Quebec City vs Montreal: Which is the Better Destination?
Canada’s Quebec province is large, but as with most areas in Canada, the majority of the people and destinations to visit end up clustered in a few areas. In the case of Quebec, the two stand-out destinations are just 2.5 hours of driving apart from one another: Montreal and Quebec City. Both are the beating heart of French Canada, but they have vastly different vibes. So the question you may have is simple: which should you visit?
The answer depends entirely on what you want out of your trip. So, let’s compare the two!
Montreal vs Quebec City: Size
Montreal is the larger of the two cities by a lot. Plenty of people live in both, of course, but Montreal has a population of nearly two million, while Quebec City is only a bit over half a million. Montreal ends up feeling a lot denser and more urban than Quebec City as a result, though there are both design and social factors that contribute to this as well.
In practice, it means that Montreal is a larger city, and to see the sights, you’re going to be spending a lot more time traveling, whether it’s by taxi, Uber, public transit, driving yourself, or some other means of getting around. Quebec City, while also large, has a much greater concentration of landmarks and sights to see in smaller areas, so you spend less time traveling and more time experiencing.
Montreal vs Quebec City: Accommodations
There’s really not a lot to compare here. Both are large enough cities to have a wide range of accommodations, from top-tier hotels to budget hotels to motels to a wide array of AirBnB options to suit whatever needs you have.
Prices are generally similar, with higher prices closer to the major landmarks and sights and the city centers, but all of that is par for the course, pretty much no matter what large city you choose to visit.
Montreal vs Quebec City: Transportation
We already covered this a little in terms of the size and sprawl of the cities, but it’s also worth talking about getting to the cities.
If you’re flying in, Montreal is probably your destination. It’s the larger airport, and unless you’re on one of a few smaller flights, chances are it’s a lot easier to fly into Montreal, even if your eventual destination is Quebec City. Often, you might even end up landing in Montreal before swapping over to a short flight to Quebec City, even if you intend to land in Quebec City as your destination.
In terms of getting around the cities themselves, it’s surprisingly easy for both. Montreal is larger and more sprawling but has both a thriving bus system and a metro that can get you among the major areas. You can easily traverse pretty much all of Montreal on the metro without needing additional transportation. Quebec City doesn’t have a metro, but it does have buses. And, of course, both cities have Uber/Lyft and other taxi services to take if you need to jaunt a few blocks and can’t walk it.
Quebec City feels a lot more walkable, but realistically, you can get around using public transportation, the rare Uber, and your own two feet.
One thing to note is that there are both dedicated bus and train lines that travel between Montreal and Quebec City regularly. The bus is about three hours and costs about $25 for a one-way ticket, with buses leaving every hour. The trains are slower – between 3-4 hours on average – and costs start at $30, but they give you more time to admire the scenery as you pass by on the trip. And, of course, if you want to make the drive yourself, you’re free to rent a car and do so.
Montreal vs Quebec City: Language
The official language of Quebec is French, and that goes for both cities. Quebec is something of an outlier, both in their stodgy enforcement of French-first accommodations and infrastructure and in how much the actual French make fun of them for it. Truthfully, as much as they threaten that French is the must-use language, plenty of residents are bilingual in English, and there’s a decent chance you can get where you’re going and do what you want without even speaking a word of French.
That said, learning some French – and keeping a translation app on hand – can help a lot, particularly in Quebec City. You aren’t going to be left high and dry with no ability to communicate with anyone in either city, but French is a bit more common in Quebec City than in Montreal.
Montreal vs Quebec City: Heritage
One of the biggest differences between Montreal and Quebec City is the heritage, architecture, and history infused in the cities. Both are old, and both have old towns that serve as well-maintained tourist destinations, but Quebec City is very much the city to visit if you want that historic old French experience.
Montreal tends to be a more modern combination of European and North American, while Quebec City – particularly the Old Quebec area – is like stepping back in time. In fact, it’s intentionally kept that way. Old Quebec, the historic old town in Quebec City, is actually a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. That makes it a must-visit for anyone trying to see everything on the UNESCO list or anyone who just likes the history and age of a place like Quebec.
Montreal vs Quebec City: Culture
As befitting a larger city, and as you might predict, Montreal ends up much more of a melting pot than Quebec City. In general, the larger and better established a city is, the more diversity it acquires. Sure, there will be districts where you might as well be in France for how strongly it feels like historic French culture, but there are other areas that are distinctly Canadian, others with more pan-European vibes, others that might as well be a transplant from the USA, and so on. There’s also a sizable set of populations from the Arab nations, from South and Southeast Asia, and Latin America, all in Montreal, and you get those influences as well.
This is particularly noticeable when there are festivals, events, fairs, and other culturally-suffused happenings in Montreal. You can get pretty much any global flavor if you find the right place at the right time.
