While there is no shortage of interesting things to do in my artsy, historic hometown, visitors with a bit more time on their hands should consider going on day trips from Montreal in order to fully grasp and enjoy the beauty of the Québécois landscapes.
Whether you’re into outdoors, history, food or just curious to see what this vast province is all about, hop in that car and get out there.
1. Day trip to Quebec City
I would definitely recommend staying a few nights in Quebec City while you’re there, but going for just a day is technically doable. As the official capital of the province of Quebec and one of the oldest settlements in North America, Quebec City requires very little presentation.
In fact, I get a lot of emails about visitors planning a day trip to Quebec City from Montreal – but every time, my answer is the same: stay overnight. Not only are the train and bus schedules rather restrictive for day trips, but the city is just magical after nightfall and truly deserves a lot more than a rushed, quick-let’s-move-on-to-the-next-place few hours.
2. Spas near Montreal
If it’s R&R you’re after, Montreal is conveniently located near a handful of Nordic-inspired, nature-filled spas (including thermal and hydrotherapy circuits).
While most people tend to go in the summertime, why not do the brave thing and go in the winter? Very few visitors can claim to have experienced the Québécois winter… in a bathing suit!
3. Day trip to the Laurentides
Explore the rich woodlugging history of these forest and quaint Nouvelle-France villages, taking in the breathtaking views of the mountain range —one of the world’s oldest— as you drive. This part of Québec is particularly photogenic in the fall, from early October to early November. Forests turn to gold, orange and scarlet as days get shorter and shorter; a splendid show put on by Mother Nature than even locals can’t get enough of, year after year.
North America’s first ski lift was built in the Laurentians in 1931, and by the late 1930s “snow trains” had brought tens of thousands of Montreal skiers to the slopes. Ever since, the Laurentians have been Montreal’s four-season playground. The Quebec landscape ranges from rounded mountaintops to soft, rolling hills generously sprinkled with more than 9,000 freshwater lakes and a host of Swiss-like, small towns.
Jackie Middleton, National Geographic
While the region would deserve at least a few days, especially if you plan on throwing in a few lengthy hikes, it can be done in a single day from Montreal as a day trip. Make sure to stop in picture-perfect towns like Saint-Jovite, Saint-Sauveur and Saint-Adolphe-d’Howard, or take a scenic cruise on Lac des Sables.
4. Wine tour from Montreal
If you’re into wines at all or just keen to get out of the city to go on one of the most scenic Montreal day trips there is, this is it. Explore the quaint Eastern Townships area with its wineries, yes, but also historic English villages, verdoyant hilltops, and numerous lakes.
There are two guided tours available (having a driver could come in handy on this wine-fueled day trip) but if you insist on going at it alone, rent a car and go explore! Make sure to stop in Dunham to eat at the farm-to-table restaurant, shop at the farmer’s market for fine groceries and to drink at the local micro-brewery.
5. Day trips from Montreal: Sucrerie de la Montagne
Did you know that Quebec’s shacks produce over 80% of the world supply in maple syrup? You’re welcome.
The maple syrup production methods are actually quite simple — in fact, they remain basically unchanged since the colonial days. But the traditions of sugar shacks go far beyond maple syrup making. In reality, most of the fun comes from eating rather than learning and exploring. As the name suggests, sugar shacks are extremely bad for your sugar and cholesterol levels, but oh so good for your taste buds. A traditional menu usually consists of many typical Québécois dishes, like soufflé eggs, crispy fried pork rinds, country-style sausages, meatball stew, meat pie, sugar-cured country ham, wood-fire baked bread and sugar pie, to name a few. And of course, let’s not forget the fun part: maple taffy on a stick!
In other words, wear your eating pants because there’s no way you’ll leave the sugar shack with the same weight you came in.
Located in the midst of a 120-acre forest of century-old maples atop Mont Rigaud, the Sucrerie de la Montagne was opened by Pierre Faucher 33 years ago, a strong-willed man driven by a noble quest: showcasing the heritage of the province’s forebears and perpetuating Québec traditions with authenticity. The man has since become somewhat of an icon in the area, famous for both his jovial personality and his impressively dense beard, which is featured in many portraits throughout the shack.
6. Whale watching cruise
Now, this one is a bit of a stretch as you’re looking at a 10-hour car ride return but if whales are your thing, then you won’t want to miss seeing them upclose in Rivière-du-Loup. Embark on a whale watching cruise on the St. Lawrence River, in the heart of the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park where you’ll mingle with up to 13 different species, including six varieties of whales. With the explanations of a certified naturalist guide on board!
7. Day trip to Mont-Tremblant
Discover the stunning, lush coniferous forests of the Mont-Tremblant National Park and its colourful Alpine village. Just two hours north of Montreal, there are plenty of things to do up there for almost all types of people: luxury spas, light hikes, full-on treks, gourmet restaurants, and more!
If you prefer to travel to Mont-Tremblant independently, I would recommend hiring a car for the day.
8. Hikes near Montreal
If you’ve packed your hiking boots and you’re itching to make it worth your while, head to these locations nearby Montreal for a dose of fresh air. Note that few of them are accessible by public transport; hiring a car is recommended.
9. Day trip to Ottawa
Visit Canada’s capital on this short and sweet day trip from Montreal aboard the Empress of Ottawa, a historic triple-decker boat on the Ottawa River. Also included in the programme is Parliament Hill, of course, along with the famed Rideau Canal (as North America’s oldest continuously operated canal system, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Rideau Hall and a chance to visit the Canadian Museum of History and War Museum.
10. Écomuseum Zoo
Now, I’m not one to advocate for just about any zoo. This one really is different. Located on the western tip of the island of Montreal, it’s entirely dedicated to educating and preserving the local fauna and only welcomes animals that are either unable to return to the wild or that were been born in captivity. It’s home to 115 species, making it Canada’s largest number of fauna species from the St. Lawrence Valley, such as bears, porcupines, gray wolves, owls, foxes, and more.
11. Eastern Townships
While the French influence is strong in most parts of Quebec, the Eastern Townships have lost nothing of their English allure. With 100+ year-old anglican chapels and quaint villages, and a largely English-speaking population, this gem is easy to discover on a single or multi-day trip from Montreal. In the late 18th century, it was Americans, British Loyalists, and Irish and Scottish settlers that moved into the region and made it their home.
Nowadays, with nature at its doorstep (hikes! petting zoos! cider farms!) and plenty of charming accommodation (Victorian-era B&B’s!), this really is a special place to explore. A few of my favourite stops along the way: the villages of Dunham, Frelighsburg, Sutton; great restaurants like Chardo, Le Hatley, Parcelles; and natural wineries like Joy Hill, Les Pervenches, and Château de Cartes.
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