20+ Amazing Things To Do In Quebec City For First-Timers

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

Things To Do In Quebec City

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

food tour Things To Do In Quebec City

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

things to do in quebec city

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.

Morrin Centre

things to do in quebec city Morrin Centre Library

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

things to do in quebec city 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

Things To Do In Quebec City

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

Things To Do In Quebec City
Things To Do In Quebec City
 

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

Things To Do In Quebec City

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

things to do in quebec city Barberie

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

Things To Do In Quebec City

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

Things To Do In Quebec City
Things To Do In Quebec City
 

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 hat tuque!)
  • 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

Things To Do In Quebec City

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

things to do in quebec city 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

things to do in quebec city Clocher Penche brunch

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

things to do in quebec city Saint-Henri 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)

39 Comments on 20+ Amazing Things To Do In Quebec City For First-Timers

  1. Sandrine
    April 23, 2016 at 7:08 pm (9 months ago)

    MERCI! Je prévois me rendre sur Québec cet été et le côté culinaire m’intéresse particulièrement, je ne savais pas trop par où commencer. C’est bien, la poutine, mais… ;-)

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      April 25, 2016 at 12:50 pm (9 months ago)

      Génial! Excellent timing, donc :-)

      Reply
  2. Stacey
    April 23, 2016 at 8:09 pm (9 months ago)

    What an awesome list! We’re planning a trip in November and although I’ve been before, I had forgotten about some of these things and didn’t know about others. Definitely bookmarking this to reference back to.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      April 25, 2016 at 12:49 pm (9 months ago)

      Wonderful, enjoy your trip!

      Reply
  3. Courtney
    April 24, 2016 at 2:12 pm (9 months ago)

    Excellent tips, thank you so much! I heard that Quebec City is the only walled city north of Mexico, is it true? Can we visit the wall?

    Reply
  4. Josh
    April 24, 2016 at 9:28 pm (9 months ago)

    I think I stopped paying attention after you mentioned your favourite microbreweries. I really don’t need more convincing.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      April 25, 2016 at 12:40 pm (9 months ago)

      I see you have your priorities straight, haha!

      Reply
  5. Mary @ Green Global Travel
    April 25, 2016 at 1:39 pm (9 months ago)

    Quebec seems to have an endless amount of fun things to explore. The Sugar Shack sounds delicious. Thanks for this great list!

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      April 25, 2016 at 4:05 pm (9 months ago)

      You’re welcome Mary!

      Reply
  6. Joey
    April 27, 2016 at 4:58 pm (9 months ago)

    Quebec City is one of the few places in North America that legitimately has a European feel to it … love every chance I get to visit this amazing place in Canada.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      April 27, 2016 at 5:46 pm (9 months ago)

      It really is an amazing place!

      Reply
  7. Ayngelina
    April 28, 2016 at 12:14 pm (9 months ago)

    Ooh I’d be all over the food tour.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      April 29, 2016 at 12:16 pm (9 months ago)

      I KNOW, right?! It’s really quite fabulous!

      Reply
  8. Bruce D Allen
    May 5, 2016 at 11:21 pm (9 months ago)

    If you take the ferry to Lévis for the view of the city, do it in the morning, when the sun is illuminating the river side of the Chateau Frontenac.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      May 6, 2016 at 2:00 pm (9 months ago)

      That is such a good tip, thanks Bruce!

      Reply
  9. Brian
    May 17, 2016 at 12:23 am (8 months ago)

    I love it, Quebec City has 20 things and Montreal only has 15. I would include on your list Sunday brunch at Chateau Frontenac.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      May 17, 2016 at 4:37 pm (8 months ago)

      Ha! You’re quite observant ;) There are many more things to do in each city but blog posts can only be so long!

      Reply
  10. Jenny
    May 17, 2016 at 12:24 pm (8 months ago)

    Désormais il y a un tout nouveau café à St-Roch: KRWN. Il font des espressos purement italiens, des cuban colada et du café turc! C’est délicieux, à essayer absolument!

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      May 17, 2016 at 4:29 pm (8 months ago)

      Bon à savoir, merci!

