Travel

The Ultimate Guide to Quebec City

There is no place like Quebec City. It’s a place steeped with history, culture, breathtaking architecture and delicious food. It’s magical.

You can easily spend a weekend just wandering around the old town streets. It literally feels like every corner you turn leads to a new neighbourhood with a totally unique atmosphere. Just being in the city will make you feel like you’ve been transported to old-world France. After all, Quebec City is one of the oldest European settlements in North America, a UNESCO heritage site and the only fortified city north of Mexico.

It’s also one of those places that you can visit any time of year. No matter the season. There is always an abundance of things to do in Quebec City. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting at Christmas and most recently, for four adventure-filled days in the summer.

So, the next time you’re craving European charm, fresh croissants and the sound of the beautiful French language, come and discover Quebec City. It’s closer than you think!

Things to Do in Quebec City

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Tips for Visiting Quebec City

Quebec City is a unique place to visit in Canada. In terms of major cities, it’s pretty much the “end of the line” when travelling east through Quebec. If you’re a first-time visitor, you may want to follow some of these helpful tips for visiting Quebec City:

  • French is the first language here. Unlike Montreal, Quebec City isn’t quite bilingual. You will likely encounter many people who do not (or would rather not) speak English. Brush up on some key French Canadian phrases before you visit.
  • To visit the suburbs or places outside of the old town, consider taking the bus! Quebec City has a great bus system with day passes for under $10.
  • You can drink in public. Sort of. You can drink in a public park as long as you have some food to go with it. So hit up the local dépanneur (corner store) and stock up on the essentials!
  • Cannabis is legal for anyone over the age of 21. It’s a controlled substance, like alcohol and tobacco. You can buy products at the nearest SQDC store.
  • Driving in the old town can be difficult because the streets are so narrow and filled with tourists. If your hotel is located here, have your directions ready to avoid any wrong turns. Otherwise, park outside of the old town walls and just walk in. More parking & driving tips here.
  • There are free wifi zones all over the city. Here’s a map.

Best Time to Visit Quebec City

Old-Town-Square-Quebec

You can visit Quebec City during any time of year, but be mindful of the weather. Like most of Canada, Quebec City experiences some pretty drastic seasons.

The summer is obviously the most popular time of year for visitors to Quebec City. The average temperature is about 25 degrees, but it can sometimes climb over 30. Most attractions, outdoor activities and restaurant patios will be open. The downfall is that it’s busy. There will be lots of tourists flocking to the city and this is reflected in the hotel prices.

The winter can be brutal. I visited Quebec City for Christmas 3 years ago and the weather was extreme. We experienced a blizzard on the drive up and then daily temperatures of about -45 degrees with the wind chill. Otherwise, Quebec City is beautiful in the winter, with snow-covered side streets, twinkling lights and lots of places to duck in for a chocolat chaud. In February, they hold the famous Winter Carnival!

In my opinion, I think Quebec City is best experienced in the shoulder seasons, spring and fall. The temperatures are a bit more moderate, leaving you comfortable enough to spend multiple days outside exploring the town.

Getting to Quebec City

Obviously, this depends on where you’re coming from, but Quebec City is easy to get to from most major cities in Canada. You could fly in, but I am a firm believer in the saying “the journey is half the fun”. I recommend visiting by car so that you can stop at some sights along the way.

Getting from Toronto to Quebec City will take the better part of the day, especially if you plan on making any stops. I recommend visiting the Big Apple (a must-visit for any drive north along the 401) and the Long Sault Parkway (an incredible scenic highway in the 1000 islands region). Here’s an entire blog post about places to stop between Toronto and Quebec City.

Getting from Montreal to Quebec City is a bit easier at just under 3 hours. You can kick-off the journey by stopping at the Gibeau Orange Julep, a roadside attraction & restaurant serving up creamy orange drinks. Opt to take the scenic route along the Chemin du Roy, which travels through some beautiful small towns in Quebec. And be sure to stop at some casse-croutes along the way – these are roadside restaurants serving up fresh poutine, hot dogs and greasy eats!

