Exploring Canada by Rail: Calling at Toronto, Ottawa, Québec City and Montréal

Here at Prestige, we are renowned for creating diverse and imaginative tours and independent holiday packages in Canada – we have literally won awards for it. This week I want to explore the wonderous train route that takes in the great cities of eastern Canada: Toronto, Ottawa, Québec City and Montréal.

Before trains, Canada was a vast and harsh landscape that could only be crossed in the summer – and even then, it could only be traversed at slow speed. But with the introduction of a transcontinental railway in the late nineteenth century that linked 6,000 kilometres of coastline, Canada ushered in a new era of economic and commercial success. Luckily for us tourists, this beautiful railway remains an unrivalled way to see the country.

I’ve written previously about the benefits of making your way by train through the west of Canada, but I love introducing customers to the VIA Rail route, which takes in the best cities in the east.

All Aboard! Toronto Calling

Canada is home to a number of eclectic cities, perhaps none more international and cosmopolitan that Toronto. This is where the VIA Rail route begins, but before you whizz through, make sure to spend some time enjoying the metropolitan centre. I’d personally recommend a visit to one of the many diverse neighbourhoods to savour the exquisite food, before heading up the CN Tower for unbeatable views of Lake Ontario.

Toronto is also only a stone’s throw away from a wonderous natural beauty: Niagara Falls. You can sit back and enjoy a delicious meal as the train winds its way through the luscious greens of the Niagara Peninsula, famed for its sumptuous fruit and wine. Perhaps, like me, you’ll appreciate the freedom to concentrate on the views rather than the road as you speed along Niagara Parkway!

Ottawa: Canada’s Historical Capital

Next, it’s time to hit the countryside for real on your way to Ottawa. The route passes alongside Lake Ontario and you will have glimpses of some marvellous historical towns along the way. Of course, the jewel in the crown is the historic city of Kingston (pun intended), and not to mention the downright magical Thousand Islands region.

When you arrive make sure you give yourself time to explore the grand sights of the capital:

  • Parliament Building
  • Embassy Row
  • National Art Centre
  • National Aviation Museum

Finally, I’d recommend grabbing a pick-me-up in Byward Market before heading to the Rideau Canal for sunset. Ottawa is also the top place for boutique shopping.

Experience Joie de Vivre in Québec City

Next the journey takes you across the French-Canadian countryside, past towns steeped in history and onwards through the gently sloping and wonderfully colourful Laurentian mountains. Eventually you arrive at the city of Québec, named a World Heritage Site, which has stone walls and even a gate giving it a very medieval feel. The history and vivacity of Quebec is palpable in the air, and personally I never pass through without a visit to some of the city’s the top-notch restaurants.

“I think, even as a boy, I loved that feeling of whizzing through the countryside, lost in my own thoughts whilst my eyes devoured the unfurling landscape.”

Montreal: A Modern Melting Pot of Culture

The final leg of the train journey to Montreal is short, but by no means lacking in beauty. The track traces the St. Lawrence River, passing through the portside town of Trois-Rivières, as well as Cap-de-la-Madeleine which is famed for its national shrine to the Virgin Mary.

There’s nowhere better to see the unique blend of modern French-Canadian life (or polish my O-Level French) than Montreal, Canada’s second city. Make sure to check out the historical town and the dizzying roof of the Notre Dame Basilica, as well as some of the more modern sights like internationally-renowned McGill University, and stunning vistas from the top of Mont Royal.

The Capital Experience Tour

I really believe that travelling through the country by train is the one of the most enjoyable and relaxing ways to see the landscape in an up close and personal manner. That’s why we offer the Capital Experience Tour that ties together all these cities by rail in a hassle-free package. It’s an independent package that still gives you freedom and time to explore, but removes all the hassle and planning so you can focus on having an unforgettable time.

Canada is often at the top of any jetsetters wish list. If you want to find out more about this magnificent and diverse country, our expert team is on hand to give you plenty of tips and ideas to tailor your perfect holiday experience.