A visit to Quebec City is like walking through a living museum of narrow cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages and fortified walls. One of North America’s oldest and most magnificent settlements, it won’t take long before you develop a love for the French-Canadian culture and an infectious desire to kiss on both cheeks. Despite its old age, it still hosts a variety of spectacular events throughout the year that are generally free such as Festival d’ete de Quebec, Fetes de la Nouvelle-France, Crequscule circus show and Carnaval de Quebec.
Directions: Google Map is given at the end the article.
1 Day Option – If you have only one day in Quebec City
Nowhere in the city can you feel the connection between old and new better than Battlefields Park. This 254-acre area is home to the Plains of Abraham (the site of the 1759 battle between the French and British). Take your time strolling through to take in all the architecture of varying designs. Marvel at the intricate Fontaine de Tourny out front of the Assemblee Nationale (Parliament Building), designed in the Second Empire style. Free guided tours of the interior are available and last approximately 45 minutes.
Optional: Near to the Parliament Buildings is the Observatoire de la Capitale. A viewing area on the 31st floor of the city’s tallest skyscraper, the Marie-Guyart Building.
Leaving the Parliament Building, step outside and turn around to see the only remaining fortified walls in North America. Just one of the reasons why Old Quebec is a UNESCO World Heritage site. These 400 year old walls mark the boundary of the old town. Walk through the Porte Saint-Louis gate and enter the narrow sidewalks, sloping streets and cobblestone roads of Old Quebec.
Next Stop: The Citadel
Continue walking until you reach the Citadel of Quebec.
Built by the French in the 1750’a and finished by the British in 1850, the Citadel was intended to defend against an American invasion that never came. Founded in WWII, now it is the base of Canada’s Royal 22 regiment. Throughout the year you can see permanent and temporary exhibits inside the revitalized museum and take a guided tour of the Citadel. In the summer, you can witness a Beating the Retreat or Changing of the Guard ceremony.
Next Stop: Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac
A short walk from the Citadel begins the Governor’s Promenade. This elevated boardwalk offers fantastic views of the St. Lawrence River below. Follow this until you reach the world’s most photographed hotel, the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac.
This famous landmark is a national historic site and iconic landmark with its fabulous turrets, winding hallways and imposing wings. Guests have included everyone from Charles Lindbergh to Alfred Hitchcock. The elegant structure which sits atop Cap Diamant was built in 1893 by the Canadian Pacific Railway as part of a chain of luxury hotels. Along the Dufferin Terrrace, a riverside walkway just below the hotel, is a lively spot in the summer with street performers and vendors selling souvenirs.
In winter, you can race down a massive ice slide! The views it offers of the historic St. Lawrence River and Old Quebec make it a perfect spot to stop and sip a cup of tea.
Lunch: Aux Anciens Canadiens (34 Rue St-Loius), housed in a historic home dating from the late 1600’s, is a well-known tourist destination serving hearty country cooking and typical Quebecois specialties. Expect to see things like pea soup and sugar pie on the menu.
Next Stop: Funicular to Place Royale
After lunch take a short, scenic funicular ride to the lower town. The entrance is located just behind the statue of Samuel de Champlain. Or, if you prefer you can take the oldest stairway (Breakneck stairs) built in 1635, with 59 steps to the bottom. When you get to the bottom you will be a short distance to Place Royale. A historic plaza and the very place where Quebec City was founded in 1608. The small square is full of history, a museum and church with exhibits that display what local life was like from the 1600s to now. Children can have fun dressing up in period costumes in the basement. The Notre-Dame-des-Victoires church is free to enter and ornately decorated making it worth a peek inside.
Next Stop: Quartier Petit Champlain
Leaving Place Royal, walk south down Rue Notre-Dame an d turn right on Rue Sous le Fort and follow the road. It will soon turn into Rue du Petit Champlain and you will find yourself in the very popular and picture-perfect neighborhood of Quartier Petit Champlain. Known as one of the most beautiful sites in Old Quebec, you will discover many boutiques, artists, shows, cafes and restaurants.
Take your time enjoying this area for the rest of the afternoon and evening. At night, the atmosphere becomes very different when there are less tourists and everything becomes illuminated and peaceful.
Note: Be sure to visit the gigantic, almost mind-boggling Fresque du petit-champlain near the bottom of the steep Cote de la Montagne street. This intricate fresco depicts the heritage of Quebec City and the characters and events that contributed to its evolution.
