A guide to the 19 VIA Rail Routes
Our top tip when visiting Canada: see as much of it as you can. Which is a lofty goal considering that it boasts 9 million square kilometres of land. Thankfully, plenty of touring options are available to make this idea more realistic. Such as the VIA Rail routes. Nineteen journeys are available ranging from routes where you slowly soar around the Atlantic coast to railroads where you wind through the creases of the iconic Rocky Mountains. Alternatively, the routes can also be used to create a brilliant twin-city break. Below is a run-down of the possibilities.
While Canada’s vast landscape suggests that it’s near impossible to tour the whole of Canada in one holiday, this train journey manages to pack in two-thirds. Starting in Toronto, the cities of Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Jasper, Kamloops all grace passengers with their presence before the final stop in Vancouver.
After spending a few days in the built-up Montreal, breathe in the fresh air of Canada’s unspoilt Atlantic coast. Gaze out the window at Maritime wonders that are the Montérégie hills and Baie-des-Chaleurs, before arriving in the seaside capital of Halifax. Along the way, you’ll be treated to the local cuisine that is an essential ingredient of what makes Atlantic Canada so charming. Passengers in Sleeper Plus Class will also have their brains stimulated by Maritime history lessons and their senses awakened by the scenic dome windows in the Park car.
Starting in Montreal, this route takes a similar journey as the Ocean route except it changes course in Matapédia and takes passengers through the scenic Gaspé peninsula. The route is currently suspended due to infrastructure upgrades, but will hopefully re-open soon.
If you’ve fallen in love with the francophone atmosphere of Montréal, treat yourself to a journey into Northern Quebec. The Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean is one the many Canada destinations is perfect in the winter with activities such as dog-sledging and snowshoeing.
Like the idea of exploring Northern Quebec, but not sure about Jonquière? Heading along the same route until Hervey, this train journey turns west heading out to a different area of Quebec that not many travellers can say they’ve ventured out to.
Jasper – Price Rupert
While VIA Rail is mostly seen as a way to get from A to B, this scenic route takes a nod after train journeys of the touring variety. This two-day daylight cruise stops off overnight in Prince George and also offers a Touring Class where passengers can admire the views of the Rocky Mountains through extra-large panoramic windows.
Winnepeg – Churchill
If you’re visiting Canada for polar bears and Northern Lights, this Manitoba train route should be on your short-list. Its final stop is Churchill, which lies on the banks of Northern Bay and is considered the polar bear capital of the world. It’s also far enough away from city lights that the Aura Borealis takes centre stage.
The Pas-Pukatawagan train
If you’re looking for a northern Canadian adventure that is truly off the beaten path, try this out. Get off the Churchill route at The Pas and carry onto Pukatawagan in Western Manitoba.
Lake Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes of North America and is a popular destination for holidays in Ontario. If you’re staying in Toronto or Ottawa, you’ll need to get an alternative train to Sudbury, but from there it’s just an 8-hour journey.
Toronto – Ottawa
This four-hour journey is one of the quickest and most convenient ways to combine these two landmark Canadian cities into a twin-city holiday. Choose between economy and business class, where the latter treats you to an included meal, additional baggage allowance, priority boarding, and exclusive access to the in-station Business Class Lounge.
A holiday to Toronto is never complete without a day-trip to Niagara Falls. There are 13 departures a day throughout the week (and 10 at the weekend) where the train stops by the cities of Oakville, Aldershot, Grimsby and St. Catharines.
Ottawa – Quebec
The options for a twin-city break with VIA Rail are virtually endless. This time it’s these two beautiful and traditional cities that can be easily linked up with VIA Rail. This five hour journey means you can easily fit them both into a one week holiday.
Montreal – Quebec
Montreal and Quebec together embody everything that makes French-Canada so magical. With a journey of just 3 hours between them, both economy and business class have complimentary WiFi, power outlets at your seat and a personal luggage allowance of one big case and one personal bag (luggage upgrades available in Business Class).
Head further west and explore the edge of Ontario with the USA peering over the St. Clair River. Here you’ll find waterfront parks, enviable marinas, exquisite shopping, art galleries and gaming. Perfect if you’re looking for some downtime after the lights of Toronto.
Also along the western edge of Ontario lies Windsor, which offers amazing views of Detroit. This is also Canada’s most southern point and boasts a climate that has made it one of Canada’s most fruitful wine regions.
Toronto – London
This artistic city might not come immediately to mind while planning an Ontario adventure, but it’s working on its tourist offerings. Already a culinary, art and academic hub, London is a hidden gem that you should consider popping by before the crowds hear about it.
Toronto and Montréal are two Canadian cities that have made their mark, but for totally different reasons. One is cosmopolitan and takes inspiration from North America while the other is steeped in French-Canadian tradition. Despite their differences, both offer rich opportunities to travellers. And VIA Rail has a direct 5-hour train journey between them.
Kingston might not be the first place you think of when you’re narrowing down day trip options from Toronto. But sitting only 2-hours away, it’s a lesser-known gem of Ontario that can be easily explored in a day. Like many cities in the province, it blends the old with the new – but Kingston can boast that it’s older than the country of Canada itself. How about that, history enthusiasts?
VIA Rail’s network of routes in Ontario is so extensive that the lesser known town of Kingston can be explored from Ottawa. Only two hours away, Kingston can act as a quiet relaxed day trip if the capital city has gotten a bit much.