(Updated) There is nowhere in Canada quite like Quebec City. Steeped in history, this fortified city is one of Canada’s oldest and best-preserved. Quebec City is perfect for families, history buffs, foodies, and any traveller who likes to wander through cobblestone streets and pop into unique shops. There’s so much to do in this gorgeous city that you’ll want to return again and again. For a short weekend trip, here are some incredible things to do in Quebec City.
NOTE: Travel is not recommended at this time. These posts are here to serve as inspiration when we can explore again. Hey there – this post likely contains affiliate links, which means I earn a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you purchase from them. This helps me earn a few dollars to run this website.
About Old Quebec City
Quebec City – or Quebec as it’s officially known – is one of the oldest cities in North America, well over 410 years old. It sits on the St. Lawrence River and is named from the Algonquin word Kebec, meaning where the river narrows.
In 1608, explorer Samuel de Champlain settled here, establishing what we now know as Quebec City. The French and English fought over Quebec for centuries. It also survived an attack by the Americans during the War of 1812.
Because of the constant battles during the tumultuous times in North America, many cities, including Quebec, built fortifications for defence. These ramparts are the only fortified city walls remaining in North America. The walls now surround what is known as Vieux-Quebec, or Old Quebec, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This historic area attracts millions of visitors each year, looking to experience European charm in Canada.
Is Quebec City worth visiting?
When visiting Canada, you might want to see hip, urban areas like Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal, but I think Quebec City is easily the most charming city across the country. Not only do they have some of the only European-style architecture that offers postcard-worthy views, but they are steeped in history around every corner.
My feet hit the cobblestone street, a little sore from yesterday’s walk throughout the city. I wasn’t really paying attention to where I was going, my eyes moving back and forth from the beautiful doors to the flower boxes hanging from windows to the gorgeous roofs of the historic buildings. I looked around and realized I made it to my destination, Place Royale, the embodiment of Old Quebec City.
Within its fortifications, Quebec City allows you to be immersed in the rich French Canadian culture that still thrives over 400 years later. Je Me Souviens (I remember), the motto for the province and the only Francophone military regiment in Canada, is a motto that the residents of Quebec embrace. They remember their French heritage as well as the struggle and sacrifices made throughout the years.
So, take advantage of a long weekend to hop over for a three-day whirlwind tour of Old Quebec. Three days can be sufficient to explore all the fantastic things to do in Quebec City, but not enough time to eat at all of the amazing restaurants. Don’t worry; you’ll want to return over and over again.
Travel Tip: Canada is a bilingual country, although most of the French-speaking population is concentrated in Quebec and New Brunswick, which means you’ll encounter many French speakers and French signs in Quebec City. The high tourist population in the city means many of the residents are bilingual, but as you go further from the city centre, you will find yourself among mostly French speakers. Knowing phrases such as bonjour (hello), merci (thank you), excusez-moi (excuse me), pardon (sorry) are helpful. You can pick up a French phrasebook like this one to help you out.
Where to Stay in Quebec City
Having visited a few times, I can tell you that it will be awesome (and expensive) no matter which hotel you stay at in Old Quebec. There’s no getting around the fact the Quebec City has some of the most expensive hotels in the area, but that’s because it’s such a popular place almost year-round.
You could look for lodging outside the Old Quebec City area and grab a taxi or bus into the area. The first time I visited over a decade ago, they used to have these awesome electric buses that were free and small and could take you all over, but they never took off. (Hey, Quebec City, if you’re reading this, BRING THEM BACK! They were awesome!)
But, it might equal out to look for something nearby. I tend to opt for location since it allows me to get up early or stay out late for photography reasons. Plus, if I want to pop back to my room to change or nap or rest my legs, it’s a lot easier. (PS: You’ll be doing a lot of walking in Quebec City)
I can’t mention hotels in Quebec City without mentioning Chateau Frontenac, the most iconic hotel in the city. I was lucky enough to stay here for several days for the 2018 Women in Travel Conference, and boy, was it incredible.
