Travel tips and itinerary ideas for Quebec?
May 18, 2015 6:49 PM   Subscribe

I'm driving through Quebec on vacation the first week of June, and would love some general travel tips, ideas, and itinerary advice in exploring the Eastern Townships, Quebec City, and Montreal, for someone who's never been 'round those parts.

I have 7 days, including arrival on a weeknight (5pm ish) and picking up a car in Burlington, VT (which I've actually never been to, too!), and leaving BTV on a 5-ish flight as well.

My trip is pretty much inspired by my voracious and gleeful reading of Louise Penny's books. I'm most excited about the Eastern Townships and Quebec City, and I did see this but I'm also interested in seeing Montreal too if possible.

Any favorite places to stay or see that you'd recommend?
Thoughts on how you'd structure this trip?
General advice for someone who has never been to Quebec?

I realize it's packing a lot in a week, but I'd also like this to be relaxing, since I haven't taken time off in a looong time. So I'd like to balance a little bit of sightseeing (as per the inspiration map linked above) and history and museums with people watching, sitting in cafes, enjoying local food, taking long leisurely walks, etc. I also like spa/relaxation type stuff, hiking, yoga, and outdoors things.

Other tips I could use help on are:
Driving: I have a Garmin GPS with 2010 North America maps -- is bringing that my best bet? (Side question - Uh, what's the best way to update this thing?)
Cell phone: I've got an iPhone on Sprint, so I'm guessing my best bet is just to rely on WiFi/Skype where I can find wifi? Is this a bad idea for a solo driving traveler? Is there a better way (I tend to be pretty dependent on my cell phone for finding stuff to do, maps, etc., but I'm thinking a guidebook or two should help...)
Language: I don't speak a lick of French. I've got access to Mango Languages so I've started working on that (they even have a French Canadian version), and using DuoLingo in French, too. I'm thinking that a guidebook plus my cramming should help, but again, any recommendations as to that, I'm all ears.

Aaand, yeah, if it's not obvious already I'm a bit out of practice with travelling and overthinking everything, so, yeah, all anxious over-thinky traveler-friendly advice welcome. :) Merci!!!
posted by NikitaNikita to Travel & Transportation around Quebec City, QC (13 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
See if you can take the ferry across the St Lawrence!
posted by exois at 7:58 PM on May 18, 2015

Best answer: I'm sure others will have a lot to say about the specifics regarding places to see, but I just wanted to address the language accessibility point. You'll be 100% fine communicating in English in Montreal. Quebec City is also very touristy and English should get you by too. The townships may not be as English, but this depends on the town. Some towns closer to the American border are entirely anglophone (English) and others, as you approach Montreal, can be entirely French. Once you know your route it'll be easier to say.

All that to say, Quebec is great and very much English friendly! There are the occasional very French, (read very stubborn) usually older, folks, but generally people are very kind. Welcome!

(I'm an anglophone living in Montreal)
posted by eisforcool at 8:00 PM on May 18, 2015

I'll preface this with the caution that it's been about 15 years since my trip to Quebec.

I stayed at a B&B called Au Toit Bleu on Ile d'Orleans, a little east of Quebec City proper (an easy drive). It was very relaxing; they had a lawn / courtyard / patio with a spectacular view over the St. Lawrence, looking towards Mt. St Anne. At the time the ski resort there offered gondola rides to the top in the summer, which was very picturesque, and being it was during the week, it was very quiet and I had the peak mostly to myself for quite a while to walk around and explore. The B&B appears to be still there and looks very similar to what I remember. There's a road running all around the perimeter of the island, which made for a very relaxing and scenic hour long drive.

It's not clear if the owner of this B&B is the same, but it appears to be. She spoke very good English and was very helpful in pointing out local events and curiosities. Things may have changed, but on the island itself it did not appear terribly English friendly - a ways down the road was a small convenience store where I attempted to buy a postcard stamp, knowing zero French beyond Hello, Please, and Thank you. I had a bit of a struggle explaining what I needed, and the lady behind the counter was clearly put off by my yankeedom, but that's the only time I remember experiencing a language issue during my trip, which included Montreal, Quebec, and Ottawa. I remember Montreal specifically being very bi-lingual, not to mention beautiful!

