Having spent a total of two weeks in Montreal, Toronto and Niagara Falls, I have a lot of photos to go through! In the meantime, I thought I’ll share with you some of my photos as well as some general thoughts and feelings about my holiday there. This should hopefully give you an idea of what to expect from Canada in October.
Toronto Pearson airport
Toronto Pearson airport is a really nice airport to be in. We arrived in Terminal 2, so we took the free monorail to Terminal 1 in order to get on the UP Express to Toronto Union station. You can buy a ticket or a PRESTO card at the following machine.
PRESTO cards cost $6 to obtain and are non-refundable, but they are also used on many public transport systems in Toronto from Streetcars (trams), buses and subway. The PRESTO gives you these journeys at a reduced rate, so overtime you can recoup the cost of the card. For example, at the time of writing a standard adult fare from Pearson to Union is $12.35. The PRESTO card gives you this journey for the cost of $9.25, thereby saving you $3.10. Do this journey from and to the airport and you have already saved the money used to get the card!
(The savings are less so for seniors (65+) as a single journey from Pearson to Union saves you only 40 cents. For single journeys on public transport in Toronto, you save only 5 cents per journey. The only benefit seems to be that you don’t need to handle cash or count exact change.)
On the return journey, we were amazed to see there were loads of tables with iPads on them. These are configured so you can browse specific internet sites, like the news or Instagram. They are also connected to the bar located to the right in the photo, so you can make a food or drink order, pay with the card located and just wait for it to be delivered to your table! Did I mention that each one also has sockets for you to plug your devices in? It’s a pretty sweet set up!
Train to and from Montreal
We chose to go to Montreal the day after we arrived, partially so we didn’t have to do so much travelling in one day. The train from Toronto Union Station to Montreal station is 5 hours long. You could have flown from Toronto to Montreal, but in an attempt to try and reduce my carbon footprint, I decided a train would be better. As we spoke to a few Canadians, a lot of them said the journey on the train is really nice in Autumn/Fall as you can see the Fall Leaves. Unfortunately, in early October 2019, it was still too early for the leaves to properly make a transition away from green. Purchase can be made easily via the VIA Rail Canada website.
The train itself was quite comfortable. The seats are more spacious than on a flight, with plenty of legroom too. Seats are on either side in pairs with luggage being stowed either at the front of the carriage in luggage racks or in the overhead compartments above the seats. Depending on the train, the tray tables are either located in front of you or in the side compartment under the middle armrest. The seats recline as well, but they differed between the two trains I took. With one I could recline a fair bit and thus be able to sleep a good portion of the journey. A person does come down the aisle with a food and drinks trolley, but my advice to you is to eat before travelling or bring your own stuff.
Travelling around Montreal is pretty easy as Montreal itself is not massive. There is however enough to capture you whilst you stay. Their subway system gets you around most places and you can choose to buy various tickets from the ticket machine including a 10-trip card, which works out at $2.90 a trip compared to $3.50, or an unlimited 3-day card costing $19.50. Be warned, we tried to pay using a card at a manned kiosk and were told only the machines accepted card, they didn’t.
Montreal is the first time I’ve visited North America properly, my previous trip being a whirlwind trip to New York where I did little to actually discover the place. Whilst in Montreal, I deliberately sought out the Pointe-à-Callière, the museum of archaeology and history. There is some mention of the indigenous people before the French came over, but a lot of it was focused on the first settlers as the museum is located where the first settlement was.
Of the people I interacted with in Montreal, they are really nice. Everyone was at least bilingual with a preference for French, so sometimes the English came with a bit of a French accent, but still very understandable. A couple of people were very proud to be from Montreal, and when I say proud, I mean really proud. The taxi driver who took us to the station as we left Montreal was particularly so and told us how Montreal was where people come to party. Not Ottawa, not Toronto, but Montreal.