Dinner: Bistro Sous le Fort is a quirky, romantic restaurant with a creative French-inspired menu and a serene patio. 48 Rue Sous le Fort.
If you would like to sample some of Quebecois folk music and Quebecois jazz and blues, Theatre Petit Champlain is one of the most popular venues and welcomes a mix of music to its small stage. Inside is a modest cabaret area with tables and chairs plus a mezzanine with theatre seats.
For a sample of some local craft beer, head to Pape Georges V tavern (8 Rue du Cul de Sac). Housed in a 1668 stone building and famous for its atmospheric vaulted ceilings. For a complete experience, try the Black Velvet, a mix of half cider and half stout beer.
Day 2 Option: 2nd Day Quebec City Itinerary
Start today with a visit to possibly the oldest museum in Canada. Located on the grounds of the Seminaire de Quebec, The Musee de L’amerique offers permanent exhibits showcasing seminary life during the colonial era along with precious relics and other treasures of Quebec’s religious heritage. You can find some magnificent artifacts brought back from Europe by the priests and a wonderful short film of New World history from a Quebecois perspective.
Next Stop: Notre-Dame de Quebec Basilica Cathedral
Just across from the museum you can take some time to enjoy the breathtaking architecture, design and artwork inside the Notre-Dame de Quebec Basilica Cathedral. From mid-May to early September guided tours are offered of the basilica’s crypt where governors of New France to archbishops and cardinals have been laid to rest. Call ahead or check inside for schedules.
Next Stop: Quebec-Levis ferry
When you are finished in this area, walk north along Rue Sainte-Famille to the waterfront and board the Quebec-Levis ferry for a different perspective and spectacular view of the city from the waterway. The roundtrip ride is in-expensive and will take roughly one hour.
Next Stop: Old Port Market
When you return, make your way to Le Marche du Vieux-Port (Old Port Market). Foodie or not you are sure to enjoy sampling local products like ice wines, terrines, fresh blueberry juice, maple syrup and aged cheeses as well as shop for flowers and artisans products.
Lunch: The market is a perfect place to pick up an assortment of food and have a picnic by the marina. Or, you could pick up some food before boarding the ferry and enjoy a picnic lunch in Levis. For a special treat grab an ice cream cone at Les Chocolats Favoris to enjoy on the ferry ride back.
When you are ready to leave the market find your way to Rue Saint Paul and follow it east. This charming street is famous for having the best antique shops, historic homes and art galleries and its perfect for an afternoon stroll.
Next Stop: Musee de la civilization
Dinner: Housed inside a historic, stone-walled warehouse at the Auberge Saint-Antoine, Panache (10 Rue St-Antoine.) offers exquisite, upmarket Quebecois farm-to-table cuisine.
Tonight, follow your ghostly host Marie Riviere or Jean Rattier through the back alleys and listen to dark, and sometimes funny, historic tales. Les Promenades Fantomes offers nightly walking tours to learn about the darker side of Quebec. If you DARE!
3 Day Option: 3rd Day Quebec City Itinerary
This morning experience living history inside the Morrin’s dark prison, elegant college and breathtaking library. During the one hour guided tour of this 200 year old building, learn about the history and bear witness to the French and English language communities that have contributed to its heritage.
Next Stop: Fortifications of Quebec National Historic Site
Afterwards walk up to Rue Saint-Jean to visit the Fortifications of Quebec National Historic Site (Artillery Park). This park is a reminder of the richness of Quebec’s military past. Take a free stroll along the largely restored old walls which are now a UNESCO World Heritage site and admire the highly skilled craftmanship. They offer a lovely vantage point which to view the city’s historical buildings. In the summer, 90 minute guided walks are available beginning at 10:30am and 2:30pm from the Frontenac Kiosk.
Leave the park via Rue Saint-Jean and walk west for a savory lunch and tasty dessert.
Lunch: Le Moine Echanson(585 Rue Saint-Jean) is a cheerful, cozy establishment featuring a modern take on French cuisine and organic wine pairings.
Dessert: A must visit while in the area is Erico Chocolaterie (634 Rue Saint-Jean). A quaint artisan chocolate shop and chocolate museum serving things such as homemade chocolates, ice cream, cookies, cupcakes and more.
