An unforgettable 4,000-mile journey for just $500.
The 4,000-mile train journey across Canada is one of the world's greatest travel experiences. The spectacular coast-to-coast trip offers some of the most breathtaking scenery found anywhere in the world. And the best part? You can travel across the country for just $558.
Visiting all of Canada in one trip is a massive undertaking. Canada is the second largest country in the world, spanning an astounding 4 million square miles and 6 time zones. Over 6,350 kilometers (3,946 miles) separate Vancouver from Halifax — about the same distance separating London and New Delhi.
Riding the rails from the Pacific to the Atlantic offers an unparalleled way to see the country. From the stunning beauty of the Canadian Rockies and the vast expanse of the prairie grasslands, you’ll experience a portrait of the geographic diversity that is so uniquely Canadian.
In August 2017, I traveled on the Trans-Canadian railway.
This is my trip in pictures.
Keep up with my latest adventures
In 1955, the trans-continental train debuted and it was called The Canadian. It became Canada's flagship train and showcased a prime example of railway style.
Amazingly, little has changed since then. The original 1955-built stainless-steel carriages are still being used today, making this train a real classic.
In fact, the train is so iconic that it’s featured on Canada’s $10 bill.
The journey stretches 3,946 miles across Canada and takes as little as 5 days — or longer if you make stops along the way.
You can travel both eastbound or westbound. There's no better direction, as the trains are all timed to do the scenic sections in daylight.
You'll need 3 trains to travel from coast to coast — The Canadian from Vancouver to Toronto, The Corridor from Toronto to Montréal, and The Océan from Montréal to Halifax.
I started my journey from Vancouver's Pacific Central station. At 8:30 pm, I boarded The Canadian to begin my journey across Canada.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
Delta Hotels by Marriott
Vancouver to Jasper
The train departs from Vancouver at night, so travelers have to wait until the next morning to enjoy the scenery.
I found an empty domed observation car. Under the massive panoramic windows, I fell asleep under a sky full of stars.
The next morning, I woke up to spectacular sunrise shining into the observation car.
As the train climbed into the mountains, it soon becomes clear why the train only departed late at night.
In 2008, the train timetable was changed to show more of the Rockies in daylight. I don't think anyone complained.
I figured it was a good time for breakfast. Freshly cooked meals can be ordered at the onboard cafe and restaurant.
As you can probably guess by now... I'm doing the entire journey on the cheapest ticket: Economy class.
Surprisingly, economy class is pretty comfortable. You can often find 4 adjacent seats and convert them into your own double bed.
You'll be spending most of the time in the beautiful Skyline dome car anyway.
Of course, there are upper classes of travel available including sleeper cabins.
In Prestige class, you get a much nicer Panorama dome car.
And also a much nicer bedroom with a private toilet and shower.
You also can visit the Park car, The Canadian's signature car, to socialize and enjoy free wine tastings, coffee, and live music.
The restaurant car has full-service dining and all meals are included.
Meanwhile... I settled back into the reality of economy class.
Can you make stops along the way?
Yes! But there isn't a hop-on-hop-off pass. You'll need to decide on your stops when you buy your train tickets. There are 121 train stations throughout Canada.
One of the prettiest sights is Pyramid Falls, which cascades down 300 feet (91 m) right next to the train.
At 12,972 feet (3,954 m), Mount Robson is the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies. The mountain often makes its own weather and can only be seen clearly fewer than 20 days a year.
As the train approaches Jasper, it crosses from British Columbia to Alberta, and the clocks move forward an hour.
The area is a wildlife sanctuary, and it's common to see all sorts of wild animals in their natural habitat. There's a good chance of spotting buffaloes, eagles, and even bears.
At 4pm, the train arrives at Jasper National Park. Stay here for a few days to soak in the park's tremendous natural beauty.
Jasper Brewing Company
Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
Day 2 to 4
Jasper to Toronto
Back onboard, the train leaves the snowy peaks of the majestic Rockies behind and heads for Toronto over the next 3 days.
The Canadian slowly lumbers through this massive country, crossing 4 Canadian provinces and 3 time zones on its way to Toronto.
The train emerges into vast prairieland that continues for miles – across Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, known as the breadbasket of Canada.
The sheer scale of Canada becomes undeniable as the train picks up speed over dead straight stretches of track. Small communities and the occasional farm flash past.
There's something beautiful about the vast stretches of amber and green laid out under the immense sky.
In October or November, you can transfer trains at Winnepeg to Churchill – the land where the polar bears live. There’s no better place in the world to see them. Unfortunately, catastrophic flooding damaged the tracks when I was on this trip.
The next morning, I woke up next to a lake.
Actually, many many lakes.
We're now in the lush forests of Ontario, surrounded by its thousands of trees and lakes.
