25 Essential Things to Do in Old Quebec

Unless you’ve been living under a rather large rock for the past, em, 400 years, chances are you are well acquainted with one of North America’s oldest settlements. Château Frontenac is just one of the many things to do in Old Quebec, but not just: some of the suggestions below are painfully obvious — hello, we are talking about a UNESCO World Heritage Site here — and others, not quite as much.

Let’s get started, shall we?

The Best Things to Do in Old Quebec

Château Frontenac: the Most Photographed Hotel in the World

Things to Do in Old Quebec

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 make-your-own negronis at 1608 or enjoy the fancy, lavish brunch at Champlain Restaurant.

Can’t afford to spend the night? Don’t worry, you can easily enjoy the château and avoid the hefty Fairmont pricetag.

Go on a Food Tour

Things to Do in Old Quebec

Gone are the days where Quebec City was the laughing stock of ultra foodie Montreal; in fact, Quebec has undergone a total revitalization in the past few years and is now home to numerous forward-thinking, imaginative restaurants that are well worth a visit. The 2.5-hour Old Quebec food tour features five culinarily and culturally significant spots showcasing the area’s historic European heritage as well as the city’s inventive streak. Bring your eating pants!

  • When: 11:00 AM Friday & Saturday
  • How much: 54$
Tour the Citadelle

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 200 years of military history.

Did you know, for instance, that the fortifications were not in fact built to protect the British colonies from the French army? They only reinforced the already-existing structure in case the Americans colonies further south had the funny idea to invade Quebec City.

Visit the 400-year old Augustines Monastery

Things to Do in Old Quebec
Things to Do in Old Quebec
 
Things to Do in Old Quebec

The historical cloisters of Hôtel-Dieu, one of the most significant landmarks in Old Quebec, have been carefully renovated over the past couple of years and turned into an unprecedented combination of museum / hotel / healthy restaurant / holistic centre.

It recounts the story of the Augustine Nuns, who were pioneers in health and science when the hospital first opened its doors in 1639 with a treaty from King Louis XIII asking them to care for the sick and to open the continent’s first hospital north of Mexico. Think of this place as history meets wellness meets modern comforts and you’ve got a pretty enticing picture.

Not unlike the Château Frontenac, you can opt to stay overnight at the monastery if the visit made you want to see more. The rooms are unadorned but incredibly comfortable and restful.

Visit Musée des Ursulines

If the aforementioned Augustines were all about health and science, the Ursulines’ mission was to educate and teach to girls in New France — both newcomers and natives — making it the oldest institution of learning for women in North America as their history begins on 1 August 1639 when the first nuns landed in Canada. The museum recounts their fascinating progress and the influence they had on educational systems throughout America.

Stand where it all started: Place Royale

Things to Do in Old Quebec Things to Do in Old Quebec

Set foot in the cradle of French Canadian civilisation by visiting the very place where Quebec City was founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain after having opened the very first trading post. The small square is awash with history; it served as a trading post, a storehouse, and even a fort back in the early 15th century. The gabled roofs and large chimneys are very typical of the New France era and the houses found in and around Place Royale are some of the finest examples of that genre anywhere in the country.

Enjoy the Aurora Borealis light show

Every evening at dusk until December 31, enjoy one of the most original and creative light shows in the world in the Old Port of Quebec City. Named “Aurora Borealis”, the 3D fresco is projected on the iconic 81 grain silos – totalling 600 metres wide and 30 metres high – and depicts key tableaus of Quebec City’s history using shades and colours typically associated with northern lights.

And it’s free!

Picnic in the Parc du Bastion de la Reine (and enjoy the view)

Things to Do in Old Quebec

Grab some bread, wine, cheese & saucisson at the oldest grocery store in town – Épicerie J.A. Moisan (just outside Old Quebec) – and head over to the plains of Abraham to enjoy the beautiful weather and the stunning and most underrated views of Old Quebec and the river.

Visit the Fort St-Louis archaeological site

You may have noticed that Terrace Dufferin, right by Château Frontenac, is dotted with plexiglass domes opening onto mysterious remains? Archaeologists uncovered significant evidence proving that the governor’s official residence, and, therefore, New France’s seat of power, stood right here from 1620 to 1834. It is now possible to explore the remains of Château Saint-Louis, which includes 120 artefacts and is cleverly designed to be visited through an augmented reality tour.

Visit Morrin Centre

Things to Do in Old Quebec

Formerly a prison, now Quebec City’s flagship English-language cultural hub, the Morrin Centre is a stunning 200-year old building filled with history and obscure inmate stories. It also features a Victorian-era library containing 25,000 books, an old-timey chemistry lab, and is home to Canada’s first learned societies. It’s even possible to book a traditional afternoon tea, complete with period costumes and Victorian etiquette lessons.