The hotel is not for anyone looking to watch their budget, but if you’re travelling in a group, it might be worth it. Many of the rooms are more historic than others, and some rooms offer epic views. Finding your way around in the landmark hotel is pretty interesting, but the amenities are great since it’s a 5-star hotel.
Since I was there for a conference, we were gifted a beautiful travel tea tumbler, their own blend of tea and some chocolates. It was a nice touch of hospitality.
If you’re looking to spoil yourself or splurge for a trip, then staying at the Chateau Frontenac is well worth the money.
Le Monastere des Augustines
There are over 200 hotels in Old Quebec, and I’m sure another couple dozen just outside the fortifications. There are so many to choose from based on your needs and budget. But Le Monastere des Augustines was one of the most unique places I’ve ever stayed.
Les Monastere des Augustines is a converted monastery in the heart of Old Quebec. The hotel does well to preserve its history rooted in medicine and healing. It offers guests the chance to heal and reflect with many workshops in holistic health. I’ve you’re into a wellness retreat, you’d love this place.
The hotel offers 33 authentic rooms, restored “in the spirit of monasticism” and 32 contemporary rooms. The hotel occupies the old Hotel-Dieu de Quebec monastery, built in 1639, where the Augustine Sisters dedicated their life to healing the body and the soul.
You can read more about my stay in this unique boutique (ha, rhyming) hotel here.
Where to Eat in Quebec City
If there’s one thing you do in Quebec City, please let it be to eat in their fantastic restaurants. What I love about Quebec is its unique cuisine. It’s not French, nor is it strictly European or Canadian; it is its own thing. There are a lot of gamey meats, rich flavours and twists to traditional dishes.
When you’re in Quebec City, get adventurous with your palate. Try the escargot (snails), absolutely go for the duck or rabbit or bison or venison, be willing to taste things you’ve never tried before because that’s half the fun.
Every time I’ve visited Quebec, I’ve tried something different because there’s just so much to try, and I’ve never been disappointed.
Restaurants in Quebec City you’ve got to try
One of the best things to do in Quebec City is to eat at one (or more) of their excellent restaurants. Here are a few to get you started:
Le Petit Chateau – $$ – Located right beside the Chateau Frontenac, this little breakfast spot has delicious crepes and sandwiches.
L’Antiquaire Buffet – $ – Awesome diner, but make it * French *. Sit on the patio if the weather is nice.
Smith Café – $ – Seven different locations around Quebec City, known for their delicious coffee and scrumptious and light breakfasts
Place Dufferine – $$$ – Take in afternoon tea at the Chateau Frontenac looking out over the beautiful St. Lawrence River.
L’Escale Bistro et Creperie – $$ – Great bistro in the Petit Champlain district with delicious crepes.
Baguette & Chocolat – $ – Perfect for a quick bite for a busy morning with sandwiches, snacks, cakes and more
Chez Bourlay Counter – $$ – The take-out side of the fancy Chex Bourlay bistro. Here you can get sandwiches, salads and sweets made with Quebec’s local flavours. Great for grabbing a meal for a picnic.
Le Repaire – $$ – Unique light dishes with a fantastic patio in the Petit Champlain district
Aux Anciens Canadiens – $$$ – one of the oldest places in Quebec, with wild game, traditional meals and hearty dishes. You’ve got to try their tourtiere – a deliciously spiced meat pie.
Le Lapin Saute – $$ – Stunning setting right in the heart of Old Quebec’s Petit Champlain district. You have to try their rabbit dishes – there’s nothing quite like it!
Le Sam Bistro Évolutif – $$$ – Definitely fancy, but you won’t want to miss the views from the dining room.
Maison Livernois Distillerie & Pub – $$ – Pub style dishes but with a French Twist. You’ll want to sample their incredible cocktails with house-made gin.
Chez Rioux & Pettigrew – $$$ – a historic and fancy restaurant known for its seafood and seasonal dishes.
Dolce Gelato Resto Café – $ – Finish your night with a delicious gelato from this colourful shop in Old Quebec
Chocolato Saint-Jean – $ – Who doesn’t love Chocolate and ice cream?
