Access to health care continues to be an important issue for health policy makers, researchers, service providers and consumers alike. In countries with universal health care coverage, services are generally free at the point of delivery which is intended to provide equitable access to care for all residents regardless of their individual situations. Past studies have pointed to the importance of individual characteristics such as age, gender, and socioeconomic status in shaping access to health care but much less is known about the role of health system characteristics. The purpose of this study is to explore, by means of qualitative research methods, the extent to which individual and system factors shape access to primary health care services for residents living in two contrasting neighbourhoods in Hamilton, Ont., Canada. Semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted with 40 men and women. The interviews probed participants about their experiences with primary care, barriers to receiving care and their general perceptions of the health care system. The interviews demonstrated the existence of many system-related barriers to receiving health care (e.g., wait times, geographic inaccessibility and quality of care) and some individual-related barriers (e.g., work or family responsibilities). While the findings revealed little difference between the neighbourhoods in terms of accessibility problems and barriers, differences between men and women were evident.