Where to Stay in Quebec City

Hotels-Old-Town-Quebec-City

There is no shortage of places to stay in Quebec City and it can be kind of overwhelming to find the perfect place. For starters, I think it’s best to stay at a property in the Old Town of Quebec so that all of the best attractions are right on your doorstep. The only drawback to this is that parking spaces are limited and most hotels in the Old Town charge extra. Be prepared to pay this extra fee during your stay.

Here are my top three hotels in Old Town Quebec City:

  1. Auberge Saint-Antoine. A historic museum-hotel hybrid in the lower town of Quebec City with delicious dining, private terraces with views of the old town and a private movie theatre. I stayed here for two nights this summer and wrote all about it in another blog post, read more about my stay at the Auberge Saint-Antoine here.
  2. Hotel Chateau Bellevue. A quaint hotel in the upper old town just steps away from the Chateau Frontenac with comfortable rooms overlooking the Parc des Gouverneurs. We spent 2 nights here for Christmas a couple of years ago and it’s really magical around that time of year.
  3. Hotel du Jardin. A contemporary hotel in the trendy Saint Roch district of Quebec City, which is full of cool restaurants and shops. Easy walking distance to the old town too. I haven’t stayed here before, but I’ve heard great things.

Regardless of which hotel you choose, I highly recommend reserving through booking.com. They usually offer FREE cancellation, cheaper rates and after you book with them enough times, you get “Genius” status and extra discounts!

If you’d prefer to live like a local during your visit, consider renting an entire apartment or a private room on Airbnb. There are tons of great Airbnbs in Quebec City, some of them even come with free parking! If you haven’t used Airbnb before, sign up using my referral link for up to $75 off your first stay.

Things to Do in Quebec City

There is a seemingly endless amount of things to do in Quebec City. I have organized my list into two sections, in and out of the Old Town. Quebec City is a big place and has some drastically different neighbourhoods/areas to explore.

Although I’ve got to say, my absolute favourite thing to do in Quebec City is just get lost. There are SO many side streets, parks, courtyards and beautiful historic buildings littered throughout the city. Just walk around, admire the sights and see what you can find… no map required!

1. Take a Picture of Chateau Frontenac

Chateau-Frontenac-Night

This hotel is the most famous landmark in the city and reportedly the most photographed hotel in the world. It was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company and holds a lot of history. Known locally as the Chateau, it’s a beautiful hotel & piece of architecture in Quebec City.

2. Walk along the Terrasse Dufferin

Directly beside the Chateau, you will find this beautiful boardwalk promenade. You can sit on one of the many benches to admire the view of the river and distant mountains. Or continue walking up the Promenade des Gouveneurs to the Citadelle.

3. Admire Quebec City’s Oldest Buildings on Rue St-Louis

Oldest-Building-Quebec-City

The city’s oldest buildings (Maison Kent, Maison Jacquet and Maison Maillou) are all located on Rue St-Louis. This is such a beautiful neighbourhood to walk through and enjoy the architecture.

4. Find the Cannonball Tree

Also on Rue St-Louis, you can find a tall elm tree with a large cannonball stuck at the base. It’s been here for hundreds of years and a fun hidden gem to find in the city!

5. Check out the View from Parc du Cavalier du Moulin

Walk down Rue du Corps de Garde directly beside the Cannonball Tree and take the stairs up to the Parc du Cavalier du Moulin, a former part of the French fortification. It’s a quiet spot in the old town with great views of the city and not too many tourists.

6. Admire the Art on Rue du Trésor

This neighbourhood reminds me of the Montmartre district in Paris. It’s pedestrian-only and lined with prints and paintings from local artists. Don’t be afraid to haggle for a better price or sit at one of the cafes to people watch.

7. Sit at the Place de l’Hotel de Ville

Cafe-Smith-Quebec-City

Next to the city hall is a small park with a great view of the surrounding sights, shops and the Edifice Price, which is the tallest building in the Old Town.

Tip: Grab a coffee or maple latte at nearby Café La Maison Smith Des Jardins (my favourite café in the city) and enjoy it in the park.

8. Visit the Basilique Notre-Dame

Beside the park is the beautiful Notre-Dame Cathedral, which dates back to 1647. The interior features exquisite paintings and glass painted windows. At Christmas, the church sets up a life-size nativity scene.

