Visitors wanting to explore multiple places in America's sprawling neighbor to the north will likely require several forms of transportation. Flights allow travelers to span the miles quickly, while buses offer a wider variety of destinations at affordable prices. Driving a car, meanwhile, gives the freedom of flexibility, and traveling by train and ferry reveals some of the world's most breathtaking scenery. Read on to check out your best options for getting around Canada.
Toronto Pearson International Airport is the country's busiest airport, with Vancouver International Airport second and Calgary International ranked third. These, along with five other international airports (Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa and Winnipeg), offer "pre-clearance" checkpoints run by the U.S. government, allowing for speedier reentry into the United States.
Air Canada is the country's primary airline, serving 60 in-country airports and another 60 internationally. The carrier is a Star Alliance member and has frequently won awards for being North America's best airline. Low-cost carrier WestJet is Air Canada's biggest competition, and emerging carrier Porter Airlines offers options for Americans traveling from the U.S. East Coast.
Flights to remote areas of the country will likely be via smaller regional airlines, and fares can be pricey, thanks to the monopoly some of these small carriers have on their destinations. When booking flights, reservations made well in advance, along with flexible dates and times, can help decrease costs. Also look for discounts on the airline's websites.
For those looking to fly into multiple Canadian cities during one trip, a flexible flight pass can provide a price break. Air Canada sells multiple prepaid flight pass options and, for travel in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, carrier Air North offers several choices. Before purchasing a flight pass, read the rules and restrictions to ensure it meets your needs.
Rail travel is an excellent way to see Canada's too-pretty-to-be-real scenery, but limited departures mean you'll need a relaxed and accommodating schedule. VIA Rail, run by the Canadian government, is the only main passenger train operator in the country.
With the exception of the Quebec City-Windsor corridor, train travel is often more expensive than flying. However, prices are cheaper in winter months, and discounts are often available to early bookers.
The Canrailpass, similar to a flight pass, offers considerable savings and gives you 21 days to use seven one-way, economy-class trips. Advance reservations are strongly recommended and can be booked online or by phone. Longer trips in peak season can sell out months in advance, as can routes to Hudson Bay during polar bear season.
Note that trains can always run late, as freight traffic takes priority.
Passengers traveling in economy class have reclining seats and access to a service car -- manageable arrangements for perhaps just one overnight but not much longer. Several sleeper train options give access to showers, additional lounges and sometimes meals in the restaurant car. If your train has one, be sure to visit the dome observation car, available to all travelers, for prime scenic viewing.
The privately owned Rocky Mountaineer offers popular daylong and multi-day trips through the Canadian Rockies.
For those interested in train travel from the United States, Amtrak partners with VIA Rail to connect a handful of U.S. and Canadian cities, including New York City and Montreal as well as Seattle and Vancouver.
Exploring Canada by car gives visitors maximum flexibility, particularly when visiting isolated regions.
For those planning to drive from the United States, there are 22 official crossings. Wait times at busy entry points can be lengthy during summer months and on weekends, so be sure to check the Canadian Border Services Agency website going in and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security website going out.
Smaller, more remote border crossings often have quicker queues but are not open 24 hours, so confirm times beforehand. In addition to a passport or other valid travel document, you'll need to show your driver's license, vehicle registration papers and proof of liability before entering the country.
For travelers renting a car after arriving in Canada, you'll find all the major companies represented, including Avis, Hertz and Thrifty. Local agencies like PractiCar (based in British Columbia) and Routes Car & Truck Rentals in Ontario may offer considerably cheaper options. Booking in advance often equals better deals.
Renters typically need to be at least 25 years old and provide a credit card. Confirm your mileage quota and insurance coverage before hitting the road.
When driving in Canada, a few points to remember:
- Gas (called "petrol" in Canada) generally costs more than it does in the United States and can increase substantially in rural regions, where stations may be few and far between.
- Right turns on red lights are allowed everywhere except Quebec.
- Be wary of moose and other wildlife in the roadway, particularly at dawn and dusk.
- Speed restrictions are posted in kilometers per hour, so be sure you're looking at the right number on your car's speedometer.
- Police officers aren't required to have a reason to pull you over, and speeding fines are levied on the spot.
- Four-wheel drive is recommended for remote areas, where road conditions can be rough.
Cbsa-asfc.gc.ca (Canada Border Services Agency)
Dhs.gov/crossing-us-borders (U.S. Department of Homeland Security)
Canada's buses are safe, comfortable and considerably cheaper than train travel. They are also often the only public transportation option in less densely populated areas.
Bus companies in Canada range from small family-run outfits to subsidiaries of international corporations. Local companies, such as Coach Canada in Ontario and Alberta Bus in Alberta, provide regional service, and Greyhound operates most of the long-distance routes. All Greyhounds are equipped with restrooms, reclining seats and air-conditioning. Longer trips make rest and meal stops.
Frequency of departures depends on a route's popularity and can vary from once a day to once an hour. Certain routes offer express service.
Tickets can be purchased online, over the phone or directly at the bus terminal. Advance purchase discounts are often available for those buying a ticket at least seven days beforehand; Web-only fares are also offered.
Taxis in Canada are easily found in major cities and can be hailed or called in advance. They will be of various models, makes and colors. Metered fares are the norm, so there's no need to negotiate on price. The flat start fee is generally about $3. A gratuity of 10 to 20 percent is standard.
Ferries are a great way to explore the eastern and western coasts of Canada. Prices are reasonable, and you don't typically need to book in advance unless you're transporting a car.
BC Ferries travel to numerous destinations along the west coast, from Vancouver and Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert and many charming islands and towns in between. In the east, Bay Ferries provides year-round service across the Bay of Fundy and a seasonal route from Caribou, Nova Scotia to Prince Edward Island. Further north, Marine Atlantic ferries connect the island of Newfoundland with Nova Scotia.
--written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma