Road trip update: Bonjour, Québec?

Note: As part of our Away is Home project, I’ll be offering regular updates on our whereabouts and asking for your travel advice. Why? Because you know more about travel than I do.

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We’re headed north.

Although our real road trip doesn’t start until October (we’ll have more details on Monday, along with an exciting list of sponsors) we need to test our site and make sure everything is working correctly. And the only way to do that is to take a trip.

So it’s north for us, for a few reasons. First, you can’t really drive much farther to the south here in Florida without hitting water. But also, we have family up there, and I have always want to return to Québec, ever since I attended a conference there back in 2002.

So here’s the plan.

View New York/Washington/Québec in a larger map

We’re not going to drive straight to Montreal. That’s madness. Instead, we’ll make a stop halfway there, at the grandparents’. And on our way back, we’ll swing by Washington to catch up with some clients and show the kids some of the things they missed on their last visit.

At least that’s what we’re thinking.

Here’s where we need your help.

Where do we go in Québec? I’ve seen Québec City, and been to Montreal briefly. But I was there during the dead of winter. We know one week is hardly enough to explore this part of Canada. Do you know of any cultural attractions of high educational value that we absolutely have to see?

What about DC? If you had two or three days in DC with kids, what would you do? We’ve already seen the big attractions, so we’re looking for something different, but not too touristy. I imagine we’ll hit a few museums, but beyond that, where do we go?

How do we cover this? I was reading about Sara Costello’s family road trip this morning, and although she’s a talented writer, the laundry-list, “we-did-this/we-did-that” narrative is not the most exciting way to recount an adventure. Do a series of blog posts work better? Tweets? Foursquare updates?

Where do we cover this? I’ve been compiling multimedia-rich updates (with video, audio, photos and interactive maps) for my friends over at National Geographic Traveler. We’ll have them here on this site and on Away is Home, too, of course. But where else? Should I try to syndicate these accounts to the folks over at Tribune? How about spin them into a book — would you read a book about a family road trip?

So many questions! The whole family was featured on the This Week in Travel podcast yesterday, and if you tune in, you’ll hear more questions than answers. There’s so much we still don’t know.

I’m a reluctant traveler. I don’t enjoy traveling, by which I mean flying and staying in hotels. But I can’t resist a good road trip.

Also, I don’t want my kids growing up without learning about the world. I’ve spent the last decade behind a desk, and it’s time to get out there and show them the planet.

(Photo: Mon onc’ Paul/Flickr)

47 thoughts on “Road trip update: Bonjour, Québec?

  1. Some ideas to choose from for Montreal (I’ve taken students to all of these): Notre-Dame Basilica, St. Joseph’s Oratory, Cathedral of Marie-Reine-du-Monde (modeled after St. Peter’s in Rome), Botanical Gardens/Insectarium, Biodome (in the 1976 Olympic Stadium, think they also give tours of it as well), Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Mont Royal.

  2. for d.c., the smithsonian museum and associated ones are a must do. jefferson, washington and lincoln memorials, a view of the white house and capital and just some walking. trip done

  3. The Montreal Biodome and Insectarium are fantastic.  The Montreal Botanical Garden is also one of the best I have seen.

  4. I can recommend visiting the Chinese Garden at the Montréal Botanical Garden during the annual “Magic Lanterns
    Festival” in Sep-Oct. A climb up Mont Royal is also a good
    energy-burning activity for kids who’ve been sitting in a car for a

    Slightly off-topic; I notice that while you use the word ‘road trip’ you
    still seem to have a destination-focused approach to the trip. E.g. you
    ask what’s to see *in* Québec and DC rather than what’s to see
    *between* Québec and DC. Perhaps an occupational hazard of a
    frequent flyer – “excuse me Captain, can you park over here for a sec –
    that nimbus looks very interesting…” doesn’t really work at 30,000 ft

    1. Great suggestions, everyone! And you’re right, @d34bc88c02339390903acc7629b5e496:disqus, I’m like too many of my frequent-flier/travel writer colleagues who parachute into a place and then report on it. We’ll be making stops along the way, @71290b067f1b13e7bd5a02264fef1a0d:disqus — and we’ll be sure to report on them, too.

    1.  I agree you should look outside the DC area.  What about Amish Country in PA? There is a fantastic railroad museum in Strasburg PA for the kids. The Eastern Shore in MD? Rehobeth (MD) Lewes (DE) are beautiful. The Cape May ferry out of Lewes DE is a fun ride. Assateague Island to see the ponies? Wallups Island to visit NASA? Montichello, VA to see Jefferson’s estate and plantation? There are so many great places to visit outside the major cities 🙂

      1. Wonderful ideas.  I second the idea of Assateague island.  Watching horses stroll along the beach is a sight to behold.  The Strasburg Railroad/Amish tour would be amazing for your kids as well.  Train ride/museum..not sure if Thomas the Tank Engine is still available or not.  There’s a real working Amish Farm tour and buggy rides you can take.  The food in that area is fabulous too!