All of this is in contrast to Quebec City, which, especially around Old Quebec, is much more centered around historic European and particularly French culture. There’s a little less diversity, a little less impact of those minorities on the core European-Frenchness of the area, and so on. That’s not to say it’s not there; it’s just more subdued.
Montreal vs Quebec City: Nature
If you know us, you know you’re a lot more likely to find us camping in a national park than you are to find us at an urban nightclub. So, what about the nature, landscapes, and scenery of the two?
Montreal, unfortunately, is both geographically larger and more sprawling than Quebec City. There are scattered parks and green spaces throughout the city, but there are also entire stretches where there’s nothing but buildings. You can go down to the riverside or find some time in the greenery on some of the islands like St Helen’s Island or Charron Island, but it’s the exception, not the norm. You can travel some distance away from Montreal and visit places like the Ouareau Forest Regional Park or Parc National du Mont-Tremblant if you want.
Quebec City is smaller, so nature is always a little closer at hand. You’re still on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, but the views feel more spectacular from Quebec City. The Ile d’Orleans and many of the parks and green spaces around are still accessible, as well. Truthfully, there are beautiful nature reserves and parks within a couple of hours of driving from both locations, and neither one has a huge amount of it inside the city bounds.
Really, though, if a major city is your destination, you know what you’re in for. If you want to plan a trip to the Canadian wilderness, there are better places to start than Montreal or Quebec City.
Montreal vs Quebec City: Food
Food is one of those things that is difficult to evaluate objectively. Two people visiting can have very different experiences in the same city, just based on where they stayed, where they chose to eat, and what their dietary preferences are.
That said, Quebec City tends to be a little more on the traditional French side of the culinary spectrum. The aforementioned comparative lack of diversity and greater focus on history means you’re finding more traditional restaurants, cafes, and eateries centered around the French heritage of the area.
Conversely, Montreal has pretty much any kind of food you could imagine. You can go for traditional French and French-Canadian cuisine, or you can partake in whatever else strikes your fancy. You may need to do some travel across the city to do it, but the robust public transit system makes that easy.
Honestly, though, food is what you make of it. You can find something to suit your desires in either destination.
Montreal vs Quebec City: Cost
Overall, Montreal is generally going to be the more expensive city. Since it’s larger, a lot of the tourist attractions are more expensive, and more of them tend to have admission fees. A lot of the tourism you can do in Quebec City amounts to exploring the historic areas and admiring the art, architecture, and culture, which you don’t need to pay admission to do.
As with any adventure, more in your budget can open doors to greater experiences. There’s something for everyone in either place, but you might find more things out of your price range in Montreal than in Quebec City.
Montreal vs Quebec City: Things to Do
As with any city, there are all sorts of things to do in either location. There are museums aplenty, your usual slate of parks and landmarks, and all sorts of iconic restaurants and stores to visit.
Quebec City, as we’ve already mentioned, has the historic district of Old Quebec to visit. It’s probably their single biggest draw, though you can also visit Cutes du Montmorency, which is a waterfall to visit just outside of town. There’s also an ice hotel to visit in the winter, though with climate change impacting the area, you may need to get lucky with the weather.
Montreal, meanwhile, has everything you could want out of a major city and one very interesting place to visit: RESO. RESO, formerly known as the Underground City, is a huge, completely underground shopping mall with a variety of surface entrances and exits. It’s huge, and you can easily spend all day there, which is a godsend on the days in midwinter when the wind is blasting, the snow is driving, and the above-ground experience is miserable.
Which is Better to Visit: Montreal or Quebec City?
When you’re planning a trip to one of these two fantastic Canadian cities, you might have a hard time deciding which one you want to visit. As is so often the case, a lot depends on what you want out of your trip.
Quebec City is more thoroughly French. It’s smaller, more historic, and has more quaint vibes. It’s a great holiday destination, and their winter festivals can be quite enjoyable. Overall, it’s likely going to be a more distinctive and memorable place to visit than Montreal.
Meanwhile, Montreal is a great place to go if you want that city life experience. It’s faster-paced, more densely packed, and has a lot more to do, pretty much no matter what it is you want to do.
Quebec City is great if it’s your first time in the area, you want something short and memorable, and you aren’t there for the urban flair. But, after a handful of days, chances are that you’ll be ready to head out, having seen and done just about everything you want to do.
Montreal, meanwhile, always feels like there’s more to see and do around the next corner. Then, by the time you come back the way you came, things have changed, and there’s yet more to do. It’s no wonder that people move there, after all.
And, of course, for longer trips, nothing stops you from setting up shop in Montreal and taking a day or two jaunt out to Quebec City for the experience before returning.
What about you? Which is your favorite destination? Let us know in the comments!