      Reply
  11. Ben Bibeau
    May 24, 2016 at 9:04 pm (8 months ago)

    When visiting Quebec city, people often stay too close from the beaten track, aka the old town. Other districts, while less historically striking, are also worth a visit. Limoilou (like St-Roch) has some nice places as well, and allows to get a glimpse of everyday life in Quebec without the sugar coating of the well-preserved old town. Taking a walk or a bike ride along the St-Charles river could be a suggestion as well.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      May 26, 2016 at 1:54 pm (8 months ago)

      Limoilou and St-Roch are really hot right now with all the new restaurants and cafés. Well worth a visit!

      Reply
  12. Luis
    May 25, 2016 at 6:08 pm (8 months ago)

    By far the best guide to Quèbec City I’ve read! I moved here a few months ago and I love the selection you made!

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      May 26, 2016 at 1:53 pm (8 months ago)

      Thank you so much Luis! Enjoy your time in Quebec City.

      Reply
  13. Kathleen
    May 26, 2016 at 2:24 pm (8 months ago)

    I am a local and I always suggest that people step off the ferry for a stop at Le Corsaire microbrewery. It is literally minutes from the ferry and well worth the stops. Also makes it a more “complete” activity. Great bites to eat at Le Corsaire as well.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      May 30, 2016 at 8:56 am (8 months ago)

      Thanks for the suggestion! :)

      Reply
  14. Christina
    June 13, 2016 at 8:26 pm (7 months ago)

    Can you do Quebec City, staying over for just one night? Can you see the most popular sites in one full day.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      June 14, 2016 at 10:33 am (7 months ago)

      Yes you can stay for just one night, that leaves you enough time to see the main sights. It’s not a big city.

      Reply
  15. Ashley Smith
    July 19, 2016 at 2:33 pm (6 months ago)

    Great article! I spend a lot of time in QC and you’ve included some places I’ve never seen. Thanks for the info!

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      July 20, 2016 at 1:25 pm (6 months ago)

      You’re welcome Ashley!

      Reply
  16. Frances
    August 23, 2016 at 1:43 pm (5 months ago)

    Un “walking Tours” du Vieux Quebec. Je suis native de la ville, et je n’y connaissais presque rien. La venue de copains Americains et hop! je reserve. Meilleure soiree de la semaine!! Les petites ruelles “secretes, ‘histoire qui devient vivante. Nos guides/interpretes etaient extraordinnaires! Et nous etions bien contents d’avoir mis de bons souliers de marches. Voici le lien: https://www.viator.com/tours/Quebec-City/Animated-Crime-Walking-Tour-in-Old-Quebec/d626-22207P1 Tournees disponibles en anglais et francais

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      August 29, 2016 at 11:32 am (5 months ago)

      Génial, merci de la suggestion!

      Reply
  17. Shantel
    December 29, 2016 at 12:45 pm (4 weeks ago)

    Going to QC in June of next year, what’s a great affordable hotel to stay at that’s close to almost everything?

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      December 30, 2016 at 9:13 pm (3 weeks ago)

      It depends on whether or not you want to stay within the city walls. Affordable places in high season within the city walls will be hard to come by but Hotel PUR in St Roch is a great idea.

      Reply
  18. Brooke
    January 2, 2017 at 11:39 pm (3 weeks ago)

    My husband and I are considering a 5 night visit in April. We’re interested in relaxing and exploring. Do you think April is a decent time to visit? Does it typically start to warm up a bit by then? Do you think we can keep ourselves reasonably busy for 4 full days? Loved your suggestions btw!

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      January 17, 2017 at 12:56 pm (6 days ago)

      April is a great time to visit the city. Not as many tourists and it’ll be a lot warmer than winter. Five nights is a lot but there is a lot to do outside the city as well (Ile d’Orléans, Charlevoix, hiking in Grands Jardins, etc.)

      Reply
  19. Emily
    January 5, 2017 at 9:07 pm (3 weeks ago)

    We have been following your recommendations all day! From cafes, to microbreweries to chez Boulay! Everything has been amazing! Thank you from two Aussies who would be lost without you in Quebec! Ps. Especially grateful for the coffee tips, Timmy H is not our friend!

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      January 17, 2017 at 12:53 pm (6 days ago)

      Aw, so glad to hear! Hope you enjoyed Quebec City.
      (And Timmy H is nobody’s friend).

      Reply

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