Coast to Coast Canadian Rail Experience
This is a mammoth Canadian coast to coast rail experience that will take you all the way from the maritime heritage of Halifax, Nova Scotia in the east to the majestic conclusion of the Rocky Mountains in Vancouver, British Colombia in the west. This tour includes five nights spent aboard the VIA Rail, journeying through Canadian landscapes, from the prairielands of Manitoba to the lakes and mountains of Alberta. Rail travel is the best way to see as much of Canada as possible in a relatively short period of time and this itinerary will definitely provide you with a few unique talking points when you arrive home.
To make this journey even more incredible, you can choose to add a ‘side trip’ from Winnipeg to Churchill where, if the timing is right, you could be lucky enough to see a beluga whale, the Northern Lights or even a polar bear! You could also choose to take the world famous Rocky Mountaineer train from Jasper to Vancouver if you prefer this to VIA Rail.
- French Canada
- Jasper National Park
Welcome to Nova Scotia’s provincial capital. This attractive city is a bustling hub of art galleries, shops, museums, restaurants, sidewalk cafes and vibrant nightlife centred around the picturesque waterfront. Immerse yourself in Halifax's rich history at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, and be sure to survey the city from the 18th-century Citadel National Historic Site. You can also visit a 200-year-old restored fishing village at Fisherman’s Cove and discover the stories of over a million immigrants who landed in Halifax at Pier 21. Venture to McNabs Island, located at the mouth of the Halifax Harbour, for secluded trails, a beautiful beach, and a historic fort.
Halifax to Quebec
18 hours, 15 minutes train journey
The railway line route between Halifax and Quebec is known as ‘The Ocean’. It winds through the forests of Nova Scotia, crossing salmon filled rivers and skirting the bird sanctuary of Tantramar Marsh, where blue-winged teal and marsh hawks fly free. Just after the border with New Brunswick, the train passes hilltop Fort Beausejour before reaching sea views on the Baie des Chaleurs (Bay of Heat). At Mont-Joli, the railway joins the St. Lawrence River and parallels its southern shore all the way to Montreal, though you will be stopping off at Sainte Foy (Quebec) first.
Quebec City is the only walled city in North America and offers a host of historic sites and attractions. During the summer, enjoy strolling along the narrow cobblestone streets in the Old City, with its cafes and street performers. For antiques or handicrafts visit the Rue Saint-Paul and the Old Port area which is rich in maritime history or explore the Citadel, where you might catch Canadian troops staging a military ceremony. An easy day trip from Quebec City is to the Sainte Anne Canyon. The exploration of the gorge is done by viewpoints as well as three suspension bridges, the first one is at the head of the fall and the second at 60 metres above the river and the third is at the bottom of the canyon.
3 hours train journey
Arriving into Montreal from Quebec affords you views across the water back towards Quebec until the forest takes over again. The approach into the city is heralded by the 2.7km-long Victoria Bridge over the St. Lawrence River. Montreal is the largest French speaking city in North America with a style and culture all of its own. Old Montreal's Parisian-style streets are a wonderful place to wander—stop at an intimate bistro or sidewalk café for a taste of Europe. In the summer, enjoy its many lively festivals and street performers. Downtown Montreal has fabulous shopping on Sainte Catherine Street and Sherbrooke Street. Little Italy is also worth a visit. Also make sure to visit Mt. Royal, which is now a magnificent park.
2 hours, 10 minutes train journey
Leaving Montreal, the train crosses the Ottawa River, used by many early Canadian explorers. Passing through farmland and forest, the border with Ontario can be detected by place names morphing from French to British in origin. Ottawa is Canada’s capital city. Whilst here, be sure to visit the beautiful Parliament buildings and the Rideau Canal, which in the winter becomes the world’s longest skating rink. There are also plenty of shops, bistros and restaurants to explore. Also worth a visit is Parliament Hill, visitors are welcome to tour the buildings, view Parliament in action, and enjoy public programs and colourful spectacles, such as the ceremonial Changing of the Guard ceremony and the Sound and Light Show. For some peace and quiet, venture out of town to Gatineau Park where you’ll find many trails, forests, wildlife, crystal-clear lakes and Luskville Falls. Just past the falls is the summit of Eardley Escarpment, which offers spectacular views of the Ottawa River Valley.
4 hours, 20 minutes train journey
Heading towards Toronto, you will be afforded views of Lake Ontario, easternmost of the five Great Lakes, alternating with farms stretched across rolling hills and fields lined with trees as windbreaks. From Oshawa, the tracks are shared with commuter trains, and before long Toronto’s distinctive CN Tower comes into view. The tower was the world’s tallest building when it was finished in 1976 and is still the largest freestanding structure in the Western Hemisphere. For real thrill-seekers, be sure to check out the EdgeWalk, where you can actually suspend yourself from the edge of the building. Toronto is Canada’s largest city and is a truly cosmopolitan metropolis, with its first class shopping, restaurants and entertainment. Visitors are always amazed at the abundance of parks and gardens and its soaring modern architecture contrasted by beautifully restored Victorian gables and spires.
Toronto to Winnipeg
35 hours train journey
Travelling from Toronto to Winnipeg is the longest journey of your trip, you will spend two nights aboard The Canadian completing what is undoubtedly one of the world’s greatest rail journeys. After grandstand views of Lake Ontario and the CN Tower, the train skirts the shore of Kempenfelt Bay on Lake Simcoe. The importance of the railway here is reflected by the many preserved wayside stations, kept decades after the last trains called there. The train skirts the huge Chapleau Crown Game Reserve and not long after Sioux Lookout, the train brushes the shore of Lost Lake, its shallows dotted by houseboats. As spruce trees give way to the undulating prairie of Manitoba and Winnipeg comes into view long before arrival, at the end of a dead-straight 88km long. In autumn, the sky can be filled with formations of waterfowl in unimaginable numbers.