Amongst the many places we visited, Notre Dame is very pretty to look at. It is very different from the Notre Dame in Paris. I’d recommend going for a tour if you can. I turned up at around 1:30pm and was able to listen to a guide for free. There is a paid version of this with behind the scenes access, but I did not do this. What you should be taking time out to do is to walk around Mont Royal. The hill is a good walk surrounded by plenty of trees and an observation place near the Chalet. It looks like plenty of locals jog around here or take their dogs or families for a walk. I also recommend taking a walk along the Old Port (see Ferris wheel below)
The food was spectacular; I cannot name a single bad meal. There are plenty of options for vegetarians in many of the places I visited. You will need cash for some places, particularly if you wish to hit the top three must-haves: poutine, bagels and smoked meat sandwiches. For each, I went to La Banquise, Hinnawi Bros and Schwartz respectively. Hinnawi Bros use the St Viateur bagels, one of two that many attest to be the best bagels in Montreal, the other being Fairmount. I would also recommend Cocobun bakery and Bao Bao Dim Sum for their buns if you love Hong Kong style buns.
Calculating costs in Canada can be confusing as you need to add tax on top of the price you see on any item. If you are eating out, you then need to add an additional 15-20% tip on top of this. Thankfully, if you pay by card, the card machine will actually ask you to choose what percentage tip you wish to add and it will calculate this and add it to your card transaction.
Toronto definitely has less green space compared to Montreal. The people here are nice but due to the nature of a busier city, people are also a lot more rushed.
There are many places to visit in terms of tourist attractions, most are fairly easy to get to using public transport. The PRESTO card will make this very easy as you simply tap on the reader when boarding and that’s it! There is no need to tap out (unless travelling on the UP Express) as each fare is the same regardless of distance.
Which of the tourist destinations you decide to visit is up to you. I did not bother going up the CN Tower. Much like any iconic tower, I can’t imagine seeing the landscape of a Toronto without seeing the CN Tower, and going up the CN Tower means you won’t get that. I did enjoy most of Casa Loma, but that’s only interesting if you like hearing about who owned the house and why he built it the way he did.
The food I had has been mostly good, due to finding some very good recommendations. I did try some peameal bacon and bannock which are very Canadian foods. These were underwhelming, so I wouldn’t recommend you try them unless you are very curious. I had various pastries and cakes, notably from Uncle Tetsu’s and Bake Code. I also tried some very North American dishes like pumpkin pie, souffle pancakes and biscuits and gravy.
If there was one thing I found disappointing, it was Toronto’s China Town. On the advice of the Subtle Asian Traits forums, I checked out Rol San for dim sum and found each dish to be mostly ok to not so good. The staff also wouldn’t give you the time of day unless they knew you.
We made time to visit the Toronto beaches and the Toronto islands as well. If visiting outside Winter, I highly recommend you visit the Toronto islands as it’s a protected space and very different from the actual city. It’s a quick ferry and once there you can walk around or hire a bike.
The ferry is $8.19 for a return without tax. Bike rentals are priced as follows:
- Normal bike: $9 an hour, $10 deposit.
- Tandems: $16 an hour, $20 deposit
- 2 seater quadricycle: $18 an hour, $30 deposit
- 4 seater quadricycle: $32 an hour, $40 deposit
It is well worth travelling to Niagara Falls! You cannot miss coming here if you are going to the east coast of Canada! There are three ways of getting here, drive (taxi/car rental), bus or train. Trains are highly restrictive as there is only one in the morning and another in the evening, so we opted to go for the megabus. Once we arrived at Niagara Falls bus station, you’ll need to take another bus to get closer to the falls or take a taxi.
Niagara Falls has an atmosphere very close to Blackpool. There are lots of fun things like haunted houses, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, a moving theatre etc. At the actual Falls you can choose to buy various passes which give you access to multiple attractions. I bypassed this and only went for two things:
- Hornblower (boat trip to the bottom of the two falls, poncho given)
- Journey Behind the Falls (a poncho tunnel walk to a section where you can see behind the falls)
You will be glad to hear that the ponchos are recycled afterwards.
Even if you decide not to do any of these, you can freely walk along the path to see the Falls. It is definitely a spectacular sight and much better from the Canadian side, as you can have a better view of both falls from a distance. You can choose to walk across the Rainbow Bridge (that’s the bridge connecting Canada to the States), but you will need to bring your passport with you.
Overall, I really enjoyed my stay in East Canada. I’ve learnt a lot, ate a lot and nothing will top actually seeing Niagara Falls in the near future! Doing some research and planning definitely helped, so I hope whatever information I’ve shared here will be useful to you should you plan your own trip.