£22.43 East Midlands – Dublin (Ryanair)
€269.47 (approx £240*) Return flights: Dublin-Toronto (via Montreal) (Air Canada)
£22.82 Dublin – Manchester (Ryanair)
Flights Total: £285.25
£22.14 (Return) Toronto – Niagara Falls (Greyhound Canada)
£26.67 Toronto – Ottawa (Greyhound Canada)
£16.33 Ottawa – Montreal (Greyhound Canada)
£37.32 Montreal – Toronto (Greyhound Canada)
Buses Total: £102.46
CAD $130 (approx £79.21*) Kensington Market House (Booking.com)
CAD $70 (approx £42.64*) Ottawa Sleep Inn (Expedia)
CAD $58.31 (approx £35.53) Hotel Casa Bella (Booking.com)
Accommodation Total: £157.38
Overall Total: £545.09
*Exchange rate at the time of writing
Summary and Highlights:
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- Consider taking an overnight bus or transport as it saves on accommodation costs whilst also maximising the time you have in each place.
- Old Toronto/ Distillery district
- Kensington Market
- Centre Islands/ Toronto Islands
- Royal Ontario Museum
- CN Tower/Downtown/Nathan Phillips Square
- Horseshoe Falls
- Hornblower/Maid of the Mist boats
- Fallsview and Clifton Hill
- Parliament Hill
- Fairmont Chateau Laurier
- Canadian Museum of History
- Old Montreal/ Old Port
- Biosphere/ Parc Jean-Drapeau
- Mount Royal Park/ Lookout
O Canada! I’ve been wanting to do a budget long haul for ages and also for £500 (or so). I finally got the chance when I saw some cheap return flights from Dublin to Canada through Jack’s Flight Club. For those that don’t know, Jack’s Flight Club is a free email newsletter with cheap flights, error fares and flight deals. I trialled out the paid subscription (that gets your more frequent emails alerts) and it came up trumps with return flights to various parts of Canada from Dublin. I paid in Euros as it worked out cheaper than paying in sterling with Air Canada with their economy basic fare. I’m a light packer and much like my other trips, I can fit a week’s worth of things in my backpack. A week in Canada doesn’t seem much and a long way to go for a short amount of time but I knew with good planning and plenty of research that I already do I could fit everything in.
Following a quick search for some flights to Dublin, naturally, Ryanair was the cheapest and worked around the flight times to and from Canada. At this point, I knew how I was going to get there, next was how I’d get around and where I would stay. From previously using the Greyhound in the US, I knew they were an affordable and efficient way to get around. Instead of booking directly through Greyhound, I used a site I came across called Busbud. The prices were cheaper than on Greyhound and I could pay in sterling and avoid charges on my debit card (this way before I had my Starling Bank card which I’ll get onto later). After working out my route Toronto > Niagara Falls > Ottawa > Montreal > back to Toronto for my flight to Dublin, I used Skyscanner as per to find accommodation. Thanks to the favourable exchange rate of the Canadian Dollar, accommodation was reasonable in all cities and 2 out of 3 were to pay when I arrived. A cost-saving trick I also used was to take a couple of overnight buses so I was maximising my time, whilst keeping accommodation costs down.
Toronto is a city with it all (including beaches on Lake Ontario). It has a big city vibe but without the busy hustle and bustle of New York or Los Angeles (plus a lot cleaner too). A city of contrasts, most of ‘old Toronto’ doesn’t really exist anymore, except for in the Distillery District which is worth an afternoon wandering around its shops, cafes, bars and restaurants. There’s also a free walking tour of the Old Town that ends there which I did in addition to a downtown Toronto tour that covered the newer areas of the city as well as the underground PATH system. About 50% of Toronto’s population is not from Canada, let alone Toronto itself so is a melting pot of cultures and cuisines.
This is best seen in Kensington Market where I stayed. Probably one of the most famous areas of Toronto, it’s a foodies heaven of everything from European to Asian to South American, homemade and fairly priced. I only got food there once as the majority of the time I ate at Tim Horton’s (one of the main things I knew about Canada). Despite being a coffee shop primarily, Tim’s is great for any time of day and you can easily have a meal for about $10.