9. Take a Photo in the Courtyard of the Séminaire de Québec

Seminaire de Quebec

Also beside the park is the entrance to the interior courtyard of the Séminaire de Québec. This is a historic priest community building that offers guided tours of the interior. At the very least, visit the gorgeous white courtyard and famous sundial. It’s a hidden gem for sure!

10. Eat on Rue Saint-Jean

Rue-Saint-Jean-Quebec-City

This street in the Old Town is full of so many cool cafés, restaurants and bars. It’s the perfect place for people watching and I have enjoyed many meals on this street. My go-to spots are Chocolat Favoris (for soft-serve dipped cones), Paillard (for coffee & breakfast), Chez Ashton (for classic Quebec eats like poutine & hot dogs) and my all-time favourite, Les Trois Garçons. It’s a chic bistro with amazing onion rings, burgers and delicious cocktails. Great portions, flavours and prices. Get a seat outside if you can!

11. Visit the Citadelle de Quebec

The Citadelle de Quebec is Canada’s oldest military building, with over 300 years of history. It’s also a National Historic Site and played a vital role in the foundation of New France. From the St. Louis Gate on Rue Saint-Jean, you can walk along the fortress walls to enjoy a beautiful view of the city, the St. Lawrence River and the mountains beyond. You can also pay to visit the exhibits inside or take a guided tour.

12. Ride the Funicular & Visit Louis Jolliet’s House

Quebec-City-Attractions

The funicular is a classic tourist attraction in Quebec City. You can get on at either the top station just beside Chateau Frontenac or the bottom station beside the L’éscalier du Casse-Cou. Understandably, more people like to take it going back uptown to save themselves the steep walk. The lower station is kind of like a two-in-one attraction because it’s actually housed inside Louis Jolliet’s old house! He lived in the building during the 1600s. How cool is that?

13. Take the L’Éscalier du Casse-Cou

In English, they call this the Breakneck Stairs. It’s the original (and free) way of going between the Upper and Lower towns. Don’t worry, the stairs aren’t as tough as the name may lead you to believe. In fact, they make for quite a fun experience! The staircase itself is very historic (built in the early 1600s) and it’s dotted with some shops and scenic views of the city.

Tip: If you get tired along the way, don’t hesitate to stop at Ma Cabane en Gaspésie, an adorable Gaspe-inspired café with great coffee and lots of homemade maple products.

14. Walk Rue du Petit-Champlain

Rue-Petit-Champlain-Night

Once down in the “lower” old town of Quebec, take your time meandering down the many side streets and enjoying the beautiful architecture. Be sure to take a stroll down Rue du Petit-Champlain, which is one of North America’s oldest streets! It’s pedestrian-only and filled with lots of restaurants and unique shops for souvenirs or locally-made products. In the winter, this street is especially beautiful with all of the ice sculptures and twinkling lights. You can even sample some famous la tire d’erable (maple syrup rolled in fresh snow)!

Tip: There are so many great places to eat on this street like Le Lapin Sauté ($$$) or my personal favourite, Le Cochon Dingue. I wrote a bit about my experience at this Parisian-style bistro in my post on Where to Stay in Quebec City: Old Town Guide here.

15. Take a Picture in Umbrella Alley

Umbrella-Alley-Picture-Quebec

Just a block away from Rue du Petit-Champlin is Rue du Cul-de-Sac, nicknamed Umbrella Alley by us tourists! Hanging overhead is a collection of brightly coloured umbrellas. The perfect spot to take an Instagram photo or two.

16. Visit the Royal Battery

Sitting between the old town and the St. Lawrence River is the Royal Battery. This was built to hold the city’s cannons and used as a defence mechanism from any oncoming attacks. After the war, it became a wharf and was eventually replaced entirely. During construction work in the ’70s, they found the old battery and had it fully restored. It’s now a great place to sit and enjoy the view.

Tip: For a great photo of the Chateau Frontenac and old townhouses, head to Rue Sous-le-Fort just beside the battery.

17. Sit in the Place-Royale Square

Old-Town-Square-Quebec-City

This charming old town square is the birthplace of New France. It’s where Samuel de Champlain founded the city back in the early 1600s. You can see the outline of his house on the ground. Pull up a chair at Café Smith to enjoy the history and beautiful historic buildings that surround you.

