Canada is a huge place with so many beautiful landscapes to admire and numerous lively cosmopolitan cities to enjoy. But unless you have a lot of time on your hands it’s not really worth trying to see all the country’s highlights at once! And as tempting as it can be to pack a lot into a holiday it’s generally not the best idea… one of the worst things is feeling like an overseas trip left you more over-tired and jet lagged than inspired and energised. That’s why travelling along the Canadian ‘Windsor to Quebec City’ Corridor through Ontario and Quebec (or vice versa) is a great way to see a fair few of Canada’s must-dos without overdoing it!
This stretch of land spans 1,150km (710 miles) starting in Windsor in the South (just across the river from Detroit) heading up through two great lakes and then following the Saint Lawrence river right up to Quebec City. The Corridor is home to more than 18 million people (over half of the country’s population!) including three of Canada’s five largest cities. We travelled through this part of Canada in May 2017 for just over a week, and while we saw and did a lot our schedule didn’t feel too intense. We managed to have time to fully enjoy every destination, sample local specialties, go sightseeing and even make it to a local sports game.
Getting Around in Canada
We bought a Canrail pass valid on this part of Canada’s train network and it proved to be a convenient way to cover quite a lot of ground over one week. At around CA $270 for youth or students and around CA $300 for a 7 trip pass it’s not super cheap, but I have always found trains more comfortable and well-equipped than buses. The only way to do this trip cheaper by train would have been to book our tickets well in advance but we would have lost the ability to change our itinerary or train times if we had done this. Once we arrived at each train station we generally caught an uber to get to our accommodation (and back again on our departure.) If you’ve never used uber before you can sign up here to get free credit!) Uber proved to be easier than trying to navigate public transport with our backpacks. When it came to sightseeing within each city we tend to be happy to walk most places as its a good way to keep active when you’re not keeping up with your usual exercise routine.
The route you are able to travel along with the rail pass starts in Windsor close to the US border and goes as far North as Québec City. We decided to start in Niagara Falls which we reached by bus from Buffalo on the US side of the border after a flight from Washington D.C. We then travelled right up to Québec City but we visited Montreal last as we had chosen to fly out of Montreal’s Trudeau Airport. We had 8 nights in total of which we spent 1 night in Niagara Falls, 2 nights in Toronto, 1 night in Ottawa, 2 nights in Quebec City and finally 2 nights in Montreal.
Airbnb was our accommodation provider of choice as by booking around 6 months in advance we could get private rooms staying with some lovely Canadian locals for between CA $40 and $100 per night. (P.S. if you haven’t used airbnb before click here to get $50 free travel credit when you sign up.) When you’re a couple travelling together this easily beats any cheap hotel or booking two dorm beds in a hostel or backpackers so it’s a bit of a no-brainer.
Key Destinations Along the Corridor
Niagara Falls during the spring snow melt was absolutely stunning to see in person (though I did find the town with all its Casinos and amusement parks a little kitsch.)
Toronto was lively and hip with its tall skyscrapers like the CN Tower and hipster areas like the converted Distillery District. We more or less stuffed our faces with culinary goodness at Saint Lawrence market (think cheese, olives, fresh bread and pastries!) Watching the Blue Jays vs. the Texas Rangers in my first baseball game was also real highlight!
Ottawa in spring time was so vibrant with its tulip gardens in full bloom and the river sparkling in the sunlight. The Canadian parliament is worth seeing and I particularly enjoyed trying local specialities like Beaver Tails at Byward Market. (Disclaimer: these not actual beaver tails, but rather beaver tail shaped pastries covered in yummy things like maple syrup and sugar!)
The historic and quaint Québec City provided us with a unique French-Canadian immersion. The town was founded back in the 1300s so there is a lot of history to soak up between its time under French and British control. If you speak metropolitan French you may find it helpful as not everyone likes speaking English and many have not learnt it, but while most people will understand more traditional French okay you may still struggle to understand French Canadians as the accent is very different.
Last but not least the cosmopolitan and bilingual Montreal was a lovely place to finish up our trip in Canada. We got great views from a walk up Mont Royal and also wandered around Old Montreal. Ben as a monlingual english speaker felt a lot more at ease here than in Quebec as while the majority of Montreal residents use French at home almost 60% of the population speak both French and English fluently.
It is a pretty wonderful thing to be able to visit one of the most impressive waterfalls in the world, a nation’s capital city, two of the largest and most multicultural cities in the world and two provinces that speak different languages all in one week! This truly is a special part of Canada to visit and as Canadians are some of the loveliest people on this planet you will feel so very welcome!