Our family is not the sit on the beach and relax kind of vacationers. We’re more of the drive all over and explore things we’ve never seen, the weirder, the better type of family. So when we were trying to think of where to go on our “last” family vacation before our oldest son leaves for college, there were some varying opinions about where we should go.
My youngest son, Casey, wanted to go to another country. Although he was thinking more Europe than Canada at the time. He was even tracking flights to Madrid on his phone for a bit. The problem with Europe is you have to fly there and that would cut into our vacation budget big time.
We landed on Canada. It’s another country, they speak a different language, but you can drive there. Scott had visited Quebec City last year on a business trip and he said that it’s as close to a European city as you’re going to get on this side of the world.
Casey was disappointed, but he understood that he wasn’t paying for it, so he couldn’t be too picky and so the planning begun. By planning, I mean that I started with Quebec City and looked to see what other cities were nearby and easily driveable.
I also wanted everyone to have a say in what we did. We should each get to do one thing we really want to do on the trip and I was going to try to accommodate it as best I could. Casey wanted to see polar bears and puffins. I opened up Google Maps and showed him where the polar bears live in Canada in relation to Quebec City and that it was a 24 hour drive north through nothing. He pushed a bit but eventually settled for whales.
About 3 1/2 hours north east of Quebec City there is a First People’s town called Innue-Essipit. They run whale watching tours out of there and you can stay overnight in a cool cabin overlooking the Saint Lawrence River. Perfect!
The rest of the trip sort of took shape around this whale watching trip and cabin I found on Google. We decided to drive up through Vermont, travel to Quebec City, then to Innue-Essipit, back down to Montreal, on to Ottawa, Toronto and Niagara Falls. We would spend two nights in each place, except for Ottawa, where we would stay for 3 nights.
My family makes fun of me because I am a planner. So much so that I created a spreadsheet with multiple tabs to plan and track our vacation. To me, this is half the fun, researching and planning the trip. I have a main planning tab with the entire itinerary and each tab is city specific. I included extra activities, extra restaurants and things to see in case we had to change course for whatever reason. The entire trip would take us about 2 weeks. We had never been on a vacation that long and not having to work for two weeks sounded amazing.
For those of you who have asked for the details of our trip and the itinerary, I will post the overall trip details below with a blog post for each city, should you only want to explore one at a time. We wanted to see a little bit of each one and decide where we might want to go back to and explore further. Click on the map icon next to the city to see the city-specific post and pictures.
As I was planning this trip and mapping out the days we were going to be in each city, certain things started to click into place. Casey came down one night and said, “We’re going to be in Canada for Canada Day, I hear that Ottawa goes all out and I wondered if we were going to be there for that. It’s July 1.”
I had no idea what Canada Day was when he first said this, and so I later found out it’s their independence day. Ottawa is the capital so it makes sense that they would have a cool celebration to honor the day. We were planning on leaving Ottawa on July 1, but I bumped it out a day to leave on the 2nd. I had no idea what was in store for us that day.
While researching the trip some more, I found out that the day we got to Quebec City was St. Jean the Baptiste day or Quebec Day. That’s their province’s holiday and there were street fairs and various things going on that day too. We were ending the trip with a stay in Niagara Falls on July 4 and they celebrated by having a grand fireworks show over the falls. What luck! I accidentally planned a trip around all these holidays.
I have always wanted to go to the Ben and Jerry’s Factory, so that was our first stop of the trip and we spent the night in Burlington, VT. I have Marriot Rewards, so I always try to stay in Marriots.
Accommodations: Fairfield Inn and Suites, Williston, VT (Free breakfast)
All I have to say about this is that it is a gorgeous city in the summer. It’s got a nice compact downtown area to walk, however the entire city is built around an old fort that has been nuilt into the side of a cliff. We went from -4ft below sea level to 273ft above sea level in less than an hour of walking. It is all hills, stairs and crying. (the crying was me) It is walkable but you can easily find a taxi or Uber to take you back to your hotel at the end of the night.
Accommodations: Hotel PUR Quebec City, QC (part of the Marriot Brand and a gorgeous hotel)
We did not appreciate this city to its fullest because it was so stinking hot! Also, the cute downtown eating area was all under construction, so what was probably a bustling outside patio area was all fenced in and torn apart. I can’t wait to visit this city again when it’s all completed.
Fairfield by Marriot Montreal Downtown
Our favorite city on the trip, and we were there the longest.
Accommodations: Air BnB- I’m not going to say which one since it wasn’t the best. I would recommend staying near the Byward Market since that’s where it’s happening.
Very much a big city with lots of high rises. It’s more spread out than the other cities and you have to take the transit system or Uber. It was cheaper for the 4 of us to just take Uber.
Accommodations: Air BnB– We stayed in a small but amazing loft apartment near the CN Tower. I highly recommend it. It was clean and central to everything.
CN Tower (we didn’t do this)
The Distillery District
Escape The Tower at Casa Loma
Dirty Bird Chicken and Waffles
Booyah Ice Cream
Sweet Jesus Ice Cream
Brick Street Bakery
We were in Niagara Falls for less than 24 hours. We mainly went to see the falls and do the Fireworks cruise over the falls for the Fourth of July.
Accomodations: Courtyard by Marriot
This is a super outdated hotel and I would not recommend it.