Top Things to do in Québec City, Canada
Québec City feels like a mini-Paris/London combo with a very friendly vibe! This romantic city’s charm is enhanced with the poetic sounds of French speakers within this historical walled city. The architecture is delightfully European as Québec City was built in the 1600s with lovely cobblestone streets, a funicular (cable car from the 1800s) linking the lower and upper grounds of the city and the grandiose Fairmont Le Château Frontenac punctuating the landscape.
I found every single person from shopkeepers, hotel clerks, restaurant workers, Uber drivers, etc. to be welcoming and beyond gracious. Once I uttered a “hi” (rather than a “bon jour”) they quickly switched languages to English with a smile and without missing a beat.
Basics of Québec City
To get your bearings even before you arrive – there are two parts to the city: upper and lower. I didn’t quite understand this until I arrived. It’s super easy to get from one to the other, and the upper and lower are nestled right next to each other. Either take the stairs (“breakneck stairs!!”) which include a few landings if you need to catch your breath. Alternatively, pay the small fee to take the funicular (a small, short cable car) up and down. Easy peasy!
The highlight of the lower portion of the city is the Quartier Petit-Champlain which includes boutique shopping, bistros and art galleries. The other streets in this lower section have even more art galleries (lots!), boutiques, hotels, etc. It’s quiet and safe.
The upper portion of the city includes Dufferin Terrace which is basically a wide boardwalk with views of the St. Lawrence River on one side and the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac on the other. You will be at Dufferin Terrace when you exit the funicular or if you take the stairs or steep road up to the upper city from the lower city.
There is a lot more to this upper city – many lively cobblestone streets with beautiful churches, town squares, all types of restaurants and cafes, boutiques, and very interesting history. All this history and hubbub is in the old town historic portion of the city – you can also exit the walls through the grand gates, from the 1600s, and visit the newer part of the city.
Accommodations in Québec City
As usual, I connected with hotels.com to find the right type of lodging. Interestingly, as with traveling in Europe, hotels.com also included apartment accommodations. There are many “Le Lofts” throughout the safe and quaint Québec City, and I stayed at Le Lofts St. Pierre which was in the lower city just a few streets from Rue du Petit-Champlain (Quartier Petit- Champlain is the area around this street) boutique shopping district – walking distance to all the sites and reasonably priced.
Recommended Food in Québec City
We really loved the Restaurant Aux Anciens Canadiens! Although we heard later that it is a bit “touristy” – we found it absolutely adorable inside and out with fantastic service at a reasonable price! Plus it included many of Québec City’s local delicacies in perfect portions. Highly recommended. Don’t forget reservations.
Locals have recommended the following restaurants to me:
- La Bouche
- Lōuise Taverne
- Bistro le Pape Georges (we did go here and loved it)
Food Tour of Old Québec City
I can’t recommend this Viator food tour enough! It’s doubly beneficial – tasting all the local delicacies, including cuisine that has been served since the 1600s, and gaining an understanding of the fascinating history behind those foods. The fare ranges from soup to baked goods and spirits to wine plus poutine and more! While walking from one destination to another our amusing guide told stories of local figures and interesting architecture that kept all of us either in awe or laughing.
Château Frontenac in Québec City
This fancy Château Frontenac hotel is located right in the upper area, along the river, with much action around it. You can’t miss this grand building sitting up high on the eastern edge of old town. It’s pretty colossal (600+ rooms) and a great place to snap a photo! When you walk through the front doors of this historic (built in 1893) building you are greeted warmly by a friendly hostess (everyone is welcome even if you aren’t staying at the hotel) and guided toward the areas you’d like to visit whether it be the historical side or the three restaurants. Lots of history happened here including the planning of the invasion of Normandy during WWII by Allied leaders Franklin D. Roosevelt, Sir Winston Churchill, and Canada’s Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King.
Dufferin Terrace in Québec City
As stated earlier, the Château Frontenac is bordered on the east by the Dufferin terrace boardwalk which has pretty views of the St. Lawrence River and additional areas of Québec City across the river. In the winter there is a toboggan slide right here! In the summer, go underground and visit an archeological crypt – Forts-et-Châteaux-Saint-Louis – to get a better idea of the history of Québec City.
