Québec is unique among tourist destinations. Its French heritage sets the province apart, and it is one of the only areas in North America to have preserved its Francophone culture. Its European feel and its history, culture and warmth have made Québec a favourite tourist destination both nationally and internationally.
Québec is made up of 21 separate tourist regions:
There are four distinct seasons in Québec—spring, summer, fall and winter—offering a changing landscape and variety of activities.
82% of Québec’s population is francophone, but English is also commonly spoken, particularly in the province’s major cities such as Montréal where the percentage is 64%. For French-speaking people from elsewhere, the French spoken in Québec is often difficult to understand. But tourists should keep in mind that, in Québec, they’re the ones considered to have an accent! Books have been published on Québec expressions, and these may be worth consulting if you are planning to stay in Québec for any length of time. See Québec lexicon (in French).
Canada is officially bilingual, meaning that most federal government official documents, signs, and tourist information will be in both French and English. Staff at retail shops, restaurants and tourist attractions will often speak English, especially in Montreal. Smaller establishments, especially outside Montreal, may not offer services in English, but will do their best to accommodate travelers. About 8% of the province's residents speak English as a mother tongue, and an additional 31% consider that they can get by speaking it.
The official language of Quebec, however, is French. Provincial government signs (highway signs, government buildings, hospitals, etc.) generally post in French only. Tourist information is offered in English and other languages. The visibility of English and other languages is restricted by law except in English-speaking cultural venues (theatres, cinemas, bookstores), and most businesses will not post in English except in tourist areas and localities with a large English-speaking population. This issue is a very sensitive subject politically, particularly in Montreal. If you cannot read a sign in a store or restaurant, most sales people will be sympathetic and help you find your way. Most restaurants in tourist areas will supply English menus if asked.
Isolated from France for centuries, and unaffected by that country's 19th-century language standardization, Quebec has developed its own "accent" of French. The continental variety -- called "international French" or français international here -- is well-understood, and something closely approximating it is spoken by broadcasters and many businesspeople. While Quebecers understand European French, European tourists may feel lost until they grow accustomed to the local accent(s).
There are a few main differences between Quebecois French and continental French-from-France. One is that in Quebec it's relatively common to tutoyer (use the familiar tu second-person pronoun instead of vous when saying you) for all, regardless of age or status (though there are common exceptions to this in the workplace and the classroom). Doubling the pronoun is also extremely common in everyday speech, especially when asking for something (T'aurais-tu du feu ? instead of Est-ce que tu aurais du feu). Finally, there are a number of vocabulary words that differ, particularly in very informal contexts (for example, un char for a car, rather than une voiture), and some common expressions (C'est beau for "OK" or "fine"). Overall, however, pronunciation marks the most significant difference between Quebec and European French.
Probably the most puzzling difference in Quebec's French is that one will often sacrer (blaspheme) rather than using scatological or sexual curse words. Terms like baptême (baptism) or viarge (deformation of vierge, i.e. virgin) have become slangy and taboo over the centuries in this once fervently Catholic culture. Hostie de tabarnac! ("communion wafer of the tabernacle!") or just tabarnak! is one of the most obscene things to say, and more polite versions like tabarnouche or tabarniche are equivalent to "darn" or "fudge!"
Although sacre may seem funny, be assured that Quebeckers, particularly the older generation, do take it seriously. Don't sacre any time you don't really mean it! But be sure that younger Quebeckers may be fond of teaching you a little sacrage lesson if you ask them.
English-speaking Quebeckers are generally bilingual and reside mostly in the Montreal area, where 25% of the population speaks English at home. Aside from the occasional borrowing of local French terms (e.g. 'SAQ' for 'liquor store'), their English differs little from standard Canadian English, including the occasional "eh" at the end of the sentence; accents are influenced heavily by ethnicity, with distinct Irish, Italian, Jewish, and Greek inflections heard in Montreal neighborhoods. Conversations between anglophones and francophones often slip unconsciously between English and French as a mutual show of respect. This can be confusing if you're not bilingual, and a look of puzzlement will generally signal a switch back to a language everyone can understand. Although English-speakers will usually greet strangers in French, it is considered pretentious and overzealous for a native English-speaker to continue a conversation in French with other English speakers. Local English-speakers may also refer to street names by their English names as oppose to posted French names (for example, Mountain street for rue de la Montagne, Pine avenue for avenue des Pins).