COWS Quebec – $ – Some of the BEST ice cream in all of Canada. Yes, I will fight anyone on this.
Best Things to do in Quebec City
Now that we’ve talked about the best places to stay and where to get a bite to eat, let’s talk about all the best things to do in Quebec City. There’s so much to see a do here, and fitting it into a long weekend will be challenging. Take a look at the list below and pick out places you don’t want to miss, and build your weekend around that.
Or, check out the bottom of this post, where I have a three-day Quebec City Itinerary all ready-made for you, complete with a walking tour map.
Let’s jump in. Here are the best things to do in Quebec City:
Take a walking tour through Quebec City
I hope that I’ve convinced you by now that Quebec City is one of Canada’s prettiest cities. With all the gorgeous architecture and rich history, start your time in this French city with a free walking tour. Free walking tours are an underrated activity, especially when you’re visiting a new city.
Where else can you gain insight into the history and culture of a city from someone who’s lived there? Plus, you’ll see popular places as well as lesser-known spots.
If you’re not one for joining a free walking tour, then take a stroll through the lovely old streets of Quebec City, especially Rue Saint-Louis and Rue Saint-Jean in the upper portion of Old Quebec, where you’ll find charming shops, old buildings, and great restaurants. Also, don’t miss Rue du Trésor, a pedestrian-only alley where artists set up shop.
Check out the Quebec City’s Fortifications
One of the cool things about Quebec is that it was/is a fortified city. And these fortifications are still standing. On your stroll through the town, make sure to check out some of the ramparts and gates, like Porte St-Jean (St John Gate), Port Kent (Kent Gate) and Port St Louis (St Louis Gate). You can even walk along the fortifications, through Parc de l’Esplanade (Esplanade Park), to La Citadelle de Quebec (Citadelle of Quebec).
Le Chateau Frontenac
Le Chateau Frontenac is one of the most iconic buildings in all of Canada. It’s so grand and historic and perfectly shapes Quebec City’s skyline. Contrary to popular belief, Chateau Frontenac was never a castle; it was built as a hotel in 1893 and has operated as a hotel ever since.
There are over 600 rooms on its 18 floors. It has housed several famous faces like Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Celine Dion, Grace Kelly and more. During the war, the Chateau Frontenac housed leaders from Allied countries during important military strategy conferences.
When it is open, you can wander the public halls, visit the shops and dine in the restaurants of this magnificent hotel. It’s worth a stop.
Hugging the hotel, you’ll come across La Terrasse Dufferin (Dufferin Terrace), a wide-open boardwalk that offers excellent views of the St. Lawrence and lower Old Quebec City. Take a stroll, enjoy the street performers or take a picture under the historical gazebos.
From here, you can take the Funiculaire down to the lower Old Quebec, head underneath the terrace into a National Historic Site or keep walking along the terrace to the Plains of Abraham. Or, of course, you can do all three.
Saint-Louis Forts and Châteaux National Historic Site
While walking along the Dufferin Terrace, you may come across giant glass boxes. If you peer into the glass boxes, you’ll see the Saint-Louis Forts and Chateaux National Historic Site remnants below. You can actually go underneath the terrace and explore some of Quebec’s oldest history.
The archaeological site was the official residence and seat of power of governors from 1620 to 1834. It was also where the first military fort of Quebec was located. And it was the last home of Samuel de Champlain before he died. During the dig, archaeologists found lifestyle objects associated with the home of Quebec’s governor, like glassware and stoneware. You can take a guided or self-guided tour of the site.
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Plains of Abraham
Les Plaines D’Abraham (The Plains of Abraham) is an open green space to the south of Old Quebec City. Nearly 300 years ago, this site was the location of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, an important battle between the French and British. During that battle, a pivotal moment during the Seven Years’ War, the British claimed the city before they took over the country.
Today, the Plains of Abraham offer a beautiful setting overlooking the St. Lawrence River and a venue for Quebec City’s major festivals. Take a stroll through the park or pack a picnic and enjoy the fresh air here.
