Quebec is the largest province in Canada, second only to Ontario. The provincial capital of Quebec is Quebec City, the province’s largest city is Montreal, the second-largest city in Canada.
Quebec is situated east of Ontario; to the west of Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island; to the south of the territory of Nunavut, and borders the United States in the south.
While surrounded by English-speaking lands, Quebec is one of the few parts of North America with a preserved French heritage and language. French is the first language of a majority of Quebecois and the sole official language of the province, making it the only Canadian province that is officially monolingual in French.
While nearly all of the inhabitants live in southern Quebec, on the plains along the St Lawrence River, the majority of the province consists of sub-arctic forests, where most of the inhabitants belong to the First Nations or Inuit.
Biggest Cities in Quebec
The three largest cities in Quebec are Montréal, Québec City, and Gatineau.
- Quebec City – the capital city of Quebec and cultural center
- Gaspe – a small city on the ruggedly beautiful Atlantic peninsula of the same name
- Gatineau – all the advantages of a big city without the inconvenience. Just outside Ottawa
- Magog – a popular vacation town on Memphrémagog Lake, a base for exploring the Eastern Townships
- Montreal – Quebec’s largest city, cultural and financial center
- Mont-Tremblant – skiing, camping, and hiking at this mountain resort town
- Saguenay – the gateway to the North. From here, head west to gather blueberries around Lac St. Jean or east to see the whales from Tadoussac
- Sherbrooke – the largest city in the Eastern Townships
- Trois-Rivières – located halfway between Montréal and Quebec City on the St. Lawrence River
Things To Do In Quebec
Quebec offers many activities including outdoor recreation, cultural and natural sites, festivals and sports events.
Explore Quebec City
Frontenac Castle turned Hotel
Quebec City is the soul of the province. Its Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of only two cities in North America with its original city walls. Its narrow streets evoke the old cities of Europe, and are filled with history and romance.
Montreal, by contrast, is the province’s exciting, energetic metropolis, with lovely street life, great restaurants, festivals and parties year-round.
Must Visit Gardens
Jardins de Metis
Quebec has several important gardens that are worth visiting. The must-visits are:
- Montreal Botanical Garden – a large botanical garden comprising 75 hectares of thematic gardens and greenhouses
- Montreal Insectarium – the largest insect museum in North America featuring a large quantity of insects from all around the world
- Jardins de Metis (Reford Gardens), Grand-Métis – an internationally renowned centre for garden art and design between Rimouski and Matane
Hummingbird sphinx moth at the Insectarium
Quebec has over 400 museums that explore the history of North America’s largest francophone community, and of the other peoples who inhabit the province. The two most visited are:
- Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, Quebec City – has a great collection, primarily of art by Quebecers from the 1600s to contemporary art
- Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal – also has an extensive collection
Quebec used to be a deeply religious place, and this is reflected in its built heritage and the many cathedrals and parish churches found in the province’s cities and towns. The tree most visited are:
- St. Joseph’s Oratory, Montreal
- Basilique Notre-Dame de Quebec, Quebec City
- Basilique Notre-Dame de Montreal, Old Montreal
Basilique Notre-Dame, Old Montreal
Quebec offers a variety of cruises, whether for whale watching, traveling the St. Lawrence River or touring the waterways. Good points from which to see whales include Tadoussac, Rivière-du-Loup, and Rimouski near the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Big Wheel Old Port Montreal
Its theme parks include La Ronde, the Old Port of Montreal and of Quebec City, the Village Québécois d’Antan (a Drummondville pioneer village living museum), Granby Zoo.
Val Jalbert Ghost Town
Photo by Audreyannbrousseau CCBYSA3.0
Val Jalbert is a ghost town in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region of Quebec, Canada. The village was founded in 1901 and soon saw success in the pulp mill created by Damase Jalbert at the base of the Ouiatchouan Falls.
However, the success was fleeting as the abrupt closure of the mill in 1927 led the desertion of the entire village.
It became a park in 1960. With over 70 original abandoned buildings, Val-Jalbert has been described as the best-preserved ghost town in Canada.
The Great Outdoors
There are of outdoor activities in Quebec that can be enjoyed in all seasons summer such as hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, snowmobiling, dogsledding, and ATV riding over an extensive network of trails that covers almost the entire province.
