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As an international student, you probably want to explore Canada as well as study here. If you want to sample the stunning examples of almost every environment you can imagine, Canada is the place to be.

With world-class cities, impressive mountains, stunning beaches and everything in between, there is no bad time to get out there and explore Canada.

Whether you’re a keen adventurer or you prefer your creature comforts, there’s something for everyone who chooses to explore Canada. Students in particular are in a fantastic position to explore the country: with time off between semesters and helpful discounts on travel, there’s no excuse not to explore Canada, your new country.

This guide to exploring Canada will help you get started. Although a full guide on what to do and where to explore in Canada would be too extensive for this page (there is simply so much to see and do!) we have provided some helpful links at the end of the page to help you decide.

Short on time but want to explore Canada? Check out these top 10 unmissable Canadian experiences.

Travelling on a budget

Canada has its fair share of luxury hotels and resorts, but there’s plenty to do on a student budget too. If you’re ready to do some research and get flexible with your destination, you can take advantage of some amazing and inexpensive travel opportunities.

Accommodation

While Canada doesn’t have quite the same range of cheap and cheerful youth hostels that are popular in many European and Asian countries, there is still plenty of affordable tourist accommodation all over the country. Accommodation websites Airbnb and Couchsurfing.com are used widely and can offer great nightly deals on whole or shared residences. These sites aren’t just for cities either – explore Canada in their listings to find the perfect forest cabin or lakeside cottage to get off the beaten track.

Camping and caravanning are also popular, and Canada’s warm and mild summers and autumns can make this a great way to experience the outdoors from about May to October, depending on location.

Transport

Canada is vast, and it can take a while to reach certain locations . Luckily, there’s a similarly vast network of train, bus, and flight options to get you where you want to go.

  • Train: One of the most popular ways to explore Canada is by train, particularly in the eastern half of the country. The national rail network, VIA Rail, offers a variety of .

You could spend a summer touring the country with unlimited rail travel at a set price, or try one of the legendary scenic routes through the Rocky Mountains, the Great Lakes, or the Maritime provinces. The distances covered by train are so great that many routes even offer sleeping carriages.

Pro-tip: try to book your tickets on a Tuesday. It’s usually cheaper, no matter when you’re looking to travel. You don’t have to travel on a Tuesday to avail of discount offers, merely make your purchase on a Tuesday.

  • Bus: International coach company Megabus has a strong presence in Canada, and is often the cheapest way to get from A to B, though routes are often limited to linking major cities. There are also several other companies operating across the country,  including smaller regional services. Montreal-based company .
  • Air: Sometimes the only way to get anywhere in Canada within a reasonable timeframe is by plane. Several airlines operate intercity services in Canada, including Porter, WestJet, and Air Canada. Unfortunately, tickets are usually expensive, (though flying within Canada seems to be getting more affordable). Booking in advance is strongly advised.
  • Car: The most flexible way to explore Canada may be by car. Highways stretch for thousands of miles, linking the Pacific coast to the Maritime provinces through every major city in between, so use the excuse for a classic road trip adventure! The possibilities for your dream route are endless – start by considering British Columbia or the Rocky Mountains.
    • While hitchhiking is not common or recommended in Canada, there are various rideshare websites to help link travellers with drivers. It goes without saying that you should be careful about getting lifts with strangers, but it can be a cheap way to get between cities if you feel comfortable. A good place to look can be student Facebook groups, as students from your university or college may be looking to split the cost of driving home at the end of the semester, or over popular holidays like Thanksgiving or Easter.
    • Make sure to check provincial regulations for driving with a foreign licence – it’s generally allowed for a short while after you arrive, but if you’re planning to drive throughout your years in Canada as an international student, you’ll likely need a Canadian driving licence. The government of Canada recommends that anyone planning to drive with a foreign licence should obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) before they leave their home country.

Find the free stuff

Canada’s cities have so much to offer, even on the tightest budget. As a student, you have access to great discounts on things like restaurants, museum entry, concert or theatre tickets, and more. If you already have a transit pass for your city, get exploring to the outskirts – you’d be surprised how much can be accessible by public transport. Many cities often put on free festivals, street markets, music events, and more during the summer.

Fun free activities aren’t limited to the summer months – winter has a lot to offer too. From ice skating to sledging or snowball fights in parks, you’re sure to find some reason to get outside during the long winter months.

If outdoor adventuring isn’t your thing, there’s usually lots to do indoors as well, and many museums, cinemas, and other attractions offer great student discounts or free passes. Winter is also a great time to travel and see the country from a different perspective – there are usually fewer tourists around, and a blanket of snow always adds a touch of the picturesque to a new city. Travel can take longer in the winter as weather impediments can cause delays, but Canada is generally well-equipped to deal with snow. However, trains, planes, and public transport usually keep going throughout the winter, unless the weather is exceptionally bad (in which case, you should probably stay home too).

Try a new city

Most international students in Canada are able to work full-time during scheduled breaks, anywhere in Canada and for any employer. Add to that the fact that you’ll probably have four months off during the summer, and some pretty exciting opportunities begin to emerge. You could think about moving to a different area to work for the summer: towns in national parks such as Jasper and Banff have seasonal work in the tourism industry, for example, or maybe your perfect summer internship is waiting in another city.

Discover more about life in Canada’s major cities with the 鶹ӳý city guides.

If you try this, you’ll also need somewhere to live. Luckily, leases and subletting can be fairly flexible in Canada. You could look on listings sites such as Craigslist or Kijiji to find a summer “sublet” – an arrangement by which a tenant finds someone else to take over their lease and rent while they’re away (this is generally legal in Canada, although it can depend on the type of lease and provincial regulations). University and college residence leases often only cover September to April, so you may have the freedom to move around after the end of the semester. If you have a lease for an apartment off-campus and you want to leave town for a couple of months, make sure to read the conditions on your lease before you look for a subletter.

Learn more about renting as an international student in Canada.

Tree planting

For many young Canadians, spending a summer tree planting is a rite of passage – has called it “one of the most grueling yet satisfying summer jobs imaginable”. Each summer, thousands of young people re-plant trees to counter deforestation from lumber farming, mostly in British Columbia and Alberta. While this can be a great way to meet people from all walks of life and make good money doing something rewarding, be aware that tree planting is hard work. If you don’t mind physical labour and hanging out in stunning wilderness, it could be the experience of a lifetime. But if you prefer your own bed and the attractions of a city, maybe look for a summer job in a cafe instead.

Need more ideas for how to spend your summer? Here are 15.

 

Recommended resources

  • National Geographic:
  • Time:
  • Lonely Planet:

About the author

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Hugo O'Doherty

He/Him
Canadian Immigration & Integration Specialist
Hugo O’Doherty has over a decade of experience and research in Canadian immigration, establishing him as a recognized authority on immigrant integration and adaptation. His personal and professional experiences with immigration have made him an expert on the practical aspects of successfully moving to and settling in Canada.
Read more about Hugo O'Doherty
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