Changing of the Guard at La Citadelle de Quebec
Did you know the French did not build the Citadelle? It was built by the British between 1820 and 1850 and was an essential fortification at the time. It was built in a star-shaped pattern to see the enemy coming from all sides and respond to the failed American invasion of 1812.
Take a walking tour of the grounds, which is still an active military base, home of the “Van-doos,” the only French-language infantry regiment in Canada.
At 10 am every day during the summer, you can catch the military tradition and ceremony to mark the changing of the guard assigned to garrison security.
Fun fact, the Citadelle has a royal goat, Batisse, a descendant from the original goat gifted from the Queen.
Ride the Funiculaire du Vieux-Quebec
There are many stairs in Quebec City, so save your legs and ride the Funiculaire du Vieux-Quebec (The Old Quebec Funicular). The electric outdoor escalator cable car was built in 1879 and has been in operation ever since.
Hop on the car from the Dufferin Terrace. It costs $3.75 one way, and it spits you out at the start of the Rue de Petit-Champlain, one of the most charming districts in all of Quebec City.
Le Quartier Petit-Champlain
The second most recognizable place in old Quebec is Le Quartier Petit Champlain (Petit Champlain Quarter). The cobblestone roads and older buildings make you feel like you’re in Europe. Visiting this neighbourhood in the lower area of Old Quebec should be on your list of things to do in Quebec City.
Take a stroll through the boutique shops, stop at the little restaurants, and enjoy the musicians drawing a crowd in the streets.
To get to Petit Champlain, take the stairs near the Frontenac Kiosk on the Dufferin Terrace, follow the curved Cote de la Montagne, then descend le Escalier Casse-Cou (Breakneck Steps). This stairway was built in the 1600s (the oldest in the city!) and offers the best views of the Rue de Petit Champlain.
You can also take the Funiculaire, but I’d save it for the ride going up; that way, you don’t have to climb all those steps.
The area that makes up Le Quartier Petit Champlain includes the Cote de la Montagne in the North to Rue Dalhousie in the East to the end of Rue to Petit Champlain in the South. Most of these streets are pedestrian-only. This district is home to many old buildings in the city since this was where the settlement started.
Along with the places listed below, make sure to stop at the Royal Battery and the UNESCO Park while wandering the Petit Champlain Quarter.
Located in the Petit Champlain Quarter, Place Royale is not to be missed. Add it to the top of your things to do in Quebec City bucket list. This town square was the precise location where explore Samuel de Champlain built the first French settlement in the Americas way back in 1608.
The square has been lovingly restored and the stone buildings preserved. Around the square, you can see the bust of Louis XIV, which marks this market square as a Place Royale.
You can even see the outline of Samuel de Champlain’s second house, marked in stone along the cobblestone along the ground near Notre-Dame-des-Victoires.
Take a peek inside one of the oldest churches in North America, erected in 1688 and built on the ruins of Samiel de Champlain’s second home. While the original church was heavily damaged by the British during the war, it was rebuilt shortly after and has remained standing ever since. You can go inside the small church during the summer to check out the simple, yet beautiful, structure.
One of the more modern additions to Le Quartier Petit Champlain is Umbrella Alley. It wasn’t there the last time I visited, but this recent art installation includes dozens of umbrellas strung between the buildings along Rue du Cul-de-Sac. It makes for a beautiful backdrop with the Chateau Frontenac peeking out between them.
Fresque des Québécois
The Fresque des Québécois is a detailed mural on the side of a building just beyond the Place Royale. It depicts the story of Quebec City, its unique buildings and the people who shaped the city. The park where the mural is located, Parc de la Cetière, is also a point of interest, as there are exposed parts of the historic building that remains below. You can read about the houses and the merchants they belonged to in the informational signs surrounding them.
Also, if you walk to the south of le Quartier Petit Champlain, you’ll come across another mural, Fresque du Petit-Champlain. This mural depicts milestones of the working class in this neighbourhood.
