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Magdalen Islands Travel Guide: The Best Things to Do, See & Eat

Way up in the middle of the Gulf of St Lawrence, far from anything, there’s a group of tiny islands, connected by sand dunes and fringed by crimson cliffs.

Impossibly green rolling hills mimic the waves of the ocean while pristine golden sand beaches stretch as far as the eye can see.

Natural rock arch below Cap Alright Lighthouse, Île du Havre aux Maisons

This windswept archipelago is Îles de la Madeleine, also known as the Magdalen Islands, and it’s one of Canada’s best kept secrets. Well, at least, to anyone who isn’t Québécois.

Alongside the beauty of the landscape, you’ll also find rich Acadian culture, boundless outdoor adventure and a gourmet culinary scene with the freshest, tastiest seafood anywhere.

This seemingly (but not truly) edge of the world destination is a place to slow down, savour good food and enjoy the beauty of nature. It’s Canada, but not the one you think you know.

A typical scene on the Magdalen Islands – colourful houses, a butte (hill), a lobster trap and a boat

We loved every moment we spent on the Islands. By day two, we were already working out how to go back for another visit.

In this post, I’m going to give you a complete overview of the Magdalen Islands, to help you start planning your own trip to this one-of-a-kind destination.

We absolutely packed each day of our June 2022 trip, exploring the length of the six interconnected islands to find the best things to do, eat and see.

Hiking down Butte Ronde

Here’s what to expect in this post:

We visited the Magdalen Islands in partnership with Quebec Maritime and Tourisme Îles de la Madeleine. This post was published July 2022 and includes some affiliate links. If you make a purchase via one of these links, we may receive a percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you.

Lobster fishing is a huge economic contributor to the Magdalen Islands (lobster roll pictured)

Introducing the Magdalen Islands

The Magdalen Islands (or ‘Islands’, ‘Maggies,’ ‘Les Iles’) is a small archipelago in the Gulf of St Lawrence, Canada.

Though part of Quebec, the Islands are geographically closer to the Maritime provinces of Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Culturally, we found the Islands to be a blend of all four provinces. Needless to say, the Magdalen Islands are unique in Canada, one of the many reasons we believe more people should visit.

Croc du Nordet Peninsula

Some quick history

For centuries, the Mi’kmaq visited seasonally to fish and hunt for walrus, describing the area as Menagoesenog, which means ‘islands swept by the surf.’

The first known European to arrive was French explorer Jacques Cartier in 1534. Another Frenchmen, Samuel de Champlain, passed by in 1629 and reportedly noted ‘La Magdeleine’ on his map.

Some sources, however, state that the Islands were named by the new ‘owner’ François Doublet de Honfleur in 1663, in honour of his wife, Madeleine Fontaine.

Dune du Nord beach

In 1755, the British started deporting the Acadians en masse from Nova Scotia. Not familiar with the Acadians? Check out this post, written by JR who is Acadian himself.

Some Acadians who escaped deportation found their way to the Magdalen Islands and founded a fishing settlement (La Grave). French families from Saint-Pierre and Miquelon as well as shipwreck victims joined them later.

Fast forward to today and many Magdalen Islanders (Madelinots) still identify as Acadian. Driving around the Islands, you’ll notice plenty of Acadian flags (starred tricolour) as well as the occasional fleur-de-lys (Quebec flag).

Borgot Lighthouse

Orientation

The archipelago comprises eight main islands, plus a smattering of tiny rocky islets:

  • Cap aux Meules Island
  • Havre aux Maisons Island
  • Havre Aubert Island
  • Pointe aux Loups Island
  • Grosse Île Island
  • Grande Entrée Island
  • Brion Island
  • Entry Island

All but Brion and Entry Island are connected by road. When seen from above, the main group of islands form a croissant. It takes around 90 minutes to drive from one ‘side’ of the croissant to the other.

Views from Butte Ronde

Around 13,000 people call the Magdalen Islands home, with the majority living on Cap aux Meules, the second largest island. The rest of the population is spread across six other islands, with Brion Island being uninhabited.

The official language of the Magdalen Islands is French, as it is in Quebec. I’ll talk more about this later, in the ‘travel tips‘ section. 5% of Madelinots do, however, speak English as a first language and are mainly of Scottish descent.

