Shoukd I go to Quebec City or Montreal, and what to do there?
June 17, 2011 6:31 PM   Subscribe

I want to vacation in Quebec City, or possibly Montreal, in August. I am a single woman on a budget and will not have a car. Suggestions needed for which to choose and what to do once I get there.

The student loan is paid off. Yay! Now I can start spending some of my money on the fun things in life. I have not been on a vacation pretty much ever, and want to have a little getaway in August. I am somewhat flexible on dates---I am a teacher and will only be working for part of the summer.

I am looking at sometime in the last two weeks of August, for perhaps 4-6 days. I am undecided on which city (considering Quebec City or Montreal) and how to best get there (train? air?). And of course, suggestions for where to stay, where to eat, what to do and see etc. Some points to consider:

- Departing from Toronto. Is the train do-able? Is it going to offer much savings over flying given the distance?

- I don't want bed bugs, and I don't want roommates, but other than that, I don't really care how nice the accommodation is or what amenities it has. I am only going to be sleeping there. I want safe and I want clean, but cost is my primary concern.

- Since I don't have a car and do not drive, I was thinking my best plan of attack would be to get a ticket for one of those buses that stop at various checkpoints and you can get on or off and go between them. If there is a better way, I am open to that.

- I am interested in culture, museums, walking around a cool neighbourhood, being immersed in a different environment etc. And possibly some shopping. Just a low-key, fun little respite in a new place with stuff to see and look at. I am not a huge music person so concerts or jazz festivals will not be a draw for me.

- The French will not be a problem. I am bilingual and am comfortable communicating in French. In fact, I would not be averse to spending some time in a really good French bookstore with a selection of educational-type stuff so I could maybe get a book to take home and make my French even better. Or, any other sort of 'anglo person, go here for a cool experience which will improve your French' type of thing, should such a thing exist.

- I would not be averse to some sort of spa afternoon where I could get a massage and some general pampering in a package deal for a reasonable price. This is not a required element of the trip, but I would definitely consider it.

So...where to go, how to get there and what to do once I have arrived. I am open to all suggestions from those in the know about Quebec City and/or Montreal.
posted by JoannaC to Travel & Transportation around Canada (14 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I vacationed in Quebec City about a year ago--one of the best trips I've ever taken. Try to get a hotel in the old part of the city; there are too many bars/shops/restaurants to count, and you can walk absolutely everywhere.

I also know (from my trip) that Quebec City has some sort of major music festival every summer. If you're into that, try to find out when it is, and go that weekend. It's awesome--you definitely won't regret it.
posted by lobbyist at 6:50 PM on June 17, 2011

The touristy part of Quebec City is small but packed full of things -- walk from one end of it to the other in a couple of hours small, so if you decide to go there, you don't really need a tour bus ticket to get around unless you're interested in the tour.

Montreal's subway system is also excellent for getting around, but if you're doing mainly touristy things, the hop on / hop off bus might prove reasonably efficient.

Quebec City is far Frencher than Montreal, so if you're interested in improving your French, you'll likely have more luck there, vs. Montreal where for the most part they switch to English for non-native speakers.

The train is usually not much cheaper or more convenient than flying Porter if you're already downtown. On the other hand, it is a fairly lovely trip, if you're into relaxing and seeing the scenery on the way.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:01 PM on June 17, 2011

If you are on a budget the Megabus to Montreal cannot be beaten. Right now they have a $1.50 sale, if you are lucky with your schedule (I never got that deal but previously paid between $20 and $30 per trip). Don't take the night bus as they are not very comfortable to sleep in. Train will definitely be more expensive. In both case you will arrive downtown. Plane is easier to do now with the new 747 bus that goes from YUL airport to downtown, but it is still a pain. Porter has good prices, and Air Canada has some deals here and there, if they are not on strike.
It would be cheaper to get a 3-day or one week STM pass than paying for tourist buses (everything is easily accesible by public transportation in Montreal).
Montreal has lots of festivals in the summer (right now it is the Francofolies, after you'll have the Just for Laughs and the Jazz fest). Quebec also has a big music festival (le festival d'été de Québec).
Once you get to Montreal pick a copy of Voir or Hour to find out about shows and venues.
posted by ddaavviidd at 7:03 PM on June 17, 2011

I meant $10.50, rather than $1.50.
posted by ddaavviidd at 7:05 PM on June 17, 2011

