Most US travellers visit Canada by car, but there are plenty of flights, buses, ferries and trains that cross the border. Other travellers, including those from the UK, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, have little choice but to fly.
Airfares from the UK, Australia and New Zealand to Canada tend to be highest around mid-June to early September, the peak tourist season. You’ll get the best prices during the low season, mid-November to April (excluding Christmas and New Year, when seats are at a premium).
Most nonstop scheduled flights from Britain to Canada depart from London Heathrow or London Gatwick with a handful of departures from airports around Britain supplemented by holiday charter flights. The main gateways are Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver, but there are also nonstop scheduled flights to Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Halifax and St John’s (Newfoundland) in summer. Connecting flights from these airports delve into every corner of the country.
A standard return from London to Toronto with Air Canada (w aircanada.com) can cost anywhere between £350 and £750 (low/high season), and £700 and £1100 to Vancouver (US carriers offer cheaper rates to the latter, usually with a change in Chicago). The cheapest nonstop rates – from £350 to Toronto – are offered by Air Transat (w airtransat.co.uk). Most airlines also offer good-value open-jaw deals that enable you to fly into one Canadian city and back from another – useful if you want to make your own way across the country.
From Ireland, the only daily nonstop flights are in the summer (mid-April to mid-Oct) with Air Canada from Dublin to Toronto and on Air Transat to Toronto and Montréal; on all other flights you will have to change planes, usually either in the UK or US. Typical return fares on direct Dublin–Toronto flights (7hr) are around €600 on Air Transat, and €1000 with connections to Vancouver.
From the US to Canada there are plenty of nonstop flights on Air Canada and most US airlines, though prices, especially on east-coast routes, are relatively expensive. WestJet (w westjet.com) offers flights primarily from the American West, and with the exception of Las Vegas routes, most of these are seasonal. Porter Airlines (Wflyporter.com) connects Toronto with New York, Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh and DC, and is generally the cheapest carrier. Fares change drastically depending on season and when you purchase: in summer, expect to pay at least US$250 for New York to Toronto; US$450 for New York to Halifax; at least US$500 from Chicago to most of the big cities; US$450 for LA to Calgary; and US$400 for LA to Vancouver. WestJet flights between Las Vegas and Toronto can be as low as US$150 one way, even in summer.
Because domestic flights wholly within the US or Canada can cost less than flights between the two countries, you could save money by crossing the border before or after your flight. This is especially true of long-haul flights: a transcontinental flight from New York to Vancouver can be considerably more expensive than a similar flight to Seattle (which lies only 160km south of Vancouver).
Flying north/south is reasonably quick: New York to Montréal takes around 1hr 15min; New York to Toronto 1hr 30min; New York to Halifax 1hr 50min; LA to Vancouver 2hr 45min; and LA to Calgary 3hr. Flying east/west between countries usually involves a stopover or onward connection, so New York–Vancouver can take 7–8hr.
The Air Canada service from Sydney to Vancouver is the only nonstop connection between Canada and Australia – high season rates are around Aus$3300–3600 return. For other parts of Canada, airlines tend to quote you fares via LA or Vancouver to your chosen destination; you’ll often get cheaper rates flying through the US via airlines like United (w united.com), which flies through San Francisco, charging around Aus$2500 return from Sydney to Toronto, even in summer (with two stops). Flights from other cities in Australia route through Sydney.
Air New Zealand (w airnewzealand.com) runs nonstop flights from Auckland, New Zealand to Vancouver just three times a week, and most other flights usually end up routing through LA: you can get flights from Auckland to Vancouver from NZ$2300 return via United and Air New Zealand. Flights to Toronto also pass through LA – expect to pay around NZ$3000 in peak season.
South Africa has no nonstop flights to Canada, and your cheapest options are usually to fly on KLM (w klm.com) via Amsterdam or Frankfurt on Lufthansa (w lufthansa.com) to Toronto (R11,000–15,000) in high season, or via London (BA) and Frankfurt (Lufthansa) to Vancouver (around R17,000).