Walking through dunes (on designated route)

Top 10 things to do on the Magdalen Islands

Though the total land area of the Magdalen Islands may seem small (200km²), there is so much to do across the entire archipelago.

In this section, I’ll share the top 10 best things to do in the Magdalen Islands, as tried and tested by us.

Cap Alright

I would suggest staying on the Islands for at least six days. With that length of trip, you’ll be able to tick off all of these activities without rushing around and also enjoy plenty of downtime as well.

Short on vacation time? Four or five days is still doable, but you may need to prioritise.

Use the below map to orient yourself and locate all of the mentioned places and activities:

Google Map showing featured activities and places of interest on the Magdalen Islands
Click here or above to view Google Map with all featured activities

Take in the views from a butte (hill)

Whatever else you do, make sure you climb at least one ‘butte’ while visiting the Magdalen Islands!

These small grassy hills (or mounds) offer spectacular views of the beautiful Îles de la Madeleine in exchange for relatively little effort.

If you don’t have time or an appropriate pair of shoes to climb a ‘proper’ buttes, head to Cap-aux-Meules. There’s a small hill overlooking the port, accessible via a wooden staircase.

Butte des Demoiselles

Butte Ronde

An excellent ‘starter’ butte. A cross adorns the top of this butte, which looks out to Entry Island, Cap Alright Lighthouse and many colourful houses.

The trail to the top is 700m. It starts with a gentle ascent and becomes shortly before the summit.

The main trailhead is located on Chemin des Échoueries, opposite the stairs that lead down to the beach below Cap Alright Lighthouse. The hike is 1.4km return with one steep section.

Butte Ronde views

Butte des Demoiselles

Enjoy views of La Grave Historic Site and L’Île-du-Havre-Aubert from the main butte as well as the smaller Butte de la Croix, where there is a religious monument.

Park at the Notre-Dame church and walk 200m back to the trailhead on Chemin d’en Haut. Total trail length is around 1.7km return to the top of Butte des Demoiselles, via Butte de la Croix.

Butte des Demoiselles views

Big Hill

Situated on Entry Island, this butte provides the highest viewpoint of the Islands (174m). Be prepared to potentially share the 360 degree views with the local herd of cows!

We didn’t have a chance to pop over to Entry Island so this one is on the list for our next visit.

Entry Island

Go kayaking

Getting out onto the waters surrounding Îles de la Madeleine is a must and kayaking is an ideal way to do so.

Our three hour kayaking tour with Parc de Gros-Cap started with a cruise along Cap-aux-Meules’ dramatic red sandstone cliffs. Red legged Black Guillemots dived in and out of nesting holes as the waves slapped below.

Kayaking through caves on our guided tour

We then had the very exciting opportunity to paddle through a series of natural caves. Although we kayak reasonably often, I would not have had the confidence to do this independently so it was definitely a special experience!

Parc de Gros-Cap operates a variety of kayak tours, with full day options available as well. Our tour was suitable for first timers as well as more experienced kayakers. Children are welcome too, four years old and above.

Our kayaking group
Approaching the caves

Discover La Grave Historic Site

Step back in time at the historic site of La Grave on Havre Aubert Island. This narrow strip of land was first used as a base for fishing by the Mi’kmaq.

In 1762, a group (mostly Acadian families) settled here and established the area as a fishing and hunting center. Some consider the site to be the birthplace of the Magdalen Islands as we know them today.

The Magdalen Islands’ fishing heritage is preserved in a collection of wooden buildings dating from the 19th and 20th centuries. The buildings now house restaurants, boutiques, cafes, galleries and even a theatre.

Some of the buildings at the La Grave Historic Site

Follow the Circuit de Saveurs (Food Trail)

Îles de la Madeleine is a bountiful place, with many artisan food producers. The Circuit de Saveurs invites visitors to take a self guided tour and taste the local flavours of the Islands.