Welcome to Winnipeg, the Manitoba city full of major surprises. While the Canadian Museum of Human Rights dominates the downtown skyline, it's only one of many museums and galleries you'll find downtown. And Winnipeg is rich with culture in every part of the city. Watch a ballet in the green grass of the Assiniboine Park, turn down an alleyway and step into an open air art installation or kick up your feet to a Voyageur jig or swing dance on a street under the stars. From cramped bars and private art collections to huge street parties and world-class concert venues, there’s something for everyone.
Winnipeg to Edmonton
19 hours, 40 minutes train journey
Rolling grassland and flat prairie alternate for much of the journey to Alberta’s capital at Edmonton. Anyone who thinks the prairies are flat and uninteresting is in for a pleasant surprise. The railway has to leap across valleys on tall, long trestle viaducts – Saskatoon is known as the ‘City of Bridges’. Sadly the wonderful wooden grain elevators that punctuated the prairie landscape have largely disappeared now. Each town used to use a different colour and announced its name on large letters on the timber siding. After Melville, look out for whooping cranes and hawks, just two of over 260 species of birds found at the nearby Last Mountain Lake bird sanctuary.
You'll feel right at home in vibrant, expansive Edmonton. Alberta’s capital city is always celebrating something, from arts and culture to food and wine, dragon boats, winter and even accordions. Explore Edmonton’s museums and historic sites, come to the famous farmers’ market in the Old Strathcona and visit with local vendors and visit the galleries and shops, find a funky restaurant and stick around for the night life – live theatre, music and dancing. The historic Old Strathcona district has a neighbourhood feel, while Whyte Avenue leads to the University of Alberta and its youthful crowd. A short drive outside town is the North Saskatchewan River valley. But Edmonton's most famous attraction is the West Edmonton Mall, boasting 800 shops plus an indoor roller coaster and water park.
5 hours, 25 minutes train journey
Before entering Jasper National Park, the railway crosses the 1,230km-long Athabasca River, renowned for its turquoise colour. Jasper is surrounded by the peaks of Jasper National Park, which allows it to play host to plenty of outdoor pursuits. Take the Jasper Tramway up Whistlers Mountain for great views of the mountain and valley from above the tree line. Walk the Maligne Canyon trail that crosses the canyon six times and Maligne Lake, the largest glacier fed lake in the Canadian Rockies. Here you can take the popular narrated cruise on a glass bottomed boat to the picturesque Spirit Island. Another great trip is to Miette Hot Springs. This road is one of the best animal spotting routes in the park, so if you haven’t seen any wildlife on your trip so far, this could be the best trip to take!
Jasper to Vancouver
20 hours, 15 minutes train journey
After passing Yellowhead Lake, Mount Robson, the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies looms into view, just across the border with British Columbia. It’s so large that it even has its own microclimate. From here, a succession of majestic sights follow: Pyramid Creek Falls, the North Thompson, Thunder and Blue river crossings, Kamloops Lake, Rainbow Canyon and its multi-coloured rock faces and, one of the most spectacular stretches of the whole journey, through Fraser Canyon and past Hell’s Gate, a name derived from the journal of explorer Simon Fraser who described it as ‘a place where no human should venture, for surely these are the gates of hell’. The train gingerly picks its way along a shelf suspended above the V-shaped gorge, with a cable-car above and a fish ladder below to help spawning salmon battle upstream. Journey’s end is close when the Canadian clatters across New Westminster Bridge, built in 1904. A suitably grand station building receives passengers arriving into BC’s largest city, Vancouver – known for repeatedly winning global ‘Best City’ awards.
Downtown Vancouver is an intriguing mixture of steel, concrete, mirrored glass buildings, modern sculptures and old-fashioned fountains. There is so much to see and do in the city. You can rent a bike to ride around the Seawall in Stanley Park or try rollerblading if you are feeling adventurous! Dinner can be taken at the top of Grouse Mountain for a spectacular view of the city lit up at night and you can reach the summit by the Skyride Gondola. Take the ferry across False Creek to the refurbished Granville Island - the place to be on a sunny day. Here you can shop in the Public Market, walk round the marina, browse in the gift shops or sample some of the local food.
A visit to the Capilano Suspension Bridge is well worth it for the spectacular views and stunning forest scenery. Alternatively spend some time at the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge nearby. Take along your bathing suit and you can have a dip in Lynn Creek after a short walk in the forest. There will be plenty of time for shopping on Robson Street in its trendy shops and the Robson Public Market. Visit Chinatown - the second largest Chinese community in North America and home to the beautiful and peaceful Dr. Sun Yat-sen Classical Chinese Garden. No visit is complete without wandering through Gastown where Vancouver started. The brightly painted buildings date back to 1886 and old gas lamps and trees line the red cobblestone streets. There are many galleries, restaurants and gift shops here The Boathouse Restaurant is a great place for dinner, while watching the sunset over English Bay and people watching all the evening strollers.
- 21 nights' accomodation and room tax including 5 nights' aboard VIA Rail.
- International flights from London (please ask if regional airports are required).
- VIA Rail train travel.
- A detailed and comprehensive travel pack with maps.