. If you add on a trip to Tofino a car is almost essential.
Toronto, Montreal, and Beyond
With Toronto being a major point of entry for many travelers to Canada, this is the best place to start a tour of Central Canada. Spend a few nights in Toronto to see the sights, take in a Broadway show, and do a day trip to Niagara Falls. There are several tour operators offering day trips to the falls, which usually include a stop at the lovely little town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. From Toronto, you can drive or take a train to Ottawa, Canada’s capital, to see Parliament Hill, some national museums, and in winter, you may even be able to skate along the Rideau Canal running through the city.
Montreal is another must-see city in Central Canada. You can get there easily from Ottawa, or directly from Toronto if you choose to skip Ottawa. Trains run regularly from both cities to Montreal, and by car, it is quite an easy drive (4.5 hours from Toronto to Ottawa, 5.5 hours from Toronto to Montreal, and two hours from Ottawa to Montreal). With more time available, you can continue on to Quebec City to tour this historic French city. This is a city definitely worth visiting, and may even serve as an alternative to visiting Montreal if you are unable to visit both.
The only walled city in North America and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, French-speaking Québec City has a strategic location atop steep cliffs that overlook the St. Lawrence River. Founded in 1608 as a fur trading colony at present-day Place Royale, it quickly became an administrative center and today is the capital of Québec Province. The Upper Town, also known as Haute-Village, was originally developed for its military advantage and contains the defensive Citadel, as well as some of the city’s most iconic landmarks, like the Château Frontenac and the City Fortifications. The Lower Town (or Basse-Ville) is where the original settlement was located and is known for its picturesque, narrow streets and historic, stone buildings. From here, there is access to the Québec-Levis Ferry at Vieux Port (Old Port), and there are many tourist attractions, including the Musée de la Civilization and the scenic Quartier Petit-Champlain neighborhood, where there are endless things to do. The upper and lower districts are connected by winding streets, a few steep staircases, and the Funiculaire.