See also: French phrasebook
By Plane There are flights to Québec from major cities in North America, Europe and Asia. Montréal is a 70-minute flight from New York and is less than 6 hours and 45 minutes by air from London or Paris.
Montréal has two international airports: Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, located on the island, about 30 minutes from downtown, and Mirabel airport, located on the North Shore, 40 minutes from downtown. Mirabel is no longer in use.
Air Canada serves many U.S. and European cities with departures from Montréal. There are daily flights to Paris, London and Frankfurt. Some flights also serve Québec City (flights to Paris every Saturday).
Air France operates three daily flights between Paris and Montréal during the summer and two flights during the winter.
Low-cost flights (charters) are available at Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport.
You can also fly directly to Québec City. It’s often simply a matter of getting information from a travel agency or carrier. While Paris is the only European city linked with Québec City, there are still several direct connections available with other North American cities.
The days when immigrants arrived in Québec by boat are long over, but visitors with a bit of time can enjoy any one of the many cruises available along the St. Lawrence River.
From neighboring Ontario there is transportation service into Québec by both railroad and motorcoach. Via Rail Canada operates several trains daily from both Toronto, Ont. and Ottawa, Ont. into Montréal, Qué. Coach Canada operates frequent motorcoach service from Toronto, Ont. into Montréal, Qué. Voyageur, an affiliate of Greyhound Canada, operates hourly motorcoach service from Ottawa, Ont. into Montréal, Qué. There is also limited transportation service from Ottawa, Ont. into Grand-Remous, Que. via Voyageur, as well as from North Bay, Ont. into Rouyn-Noranda, Qué. via Autobus Maheux.
From the Maritimes there is transportation service into Québec by railroad, motorcoach, and ferry. Via Rail Canada operates one train daily from Halifax, N.S. and Moncton, N.B. into Montréal, Qué. Tshiuetin Rail Transportation operates two trains weekly from western Labrador (Newfoundland) to Sept-Îles, Qué. and Schefferville, Qué. Acadian Lines operates two trips daily by motorcoach from Halifax, N.S. and Moncton, N.B. into Rivières-du-Loup, Qué., and then continuing onward to Québec, Qué. and Montréal, Qué. Orléans Express operates two trips daily by motorcoach from Campbellton, N.B. into Rimouski, Qué., and then continuing onward to Québec, Qué. and Montréal, Qué. C.T.M.A. operates a daily ferry daily during the summer (and less frequently at other times of the year) from Souris, P.E.I. to Cap-aux-Mueles, Qué. Labrador Marine operates up to three ferries daily (no service January through April) from St. Barbe, Nfld. to Blanc-Sablon, Qué.
Internationally, there is both railroad and motorcoach service from the United States to Montréal, Qué. Amtrak operates the "Adirondack" daily from New York, N.Y. Amtrak no longer operates a bus connection with the "Vermonter" in St. Albans, Vt. for travel between Montréal and Washington, but train travel between Montréal and Washington via New York is still possible (see the Adirondack timetable). Adirondack Trailways and Greyhound Lines operate frequent motorcoach service from New York, N.Y. Vermont Transit and Greyhound Lines operate frequent motorcoach service from Boston, Mass.
Québec has a vast road and air network that makes it easy to travel between cities. You can travel by car, bus, plane, train, bike or boat .
Using air transportation to travel between the different cities in Québec is not recommended. But air travel is indispensable for getting around northern Québec (except for the Baie-James region, which is served by a paved highway), because there are no highways or railways serving these remote areas.
The railway network is used mainly for freight trains; it links Montréal, Québec City, the Gaspé Peninsula, Toronto, New York, and the Atlantic provinces, in Acadia. However, this transportation method is fairly slow because there are currently no TGVs in Canada. The bus is a sometimes better alternative given that there are more daily connections.
The main way to travel between cities is by bus. The bus network is very well developed, particularly for connections between Québec City-Montréal, Ottawa-Montréal and Toronto-Montréal.
Renting a car and driving around Canada poses no particular problem, even in the cities. However, it is best to arrange the rental from Europe. Read the rental contract carefully, particularly the section on insurance. Often, you can rent a car in one city and return it in another without prohibitive costs.
Québec has a good network of toll-free highways connecting all the main cities and surrounding areas.