Montreal is very navigable by foot and transit. Do you use transit in Toronto? If so - Transit on Montreal is reasonably comparable in terms of ease of use, etc. You probably don't need a tour bus. Are you comforable biking in a city? You could try the city's bixi bike rental network.
posted by ManInSuit at 8:08 PM on June 17, 2011

Also - train will be a fair bit cheaper than plane. The ticket itself will generally be a fair bit less, and trains leave/arrive from easy downtown locations in both cities. Taking the train is generally pretty pleasant, though it does take a lot longer than plane.
posted by ManInSuit at 8:11 PM on June 17, 2011

The train from TO to either city is quite comfy. If you book ahead you will get a lower rate. If you decide on Montreal would you consider a hostel? The downtown YH on McKay (no linking, I'm on a mobile device, sorry) is just a few blocks from where the train gets in. You cold walk it easily, if your bag isn't too big. It has private rooms and is right by the two main metro lines. Just get a metro pass, unless you like the idea of the tourist bus to orient you. The main tourist info place is on Peel near St. Catherine, about a 10 minute walk from the hostel.

I always recommend the botanical gardens (metro Pie XI). Many people visit Notre Dame in the Old Port but I think St Joseph's Oratory is fantastic (metro Cote Des Neiges). There's a ton of bookstores but the Archambault at metro Berri is central. The major museums are all good (mmfa, musee d'art contemporain, pointe a caillere).
posted by Cuke at 8:18 PM on June 17, 2011

I loved Quebec City, and specifically Old Quebec. It was great just walking around. Lots of street performers drawing crowds, lots of beautiful old buildings, great views, walking along the ramparts, lots of open air parks and squares and whatnot, little shops and cafes with street seating... it was great.

Montreal, not so much. It was OK I guess. It seemed mostly like a nice-ish little city, not particularly interesting. There were a couple museums that I enjoyed, and the park at Mont Royal was pretty nice - nice views. It was no Quebec City, though.
posted by Flunkie at 8:45 PM on June 17, 2011

Bixi bike rental in Montreal is totally awesome. You can go everywhere in the city using it.
Or you can use their subway, which is very nice too.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 9:55 PM on June 17, 2011

The Université de Montréal residences offer cheap rooms during the summer. You'll be in Côte-des-Neiges, near a metro (on the blue line, which isn't the most convenient one), with Librairie Olivieri nearby. You can take bus 51 to the Plateau, or bus 165 to downtown (you'll end up at the Guy-Concordia Metro, near the Museum of Fine Arts).

Going up & down St-Denis is very nice, and going to the Jean-Talon market might be fun.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 12:27 AM on June 18, 2011

Definitely Quebec City - I think that you'd find exactly what you're looking for there. Don't miss the Museum of Inuit Art.
posted by belau at 6:24 AM on June 18, 2011

Old Quebec is one of the most beautiful places in Canada but spending six days there would be hell on earth. It is tiny. Outside of the old town, Quebec is not very interesting.

Honestly I'd head to Montreal for four days and then go to Quebec for two nights. That would be perfect. In neither city do you need some sort of hop-on-hop-off bus. Make sure your hotel or b&b is in the old part of Quebec, and in Montreal find a place in the neighbourhood called the Plateau, possibly the best walking-around-neighbourhood in all of Canada, bakeries and cafés and restos and bars on every corner, museums and things a subway ride away, the Bixi system for biking willy-nilly through my favourite city in the world.
posted by Marquis at 11:06 AM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, if you can afford it, don't be afraid to spend a little bit of money - take the train to Montreal (there's a VIA Rail 50% sale on now) and then maybe the bus to Quebec; find a b&b in the Plateau and Quebec's old town. You'll have a much better time if you drop the extra couple hundred dollars for great accommodation, instead of having to make your way back to the UQAM dorms or something.

(In the summertime, most urban 20- and 30-something Montrealers get around on foot and by bicycle. We rarely use the bus and almost never the subway - for a summer visit, you want to stay somewhere at the heart of the city, not just "on a convenient metro line".)

[NB: "Downtown", "the Old Port", "Old Montreal", "NDG", "Quartier Latin" all have their (huge) charms but you want to stay in the Plateau.)
posted by Marquis at 11:10 AM on June 18, 2011

I felt there was a lot more to explore in Quebec after four days there, so I wouldn't worry about that aspect. Yes, the old town is fairly small, but there's a lot to see. Then, you can explore the area around Rue St-Joseph, which is a modern, artsy area. The public transit is not quite as good as Montreal (and no Bixi), but I found it the more interesting city overall.
posted by wnissen at 1:01 PM on June 21, 2011

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