Do you really need a travel guide to French-speaking Canada? I mean, how different can it be from America?
TRICK QUESTION IT IS TOTALLY DIFFERENT.
Yes, they really do speak French there as a primary language. Yes, they really put gravy on fries. Luckily, we have a local to help us figure it out!
Hi! I’m Kayla. I have lived in various places in eastern Canada, and have French Canadian extended family, but I fell in love with la belle province of Québec during my years as a graduate student in Montréal.
I’m excited to share some tips on traveling in this region (with a slight bias towards the city of Montréal). It offers truly one of the most unique and enjoyable cultural experiences in North America!
Must Go in French-speaking Canada
I’ve seen it cited as one of the hippest neighbourhoods in North America, and I’m not surprised! It’s an exceptionally vibrant area of the dynamic and diverse city of Montréal.
Le Plateau features hip bars/restaurants/shops, a rich arts and music scene, a particular architecture involving charming wrought-iron staircases and old-stone masonry, and les ruelles verts (alleyways-turned-urban green space).
Old Québec, Québec City
Learn about the history of French culture in Canada and appreciate the rich cultural and language heritage that Québec has been able to preserve. To make the most of the beautiful waterfront location of the Old Town, top it off with a stroll along the mighty St. Lawrence River
Coastal Québec and New Brunswick
I highly recommend spending some time outside of the urban areas, and coastal Québec and the neighbouring French-speaking area of the province of New Brunsiwck is a spectacular place to do that.
Must Do in French-speaking Canada
Unlike some other parts of North America, eating and drinking is truly appreciated as a social activity here, and exploring independent cafés is a great way to enjoy the unique joie de vivre.
A culture of buying and eating locally produced/grown/caught food is alive and well. I strongly recommend checking out the Jean-Talon Market
in Montréal’s Little Italy during peak summer – it’s North America’s largest outdoor market!
There are nearly continuous festivals year-round, from Québec City’s famous Winter Carnival
, to Acadian Festivals in New Brunsiwck, to Pop Montréal
(indie music heaven) and Montréal’s Jazz Festival
(the largest in the world). There is always a spectacle to see and something to celebrate.
Must Eat in French-speaking Canada
In my humble opinion, Montréal bagels rival – or surpass – the bagels of New York City. Buy hand-rolled bagels fresh out of the wood-fired ovens at either of the two most famous bagel shops (St. Viateur
) located in Mile End, an historically working-class Jewish neighbourhood turned hipster mecca.
Fries + gravy-like sauce + cheese curds. Need I say more? This bowl of gooey goodness is popular across Canada, but was invented (and perfected) here. Many restaurants and poutine shops offer unique twists on the classic, too. For example, foie gras poutine is a thing. Seriously.
Maple products are reasonably priced because the region is such a large producer of the sweet stuff. Pick up maple syrup (or maple sugar…or maple butter… or…) at a farmer’s market to get the best price.
If you visit during early spring, usually around March, you can visit a cabane à sucre (“sugar shack”) to see how the syrup is made. A popular maple treat is the tire d’érable or maple taffy, which is maple syrup poured on snow to harden it and then rolled up on a stick to be eaten like a lollipop.
Cultural Tips for traveling in French-speaking Canada
Many urban québécois, most New Brunswickers, and virtually anyone working in tourism/hospitality are bilingual in English and French (and quite possibly other languages!).
However, it is a francophone region, so you may occasionally have a “lost in translation” moment. But hey – take the opportunity to practice or learn the beautiful language! It will be appreciated. While brushing up on my own French, I was told that it’s not the quality that matters: “C’est justel’effort!”
Travel on the Cheap in French-speaking Canada
Have a picnic in a park
Eating (and drinking) outside is very popular during the hot summer months. Save some money on restaurant meals by hitting up a grocery store and heading to a nearby green space.
Like anywhere else, hostels are a cheap way to stay, but I really recommend renting a room or apartment through AirBnB
to feel a bit more like a local rather than a tourist! Here’s an adorable loft
in downtown Quebec City for $56 USD per night! If you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s $40
towards your first booking!