Take the time to visit at least a couple of the following local producers while visiting:

  • Miel en Mer: Family owned bee farm producing several different hone varieties plus dangerously tasty chokeberry mead (we brought a bottle home) and candles. Take a walk up the hill to see the hives and a gorgeous view of the surrounding hills
  • Fumoir d’Antan: Smoking fish is an age old tradition on the Magdalen Islands. This is the last smokehouse facility of its kind, run by the Arsenau family for three generations
Tasting mead at Miel en Mer
  • Fromagerie Les Biquettes à l’Air: Goats cheese takes centre stage at this small farm on L’Île-du-Havre-Aubert. There are more than a dozen varieties available for purchase. The cute ‘kids’ in the garden are a joy to watch, especially at feeding time
  • Le Verger Poméloi: Laid back apple cidery/distillery with tasting patio and shop. We tried five ciders and and two gins. It is usually possible to visit the orchard (closed on our visit)
  • À l’abri de la Tempête: Microbrewery utilising local flowers, herbs and even marine algae. My favourite was the citrusy Belle Saison. The patio is a fabulous place to watch sunset
Flight of beers at À l’abri de la Tempête

Other Circuit de Saveur members include Le Barbocheux (fruit wine), Fromagerie du Pied-de-Vent (cheese) and Aucoin des Sangliers (butchers with wild boar).

Most of these producers offer guided tours with tastings. To avoid disappointment, check for tour times, availability and reservation requirements before visiting.

Cheeky goat kid at Fromagerie Les Biquettes à l’Air

Spend some time on the beach

With more than 300km of spectacular beaches on Îles de la Madeleine, it would be almost criminal not to visit a few on your visit! And even in the busy summer season, the beaches offer plenty of solitude.

Our favourite beaches are:

  • Dune du Sud – Sheltered beach on Île du Havre aux Maisons featuring intricate red sandstone cliffs and caves to explore at low tide. Grab a lobster roll at nearby Gampy’s for lunch
  • Dune du Nord – Magnificent 16.5km long golden sand beach with a lagoon on the southeastern side. There are various parking lots and access points located along Highway 199
Dune du Sud
  • Grande Échouerie Beach/Old Harry Beach – Gorgeous sweeping sandy beach on Grosse-Île. Backs on to Pointe de l’Est National Wildlife Area
  • Dune Sandy Hook – Located at the tip of L’Île-du-Havre-Aubert, great views of Entry Island await at the end. Allow 3 hours to walk to the end (and back)

Please be aware that currents around the Magdalen Islands are very strong. Only park in designated areas and follow established paths to the beach to avoid damage to the delicate sand dunes.

Walking to Dune du Nord

Visit local artisans

The gorgeous coastal landscapes of the Magdalen Islands inspire many local artisans including painters, potters and sculptors.

Galleries and boutiques are scattered across the Islands, with some artists offering workshops so you have a go yourself.

Make handmade soaps at la Fille de la Mer, blow glass at La Méduse and paint bowls at Maison du Potier.

Atelier Côtier – the little bottles on the left contain sand from all over the world

A must see is Atelier Côtier, a beautiful art shop and workshop in La Grave.

The creative team blend nature with clean, modern design to produce clothing, furniture, artworks and more. They’re best known for transforming sand from the local beaches into sculptures. Stop by for a browse, I guarantee you’ll be there for longer than you think!

Marie Marto art shop on Grande-Entrée

Take in a sunrise or sunset

With nothing but ocean on the horizon, the Magdalen Islands are a magical place to experience a sunrise or sunset. If you can, take the time to experience both!

Our favourite place for sunset was Borgot Lighthouse, on the west side of Île du Cap-aux-Meules. The cliffs at nearby Belle-Anse were also wonderful at golden hour, but be sure to head to Borgot for the ‘big event’

Borgot Lighthouse

For sunrise, go to Cap Alright Lighthouse on Île du Havre aux Maisons. The tall cliffs and sweeping beach provide plenty of interesting vantage points to watch the day begin. While walking to the lighthouse, look for the natural rock arch below

Cap Alright at sunrise

Go hiking in the Pointe de l’Est National Wildlife Area

The Pointe de l’Est National Wildlife Area protects an expanse of dunes, forest, marsh and ponds as a representative example of the archipelago’s natural landscape. Many bird species, such as the at-risk Piping Plover, nest here.

L’Échouerie trail

Pointe-de-East has two parking lots, with 8km of hiking trails. The surface of the paths is mostly sand, so despite being short, these trails take a little more effort to hike!

  • From the south parking area (closest to Old Harry), the L’Échouerie trail transports hikers through the dunes to a marshy boardwalk behind the ocean (2km round trip)
  • From the north parking area, an easy loop hike travels to the ‘Bol À Soupe,’ an otherworldly looking depression in the dunes (2.1km round trip)
Bol À Soupe

Tour the lighthouses

Six lighthouses dot the shores of Îles de la Madeleine, providing safety to fishermen and boaters alike.