Skiing is big in Quebec. Much of Quebec is mountainous; popular ski areas include the Laurentian Mountains north of Montréal and sites near Magog in the Eastern Townships.
Montmorency Falls is a beautiful natural waterfall east of Quebec City. It is taller than Niagara Falls. Further east at the time of the Gaspé Peninsula, Percé Rock is a remarkable natural formation.
It’s definitely a worthy visit
Quebec has 5 national parks operated by the federal government, and 26 provincial parks run by a Quebec government, which are also called “national parks”. These are:
Federal National parks in Quebec
- Forillon National Park
- La Mauricie National Park
- Lake Walker National Park – a proposed national park
- Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve
- Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park
Provincial National Parks in Quebec
- Aiguebelle National Park
- Anticosti National Park
- Bic National Park
- Frontenac National Park
- Gaspésie National Park
- Grands-Jardins National Park
- Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie National Park
- Île-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé National Park
- Îles-de-Boucherville National Park
- Jacques-Cartier National Park
- Kuururjuaq National Park
- Lac-Témiscouata National Park
- Miguasha National Park
- Mont-Mégantic National Park
- Mont-Orford National Park
- Mont-Saint-Bruno National Park
- Mont-Tremblant National Park
- Monts-Valin National Park
- Oka National Park
- Pingualuit National Park
- Plaisance National Park
- Pointe-Taillon National Park
- Saguenay Fjord National Park
- Tursujuq National Park
- Ulittaniujalik National Park
- Yamaska National Park
Quebec has more land area than any other Canadian province, but fewer people than Ontario, and much of the population is concentrated in a corridor which follows the St. Lawrence River through Montreal and Quebec City.
This leaves large areas relatively untouched and therefore great for nature lovers who prefer quiet and solitude.
Wildlife observation is possible in many of the untouched regions of the province, some of which extend right to the Atlantic Ocean.
It is also a great place for cycling. The Route Verte network spans 5,300 km through 382 communities. In some regions, the paths of former railway lines have been transformed into cycle or nature trails.
Festivals and Cultural Events
Quebecers are known for their festive spirit and taste for celebration. This explains the close to 400 festivals held each year in Quebec. Québec’s events are varied, from sports to cultural events and festivals, and attract visitors from around the world.
Montréal International Jazz Festival
With over 500 concerts, 350 of them presented free outdoors, the Montreal International Jazz Festival features the top Canadian and international ambassadors of jazz (end of June to beginning of July).
Just For Laughs Festival
Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival is the largest comedy festival in the world and attracts over 2 million spectators each year for comedy in English and French (July).
Francofolies de Montréal
The largest Francophone music festival, the Francofolies de Montréal, features over 1,000 artists, singing stars, musicians and emerging talent from some 20 countries around the world (end of July to beginning of August).
Just For Laughs Festival, Montreal
Les Concerts Loto-Québec de l’OSM dans les Parcs. These three concerts by the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal (OSM) are presented in Montreal parks in a family atmosphere (June and July).
L’International des Feux Loto-Québec
The International des Feux Loto-Québec presented at La Ronde draws the largest pyrotechnics companies from around the world. Each show lasts 30 minutes, and the fireworks competition is the most prestigious and largest in the world (every Wednesday and Saturday evening from the end of June to the end of July).
International Flora/Le festival de jardins de Montréal
The International Flora lets you visit the loveliest gardens on the festival site itself (end of June to beginning of September).
Festival international Nuits d’Afrique
The international-calibre Festival Nuits d’Afrique features music from Africa, the West Indies and the Caribbean, along with workshops, an African market and exotic cuisine (month of July).
Québec City Summer Festival
For 40 years, the Quebec City Summer Festival has been presenting hundreds of artists from around the world on ten sites around the capital, all easily accessible on foot (beginning of July).
Loto-Québec International Fireworks Competition
This international musical fireworks competition takes place at the Montmorency Falls (end of July to beginning of August).
Plein Art Québec
Over 100 craftspeople gather at the Plein Art Québec festival to exhibit Quebec arts and craft creations in ceramics, textile and jewellery (beginning of August).
SAQ New France Festival
A celebration of the history of the first Europeans to arrive in North America, the New France Festival presents over 1,000 artistic events every year in a journey back to the past in the heart of Old Quebec (beginning of August).
