Earlier this year I decided to return to a country I absolutely adore – Canada. A few years ago, I was living and working on the West Coast in British Columbia and was gutted that I never made it out east. I decided it was time to change this. I spent ten days on an exciting and diverse city-hopping trip across Canadas Eastern provinces. Food, culture, big city lights, stunning landscapes – this trip had it all.
The best time to explore Eastern Canada is May to October. May and June are still considered off-season, with slightly cooler weather but also lower rates on many flight and hotels. In July and August, the eastern provinces truly come to life and you can drop in on plenty of regional festivities and festivals. Middle of September until late October can be quite spectacular to see the autumn foliage in full splendour.
I started with vibrant artistic Montreal, Quebec’s largest city and a foodie’s heaven! I arrived late in the afternoon on my Iceland Air flight, and just got whisked away into all the eclectic things one might encounter on a summer night in Montreal. I tucked into a delicious poutine for dinner, enjoyed a walk around the old town, a mesmerizing, impromptu street dance performance and a club night in an old factory dome turned art installation. Only in Montreal.
The following days were all about exploring this exciting and, surprisingly large city. Although undeniably North American, it is infused with French and European culture – a true multi-cultural melting pot. The architecture, food, language and people are all fascinating. For the best views over town, I headed up Mount Royale, which not only has fantastic viewpoints but also enough forest to totally get lost in. Down back in the city, don’t miss out on the fantastic food and outdoor markets popping up across the city on the weekends. Whether you grab a Montreal-style bagel with smoked meat or maple syrup pancakes, it’s impossible to eat badly in this city.
A 3-hour train ride northwest of Montreal, I headed to Quebec next: it is not only the capital of the province, but also the heart of the Francophone part of Canada. With the Fairmont Le Chateau towering over the St-Laurence River, its location is nothing short of spectacular. Roaming the European-looking narrow alleyways is such a pleasurable way to spend the day. The French heritage of this charming city is quite obvious – most of all in all the fantastic food and treat stores across the city. Also, this city is almost entirely French-speaking – only 1,5% of the population state English as their mother tongue!
As with most Canadian cities, the wilderness is not far away beyond the city boundaries. Quebec city has quite a range of fantastic natural parks and natural sights just a few miles out. I visited the fantastic Montmorency Falls, which are a fantastic stop on a daytrip to Ile-des-Orleans in the St Lawrence river with its vineyards and old French villages.
After the maybe best train journey of my life – a 24-hour journey in a private sleeper cabin – I arrived late the following day in Halifax, a city I immediately took a liking to! Fairly small and lacking the grand attractions of the previous places, it utterly charmed me with its maritime history, exciting little street and food markets and its fascinating museums. The Titanic exhibition at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic really moved me – Halifax was the closest town picking up the distress calls in the aftermath of the disaster. And to top it all off, the newly renovated harbourfront is just perfect to laze a few hours away and have some craft beers in the sun.
After these days of city-hopping, it was time to leave the pavements behind – I rented a car and headed northeast to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia’s spectacular northern cape, and drive the Cabot Trail, one of the unarguably most scenic drives in the world – 298km with stunning cliffs, mountain- and forest-scape and breath-taking sea views at every turn. Don’t forget your hiking boots, as the drive is littered with spectacular hiking opportunities.
As Toronto is a long way from Halifax, I cheated and took a short inland flight. After the days in the wilderness of the west coast, this metropolis, Canada’s largest, was a shock to the system. However, let me be clear – I immediately loved it! At first, the large central district makes it hard to decide where to start, but once you scouted the lay of the land a bit, it gets easier. The city is a patchwork of vastly different and multicultural neighbourhoods. Toronto has lots of fascinating sights and attractions – I highly recommend a hop on hop off bus ticket, to cover the quite significant distances between them.
Don’t miss a cruise along the harbour to take in Toronto’s impressive skyline from the water or a trip up the iconic CN Tower. I also loved taking a ramble around Chinatown and Kensington and finishing my day with a craft beer in the historic distillery district, taking in the local sculptures and artworks.
For my last day in Canada, I decided to end my adventure with a splash –Niagara Falls. The famous waterfalls are an easy daytrip out of the city and are so worth the journey. Don’t leave without hopping on a boat and getting soaked by the mighty falls. Happy, and full of memories, I returned back to the city in the evening, just in time to catch my return flight. It won’t be the last time, Canada!
One thing about Canadian distances? You can spend years in the country, and they still surprise you! What looks like a quick blip on the map, can still easily be a 7-hour drive (like Toronto to Montreal). To really maximise your time in the Eastern cities, I’d recommend you travel by train. The train network is nothing short of excellent – so a city hopping trip is easily possible even without renting a car. Read my blog Montreal to Atlantic Canada aboard the Ocean Train to learn more about travelling by train in Canada.
I hope this blog has encouraged you to plan a trip to the cities of Eastern Canada. If you would like to plan a trip, give us a call on +44 1273320580 or request a quote. We are experts in planning tailor-made holidays and round the world flights, so we can work together with you until we’ve created your perfect trip.