Canada is amazing! It quickly became one of my favourite countries in the entire world. While there’s so much to see across every province, Canada is huge, and can get quite expensive for a backpacker! That was until I discovered a way to travel across most of the country for only $400.
Last year I was lucky to get a Canadian Working Holiday Visa, valid for one year from my home country of Sweden.
I packed my bags and started my journey in Newfoundland, falling in love with the culture right from the start. From Newfoundland I took a bus to Montreal to meet up with my boyfriend for our journey across Canada.
We wanted to go from Montreal to Edmonton where we thought of settling down for a while. We looked at different alternatives on how to get there, but we knew that there was so much more between Montréal and Edmonton that we needed to see. With that wish and a small budget in mind, we discovered one option that outshone all the others – taking the VIA Rail train!
Why taking the train across Canada is the best way to travel
If you have time, which I suggest that you have lots of when you visit Canada, you should really consider using the train as your method of transportation.
Here are five reasons why the VIA Rail train ride across Canada is incredible:
1. Multi-City Stops
You can easily make your trip a multi-city journey with VIA Rail. In other words – you can get off at different places and stay for as many days as you like before jumping on the train again! This gives you an amazing opportunity to experience more of the amazing Canada cities. Many people I’ve met here tend to fly between the big cities, skipping the beauty that’s in the middle.
2. Word Class Views
No matter what category you’re travelling in on the train, you’ll have access to an amazing car called “The Dome”. It has a glass roof which makes the journey even more enjoyable. You’ll see a lot of Canada not only by stopping at different towns, but also through the windows of the train! Rough Guides recently ranked Canada as the 2nd most beautiful country in the world and I got to see that dazzling beauty first hand.
3. Cheaper Than Flying
Imagine the cost if you booked plane tickets to 3 or 4 cities between Montréal and Edmonton! It would cost you way more than $400 CAD – my boyfriend and I paid only $395 CAD each for our entire train journey.
4. Meeting Other Travellers
You’ll meet tons of interesting people. Everyone on the train seems to have a story to tell, and they come from all walks of life. The train attendants are more like your personal tour guides than attendants. They will happily tell you about cities and landmarks you pass by and things you should see on your journey.
5. It’s Easy and Convenient
You just show up at the train station, bring your luggage on board, grab a seat, lean back and relax. Peek out the window every now and then to see how the surroundings change while you pass through different provinces. There’s a restaurant if you get hungry, and if you want to get some sleep you can either choose to just sleep in your chair or book a sleeping cabin. It’s the luxury of slow travel at its finest.
They even had plugs at every seat!
Take VIA Rail's Train Across Canada
Technically, you can take VIA Rail coast to coast, from Halifax all the way to Vancouver! (You'll just have to change trains a few times!)!
We took the dark blue Quebec/Windsor line from Montreal to Toronto, then switched to the red ‘Canadian' line out to Edmonton. If we chose to, we could have paid a little more to continue on to Jasper and then Vancouver!
Prices For Taking VIA Rail Across Canada
There are many different ways you can experience the train journey across Canada. If you are on a tight budget, VIA rail has amazing sale and budget fares, like the ones we booked. If you have a bigger travel budget you can really indulge in some luxury along the way.
Here are some different classes and prices based on a Toronto to Vancouver itinerary.
The same fare we booked.
We wanted to save money while travelling across Canada, so we opted for the Economy class. Like I mentioned above, we still had comfortable seats and access to the jaw-dropping ‘dome' car, so it was luxurious enough for us!
Economy Prices $400-$450 per person (Toronto to Vancouver)
A berth is like a semi-private room. In the day, it has 2 small couches that face each other, with a window looking out. At night, it re-configures into bunk beds with heavy curtains for privacy. There is no door, which is why it's semi-private.
Upper/Lower Berth Prices $774-$1400 per person (Toronto to Vancouver)
Private Cabin (with bathroom)
This is a fully private cabin with 2 bunk beds and even a private washroom! During the day the top bunk folds flush to the wall and the bottom bunk is a sofa with big window. This is a great option for travellers who want extra privacy and storage.
Private Cabin Prices $1500-$2000 per person (Toronto to Vancouver)
Prestige Class – Ultra VIP
The most luxurious thing I've ever heard of…the Prestige Class on VIA Rail. Complete with L-shaped couch, huge picture window, massive double bed, and a private butler during your stay.