Other top sights in Toronto include Graffiti Alley, Casa Loma, Nathan Phillips Square and of course the CN Tower which dominates the skyline. If you only have time for one museum in Toronto I’d choose the Royal Ontario Museum. It can be done in a couple of hours and includes Canadian history and the First Nations, Greek, Roman and Asian artefacts and my favourite, natural history.
If you have time, your next stop should definitely be Niagara Falls. It’s only an hour and a half bus ride away from Toronto and only requires half a day really. It’s one of those places where once you’ve seen the falls, there isn’t much else around to see, but worth it for the experience. The actual falls themselves are a sight to behold and you can spend hours watching the water go over the edge of the Niagara River. The falls are made up of 3 waterfalls; The Horseshoe Falls (Canada), American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls (USA). A must-do is the well-known boat trips right into the falls.; on the American side is Maid of the Mist whilst in Canada, it’s Hornblower Niagara Cruises. The ticket costs CAD $28.95 (+tax) and includes the funicular down to the boats and a 20-minute cruise into the falls itself. I’d advise getting the earliest cruise you can (I was on about 9am) as the lines will start to fill quickly and the boats even quicker. It feels like you’re in a hurricane that’s happening inside a washing machine so expect to get wet! Aside from the falls, there is a visitor centre, a resort and casino called Fallsview and Clifton Hill which are a bit like the Blackpool of Canada. You could easily make it a multi-day trip (and even cross into the US if you fancied) or like me can spend 8 hours to see and do the main things.
After the day at Niagara, I got an overnight bus to Ottawa which is about 6 hours away. I had one too many beers beforehand so slept all the way and arrived early in Ottawa. Despite being Canada’s capital, Ottawa is also one of those places where the main attractions are all fairly close together and there are not heaps to see. I booked free tours of the Canadian parliament; the house of commons and senate which are similar to the parliament in the UK (the guides even admitted they just copied the design and colours) which were in recess due to the elections. Both are currently not in their original buildings due to renovation works but in purpose-built chambers whilst the work continues. No free walking tour unfortunately as the day I was there they weren’t running but I nearly saw everything I wanted. The only thing I missed out on was the Canadian Museum of History which I got to but was so exhausted from walking the previous days (I covered 85 miles in the week I was there) that I had to go to my accommodation and just crash out.
Final stop – Montreal. I still find the whole French Canadian/ Canadian speaking Quebec fascinating and can’t quite get my head around. Either way, Montreal has a distinctly European feel in its Old Town and you could easily be walking down a cobbled street in France. Where Toronto has a big city vibe, Montreal is more arts and cuisine based. Nothing says Montreal like Poutine; chips (fries), cheese curds and gravy which can have all sorts of toppings and varieties. I prefer to stick to the classic recipe which can be found on nearly every menu.
It was also my 25th birthday whilst in Montreal so nothing says birthday like a ‘walk’ (more hike) up Mount Royal Park. Naturally, I was in skinny jeans as per, the perfect walking trouser. This volcanic park rises above Montreal’s skyline and gives some great views over the city and beyond. There are various lookout points but the best one is definitely from in front of the Mount Royal Chalet. Another park worth visiting is Parc Jean-Drapeau on the other side of the Old Port on a naturally occurring island with several original pavilions from the 1967 world’s fair still there such as the La Ronde theme park and the Biosphere. It’s quite the walk so I would recommend getting the Metro, which turned out due to a climate protest was free on the day I went over. Unfortunately, I didn’t know this until I got there so 6km later I was in need of a sit down coming back.
I’m so glad I managed to do a budget long haul and that Canada was my first one. I had aimed for £500 for flights, buses and accommodation so I just narrowly missed the mark. Even so, it proves it can be done by being savvy and a bit of extra time and research. I think I spent about $500 (about £300) whilst there which was helped by the good exchange rate. There’s a lot more of Canada to see but for the time I had and since Canada is the second-largest country in the world, I’d say a decent whistlestop tour.