Beyond the Petit Champlain Quarter, you’ll find the old port district, still very much a bustling part of the city. Follow the Rue du Sault-de-Matelot to La Vivrière fountain and continue along Rue Sainte Paul. Along this stretch, you’ll find some incredible restaurants and cute side streets to explore.
Musee de la Civilisation
The weather doesn’t always cooperate, so if you need a rainy-day plan, you should check out the Musee de la Civilisation. Located in the Old Port district of Quebec City, this museum is dedicated to the human experience of Quebec City. There are both modern and historical exhibitions. For example, one of the exhibits on display when I visited Quebec City was all about revolutions; another was about cats and dogs.
There are many activities inside the museum that it’s well worth the admission, which is around $15-$20, depending on your age.
Don’t miss spotting the historic boat in the front entrance, found when they broke ground on the site in the 1980s.
La Basilique-Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Québec
As one of the oldest churches and the first basilica in Canada, this church holds a lot of history. The original cathedral was built by Samuel Champlain himself, although it was destroyed twice by fire. It’s designated as a National Historic Site of Canada and is still a functioning church today. When I visited, there was a wedding going on, and it was so cool to see everyone stand around as the bride entered the cathedral.
Tucked away on a side street in Old Quebec is the Morrin Centre. This historic building was once a prison but is now home to the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, the oldest in Canada and dedicated to the English Language. You can take a tour of this cultural centre, or pop into the Morrin Centre Library, which is one of the most beautiful libraries I’ve ever seen.
Observatoire de la Capitale
I’m a stickler for a great viewpoint, but I somehow missed visiting the Observatoire de la Capitale every single time. Don’t be like me, because the view from the top is supposedly the best in Quebec City.
Take in the view of the Chateau Frontenac, the historic old city and the surrounding St Lawrence River, all from the tallest building in Quebec City.
The best things to do outside Quebec City
I’ve given you the low down on the best things to do in Quebec City, and by now, you probably think that I’ve covered them all because, wow, that a lot of things to do in Quebec City. But you’d be wrong because there are three places just outside the city that you can’t miss on a weekend itinerary of Quebec City. The best way to see them would be to take a car yourself or join a half-day tour of the surrounding area.
Whether by car, or bus tour (which I took), you get a unique look at the French-Canadian countryside to buy fresh produce and see rolling hills.
A must-see in the Quebec countryside outside of the city is Montmorency Falls, an 83m-tall waterfall surrounded by a park. You can explore the waterfall from so many angles within the Parc de la Chute-Montmorency (Montmorency Falls Park).
The best way to see it all is to start at the Station and take the Cable Car to the top. Here you can explore the Manoir Montmorency, the former home of the British governor of Quebec. Next, take the cliffside boardwalk to the suspension bridge, which crosses over the Montmorency River at the top of the falls.
Follow the trail around the cliffside to the top of the Panoramic staircase. Descend the stairs, stopping to take in as many photos as you can until you reach the base of the fall. Here you can really see how large this waterfall is. Lastly, follow the trail back to the station, stopping at the footbridge for one last photo of Montmorency Falls.
The Île d’Orléans is a gorgeous county island just minutes from Quebec City. The fresh strawberries grown there are so juicy. You can also watch the St. Lawrence River tides (yes, the river has tides, 18ft tides, isn’t that crazy?) while eating fresh bread and maple butter. Doesn’t that sound delicious?
Stop off at a roadside market or dine at one of the delicious restaurants or wineries on the island. Lastly, take a trip to the wooden observation tower in the village of St-François for a beautiful view of the St Lawrence River.
Located just 20 minutes from Quebec City, you’ll want to pop over to the Saint-Anne-de-Beaupre Basilica, one of eight national shrines in Canada.
It’s a beautiful church dedicated to Saint Anne, the patron saint of sailors. Despite not being religious myself, I can appreciate the beauty of the architecture and details that make this place attractive to any visitor.
Whether you fall for the city’s charm or get swept away in the enchanting history, Old Quebec City is a must for anyone visiting Canada. This list of things to do in Quebec City should inspire you to explore one of Canada’s oldest cities and revel in its unique charm.
Have you ever been to Quebec City? What was your favourite part?