Planning a trip to Canada and debating Quebec City vs Montreal? I had the same dilemma when researching my trip. Luckily, I was able to visit both Montreal and Quebec City. I'll take you through what each destination has to offer and which might be best for you!
Now is a great time to visit Canada. Especially for Americans with the exchange rate being about 1 USD to 1.33 CAD. Friendly people, good food, incredible scenery, and nature escapes are just a few of the things that come to mind when I think of Canada. The earths second largest country has something to lure any type of traveler.
The province of Quebec is a great place to start exploring Canada. You have the major city of Montreal and right next door is charming Quebec City. If you’re short on time the question of Quebec City vs Montreal is sure to come up. Which to visit?
Both Quebec City and Montreal have much to offer to attract visitors from all over the world. I’ve been to both and will discuss which city is best depending on what type of traveler you are and what type of trip you are looking for. If you find yourself Googling Montreal or Quebec City…continue reading below so I can help steer you in the right direction.
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Why decide between Montreal or Quebec City if you can do both?
Before I go into my opinion on Quebec City vs. Montreal, let me first say that I adored both cities and can’t wait to revisit each. Both places exceeded my expectations and I would highly recommend that everyone visit each city at some point in their life. My first suggestion would be to try to fit both cities into one visit. It’s actually quite easy to include both cities on a short itinerary.
You can travel between Montreal and Quebec City in as little as 3.5 hours via train. On the shortest itinerary I would spend 2 full days in each city, fly into one city and out of the other. Simple, easy, and you get to experience the best of both worlds.
The short and sweet answer to Quebec City vs Montreal
Since you’re reading this post on Quebec City vs Montreal, I will assume you are either short on time or would like to explore one city to the fullest and not feel rushed, and therefore fitting both cities in your itinerary is not an option. If you want the quick answer on Montreal vs. Quebec City, I would say Quebec City should be your first pick. Save Montreal for you second trip to the Quebec province.
Quebec City vs Montreal - Who should pick Quebec City
Out of all the destinations in Canada, Quebec City seems to reign supreme on Instagram. And for good reason. This is one of Canada’s most charming, picture perfect, “I feel like I’m in Europe” cities. The most atmospheric and tourist sights are all easily walkable and if you don’t mind a 20 minute walk, you can actually get pretty much anywhere in the city by foot.
One of the most memorable activities in Quebec City is wandering down Rue de Petit Champlain. The narrow cobblestoned streets, windows adorned with brightly colored shutters and cheerful flower baskets, and adorable French bistros and cafes, will make you feel like you’ve traveled back in time to a cozy French town.
Just go early in the day and late at night because this is every other travelers’ favorite activity as well and the crowds show it. Now is also a good time to mention that cruise ships stop in Quebec City. This fills the streets to annoying levels in the afternoon, which is why you should get up early and explore the popular spots before the ships dock. I found 7:00am to 9:00am and after 7:00pm to be ideal to wander the Petit Champlain quarter.
Besides having a charming French village atmosphere, Quebec City also has some solid dining options. Fancy an afternoon tea in a royal atmosphere? Be sure to visit the famous Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. Whether you are in need of some solid pastries, a strong cappuccino or cold brew, authentic French cooking, or a hearty brunch, this city has some outstanding choices and enough to keep your palate intrigued for several days if not weeks.
Quebec City is also minutes away from a countryside escape. Rent a car and drive 15 minutes to the Ile d’Orleans, the agricultural island known as “the garden of Quebec” that supplies much of Quebec City’s produce. This island is mostly rural and filled with adorable boutiques, charming bed and breakfasts, and farms where you can taste jams, ciders, ice wine, and cassis gelato!
This is an incredibly easy Quebec City day trip and can be paired with a visit to Montmorency Falls, the waterfalls that beat Niagra Falls in height by about 100 feet.
Read all about my favorite day trip from Quebec City here.
Book some fun activities while you're exploring Montmorency Falls and Ile d'Orleans!
To sum it up, if you want charming streets to wander, endless Instagram photo opps, a city that is easily navigable by foot, solid restaurant options, and nature escapes right next door, then Quebec City is the right choice when debating between Montreal or Quebec City. This is also an easy place to slow down and have a relaxing vacation or romantic getaway.
