Visiting our Northern Neighbors: 4 Nights in Montreal & Quebec (& our Warm Welcome Home)

Visiting our Northern Neighbors: 4 Nights in Montreal & Quebec (& our Warm Welcome Home)

Welcome Home!

After returning to the good old USA at the end of April, we had a few weeks at home to see family and friends. Some of the highlights:

  • We were warmly welcomed at the airport in DC by my mom and at home by my dad. John’s mom and family friend Pat drove down from NJ to see us later that afternoon!
  • Our friends organized an awesome welcome home party on our first weekend back, with surprise visits by both of our brothers
  • We got to spend lots of time in NJ with John’s family and in MD with mine
  • We celebrated good friends Jenna & Matt’s wedding in Boston (where I got to be a bridesmaid!!) and more good friends Liz & Joey at their New York wedding
  • We went on a grandma tour, visiting the family matriarchs on Long Island

It was a whirlwind month of catching up but we were so glad to reconnect with the people we had missed for half a year!

With the Donovan fam celebrating Jenna & Matt! 
Looking fancy schmancy!
Remember when we went to Shanghai with Jenna and her dad, John? Well they snagged these glasses when we were at a rooftop bar and busted them out for the wedding. Hilarious and fun!
With my little nana!
Celebrating Joey & Liz!
John and his college pals got these muscle tees in honor of their buddy Joey, an avid worker outer.

On the Road Again!

After a few weeks of family and friend time, we were off again! We kicked off the North American road trip with four nights in Montreal and Quebec. I had previously been to Quebec for a high school French field trip, but this was John’s first time in Canada! Bring on the fun!

2 Nights in Montreal

First stop: Montreal. The drive from John’s family’s house in NJ took us about 8 hours. We queued up Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance in audiobook format and off we went to this steal of an Airbnb in the Plateau Mont Royal neighborhood.

The first order of business was dinner. We opted to try poutine, a local delicacy consisting of french fries smothered in cheese curds and gravy. Sounds strange but it was delicious. After dinner we went for a much needed walk through the park and around the neighborhood to get a taste of what Montreal had to offer. We were smitten at first sight. There are so many great shops and restaurants, lovely public parks, and picturesque streets. Listening to people speaking in French was a particular highlight for me, giving me some seriously fond memories of my years of studying French, including a fabulous summer abroad in Rennes (and also some sad feelings about how I’ve forgotten most of the French I learned).

After a lovely stroll, we returned to our apartment and watched the Montreal episode of Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain’s food/travel show, for some inspiration on activities for the rest of our stay. We made it our mission to spend the following day walking in his footsteps as much as possible.

The following morning we woke up and promptly registered for the bike share program. For $5 each, we could use the bikes all day. Rides under 30 minutes were free. Sweet! There are bike share locations ALL OVER Montreal, and we never found ourselves more than a 5 minute walk from a bike share location wherever we went. There are also lots of bike lanes and tons of other riders on the roads, giving this city a very cycle-friendly vibe. We were totally digging it.

John checking out some bikes for us.

With transportation plans secured, we were off on our self-guided Anthony Bourdain tour. First order of business: breakfast. We heard that Montreal is famous for bagels (who knew?) so we went to one of the oldest, best known bagel spots in town: St. Viateur. Bagels in Montreal are smaller and slightly sweeter than the American bagels we know and love, and they are baked instead of boiled. While it’s hard to beat a good New York bagel, these guys were undeniably tasty.

I forgot to take this breakfast selfie until I had eaten half the bagel. Oops!

From there, we were off for some sightseeing to break up the food activities of the day! We hiked up Mont Royal, a beautiful hill overlooking the city. It was a short but steep climb which ended in seemingly thousands of stairs leading to the top (OK, maybe just hundreds), but the views were absolutely worth it. Definitely a great way to sneak a bit of exercise into a day otherwise all about eating.

Posing in front of the Montreal skyline at the top of Mont Royal!
Panorama of the Montreal skyline.

Before too long it was time for lunch! Channeling our friend Anthony B again, we went to Schwartz’s for pit beef sandwiches. His recommendation was of course spot on, they were delicious. The vibes in the restaurant were fast-paced but friendly. Most tables had room for six and they were quickly filled with multiple groups at a time. It gave us the chance to chat a little bit with other lunch goers while sampling this Montreal staple.

Delicious smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz’s!

We continued the pattern of alternating eating and moving, so we hopped back on the bikes and rode to check out the Botanical Gardens. We were in Montreal at the PERFECT time of year to see tulips in bloom (make a note, go in mid-May). The flowers were beautiful!! We decided not to go into the gardens because we are cheap, but thankfully the huge tulip exhibit was located just outside the main the entrance, making it free for all visitors to enjoy.

Colorful tulips at the Botanical Gardens.
If this isn’t profile picture material, I don’t know what is.

Since we’d seen some more sights it was time for… food again! We went to the famous Jean Talon market where we scoped out fresh produce, homemade pastas, lots of meats and cheeses, and all sorts of beautiful flowers. Anthony Bourdain recommended we try some unpasteurized cheese so we did and it was so great we bought some. We also bought some wine, homemade ravioli, a loaf of baguette, some blue cheese, and a chorizo to take home and enjoy on the balcony. We were too excited about all of the things in the market to take any decent pictures, but here is John enjoying the loot back at our place.

Cheese/cheers! 

Montreal turned out to be a great place to spend a few days. I’ll admit, we didn’t really know what to expect but we were blown away. The city has cool vibes, great food, and beautiful outdoor spaces. Nearly everyone we encountered seemed to be bi-lingual, which is just amazing. The bike-friendly culture was the cherry on top. We can’t wait to come back to Montreal for a future weekend getaway.

2 Nights in Quebec

From Montreal, we drove the 3ish hours to Quebec and arrived in the late afternoon. The old town is adorable and we spent most of our time without an agenda, just trying to explore every nook and cranny of this super cute area. Here are some of our favorite shots from our afternoon photo safari:

Chateau Frontenac and some cute Quebec buildings.
More views of the Chateau Frontenac from the promenade.
Looking down on the streets of the old town.
Quaint old town shopping area.
We’re in Quebec!

We had a quick dinner but some rain deterred us from doing much after that so we called it a night early.

The following day, we ventured a bit out of the downtown area to check out Montmorency Falls. About a 15 minute drive from downtown, the Falls are a great day trip to see a little bit more of what Quebec has to offer. The waterfall itself was pretty big and there is a nice path that takes visitors over a bridge and around the area. There are LOTS of stairs involved, but that didn’t deter us from wandering around and getting some stunning views of the falls.

Standing on a bridge above the falls, looking down and out towards the river and Quebec city.
Beautiful view of Montmorency Falls.
Chasing waterfalls, despite some popular advice not to.

We returned to the old city in the afternoon and wandered along the city wall, something we had missed on our first afternoon. The weather was perfect and sunny and we enjoyed a walk around the town again.

On top of the old wall in Quebec.
Guard or tourist? Can’t tell.

Overall, we liked Quebec. We didn’t follow much of an itinerary and didn’t do a ton besides wander, but that was just fine with us. These few days gave us a taste back into our old traveling ways and were so excited to be exploring new places together again.

If we had to recommend one of these cities for a weekend trip, we agree it would be Montreal. While Quebec is definitely more picturesque and European-feeling, we thought Montreal was more vibrant, modern, and fun. Both would make a great getaway, but if you’re thinking about your next Canadian vacation, get to Montreal and you won’t regret it!

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