If you want to travel through Canada, one of the best ways to do it is the Via Rail train, which cuts through the awe-inspiring landscape connecting the world's second-largest country. Here's everything you need to know about crossing Canada the old-fashioned way: by rail.
1. The Ins And Outs Of Booking
When people, especially Canadians, hear "Via Rail travel," the first word that comes to mind is "expensive." Of course, the journey is far from free, but there are also some great deals regularly advertised.
What travelers will want to pay careful attention to when booking are the different classes. Economy & Berths tend to be the most affordable, while the Sleeper Class cabins are typically in a higher price range. Most Sleeper Class cabins come with 3 meals a day, along with snacks and non-alcoholic beverages anytime.
An important note to stress is that the Economy Class does not come with shower access, and the stations don't have available showers either. This might be an important factor for some travelers, especially when booking a 2+ day trip. Economy Class also does not include meals, although a basic menu is offered in the cafe car.
Via Rail is the only company that offers train travel across Canada, so there are no competitors to compare prices to. On the bright side, Via Rail has been operating in Canada for decades and has a great reputation.
2. How Long It Takes To Go Across The Country
The length of the journey across Canada by train will vary somewhat depending on the season, but it usually takes between 5-6 days and therefore requires some planning.
For example, if you want to take the ride option from Halifax to Montreal to Toronto, you'll have to coordinate different connecting trains to get all the way. It might seem confusing, but booking online is relatively straightforward and Via Rail is happy to help with phone support as well.
One of the most popular train packages is "The Canadian," a 4-day journey completed without stops. It takes travelers from Toronto to Vancouver, a truly lengthy trip when you consider the distance between the two cities, which is more than 2,000 miles.
3. See Canada The Way Many People Think Of It
Canada is famous for its inclement winter weather, which tends to be a little more extreme than most countries, especially in its northern regions.
While it might seem counterintuitive, winter is actually one of the best times to book a train ride across the country, and here's why: the views are outstanding, and the prices are the best they'll ever be!
The winter months are cold, yes, but they're also very beautiful, and when you're seeing snow-capped mountains and frozen lakes, it's an entirely different experience than taking the ride in the summer. Not to mention that in the warmer Vancouver, temperatures will still be relatively mild. Pro-tip: pack a sweater and winter coat and stay cozy!
The prices are typically very competitive compared to the other seasons because not as many people tend to book through the winter, which also means a potentially more private trip.
4. The Day-To-Day Activities
There are some activities to enjoy on the train, including Canadian wine and craft beer tastings. There's also complimentary sparkling wine served upon departure from Toronto, and sometimes Jasper as well.
Multiple lounge cars exist for guests seeking a chance to socialize, and the Park Car has a TV area that will sometimes show movies for any children on the train.
Of course, the main activity while riding the train is appreciating the views which are truly spectacular. You'll also learn some history along the way, as there are semi-regular PA announcements when the train passes certain noteworthy landmarks.
5. What To Expect Food-Wise
Many travelers are surprised by the quality of food on the Via Rail. Train food doesn't typically draw comparisons to five-star restaurants, but in this case, you'll have nothing to complain about. You'll enjoy a soup or salad as a starter for every meal (not including breakfast), a variety of entrees to choose from, and multiple dessert options. They even offer vegetarian options for those so inclined.
Pro tip: it's a rather sedentary lifestyle taking the train, albeit with some walking between cars. Fully indulging in all meals plus snacks might have you feeling a bit weighed down and sleepy, so many choose to eat light at one meal at least. You want to avoid food-induced comas so that you can fully appreciate the journey!
6. The "Dome" Car
One of Via Rail's best features is the Dome Car with its glass roof, elevated seats above other train cars, and a full 360-degree view of the scenery passing you by.
This car is one of the most popular in the whole train, so you'll want to make sure you get there reasonably early in the day to get a good seat.
Some of your best pictures from the trip will come from here!