Quebec City International Festival of Military Bands
Since 1998, the Quebec City International Festival of Military Bands is the place to go at the end of August for military music. Bands from Canada and also from all around the world arrive in Quebec City every year to offer spectacular performances.
Quebec City Winter Carnival
This is the biggest winter carnival in the world. The festival typically starts on the last Friday of January or the first Friday of February and it continues for 17 days, usually with close to one million participants every year.
Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival
One of the most popular events in Eastern Canada, the Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival features hot air balloons and shows (beginning of September).
Casino du Lac-Leamy Sound of Light
The Casino du Lac-Leamy Sound of Light is a competition that crowns the champion of the international circuit of musical fireworks competitions over water (end of July to beginning of August).
A wine festival in Magog, early fall. While Quebec’s wine industry is smaller in scale than Niagara’s, a fair amount of wine is made locally in Quebec’s Eastern Townships (“Estrie”).
A large, elaborate church east of Quebec City, near Montmorency Falls and the pastoral Île d’Orléans.
To truly get a feel for the “authentic” Quebec, take one or several of the tourist routes that run alongside the St. Lawrence or criss-cross the countryside not far from the major axial highways.
Clearly indicated by a series of blue signs, these routes are designed to showcase the cultural and natural treasures of their respective regions.
Quebec’s cuisine derives its rich flavor from a blend of influences. It has a solid French culinary base and is enriched by the contribution of the Amerindian peoples and the different cultural communities that have made the province their home. This blend of culinary cultures is what makes Quebec cuisine what it is today.
Many quality regional products are also used in its cuisine. Terroir products that grace Quebec tables include ice cider, micro-brewed beer, wine and over 100 different varieties of cheese.
Maple syrup sap collection
Maple syrup is the sticky, drippy giant on Quebec’s culinary landscape. Boiled down from sap of the maple tree in sugar shacks (cabanes à sucre) around the province, it’s got a more tangy flavor than the corn-based pancake syrup you may be used to.
It’s also made into loose sugar and candies. Different types of candies are obtained by pushing the boiling process further and are popular gifts during springtime.
Maple Syrup is on sale practically anywhere you want to go, but if you really want to take some home, stop into a farmer’s market or a grocery store rather than a tourist shop. You can get the same high-quality syrup as at the souvenir stand for about half the price.
In Quebec City, the syrup is used for more than just pancakes. You can find it as a glaze for pork and beef, mixed in with baked beans, or in desserts like Pouding Chômeur (“unemployed person’s cake”) or Tarte au Sucre (sugar pie).
Also don’t miss taffy-on-the-snow
No visit to Quebec is complete without at least one plate of poutine. This unique dish is a plate of French fries, drowned in gravy, and topped with chewy white cheddar cheese curds. There are variations on the theme—adding chicken, beef, vegetables or sausage, or replacing the gravy with tomato meat sauce (poutine italienne).
Poutine can be found in practically any fast-food chain restaurant in Quebec, but higher-quality fare can be found at more specialized poutine shops. Local restaurant chains are your best bet. One great spot for trying out poutine is Chez Ashton (a chain in the Quebec City area), where, in January only, you will get a discount based on the outdoor temperature (the colder it is outside, the cheaper the poutine!)
The origin of poutine is still under debate, but it was first served in Drummondville in 1964, at the Roy Jucep restaurant owned by Mr. Roy. Since then, the surrounding areas have been trying to lay claim to its creation.
Rich, hot foods
Befitting the province’s sub-arctic climate, Québécois cuisine favors rich, hot foods with more calories than you want to know about.
Tourtière du Lac-Saint-Jean for instance is a deep-dish pie, typically from the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region, made of various meats (usually beef and pork, often including game, cut into small cubes) and diced potatoes, baked together in a flakey pastry shell.
Other Quebec culinary specialties include: shepherd’s pie, poutine, sugar pie, pouding chômeur (a sponge cake with a maple syrup sauce), maple syrup, baked beans, tourtière (a meat pie), and cretons (a pork spread with onions and spices).
