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Help with trip to Toronto/ Ottawa/ Montreal

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North Yorkshire
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Help with trip to Toronto/ Ottawa/ Montreal

My wife and I are intending to fly to Toronto and then travel to Ottawa and Montreal. Flying out of Montreal to the UK.

Probably in May or June

We are 1st time visitors to Canada but enjoy city breaks. We aim to wander the streets soaking up the atmosphere , shopping, extended lunches and people watching. Maybe the odd Museum and gallery thrown in as well.

We intend to spend about 12 days in total including the arrival and departure days. Roughly 4 nights (3 full days) in Toronto; 3 nights (2 full days ) in Ottawa; and 4 nights (3 full days) in Montreal.

Is that a reasonable split of the time?

Don't intend hiring a car, so is it train or fly between cities?.

May want to go to Niagara Falls. What are the travel options and is it a day trip?

Any suggestions will be gratefully received.

Thanks

Montreal
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1. Re: Help with trip to Toronto/ Ottawa/ Montreal

Yes that sounds like a good use of time, but you may want to shave a day or two off here or there and make it to Québec City, which is a beautiful town indeed: older and well preserved, it's like a French seaside village. A little touristy, but well worth a detour.

A few comments:

Toronto and Ottawa are both cities that please less quickly than Montréal or Québec. Toronto is big and has lots to offer, but the interesting bits take time to find and explore since they're found all over the place with big bits of not-very-interesting in between. The streetcars however are a lovely way of exploring the city. Ottawa has less to please, although it does strike you as a town that would be very nice to live in. For the tourist, it has some of the best museums and other institutions in the country, and it has some beautiful parkland and a few small interesting neighbourhoods, and indeed there's the Gatineau hills just minutes away from downtown, but after that, well, it's neither particularly pretty nor interesting.

Do an organized day trip to Niagara Falls. It's much less of a nature experience than you'd think -- to get there, you go through industrial sprawl of Toronto, then through flat boring farmland, and then you reach ugly Niagara Falls the city, which is built up almost right to the falls, so while the falls themselves are incredibly impressive, the rest makes for a not-so-great trip. Mind you, Niagara-on-the-Lake is a cute little touristy town that you'll probably stop by, and there are wine tastings you can do an in the fall great fruit.

If you fly, take Porter -- they leave from the Toronto Islands airport, so much easier. And the train is quicker than the bus between Toronto and Ottawa or Montréal unless you catch the milk run. But between Ottawa and Montréal and Montréal and Québec, the the bus is more convenient since it has more departures. I still prefer the train because I like the swaying motion, the bigger seats, the fact that it goes through towns rather along the industrial outskirts like the freeway does. However, the train station is inconveniently located in Ottawa, and the last departure from Québec is at 5:30 so too early since you'll want to eek every last minute out of the beautiful city.

You should be aware that between all these cities it's amazingly flat, boring farmland with the occasional glimpse of the lake or the river. If you're driving, the 1000 islands make a good detour, but harder to see if you're using the train or the bus. But don't expect any of the grandiose nature you've seen in the tourist brochures. For that, you need to go past Québec City to the Saguenay/Charlevoix region, where you get fjords and mountains plunging down to water and so on... well worth the detour, but even further than you're planning.

North Yorkshire
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2. Re: Help with trip to Toronto/ Ottawa/ Montreal

Tristou

Many thanks for such a detailed and useful response.

It was very kind of you to take such trouble in your reply.

Kind regards

Horace

North Yorkshire
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3. Re: Help with trip to Toronto/ Ottawa/ Montreal

Tristou

Are you saying that we would find a trip to Montreal/Quebec/Saguenay more appealing? M 3 full days. Q 3 full days. S 3 days round trip back to M?

Regards

Horace

Montreal
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4. Re: Help with trip to Toronto/ Ottawa/ Montreal

Well, I secretly suspect so, but I don't know how you travel or what you like, so I couldn't really say :) But a few more thoughts to help you decide:

it really depends on what you're looking for. Doing so would let you see some of the grandiose nature that Canada is famous for; however, it would also restrict you to French-speaking Québec, so you wouldn't get to experience the English-speaking part of Canada.

I chose my words carefully in describing Ottawa and Toronto because both cities have more than enough to please the tourist and are worth the visit, but they do, hmm... unravel their charms more slowly. It's not that they're not charming -- Toronto has some absolutely lovely little neighbourhood high streets, for example, and great parks and some very nice architecture and so on. And it gives you the big North American city feel. But neither city has quite the sidewalk café culture of Montréal for the people watching you mentioned, for example. And in Montréal wandering around is easy since there's interesting throughout -- not always the pretty and fixed up like Québec, but still interesting. Toronto, however, takes time to get to know, but it gets better the more you know it, and Ottawa is much nicer if you know people there and see what a "good" city it is -- it's rather impressive, reminding me almost of Victoria on the west coast in terms of civic pride and duty and general pleasantness. But these are elements that are harder for a tourist to appreciate.

As well, while Québec is absolutely lovely, it's also more impressive because it's here in North America. To someone from Europe, who is used to such towns, it's still pretty, just not unusual. Whereas someone coming from a region with very little history will find it astoundingly quaint.