Additionally, it’s one of the prime locations of Louise Penny’s detective novel “Bury Your Dead” featuring the popular Officer Gamache.

Be surprised at Maison de la littérature

Things to Do in Old Quebec

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 but also on visual arts and other mediums. Don’t be deterred by the majoritively French-speaking environment; this is truly a hidden gem and one of the most underrated things to do in Old Quebec.

Drink in a 400-year old tavern

Housed in a 1668 stone building, Pape Georges V tavern is mostly famous for its atmospheric vaulted ceilings and its rather unusual street number at “8 ¼ rue du Cul-de-Sac”. For the full experience, order a Black Velvet, which consists of half cider and half stout beer. Cheers!

Peek at Séminaire de Québec

Things to Do in Old Quebec

Founded in 1663, Séminaire de Québec is, to be official, the oldest educational institution in Canada. As such, it became a National Historic Site of Canada in 1929 and continues to wow visitors to this day, with its white-washed central courtyard concealed by a wrought-iron gate that most visitors miss in the blink of an eye.

Marvel at the Fresque des Québécois

Located at the bottom of steep Côte de la Montagne street, the gigantic, almost mind-boggling fresco recounts the heritage of Quebec City while acknowledging the characters and events that contributed to its evolution. I’ve seen it a few times and I don’t think I’ve actually noticed every detail yet, as the fresco is very intricate. A work of art for all to enjoy!

Go antiquing on rue Saint-Paul

Things to Do in Old Quebec

Nestled at the foot of Château Frontenac in the quieter part of the Lower Town, charming St-Paul Street is famous throughout the city for being home to the best antiquarians in the province. I’ll admit that no one goes abroad to shop for vintage armchairs but the shops are, luckily for travellers, full of old-timey trinkets that easily fit in a suitcase.

Enjoy Musée de la Civilisation

Enjoy exhibits of international calibre as well as more locals ones at this forward-thinking, trend-setting museum in the heart of Old Quebec. Musée de la Civilisation features highly interactive, modern features that also act as an homage to architect-superstar Moshe Safdie, who designed the building.

Ride the Ferry across the St Lawrence River

Things To Do In Old Quebec

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.

Walk on the Ramparts

Stretching over a distance of 4,6 kilometres, the historic Quebec City walls hold so many secrets that only a guided tour could possibly reveal — along with some pretty unique viewpoints. If you’d rather go it alone, climb the stairs by Kent Gate and access the top for a self-guided visit of the only remaining fortifications north of Mexico City.

Instagram the quaint back streets

Things to Do in Old Quebec Things to Do in Old Quebec

The charming streets that surround the Old Port are perfect for strolling and whiling away the hours at antiques stores, art galleries, and sidewalk cafés. The enchanting decor is peppered with historic houses that were once home to the likes of grain merchants and wholesale grocers. At Place FAO, amid the circa 1900 architectural gems of the old financial district, lies a striking fountain sculpture that’s a favourite of passersby.

Visit Musée du Fort

Discover the military secrets behind Quebec City’s most iconic battles with Musée du Fort‘s light and sound shows featuring the impressive 400 square feet scale model of Quebec City back in 1750.

Discover local products at Marché du Vieux Port

Things to Do in Old Quebec
Things to Do in Old Quebec
 

If you’re indeed a foodie yourself, why not take some time to visit Quebec City’s busy market? Sample local products such as ice wines, terrines, fresh blueberry juice, maple syrup, and mingle with locals in this waterfront thoroughfare. If the weather is on your side, get a few of your preferred indulgences and head outside for a waterfront picnic near the marina.

Hop on the funicular to Petit-Champlain neighbourhood

The funicular linking the lower and the upper towns, more specifically Petit-Champlain to Château Frontenac, is one of the most quintessential things to do in Old Quebec – that is, if you are keen on avoiding the so-called Break Neck stairs. And no one could blame you for choosing the safe option with a name like that!

Fun fact: the funicular starts in Maison Louis-Jolliet, the one-time residence of the man who discovered the Mississippi River.

Stroll on Promenade des Gouverneurs

Things to Do in Old Quebec

Imagine a giant boardwalk, minus the beach. This is exactly what the Promenade des Gouverneurs is about! The elevated promenade connects the Plains of Abraham to the Dufferin Terrace and Château Frontenac but attempting to see it from one end to another is not for the faint of heart: the cliffs are really quite steep in that area, not to mention that there are over 300 steps to get to the very top. But the unobstructed panoramas of not just Old Quebec but Island of Orleans and the river are a very worthy reward.

Old Quebec Festivals & Events

Despite its old age and timeless attractions, Quebec City still knows how to throw a damn good, generally-free-of-charge party. Whether you prefer musical events (Festival d’été de Québec, Envol et Macadam), historic festivities (Fêtes de la Nouvelle-France), artsy displays (Loto-Québec fireworks festival, Crépuscule circus show) or if you’re brave enough, winter celebrations (Carnaval de Québec), there’s undoubtedly a festival that will tickle your fancy in this lively, cheerful town.

