The Charming Old Towns of Montréal and Québec

After spending a couple of days wandering the streets and admiring the old architecture it was easy for us to see why visitors are drawn to the Old Towns of Montréal and Québec City. The streets are lined with lovely heritage buildings making both cities a must-see for lovers of architecture.

Old Montréal

Our Great Canadian Road Trip took us along the Trans-Canada Highway from Ottawa to Montréal. The city of Montréal is on an island at the confluence of Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers. At its core is the city’s historical district, Old Montréal (Vieux-Montréal).

Branching up from Old Port on the banks of St. Lawrence River, the cobblestone streets of Old Montréal make you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time. Lined with beautifully renovated 17th century heritage buildings the streets are arranged in an organized grid. Most of the building are now functioning as shops, restaurants and small hotels making this a vibrant area filled with plenty of locals and tourists. A few of the streets are designated as pedestrian-only which allowed us to pay more attention to the gorgeous architecture.

The Montreal Clock Tower is almost all that remains of the Old Port of Montréal. In its place is a multi-use centre including a Science Centre, walking paths, restaurants and the Montréal Yacht Club. From the walking path there is a great view of Montréal’s iconic Jacques Cartier Bridge.

Across from Old Port the buildings have a more stately feel and make Old Montréal feel very grand. The most impressive of these is Bonsecours Market. It is a majestic building with a large silver dome on its roof. It has been used as a public market for over 100 years. Beside it Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours has a statue of The Virgin as Star of the Sea on its roof. The statue faces the port and asks for safe voyages for all sailors.

Old Québec

In western Canada we call it Québec City, here they call it Québec. Located 250 km north-east of Montréal, Québec City is the capital of the province of Québec. Being one of the oldest cities in Canada it makes sense that their historic centre is the most charming. Old Québec (Vieux-Québec) is surrounded by the original fortification wall of the Citadel of Québec. This formidable stone wall is the first thing you see as you approach the heritage area. When you see it you know you’re in for a treat.

Enter through one of two old stone gates, St. Louis or St. John, and step back into the past. Once through the gate you’ll be mesmerized by the quaintness of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The cobblestone streets are lined with beautifully renovated 400 year old buildings. Many of the stone buildings have colourfully painted doors and window frames. Old Québec has a more quaint feel than Old Montréal. This is probably in part due to the seemingly unplanned nature of the streets that climb up and down the small hills in all directions. You could spend hours aimlessly wandering through the pretty streets of what is undoubtedly the most European city in Canada.

In the summer the sidewalks are filled with patios for all budgets and tastes. In the winter, the area is still busy with tourists for Québec’s Wnter Carnival (Carnaval).

As you make your way to the far end of Old Québec you’ll be in awe of Fairmont Chateau Frontenac as it stands like a castle along the St. Lawrence River. Built in the late 1800s, the hotel was one of the first of the grand railway hotels built by the CP Railway to entice travel across Canada. At its side is the busy Place d’Armes where buskers entertain tourists around the park’s statues and fountain.

Not to be outdone by the Chateau, there are other grand buildings in Old Québec. Two of them are government buidings; the Parliament Building and City Hall. These gorgeous heritage buildings are actively used by provinical and city governements today.

Tips for visiting Old Montréal and Old Québec

  • Both cities are very walkable and best enjoyed on foot. Park as close as you can, but plan to spend your days on foot.
  • The busiest times to visit both cities are July and August making spring and fall more pleasurable times. The winter festival Carnaval de Québec is held in January and February in Québec City and is also a busy time with many winter activities.
  • The primary language in Québec is French. All signs, including traffic signs, in the province are in French. Some signs have English as well, but not many. This mostly becomes problematic when driving. Make sure you know your route so you don’t have to depend on a quick translation. On this trip we found that most people do speak some English, especially those working in the tourism industry.
  • Another reason to know exactly where you’re going is because Google Maps may get confused. As we were entering Montréal we approached a complicated intersection with lanes going in multiple directions. Google’s voice actually said ‘I don’t know’!! Thankfully we had been paying attention to the street names and route numbers and were able to navigate ourselves to our destination.
  • Even though we only wrote about their historical centres there is a lot more to do in both cities beyond their Old Towns.
  • Remember that QST (Québec sales tax) is 9.975% and GST 5% will be added on to most purchases.

Coming Next – Quebec’s Picturesque Gaspé Peninsula

For more pictures from our travels around the world visit Gallery on monkeystale.ca

To read stories from other parts of the world visit Destinations.

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66 comments

    • You’d love them… in the off-season. The architecture is beautiful, and quite old for Canadian standards. But both are very busy with tourists, even during covid times.

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  • I had just stumbled across my old “Lonely Planet” guide to Quebec this weekend. Your photo-article was another lovely reminder about this part of Canada. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  • We have been to both these cities many times and love to return. The old port and the old town are well worth rambling through. Did you look at the Archaeological dig under the Dufferin Terrace? A lot of history there. And do not get me started on the food of these places. Thanks for the memories Maggie. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

  • That’s wild that Google Maps said I don’t know! I might have seen these places when I visited Montreal 20 odd years ago, but I don’t remember. I have to ask my Mum. Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It actually made us laugh, good thing we kind of knew where we were going! Thanksgiving was good but we’re renovating so we had a nice dinner Iin between the work. Hope you had a good Thanksgiving too, do you celebrate both US and Canada?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sometimes I would love to go back to the days before Google Maps. We decided to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving because it’s our first one. I don’t think we will do anything for American Thanksgiving. It’s a little too late by comparison, but I do send messages to family and friends

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  • It looks like you’ve had a wonderful time there! I feel the same about Quebec City being the most European city in whole Canada.
    So hilarious that Google map said “I don’t know”; we also had several issues this summer with google map, even yesterday, I added an address, and it directed us to a location across a nearby river LOL, not sure how reliable is anymore.