The Quaint Petit-Champlain Shopping District in Québec City
This area encompasses a handful of streets in the lower portion of Québec City. These inviting narrow, cobblestone streets are pedestrian only with warm strands of lights crisscrossing above quaint boutiques and shops. There are also a few restaurants here as well.
Interesting Historic Buildings/Churches in Québec City
So many interesting stories here in this fortified city! Quick history lesson:
- Québec City was discovered by France in 1535 as “New France”
- British conquered Québec City in 1759 as “British Canada”
- Canada was created in 1867 and Québec City became the province’s capital city as it is today
There are many tourist friendly churches and buildings to visit within the old city including: Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica-Cathedral, Morrin Centre, Monastère des Augustines, Îlot des Palais.
For more Québec City history see History of Québec City.
Governors’ Promenade in Québec City
I enjoyed the approximately 3/4 mile walk on the Governor’s Promenade from the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac to the Plains of Abraham along the St. Lawrence River. This walk takes you along the elevated boardwalk called “Governor’s Promenade.” Start at Dufferin Terrace and walk to the south, and you’ll soon find yourself between the stone wall fortification and the St. Lawrence River. Note that there are no signs designating this promenade. This long boardwalk brings you past the east side of the Québec Citadel and then between the citadel and Plains of Abraham and Parc des Champs-de-Batalle – a large green space that hosts local events throughout the year. This boardwalk is one of two options to walk to the Citadel for a tour. The other being the streets through old town.
The Québec Citadel is an impressive site along the St. Lawrence River with a storied history of protecting Québec City from foreign invaders (including the 13 colonies!). The citadel offers a guided tour (reservations recommended) of its unique star structure and the museum (Musée Royal 22e Régiment).
Horse and Buggy Ride in Old Québec City
This sweet ride, pulled by a strong and mighty steed, is enchanting and lovely and recommended just after dusk. The driver explained Québec City’s interesting history as we clip-clopped past the buildings and statues that he spoke of. It was very entertaining after a delicious French dinner in the historic district.
This impressive waterfall is the tallest waterfall in North America. Note that it’s not that wide – just tall. Sixty thousand gallons of water per second fall from the peak – a continual thunderous crash with large plumes of water in the aftermath. Amazing! The Montmorency Falls are just 20 minutes outside Old Québec City.
Options at the falls:
- Hiking and birding at certain times of year. Follow All Trails for the 3-mile route.
- Balance along the suspension bridge
- Climb the panoramic staircase while being sprayed by the falls (487 steps)
- Cable car ride
- Eat at the Montmorency Manor
Albert Gilles Copper Museum in Québec City
The Albert Gilles Copper Museum was a surprisingly super interesting place! Mr. Albert Gilles worked with copper for 60+ years and made many extraordinary and incredibly intricate pieces of art (including pieces for the Pope) as well as the copper doors of the massive Sainte Anne de Beaupré Basilica which is just 10 miles down the road. Albert Gilles’ very talented wife and daughters now run the museum, which includes a large exhibit of paneled copper artwork “Christoroma” portraying the life of Christ in the back portion of the museum. It’s amazing! Plus the museum also has beautiful copper pieces to purchase – jewelry, decorations, etc. Ask around while you are at the museum, and the family will be happy to tell you the history of their extraordinary work.
Sainte Anne de Beaupré Basilica and Shrine
The Sainte Anne de Beaupré Basilica and Shrine is massive and awe inspiring at 328 feet high and 197 feet wide with beautiful stained glass windows adorning the sides of the sanctuary. This basilica was built to honor Sainte Anne who is the patron sainte of Québec. The main doors of the Basilica are absolutely beautiful and hand-made of copper (from the Albert Gilles museum above) and show many scenes of the life of Jesus.
Fun Fact about Canada
Canada no longer uses pennies as of 2012! (But I did find one! 🙂 )