Before they were built, an estimated 500 to 1000 vessels fell victim to the Islands’ shifting sands and shallow waters in the 18th and 19th centuries.

These red and white structures also provide impressive viewpoints and backdrops for photography.

The three most easily accessible lighthouses on the Islands are:

  • Borgot: This Île du Cap-aux-Meules lighthouse is a popular spot for sunset. Facing west, you can also take in the views of red sandstone cliffs
  • Cap Alright: While Cap Alright may the smallest lighthouse in the archipelago, it commands a spectacular vantage point on Île du Havre aux Maisons. Head here for sunrise
  • Anse-à-la-Cabane: The oldest lighthouse still in service on the Islands, it is also the tallest. Located on private land on L’Île-du-Havre-Aubert, visitors can still view this impressive lighthouse from a distance
Anse-à-la-Cabane

Harvest your own seafood

Collecting and eating seafood is an integral part of life on the Magdalen Islands. To give you an idea, almost a quarter of the working population is directly or indirectly connected to the lobster industry.

Enhance your Magdalen Islands experience by catching your own seafood. Not only will you experience more of the local culture but you’ll also get to taste some of the freshest seafood around!

Walking to our clam digging beach

There are a myriad of ways to get involved. We joined a clam digging tour at Auberge La Salicorne on Grande-Entrée Island.

Arriving at the beach, we were all handed a bucket and given the lowdown how to locate and then swoop the quahogs (the most common clam in this area) out of the sand.

It was both remarkably easy and super fun. One of our fellow clammers remarked that they felt like a child again, digging in the sand! After collecting a sizeable amount, we returned to the Salicorne, where the restaurant chefs cooked up our clams in a simple broth. So tasty!

Happy with our clam digging haul! (Though we can’t take full credit)

More fun things to do on the Magdalen Islands

Seal Interpretation Centre at La Salicorne

Where to eat on the Magdalen Islands

The Magdalen Islands are a culinary destination. For such a relatively small archipelago, there is a surprising amount of fresh, local produce here.

And dining standards are high. I honestly think you’d struggle to have a ‘bad’ meal anywhere! Unlike so many other destinations, there are no real tourist trap restaurants.

Seafood is a mainstay of the local menus. If you love the sound of eating lobster, scallops, shrimp (crevettes), clams, oysters, mussels and fish every day, you will absolutely love the Magdalen Islands.

As big seafood fans, it was a pleasure to eat our way around. Options are definitely more limited for vegetarians and especially vegans. If you have specific dietary requirements, I would consider booking accommodation with a kitchen.

Resto Bistro Accents

Dining reservations

If visiting the Magdalen Islands during the summer season, I would highly recommend making restaurant reservations in advance.

Even in mid June, we found that we had limited dining options for dinner as most spots had been reserved a week or more before we arrived.

Most restaurants seem to use the Libro reservation system, with dates opening up a month or more in advance.

We did still manage to secure some reservations but flexibility was key. I would have liked to eat at Restaurant Eva on Île du Cap-aux-Meules, but it was completely reserved during our visit.

Le Millerand

Cap Dauphin Fish Shark

I firmly believe that every visitor should eat at least one casse-croute (take out) while touring the Magdalen Islands!

The Fish Shack was the best we tried, with the cheapest, most packed lobster rolls around ($13, tax included). We paired our rolls with the hearty seafood chowder ($8), similarly full of lobster.

This takeout is situated right next to the lobster pound, so it doesn’t get much fresher than this.

Lobster roll from the Fish Shack

Resto Bistro Accents

This hotel restaurant will exceed your expectations, with elevated versions of local favourites. Seafood is prominent, with meat often being used to accentuate the flavours. Each dish, as you can see both, is plated thoughtfully and aesthetically.

Some of the tables have a direct ocean view. This restaurant is very popular with locals on Fridays and Saturdays so be sure to reserve.

Salmon tartare, scallop and lobster dishes at Resto Bistro Accents

Le Millerand

In a nod to its unpretentious vibe, this restaurant looks a bit like a casse-croute from the outside. There are only a handful of tables inside, most with ocean views.

Though ambience is rustic, the food remains firmly upscale. Situated right by the port of Bassin, the menu celebrates seafood to the fullest. We were blown away by the creativity and flavour of the dishes. My favourite was the lobster risotto (see photo below).

