As the official capital of the province of Quebec and one of the oldest settlements in North America, Quebec City requires very little presentation.
In fact, I get a lot of emails about visitors planning a day trip to Quebec City from Montreal – but every time, my answer is the same: stay overnight. Not only are the train and bus schedules rather restrictive for day trips, but the city is just magical after nightfall and truly deserves a lot more than a rushed, quick-let’s-move-on-to-the-next-place few hours.
First time in Quebec City? Here’s everything you need to know.
Plan for a food tour in Old Quebec
Gone are the days where Quebec City was the laughing stock of ultra foodie Montreal. Quebec has undergone a total revitalization in the past few years and, as a result, is now home to numerous imaginative restaurants that are well worth a visit.
The 3-hour Old Quebec food tour features five culinarily and culturally significant spots showcasing the area’s historic European heritage and, above all, the city’s inventive streak. Bring your eating pants!
- When: 11:00 AM
- How much: 65$ CAD (food and drinks included)
- What: 5 stops and 8 different tastings
Go on a Quebec City guided tour
From history to architecture, whether by bike or on foot (or even by funicular!) there are plenty of options when it comes to tours in Quebec City.
Make sure you hit the main spots, from the Lower Town and the Upper Town, including the leafy area nearby the Parliament.
Take the ferry to Lévis
To get the best view of Quebec City, you need to leave Quebec City – just for a few minutes! There’s a ferry service between the capital and its adjacent neighbour Lévis, which means that for a handful of change you can cross the St. Lawrence River, sit back, and enjoy the view that unfolds before your eyes.
Explore Old Quebec
Aside form the unmissable Château Frontenac and the adjacent Terrasse Dufferin, visitors should definitely see the stunning chapel on Place Royale and admire the beautiful views from Parc-Montmorency National Site, both essential things to do in Old Quebec.
Visit Maison de la Littérature
And while you’re at it, hop over next door to Maison de la Littérature, a completely renovated building with a Scandinavian feel to it and infinitely strong Instagram game. It is entirely dedicated to Québécois creativity, with an obvious focus on literature.
Marvel at Château Frontenac
Sitting predominantly atop Quebec’s upper town, Château Frontenac is the capital’s emblem and most visited attraction. But despite its somewhat contradictory name, it was never a castle; the National Historic Site of Canada was actually built in the late 19th century as part of the series of “château” style hotels for the Canadian Pacific Railway company throughout Canada.
While the now-Fairmont-owned hotel no longer offers guided tours, it is possible to step inside for a drink or a meal – check out afternoon tea Château Frontenac or the opulent brunch at Champlain Restaurant.
Treat yourself to the best Quebec City restaurants
I’ve made it abundantly clear that Quebec City is now blessed with a very dynamic, rapidly-evolving food scene. I get so many emails from readers asking where they should have a Québécois dinner, or whether there’s a brunch place worth getting up early for. Below, a few of my favourite restaurants in Quebec City:
- Le renard et la chouette / 125 Saint-Vallier Ouest
- Alphonse / 19 rue des Jardins
- Porcelaine / 160 Saint-Paul
- Le clocher penché / 203 Saint-Joseph Est
- Laurie Raphaël / 117 Dalhousie
- Chez Boulay / 1110 Saint-Jean
- Nina pizza napolitaine / 410 St-Anselme
Learn all about military history at Citadelle de Québec & Plaines d’Abraham
As one of Canada’s most historically-significant places, the Plains of Abraham are not to be missed. This is where the French and the British armies fought on multiple occasions in the hope of keeping their respective grip on the North American continent, until the decisive 1759 conquest.
The Citadelle de Québec – the largest British-built fortress in North America – is an utterly fascinating stronghold encompassing over 300 years of military history.
Explore the quaint district of Petit-Champlain
Once a tiny riverside hamlet, now a thriving destination, this touristy yet incredibly quaint part of Old Quebec encompasses the most picturesque streets in the province; think multi-centennial colourful townhouses and cobblestone alleys among cosy bistros and theatres.
Taste local craft beers in one of the many brewpubs
Beer is no laughing matter in this province. Québécois take their brews very seriously, which is certainly why there are so many microbreweries throughout Quebec City, from Limoilou to St-Roch and Old Quebec. These are my favourite:
- Griendel / 195 Saint-Vallier Ouest
- La Souche / 801 Chemin de la Canardière
- La Barberie / 310 Saint Roch Est
- La Korrigane / 380 Dorchester
- Noctem / 438 du Parvis
Discover Montcalm, the Quartier des Arts
As it is often overlooked by tourists in favour of more popular Petit-Champlain, this portion of Quebec City is very authentic and retains a strong local feel. If this isn’t your first trip to Quebec City, Montcalm is a great area to spend the night to get a better, more local grasp on this beautiful city. Montcalm buzzes with life, locals and little treasures just waiting to be discovered. Here are a few suggestions on where to start:
- Stroll the streets of Montcalm right up to the Musée national des Beaux-Arts (National Fine Arts Museum)
- Marvel at the English architecture and bourgeois feel of the neighbourhood. Walk along Avenue des Braves and see the mansions once built to house ambassadors from around the world
- Step on Rue Cartier and enjoy the epicurean shops, fine restaurants, cinemas, and indoor food markets
- Take a breath of fresh air in the luxuriant Jardin Jeanne d’Arc
- Refuel at these cafés and restaurants:
Go on a day trip
One of the few advantages Quebec City has over Montreal is its volume. Being of a more modest size, the capital doesn’t take as long to visit and is easier to navigate. Therefore, neighbouring attractions are also within easier reach, too. Here are a few ideas:
- Montmorency Falls
- Whale watching in Tadoussac
- Island of Orleans
Attend one of the many outdoors festivals
Despite its old age and timeless attractions, Quebec City still knows how to throw a damn good, generally-free-of-charge party.
There are musical events (for example Festival d’été de Québec, Envol et Macadam) and historic festivities (Fêtes de la Nouvelle-France). Moreover, there are artsy displays (Loto-Québec fireworks festival) or if you’re brave enough, winter celebrations (Carnaval de Québec). In any case, there’s undoubtedly a festival that will tickle your fancy in this lively city.
Get a bird’s eye view at Observatoire de la Capitale
Ride the elevator up to the 31st floor of the iconic Marie-Guyart building and subsequently enjoy unobstructed 360-degree views of Quebec City. Further in the distance is the mighty St. Lawrence River and even the Laurentians Mountains on clear days.
Grab a gourmet coffee
Third-wave coffee shops have reached Quebec City for the enjoyment of those who can’t stand Tim Hortons (not all Canadians like it, contrary to popular belief). Consequently, if you need a high-quality, masterfully crafted cup of joe, you’ll need to pay a visit to these:
- Nektar caféologue / 235 Saint-Joseph
- Saint-Henri microtorréfacteur / 849 Saint-Joseph
- Maelstrøm / 181 Rue Saint-Vallier
Stay at the Hôtel de Glace
If you time your visit right, you might even be able to visit, better yet stay overnight, at the world-famous Hôtel de Glace right outside Quebec City.
The only one of its kind in all of North America. For instance, the Ice Hotel encompasses 500 tonnes of ice and 30,000 tonnes of snow covering just shy of 3,000 square metres. There’s a bar, plenty of rooms, a spa, and even a chapel!
Visit the Musée des Beaux-Arts
While the museum as such has been around for a while, what visitors truly cannot miss on their visit is the sparkling new Lassonde wing. As a result, this is an ultra modern and highly interactive wing! It hosts a collection of more than 38,000 works surveying the history of Québec, focusing specifically on contemporary art pieces.