Montreal to Quebec City Road Trip | Explore Two of Canada's Magnificent Cities

Take an age-old road trip along the St. Lawrence river from Montreal to Quebec City, dining in delicious delis, sleeping in cozy chateaus and exploring two of the most prominent historical cities in Canada.

The drive from Montreal to Quebec City is only 270 kilometers or so – just over three hours. But this road trip includes hundreds of years of history, the beautiful scenery of the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, and innumerable opportunities to enjoy the unique culture and cuisine of one of the most fascinating regions in North America.

The province of Quebec is the heart of Canada’s francophone heritage. But while Montreal, Quebec City and the communities in between have language and culture in common, they are very different destinations. So a road trip along the north shore gives visitors dozens of opportunities for unique experiences. This is a trip to be savoured. If you are someone who is compelled to get there asap – let somebody else drive! Stop often, to visit craft boutiques and pastry shops. Stay in authentic Quebeçois hotels or inns, and drink in the unique culture.

Stop One on Your Montreal to Quebec City Road Trip: Festivals, Food and Celine Dion

Montreal is a cosmopolitan community, the second largest city in Canada. It’s jam-packed with thoroughly modern attractions, but has also preserved plenty of examples of the city’s history, which in terms of European settlement stretches back more than 400 years.

The city is home to a plethora of festivals. Music events abound, from Igloofest to “Heavy Montreal”, but one of the best known festivals here is Just for Laughs (aka, “Juste Pour Rire”), which runs for 20 days in mid-July.
As in any vibrant, big city, there are many more fine attractions and events than a reviewer can hope to recommend. A list of highlights must include the Notre-Dame Basilica (often rated the number one site in the city.) The present Notre Dame was completed in 1843, and was at the time the largest church in North America. This is where the funerals of luminaries have been held, from hockey star Rocket Richard to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau; it’s also the place where Celine Dion got married.

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People-Watching at Montreal’s Old Port, and Exquiste Schwartz’s Montreal Smoked Meat

But the first thing on your to-do list in Montreal, and in Quebec City as well, is to sit. Sit in outdoor cafes, have some wine, and watch people. Or drop into a deli, pick up Montreal bagels or have a Montreal smoked meat sandwich, and, yes, watch people. The most famous deli in the city for delectable sandwiches is Schwartz’s, on Saint-Laurent Boulevard.

The very best places for people-watching are the cafés on the streets in and around the Old Port – and there are also shops, boutiques, and historical sites galore.

The key to kicking your road trip up to the exceptional level is to deep-dive into the culture of Quebec, sampling the tastes, encountering the people. Everywhere you will go, there are historic sites, modern attractions, so enjoy them, but spend as much of of your time as possible immersing yourself in la vie Québec.

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Staying in Montreal: Tradition and Transformation at The Queen Elizabeth

There are so many good hotels in Montreal that visitors are spoiled for choice. They range through all the major brands – there are highly rated Loews,  Holiday Inns, Best Westerns, Marriotts, Hiltons and more. There are also fine boutique and historic hotels like the Hotel Nelligan, and Hotel Place D’Armes.

Fairmont’s The Queen Elizabeth was completely transformed in 2017, and is now a destination in its own right. It’s an ideal place to come home to, after a day of exploring the delights of Montreal. The Moment Spa offers, well, everything you might imagine, and lots you wouldn’t, like the Elixir Ice Cider Body Wrap, or the Labrador Tea Foaming Exfoliation.

Dine at the Queen Elizabeth’s Rosélys and try the roasted octopus for a starter, then if you can convince your companion to cooperate on the sharing menu, the roasted and confit duck du village with sweet potato gratin and Québec cranberries. You won’t regret it.

Later, check out the new Nacarat nightspot in the hotel; and for a less energetic but culturally pleasing experience, drop by the Artisans urban market.

Despite the hotel’s recent and extensive renovation, The Queen Elizabeth continues to celebrate its history, which includes John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s 1969 “Bed-in for Peace”, and you can actually stay in their suite. Singing is apparently optional, but who could resist? That’s all we are saying.

Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth

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On the road with Champlain and Leonard Cohen

Let’s assume you can tear yourself away from Montreal (never an easy task, but worth the effort), and head east on Highway 40. Your goal is to get to Quebec City, but there are dozens of little towns and villages along the way, each with a tempting pâtisserie or boulangerie, local pubs and restaurants, and artisan shops, which stock authentic woodcarvings made by local craftspersons.

And as you make your way through rural Quebec, remember that you are driving along the mighty St. Lawrence River, the maritime link from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. The St. Lawrence was the route taken by all of the explorers who came from Europe to Canada, including Samuel de Champlain and Jacques Cartier. It’s also the river mentioned in the iconic Leonard Cohen song, “Suzanne”. And in the spring, its banks are covered with migrating snow geese.

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Trois Rivieres: an ancient city that foodies love

Trois Rivieres is the only major city on the Highway 40 route from Montreal to Quebec City. It was founded by Champlain in 1634, as the second-oldest permanent settlement in New France.

The city’s name comes from its geography – it sits at the confluence of three rivers. This is the spot where the St. Lawrence becomes a tidal river, from here to the sea.

The city’s living heritage can be found in its Old Town streetscapes, and at its historic sites – like Our Lady of the Cape Shrine, and the Old Prison of Trois-Rivieres. There’s a Museum Pass that grants entry to 14 museums and galleries.