Prestige Class Prices $9799 for 2 people (Toronto-Vancouver)
Cities we stopped at on the Canada Train Trip
We were on the train for a maximum of 36 hours in a row. The total time we gave ourselves to go between Montréal and Edmonton, with the stops, was 15 days. Here are the places we got off at and my best tips about what to do in these towns.
• If you’re a fan of hockey just like us, you must visit The Hockey Hall of Fame. You’ll find everything from exhibitions about goaltender masks to signed and game-worn jerseys. You can even take your picture with the Stanley Cup!
• Scared of heights? If not, or if you’re feeling extra brave during your visit, visit the CN Tower! With its 553 metres, it’s the tallest structure in Canada. The views from the top are amazing and if you’re lucky you might even get a glimpse of a baseball game in the stadium that’s next to the tower. There’s also a glass floor to walk on, 342 metres above ground – do you dare to look down?
• When travelling, I personally enjoy doing things that don’t feel ultra-touristy every now and then. We decided to visit a park called High Park, a mix of a natural and recreational park. It was a hit-and-miss since we’d never heard of High Park before and didn’t know if we’d like it. However, walking around the park, that’s bordering a beautiful pond called Grenadier Pond on its left, turned out to be just the perfect way to spend the afternoon. Bring some snacks for a picnic!
• The Forks, conveniently situated behind the train station in Winnipeg, is a place well worth a visit. It’s a meeting place and historic site, surrounded by a green space just by the river. It’s the perfect place to stroll around. When it’s time for lunch or dinner, make sure to visit The Forks Market – it’s filled with interesting boutiques, cafes and restaurants!
• When you’re done visiting The Forks, it’s the perfect time to take a walk along the river since you’re already there. We walked both directions from The Forks, which will give you some different views. Go to the left, up the river, and you’ll soon get to the Esplanade Riel – a pedestrian bridge crossing the river. If you’re into architecture, this might be something you want to check out!
• Instead, if you take a right turn to walk down the Assiniboine River when you’re done at The Forks, you’ll get to the Manitoba Legislative Building – which is free to visit. There are free tours to attend, but you can also walk around by yourself if you want to visit it more independently.
I have more tips Winnipeg on my ‘How To See Winnipeg In One Day‘ guide
• Downtown Saskatoon has lots of different parks to visit along the river. My favourite is River Landing East, since it’s not right at the centre but still beautifully situated just by the river. It has some nice features, like a huge wind chime, that makes it stand out among the other parks.
• Saskatoon has also a great variety of graffiti art around town. You can either search online for the specific places to go to see your favourites, or just wander around town to discover them by yourself.
• If you have the ability, I highly recommend to rent a car. This will give you a great opportunity to visit one or many of the parks surrounding the city. Two of them are Meewasin Park and Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park and Zoo. If you can’t or don’t want to rent a car, these places are also available by public transport, it will just take you a bit longer to get there!
• Downtown Edmonton is full of opportunities depending on what you’re interested in. There’s everything from the Art Gallery of Alberta to Rogers Place where you can watch Edmonton Oilers play in the NHL. On the other side of the river you’ll find the Muttart Conservatory, which is a very special botanical garden. If plants aren’t your thing, it might still be worth a visit since the building’s glass pyramids are pretty outstanding!
• Edmonton is also a great place to take a walk along the river. If you walk on the south side of the river, you’ll get amazing views over both downtown and, further to the west around Hawrelak Park, over the valley.
• Even if it’s situated outside of town, West Edmonton Mall is an interesting place to visit. It’s the biggest mall in North America and makes the Top 10 of biggest malls in the world. It’s not just a mall – it also has a waterpark, North America’s largest indoor amusement park and other attractions such as adventure golf.
As you see, there’s lot more to Canada than just it’s two coasts. If you want to experience more of Canada than just the three biggest cities, don’t hesitate – start planning your train journey now!
About The Author:
As long as she can remember, Amanda has always longed for new adventures. In 2018, she took the life-changing decision to quit her job and leave everything back home in Sweden to travel around the world instead. She’s currently backpacking through Canada by land, across the whole country from coast to coast – follow this adventure and her future ones on her blog: My Backpacker Life
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