Another unique feature of Quebec is the sugar shack (cabane à sucre), a family culinary tradition of eating maple products to the rhythms of Quebec folklore. You can go as a group at the beginning of spring, during March and April. Most sugar bushes also sell maple products on site (maple butter, taffy, and syrup) at very attractive prices.
Note: The legal drinking age in Quebec is 18 – the lowest in Canada.
Quebecers’ favorite alcohol is beer given the high taxes on wine. Quebec is blessed with some of the finest beers on the North American continent. As in the rest of Canada, they are higher-proof than in the US; alcohol content starts around 5-6% but 8-12% is not unusual.
The province boasts several very good microbreweries. Here is a list of the best brewpubs in Québec by region.
- In Montreal, there is Dieu du Ciel!, L’Amère à Boire, Le Cheval Blanc, and Brutopia
- In Quebec City, there is La Barberie and L’Inox
- In Bromont, there is Le Broumont, near the foot of the ski hill
- In Sherbrooke, there is Mare au Diable
- In Mauricie region, there is Le Trou du Diable (Shawinigan) and Gambrinus (Trois-Rivières)
- In Charlevoix region, there is Charlevoix microbrewery in Baie St-Paul
In the country, good quality wine and liquor can be found at the grocery store. The sale of alcohol is prohibited after 23:00 at convenience stores and supermarkets, and may not be sold to anyone under the age of 18.
Bars are open until 03:00 (except in Gatineau where they close at 02:00 to avoid an influx of partiers when the bars close in Ottawa).
Beer and a so-so selection of wine are available at most grocery stores and depanneurs (corner markets), but by law distilled spirits are only available at provincial stores called the SAQ (pronounced “ess-ay-cue” or “sack”).
It is considered respectful to refer to the French-speaking Quebec citizens as Quebecer and not French-Canadian. Most francophone citizens of Quebec, even those who are not separatists still feel more Québécois than Canadian, but at the same time Québec is not France so many prefer to identify as “francophone” (French speaker) instead of “French citizens”.
However, Anglophones (English speakers) will take no offense to being called Canadians, and consider themselves to be both. Being a proud francophone Québécois does not always mean wanting Quebec to separate, nor does it mean disliking the Anglophones.
Generally, expressing yourself in French is considered by Quebecers as a sign of respect and is much appreciated. People working in the tourism industry often speak several languages.
Many people in Montreal and Gatineau are perfectly bilingual and will speak in English if they see you struggling, and elsewhere most young people can speak at least basic English.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a French lesson; most locals will be happy to teach you a couple of words.
Quebec’s language is key to the province’s cultural identity, and its inhabitants battled for several centuries to preserve it against the odds.
Note: In Quebec, Parisian French is associated with a foreign accent. Quebecers view it as an insult to be told they speak Franglais (French mixed with English), Joual (a local backwater slang dialect), or some other language which is not “comprehensible” French, “proper French”, or “bon français”.
However, speakers of Quebecois French are far more likely to understand European French terms than vice versa.
There is a substantial English-speaking minority (about 8% of Quebec’s population) concentrated mostly in Montreal’s western suburbs or in border communities. So, if you say something in broken French and get a response in flawless English (as a first language), you might be speaking to a fellow Anglophone… at that point, stay in English or you will feel rather silly.
Unless you are in a place of worship, you should avoid wearing religious clothing (e.g. hijabs, kippahs, crucifixes, etc.) in public so you do not offend local sensibilities. It is also considered impolite to discuss religion with people you do not know well.
The issue of sovereignty is an extremely complicated and emotional issue, on which Québécois are almost evenly divided. Quebec francophone media give equal coverage to both sides, something which would be unthinkable in another province or in media serving linguistic minorities.
Although Quebec is part of Canada, you’ll see few maple leaf flags outside Montreal, and the Quebec media outlets don’t emphasize connections with the ROC (“Rest of Canada”). Some Quebecers consider the display of the Canadian flag to be an inflammatory symbol of Canadian “dominance”; others see displays of the Quebec flag as overzealous ethnic nationalism.
Even those who aren’t souverainistes speak of Quebec as a nation with national parks, national assembly and national capital which can be confusing as both levels of government use terms like parc national or région de la capitale nationale with different meaning.
