Quebec City is a must-see destination with its’ cultural and historical beauty on display at every turn. The city offers year-long entertainment which varies with the seasons. In January and February, the Carnaval winter festival lights up the city. During the summer months, the city hosts many art and music events. While the spring and fall months are quieter, Quebec City can be enjoyed with fewer crowds and reduced prices for travelers. The abundance of restaurants with great food and wine found here also makes for a culinary adventure. Quebec City is one of the best cities for tourists to visit in Canada.
Built on the northern bank of the Saint Lawrence River in 1608, Quebec City is one of the oldest in Canada and a Unesco World Heritage site. Old Quebec City is also famous for being the only fortified or walled city north of Mexico. Inside the walls of Old Quebec, you will find the city’s most significant traditional architecture of stone buildings and winding cobblestone streets giving it a unique European feel.
Old Quebec is divided into two sections named Upper Town and Lower Town. You can walk between these two sections using the many historical staircases or you can ride the funicular between the two.
Top Sights in Upper Town
Upper Town holds several sights with the Chateau Frontenac being the most famous landmark. This beautiful and historic hotel looks like part castle and part fortress between the stone exterior and turrets. Open to the public since 1893 this hotel boasts 611 guest rooms and suites as well as several restaurants on site. The Chateau Frontenac is part of the world-renowned Fairmont Hotels and Resorts chain and is now owned by AccorHotels.
In front of the Chateau is the Terrasse Dufferin, a grand 425 meter long boardwalk overlooking the St. Lawrence River. Underneath the Terrasse, is the Saint-Louis Forts and Chateaux National Historic Site which displays an archaeological excavation. Walking southwest along the boardwalk will bring you to the Plains of Abraham.
Plains of Abraham
The Plains of Abraham was the site of a battle in 1759 where the British attacked the French and took control of Quebec City then known as ‘New France’. Today these plains are a historic park and also used as venue space during Carnaval, the city’s annual winter carnival.
The Citadelle was built by the British following the War of 1812 in order to defend Quebec from an American invasion. This huge star-shaped stone fortress is located in a strategic position atop Cap Diamant overlooking the river. The Citadelle is now a historical museum with various exhibitions that you can tour.
Basilica of Notre Dame de Quebec
The Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Quebec was initially just a small Catholic church in 1647. However, having sustained continuous damage during battles and fires over the years it was frequently reconstructed. The present-day large and ornate cathedral is very different from the original church. The cathedral also contains a crypt that holds over 900 tombs.
Chapelle des Ursulines
This convent, Couvent des Ursulines was founded in 1639 and is the oldest North American learning institution for women. You can tour this convent to see the original chapel, learn about the lives of the nuns, and see their wood carvings. Today the Ursulines remains an active elementary school.
Musée des Ursulines
This sight is the former residence of Madame de la Peltrie whom helped to found the convent. Inside you can see an exhibition about the nuns’ educational work during the 19th and 20th centuries. The Ursulines nuns were also known for their lace embroidery work which is also displayed at this sight.
Musée du Fort
This museum houses a 400 square foot replica of Old Quebec City featuring cannons, soldiers, and ships all battle-ready. You can also view a sound and light show which re-enacts the Battle of the Plains of Abraham and the American attack in 1775. The permanent museum exhibitions at the Musée du Fort display the military history of soldiers in New France.
Another sight not to be missed while in upper town is Rue Tresor. This is an alley where local artists display and sell their work. It is definitely worth a stroll as there is a variety of artwork to see. You may even find a gift or souvenir to take home.
Top Sights in Lower Town
Place Royale gives you a glimpse into the colonial past with steep-roofed stone houses and a cobblestone square. There are many shops and cafes at this sight. Not to be missed is a visit to Geomania, a jewelry store and museum featuring gemstones and pearls. There is also a large mural named the Fresque des Québécois which displays over 400 years of Quebec’s history on the east side of the square.
Built in 1688 this small stone church is Quebec City’s oldest. You will notice the interesting fortress shape of the altar. There are several paintings inside of this church depicting the history of New France. The side chapel is dedicated to Ste. Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris. For more information visit Elise Notre-Dam-Des-Victoires
L’Escalier Casse-Cou also known as “Breakneck Steps” are the 59 steep steps connecting the upper and lower towns. This site is worthy of a photo op whether you have just ascended or descended the steps. There are shops and restaurants located here as well.
Rue de Petit Champlain
At the bottom of the ‘breakneck steps’ and just outside of the funicular station you can begin your walk along Rue de Petit Champlain the oldest street in Quebec City. There are many places to visit on this street including; boutique shops, art galleries, cafes, and restaurants. There is an abundance of local craftsmanship is on display amongst the many carvings and paintings. One of our favourite boutiques on this street is Pot en Ciel, a wonderful store which sells various dishware and kitchen essentials.
Musée de la Civilisation
This museum has two captivating permanent exhibits regarding Quebec’s history and the Aboriginal nations of this province. The combined glass and limestone building is also an interesting architectural structure. This museum is highly recommended during a visit to Quebec City. For more information please see visit their site here.
Just steps away from the Musée de la Civilisation is the Old Port area of the city. Enjoy a leisurely walk along the St. Lawrence River where you will pass by the marina and cruise terminal. Quebec City is also a famous port of call for cruise ships.