Montreal vs Quebec City - Who should pick Montreal
Moving on to part two of Montreal vs Quebec City…Montreal. You may think I prefer Quebec City to Montreal by what you just read above, but that is actually not the case. I prefer Quebec City to Montreal for a first visit to the Quebec province. That does not mean I think Quebec City is better. If you’ve come this far you’ve read my complete opinion on why I lean towards Quebec City for a first-time visitor. If you weren’t sold by my description listing why Quebec City is the way to go when debating Montreal or Quebec City, then Montreal might actually be a better fit for you.
Montreal is a lively city…emphasis on city...but that doesn’t mean it lacks charm. In fact, Old Town, aka Old Montreal, will give you a real taste of old-world French charm. Cobblestoned streets, cute (but touristy) bistros, and heavenly views overlooking the water make this a charming city break a few minutes walk from bustling downtown. You’ll feel like you’re in a completely different place when you venture to this area.
Get a 180 contrast by visiting the downtown area complete with skyscrapers and trendy shops. Head to Mile-End or Mile-Ex to explore the hipster side of Montreal complete with colorful wall art and murals, indie shops, and countless coffee shops. Hop next door to Little Italy and visit the Jean Talon Market, North America’s largest and most colorful public market.
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Montreal is made of several very different and diverse neighborhoods. You could easily spend an entire weekend exploring the main ones. If exploring neighborhoods for days on end is your jam, then Montreal is your best bet when debating Montreal vs. Quebec City. Quebec City has a very similar feel throughout, where Montreal is a mesh of totally different neighborhoods offering very different vibes.
Another thing to keep in mind when debating Quebec City vs Montreal is the size and how you like to get around. Montreal is definitely bigger than Quebec City and will require either a few Uber or metro rides, or an excellent workout by using the cheap city bikes and riding all over the city. I visited in summer and didn’t use the metro once. Instead, I biked all over the city. I by no means bike often when at home, yet, I felt completely comfortable and safe exploring Montreal by two wheels. If you prefer a completely walkable city, then go for Quebec City.
Montreal is the better option when debating Quebec City vs Montreal if you like diversity. Not only in the architecture and people, but also in food. You can get excellent Spanish tapas, rustic Italian pizza and pasta, French croissants and macarons, Greek tzatziki and saganaki, and of course you can’t forget Canadian poutine. The vibrant and eclectic food scene is reason enough to visit this thriving metropolis.
You might not have a 272 foot waterfall on your doorstep like Quebec City, but there are still plenty of quick escapes from the concrete city. Hike up to Mt. Royal to see spectacular views of the city below and the Montreal skyline. Mont Royal is a popular retreat where locals and tourists walk, jog, and bike, filled with plenty of trees, steep hills, empty wooden stairways, and plenty of opportunities for a moment to yourself without a soul in sight. Montreal also has the St. Lawrence river which makes for a perfect riverside morning jog or evening stroll to walk off the dinner you enjoyed in Old Montreal.
I can’t discuss Quebec City vs Montreal without making note that Montreal is a festival city. There are almost too many festivals to keep track of and chances are there will be a festival when you visit. Jazz, beer, fireworks, the circus, murals, food trucks, the list goes on and on naming the varying themes. This is not only fun for tourists but also for the locals, so it’s a great way to mix with Montreal residents.
Summary of Quebec City vs Montreal
To sum up Montreal vs Quebec City…if you’re looking for a city that has more variety from the varying neighborhoods to International cuisine, Montreal will be a better fit for you. If you prefer a “real life city” vs. a tourist focused destination, Montreal should be your city of choice. Since Montreal is a major city there of course is going to be more to do, more restaurants to try, more shops, a livelier night scene, etc.
Quebec City could easily be a romantic getaway and offers more charm and more opportunity to relax and slow down. Montreal can keep you busy till all hours of the night, or morning, and offer plenty to keep even the quickest paced tourist happy. So, are you looking for charm or for big city liveliness? International variety or a quintessential French vibe. These questions will help answer which is your best option when debating Montreal vs Quebec City.
If you're still debating Quebec City or Montreal feel free to leave a comment below on what type of trip you want and I'll help you out!
Which ever city you choose, be sure to book some exciting tours and activities!
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Have you visited Canada? What are your thoughts on Quebec City vs Montreal?
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