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The ultimate cross-country adventure has to be in America or Canada. The sheer number of things to do, scenery to gasp at and variety of places to experience means that no matter how many times you holiday there, two trips are never the same.
But perhaps you want to discover new secrets of these countries by yourself – but don’t want the hassle of planning it all. With a Saga Travel Tailor-Made Self-Drive holiday, we can sort the itinerary for you. Leave the planning of travel times and overnight stop-offs to the experts, and all you’ll need to do is board a wonderful flight with Air Canada or United Airlines and we’ll provide you with a car to experience these amazing places.
Air Canada offers more non-stop services from London Heathrow to Canada than any other airline and has also been recognised as the world’s most family-friendly airline at the 2023 Skytrax World Airline Awards.
Established in 1926, US Route 66 has become an iconic must-drive destination
United Airlines is building the future of sustainable flight, diversifying their flight deck, and reimagining the entire flying experience for those who fly with them. The airline offers direct flights from London Heathrow to Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, New York/Newark, San Francisco and Washington DC.
If you’re more into motorhomes, you’ll get access to the state-of-the-art fleet of vehicles from Cruise America and Cruise Canada, including a fantastic digital app so you can marvel at all the places you can stop off as you plan your perfect cross-country route – with all the details you could ever need provided for you ahead of time.
Rather go by rail? Saga Travel has an amazing selection of rail-based itineraries that let you see the beauty of West Canada and the incredible Rocky Mountains, with five-star cuisine aboard luxurious trains.
Or, if you prefer to relax and ride with a like-minded group of travellers, a Saga Escorted Tour – led by a knowledgeable tour manager who really knows the area – is a fantastic way to make new friends.
When Americans and Canadians visit Europe, they usually mop up multiple countries in one vacation, because the distances seem rather tiny. Continental North America is, in contrast, so huge that each time I cross the Atlantic, I realise how much more there is to see. The wide patchwork quilt landscape of the US is so diverse, every state has a different texture and feel and each province and territory in Canada is unique.
Washington DC is full of historic monuments such as the Lincoln Memorial
It would have been a thrill to have tried it in a 1966 Ford Thunderbird, à la Thelma and Louise, but a retro-style Chrysler PT Cruiser was a smooth ride and had the right vibe.
Setting off from the shores of massive Lake Michigan, I had to see Cloud Gate, the bean-shaped sculpture by Anish Kapoor in Chicago’s Millennium Park.
The organic, mirrored curves contrast brilliantly with the Windy City’s soaring skyscrapers. As luck would have it, a symphony orchestra was rehearsing in the park so it was a welcome musical farewell.
Motoring through the deserts of New Mexico and the mountains and deep gorges of Arizona, then arriving at the Pacific Ocean is a wonderfully scenic 2,448 mile drive. Some sections of the 1926-built road, that also crosses Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, have been replaced by Interstate Highways. Avoid these multi-lane motorways by following signs for Historic Route 66 and Country Route 66.
This slower original trail will take you through America’s small towns, with their vintage motels and quirky shops. Enjoy a coffee and a piece of pie in a tiny all-night diner and you’ll feel like you’re in a John Steinbeck novel or Edward Hopper painting.
I’d recommend a detour into Nevada to visit Las Vegas, and it doesn’t matter if, like me, you’re not into roulette or blackjack. The dazzling casinos are sumptuously decorated with statues, drapes and plush furnishings – and a complete lack of clocks. It’s never time to go home, here. Insomniac customers keep “playing the slots” 24/7, but it’s the food and stage productions that ensure my return.
French-speaking Quebec City is a UNESCO World Heritage site
Sin City’s fabulous restaurants and world-class shows mean it’s well worth a stop. A Cirque du Soleil performance is so mesmeric and meticulously executed, it surpasses mere entertainment and becomes a work of art (even before a cocktail or two).
Over on the East Coast of the United States, another terrific holiday is to combine the vibrant cities of Washington and New York with a visit to Niagara Falls. America’s capital was named after George Washington, the First President of the United States, and is rich with historical monuments.
Constructed in 1792, the neoclassical White House is such a legendary symbol of the country, it’s instantly recognisable. Get the best camera angle from the lawns of Lafayette Square.
Washington welcomes tourists from all over the world
In the Big Apple, I try to walk everywhere to take in the architecture and the bustle of the sidewalks. It’s only a 15-minute stroll from Central Park to Times Square and an hour from there down to Chinatown.
New York’s 9/11 Memorial and Museum, where two reflecting pools sit in the footprints of the Twin Towers, is very close to Battery Park. There you can pick up tickets for a boat trip to the Statue of Liberty for dramatic views of the Manhattan skyline.
The ferry also calls at Ellis Island, the first stop for more than 12 million immigrants who arrived dreaming of a new life in the USA between 1892 and 1924. Those hopefuls disembarking in New York included singer-dancer Josephine Baker, songwriter Irving Berlin and actor Cary Grant.
Niagara Falls generates hydroelectric power with the tumbling cascade that’s fed by waters from the Great Lakes. Native American culture has long-valued its healing energy and standing by the gushing spray does feel rather spiritual. The Falls are a natural source of negative ions, believed to have a positive mood-enhancing physiological effect.
Only by visiting can you truly understand the scale of Niagara Falls
Of course, Niagara Falls can also be observed from the Canadian side and this go-to destination for honeymooners actually comprises three waterfalls. The Niagara Gorge spans the border between New York state and the vast forests of Ontario, Canada. The USA’s neighbour to the north has a personality all of its own.
As part of the British Commonwealth – King Charles is Head of State – and with a strong French colonial history, Canada still has many European influences. French is the official language in Quebec and citizens are bilingual. In the beautiful old town of Quebec City, the turreted Château Frontenac, a grand railway hotel that opened in 1893, looks like a Disney fantasy creation but it’s the real deal.
You can journey Across Canada on an escorted combined road and rail trip, with a flight in the middle, for an extraordinary bucket-list experience. Taking in Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, as well Niagara Falls in the east, it’s then west by air to Calgary in Alberta and on to Banff in the Rocky Mountains where the national park is home to elk and grizzly bears.
Here you join the legendary Rocky Mountaineer for a luxury rail journey to Vancouver, passing glittering lakes, snow-topped peaks and log cabins. It was in the unspoilt wilderness of British Columbia that I spotted a mother grizzly ambling back to her den with twin cubs in tow.
The Trans-Canada by Rail alternative independent route is almost all by train, starting in cosmopolitan Toronto. Head to Union Station and find your comfy carriage on VIA’s The Canadian to cross the prairies via Winnipeg to Jasper. Then swap trains for a memorable guided sightseeing tour along the stunning Icefields Parkway down to Lake Louise, where you’ll join the Rocky Mountaineer.
Vancouver’s skyscrapers have a stunning backdrop
If you have time, add a few days to your holiday and extend your stay in Vancouver – it’s a brilliant location for whale-watching. From March to October, thousands of whales migrate through the waters near the city. Of the many worldwide locations I’ve been to see whales, Vancouver was definitely the best.
So if you’re looking for the ultimate way to see the USA and Canada, and regardless of whether you want to do the driving yourself, see the countries from a luxurious train carriage or travel with like-minded people on an easy tour, Saga Travel has the perfect holiday for you.