If you’re thinking about planning a trip to the Great White North, here’s my 5 travel tips for Montreal and Quebec City. I’ve already given out some sage advice through my tales of misfortune and things being closed, but here’s some lessons that weren’t explicitly mentioned in previous posts.
1. It’s Cold in the Winter
I know you’re rolling your eyes and saying “Duh, Eddie. You went to Canada in the winter.” And you’re right, but we also went during an unexpected and record-breaking cold period this winter. Normal winters are about as bad as Minneapolis (which is still pretty cold). While you normally won’t risk losing fingers to frostbite by spending more than five minutes outside, plan a few extra cocoa stops throughout your day. And buy the warmest jacket you can.
2. Poutine is the North’s Greatest Secret
Not only is it a great way to pack in some calories during the cold winter months, poutine also tastes amazing—even the cheap stuff. I got it quite a few times from the Meat Colossus (not it’s real name) at La Banquise to the cheap version at Fameux Viande Fumée Et Charcuterie. Whether you’re just having the plain gravy, curds, and fries or adding some extra on top of it, you will regret not poutine it in your mouth (couldn’t resist).
3. English is Fine
Quebec (the province) speaks French as well as English. Montreal is truly a bilingual city. Quebec City used to be a French-only town, but that’s not the case anymore.
Here’s the thing: Sarah speaks French well. She passed her A2 exam right before we left, and was so excited to finally out her lessons to the test. However, most often, she’d ask in French, they would look confused, and then answer in English. They had a hard time understanding her because the dialects were so different. She was speaking Parisian French; they were speaking Quebecois. The best example I can think of how the Quebec dialect sounds is that they pronounce Quebec as “Kee-bek” as opposed to “Qwuh-bek”.
Canada’s history as a French settlement ended in 1763. Since then, the French used in Canada has evolved to become a completely different dialect; I’ve heard it compared to Portuguese in that regard: sure, Brazil and Portugal are ostensibly speaking the same language, but a Portuguese and a Brazilian may still have a hard time understanding each other.
So you can speak French there. But if they don’t understand you, they’ll just ask you again in English. And that always reminds me of an episode of Richard Ayoade’s Travel Man:
4. Montreal is a Social Town
I completely understand why this city is considered one of the most livable cities in the world. If you want to go to a club, music festival, street fair, or hang out in the park and talk to people, Montreal is your city. It’s a lot like Chicago in that regard. If you’re looking for a fun party weekend away, then Montreal in the summer is great.
But as a traveller, particularly in the winter, it left me wanting. We saw most of the cultural sites within the first few days. That, combined with the fact that neither Sarah nor I are really clubbing/party people, meant that while we could see living in Montreal, we weren’t keen to stick around after a few days.
Yes, I’m a little bit of a curmudgeon. I’m shocked it took you this long to find out.
5. Rent a Car in Quebec City
Quebec City is small. It’s the 11th largest city in Canada with a population of about 530k—about the size of Tucson, Arizona. That should give you an idea of what public transit was like, and why you need a car.
When we were planning, we booked an AirBnB somewhere in the outer parts of Quebec City. I don’t remember exactly where it was, but it was somewhere around here:
After we booked it, we looked up how long it would take to get to the Old City: 45 minutes by bus. If we rented a car, it’d be 15 minutes. Luckily, the AirBnB cancelled on us, so we booked a hostel inside the Old City Walls that didn’t require a car.
I’m here to tell you that the location of your lodging isn’t as important as how you plan to get around. The Old City, like most old cities, is small. We knocked out most of the attractions in one day so after the first night, our location was a bit of a moot point. All of the other attractions that made QC interesting—like the ones mentioned in “Spa Days and Water Falls: A Day at Siberia Spa and Montmorency Falls”—were a half hour drive by car or 2 hours+ on public transit. It was a no-brainer.
So by renting a car and staying somewhere that’s not the Old City, you’ll get nicer lodging and it won’t be any less convenient.
If you’re a social person and have a few free days in the summer to go to Montreal and Quebec City, do it. You’ll love it. Despite how I talk of this trip, I still had fun and made some great memories with a wonderful partner. And what I didn’t particularly enjoy was a learning experience in what to plan for in my next trip. Feel free to disagree with me in the comment section.
So where am I going next? Not sure. To be honest, a lot of life things are up in the air at the moment. We’re going to be moving to Boston in the coming months for graduate school. I’m doing contract work so I’m also never able to make great long-term plans.
But there will be another trip sometime soon.
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