For many people living in the United States, a trip to Canada is just a hop, skip and a jump away. At least for those living in the Northern United States, it’s within driving distant and is well worth a road trip. Canada is a country that boasts lots of unspoiled nature to explore as many historic and cultural sights to see and experience. Because of the long, cold and snowy winters that are common in pretty much all of Canada, many of the tourist attractions and activities tend to be seasonal — skiing and dogsledding in the winter or summer activities like outdoor markets and music festivals— so many people tend to plan their trips around these things. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to do.
Living in New Jersey, the drive into the province of Quebec takes less than half a day and we’ve now made the journey twice. The first time we spent a long pre-kids weekend in Montreal and just a few months ago we drove up for a family vacation with our two kids to spend five days in Quebec City before stopping for another couple of days in Montreal on our way back home. We visited at the very beginning of Quebec’s shoulder season — the time period between high travel season and low travel season— so we were able to score great deals on vacation rental homes and still enjoy some warm—weather activities and attractions. Now after two separate visits, we’ve concluded that there’s plenty to see and do no matter when you make the trek, particularly in Quebec.
Just a short drive from Quebec City, on the Montmorency River, you’ll find Montmorency Falls nestled in a beautiful park with vast views. Montmorency Falls rises 30 meters higher than the more famous Niagara Falls, and it is an absolute must-see. Visitors can either arrive at the Interpretation Centre and for a few dollars, ride the cable car up to the suspension bridge to view the falls and then return via the cable car. Or more active types can arrive on the opposite side of the park and walk the 487 steps right down to the bottom of the falls. They can either walk across to the cable car for a quick ride to the suspension bridge or go back up the steps and walk around the back of the falls to the bridge. It’s an awesome workout! Throughout the grounds, there are several historic sights as well as a number of playgrounds and a restaurant.
Visit a sugar shack.
Did you know that most of the world’s pure maple syrup is produced in Canada? Neither did I until I visited Erabliere le Chemin du Roy. A sugar shack is where maple syrup is traditionally produced in Canada and parts of the Northeastern United States, and it’s pretty much what it sounds like — a typically wooden shack or barn-like structure where sap is boiled down and turned into the good stuff. Maple syrup production plays a big role in traditional Quebecois culture and in many places, it is still produced the old-fashioned way.
Many sugar shacks invite visitors to come and learn about the process and sample the product along with some traditional Quebecois cuisine. However, since the sugaring season is a relatively short period during the spring, many sugar shacks are not open year-round. Erabliere le Chemin du Roy is and while you won’t get to see the actual production during a visit in the off-season, it’s still an incredibly cool experience. The shack is literally in the middle of the woods not far from Montmorency Falls. Your visit will begin with an explanation of how maple syrup is produced before you tour the actual sugar shack and learn about all of the equipment and processing methods and then head to a large family-style dining area, where you’ll enjoy an all-you-can-eat feast of traditional Quebecois cuisine along with live music.
Musee National des Beaux Arts du Quebec
Just a short walk from the Plains of Abraham — the site of a historic battle during the Seven Year’s War— you’ll stumble upon Musee National des Beaux-Arts du Quebec. The massive museum features a wide variety of exhibits that span many decades of both Canadian, Quebecois and International works, as well as a family gallery featuring interactive exhibits for children. It houses everything from ancient artifacts to exhibits on modern design, and everything in between. The grounds are vast and lovely, spotted with a number of captivating sculptures and surrounded by walking trails. If you’re traveling with kids be sure to check out the adjacent playground.
Le Quartier Petit Champlain
Yes, it’s touristy and may possibly be the most crowded area you’ll visit in Quebec City, but Le Quartier Petit Champlain is unendingly charming and absolutely a must-see. You can reach this compact, shopping-centric neighborhood via a funicular from Upper Town near the famous Chateau Frontenac for a few dollars. It’s an experience, but the ride is less than a minute, and you’ll see more and pay nothing if you take what is known as Breakneck Steps from Terrasse Dufferin in Upper Town straight down to the heart Petit Champlain where you’ll find loads of both upscale designer shops, small boutiques, art galleries, shops selling indigenous handicrafts and a trove of fantastic restaurants with some of the most amazing food and drinks in the city. Oh, and there are plenty of Insta-worthy photos opps too.
Montreal’s Mile End
Montreal— Quebec’s more modern and metropolitan city— is just a couple of hours south of Quebec City, but has an entirely different vibe. It is young and hip, and no area exemplifies that more than Mile End. Mile End is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Montreal— a characteristic that is well-represented in its restaurants, shops, and public spaces. If you are into art, culture, and coffee, Mile End is a must, but it’s also an area steeped in industrial history that will give visitors an interesting insight into the development of one of Canada’s most well-known cities. Visit an art gallery, shop handmade goods, get a fantastic craft beer and most importantly, find a spot to people watch.
The first time I visited Montreal, the Old Port was one of my favorite spots. It offered a bit of quiet, lovely views and an optimal spot to sit and take a load off after walking the cobblestone streets of Old Town for a couple of hours. That was nearly eight years ago, and a lot has changed. The port has been thoroughly and neatly rehabbed, complete with all manner of activities and attractions for both tourists and locals to enjoy. There’s a giant ferris wheel with views of the entire city, a man-made beach with pedal boats for rent during the warm months, a zipline, an ice skating rink in the winter, an indoor science center, lots of eateries and seemingly countless other diversions suitable for whatever season you’re visiting in. It is fun! And there are still places to sneak off for a quiet moment.
The region of Quebec grows and produce some absolutely unique foods and beverages that are often not exported beyond the Canadian border, and there is no better way to find and experience them than by visiting a local food market. At Le Marche du Vieux-Port in Quebec City, we found traditional Quebecois charcuterie, artisanal breads and cheeses, incredible late-summer wild blueberries, local ice wine and lots of other delicious goodies. At the markets counter-service eatery La Cuisine du Marche, we had one of the most delicious breakfasts thanks to the awe-inspiring housemade bread and butter. In Montreal, visitors and locals alike flock to Jean Talon Market, which is one of the largest open-air markets in all of North America. Being in a more diverse city, the market offers a huge array of local and ethnic specialties representing the city’s immigrant communities, loads of fresh, seasonal produce and often hosts cooking demonstrations and workshops. Neither should be most, even on a quick visit.