The unstated exterior of Le Millerand
Lobster risotto at Le Millerand

Gourmande De Nature

A celebration of all things food, Gourmande de Nature is not just a bistro, but a gourmet food store, ice cream shop and culinary school as well.

The menu changes often to reflect seasonal ingredients. The poke bowl is a great option for lunch. On our visit, it featured crevettes (tiny shrimp).

Poke bowl at Gourmande De Nature

Resto Madelinot at Auberge la Salicorne

For a home-cooked dinner experience, head to la Salicorne on Grande-Entrée. Meals are included for guests but evening visitors are welcome too.

The set menu changes from day to day, but expect to see classic Madelinot dishes and ingredients. We were lucky to arrive on (whole) lobster night!

The casual dining room at Auberge la Salicorne

Speciality foods to look out for

When checking out restaurant menus, look for the following local ingredients or traditional dishes for an authentic ‘taste’ of the Magdalen Islands:

  • Lobster – A must for every visitor to try, especially during the lobster fishing season (early May to early July). Usually steamed whole, you can also find lobster in poutine, salads, risotto and in rolls (guédille)
  • Seal – Now sustainably hunted, seal is often served in pate, sausages and poutine. JR best describes it as fishy yet gamey
  • Smoked herring – Smokehouses were once ubiquitous across the Islands, with smoking being an excellent way to preserve fish
  • Croxingnoles (beignets) – A breakfast staple for Madelinot, this is a braided, deep fried bread dough served with a caramel sauce. Traditionally, it would be fried in seal fat
Close up of breakfast plate at Resto Bistro Accents with braided and fried croxingnoles, breakfast potatoes, caramel sauce and fruit
Croxingnoles for breakfast at Resto Bistro Accents
  • Seafood chowder – This classic comfort food dish usually features plenty of clams, specifically quahogs which are abundant in the surrounding Gulf
  • Pot-en-pot – This seafood pie is like the Îles de la Madeleine’s version of tourtiere. The filling may include scallops, lobster and shrimp
  • Scallops, clams, mussels and oysters – Molluscs are plentiful around the Islands so be sure to sample some of each!
Seal appetiser (three ways) at Auberge la Salicorne

Where to stay on the Magdalen Islands

With a choice of hotels, motels, B&Bs, vacation rentals, campgrounds, there’s something for every taste on Îles de la Madeleine.

The biggest concentration of accommodation is found on Île du Cap-aux-Meules, where most Madelinot live.

Colorful vacation rentals on Cap-aux-Meules

There is, however, at least one campground and a choice of vacation rentals on each of the six interconnected islands.

Please note that many vacation rental owners require week long stays in summer e.g. Saturday to Saturday or Sunday to Sunday.

Château Madelinot exterior

Château Madelinot

Conveniently located close to the ferry dock and all of the services in Cap-aux-Meules, Château Madelinot is an ideal place to start or end your Îles de la Madeleine adventure.

The U-shaped hotel sits just behind a rocky beach and looks out to Cap Alright and Entry Island. Most rooms are been recently renovated to a very comfortable standard, with contemporary furnishings. Most have ocean views.

Our Château Madelinot room

The on-site restaurant (Resto Bistro Accents) is one of the best on the Islands, so you don’t even have to go far for dinner. Guests also have free access to a large indoor swimming pool with hot tub and electric sauna.

Please note – It is a good idea to make advance breakfast reservations as well as dinner reservations at this hotel.

Auberge la Salicorne

Auberge la Salicorne exterior

The Auberge la Salicorne is one of the most unique properties we have ever visited. This 26 room inn on Grande-Entrée Island is something of an all inclusive adventure resort.

Standard packages include lodging, breakfast, four course dinners and daily activities/tours. The latter includes clam digging, kayaking, sea cave swimming, yoga, hiking and cultural tours.

Our room at Auberge la Salicorne
Bubble tent at Auberge la Salicorne

Lodge rooms are on the modest side but have everything you need for a comfortable stay. Some even have ocean views. There’s a campground as well, with some ‘bubble’ ready-to-camp units (no tent needed).

A shuttle service is available from the airport. This makes it possible to fly in, stay at the Salicorne and then travel around the Islands (utilising the daily tours) without the need for a car. We met some guests doing just that and it seemed to be a great solution.