Phrases like “here in Canada” or “as a Canadian” may make your conversational partner ill at ease. Depending on the region, very few people will celebrate Canada Day (July 1) but Quebec’s National Day (la Saint-Jean Baptiste on June 24) is probably the most important party throughout the province. (Ottawa-Gatineau may be an exception, as the “Outaouais” portion of the federal capital region celebrates both days.)
In fact, the holiday of the first of July is traditionally used by most Quebecers for moving to their new apartment or house.
Quebec is not France
Calling Quebecers “French” or “French fries”, or jokes with French stereotypes (impoliteness, poor hygiene, eating frogs’ legs, and especially “surrendering”) will bring puzzled stares, or at best show that you have no idea which continent you’re on.
It is as illogical as applying British stereotypes to Americans just because of the historical and linguistic ties. Comparing Québécois culture and language unfavorably to France’s is best avoided.
Best Time to Visit
There are four distinct seasons in Quebec, offering a wonderful view of the nature and variety of activities.
Summers in Quebec are hot but the season offers many festivals and outdoor activities. Usually between June to September.
The leaves change color in Quebec, creating breathtakingly colorful landscapes. Usually between September to end of October.
Quebec’s extremely low temperatures and abundance of snowfall makes skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing, snowmobiling and dogsledding possible. Usually between November to end of March.
In December, Quebec’s vast outdoors turns into a snow-covered white dreamland. March and April mark the maple syrup festivities in the sugar shacks, as the maple trees awaken from the winter cold and prepare for the forthcoming springtime.
While April may still be relatively cold at times and another large snowfall can occur, April feels like winter is at, long last, over. Usually between April and May.
As May approaches, nature awakens, trees start to bloom and the air warms, welcoming everybody to a magnificent, colorful outdoor scenery.
Québec has a vast road and air network that makes it easy to travel between cities.
The main way to travel between cities is by bus. The bus network is very well developed, particularly for connections between Quebec City-Montreal, Ottawa-Montreal and Toronto-Montreal. Buying tickets and making seat reservations is a good idea, particularly for Friday evening or holiday travel, but same-day ticket purchase is also possible.
Renting a car and driving around Canada poses no particular problem, even in the cities. However, it is best to arrange the rental from where you are coming. Read the rental contract carefully, particularly the section on insurance. Often, you can rent a car in one city and return it in another without prohibitive costs.
Quebec has a good network of (mostly) toll-free highways connecting all the main cities and surrounding areas. There are a couple of toll bridges (Autoroute 25 northbound from Montreal to Laval, and the Autoroute 30 bypass to cross the St. Lawrence River west of Montreal).
A note for European tourists: in Quebec, the highway speed limit is 100 km/h. (It was once generally tolerated up to 120 km/h when passing a radar, but the province is increasingly using photo radar.)
The Quebec highway code is similar to that practiced in most of Europe. A couple of differences are that traffic lights are often located across the intersection, not at the side, and you are not allowed to turn right on a red light on the Island of Montreal or where otherwise indicated.
At stop signs, every one advances in turn, based on the order in which the cars arrived at the stop sign. Roundabouts are very rare. Occasionally, tickets are issued for bizarre offenses like “backing up without assistance” which do not exist in other provinces.
“La route verte” comprises 3,600 km of bikeways linking the various regions of Quebec. Parts of the route are on the Trans Canada Trail that crosses Canada from coast to coast to coast. One can visit several regions by bicycle and find local accommodations near the bike paths.
Quebec’s winding, scenic secondary roads are ideal for a motorcycle ride. However, in southern Quebec, the best season for traveling by motorcycle is limited to between May and October. In remote areas, the nicest season is two months shorter than that, running from June to September.
In the last few years, taking to Quebec’s roads by motorcycle has become increasingly popular. The province boasts several motorcycle clubs, and visiting tourists can rent motorcycles.
Quebec’s motorcyclists share a special fraternity. If your motorcycle breaks down, you certainly won’t remain stranded on the roadside for long before another motorcyclist stops to help. So don’t be surprised to see other motorcyclists wave to you on the road or spontaneously engage in conversation at a rest stop.
Quebec is generally a safe place, with the exception of a few “bad” neighborhoods of Montreal and Quebec City. Visitors should use common sense when traveling, as they would anywhere else, and keep cars locked so that they do not fall prey to theft.
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