Guest blogger Alexandre Duval is a freelance blogger who writes about tourism in Quebec, among other things. He is currently completing his master's degree in political science at the University of Quebec in Montreal.
Montreal is the largest city of the Canadian province of Quebec. With its multicultural population of 1.6 million, its lively entertainment scene and its diversified neighborhoods, Montreal is an exciting city that offers a wide range of possibilities to tourists. Quebec City is the capital of the province: its historical value and unmatched French architecture, its countless picturesque sites and its surprising offer of leisure activities make it a must-see destination for travelers.
The good news for tourists is that Montreal and Quebec City are only about two and a half hours apart by bus or by car. Therefore, nobody really should have to choose between visiting either of the two: anyone coming to Quebec for a few consecutive days can—and should—visit both Montreal and Quebec City, for they offer two completely different experiences.
Visiting Montreal is a bit like eating Smarties: there are so many colors within the same box that you really don't know which to taste first. In fact, Montreal does not only have a diverse population: it is endowed with a very rich community life that makes every single neighborhood unique in its very own, peculiar way. For instance, the harbor and Old Montreal area is very touristy, with its outlook on the St. Lawrence River and its multiple buildings dating back to the French settlement era.
The downtown district, on the contrary, is very busy day and night with most of the city's financial institutions, big companies and universities located within it. The eastern part of the city's core is dubbed the "Quartier des Spectacles" or the "Entertainment District" as it represents Montreal's hub for cultural venues. Adjacent to downtown Montreal is the Plateau Mont-Royal, a highly residential neighborhood that also offers innumerable quality places to go for food, coffee and drinks.
North-West of the Plateau is the Mile-End, which is a neighborhood that has historically welcomed considerable waves of immigrants. Up to the middle of the 20th century, the Mile-End mostly was home to the Jewish community (famous author Mordecai Richler actually lived there), which later started settling down in the bordering, bourgeois neighborhood of Outremont. Nowadays, the Mile-End is a much diversified part of town with a visible hipster identity. Not only is the Mile-End home to multiple underground cultural venues, but it also comprises numerous new-wave restaurants and coffee shops. And it is also where you are going to find the best bagels in town!
Saint-Henri, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and Parc-Extension are three neighborhoods which are currently undergoing major changes. All of them were rather poor up to relatively recently, but a myriad of interesting, independent business ventures have given rise to a strong feeling of pride and dynamism in all three parts of town. Little restaurants, ecological shops, coffee places and the likes now are very well established and drag people from adjacent neighborhoods into those historically rather unfrequented areas. It has to be noted that all of the aforementioned parts of town are quite efficiently interconnected by public transit, which means that it is easy for visitors to freely navigate from one place to another. One thing is for sure: you won't get bored in Montreal, where cool things to do abound!
Although smaller than Montreal, Quebec City has to be seen! There is no doubt about this! Not only is it visually and architecturally much more beautiful than Montreal— this can hardly be debated—but it is also historically much more interesting for anyone wishing to learn about French colonization: not only was Quebec City the cradle of French America, but its modern administration has done a remarkably great job at keeping the original buildings and fortifications in good shape. In fact, Quebec City is home to close to 40 National Historic Sites of Canada and it is the only North American city that dared keeping its fortified walls.
The Plains of Abraham (where one of the pivotal battles occurred during the Seven Years' War between France and Great Britain), the Chateau Frontenac (which remains the most photographed hotel across the world), the Petit Champlain (the oldest commercial district in Canada which features various little boutiques, a cable car and a 100-square-metres mural), the Old Port (which features the Moulin a images, the biggest free outdoor projection in the world during the summer) and the Promenade Samuel-de-Champlain (where pedestrians, skaters, cyclists and runners all share a landscaped space by the side of the St. Lawrence River) are among the many things to see while in Quebec City.
Quebec City also features many interesting museums (the Musee de la civilisation, the Musee national des beaux-arts, the Musee de l'Amerique francaise, etc), theaters and art galleries. Its culinary scene is absolutely remarkable, and so are its many bars and lounges. In fact, the variety of places to go to at night is nothing less than astounding for a city that is about one-third of the size of Montreal. Listing them all would be impossible, but a future post could allow me to give you some hints so that you can experiment the city like a local!
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