18. Admire the Église Notre-Dame-des-Victoires

Located in Place Royale, you can also find the oldest stone church in North America, the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires. It’s only open during certain times of the year, so plan your visit accordingly if you’d like to visit the interior.

19. Visit the Musée de la Civilisation

There is a reason why the Museum of Civilization ($) is the most popular museum in Quebec City. It features interactive exhibits about the culture and history of Quebec. They offer a surprising amount of historic artifacts that have been uncovered in the general vicinity of the museum itself.

Tip: If you are a history-lover and find yourself intrigued by the historic artifacts of the city, consider staying at the museum-hotel hybrid Auberge Saint-Antoine during your visit. The hotel is built atop one of the city’s royal batteries and features a large display of artifacts. Check out my review here.

20. Walk along Rue Saint-Paul

Rue-Saint-Paul

From Place-Royale or the Musée de la Civilisation, walk up Rue du Sault-au-Matelot to Rue Saint-Paul. This is such a unique place in Old Town Quebec City. It’s a charming street filled with art galleries, antique shops and old-school diners. Honestly, in some parts, it feels like you’ve been transported to the ’50s. One of my favourite restaurants in the city is located here, L’Antiquaire Buffet. A great spot for classic Canadian eats. You can read more about my experience at the restaurant here.

21. Check out the Old Port

Best-View-Quebec-City

The Old Port is the perfect place to find a quiet escape in the city and enjoy the shores of the St. Lawrence River. Just out front of the Auberge Saint-Antoine, you can find the Place des Canotiers, an urban park with a beautiful fountain display. You can follow the walking trail all the way to the end of the port.

Tip: At night, the grain silos in the distance are illuminated with the colours of the Aurora Borealis. It’s a beautiful sight!

22. Smell the Flowers at the Parliament Gardens

Parliament-Quebec-City

Just outside of the Old Town walls, you will find the Parliament Building. It’s an impressive piece of architecture that houses the National Assembly of Quebec. If you’re interested, they offer free guided tours of the interior. I think it’s worth a visit for the exterior though. Towards the front of the building, you will see the beautiful Torny Fountain and the Parliament Garden. It’s a must-visit for any plant-lover in Quebec City. There are a variety of flowers, plants and herbs.

23. Stroll Down Grande Allée

Grand-Allee-Quebec-City

After the Parliament Building, the street of Grande Allée becomes lined with cafes, restaurants and bars with patios on both sides. It’s a beautiful spot to come for a meal on a warm summer day. Or to grab drinks on a weekend night – the atmosphere can get pretty crazy! One of my favourite places to eat on Grande Allée is Faite à L’os. It’s a smokehouse serving up delicious BBQ eats at reasonable prices. And although I’m a die-hard Café Smith fan, there’s a pretty nice Starbucks at the beginning of the street too.

24. Walk the Plains of Abraham

This is essentially the “Central Park” of Quebec City. It’s a historic battlefield that was used in the Seven Years’ War of Quebec and is an important piece of Canada’s history. Today, it’s used a city park and is home to plenty of trails, gardens, monuments and amazing views of the St. Lawrence River. It’s a pretty big place and you can even drive to some of the viewpoints (like the Terrasse Grey) on your way in or out of town. There is also a Plains of Abraham Museum ($) with exhibitions and tours that you can visit if you’re so inclined.

25. Eat on Rue Saint-Jean (again)

Rue-Saint-Jean

This same street is listed in my section on things to do in the old town, but I have to be a bit cheeky and post it again here. Because if you head down Rue Saint-Jean outside of the old town walls, you can STILL find great shops and restaurants but with way fewer tourists. It’s kind of like a different world. Check out Snack Bar Saint-Jean for the best poutine in Quebec City or the Crêperie Billig for fresh crepes. There are a bunch of cute stores here too like the Comptoir du Livre Enr, where you can find lots of used books in both French and English.

Tip: This is a great neighbourhood to walk around in during the early evening or night. Lots of beautiful buildings and hidden gem places to eat.