  5. Majorly important question – what do you and your family like to do?  I know this would be written up for a wider audience, but if you (read: your kids!) are doing things they don’t enjoy, it won’t make for easy writing about in a positive way!  On your last couple of trips, what were a couple of their favorite things to do?

    1. We are talking with the tourism folks to see what they recommend, but at this stage, I don’t know if there’s anything that we can all agree on, as a family. The kids like one thing, the adults another.

  6. One of my favourite hotels in Montreal is L’Auberge Bonaparte (“Hotel Bonaparte”); it is in the most funky building with 150 years of heritage behind it.

    Walking around Vieux-Port (“Old Port”) and Vieux-Montreal (“Old Montreal”) is entertaining in its own right. The Biodome is worth the visit, and I’ve yet to find a bad museum in Montreal. The Musee d’Art Contemporain (Museum of Contemporary Art) is a lovely building with some throught-provoking works.

    You should stop at le Marche Jean-Talon (Jean-Talon Market) for some of the most lovely Quebec and regional produce.

    With respect to food, the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten was at Restaurante Gandhi in Vieux-Montreal, and you can’t go wrong with a stop at Dunns or Schwartz’s.

    Hope that helps!

  7. When you are in DC check out Great Falls (either the VA or the MD side of the falls). It’ll give the kids a chance to run around and burn off some energy. The Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens are beautiful as well and something that most people here haven’t seen. Just make sure the kids don’t fall in!

    1. P.S. On the way to or from DC, take Skyline Drive through the mountains and stop at Luray Caverns. My family did that on a road trip 20 years ago and I still love going back.

  8. For DC I recommend the spy museum. Go to their website in advance and you may be able to book and adventure that has you going to different parts of the city to look for clues. Air and Space museum is always good. I think there is a 6 flags theme park just outside the city. And you really should take the kids to Arlington Cemetary and explain it’s importance.

    On the way back home you can hit Williamsburg and Busch Gardens theme park.

    Have a safe trip!

  9. Looks like you are going up I88 in NY state. Cooperstown is just off of that (Baseball Hall of Fame) and there is also a old fashion train ride with a train robbery!! 

  10. Having driven this route myself, Florida to DC to NY (not Quebec), I can recommend two homes of Presidents along this way – Monticello (Owned by Thomas Jefferson) is BEAUTIFUL as is Mt. Vernon (Owned by George Washington). Monticello has seeds for sale there that are taken from the plants there. All the plants there are derived from the original plants put in by Thomas Jefferson. Have the kids grow the plant of their choice to remember the trip.

    I am an “Off the beaten track” kind of traveler.  I saw the obvious places years ago and now look for the road less traveled.  All along I-95 you will be seeing signs for the world’s biggest ball of string.  

    My travel style drives my husband crazy but my kids have seen things not many others have seen such as a lesser known Civil War Battlefield in Goldsboro, North Carolina.  This was “technically” the last battle of the Civil War as the South surrendered the day after this battle.  

    Near Fort Bragg, NC, there is a museum commemorating the history of the Army’s Airborne Division.

    In South Carolina, there’s a very small town outside Charleston called Goose Creek.  This is the area where the movie “The Patriot” with Mel Gibson was filmed as the Santee area there was integral in the Revolutionary War.  Lots of people think the RW was fought in the NE US when, in fact, it stretched down all the way to present-day Florida.

  11. And I neglected to mention Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.  Take the kids on a cruise of the bay on a schooner…  They’ll remember it the rest of their lives.

    I also just noted you were going to be skirting West Virginia. There is a small town called Cass with a railroad village there. The houses were once lived in by employees of the railroad and are now available for rental. In addition to the houses for sleeping, they rent train cars for overnights. There is a twisting train ride to the top of this little mountain where you can see for miles. This is one of the nicest little jaunts and kids absolutely LOVE IT.

  12. It’s important to remember that Quebec city is the site of the changing of the world (particularly the New World). Had the Bristish lost that battle we’d all be speaking French today

  13. More ideas for driving in Montreal & Quebec, from a former resident
     Drive a truck or Hummer for the following reasons. 1) The drivers are suicidal, & amongst the rudest anywhere. (I have driven throughout the U.S. & Canada, as well as many countries in Western & Eastern Europe & Australia so I know the difference)2) The road conditions are horrible, with many large potholes. Witness the falling pieces of concrete of a major tunnel a few days ago. 3) Get lost, better learn some French!