So, I hope that helps. You might want to check in the other forums -- if you say you're considering cutting out Toronto in the Toronto forum for example, perhaps people there will do a good sales job and convince you not to :)

Milton, Vermont
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5. Re: Help with trip to Toronto/ Ottawa/ Montreal

For your travels in between places, I would strongly suggest renting a car. Toronto is a massive city, basically instead of heading upwards like NYC, it's spread out flat. The suburbs is actually what the city is all about. You would probably want to visit the CN Tower, Chinatown, City Hall, and a couple of other locations. The easiest way to get to Niagara Falls from Toronto is by car. They do have bus tours but you will be dependent on their time and schedule. While in the Niagara Falls area, you can also visit Marine Land.

From Toronto to Montreal, you can easily take the train which will bring you right into downtown Montreal. The city is not large and the major attractions can be visited using the awesome metro (subway) system and bus or taxi. Montreal's subway system is ranked one of the best in the world. You'll see what I'm talking about once you've experienced the subway in Toronto. :-)

Montreal to Ottawa would be a bus trip, but I would suggest renting a car. Ottawa mainly relies on buses and they don't have a subway system. The museums and attractions are spread out and if you really want to get to experience Ottawa, you are best to get a car.

Quebec City is a great visit too as Tristou has suggested. You can make that an easy day trip from Montreal. It's about a 3 hour car drive. Beautiful city with it's own charm, nice cobble stone roads, beautifully colored windows, great food, etc.

Toronto, Canada
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6. Re: Help with trip to Toronto/ Ottawa/ Montreal

Downtown Toronto is no Manhattan -- though it plays it often enough in movies and on TV -- but "flat" may give the wrong impression. (Indeed, there are 132 highrise buildings currently under construction in Toronto vs. 86 in NYC -- thestar.com/news/article/1064773--highrises-… .) Yes, the terrain of Toronto is flat, and there's plenty of suburban sprawl, but downtown is the city's clear centre of density and culture. Unlike e.g. LA, where everyone visits Hollywood and Santa Monica and Pasadena, downtown Toronto is home to (or close to) most of the things visitors want to see.

I know what Tristou means by his comments. I've always felt that Toronto is one of those cities where the Hop On Hop Off bus tours really don't give you any sense of the place. But I do think that Toronto qualifies pretty well for someone looking for a "city break". And to wander streets soaking up the atmosphere, a downtown Toronto hotel would be perfect and they may want to use our Neighbourhoods article (tripadvisor.com/Travel-g155019-s204/Toronto:…) for ideas on where to wander.

If you're interested in architecture, Doors Open Toronto is a great event where you can get into all sorts of buildings (new & historic) not normally open to the public, all free. May 26/27: http://www.toronto.ca/doorsopen/ .

Edited: 08 February 2012, 16:42
Milton, Vermont
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7. Re: Help with trip to Toronto/ Ottawa/ Montreal

By "flat" I didn't mean flat like a pancake. Off course Toronto has some high rise buildings, but my point is that the core of Toronto is the downtown area, then the rest is made up with the suburbs which are large cities by themselves such as Scarborough, Mississauga, Brampton, etc. Thus, it's a wide city and unlike NYC city which is crammed in a smaller area with lots of high buildings to accommodate the populate and needs. I have lived in all 3 cities inquired by the poster.

Cheers.

SE Ontario
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8. Re: Help with trip to Toronto/ Ottawa/ Montreal

I can heartily agree with Matt's comments concerning the HopOn Hop off tour of Toronto - it does not even come close to exposing the true heart of the city. And I would say that both Toronto and Montreal, like any large North American city have downtown cores that are for the most part filled with large office towers, and are gray & dull, except for the main shopping "drags" which are filled with chain stores. The neighbourhoods where people live and relax are the best part of both Toronto & Montreal ... and in each city you will find extensive "sidewalk cafe cultures", easily accessible by walking or public transit. And those cultures, so to speak, are heavily influenced by the ethnic or immigrant populations that have settled in the neighbourhoods ... which makes the two cities incredibly vibrant places to visit.

I think you would do yourself a great disservice if you cut out Toronto.

Edited: 08 February 2012, 21:53
Milton, Vermont
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9. Re: Help with trip to Toronto/ Ottawa/ Montreal

Well said phpr. You made some good points.

Montreal
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10. Re: Help with trip to Toronto/ Ottawa/ Montreal

Ah, as a true Montrealer, let me show some gallic -- hmm, I'd say snobbery but perhaps preference would be more realistic -- of why I prefer Montréal's sidewalk café to Toronto's. Both those cities (and Ottawa, too) indeed have sidewalk cafés, café culture, and restaurants with patios, again often in those wonderful high streets or in neighbourhoods like Yorktown or the Byward Market. But it doesn't really give the same effect as patio-lined streets like Saint-Denis, Prince Arthur, Mount-Royal, and Sainte-Catherine in the Village during the summer. For me, the higher ratio of patios-of-people-sitting-down-eating-or-getting-caffeinated-or-getting-drunk to other-type-of-business-that-doesn't-really-make-use-of-the-sidwalk-much-more-than-a-sandwich-board make Montréal feel much more like a sidwalk café city than Toronto does. To me, Toronto's sidewalk café culture feels more like the English Pub idea, reflecting its make-up as a city and I'd say culture. Montréal's feels more urban and, well, French.