The city has become a foodie capital, with restaurants like the 5-star “Poivre Noir”, Le Buck – Pub Gastronomique, and Le Castel, with one of the finest wine cellars in the province.

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Staying and dining in Trois-Rivieres

Trois-Rivieres has a wide selection of hotels and inns, but travellers are wise to check ratings on the accommodation before booking. Two unique options are Les Studios du Huard – six studio apartments in an historic building that once housed the US Consulate (the St. Lawrence is steps away, although city centre is five kilometers distant); and Auberge de Lac Saint Pierre, a gorgeous modern inn in nearby Pointe-du-Lac, right on the St. Lawrence.

Auberge de Lac Saint Pierre is 15 minutes from the heart of Trois-Rivieres but offers so much that it might be difficult to tear yourself away! This is a multi-faceted treat, offering excellent accommodation and divine cuisine. The auberge includes 30 beautifully decorated rooms, including the unique mezzanine rooms with spiral staircases.

In the restaurant, Chef Alain Pénot offers the finest in local cuisine, matched with a superb wine list. You will struggle to choose between smoked sturgeon from Lac St. Pierre and Wapiti Carpaccio from Ste-Perpétue – and you haven’t even made it past the starters!

L'Auberge Du Lac St-Pierre

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9.2 Excellent (961 reviews)

Quebec City: Canada’s unique UNESCO World Heritage Site

Visitors fall in love with Quebec City with the full-blown passion of an all-in love affair. This city has everything, deep history, buoyant culture, fabulous cuisine, fascinating attractions and the unique honour of being the only remaining walled city in Canada or the United States, which resulted in the designation of The Historic District of Old Quebec as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

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Party with Bonhomme and the Pioneers of Old Quebec

There is no bad time of the year to visit Quebec, but there are some spectacular times. Carnaval de Québec (in mid-February) is an enthusiastic celebration of all things winter (including the Ice Hotel, and the iconic mascot Bonhomme). The New France Festival in mid-August celebrates the heritage of the city with parades, continuous concerts, gastronomic delights, costumes everywhere, and no excuse at all for not having a ton of fun.

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Must-Sees: Battlegrounds and a Basilica

You could spend a month in Quebec City and you would never run out of things to do. But there are some “musts” for those visiting for only a few days. Chief among them is Old Quebec, the historic heart of the city that is subdivided by the cliffs that were once scaled by English soldiers at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. Today, visitors have two options – the “breakneck stairs” (which really present no significant safety hazard) or the funicular. The Lower Town has great shops, some historic sites (including the lovely, 300-year-old Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, which overlooks Place Royale, the very spot where Québec City was founded in 1608).

The Upper Town highlights include many historic buildings (a guided tour is highly recommended; there are walking tours, double decker bus tours, and even horse-drawn caleche tours.) Must-sees include the Notre-Dame de Quebec Basilica, and the newly-excavated ruin of the homes of the earliest governors of Quebec, located under the boardwalk beside the Chateau Frontenac.

You will also want to visit the Plains of Abraham, the site of the famous battle that saw the death of both commanding officers – the English general Wolfe, and the French commander Montcalm.

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In Quebec City, you’re sleeping on historic ground

Choosing the right accommodations in Quebec City is not a challenge – except for the number of viable options! If you’re with a group of friends, there are plenty of places that offer multi-room suites, apartment-style accommodations, or bed and breakfast for groups. Families will find lots of hotels that cater to family groups.

But for lovers of history – or, in fact, lovers in general – one stands out: the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac, one of the few hotels in the world that actually has become the visual symbol of a city. The Frontenac story is so steeped in history that this is one of very few hotels that actually offers an historic walking tour of the Chateau ($15 per adult guest.)

The Chateau sits on the heights of the cliff above the Lower Town; the views are amazing, and the hotel itself, which celebrates its 126th year in 2019, wonderfully captures the sense of history, while offering thoroughly up to date services and amenities. The guest rooms are all well-appointed and uber-comfortable, but if you can book one of the turret rooms, you’ll make your stay extra-special.

After dinner, finish the night either at the elegant wine bar at the Chateau Frontenac, or for something more lively at Les Voutes de Napoleon, a bar with live music, crowded rooms, and super high energy.

Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac

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Sleep in a Historical Auberge Where Your Foodie Cravings Will Be More Than Satisfied

Another attractive option is to stay at one of the excellent boutique hotels that are in Old Quebec. For example, the Auberge Saint-Antoine is located in the heart of Quebec’s Old Port. It boasts the luxury that comes with being a Relais & Châteaux hotel, and is actually described as a “museum-hotel”, offering hands-on history: relics from both French and English colonial eras have been incorporated into the design of the Saint-Antoine.

At 94 rooms, it may be a bit of a stretch to call the Auberge a “boutique” accommodation, but you will definitely experience a “boutique” ambience because of the unique design, the riverside location, the 24-hour concierge service and the exquisite, locally-focused cuisine in not one but two fine restaurants – Chez Muffy and the more casual Artéfact. If you have to choose one, opt for Chez Muffy, where Executive Chef Julien Ouellet designs his seasonal menus focusing on ingredients from the hotel’s own farm, located on the nearby l’île d’Orléans.

Auberge Saint-Antoine

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9.8 Excellent (2303 reviews)