  14. It’s off the beaten path on St. Laurent, but for foodies, Schwartz’s is a must for their smoked meat sandwiches ordered either “dry” (lean) or “extra juicy” (fatty) Be prepared to wait in line. It’s the best!!! And it’s a “come-as-you-are type of place.

  15. My very favourite attraction in Montreal is the Pointe-a-Calliere Archaeology Museum, near the riverfront in Old Montreal. It is literally a descent through history as the museum is built down under the street where you can see the layers of history from current times, back to the time of the first French settlers to before that when the native people lived there.  It is one of the most innovative museums I’ve ever been to.

  16. Unfortunately, your question–“What do we do with kids for 3 days in D.C.” isn’t going to produce very helpful responses if we don’t know: a) the ages of the children and 2) the interests of the children and parents.  
        For example, someone has recommend a visit to the International Spy Museum.  That might be a good suggestion for kids aged 10 and over, but I would never recommend it for younger children (too crowded and the exhibits require a lot of reading).  
        So, give us some help here!

  17. The US Bureau of engraving and printing in Washington DC is great fun for adults and kids.  Just get there early as the lines can be very long. Also, the 9/11 memorial at the Pentagon is amazing.  Touristy but fun…Ride the Ducks!

  18. Another stop to make is in Philly, especially for the kids. Walk Elphreth’s Alley, the street unchanged since colonial days. Take in the Constitution Center with lots of hand on for the kids as well as a wonderful show that will make you so proud to be an American. Touring Indepencence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed is a great visual for kids who will be studying American history.  Ben Franklin Paryway is beautiful and at the end is the Philadelphia Museum of Art with the steps Rocky ran while in training. If you’re traveling North from DC by car, Philly should be on you “to do” list

  19. I’m with the “enjoy the hourney as wewll a the detination” folks. Forget the interstate, and plan to spend longer getting to Canada. When I first came to the US, I did two memorable road trips (from central NC). One was up the coast, crossing the Chesapeake Bay bridge, and one was the full lenght of th Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive. I’d highly recmmend both.

    I’m also considering a southern trip for next year – taking the interstte down to St. Augustine, and then wandering slowly north along the coast. While Savannah and Charleston are obvious stops, you shouldn’t neglect the islands. It would be a good opportuity to introduce the kids to Gullah culture.

    I’ve heard on the travel boards from people traveling with kids that it’s a good idea to get them involved in planning – some people have each kid pick one activity or sight for each detination, others do the same but have them prepare to act as a “guide” for that place as well.

    Check the Montreal tourist web site – they have great free fireworks displays (well, free if you dont want to pay for pricey seats) some nights in the summer.

  20. Well if Grandma is in Andes (going there myself, as I have tons of family in Delaware Co), you probably have already been to Cooperstowns and done the Arkville train.  With our kids, we liked places that allowed them to run around after been cooped up in the car. So I would recommend places like Kitty Hawk, NC, Willamsburg, VA (no charge if you don’t go into the houses), Harper’s Ferry, WV, Ticonderoga, Assateague (need mosquito spray!), Mystic, RI,  Lake Placid ( see John Brown’s home, Olympic ice rink where USA beat Russia) and Tarrytown NY, where the other half had ‘summer houses’ with great lawns to run around on that are good for parents and kids plus you can see these without tours or guides, as I found going at our own speed with kids worked better.

    Also, in Tarrytown and in Kingston, NY, you can get boat rides out on the Hudson, which if you are going during fall colors is nice.  Saratoga Springs and the race track is interesting if you are going before school starts.

  21. In DC, go a few miles south to George Washington’s home; go to the National Zoo; try the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery — the Lunder Conservation Center on the 4th Floor has glass walls so you can watch conservators preserving paintings, furniture, sculpture …; the Holocaust Museum …

  22. I always go to the National Zoo with kids when in DC. Most of the Museums are not always get them excited. Spy museum can be fun. Also, National Aquarium in Baltimore is kids favorite. If time permitted, making a detour to Atlanta to taste 60 different beverages from around the world at the Coca Cola museum might be worth it. But keep in mind the need of a bathroom after that. 

  23. Another vote for Mt Vernon in the DC area, as well as Arlington Cemetary, and particularly the Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima depiction), both of which are just across the Potomac from DC “proper”.  In fact, I’d recommend staying on the No VA side if you’ve already “done” the main DC attractions. 

  24. I highly recommend taking the time to go visit the “Little Italy” and the Park Extension neibourghood while in Montreal. The Jean-Talon Market in Little Italy is a must and the Park Extension (Avenue du Parc) will take through the Greek part of Montreal, as well as Avenue Bernard for a very decent café!