One of the communal rooms at Auberge Jeunesse Paradis Bleu

Auberge Jeunesse Paradis Bleu

Forget everything you thought you knew about youth hotels. This modern property is situated right on the beach, with a huge deck, hot-tub and firepit. Communal areas are super clean and spacious, with plenty of room for all.

We stayed in the ‘penthouse’ double room with epic ocean views, accessed via a private spiral staircase. Auberge Jeunesse Paradis Bleu is only a few minutes drive from Cap-aux-Meules and the ferry dock.

Auberge Jeunesse Paradis Bleu exterior
Our room at Auberge Jeunesse Paradis Bleu

Parc de Gros-Cap

Looking for a place to camp on Îles de la Madeleine? Check out Parc de Gros-Cap, a non-profit (social enterprise) campground on Île du Cap-aux-Meules.

Full disclaimer, we didn’t stay overnight here but we did take the opportunity to explore after our guided kayak adventure.

Some of the campsites at Parc de Gros-Cap have spectacular views like this

The setting of this campground is absolutely gorgeous, right on a bluff above the ocean. Many of the camp spots enjoy direct ocean views. As well as campsites, there are also some basic cabins and lodge rooms.

Guests have easy access to a beautiful red sand beach and can join weekly sand castle workshops. Kayak and SUP rentals are available as well.

The cabins at Parc de Gros-Cap

How to get to (and around) the Magdalen Islands

The journey is all part of the Îles de la Madeleine experience. There are two ways to reach the Islands – by sea or air.

Once on the Island, I would recommend having a vehicle to explore. Public transport does exist but schedules are limited in the more remote areas.

Cycling is a popular way to get around, though be prepared for the strong winds. Bike rentals (including the electronic variety) are available from La Pedalier and Éco-vélo des Îles. This Quebec Maritime blog post describes the experience of exploring the Islands by two wheels for six days.

The CTMA ferry arriving into Souris

CTMA ferry from Prince Edward Island

Most visitors to the Magdalen Islands arrive via ferry from Prince Edward Island. The Souris to Cap-aux-Meules route is operated by CTMA. Reservations are required to guarantee a space on a specific departure.

The crossing takes around five hours plus loading and unloading time. During the high season (mid June to the end of September), passengers must check-in 90 minutes before the departure time.

At the time of writing (July 2022), the summer ferry schedule includes two crossings a day, with the ferry departing for PEI in the early morning and returning to the Magdalen Islands in the evening. There are some additional night services on limited summer days as well.

With this schedule in mind, I recommend ferry visitors to stay for at least four nights on the Islands, to allow for three full days of exploring.

Eating mussels on the ferry
The aft deck on the ferry

Ferry tips

  • Passengers are not allowed to return to their vehicles while the ferry is operating, so prepare a bag while waiting to board
  • The seats in all four observation lounges are very comfortable, with full headrests and reclining ability. On sunny days, the aft deck is very popular, especially as there is an outside bar!
  • It’s possible to book a private cabin for the journey. These feature full sized beds and en-suite bathrooms. The price in 2022 was $40 plus tax. Unfortunately, you do have to vacate 45 minutes before arrival
  • The ferry does not have wi-fi. So if you’re planning to kill time with a few Netflix shows, download them before boarding or be prepared to use data for streaming. We had phone signal for the entire journey (Freedom/Telus)
  • On both of our sailings, we spent more than an hour waiting to drive off the ferry. Regular-sized vehicles are parked in an ‘upstairs’ area of the new Madeleine II ferry, which means that all larger vehicles (RVs, large trucks etc.) must depart first
  • The delay wasn’t a big deal for us, but it’s something to keep in mind if you have time sensitive plans, such as a dinner reservation
  • Space is tight on the ferry. If you can, fold in your side view mirrors before embarkation. Be prepared to follow the instructions of the ferry staff carefully – you may need to maneuver your vehicle into a compact space
  • Menu choice is not extensive in the main restaurant or café, but the food is surprisingly high quality. We ate mussels and fries on our outbound ferry and lobster rolls on the way back
  • Don’t want to bring your vehicle to the Magdalen Islands? It’s possible to rent a car right in Cap-aux-Meules
Acadian flag decoration on ferry

CTMA cruise from Montreal

Normally, CTMA operates summer cruises from Montreal to Îles de la Madeleine. Due to the pandemic, all sailings were cancelled in 2020, 2021 and 2022.

