The best day trips from Montréal
Between Montréal’s chic cafes and open-air markets, getting out of town can be hard to do. But venture into the surrounding Eastern Townships, the mountainous Laurentians, or Montérégie’s rolling farm country and you’ll be rewarded with French-accented villages, shady pine forests, and maple syrup fresh from the tap. Spanning two official languages and centuries of history, Ottawa and Quebec City are just a short trip away. Here’s our favorite day trips from Montréal.
Visit the World Heritage Old City of Quebec
An actual chateau with green-tipped spires watches over Quebec City, whose historic center occupies a strategic perch above the St. Lawrence River. This is the cultural heartland of French Canada, a place where Montréal’s mixed French and English give way to the twang of strong Quebecois accents.
Steep cobblestone streets are perfect for exploring on foot in any season, so start at the hilltop Château Frontenac and work your way down to the Basse Ville, or Lower Town. The entire historic district is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Lower Town’s tightly packed mansard roofs and postage-stamp squares are prime examples of historic Quebecois architecture. From there, hop the Old Quebec Funicular back up to Terrasse Dufferin, then walk the walls of La Citadelle for big views across the St. Lawrence.
Getting there: To visit Quebec City from Montréal, take the Orléans Express bus from the Montréal Bus Station or rent a car for the 2-hour, 45-minute drive.
Follow the Montérégie Cider Route
Maple leaves aren’t the only autumn color in Quebec, where rolling orchards deliver a bright harvest of apples each fall. Centered around the farm village of Rougemont, the Montérégie Cider Route links up a series of cider makers and orchardists with tasting rooms that are open to the public.
At Cidrerie Michel Jodoin, sample Quebec’s signature ice cider, a nectar-like drink fermented from fresh juice concentrated by freezing. Catching expansive views across Mont Saint Grégoire, nearby Domaine Cartier Potelle transforms bumper crops of apples into fortified liqueurs and a dry, sparkling cider that might sway even dedicated wine drinkers.
Getting there: Limited public transit in rural Montérégie means renting a car is the best way to reach Rougemont, which is a 32-mile (52-km.) trip from downtown Montréal.
Go skiing at Mont Tremblant
Quebec’s frigid winters bring deep piles of snow to Mont Tremblant, the highest peak in the Laurentian mountains. A weekend shuttle bus means you can make day trips from Montréal to Mont Tremblant’s 102 ski trails in just a few hours and make it back to the city in time for a nightcap.
Bundle up for bone-chilling temperatures, then board a high-speed gondola for Mont Tremblant’s 2,871-foot (875-meter) summit. From there, descend over wooded slopes and straightaways to the candy-colored Ville de Mont Tremblant, where a buzzing après-ski crowd warms up over small-batch beer from Microbrasserie La Diable.
Getting there: Catch the early morning L’Express du Nord bus from the Montréal Bus Station to Mont Tremblant, with a return trip after the lifts close.
Visit a cabane à sucre
When the first warm days thaw the frozen forest in late February, maple syrup production electrifies the Quebec countryside with a season-long sugar rush.
To try the sweet stuff straight from the evaporator, visit a cabane à sucre — otherwise known as a sugar shack. Aside from pure maple syrup, the most classic treat is warm maple taffy, cooked syrup that’s cooled on beds of fresh snow. Many cabanes à sucre also serve traditional Quebecois foods to springtime visitors, from hearty bowls of pea soup to baked beans and rustic pork pâté.
A homey spot surrounded by maple forests, Érablière Charbonneau is an old-school favorite for all-you-can-eat feasts served with free-flowing maple syrup. Make your reservations months in advance to visit the Au Pied de Cochon Sugar Shack, a countryside outpost of the renowned Montreal restaurant that offers rich, gourmet twists on Quebecois classics.
Getting there: Rural locations mean Quebec sugar shacks are best reached by car, or on a maple syrup tour from Montréal.
Bike the P’tit Train du Nord
Following a gently rolling path across the Laurentian mountains, this 124-mile (200-km.) converted railway bed has some of Quebec’s finest cycling — with no cars in sight.
Some ultra-fit cyclists tackle the entire P’tit Train du Nord in one big day, but regular access points make it easy to choose a shorter section, like the 49-km. ride from Sainte-Agathe-Des-Monts to the terminus in St-Jérôme. Along the way, pass the mountain village of Val-David, then stop for lunch at your midway point in Sainte-Adèle. Picnic-ready Quebec cheeses and cured meats star in the butcher shop of Sainte-Adèle’s Les Tetes de Cochon, where an adjoining restaurant also serves sit-down meals.
Getting there: Regular train service links Montréal’s Gare Lucien L’Allier with the P’tit Train du Nord terminus in St-Jérôme. From there, a shuttle service drops cyclists at trailheads along the route.
Meet the animals at Granby Zoo
A trio of charismatic lions are the starring attraction at the Granby Zoo, but they share the spotlight with everyone from long-tailed chinchillas to giant tortoises.
Admission to the Granby Zoo includes access to the onsite waterpark, amusement park, and dinosaur park, where 21 life-sized dinosaurs strike fierce poses amidst plastic ferns. Between the kid-friendly rides and shiver-inducing creatures, it’s no surprise that the Granby Zoo is one of the best family-friendly day trips from Montréal.
Getting there: Granby is 50 miles (80 km.) east of Montréal, and is best reached by car via Highway 10.
Take in the top sites in Ottawa
Ottowa maintains a breezy nonchalance that belies the world-class museums and statement architecture in Ontario’s capital. Start the day by browsing Inuit art inside the National Gallery of Canada, which is just a stroll away from the silver-spired Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica.
Cutting an open corridor through the city’s densely packed center, the Rideau Canal draws walkers and cyclists through the warm months. The waterway really shines in winter, when it freezes into a 4.8-mile (7.8 km.), open-air playground for ice skaters — rent a pair to hit the ice, making plenty of stops along the way for hot chocolate and fried dough.
Getting there: Travel from Montreal to Ottawa by train, beginning the 2-hour journey at Montreal’s Gare Central and alighting in the Ottawa VIA Rail Station. Continue to the city center by bus or taxi.