Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu sits just 40 kilometres southeast of Montreal, but it’s a city in its own right. The city is dissected by the Richelieu River and was once an important transportation hub. Today, it’s a thriving city with much to offer.
The city dates back to 1665, with some remnants of its history still being seen today. It’s a beautiful city that will please outdoor lovers, city slickers and culture enthusiasts. If you’re lucky enough to spend a few days here, these are the 15 best things to do in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu.
1. Walk along a canal
The Chambly Canal is a National Historic site that runs along the Richelieu River for nearly 20 kilometres. The canal opened in 1843 and was used as a trading route between Canada and the United States.
There are 10 bridges across the canal, eight of which are still manually operational. There are also nine original hydraulic locks, with eight still operating today.
The canal is a popular spot for cyclists and hikers that want a scenic strip to travel along. It’s also a popular place for boaters.
2. Visit a fort
Well three to be exact; all of which were built on the very same site within the Chambly Canal National Historic Site. The first Fort Sainte Thérèse was constructed in 1665, the second in 1747 and the third in 1760.
The first fort was constructed by France’s Carignan-Salières Regiment from Piedmont, though it was abandoned in 1667. The second Fort Sainte Thérèse was built by the Governor of New France to keep the Iroquois and the English colonies south.
Fort Sainte Thérèse was found burnt by the English, who rebuilt it for the third time and later used it as a post. It was later completely abandoned and forgotten until archaeological investigations began in 2008.
3. Watch balloons in the air
Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu has been hosting the incredible Festival International des Montgolfières (International Hot Air Balloon Festival) since 1984. If you’re visiting in August this festival is not to be missed.
This is the largest hot air balloon festival in all of Canada, attracting people not only locally but also from the USA and neighbouring Canadian provinces, as well as beyond. The festival is held at the Saint-Jean Airport, weather permitting.
Each day there are two flight launches; one at 6am and one at 6pm. The week-long festival also has many other things to enjoy, including live performances, amusement rides and some great food.
4. Spend a day in the park
Especially if you’re on a family getaway, although even adults on their own will enjoy spending a day at Centre-de-Plein-Air-Ronald-Beauregard. The park sits on the west side of the river and offers numerous activities throughout the entire year.
Visit in the winter and go ice skating, while admiring the views across the river. In warmer months, the park offers hiking, kayaking and picnicking, and also has volleyball and tennis courts.
There is a playground onsite where children can enjoying swinging and sliding. Visitors can hire kayaks, canoes and even ice skates at Centre-de-Plein-Air-Ronald-Beauregard.
5. Learn about the city’s history
Wander around the Fort Saint-Jean Museum and learn about the history of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. The museum was founded in 1960 and has an extensive collection of military artefacts that document 350 years.
The Museum is within the Royal Military College Saint-Jean. It retraces military history through weapons, uniforms, maps, artefacts and archived documents.
The site of Fort Saint-Jean Museum sits near the Richelieu River within the Fort Saint-Jean compound, which is a designated National Historic Site of Canada. The Royal Military College Saint-Jean is still up and running today, though parts of it are closed to the public.
6. Go on a wine and cheese tour
Quebec is known for its fabulous wine and cheese, with Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu being home to a few producers. Go on a wine and cheese tour of the city and indulge in its tasty delights.
Le Mas des Patriotes is a young wine producer that produces red, white and rosé wines that are typical of the region. Visit the winery and going on a stroll of the vineyards, touring around the facilities and sipping some of its finest wines.
Fromagerie Au Gré des Champs is an award-winning cheese house that makes delicious organic cheese from raw cows’ milk. The cheese house has been making cheese since 2000, including the famous Le Gré des champs and Le Monnoir.
7. Cycle around
There are some beautiful cycling trails in the Haut-Richelieu region, which is where Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu is located. Cycle through the countryside, along the river and past Mont Saint-Grégoire.
Cycling is an incredible way to take in the scenery in and around the city and the rest of the region, stopping at sites of your choice along the way. Discover heritage sites, picnic spots and forests while you tour the area on a bicycle.
One of the best cycling routes is though the city’s Iberville district to the town of Mont-Saint-Grégoire; to the northeast. It makes for a beautiful cycle with lots of places to discover along the way.
8. Discover the culture
Head to the historic village of L’Acadie and learn all about the Acadians that settled in the region in the late 18th century. It’s a unique and beautiful village that sits along the banks of the Petite-Rivière-de-Montréal; or L’Acadie River.
