Between the vast wilderness, wild life, and cozy cities full of cobblestones and beautiful street art, what isn’t there to love about Canada? Although I can’t speak for the entire country, my road trips to Montreal, Quebec City, and Ottawa have all been full of natural beauty, crazy adventures, and wonderful life long memories. Although this isn’t a complete guide to all that you can do in the country, it’s still a good starting point if you’ve never been or are possibly looking for recommendations that are affordable on your next adventure.
In spring of 2013 I was sitting in the basement at a friend’s house, all of us casually talking about spring break and what we’d be doing. One of us jokingly brought up the idea of going to Canada on a road trip together- but as laughs turned into more serious considerations, it became clear that we’d be embarking on a week long trip to our neighbors up north! We decided on trekking up to Montreal for a few nights, followed by visiting Quebec City. Later that year, we would venture up north again for about a week before we went off to college- and in 2016, I took my girlfriend on a road trip with one of our destinations being Montreal! Here’s the breakdown of these trips:
Each trip to Canada varied in price- the first trips were split between four people, so hotels, food, and gas were much cheaper than the final time I went and it was just two. The first and second trip averaged about $100 a person for staying at the hotel for the week, followed by about $50 a person for gas. Including extra spending money, per person, the trip cost about $250–$300. In comparison, the last trip to Canada cost about $300 for just two days, split between two people! All of these times we also brought enough food to last us for snacks, breakfasts, and lunches- we did eat out a few times, but bringing food really helped reduce food costs tremendously.
Here’s a map of the general route we took to get to Canada on each trip- the driving time took about 6 hours from where we live to reach Montréal, and another 2 1/2 hours to reach Québec City. Driving to Ottawa from Montréal took about an hour and a half, if I remember correctly.
Driving up through upstate New York and Vermont was really beautiful- much of the highway weaves through mountains and hills lined with trees. During the spring/winter, most of the trees are bare and the sky is grey, but there is plenty of snow for scenery and gigantic icicles alongside the road. The drive in the summer was full of blue skies and more greenery, which made a bit of a difference in keeping everyone upbeat. On the third trip, we drove from Maine, but the trip still took a good 5-6 hours of driving. This time, we mostly drove through Canada after entering the country through a checkpoint in Maine. Driving through Canada this way was nice because it was something different- and for the most part, we were in rural cities driving along an endlessly straight patch of road that dove down hills and then back up them once more.
For both the first and second trip, we stayed at Le Nouveau Hotel and Spa in Montréal. The rooms are quite reasonably priced both times (hence us choosing them), and were very clean, some with ‘balconies’. There is parking underground (you have to pay for it on top of the hotel cost) and free wifi. What I can best describe as a ballroom is also located in the hotel, and you can sit down at the many tables there and order food and drinks- we often went here if we were hungry to order some alcohol and french fries. The location is great if you want to go shopping on the main strip, but it is also a walkable distance from Old Montréal (about a half an hour).
When I went with my girlfriend, we decided to stay at a Bed & Breakfast in a residential area of Montréal- Gingerbread Manor Bed & Breakfast. The rooms were cute, parking is available in a garage behind the house (I believe it was $10 a night), and the price was the cheapest in comparison to anywhere nearby at that time. It was also an LGBT+ friendly B&B (I believe run by a gay couple, too!) which could add incentive to some of you out there. The building was clean and owners friendly, each making really delicious breakfasts. The only negative was during our first breakfast, when one of the owners didn’t stop talking to us. He meant well, but flushed at least an hour and a half of our time down the toilet showing us his collection of saved commercials and music videos. I’m not saying don’t stay here, because everything was great- but it’s only fair to mention how we lost a lot of time this way. They were really nice people though and I recommend this bed and breakfast, or the above hotel.
First Stop in Montréal!
One of my favorite places to go in Montréal, is Vieux-Montréal- and more specifically, Saint-Paul Street. There’s something magical about the cute little walkways, shops, and being close to the water- especially at night. Plus nearly everyone I have run into there has been extremely friendly. There are plenty of souvenir shops and restaurants to choose from and from time to time there are cool street performers out and about! I’ve seem some contortionists and people juggling fire on Place Jacques Cartier, which connects to Saint-Paul Street. There are often caricature artists, plenty of benches and trees, and some more ice cream shops and restaurants to check out. Montréal Town Hall is alongside this street- plus a short way away is Place D’Armes, which is arguably my favorite place in Old Montréal to sit by. There are plenty of benches, pigeons (but Canadian pigeons!!), and artists singing and playing instruments. It’s a great space to unwind after walking around, and is beautiful both during the day and night.
