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.
Things To Do In Quebec City If You’re Visiting For The First Time
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.
Food tour in Saint-Roch district
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. This one-mile long Quebec City food tour tackles six of the best eateries in up-and-coming St-Roch all while showcasing the area’s historic European heritage.
Experience an authentic québécois sugar shack
If you’ve never been inside a sugar shack, let’s make something clear right away: you’ve been missing out! The “cabane à sucre”, as we call it in Quebec, is a rustic log cabin where we douse everything in maple syrup come springtime and that basically embodies our weak excuse for excess and temporary diabetes. Sounds fabulous, right? Quebec City has no shortage of shacks, like typically-Canadian Relais des Pins in île d’Orléans (which is, luckily for you guys, open year-round). Seasonal favourites include Cabane à Sucre de la Commission de la Capitale Nationale on the Plains of Abraham and Érablière Chemin du Roy in St-Augustin-de-Desmaures.
Walk on Dufferin Terrace
Wrapped around Château Frontenac, this 200-years-old wooden promenade connects the leafy historic battlefields to the Old City and features several noteworthy sights, including Russian cannons captured by the British army during the Crimean War as well as the original fortifications of the Upper Town.
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.
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 the 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 make-your-own negronis at 1608 or the opulent brunch at Champlain Restaurant.
Shop the antiquaires
Nestled at the foot of Château Frontenac in the quieter part of the Lower Town, the quaint 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.
Go 400 years back in time at Place Royale
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 and is flanked by exceptional New France architecture.
Wander around the Old Port Market
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.
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. 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 : 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. Here are a few suggestions on where to start:
- Stroll the streets of Montcalm right up to the Musée des Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts Museum) and historic Plains of Abraham
- Marvel at the English architecture and bourgeois feel of the neighbourhood. Walk along Braves Avenue and see the mansions once built to house ambassadors from around the world
- Step on Cartier Street 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
Go on a day trip
One of the few advantages Quebec City has over Montreal (what can I say, a girl’s gotta represent) is its volume. Being of a more modest size, the capital doesn’t take as long to visit and is easier to navigate, much like its neighbouring attractions. Here are a few ideas:
- Relaxing road trip along King’s Road between Saint-Augustin and Neuville
- Active day trip at Camp Mercier, with cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in wintertime as well as hiking and fishing in summer months
- Exhilarating outing at the Massif Ski Resort in Charlevoix, home to the North America’s longest luge track (better hold on to your
- Bucolic and slow-paced day at Île d’Orleans
- Thrilling canoe and canoe-camping adventure at Bras du Nord Valley
- Jaw-dropping Montmorency Falls, the tallest in Canada (yes, more so than Niagara!) at Parc de la Chute-Montmorency. If you’re by car, why not follow the Route de la Nouvelle-France up to the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, an impressive church which is famous among pilgrims for its healing miracles. On your way back to the city, stop at Microbrasserie des Beaux-Prés and enjoy some local brews right on the St. Lawrence River.
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.
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. 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.
Get a bird’s eye view at Observatoire de la Capitale
Take an elevator (thank God!) to the 31st floor of the iconic Marie-Guyart building, which offers unobstructed, 360-degree views of not only both the lower and upper towns, but also the mighty St. Lawrence River and even the Laurentians Mountains on clear days.
Indulge with an afternoon tea at Bistro Le Sam inside Château Frontenac
Because you should never need an excuse for afternoon tea. Especially not when it’s inside one of the world’s most photographed and emblematic hotels!
Treat yourself to a damn good meal
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)
- Le clocher penché (203 Saint-Joseph Est)
- Laurie Raphaël (117 Dalhousie)
- Chez Boulay (1110 Saint-Jean)
- Le lapin sauté (52 du Petit Champlain)
- Sapristi (1001 Saint-Jean)
Visit the Musée de la Civilisation
Discover one of the many permanent and temporary exhibits of the Musée de la civilisation, which boldly delves into topics like Quebec City’s past to present history, the First Nations culture, contemporary arts, all complemented by state-of-the-art interactive displays and the latest technology.
Grab a gourmet coffee
The third-wave coffee shops have reached Quebec City, for the enjoyment of those who can’t stand Tim Hortons (not all Canadians enjoy it, contrary to popular belief). If you want to have a high-quality, masterfully crafted cup of joe, you’ll need to pay a visit to the St-Roch area:
- Nektar caféologue (235 Saint-Joseph)
- Saint-Henri microtorréfacteur (849 Saint-Joseph)
- Maelstrøm (181 Rue Saint-Vallier)