CTMA’s one week all inclusive cruise sails past Quebec City and the Gaspé Peninsula, arriving in the Islands two days after departure. Passengers spend three days exploring the archipelago before returning to Montreal, via a stop at the port of Gaspé. Excursions are available.

Old Harry rocks

Flying to the Magdalen Islands

It is also possible to fly to Îles de la Madeleine. The airport is located on Île du Havre aux Maisons. There are three airlines currently operating:

  • Air Canada: Seasonal service from Montreal, with connections to other major Canadian cities
  • PAL Airlines: Regional airline with regularly scheduled flights from Gaspé, with connections to Quebec City, Montreal and other destinations in Eastern Canada
  • Pascan Aviation: Local airline with regular scheduled flights from Gaspé and Quebec City, with connections to Montreal and other destinations in Quebec

Some accommodation providers can arrange transfers from the airport for an additional fee. One example is Auberge La Salicorne.

Alternatively, it is possible to rent a car at the airport via La Blanc Location D’Autos, Location d’autos Archipel or Agence de Location Des Îles.

Musée de la Mer, La Grave

Magdalen Islands travel tips

Here’s a few things you need to know before you start planning a trip to the Magdalen Islands.

The best time to visit the Magdalen Islands

The main Magdalen Islands tourist season is June to September. The second most popular time is in late winter, during the harp seal watching season.

Most restaurants and visitor services (accommodation, activities, tours) are fully operational between mid June to late September.

Arriving into Cap-aux-Meules

July and August are the busiest months, coinciding with the warmest weather. The amount of visitors to the Islands during this time means that demand for accommodation, restaurant, activity and ferry reservations is high. Advance planning is therefore necessary.

Personally, I would recommend visiting the Magdalen Islands in mid to late June or early September. Warm weather can be experienced in both months and there are far less other visitors around. Reservations are easier to secure and you’ll have more relaxed trip in general.

Grosse-Île

June is an ideal month to visit if you like seafood, as the lobster season runs from early May to early June. Eating fresh lobster was a definite highlight of our mid June trip.

If you’d like to go swimming or participate in other water activities, know that the ocean surrounding the Magdalen Islands is a lot warmer in September.

Saint-Pierre in Lavernière Church, North America’s second largest wooden church

Opening hours and reservations

As mentioned above, most businesses on the Magdalen Islands open additional days/hours during the main summer season. During the winter, some businesses close completely.

Sunday closures are relatively common, even in summer. Some smaller businesses are closed on Saturdays as well.

Beach below Cap Alright Lighthouse

Language

French is the official language of Quebec and also the dominant language used on the Magdalen Islands. The vast majority of tourists to the Islands are visiting from Quebec.

Some signs, interpretive boards and menus are translated into English and there are some English speaking communities on Grande-Entrée, Grosse-Ile, and Entry Island.

Fishermen’s Monument, L’Étang-du-Nord

Being that JR’s first language is French, we had no trouble travelling the Islands. I read French to a decent level and can understand some speech, but am very limited when it comes to actually speaking French.

Recognising that not everyone travels with their own French interpreter, we decided to experiment one day and pretend that we were both Anglophone. Of course, we still used the basics to be polite – bonjour (to say hello), bonne journée (to say goodbye) and merci (to say thank you).

On the whole, everyone was still just as friendly and welcoming, despite our lack of French. Some Madelinot were completely fluent in English, others were fairly proficient while some could only speak ‘petite peu‘ (a little).

That ‘little’ amount of English, however, was usually more than enough for us to communicate on a basic level. In a couple of instances, the first member of staff we spoke to would find someone else with better English fluency to serve us.

Fishing boats at Grande-Entrée

The only place that we encountered an issue was at Le Site D’autrefois, where Claude Francois’ storytelling is in French only.

In conclusion, speaking English only is generally not a problem while travelling the Magdalen Islands. It does, however, mean that you miss some of the stories and anecdotes you would receive in French. But that it normal when visiting any country when you do not speak the local language.

Money

The currency on the Magdalen Islands is the same as in the rest of Canada – the Canadian dollar.

The reason I mention money here is to point out that carrying some cash is advisable while travelling the Magdalen Islands. We visited a number of shops and restaurants (usually the casse-croûte variety) that did not accept card payments.