Driving in Québec—in the cities and on the highways—is much like driving in Paris. This means drivers have to be able to react quickly behind the wheel, and watch for other cars changing lanes and merging onto the highway from access ramps. Also, beware of people passing on the right, which is a common occurrence. Of note for French people: In Québec, the highway speed limit is 100 km/h.
The Québec highway code is similar to that of Europe. A couple of differences are that traffic lights are often located across the intersection, not at the side, and you are allowed to turn right at a red light except on the Island of Montréal or where otherwise indicated. At stop signs, every one advances in turn, based on the order in which the cars arrived at the stop sign. One final detail: horns are very seldom used.
Québec’s regions boast an impressive network of bicycle paths, totalling more than 3,400 km (2,111 mi). This means you can visit several regions by bicycle and find local accommodations near the bike paths (Route verte).
Numerous cruises are also available on the St. Lawrence River, one of the world’s biggest waterways .
With Allo Stop
For people travelling in small groups and wanting to keep their costs down (primarily students), Allo Stop is a great alternative to any of the transportation methods mentioned above. Allo Stop is a ride-sharing network serving most of Québec’s major cities. To access this service, simply register at one of the offices (registration costs $6). Then you can reserve your spot in a car belonging to someone who is travelling to the same destination as you—sometimes for up to half the price of the bus. The only inconvenience with this system is that it doesn’t serve every city, so some areas are not accessible using this method.
Québec’s winding, scenic secondary roads are ideal for a motorcycle ride. However, in southern Québec, the best season for travelling by motorcycle is limited to between May and October. In remote areas, the nicest season is two months shorter than that, running from June to September. In the last few years, taking to Québec’s roads by motorcycle has become increasingly popular. The province boasts several motorcycle clubs , and visiting tourists can rent motorcycles.
Québec’s motorcyclists share a special fraternity and team spirit. If your motorcycle breaks down, you certainly won’t remain stranded on the roadside for long before another motorcyclist stops to help. So don’t be surprised to see other motorcyclists wave to you on the road or spontaneously engage in conversation at a rest stop.
Québec road maps 
By taking these routes you will discover a host of picturesque towns and villages bordering majestic rivers and dotting the vast expanses of forest. You will be treated to some magnificent panoramic views.
For those who enjoy winding their way along country roads, this region’s various wine routes are a must (Brome-Missisquoi, highway 104 and highway 202) . To reach the eastern part of this region, i.e. Lac Mégantic, taking highway 108 starting in Magog is worth the trip.
Highway 155 north passes Trois-Rivières and La Tuque and takes you directly to Lac-Saint-Jean, providing a magnificent view!
From Québec City, highway 175 north crosses the Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier  and the renowned Réserve faunique des Laurentides . This sinuous, hilly forested route offers a choice of two destinations at the fork of highway 169 north: Chicoutimi or Hébertville.
From Baie-Saint-Paul, the 381 north takes you to the town of La Baie by way of the Parc national des Grands-Jardins  and Lac Ha!Ha! This lesser known route takes you through one of Québec’s less travelled wilderness regions.
From Saint-Siméon, highway 170 north joins the western shore of the Saguenay Fjord  and takes you along a winding wooded route to the town of La Baie.
From Tadoussac, highway 172 north runs alongside the Saguenay Fjord all the way to Chicoutimi. However, the best way to explore the Parc national du Saguenay  and its fjord is to take a little cruise between Tadoussac and Chicoutimi.
VIA Rail offers train service along the St. Lawrence river, up the Saguenay and in the Gaspé Peninsula.
Within cities, public transit tends to be good by North American standards, though showing the signs of funding cuts in recent years.
"La route verte" comprises 3,600 kilometres of bikeways linking the various regions of Québec.
Québec offers many activities including sports and outdoor recreation, cultural and natural sites, festivals and events.
Sites and attractions
Québec has a number of sites and attractions.
Festivals and Events
Quebecers are known for their festive spirit and taste for celebration. This explains the close to 400 festivals held each year in Québec. . Québec’s events are varied, from sports to cultural events and festivals, and attract visitors from around the world.
For all Québec events and festivals, click here.
Four ways to discover Québec
Québec offers four different tourist experiences, each with a wide range of activities.