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    • I’m not sure if it’s getting less reliable or we had to use it so much on this summer road trip that we realized it’s inconsistencies. The other funny Google Map thing that I’ll show when we post Nfld is that it had our car in the middle if the Atlantic when we were on the ferry! Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • You are right, Old Quebec is charming and looks just like photos I’ve seen of Europe. The idea of getting lost while walking the streets is quite pleasant.

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  • I was supposed to go to Montreal (along with Ottawa and Toronto) in October 2020, but I had to cancel it because of the pandemic. In hindsight, maybe it’s good that I didn’t go last year because I didn’t include Quebec City in the itinerary. I surely would have missed a lot! Google saying ‘I don’t know’, who knew?! That’s really funny.

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    • If you come all this way you must visit Quebec City! And even better the Rocky Mountains in the west!! Maybe a little too far. We laughed at Google Maps, maybe we would have cursed if we were not already sure where we were going!

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  • Great photos of two great cities. We enjoyed our time in both many years ago. Since then, we’ve made friends (while traveling!) with a couple who lives near Quebec. They are always saying we should visit. I think we should! Would love to return.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Beautiful architecture and photos! So I’m assuming these are just the “Old” parts of the cities but there are newer more modern parts, too? They both look so European.

    Liked by 1 person

  • I’ve only ever visited Montreal and Quebec City in the winter so it’s nice to actually see what those cities look like without any snow. I love all the cobblestoned streets in the old parts of town. It feels very European.

    Liked by 1 person

  • hahaha gotta love Google! So cheeky! We actually asked our GPS for some place once and “she” said did you mean Chipotle??!! maybe that restaurant in the States?
    Anyways….I do love your photos of Quebec City! especially the one with the painted doors. I’ve been to Montreal, but never Quebec City and I’ve heard like you mentioned that it is more quaint and European-like than Montreal. Would love to take the time to enjoy more of Canada like you have done!

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    • It was quite funny and then ‘she’ was very silent for awhile. It was actually creepy, as if she was real and was embarrassed! You do need to visit Quebec City, the old Town is quite big and absolutely perfect. For you a road trip would really be coast to coast, we started in the Rockies so not quite. A road trip is actually a great way to see the changes in the landscapes and the buildings across the country.

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  • This is the first post I have read on the heritage areas of these French Canadian cities. I was not aware that such beautiful old buildings exists. The town hall and Fairmont Chateau are so imposing and awesome. Thanks for sharing this post and changing my perspective, Maggie.

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    • Thanks Arv, you’d love photographing these old buildings. Old Quebec is quite a large area with several blocks of these heritage homes. Montreal is smaller but still impressive. They are all beautifully restored too. Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m sure I will, Maggie. Someday, when I’m in that part of the world. 🙂
        Thanks once again for sharing these pictures. Have a great weekend ahead.

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  • Although I love living in Vancouver, I got a little nostalgic reading your post. I spent my first 17 years in Montreal and have great memories of beautiful Old Montreal and some lovely dinners in very atmospheric restaurants with my family. For me, Quebec City has always felt like a visit beyond Canada…old European charm but also quite distinct. It’s such a romanic place, particularly in winter. Beautiful photos. You’ve done these two places proud.

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    • Thanks Caroline! I had only been to Quebec City in winter, which was lovely but it was so nice in summer to be able to wander around slowly, not rushing to get inside. It did feel like we had traveled to another country. I’m glad we saw Old Montreal first. It is very nice, probably the second nicest Old Town in Canada. We really rushed through both cities only visiting their historic spots since we were aiming for the Maritmes.

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  • They look so European!! Though I supposed that’s not surprising given the era in which they were built. Really lovely photos and thank you for showing me some cities I’ve never been to before 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • There are plenty of old European buildings in Eastern Canada, mostly British and French, but these two cities have such large, well maintained Old Towns, they do feel like we’ve traveled through Europe. Thanks for reading Hannah! Maggie

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  • Wow, what an adventure! Road-tripping across Canada has to be one of the most fascinating trips ever. I’ve never been to the East coast of Canada, but very much intend to visit one day especially after reading your wonderful blog posts about Montreal. After all, it is one of Canada’s cultural centres with hundreds of years of history weaving their way through its neighbourhoods. Also – Latvians are obsessed with ice hockey, so it would be very exciting to visit a place where the development of modern ice hockey occurred. Thanks for sharing, and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

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  • Google said “I don’t know” … that’s so funny! Really beautiful cities – love the stone walls in Quebec! And those beautiful buildings – there’s almost a European feeling to it, but yet it’s unique in its own way!

    Liked by 1 person

  • These are some amazing photos! I’ve never been to Canada and know nothing about Quebec, other than about the traditional music (which is super cool). These photos from the city look fantastic. Some of the street photos look so much like a certain area in Göteborg! (Sweden)

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    • Thanks Susanne! Quebec city’s Old Town is a great area. There are many colonial era buildings in Canadian cities but Old Quebec is the best because it’s quite large, the buildings are in very good condition and it has a quaint feeling. Thanks for reading! Maggie

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