The village is rich in both history and culture, housing a historic church, some picturesque houses and other mid-century old buildings. Today, it’s part of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, although in the past it was its very own town.
Wander around the village and feel like you’ve gone back in time while you stare at the magnificent architecture that still remains there today. There are also some quaint local shops and cafés to enjoy.
9. Head to the market
Not just a regular market, but the unique Ferme Guyon that is a farmer’s market and a farm all in one. Learn how to grow vegetables in a greenhouse, wander around the nursery or visit the historic barn that dates back to 1860.
The Ferme Guyon is home to numerous plants, garden ornaments and a kitchen that prepares some fabulous food on a daily basis. There are even butterflies flying around everywhere, with the plants attracting hundreds of them for visitors to admire.
Head to the market and sample local products including cheese, jams, coffees, oils and crafts beer! The market also features a fabulous bakery, as well as a café that serves up delicious homemade food using ingredients that come directly from the farm.
10. Enjoy the outdoors
Sitting right above the city is Mont Saint-Gregoire, which is a haven for outdoor lovers. Enjoy the outdoors by hiking or cycling through the mountain, or by taking an ATV on one of its designated trails.
Visit in the winter and go snow mobiling, or come in the spring and enjoy playing a round of golf at the 18-hole Mont-Saint-Grégoire Golf Club. There are also fishing ponds, picnic areas and farm animals onsite.
Adventurists can take things even further by enjoying the aerial course. This means swinging from tree to tree, running across suspended bridges, climbing nets and gliding along a zip line.
11. Hop on a historic train
Not all of the trains at Exporail move, although some of them do. The museum also happens to have the largest railway collection in all of Canada!
Exporail is located in the city of Saint-Constant; just to the west of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu on the south shore of Montreal. It’s well worth making a trip here to visit this phenomenal museum.
The museum features both indoor and outdoor exhibits that combined covers an area of over 22 hectares. See miniature trains, step into a historic railway station, hop on antique trains or go for a ride on an old streetcar.
12. Shop for local brands
Carrefour Richelieu is the best place in the city to shop for local brands that you may not be able to get at home. There are over 90 shops in this large shopping mall, including department stores, electronic shops and clothing labels.
Some of the labels at Carrefour Richelieu are Canadian, while others hail from Quebec. Shop for the latest fashion at stores like Amnesia, Aubainerie, San Francisco and Dynamite, or go to Winners – the Canadian equivalent of the USA’s Marshalls.
The mall is also home to sit down restaurants and fast food counters, with something suitable for everyone. If you didn’t bring enough Canadian dollars with you, there’s a bank right onsite.
13. Savour the flavours
The food in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu is nothing short of fantastic, and your taste buds are sure to agree. Enjoy all of the amazing culinary delights and savour the flavours at each and every spot.
There is everything from gourmet tables to family-friendly restaurants spread across the city, with something to suit every budget. There are even a few establishments that will allow you to bring your own wine.
Restaurant Vivaldi is one of the finest places in the city for Italian flavours. Then there’s the intimate Bistro Braque, the lively Brasserie de l’Ouest and Capitaine Pouf that serves some pretty good homemade fish & chips.
14. Visit the big city
Anyone that visit Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu should be sure to take a day trip to Montreal; the second largest city in Canada. Montreal is a cultural melting pot and is often pegged as ‘Canada’s Cultural Capital’.
There are so many things to see here, including the historic Notre-Dame Basilica, Place des Arts, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and Canadian Centre for Architecture. Not to mention the Montreal Botanical Garden and Saint Joseph’s Oratory that boasts the world’s second largest copper dome.
Wander around Old Montreal and see sites that date back to 1642 or visit the Quartier Latin for great food, cosy coffee shops and lively bars. Downtown Montreal is where visitors can discover the more modern side of the city, while Chinatown is a colourful neighbourhood that was established in 1877.
15. Board a ship
Cruise along the Richelieu River and take in all of the beautiful scenery. This is a great way to not only discover the river, but also the villages, towns and cities along it.
Boats sail along the river from Saint-Ours south all the way to the US border, passing through Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu along the way. They even sail through the Fort Chambly National Historic Site, which makes boarding a ship that much more inviting.
Go on a three hour cruise in the day or at night, enjoying lunch or dinner while you take in the scenery. There are also shorter brunch cruises available, one of which goes on a tour of the Acadian heritage of the region.