More Unique Quebec City Experiences
Les Promenade Fantomes
Another fun way to enjoy Old Quebec is to take a guided ghost walking tour in the evenings. Your guide will lead you with a lantern through the streets and tell you various stories of historical executions, murders, and hauntings. Given that Quebec City is 400 years old it must be home to several ghostly residents and you may just see one on your tour with Promenades Fantômes.
The Ile d’Orleans is a small island located in the St. Lawrence River 5km east of Quebec City. The island is divided into 6 villages and home to approximately 7000 residents. The Ile d’Orleans bridge crosses the river for access onto the island. You can drive Route 368 which circles the perimeter of the island to visit the villages and see their sights. If you do not have a vehicle there are also bus tours which can take you to the island. Ile d’Orleans is filled with beautiful countryside where in the villages you can explore; chocolateries, cheesemakers, gardens, historic churches, local art galleries, microbreweries, restaurants, shops, sugar shacks, and vineyards. Saint Petronille on the western end of the island offers a panoramic view of the St. Lawrence River and Quebec City skyline. Here there is also an exciting view of the Montmorency Falls.
Just a 15 minute drive outside of Old Quebec you can visit the Montmorency Falls. This beautiful waterfall cascades down from a height of 83 meters. Choose your vantage point whether it is from the ground, riding a cable car, or crossing the suspended bridge. This natural wonder is just another reason to visit Quebec City. For more information please see their site here.
The Quebec-Levi Ferry
The Quebec-Lévis Ferry connects the north and south shores of the St. Lawrence River and transports many people into the city daily. Although the ride is relatively short, (less than 15 minutes) while onboard you will enjoy spectacular views of the city’s skyline including previously mentioned sights of Cap Diamant and the Chateau Frontenac. The ferry runs both during the day and into the evening. For more information on schedules and fares, you can see it here.
Another fun way to discover Quebec City and surrounding sights is to take a guided cruise along the St. Lawrence River. This cruise will take you from Old Quebec to the Ile d’Orleans and the stunning Montmorency Falls. The river vantage point allows for panoramic views of the Quebec City skyline including the beautiful and historic Chateau Frontenac. There is a bistro on board allowing for guests to enjoy food and drink while listening to their tour guide. For more information on this tour, you find it here.
Best Places to Stay in Quebec City
Quebec City has many hotel options to keep visitors comfortable during their stay. Here are two of our recommendations located within the walls, one being in lower town and the other in the upper town.
Le Germain Hôtel
This boutique hotel in heart of lower town offers both comfort and luxury to guests. While we have stayed at several hotels during our many visits to Quebec City over the years this is our favourite. The rooms are well-appointed with lovely furnishing. A daily breakfast buffet offers fresh croissants, cheese, fruit and cereal. There is a self-serve coffee bar in the lobby open 24 hours. The hotel’s lobby area also has a cozy fireplace with plenty of seating to enjoy the ambiance. Le Germain Hôtel is the perfect home base when visiting Quebec City. For booking information and room rates you can see it here.
The Chateau Frontenac makes for a memorable stay while in Quebec City. Given that this hotel has over 600 guest rooms and suites you can find various booking deals online depending on the tourist season. This hotel is conveniently located in the upper town within walking distance of many sights, shops, and local restaurants. There are also several renowned bars and restaurants within this hotel should you opt to stay in. Being a guest at the Chateau Frontenac should be experienced at least once in your lifetime. For more information on booking and room rates, you can find it here.
Best Places to Eat in Quebec City
As previously stated Quebec City offers an abundance of great restaurants, here are a few of our favourites we highly recommend.
Aux Anciens Canadiens
Aux Anciens Canadiens is a terrific restaurant in the upper town. This restaurant is also a sight to behold as it is located within the oldest house is in Quebec City built in 1675. Their menu features authentic Quebecois cuisine using local meat and produce. Their homemade soups make for great appetizers however the traditional meat pie served with vegetables is their best main course. Be sure to save room for dessert to enjoy a slice of their delectable sugar pie topped with fresh cream. We always enjoy a meal here each time we visit Quebec City. For more information on their establishment and menu, you can find it here.
Lapin Saute is a wonderful bistro located in the lower town which specializes in duck and rabbit. Their sampler platter offers a tasting of these meats along with local cheeses, pates, pickles, and salad. I recommend their divine maple crème brulee for dessert. We also dine here on each visit to Quebec City. The food and service are always excellent. Both indoor and outdoor seating is available at this restaurant. For more information and their menu, you can find it here.
Bistro Le Sam
Bistro Le Sam is a notable gourmet restaurant located inside the Chateau Frontenac. Their menu ranges from small bite appetizers to full meal entrees featuring locally sourced food. Be sure to delve into their French onion soup made with a special Charlevoix cheese.
There is also a lounge section with a circular bar and small booths so you can stop in for a cocktail and enjoy the venue. A daily happy hour menu showcases their mixology. The rear dining section of the restaurant overlooks the Terrasse Dufferin offering riverside views. For more information and their menus, you can find it here.
With so much to offer visitors, Quebec City is one of the best destinations in Canada whether for a short or long getaway at any time of the year. This destination can also be enjoyed over a long weekend. Our favourite time to visit is during autumn when the fall foliage makes for a scenic drive when the city has fewer crowds and hotel deals are plentiful. Be sure to include Quebec City on your travel bucket list soon!
Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above may be affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I earn a small commission if you make a purchase.