My personal favorite place to eat here will always be Les 3 Brasseurs. Every time I have been to Montréal, this is always the go-to place for nights out. The food always comes out warm and tasting great, and all the waiters/waitresses I’ve had are friendly and helpful. They also painfully laugh at my horrible french accent- but who can blame me for trying after four years of learning the language? Jokes aside, I’ve always enjoyed going here for drinks and food, and really recommend you give it a try, because the prices are really affordable. There is often a decent wait due to the fact that it’s always pretty busy, so I would get a table and place an order before you’re really hungry, to avoid waiting as you starve to death. However, if you’re looking for high end dining, this is a pass. They make great daiquiris and hamburgers, though!
There was another restaurant we went to along Place Jaques Cartier, but I do not believe that restaurant is any longer in business. For what it’s worth, our experience with our waiter was pretty atrocious, so I know I’ve never looked for it on other visits- and I’ll leave my review at that.
More Scenic Locations
One of my favorite places to go apart from Vieux-Montréal is Mont Royal. Mont Royal is a free attraction (although they will charge you for parking) and is a really beautiful place to go any season, any time of the day. It is possible to walk here from the hotels I mentioned earlier (we did many times to avoid paying for a taxi) but it is a work out and you will be sore later if you aren’t in shape! There are plenty of spaces for parking, dozens of picnic tables scattered around the park, and I believe there is a little store that you can buy food and drinks from if you didn’t bring your own. From the parking lot near this tiny building, it is a short walk to the scenic overlook which gives you a great panoramic view of the city (the featured image for this article is the photo I took from Mont Royal).
There also seem to be various trails that lead you around the area, and there are always people jogging or riding bicycles along the pavement and stone pathways. I’ve never personally gone on any of the trails or walked along any of the pathways, mostly because we did enough walking to spare a couple bucks to get to Mont Royal, but I’ve always seen people walking into the woods and assume it must be a decent way to get some exercise and immerse yourself in nature.
Nearby Mont Royal is Saint Joseph’s Oratory. The dome shape of the building can be seen above the tree line in the park where Mont Royal is located, and is within walking distance if you didn’t drive. Since we were curious and thought it looked pretty interesting, we decided to walk along the roadside following the dome shape above the tree line until we found it! After walking through the building (and up the many many many flights of stairs) I think it’s worth going to and exploring, especially if you’re into architecture. We had no clue what this place was prior to arriving, but it’s pretty impressive and seems like a great activity to do if you have the extra time or are in the area.
Leaving the oratory brings you through some smaller streets in the city and allows you to feel like you are a part of the neighborhood- we passed some convenience stores and interesting sculptures as we walked along aimlessly. Getting lost in a city could be seen as an awful idea, but I think it’s a great way to explore and get you “feeling like a local.”
If you want to go shopping though, you’ve come to the right city. Downtown Montréal has a ton of various streets that are home to various stores, restaurants, and clubs. The main road that we walked along was Saint Catherine Street, which is home to plenty of boutiques and brand name shops. There are also plenty of shopping malls nearby- I fell in love the first time around at a store called Arsenic, which gave off a Zumiez vibe. Walking along the street reminds me of being in New York City- there are tons of people, tons of traffic, and dozens of stores. Towards the end of that street on my last trip, Jade and I stumbled upon a convenience store where we bought some large sodas and were able to relax on some chairs outside of a Starbucks- it was a great place beside the road and made for excellent people watching! Plus if you’re into it, there are plenty of strip clubs nearby- I know we passed dozens!
Closer to where Gingerbread Manor is, there are also some tiny side streets full of shops and places to eat- we passed by many hookah lounges, fast food restaurants, convenience stores, and bars. The area is more intimate, but I did not feel as safe walking through those streets at night as I did walking in Vieux-Montréal or downtown. This isn’t to say we were in an “unsafe” area, but many times walking along the streets in the early evening, or sometimes, late at night after dinner, left us feeling vulnerable since many of the streets were dark and there were few people or cars around.
One tip that is worth mentioning: Our host at Gingerbread Manor had mentioned that if people beg for money, it is not the same as other homeless people begging for money in other cities, such as in America. He mentioned that these people have the option to collect checks from the government and basically ‘prey’ on tourists to try and get some extra money. Figured that would be helpful to someone- we had run into a few of these people near the B&B so were glad to have the knowledge.
Overall, Montréal is a pretty awesome city to explore that features a variety of anything, and everything! If you’re into going to bars, fancy restaurants, architecture, shopping, or embracing nature, this city has it all! There are plenty of interesting places you can reach by foot or taxi, and it’s fairly easy to stretch your money to have a comfortable trip even with a tight budget. If you’re interested in reading part two to see what else we were able to do on a tight budget in Québec City and Ottawa, I’ll be posting it sometime this week! Hopefully it’ll help some adventurers out there 🙂