Canada on a budget: 12 ways to stay, eat and play for less

As the world’s second-largest country, Canada certainly doesn’t have a shortage of things to do and places to see for all types of travelers.

Upscale urban offerings lure city lovers to the metropolitan hubs of Canada for the country’s best shopping, sites, and culinary delights. And the majestic mountains, far-reaching forests, and trio of ocean frontiers offer an outdoor playground for nature lovers who are looking to explore the country’s unique landscapes. 

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Canada is not typically considered a budget-friendly country, but there are definitely ways to explore the country – urban and outdoors – without breaking the bank.

Accommodations can be expensive but you can find great food for a reasonable price, and exploring by transit, bike or foot will help you save on inter-country flights or car rental fees. 

Whether you’re looking to make a seemingly unaffordable trip more doable or you want to stretch your dollar so you can extend your visit, these practical tips on how to stay, eat and play for less are sure to help you save money on your visit to Canada.

Choose your adventure based on your budget

Comprising 10 provinces and three territories, Canada has a considerable number of places to explore, and as a country so widespread, you just can’t see it all in one trip. 

As you plan, consider focusing your visit on one province, territory, or region, and balance it with both city sites and outdoor adventures for a more contrasted and cost-friendly trip.

In British Columbia, for example, start with a visit to Vancouver and then hit the road and watch your surroundings show off as you cruise along the scenic route from British Columbia to the Canadian Rockies.

Browse before you book

Flight deals can be found all year round, you just have to know where to look and when to book. Sites like Skyscanner and Trivago will give you comparable prices for flights. Consider booking your visit during the quieter months of January, February and September when flight prices tend to be lower.

July and August are busier months as the warmer weather and summer holidays bring an influx of visitors, and weekdays often offer lower airfares than weekend dates.

Find a more affordable arrival airport

Sometimes selecting an arrival airport that’s located just outside of the city center can result in a more cost-friendly flight. For example, while Toronto’s Pearson Airport is the major international airport in the city, congestion and higher fees can be a factor.

Opt instead for Buffalo Niagara International Airport that often offers more competitively priced flights, and easier access to Niagara Falls and the southern Ontario region. Then take the scenic route around Lake Ontario to Toronto, approximately 1.5 hours by car from Niagara Falls.

Opt for an off-season stay

For most Canadian destinations – from Halifax to Vancouver – the summer months (July and August) are the busiest time to visit. The milder weather welcomes a wider array of activities, but travelers planning around school summer holidays bring larger crowds, and the higher demand means spiked prices.

The spring months (April to June) tend to be less busy, and with many areas in full floral bloom and smaller crowds, it can be a great time to explore.

Fall foliage and fewer bookings (and fewer tourists) make September to November another great time to visit, and January to February is an ideal time for slopeside adventures as the ski season tends to extend into early spring in more spots.

Friends sit in the trunk of a car and on camp chairs at a campsite laughing as they share a joke. What better way to experience Canada’s great outdoors than to stay in it? © Compassionate Eye Foundation/Getty Images

Consider camping

Parks Canada has more than 10,000 campsites spread throughout the country, with options for every comfort level. From rustic tents, to sturdy yurts, to totally unique structures like the Ôasis (a drop-shaped duplex), your stay can be as thrilling as your surroundings as you sleep and explore the great outdoors.

Campgrounds book up quickly (especially during the summer months) so be sure to book your spot well in advance.

Book a rental in the outskirts of town

Renting an apartment or house offers more space, the ability to dine in, and most often means lower prices overall. From single-room suites to cozy cottages to luxe estates, the range of homestays in each region is endless.

When visiting Vancouver Island, BC, consider a stay in Sooke – found 40 minutes by car from Victoria’s downtown core, which can also be accessed by bike along the Galloping Goose Regional Trail.

On Cape Breton Island, NS, opt for a unique Nova Scotian stay in North Sydney – only 20 minutes by car from the largest sister city. Rates will vary depending on when you visit and your requested amenities. 

Embrace the outdoors with a Discovery Pass

Canada’s best feature by far is its natural beauty, so why not embrace the outdoors and go camping, hiking, biking, boating, swimming or strolling through the country’s most amazing natural landscapes. 

With 48 national parks to explore, comprising marine and coastal reserves, old growth forests, and massive mountain ranges, there’s plenty to see and do from coast, to coast, to coast. 

While many outdoor activities are free, there are fees to enter most of Canada’s National Parks. With a Parks Canada Discovery Pass, you can get unlimited admission to over 80 national parks, historic sites, and marine conservation areas that typically charge a daily fee. The pass is valid for a full year.

A car stopped by a lake in a mountainous landscape. A person sits on the roof taking in the view. Traveling by rental car is cheaper than the cost of internal flights © Nathan Yan / Stocksy United

Hit the road and rails

If you’re hoping to see more than one region, consider renting a car, campervan or RV instead of taking inter-country flights. Here’s how to road trip around Canada on a budget. 

There are other affordable transportation options as well that will take you through some of the country’s most scenic routes. Megabus is a great option for road travel throughout and between Ontario and Quebec.

VIA Rail offers cross-country and cross-province routes that cost less than flights, and advertises discounted train tickets on its site throughout the year.

Take transit in the city

If you’re focusing on a city-centric stay, consider getting to know the local transit system. Public transportation is generally safe and easily accessible, and you’ll save substantially on parking and daily car rental fees.

Day and monthly transit passes are available in most of the major metropolitan areas, and in cities like Toronto and Vancouver kids 12 and under ride for free.

Save money on local attractions

Seek out special offers on passes to the top attractions found in each city or region that you’ll be visiting. For example, the Vancouver Attractions Pass offers discounted rates when you group two or more attractions – like Grouse Mountain and the Vancouver Aquarium – in your purchase.

With Passport MTL, you can access to some of Montreal’s greatest attractions for a lower price, and the Nova Scotia Museum Pass gives you access to all the museum sites in the province for one price.

Two young women wearing bright green and blue feather-covered costumes smile at each other at an event in Toronto. Join locals at free festivals and events across the country © LightRocket via Getty Images

Find free events in advance

Throughout Canada there are festivals, walking tours, and street events that will give you a taste of the region’s flavor without the high entry fees.

Check out Caribana Toronto, North America’s largest cultural festival, stroll the streets of Vancouver and admire the large-scale murals displayed around the city, part of the Vancouver Mural Festival, or chill at Quebec’s Winter Carnival, the largest winter festival in the world.

Don’t dine out for every meal

The food and beverage industry in Canada is heavily taxed, so dining out can put a dent in your wallet. Stock up on snacks and consider cooking in for some meals. Choose a hotel with breakfast included, and stick to street foods for your midday meal.

That being said, Canada has a diverse culinary scene – including the uniquely Canadian dish poutine – and a range of dining options for all tastes and price points, making eating on a budget in Canada totally possible.

Average daily costs in Canada

Basic hotel room for two: $130 per night
Average Airbnb rental in the city: $83-$100 per night
Cup of Tim Hortons coffee: $2 (medium)
Bowl of poutine: $5 
Dinner for two: $50 (plus taxes and tip)
Car rental: $121 per day


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