Coast to coast: Canada on a budget

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 From coast to coast, Canada packs in a great variety of experiences, both indoors and outdoors, chilled-out and energetic. Better yet, there's plenty to see and do for every type of traveller's budget. Start on Cape Breton Island in the east and follow our 10-point itinerary all the way across the country to Vancouver.


Follow this scenic drive through the awesome highland and coastal landscapes of Cape Breton Island in Canada's far east. With 26 national park trails along the way you can get amid the scenery for free, whether on a sunset stroll or challenging canyon climb. You'll need a rental car to explore, though. With four people sharing, it's the cheapest way to get around Canada.

Louisbourg Lighthouse, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. Photo: Canadian Tourism Commission.


Take the Trans-Canada highway over the Canso Causeway to mainland Nova Scotia which, with its rugged, indented shoreline and interior of peach orchards, forest and wildflowers, offers more great drives. Joggins Fossil Cliffs are World Heritage listed, and capital Halifax is lively with music festivals, youthful energy and more pubs than any other Canadian city. The world's highest tides (over 15 metres) on the Bay of Fundy allow for walking across the seabed at Hopewell Rocks (in neighbouring province New Brunswick) – and kayaking above it later.

Hopewell Rocks, Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada.

Hopewell Rocks, Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada. Photo: Tourism New Brunswick.


Hit the road through salty-air, cheek-reddening, maritime New Brunswick – a prime destination for whale watching – to Quebec City, whose glorious clifftop and riverside historic, UNESCO-listed town town sits in a jumble of churches, statues, squares and civic buildings. Free, self-guided walking tours showcase this beautiful city's fascinating French and British colonial history.

Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. Photo: Destination Canada.


It's a three-hour drive to French-speaking, cosmopolitan and fun-loving Montreal. Modest entrance fees get you into its world-class botanic gardens and Museum of Fine Arts, while its BIXI shared-bike system opens up 640 kilometres of designated cycle paths for just C$5 per day. Montreal is a big festival city, with 30 free festivals over summer alone.

BIXI station, Old Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

BIXI station, Old Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Photo: Société De Vélo En Libre-Service


The Trans-Canada Highway lures you onwards to Ottawa in two hours. The Canadian capital has small-city charm but museums of national importance, plus a fabulous neo-Gothic parliament. Few things say Canada more than the Mounted Police, whose museum, stables and tack room you can tour for free. Plunder downtown ByWard Market for a bargain-priced lunch.

ByWard Market, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

ByWard Market, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Photo: Canadian Tourism Commission.


Canada's premier city offers an innovative music scene, great shopping and multi-ethnic cuisines. A series of free evening concerts runs all summer. Stroll lively Harbourfront and the revamped, former industrial Distillery District. It's C$22 to get into the Ontario Science Centre, but if your budget can stretch you'll discover one of the world's best and most interactive science museums.

Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Photo: TrashHand


Before abandoning your rental car, zip down to Niagara Falls. You can take a ride aboard one of the iconic Hornblower boats (C$19.25), or see one of the world's most famous sights for absolutely free just by showing up. It's particularly stunning at night, when the falls shimmer with multi-coloured lights and regular fireworks shows.

Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.

Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. Photo: Niagara Parks Commission.


A flight from Toronto to Calgary costs from $350 – not bad for a four-hour journey that brings you to the mighty Rockies. Hire car is then the best way to soak up the magnificent scenery between Banff and Lake Louise – don't miss the 58-kilometre Bow Valley Parkway and a hike through Johnston Canyon. From Lake Louise, the 278-kilometre Icefields Parkway runs past the Glacier Skywalk and loads of opportunity for wildlife spotting enroute to Jasper, a great centre for outdoor sports.

Icefields Parkway, Rocky Mountains, Canadian Rockies.

Icefields Parkway, Rocky Mountains, Canadian Rockies. Photo: Tourism Jasper.


Drive towards Vancouver and stop in the Okanagan Valley, where lake, mountain and semi-desert landscapes combine with vineyards and some of the world's best mountain-biking terrain. Kettle Valley Rail Trail crosses historic wooden railway trestles overlooking Myra Canyon – a day's bike hire costs about $C40, but you can walk it for free. It's part of a spectacular 600 kilometres of former railway now used for public recreation.

Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada.

Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada. Photo: Canadian Tourism Commission.


You've made it, coast-to-coast, 6000 kilometres across Canada for one last treat: the country's most beautiful city, wedged between ocean and mountains. While you can explore the waterfront promenades and many of its parks at no cost, hiring a kayak is worth the rental fee. If you're hardy, a beach swim is free too – at Wreck Beach you don't even need swimmers! Buzzing districts such as Gastown and Chinatown – and the markets of Granville Island – have abundant cheap eats and a great urban vibe.

Lookout Tower, Vancouver, British Columbia.

Lookout Tower, Vancouver, British Columbia.

Experience Canada's culture for yourself here thanks to our friends at Intrepid Travel.