Getting around Canada

Air

Air Canada (AC) (www.aircanada.com) serves destinations throughout Canada. Low-cost airline WestJet (WS) (www.westjet.com) serves over 30 domestic destinations across the country. Other carriers include Yukon-based Air North (4N) (www.flyairnorth.com) and a host of small outfits serving remote communities and wilderness areas. Canada is so vast, domestic flights can save you many hours and even days versus driving or taking the train and are sometimes essential if visiting isolated lodges or settlements. Flights are generally cheaper if booked in advance.

Air passes

Air Canada offers a range of commuter, regional, national and international flight passes. Prices vary according to distance and duration. Full details are available from www.aircanada.com.

Departure tax

Included in the air fare.

Road

The Canadian road network covers huge distances as the country is over 5,500km (3,400 miles) as the crow flies from west to east and 4,600km (2,800 miles) from north to south. The Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) (www.caa.ca) is affiliated with most European organisations, giving full use of facilities to members.

Side of road
Right
Road quality

Getting around Canada by road is easy, though drives can be long owing to its size. Road quality is generally excellent, but routes to remote destinations may be unpaved. Winter roads formed of snow and ice serve northern communities in winter. On country roads, you should be mindful of wild animals, such as deer or moose.

Road classification

The Trans-Canada Highway spans the entire country. Aside from this, road classification differs according to province/territory. Most roads are numbered; major highways generally have low numbers while minor routes are likely to have high numbers assigned to them.

Car hire

Available in all cities and from airports to full licence holders over 21 years of age. For some car hire companies, drivers may need to be at least 25 years old.

Taxi

It’s easy to hail a cab on the street or pick up a taxi from your hotel or a designated rank in all Canadian towns and cities.

Bike

In towns and cities, cycling is usually pleasant given the courtesy (and risk aversion) of drivers. There are many excellent car-free cycle paths making for a fun half-day ride. On highways between towns, cycling can be a bit unnerving with enormous lorries thundering past. Where the country really excels is in the wide network of off-road routes, often in tranquil and challenging forest settings.

Coach

Greyhound (tel: 1 800 661 8747; www.greyhound.ca) is Canada’s main coach line and runs a comprehensive network across Canada. Smaller, regional operators also offer services within individual provinces.

Regulations

Right turns on red lights are legal in Canada except in Montreal. Generally, speed limits are 100kph (60mph) on motorways, 80kph (55mph) on rural highways and 50kph (30mph) in cities. Seat belts are compulsory for all passengers and child car seats must be used by small children. Radar detection devices are strictly prohibited in many provinces and studded tyres are illegal in southern Ontario. If you’re driving in the interior of British Columbia between December and March, you must fit your car with snow tyres. Many provinces require drivers to keep headlights on during the day.

Breakdown service

CAA (tel: 1 800 222 4357 or *222 from mobile phones).

Documentation

Visitors may drive on their national driving licences for at least three months in all provinces.

Getting around towns and cities

Canada’s major cities have excellent public transport systems, with a mixture of buses, trams, light rail systems and underground trains. If you’re visiting Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal, you can easily get around without a car. Public transport is safe and generally offers good value for money, with transfers usually available.

Rail

VIA Rail Canada (tel: 1 888 842 7245; www.viarail.ca) operates extensive services across Canada. Regional railways include Algoma Central (operates the Agawa Canyon Tour Train), Armstrong Group (operates the Rocky Mountaineer and Whistler Mountaineer), Ontario Northland (operates the Northlander, Polar Bear Express and Dream Catcher Express trains), and White Pass & Yukon Route.

VIA Rail operates a western transcontinental service (the Canadian) between Toronto (Ontario) and Vancouver (British Columbia), running three times weekly east and west. Passengers are drawn to this route by the spectacular scenery of the many mountain ranges passed en route, including the Rockies. The journey takes four days.

Rapid intercity services are available between Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto, Windsor and Ottawa. VIA Rail also operates an overnight eastern transcontinental service (the Ocean) between Montreal (Quebec) and Halifax (Nova Scotia).

The Rocky Mountaineer service (tel: 1 877 460 3200 or 00 800 0606 7372 from the UK; www.rockymountaineer.com) runs from mid-April to mid-October and offers the opportunity to travel from Vancouver to Jasper, Banff and Calgary (and vice versa) during daylight hours.

For visitors seeking a route into the Canadian wilderness, the Polar Bear Express (tel: 1 800 265 2356; www.polarbearexpress.ca) between Cochrane and Moosonee (with connections to Toronto), runs weekdays from late June to late August.

Rail passes

Canrailpass - System: allows seven one-way trips anywhere on the VIA network within a 21-day period.

Canrailpass - Corridor: gives seven one-way trips on VIA Rail in Quebec and southern Ontario within a 10-day period.

Alaska Pass: offers eight, 12 or 15 days' travel within Alaska, the Yukon and British Columbia, including travel on Alaska Ferry, Alaska Railroad, one-way car hire and White Pass & Yukon Railroad (www.alaskapass.com).

By rail note

In 2012, VIA Rail introduced a new non-stop express train linking Toronto and Ottawa in under four hours.

By water

Canada has many thousands of miles of navigable rivers and canals, a vast number of lakes and an extensive coastline. The whole country is well served by all manner of boats and ships, particularly the east and west coasts, where the ferries are fast, frequent and good value. The St Lawrence Seaway provides passage from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes.

One of the largest ferry operators is BC Ferries (tel: 1 888 223 3779; www.bcferries.com). It runs a number of services linking British Columbia's mainland with its coastal islands, as well as a route to Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands) and another through the Inside Passage.

Edited by Jane Duru
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