The US highway system leads into Canada at thirteen points along the border. The busiest corridors are from Blaine, WA to White Rock, BC; from Detroit, MI to Windsor, ON; from Buffalo, NY to Fort Erie, ON; and at Niagara Falls. You may encounter traffic jams at the border, particularly at weekends, in the summer and on US or Canadian holidays, but given that most border posts are open 24hr, you can usually beat the lines by starting early. From New York to Montréal (380 miles/612km) or Toronto (490 miles/790km) reckon on eight to nine hours’ driving; from San Francisco to Vancouver (955 miles/1536km), around nineteen hours. Mapmaker Rand McNally’s website (w randmcnally.com) has a good road-trip tool, with routes and mileage charts.
Vehicle insurance is compulsory and it’s also advisable to obtain a yellow Non-Resident Inter-Province Motor Vehicle Liability Card from your insurance company before you go. Make sure you have documents establishing proof of insurance and proof of vehicle ownership with you at all times while driving in Canada.
The Greyhound bus network extends into Canada from several points on the US East Coast and one from the West; prices below are for cheap fourteen-day advance tickets.
Travelling overland from San Diego to Montréal, say, is an epic, three-day journey (with at least three bus changes), but if you’re on a tight budget, the US$180 fare is a bargain – though be sure to factor in three days’ worth of food and drink. Greyhound and Trailways buses compete on the busy runs from New York to Montréal and Toronto, offering half a dozen trips per day. Fares for the eight-hour journey to Montréal are around US$75 one way; the twelve- to thirteen-hour marathon to Toronto can be as low as $45 for advance tickets (US$75 regular). Trips from Boston to Montréal start at US$51 one-way and the journey takes around seven hours.
Other cross-border connections include from Burlington, VT to Montréal (4 daily; 2hr 30min–3hr; from US$21); and from Seattle to Vancouver (4 daily; 4hr 10min; US$15–26).
For real bargains, check out Mega Bus, which runs between New York and Toronto in eleven to twelve hours (fares can be as low as US$43 one way).
For specific journeys, the train is usually more expensive than the bus (and often the plane), though special deals, especially in off-peak periods, can bring the round-trip cost down considerably.
Two routes on Amtrak from the northeastern US have direct connections with VIA Rail, Canada’s national rail company: the “Maple Leaf” from New York to Toronto via Buffalo and Niagara Falls (1 daily; 12hr 30min; from US$125 one way); and the “Adirondack” from New York to Montréal via Albany and Plattsburgh (1 daily; 10hr 50min; from US$68 one way). In the Northwest, the “Amtrak Cascades” runs from Seattle to Vancouver (2 daily; 4hr; from US$63 one way). All these fares are for travel in economy class, where pillows are provided for overnight journeys.
Reserve as far as possible in advance, as it is compulsory to have a seat and some of the eastern-seaboard trains in particular get completely booked. Some rail passes for the US network are also valid as far as a Canadian gateway like Vancouver or Montréal.
Several US–Canada ferry routes serve the West Coast, while two operate on the East Coast. Apart from the enjoyment of the ride, the boats can save you hours of driving. Always book ahead where possible.
On the East Coast, tiny car ferries link Deer Island, New Brunswick, to Eastport in Maine (late June to mid-Sept hourly 9am–6pm; 20min; car and driver $17, foot passenger $4; no reservations). In 2014 the Yarmouth (Nova Scotia) to Portland, Maine (US) car ferry resumed after a five-year break, with services operated by Nova Star Cruises (w novastarcruises.com). One-way rates start at around US$104 per adult, plus US$104 for a standard car and various port and fuel surcharges (typically US$21 per journey). Ferries sail daily June to mid-October; rates are cheapest Monday to Wednesday and through June, September and October.
On the West Coast, the Victoria Clipper catamaran for foot passengers runs between Seattle and Victoria on Vancouver Island, three times daily from late June to August, twice daily in May, June and September and once daily for the rest of the year (2hr 45min; from US$90–107 one way). The most useful West Coast ferry is the Washington State Ferries service from Anacortes to Sidney, on Vancouver Island. The ferry travels twice daily in summer, and once daily in winter via the San Juan archipelago (average-sized vehicle with driver $51.80 each way, extra adult passengers $19 each; bicycles $6; 3hr). Further north, Alaska Marine Hwy ferries link several Alaskan towns with Prince Rupert, British Columbia.