Multiple days on a train sounds dreadfully boring. In truth, the train is a uniquely social experience.
The train often collaborates with young musicians and local artists who entertain passengers with live music in the lounge car.
Or you can have a stress-free journey, leisurely watching the countryside slip by as you enjoy the comfort and ease onboard.
Entertainment on the train is only limited by your imagination. Over breakfast, we invented salt-and-pepper checkers.
Together with a freshly-cooked medium-rare burger and beer... you'd start to wonder if people who fly across the country and never take the train are crazy.
That evening, we were treated to an incredibly sublime sunset.
The next morning, The Canadian pulls into Toronto's Union Station.
The station sits in the center of Toronto in the shadow of the famous CN Tower — CN standing for Canadian National Railways, of course!
Princess of Wales Theatre
Pai Northern Thai Kitchen
Fairmont Royal York Hotel
Many people choose to end their journey in Toronto, with it being The Canadian's final stop.
But my plan was to travel to the Atlantic Ocean.
Toronto to Kingston
We're now in Eastern Canada! From here, I switched to the The Corridor, an inter-city train route that's perfect for city hopping.
You can easily take the train from Toronto to the world-famous Niagara Falls. Or if you want to end your trip in the US, there's also a train from Toronto to New York City which travels along the scenic Hudson River.
My first stop was the colonial city of Kingston to visit the mansion-covered Thousand Islands.
Thousand Island dressing came from the Thousand Islands.
The islands range from the aptly named "Just Room Enough Island"...
...to Heart Island, where you'll find the incredible Boldt Castle.
1000 Islands Cruise
Delta Hotels by Marriott
Kingston to Montréal
I continued east and made a stop at Montréal, Canada's second-largest city and its cultural heart.
Among all the cities in Canada, Montréal has decidedly the most different vibe. It almost feels like you've stepped into Europe.
Mont Royal Summit
Local Montreal Food Tours
Les Enfants Terribles
Chocolats Geneviève Grandbois
Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth
Montréal to Quebéc City
If you're short on time, you can hop on The Ocean at Montréal, an 836-mile (1,346 km) overnight train that runs to the finish line at Halifax.
The Ocean uses modern Renaissance trains that were built for the Channel Tunnel train between UK and France. The project was aborted and the trains were sold to Canada.
I stopped at Quebéc City, a quaint 400-year-old city well known for its cobblestone streets, grand winter festivals and gorgeous architecture.
You won't miss the skyline-defining Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, claimed to be the most photographed hotel in the world.
Plains of Abraham
Fairmont Le Château Frontenac
Quebec City to Halifax
The final stretch to Halifax. The Ocean runs along the St Lawrence River into the Maritimes. If you're lucky, it's possible to spot whales from the train.
Good morning New Brunswick! It's also known as the drive-through province... but don't be mistaken — it’s worth stopping here for the Bay of Fundy, famous for having the highest tides in the world.
As the train approaches Halifax, it runs alongside glistening waters. We've crossed a continent from coast to coast, from Vancouver to Halifax, from the Pacific to the Atlantic...
As the train pulls into Halifax, there's a sense of elation that airline passengers will never know... we've done it, we've crossed Canada!
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
The Bicycle Thief
The Stubborn Goat
Chives Canadian Bistro
Westin Nova Scotian
So that's the end of an epic 3,946-mile trip — considered by many as one of the world's greatest train journeys. I've crossed eight Canadian provinces and passed through some of North America's most vibrant cities. In just 5 days, I’ve seen both the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean without taking a flight.
Traveling by train is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to see the most stunning sights in Canada. The journey involves zero stops at the gas pump and you don’t need to go through airport security. No other mode of transportation allows you to experience the country so intimately.
The Trans-Canada railway has been a once-in-a-lifetime smorgasbord of scenery. From the moment the train leaves the city center behind, to the many hours gliding through gentle prairie fields, rugged lake country, and picturesque towns... There's no other journey like it.
How much did it cost me?
I paid $699 for a rail pass, but you can do it for much less.
The cheapest ticket I found from Vancouver to Halifax was $558 during the same summer. The trip costs more with stops, so I just upgraded to a rail pass. That said, the prices for the rail pass has also gone up in 2018.
While the prices may not sound incredibly cheap, consider this: On this trip, I visited Vancouver, Jasper, Toronto, Kingston, Montréal, Québec City, Moncton, and Halifax.
That's 8 cities for under $700. The same itinerary would cost easily over $1,500 if done by plane or even car!
Why are the trains so cheap?
Most passenger rail in Canada is heavily subsidized by the government. In 2014, each passenger on The Canadian received an average subsidy of $591.
If you do the math, the Canadian government is paying for over 60% your travel costs!