I thought it was also worth noting that the swipe function was not available at some places accepting card payments. So if you have any cards without a chip or the ability to ‘tap’ for payment, you may not always be able to use them.

Auberge la Salicorne

Phone and internet access

After visiting six of the Islands, we can report good, consistent phone signal almost everywhere on both Shaw (Freedom) and Koodo (Telus).

Wi-fi was available at each place we stayed overnight and also in some restaurants and cafes.

Notably, there is no wi-fi on the CTMA ferry from Prince Edward Island.

Kayaking along the coast of Cap-aux-Meules

Safety

As destinations go, the Magdalen Islands is definitely on the safer side.

Crime levels are low, especially violent crime. Of course, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so take all regular precautions (avoid leaving valuables in vehicles, keep your belongings close etc.)

Observation Deck above Cap-aux-Meules dock

The biggest threat to visitor safety while travelling the Magdalen Islands is the crumbling coastline.

Previously, sea ice would encase the Islands for at least six months of the year, protecting the sandstone cliffs. Over the last hundred years, the Magdalen Islands have warmed 2.3°C, twice the global average. Needless to say, there’s not a lot of sea ice left now.

One of the historic buildings at La Grave

The loss of the sea ice has left the shoreline vulnerable to erosion. In some places, as much as four metres of land has disappeared within the last decade. The rising water levels are also a threat to the Islands’ drinking water supply.

To stay safe, keep clear of cliff edges at all times. A distance of at least three metres is best. It is not always possible to see eroded areas and deterioration (collapse) could happen at any time.

On a related note, please be aware that the currents around the Magdalen Islands can be extremely strong and therefore hazardous. On windy days, even strong swimmers should stick to beaches with lifeguards.

Stand up paddle boarding along the coast of the Magdalen Islands

Responsible travel

  • Always Leave No Trace. Wherever you go on the Magdalen Islands, always pack out what you brought with you. Leave anything you find, except trash
  • Follow instructions for disposing of waste. Most public bins have three sections – one for recycling, one for compost (food scraps) and one for non-recyclable waste
  • Use marked paths to access beaches. This avoids damage to the delicate sand dunes, which are key to the archipelago’s ecosystem. As well as providing a home for many plants and animals, the dunes provide a natural barrier against salt water entering the drinking water supply
Sunrise at Cap Alright
  • Park only in designated areas. Do not drive or park on beaches or dunes
  • Support local as much as you can. Shop, stay and eat at local businesses to help support the local community. Luckily, it’s very easy to do on the Magdalen Islands!
  • Learn some French. As noted above, yes, you can get around the Magdalen Islands just speaking English. But be respectful and learn some French before you go. Even the basics (hello, goodbye, thank you) are appreciated
Butte des Demoiselles

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Îles de la Madeleine, also known as the Magdalen Islands, is a spectacular, windswept archipelago located in the middle of the Gulf of St Lawrence. And it's one of Canada's best kept travel secrets. Well, at least, to anyone who isn't Québécois. Here's what you need to know to plan your own trip! offtracktravel.ca
The Magdalen Islands, located in Canada's Gulf of St Lawrence, should be your next travel destination - think green rolling hills, colourful houses, crimson cliffs and golden beaches as far as the eye can see. Click here to discover one of Canada's best travel secrets. offtracktravel.ca
Way up in the middle of the Gulf of St Lawrence, far from anything, there’s a group of tiny islands, connected by sand dunes and fringed by crimson cliffs. Impossibly green rolling hills mimic the waves of the ocean while pristine golden sand beaches stretch as far as the eye can see. This windswept archipelago is Îles de la Madeleine, also known as the Magdalen Islands, and it's one of Canada's best kept secrets. Well, at least, to anyone who isn't Québécois. This complete travel guide will tell you everything you need to know! offtracktravel.ca

Luba

Thursday 14th of July 2022

Hello Gemma, It was fantastic meeting you and JR at Auberge La Salicorne and joining you for the clam dig and delicious meals. Your blog more than captures this beautiful place and its welcoming people. Your photos, travel details and explanations are spot on.I learned a lot from your blog, especially about more places I'd like to visit. Merci!

Gemma

Thursday 14th of July 2022

Oh, it's so great to hear from you Luba! It was wonderful to meet you too. I hope the rest of your trip on the Islands was as fantastic as ours (it sounds like it!)