26. Check out the Trendy Shops in Saint-Roche

Saint-Roche is like the Williamsburg of Quebec City. It was once a very much “working-class” neighbourhood that has transformed into a hipster haven with lots of great places to eat, shop and go for a drink on a Friday night. There are quite a few techie businesses here too, so you’ll find lots of young professionals sitting at the nearest cafe with their laptop in hand. Plus, the best bakery in Quebec City is found on this street: La Boite à Pain (their entire menu is online with prices). Get a brioche trois chocolats and an amandine. Thank me later.

Tip: The neighbourhood puts out a 15-metre tall Christmas tree in the winter!

27. Take a River Cruise

River-Cruise-Quebec-City

What better way to experience Quebec City then from a guided river cruise ($). You can enjoy a beautiful view of the Quebec City skyline and Chateau Frontenac before sailing down the St. Lawrence all the way to Montmorency Falls and Ile d’Orleans. Along with the sightseeing cruise, AML Cruises also offers a dinner cruise and a variety of “passport” packages where you get access to a number of other attractions in Quebec City.

28. Go for a Bike Ride Along Promenade Samuel-De Champlain

Cageaux-Wharf-Quebec-City

This nearly 5km long trail stretches all the way from the lower old town to the Pierre-Laporte bridge. It travels along the river offering incredibly scenic viewpoints, lookout towers, gardens and many interpretation signs. Best of all, it’s totally free to use! You can park for free at many points along Boulevard Champlain, or leave right from your hotel in the old town. Be sure to visit the Cageaux Wharf observation tower and the Boisé de Tequenonday, an old woodland with archaeological remains that date back 5,000 years!

29. Visit the Aquarium

The Aquarium du Québec ($) is the perfect rainy afternoon activity for the family. You can easily spend 2-3 hours walking around the various exhibits and visiting their collection of over 10,0000 different fish and mammals. Along with the classic aquarium tunnels, they also offer somewhat of a zoo where you can see polar bears and walruses up close. It’s undoubtedly the best aquarium in the province and quite possibly Canada (sorry Ripley’s).

30. Swim at Parc de la Plage Jacques Cartier

Just a few kilometres outside of the old town, you will find the Parc de la Plage Jacques Cartier, a beautiful park along the St. Lawrence River. It’s the best place to go swimming in Quebec City and you will find many locals soaking up the sun on this dark sand beach in the summer. There are also some walking trails, picnic areas and many opportunities for bird watching.

31. Parc Nautique de Cap Rouge

Things-to-do-Quebec-City

The Parc Nautique de Cap-Rouge is just a few minutes pas the Parc de la Plage Jacques Cartier, so it’s easy to combine the two into one visit. This is a nautical park that is very popular for boaters. If you want to get on the water, it’s easy to rent a canoe or kayak from here. Otherwise, just come to enjoy the scenery! It’s a beautiful place to walk, enjoy the view of the river and admire the imposing railway bridge overhead. It’s very much a hidden gem just outside of downtown. You won’t find many tourists here!

Day Trips from Quebec City

There are so many amazing day trips from Quebec City. From natural wonders to beautiful small towns, Quebec City is in the perfect location to visit many destinations. Here are my top 5 day trips from Quebec City:

1. Jacques Cartier National Park

Jacques-Cartier-National-Park

The Jacques Cartier National Park ($) is one of Québec’s most beautiful National Parks and it’s only 40 minutes from downtown Québec City. It encompasses the Laurentian Mountains and a centuries-old glacial valley. You can easily spend a summer day here enjoying some outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking or taking a kayak out on the river. In the winter, it’s a popular spot for skiing and snowshoeing too. Most equipment can be rented in the park.

Consider spending the night camping in one of their famous yurts or booking a nearby Airbnb. We stayed at the Auberge Autrement, a modern chalet minutes away from the park entrance. Don’t forget to sign up for Airbnb using my referral code for up to $70 off your first stay!

2. Ile D’Orleans

Ile-Dorleans-View

Just 20 minutes out of downtown Québec City, you can find yourself in the countryside on Île D’Orleans. It’s one of the most popular day trips from Québec City and surprisingly one of the most historic too. It was one of the first parts of the province to be colonized by the French and many French Canadians today can actually trace their ancestral roots back to the island!