The City Experience
Montréal, Québec City and Gatineau are an integral part of Québec’s City Experience. Combining a European feel with the modernity of North America, Québec’s major cities charm visitors with their vibrancy, energy and warmth. The cultural life of these cities is well developed with many festivals, shows and museums, and they also offer high-quality hotels and restaurants.
Each of the major cities offers a new facet of Québec to discover. The capital, Québec City, is the only fortified city in North America and has its own European cachet. The oldest Francophone city in North America, Québec City was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985 and will celebrate its 400th anniversary in 2008.
The only Francophone metropolis in North America, Montréal is also the second largest Francophone city after Paris in terms of population.6 This major centre of 3.4 million inhabitants is a tapestry of cultures from the world over with its many neighbourhoods, including Chinatown, the Latin Quarter, the Gay Village, Little Italy, the Plateau Mont-Royal, the Quartier International and Old Montréal, just to name a few.7 Montréal  has a rich architectural heritage, along with many cultural activities, sports events and festivals.
Neighbouring Canada’s capital, Ottawa, Gatineau offers a broad mix of both urban and natural tourist attractions. It is host to many cultural and entertainment activities, including the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Casino du Lac-Leamy. For those who love the outdoors, Gatineau Park has plenty of hiking, interpretation, cross-country skiing and cycling trails.
There are many different resort activities in Québec. Resort accommodations can be found in the countryside or deep in the forest. Here is a brief overview of resort activities in Québec:
The St. Lawrence River
The St. Lawrence River is one of the largest rivers in the world and historically was the means of access to the centre of North America. Its 1,800 kilometres (1,120 mi.) are lined with old coastal villages, bird and marine mammal sanctuaries, lighthouses and verdant and rocky shores. The river is one of the largest navigable waterways in the world, and its estuary is known for its wide variety of marine mammals, birds and fish that live there year-round.
Upstream from Montréal to the tip of Gaspésie, a road borders the shores of the St. Lawrence River, allowing drivers to explore a coastline that changes from mountainous to rural to wilderness. At one point, visitors can explore the rich Saguenay Fjord.
The 1,600-kilometre (994-mi.) St. Lawrence River  transforms into a gulf that is more like an inland sea. The Gulf of St. Lawrence can be travelled by ferry, sailboat, kayak or cruise ship. Whale watching is very popular in Québec, particularly in Tadoussac.
There are also many islands and archipelagos  with rich flora and fauna scattered along the river. The Île d'Anticosti and the Îles-de-la-Madeleine have fascinating legends from sailors and fishermen who continue to live there.
For those who enjoy the outdoors and adventure , Québec’s wide open spaces have a great deal to offer. There are many outdoor sports, hunting and fishing activities visitors can enjoy:
To truly get a feel for the “authentic” Québec, take one or several of the tourist routes that run alongside the St. Lawrence or criss-cross the countryside not far from the major axial highways. Clearly indicated by a series of blue signs, these routes are designed to showcase the cultural and natural treasures of their respective regions.
Legal drinking age in Quebec is 18.
Quebecers’ favourite alcohol is beer given the high taxes on wine. The province boasts several very good microbreweries. Here is a list of the best brew pubs in Québec by region. In Montréal, there is Dieu du Ciel!, L’Amère à Boire, Le Cheval Blanc and Brutopia. In Québec City, there is La Barberie and L'Inox. One of the best is Le Broumont in Bromont, near the foot of the ski hill. If you visit Sherbrooke, be sure to stop in at the Mare au Diable. In the Mauricie region, there is Le trou du Diable (Shawinigan) and Gambrinus (Trois-Rivières). For anyone wishing to visit the stunning Charlevoix region, there is the Charlevoix microbrewery in Baie St-Paul. Liquor and wine are sold mainly at Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ) stores, but beer and wine (often of a lesser quality) can also be found at supermarkets and convenience stores. In the country, good quality wine and liquor can be found at the grocery store. The sale of alcohol is prohibited after 11:00 p.m. at convenience stores and supermarkets, and may not be sold to anyone under the age of 18. Bars are open until 3:00 a.m. (except in Gatineau where they close at 2:00 a.m. to avoid an influx of partiers when the bars close in Ottawa).