Backroads US t 510 527 1555, t 1 800 462 2848, w backroads.com. Cycling, hiking and multi-sport tours in the Rockies, Québec and Nova Scotia.
Cosmos US t 1 800 276 1241, w cosmos.com. Planned vacation packages with an independent focus.
ebookers UK t 0871 223 5000, Republic of Ireland t 01 431 1311; w ebookers.com. Low fares on an extensive selection of scheduled flights and package deals.
Ecosummer Expeditions Canada & US t 1 800 465 8884, International t 1 250 674 0102; w ecosummer.com. Wilderness expeditions and ecotourism focusing on BC, especially the Gulf and Haida Gwaii.
Exodus UK t 0845 863 9600, w exodus.co.uk. Adventure and action-oriented vacation packages focused on low-impact tourism, mostly in western Canada.
Frontier Ski UK t 020 8776 8709, w frontier-ski.co.uk. Leading Canadian ski holiday specialist, with trips to the Rockies and Québec.
Gap Adventures Real Traveller US t 1 800 708 7761, UK t 0870 999 0144, Australia t 1300 853 325, New Zealand t 0800 333 307; w gapadventures.co.uk. Adventure company taking small groups on specialist programmes that include walking, biking, overlanding, adventure and cultural trips. Québec, the Rockies and BC focused.
Go Fishing Worldwide UK t 020 8742 1566, w gofishingworldwide.co.uk. Fishing trips to Labrador, New Brunswick, Québec, the Yukon, Alberta, BC, Ontario and NWT.
Great Rail Journeys UK t 01904 521 936, w greatrail.com. Canada coast-to-coast by train.
Kuoni Travelt 01306 747 002, w kuoni.co.uk. Major tour operator running long-haul package holidays. Especially good deals for families.
Moose Travel Network Canada t 1 888 816 6673 or t 1 855 741 7318 , w moosenetwork.com. Outfit that runs backpacker mini-coach tours in BC, Alberta, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Québec.
North America Travel Service UK t 020 7569 6710, w northamericatravelservice.co.uk. Various itineraries cater to city breaks, cruises, spa vacations, guided tours and more.
North South Travel UK t 01245 608 291, w northsouthtravel.co.uk. Friendly, competitive travel agency, offering discounted fares worldwide. Profits are used to support projects in the developing world, especially the promotion of sustainable tourism.
Rod and Reel Adventures US t 1 800 356 6982, w rodreeladventures.com. Fishing holidays.
Ski Independencet 0845 310 3030, w ski-i.com. Wide range of ski packages, mostly to the Rockies.
Ski Safarit 01273 224 060, w skisafari.com. Tailor-made ski and snowboarding holidays to the Rockies and Québec.
STA Travel US t 1 800 781 4040, UK t 0871 230 0040, Australia t 134 782, New Zealand t 0800 474 400, SA t 0861 781 781; w statravel.com. Worldwide specialists in independent travel; also student IDs, travel insurance, car rental, rail passes and more. Good discounts for students and under-26s.
Trailfinders UK t 0845 058 5858, Republic of Ireland t 01 677 7888; w trailfinders.com. One of the best-informed and most efficient agents for independent travellers.
Travel Cuts Canada t 1 800 667 2887, US t 1 800 592 2887; w travelcuts.com. Popular, long-established student-travel organization.
Travelplan Ski Australia t 1300 130 754, w travelplan.com.au. Holidays in the snow worldwide, plus extreme heli-skiing trips.
Travelsphere UK t 0800 567 7372, w travelsphere.co.uk. Wide range of options includes cruises, activity-based vacations and short trips.
TrekAmerica UK t 0845 313 2614, w trekamerica.co.uk. Offers small-group adventure vacations.
Wildlife Worldwide UK t 0845 130 6982, Ireland t 01 440 7477; w wildlifeworldwide.com. Trips for wildlife and wilderness enthusiasts, including whale- and polar bear-watching packages.