The island is home to beautiful scenery, cute small towns, historic homes, boutique shops, vineyards and some of the best fresh fruit and vegetables in the country. If you visit in the summer, be sure to pull over at one of the many roadside stops for some fresh Île D’Orleans strawberries. And whatever you do, make sure you visit the Chocolaterie de Ile D’Orleans & taste one of their chocolate-dipped cones!

Check out this Île D’Orleans guide to learn about all of the must-visit stops on the island. If you find yourself tempted to stay a night or two, don’t hesitate to book a night at the beautiful Gîte et Ressourcement du Domaine Steinbach. It’s a bed & breakfast with sea-view rooms and an on-site orchard… and delicious wine!

3. Montmorency Falls

Montmorency-Falls-Quebec

You will catch a glimpse of Montmorency Falls on your way into Ile D’Orleans, but I think it’s worth a stop on its own.

Montmorency Falls is actually taller than Niagara Falls, so it’s no surprise that this is one of the most popular sights in Quebec. You can get up close and experience these magnificent falls by visiting the Parc de la Chute Montmorency ($).

The park offers a number of hiking trails, observation points, an orchard, a panoramic staircase and a suspension bridge right over the top of the falls. For an extra fee, you can also take a cable car (currently closed due to COVID), a zipline or the “Via Ferrata” climbing route if you’re feeling extra adventurous.

For more information on visiting Montmorency Falls, check out this short guide from Urban Guide Quebec.

4. Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré

Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre

The town of Saint-Anne-de-Beaupré is home to the oldest pilgrimage site in North America and one of Canada’s National Shrines, the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré. This basilica is known for working many miracles, like curing the sick and disabled.

Honestly, it’s worth a visit alone just to marvel at the architecture. The basilica itself is a beautiful building with an equally impressive interior. If you get the chance, pop inside to marvel at the stained-glass windows.

The best part is that it’s only 25 minutes away from Old Quebec City and you have to drive past Montmorency Falls to get here, so you might as well combine the two!

Feel like taking the road less travelled? Opt to drive down Ave Royale from the falls instead of the main highway. It’s a scenic route dotted with some small towns and beautiful homes. You’ll also drive right past a delicious chocolate shop, so why not?

Tip: For a unique view of the basilica, head down the Quai de la Paix (Peace Pier) at the river. It’s even better at sunset!

5. Charlevoix & Baie St Paul

Baie-St-Paul

If you really want to make the MOST out of your day trip from Quebec City, then look no further than Charlevoix. This is undoubtedly the most beautiful region in Quebec, nestled between the mountains and the sea. From mountain climbing to whale watching, you can do anything in Charlevoix.

But you can’t do it all in one day. So if you’re short on time, start with Baie-Saint-Paul. It’s a charming town in the foothills of the mountains filled with boutique shops, art galleries and delicious restaurants. You can hang out at the beach, stroll through downtown or sample some fresh cheese on a farm in the hills.

You could easily spend an entire day in Baie-Saint-Paul, or several if you want to explore all of Charlevoix. So if you have the time to extend your trip to Quebec, consider booking 2 nights at the Motel Des Cascades or the Hotel Le Germain Charlevoix if you feel like treating yourself (you can visit the onsite farm too)!

And stay tuned, because I will be writing an entire blog post about Charlevoix in the next few weeks!

Tip: Head to the Belvédère Baie-St-Paul Lookout just outside of town for the most amazing view of the city, mountains & river!

Final Thoughts

Quebec City is quite possibly my TOP city to visit in Canada. I might be biased because I just came back from an amazing four days there. I can still taste the fresh lattes and chocolatines. Obviously, every person will find different things to do in Quebec City. Let’s use this post as a collective resource! Do you have any tips for visiting Quebec City, favourite things to do in Quebec City or recommendations on day trips from Quebec City? If so, please share them in the comments down below!

For more ideas on places to eat and stay in Old Town in Quebec City, check out this post: Old Town Guide Where to Stay & Eat

And don’t stop there! Keep exploring Canada by checking out some of my other posts:

Thanks for reading!

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1 Comment

  • Jenna

    Love this post! I went to Quebec City when I was in middle school (yikes – such a long time ago now!). It was really nice, so I definitely want to take my boyfriend there someday. Thanks for sharing!
    Jenna ♥

    September 28, 2020 at 22:47 Reply
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