Canada isn’t just renowned for its countryside. It has some of the most exciting cities in North America, too. Move over, NYC – bustling Toronto, laidback Vancouver and charming Montreal are a few of the vibrant centres enticing happy holiday-goers instead. With fantastic shopping, world-class dining and culture in abundance, it’s not surprising Canadian city breaks are becoming de rigueur.
But if the thought of driving on the right through chaotic city streets – or worse, cramming into a hot subway train – fills you with dread, don’t panic. Befitting its green, laid back and fun-loving reputation, Canada has some of the best public transport out there.
So if you want to go on a city break holiday in Canada this year, forget hiring a car. Just bring your camera, your wallet and your own two feet. Brush up on our tips for getting around Canada’s cities and you’ll be streets ahead.
Getting around Vancouver is easy. Its different transport systems connect visitors to all the city’s neighbourhoods. Plus, some of them are an adventure in their own right!
The SkyTrain’s rapid rail system travels throughout downtown Vancouver and its surrounding areas, both in tunnels and on elevated tracks. It is one of the longest and oldest automated driverless transit systems in the world.
The SkyTrain’s newest route, the Canada Line, connects the international airport to downtown Vancouver. This is the best way to get straight into the city from your flight. The Expo Line runs from the Waterfront and stops by downtown and the BC Place stadium before heading out to the city’s eastern suburbs.
The Canada Line takes you to the Vancouver City Centre Station. From here you are in the heart of downtown, within easy walking distance of the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Pacific Centre shopping mall. Get off at Yaletown-Roundhouse Station to explore the mix of heritage buildings, boutique shops and restaurants in the Yaletown neighbourhood.
Top tip: Hold on to your SkyTrain ticket as you can use it to transfer to the bus system if you need to.
Vancouver is also home to the SeaBus, a passenger-only ferry which crosses the Burrard Inlet to connect the cities of Vancouver and North Vancouver.
The ferries operate every day, all year round. The journey only takes 12-minutes and the speedy catamarans can take up to 400 passengers at a time.
It is the most scenic way to cross Burrard Inlet and offers stunning views of downtown Vancouver and the surrounding mountains.
Top tip: Take a camera. You will want to show the stunning scenery you see during the trip to all your family and friends.
Granville Island Aqua bus
The Granville Island Aqua bus is a daily passenger ferry service to all major destinations in False Creek.
These comfortable vessels allow you to experience downtown Vancouver and its spectacular waterfront scenery in a scenic and hassle-free way.
You can hop-off at eight different stops, which includes the likes of Spyglass Palace, Plaza of Nations, Yaletown and David Lam Park.
Top tip: Head to Granville Island as it’s one of False Creek’s top attractions. There you will be able to browse artists galleries, shop at public markets and enjoy plenty of other activities.
While San Francisco has its trolley cars and Venice has its gondolas, Vancouver has its floatplanes.
These 1950s-era floatplanes were originally used to fly hunters into the deep wilderness of British Columbia, but today in Vancouver you can go on one of these planes to circle the city’s skyline and mountainous coastal islands.
A drive to Victoria on Vancouver Island can involve you driving for half a day, but a floatplane can shorten the trip to just 35 minutes.
Trips to Vancouver Island run hourly and will give you a great flightseeing experience as well as save you a lot of time.
Top tip: There are a range of floatplane day trips available from Vancouver Harbour and these range from landing on mountain lakes to visiting nearby vineyards.
As the second most populous city in Canada and boasting French flair, Montreal naturally has some stylish transport options to get you around.
The metro is the easiest way to get around Montreal, and as a bonus, it’s not very expensive either.
Opened back in 1966, each station on the metro is completely different to the others and boasts pieces of public art such as sculptures, stained glass and frescoes. It was also the first metro system to run completely on rubber-tyre trains.
The metro is close to a whole host of Montreal’s top attractions. The Jean-Talon station is just a couple minutes away from Little Italy, while the Montreal Botanical Gardens are a short walk from Pie-IX Metro station.
Top tip: Buy an Opus Card for $20 as it allows you 20 trips. It will work out cheaper if you use this card for the whole of your city break.
Despite its size, this is one city where you definitely don’t need a car. The number of great transport options linking all corners of Toronto make it easy for you to get out and explore.
These iconic Canadian streetcars, known as trams in the UK, have a rich history. The first electric-powered vehicle was unveiled in 1892.
The Toronto Transit Commission’s streetcar network, which covers 82 kilometres and has 11 different routes within the city, has no fare zones to worry about.
In fact the same fare covers subways, streetcars and buses within the city of Toronto and you can simply transfer between routes for free to reach your destination.
The streetcar routes are a much more entertaining way to see the city’s top attractions than taking the subway. Chinatown and the Art Gallery of Ontario are accessible via the 505 Dundas route. The 510 Spadina route takes visitors to Toronto’s waterfront where you can go for a stroll or catch a ferry.
Top tip: At major streetcar stops, visitors can pay in advance by using the ticket machine. If you are at smaller stops, you will have to purchase a ticket on the streetcar.
Toronto Island Ferry
The Toronto Island Ferry offers stunning views of Lake Ontario and the city skyline on the other side. The island is in fact a group of islands connected by pathways and bridge, just south of downtown Toronto.
Toronto Island makes the perfect day trip for families. You can enjoy blue flag beaches and attractions such as the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, Centreville Amusement Park, Far Enough Farm and Franklin Children’s Garden.
Top tip: The return trip from the island is free, but tickets to the island will have to be bought from the port.
Image Credit: Marcin Chady, Michael Chu, The Buzzer, Shawn Carpenter, Dennis Jarvis.