Beer and a so-so selection of wine are available at most grocery stores and depanneurs (corner markets), but by law distilled spirits are only available at provincial stores called the SAQ (pronounced "ess-ay-cue" or "sack"). The SAQ also has a higher-quality selection of wine, mostly European, Australian, or South American-- there's a peculiar blind spot for California vintages, though British Columbian wines are plentiful, unlike in Ontario's LCBO stores. Although closing time in bars is 3AM, most SAQs close between 6 and 8PM, and sales of other alcohol are banned after 11PM.
Quebec is blessed with some of the finest beers on the North American continent. As in the rest of Canada, they are higher-proof than in the US; alcohol content starts around 5-6% but 8-12% is not unusual. Americans should check labels and drink cautiously to gauge their own tolerance.
With over 5,800 establishments that hold official lodging certificates, Québec offers choices for any budget for those seeking accommodations for the night, from youth hostels to five-star hotels. Establishments are classified using a stars and sun system to help visitors choose their accommodations . Possibilities include:
Safety is really not an issue in Quebec, with the exception of a few "bad" neighborhoods of Montreal.
On paper, Quebec has an excellent autoroute (freeway) system. All of the province's major cities are connected by autoroute. However, in practice, most of the autoroutes may be poorly maintained. This is especially true in the Montreal area. Roads in general are not as well maintained as they may be in the United States or in Ontario.
Though not as aggressive as many out-of-province visitors say they are, Quebec drivers are certainly not calm. Posted speed limits are rarely obeyed, as police will only hand out fines to extremely dangerous speeders. If you are used to driving at a slower pace, you may find angry drivers honking at you for clogging traffic. Be aware that turning right on a red light is illegal on the whole Montreal island, and police will not hesitate to hand you a ticket if you are caught.
Do not become flustered if you are unable to find someone who speaks English right away. Insisting on the use of English is likely to ruffle some feathers. It is better to make an effort to speak in French, even if it is only a few words. If your French language skill is poor, many listeners will switch to English with varying degrees of compassion (or ridicule!).
The issue of sovereignty is an extremely complicated and emotional issue that is almost sure to cause hard feelings if you bring it up. Also, note that even residents who aren't souverainistes seriously speak of Quebec as a nation with national parks, national assembly, and national capital. To further complicate matters, there are innocuous local translations for the word "national(e)" that do not contemplate a sovereign nation-state, such as the Canadian Parliament's acknowledgment of a Quebecois nation. The discussion of Quebecois politics is therefore best left to Quebecois and Canadians.
Although Quebec is part of Canada, you'll see few maple leaf flags, and the French media doesn't emphasize connections with the ROC ("Rest of Canada"). Some Quebeckers consider the display of the Canadian flag to be an inflammatory symbol of Canadian "dominance"; others see displays of the Quebec flag as overzealous ethnic nationalism. Phrases like here in Canada or as a Canadian may make your conversational partner ill at ease.
Note also that Quebec is not France. Jokes about French stereotypes (Jerry Lewis, poor hygiene, eating frogs' legs, and especially "surrendering": Americans making such a comment are likely to be gently reminded that their country was still neutral when Quebecers, like other Canadians, had already been fighting Germany for two years) will bring puzzled stares, or at best show that you have no idea which continent you're on. And comparing Quebecois culture and language unfavorably to France's is probably not a path to go down, either. Although Quebec and France have many ties, the Quebecois typically regard themselves as a distinct culture quite separate from the country that "abandoned" them three centuries ago. The cultures are so divergent that, in extreme cases, Québécois and Français speaking French to one another will not be mutually intelligible due to linguistic differences. Visitors from France are advised to avoid using overly-familiar terms to refer to a kinship between themselves and a Quebecois where none may exist; the term "p'ti cousin" (little cousin) can be particularly inflammatory.
Quebecers, particularly in the Montreal area, are a laid-back people with a sense of humour. It isn't uncommon for English and French to insult and slur each other in a joking manner. Tourists should not try to join in on this. Both sides of the nationalist/independence debate see it as their fight and theirs alone.
Finally, as with most of Canada, Quebec is not the United States. People north of the border will bristle at the suggestion that the two countries are "practically the same" and it may offend some south of the border as well.
Quebecers are very approachable and are usually happy to be able to provide information and chat.
Anyone who enjoys a bit of history or genealogy could ask a Quebecer about their ancestry. They might have the pleasure of watching their host pull out letters or travel diaries from their immigrant relatives who first set foot on American soil.