I don't remember much more of my journey there but I remember Ile de Orleans very clearly. One word of caution - in looking it up online, if you decide to go, Google Street View's estimation of the address of Au Toit Blue is wrong - it shows me a farm with a small chapel. That's not it - the B&B is about a quarter mile further northeast on that road. Just look for the blue roof, oddly enough :)

The other item I remember, unfortunately I don't remember specifically enough to recommend. It was a clearly French place, so I'm guessing it was on the road between Montreal and Quebec, though it could have been closer to Ottawa, as I remember it being located kind of in the middle of nowhere. It was a restaurant, and everyone sat and was served Family style (long, communal tables, shared serving dishes), and the draw was they had live 'French Folk' music and dancing, and everyone - and I mean everyone - was "strongly encouraged" to join in. It was trippy, and I wish I could remember more about it so I could recommend it. Sadly my travelling partner (with whom I no longer am in contact with) was in charge of the itinerary and I don't remember the details. Maybe this description will rattle someone else's memory cells.
posted by SquidLips at 8:56 PM on May 18, 2015

Definitely do a day walking around old Quebec City, and would recommend a trip to the Citadel while you're there. The Citadel has frequent guided tours, available in English. The tour, IIRC, was around an hour and was great history-wise.

You'll be able to ditch the car just outside the old town walls, and spend a day walking around and exploring.

You'll definitely be fine with English only.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:48 AM on May 19, 2015

One of my favorite parts of Quebec is the Baie de Ha! Ha! which we discovered using my high school french to find a place to go bowling. I asked a mechanic where to go bowling and I got back in the car and told my wife, "He told me that there was bowling right next to the pyramid made of yield signs," which it was. We enjoyed staying in an auberge and had a lovely meal of patoncles. It is also the only place I know that has exclamation points in its name.
posted by mearls at 6:13 AM on May 19, 2015

The dining experience SquidLips describes above sounds like a Cabane à sucre, a (sadly) seasonal type of restaurant to celebrate the early spring maple sugar harvest.

Quebec City is wonderful. I would skip the Townships and spend more time in QC -- the townships are nice but not all that different from other country towns. Quebec City feels like nowhere else in North America.
posted by third word on a random page at 6:25 AM on May 19, 2015

I've done this trip! Obviously Montreal and Quebec City are wonderful and you will have a great time just wandering around both places for a couple of days each. My favorite things about our trip were renting bicycles in Montreal and riding around on the Formula 1 racetrack on Ile Notre-Dame, staying at this B&B in Trois Rivieres, going to the Abbey of St.-Benoit-du-Lac near Magog to hear Gregorian chanting and buy some of their monk-made blue cheese and apple cider for a picnic lunch, and dinner at The Kitchen Table Bistro in Vermont on the way back to Burlington. We also stopped at The Great Vermont Corn Maze, which was closed by the time we got there, but they have a lovely little petting zoo and we still talk about hanging out with those those awesome goats all the time. We also went for a hike in La Mauricie National Park, which was beautiful.

We only ran into a handful of people who didn't speak any English, mostly in the smaller towns we visited, but they were cheerful about the fact that we only knew about fifteen French words. You won't have any trouble not knowing French.

If you want more info let me know and I can send you a link to my blog with more info and pictures from our trip.
posted by something something at 6:27 AM on May 19, 2015

Best answer: The language won't be a problem, and the GPS should get you around fine. You might want to look into whether Sprint offers temporary Canadian data roaming for a non-ridiculous price. (Note: I have never done this while travelling internationally because I am a cheapass, but always wish I did because how did I live before smartphones???) Otherwise a guidebook + wifi will be fine, just less convenient.

7 days seems short. I would consider skipping one of the cities.

Warning for possibly obvious, sorry, but from a fellow overthinker: In general while travelling when I don't have a personal recommendation I just pick the hotels in my price range that have the best online reviews on tripadvisor et al. These days everywhere has an internet presence and everywhere has been visited so the data is actually very good. Boring I know, but the strategy has never steered me disastrously wrong and I've stayed in some fantastic places.

Montreal is very walkable and the metro (subway) gets you lots of places. I liked the Jean-Talon market. If you feel like a getting some exercise you can climb Mont-Royal for the view.