Next Stop: Musee national des beaux-arts du Quebec
After lunch continue walking west along Rue Saint-Jean and when you reach Avenue de Salaberry turn left and walk a short distance to Musee national des beaux-arts du Quebec. As one of the province’s best art museums you can easily spend half a day here. With an abundant collection of more than 38,000 works of Quebec art ranging from the 17th century to now. Special halls are devoted entirely to artistic giants such as Jean-Paul Lemieux and Jean-Paul Riopelle. In addition to the permanent exhibits there are frequent exhibits from abroad and elsewhere in Canada as well as film screenings, drawing and painting classes and concerts.
Dinner: Morena(1040 Avenue Cartier) is an Mediteranian-themed bistro tucked inside a gourmet grocery-deli serving fresh, homemade meals.
After dinner take a nighttime stroll on Grande Allee where sidewalk patios and street-facing restaurants have been drawing people in since the 19th century. The quaint daytime atmosphere transforms at night with lively music and nightclubs.
4 Day Option: 4th Day Quebec City Itinerary
The only way to get around the island is by car so if you do not have one, a guided tour is suggested.
Driving directions: Taking the Autoroute 440 east out of the city follow to exit 325 and follow the signs along Boulevard Sainte-Anne to Montmorency Falls. After your visit there follow the QC-368 and cross the bridge onto Ile d’Orleans, turn right at the first set of lights and begin your journey in the township of Saint-Petronille. Take your time as you go to full enjoy the gorgeous scenery. At the tourist information office located at the entrance to Ile d’Orleans you can rent an audio guide to take with you on the drive.
Suggested stops for a foodies:
- Parc-de-la-Chute-Montmorency: The most spectacular falls in the province and one and a half times higher than Niagara Falls. You can enjoy outstanding views from the suspended bridge overlooking the St. Lawrence River.
- Vignobles Saint-Petronille: A boutique winery offering an amazing view of the St Lawrence River and Montmorency Falls.
- Chocolaterie de Ile d’Orleans: A chocolaterie with a café and ice cream shop serving possibly the world’s best chocolate-dipped cone!
- Le Moulin de Saint-Laurent: A fine dining restaurant on the edge of the townships of Saint-Laurent and Saint-Jean.
- La Confituerie des sorciers Tigidou: This farmhouse/confiturerie creates wonderful organic delights like jams and syrups.
- La Boulange: If you prefer a simpler lunch consider a stop here where you can find some of the best croissants anywhere as well as breads, pastries, sandwiches and pizza.
- Les Fromages de Ile d’Orleans: A great little shop next to Maison Drouin selling gourmet food items like pate, jellies, dried meats and of course cheese.
- Domaine Steinbach: A producer of Ice Cider as well as strong aperitif and digestive ciders. During the summer months, they also have an outdoor café with a gourmet menu.
- Cabane a Sucre L’En-Talleur: A traditional sugar shack is the perfect stop to buy some souvenirs to take home.
Guided tour: If you do not have a car, Tours Voir Quebec offer both shared and private guided tours of Ile d’Oreleans and Montmorency Falls.
If you aren’t too tired tonight after your day of sightseeing, head to the Old Port to enjoy one of the most original and creative lights shows in the world. The “Aurora Borealis” is a 3D fresco projected on the Bunge silos using shades and colors typically seen in the northern lights to recreate key moments from Quebec City’s history. (You may also do this on Day 3)
Things to know:
Tours Vieux Quebec: If you have a limited amount of time or would prefer not to walk everywhere, you may want to consider a guided tour. Tours Vieux Quebec offers a selection of different tours within the city.
Tours Voir Quebec: If you still enjoy walking but would like to learn more about the city from an expert, Tours Voir Quebec offers a great selection of interesting walking tours.
With its narrow cobblestone streets, scenic pathways and pedestrian only walkways, Quebec City is a very walkable city and best explored on foot.
The RTC is the cities bus company which operates all the public buses. The Parcours 21 route serves the Upper Town and the Old Port area and connects to the ferry terminal.
Where to stay:
Luxury: Auberge Saint-Antoine, a Relais & Chateaux property, stands on the archaeological site that formerly housed wharves, cannon emplacements and warehouses. Now many of the unearthed relics can be found among the elegantly designed interior of this charming museum-hotel.
Midrange: Auberge Aux deux Lions is a small, urban, bed & breakfast in the lovely Montcalm district. Its 14 unique rooms and suites with soundproofing over a comfortable and relaxing stay.
Budget: Hotel C3 Art de Vivre is located in Quebec City’s art and culture district. A perfect place for curious minds offering high-end comfort at an affordable price.