Restaurants – Where to Eat in Old Quebec

Things to Do in Old Quebec
Things to Do in Old Quebec
 
Things to Do in Old Quebec
Things to Do in Old Quebec
 
Things to Do in Old Quebec

23 Comments on 25 Essential Things to Do in Old Quebec

  1. Laura
    April 3, 2017 at 4:06 pm (2 months ago)

    Ahh so much history! I would LOVE to visit Quebec one day – it’s definitely on my list :) And when I do, I am 100 % having picnic in that park – those views look amaaaazing! x

    Laura // Middle of Adventure

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      April 26, 2017 at 5:39 pm (1 month ago)

      These are the best views in town!

      Reply
  2. Sophie Nadeau
    April 4, 2017 at 12:38 pm (2 months ago)

    A great read and I loved all of the photos; you managed to capture the city on a particularly beautiful day ;) ! Around half of my family live in Quebec city, so this post definitely brought back some lovely childhood memories! I definitely think that visiting all of the antique shops around Rue Saint-Paul would be my top choice of things to do in the city, though! I’m hoping to visit Canada next year so definitely am looking forward to it even more now :D

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      April 26, 2017 at 5:39 pm (1 month ago)

      Glad you like the photos Sophie! With a name like yours I suspected you had family in the province of Quebec. Maybe our paths will cross eventually!

      Reply
  3. The Curious Creature
    April 5, 2017 at 2:34 pm (2 months ago)

    Great list!! I was just there on a press trip this winter and saw many of these beaut sites covered in snow — now I want to go back for a picnic!! Also, loved La Buche if you haven’t been, it’s super fun.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      April 26, 2017 at 5:37 pm (1 month ago)

      Good to know, thanks!

      Reply
  4. paula schuck
    April 6, 2017 at 11:12 am (2 months ago)

    Yes yes yes – 100 times to the food tour. I have not yet made it to Old Quebec City. I really have got to make that happen. Actually I plan to explore more Quebec in the next few years. There are so many regions and they are each so unique.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      April 26, 2017 at 5:36 pm (1 month ago)

      Absolutely! And food is a great way to learn more about a specific place.

      Reply
  5. Miranda Post
    April 7, 2017 at 9:30 am (2 months ago)

    What a comprehensive list. I wish I had this a few years back when I visited Quebec City. I do love visiting the monasteries and abbeys of Quebec, so the Augustine Monastery is intriguing.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      April 26, 2017 at 5:36 pm (1 month ago)

      You will love it! It’s such a special place.

      Reply
  6. Chester Livingston
    April 13, 2017 at 11:42 am (2 months ago)

    A great article I love it and all these photos. Quebec is an amazing place, you managed to capture the city on a lovely sunny day ;) I’m planning to visit Canada this year so definitely am looking forward to it :) Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      April 26, 2017 at 4:44 pm (1 month ago)

      Thanks for your kind words Chester!

      Reply
  7. Nitin Khanna
    April 17, 2017 at 8:09 am (1 month ago)

    Great Article! I would love to visit at Quebec. Amazing Place and Amazingly described by you.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      April 26, 2017 at 4:43 pm (1 month ago)

      Glad I could inspire your trip Nitin!

      Reply
  8. Joey
    April 29, 2017 at 12:25 pm (4 weeks ago)

    So much to do within the bounds of the most European city in North America … have to go back and visit again soon!

    Reply
  9. John
    May 8, 2017 at 5:43 am (3 weeks ago)

    Looks like such a fascinating place, one I would LOVE to visit someday!Will be sure to pin this for future travels

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      May 15, 2017 at 10:30 am (2 weeks ago)

      Glad I could help John!

      Reply
  10. James
    May 8, 2017 at 9:15 am (3 weeks ago)

    Always wanted to visit the Morrin Centre, I have been told it is a must see so I am defintely adding it to my list.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      May 15, 2017 at 10:30 am (2 weeks ago)

      Yes it’s a beautiful building with fascinating history!

      Reply
  11. Travelen
    May 8, 2017 at 9:19 am (3 weeks ago)

    Your article is so useful! QUEBEC is in our bucket list! We’ll use all this info! Photos are also very good.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      May 15, 2017 at 10:30 am (2 weeks ago)

      Glad I could help! Enjoy your trip.

      Reply
  12. Jade D'sa
    May 23, 2017 at 11:53 pm (5 days ago)

    I was in Quebec for a day on one of those guided tours. I didn’t see everything on your list, but I wandered around and found this little chapel right out of a fairytale! Quebec is so picturesque!
    http://www.thatgoangirl.com

    Reply

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