Old Quebec City is nice. I think Quebec is better than Montreal for historical stuff. I don't recall much else about Quebec; it's been many years since I've been there.

My mom is a serious Louise Penny fan and my parents have been to the eastern townships a couple of times in the last couple of years. I'll ping her for specific recommendations. Personally, I recommend eating lots of cheese. On preview, I have been to the Abbey of St.-Benoit-du-Lac. That was fun.

Oh, in case you are interested in shopping I always find clothes that I love at Simons (a department store). Fast fashion, but better than H&M. And it's only in Quebec (and Ottawa? I think?) so you'll find different things.
posted by quaking fajita at 6:50 AM on May 19, 2015

Best answer: I'd start in Montreal, maybe check out a show at the Fringe, rent a Bixi and bike along the canal from the old port to the Atwater Market, or the Lachine sculpture park if you are into a longer ride. You can stop on the way back for a beer.

Then get the hell out of Montreal before the Grand Prix starts and there are no hotel rooms to be found.

Go to the Townships and do your Penny tour. Hike in one of the provincial parks in the area. Maybe consider spending a night in a fancy tent.

Drive to Trois Rivieres and cross to the north side of the river and take the King's Road - the slow drive to Quebec City. Stop at cafes or to explore the churches when you feel like it. It's a beautiful drive.

In Quebec City certainly walk around the old city, but if you have a car you might also consider Ile d'Orleans, Ste Anne de Beaupre (if you are into churches) and a hike on Mont Ste Anne.

You'll be fine speaking English except possibly in some of the smaller towns, but a smile and an effort to communicate always goes a long way. There will likely be roadwork all over the place so having a GPS is a good idea. And of course all of the signage is in French. You can get free wifi at most chain coffee places - Starbucks, Tim Horton's. Downtown Montreal, Quebec, Sherbrooke, you shouldn't have a problem but things will be different in the countryside. I think all of the provincial parks offer wifi in their information buildings now. I hope you have a wonderful trip!
posted by Cuke at 8:05 AM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Old/Vieux Quebec is a treat. Avoid the rest of Quebec (City), as it is boring suburbia mostly.

French will be a barrier in Quebec City. Use a translator.

Levis is where you want to be if you want to take in the landscape of Quebec, so the ferry might be a good idea.

If you had more time, I would suggest Woodstock en Beauce which is an hour and a half away from Quebec City, but given your schedule it's not realistic.
posted by Yowser at 8:16 AM on May 19, 2015

Go to North Hatley and stay at Auberge Coeur d'or or, at the very least, eat a meal there.

Quebec is very much into bicycle tourism, so if you are into bike riding, you can find many many trails and accommodations.

If you like cheese, the Eastern Townships of Quebec have some amazing fromagerie - the Abbey is referenced above. But also stop by Compton and visit the Fromagerie La Station de Compton. If they have the Raclette with pepper, buy a million pounds of it, because you'll never find it anywhere else, ever, and you'll just long for it for the rest of your life....

Montreal, by the way, has the best bagels anywhere. My favorite is Fairmount Bagels, though much bad blood has been spilled in the great bagel wars (between Fairmount and St. Viateur).
posted by jasper411 at 11:49 AM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oooh, I love love love love cheese.

Thank you for all of these recommendations so far!

And for the Grand Prix heads up... that was totally not on my radar at all!
posted by NikitaNikita at 6:13 PM on May 19, 2015

Best answer: My mom says:

I would make Knowlton one of her stops. There is a lovely bookstore that reminds me of the one in her stories (well it's a bit nicer) that sells Vive Gamache! mugs. It's called Brome Lake Books.

Here are the places they stayed in 2011:

Aux Berges de l'Aurore
139, Route du Parc
QC. J0B 2E0
819 888-2715
514 712-2715

Auberge Quilliams
572 Lakeside
Lac Brome, Québec
J0E 1R0
Sans frais: 888-922-0404
Téléphone: 450-243-0404
Télécopieur: 450-243-0770
Site web:

Manoir Hovey
575 Hovey Road, North Hatley, Quebec J0B 2C0 –
Phone: (800) 661-2421 - (819) 842-2421 - Fax: (819) 842-2248
posted by quaking fajita at 4:59 AM on May 20, 2015

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