    Enjoy Montreal! I now live in Quebec City, but I lived in Montreal for the first 41 years of my life and still go back to Montreal twice a month!

  25. Maybe i’m not the most qualified to offer advice, since I live on the other side of the Atlantic ! But I did a similar road trip 2 years ago (from New York to Atlanta), with 2 kids (3 and 1), and we stopped in Easton (Crayola Factory and Canal Museum), Philadelphia (zoo and Kid’s museum allows you to ask for good behaviour in the Museum of Arts), Baltimore (Railway museum, Aquarium, harbor, …), Williamsburg (caters to both adults and kids at the same time), Charleston (mansions, plantations, …), Savannah and Atlanta.
    Hope it gives you ideas of places to hit on the way !!!

    In Montreal, go for the river trip, fun way to look at the city from the river (there is an electric boat : absolute silence).

    As for the “reporting” part, and for us to follow you, a few bits of advice :
    I enjoy reading this blog, and used to like your souvenirist format, with pictures, videos, … 
    I have no idea what Foursquare is, don’t use Twitter, seldom go on Facebook, and can’t be bothered to have to go to different “outlets” or to use different programs to read about your adventure (although i’ve been going out of my way to read your blog entries on National Geographic website). Therefore, whatever you do, please try to run a complete version of your adventure on one media (or ten if you want, but therefore 10 complete versions)

  26. Montreal is my home.  I always recommend people have a look at Wikitravel

    Beaver Lake on Mount Royal is always a good bet, with a great lookout with a view over downtown. Go for a ride on our metro and have a wander through the underground city,_Montreal . Old Montreal and the Old Port with the science museum will keep your kids busy.

    Language, whatever you’ve heard, is not a problem, Montreal is a multilingual city.

    Montreal is a great multicultural city, with food from all over the world.

    Montreal is also a small piece or Europe in North America.

    There are lots of things to do in Montreal, eat, sleep, drink, museums, quiet places, loud places, we have it all!

    Enjoy your visit!!

  27. Attached is a website:
    First in the old town, if feels as if all roads are up with no down.  We stayed in a modern hotel outside the old city gates.  Ate no meals in the hotel, or the same place twice.  All restaurants were good.  Got a booklet with a 15-16 page walking tour.  Managed to make it to page 5 in 4 days.  So many things to see and do in the old walled city area.  The citadel is fantastic but it still is an active military base. Do not walk in middle of parade ground.

  28. Smart choice to make it a driving vacation!   I drove to Montreal last month to avoid the TSA’s bullying, and never regretted it for a second.  You’ll drive through some truly beautiful parts of the country.

    I recommend spending one night in a national park instead of a hotel: many national parks have furnished cabins, and you could be sleeping in a cabin by a lake surrounded by majestic forest instead of passing the time in a humdrum hotel.

  29. If you have a chance Arcadia National Park is stunning. I love to read travel books-one that I enjoyed was Wm Buckley’s “Atlantic High”, It’s a style that you might consider-everyone keeps a log or diary of what happened. I loved the various point of view narratives, you could do this with Kari and the kids. It’s really interesting how we can all see the same thing or have the same experience and see it in entirely and sometimes hysterically opposite ways..Enjoy!

  30. As for DC, visiting the FDR Memorial at night has always been a favorite of mine. You get rid of the distractions of everything around and the lighting focuses everyone on the memorial.

  31. You appear to pretty much ignore the east coast in both directions.  Boston has some great places, the Freedom Trail, The USS Constitution, Duck Tours that the children would love! 

  32. Move a little further NorthWest…  Mont Tremblant… wonderful mountains for summer or winter.. spend our summers here and New Years too….

  33. As a lifelong DC area resident and Big Brother of 20 years – for the kids I’d recommend Newseum in DC (you pay but its worth it and the kids will NEVER get bored); a trip to National Harbor and get the ferry across the river to Old Town Alexandria; a day trip out to Shenandoah National Park (Skyline Drive) – suggested hikes if you have a day – either Old Rag Mountain, White Oak Canyon Trail or tamer ones – Dark Hollow Falls and Rapidan Camp trail (see former President Hoover’s “Camp David”). Thats about 90 minutes from downtown on a beautiful drive. In the other direction – a short trip North to Baltimore to the National Aquarium. Any of these is kid-certified fun and keeps the adults happy too.

  34. I’m finally getting caught up on your column…I’d recommend a drive through Mont Tremblant National Park in Quebec. It’s maybe a couple of hours north of Montreal.  There are a number of short hikes that will lead you to waterfalls.  A loop around the park with stops would be a good day trip.  There’s also a camping area where you can rent a yurt for the night.  You can also take the tram at the ski resort, and go to the top of the mountain.  Great views.  

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