The best ways to travel around in Canada

Towering snow-capped mountains, lush evergreen forests filled with wildlife, deep blue coastlines dotted with little towns: this isn’t the setting of a fantasy novel, this is Canada, come to some of the world's most awe-inspiring landscapes.

Canada spans six time zones across 10 provinces and three territories, and it’s over 5000km (3107 miles) from the west coast to the east coast.

Traveling around the second biggest country in the world might seem like a daunting challenge, but with new budget airlines, a national train service, and loads of car rental options, Canada is more accessible to travelers than ever. 

Due to its vast size and varied regions, different parts of Canada rely on different modes of transportation: trains run in the more densely populated centers like the Toronto-Montreal corridor, while public ferries operate extensively in British Columbia, Quebec and the Maritime provinces. 

If you want to cover large distances in a shorter period of time, regional and national carriers crisscross the country, taking days off travel time and reaching northern towns inaccessible by road. 

All of Canada’s major cities have public transportation – subways, streetcars, buses and bike routes are expanding all over the major metropolises of the country (not just Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver).

If you want to city-hop across Canada, flying and taking the train (and perhaps occasionally ferrying) from province to province to avoid renting a car is totally doable.

Driving is one of the best ways to see the country

Canada is packed with amazing road-trip opportunities and driving is one of the best ways to get around such a vast country – trains and flights can be expensive and can't get you to the more remote spots.

Exempting the northern territories, all of Canada is connected by the Trans-Canada Highway and you could easily drive from Vancouver, British Columbia to St John’s Newfoundland in a mere 76 hours without traffic.

Having a car makes it super easy to jump from town to town, visit national parks, and stop at interesting places, which you just can’t do on any other form of transport.

Even major cities like Toronto and Montreal were built to navigate by car, although they have ample public transportation (and horrible traffic) now. 

Tip for traveling coast to coast: If you're short on time, a combination of car rentals and inter-province flights will probably be your best option for traveling across Canada. There are long stretches on the drive that are just prairie land, and although not without its interesting points, driving over 12 hours in them can be a wasted day if you’re only here for a few weeks. 

How easy is it to rent a car in Canada?

In most provinces, visitors can legally drive for up to three months with their home driver's license. In British Columbia, that period is six months. 

If you're spending considerable time in Canada, think about getting an International Driving Permit (IDP), which is valid for one year. Your home automobile association can issue one for a small fee. Always carry your home license together with the IDP.

To rent a car in Canada you generally need to: be at least 25 years old (some companies will rent to drivers between the ages of 21 and 24 for an additional charge); hold a valid driver's license (an international one may be required if you're not from an English- or French-speaking country); and have a major credit card. 

Major international car-rental companies usually have branches at airports, train stations and in city centers. In Canada, on-the-spot rentals are often more expensive than pre-booked packages (i.e. cars booked with a flight or in advance). More affordably, you can also rent with Zipcar and Turo in Canada now (think Airbnb for cars). 

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