The province of Quebec in Canada is famous for being a hub of Francophone culture in North America. On my trip last summer to Quebec City, I sometimes felt like it was a tiny snapshot into a European town—with plenty of charm to go around! The city is old, lively, and beautiful, and a hot tourist destination not just for North Americans, but also for French-speakers from around the world.
Quebec City was the base for my 10-day stay in Canada, and I simply loved exploring the city! (And the surrounding area as well!) Most of the can’t-miss places are located in Old Quebec, the most quaint and (surprise!) oldest part of Quebec City. Here are my recommendations on what you can’t miss on a trip to Quebec City:
The most photographed hotel in the world, Chateau Frontenac wows visitors and is one of the most recognizable sites in Quebec City. Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt both stayed here, as well as numerous other famous guests. With the glamorous exterior, you can see why it’s the best accommodation in the city! Stroll along Terrasse Dufferin for great views and great photo opportunities of hotel. There are also great views on the Levis-Quebec ferry, and from the southern tip of Ile d’Orleans.
As Quebec City is the capital of Quebec province, the Parliament is where all the political action takes place. While it’s a beautiful building from the outside, definitely sign up for a free tour (in either French or English) and see the inside. The interior design has a lot of interesting features, and you will get to see the two rooms for the houses. The tour provides an in-depth history of both Quebec province and its politics, and the political workings of Quebec’s Parliament today.
Quebec City is the only walled city north of Mexico, and walking the city walls is a can’t-miss attraction! It’s free to walk the walls, although there are a small museum or two (such as the Fortifications Museum) that will have a small admission fee. The walls offer great views of the city and the river!
Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Quebec
This is Quebec City’s main cathedral, showing the strong ties Quebec has to both France and the Catholic Church. There are several smaller churches that are worth visiting as well, but I found this one to be the biggest and the best. It boasts a beautiful gold and white interior, and the exterior is easily recognizable for its asymmetrical two towers. It houses the tomb of Francois de Laval, Quebec’s first bishop. There is no admission fee!
Rue Petit Champlain
One of the most charming streets in Quebec, Rue Petit Champlain (or Quartier Petit Champlain in general) is full of small shops, cafes, and restaurants. If you’re looking for the quaint feeling of old-town Europe, this is where you will find it! Beware that millions of other tourists will probably have the same idea and want to crowd the street as well. This is located on the lower level of Quebec City, and accessed by famous breakneck stairs on one end. Be forewarned, it’s a whole lot of steps back up to the top…
New France was founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain, and Place Royale is the location of that settlement in Quebec. The square is full of things to do—don’t miss Notre-Dame des Victoires church, the oldest stone church in North America (dating back to 1688). The Museé Place Royale is also worth a visit if you’re interested in more of the early history of the settlement. Don’t miss the large mural on the side of one of the buildings!
A military fortress and home to the Lieutenant General (the Queen’s representative in Canada), La Citadelle is only accessible through a guided tour. The star-shaped base was built on the highest point of Quebec City (allowing any attacking invaders to be immediately spotted) and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Tours are available in both French and English, and allow access to several of the smaller buildings, as well as giving a great overview of the history of the fortress. La Citadelle also includes a museum with a fascinating exhibit on the Royal 22e Regiment, following the Regiment from WWI up to the present. If you are visiting in the summer, check out the Changing of the Guard—complete with the goat Batisse! La Citadelle offers free parking for two hours for visitors.
Observatoire de la Capitale
The building it’s housed in might not be the most attractive, but the Observatoire de la Capitale is (you guessed it!) an observatory that offers amazing 360˚ views of Quebec City. It also has a multimedia exhibit for more history of the city.
Battlefields Park/Plains of Abraham
The site of a very famous battle between the British and French in 1759, Battlefields Park (and the Plains of Abraham site within it) is now a huge green and grassy park outside of the city walls. It’s a popular place for concerts, festivals, sports, walking, and just hanging out. It’s worth a stroll if the weather’s nice!
Canadian Maple Delights (Les Délices de l’Érable)
This place is literally heaven on earth. It’s part store and part museum, all catering to one of Canada’s finest exports: maple syrup. Make sure to visit the museum on a tour, since you get free samples! Otherwise, peruse the store to your heart (and stomach’s) desire… you want it, they have it: maple syrup (of course), maple tea, maple honey, maple fudge, maple pastries, soft maple candy, hard maple candy… the list is endless. I highly recommend the maple cream cookies, maple ice cream, and soft maple candy! The Quebec City location is located at 1044, rue St-Jean.
If there’s one food you can’t not try during a trip to Canada, it would be poutine. French fries smothered in gravy and topped with cheese curds, poutine is a staple and also delicious. It is more or less available everywhere. Eat as much of it as possible!
If McDonalds and Starbucks had a Canadian baby, it would be Tim Horton’s. Simply put, this chain is everywhere in Quebec province, and a great quick stop for all your needs—be they coffee or sandwiches or pastries. The cinnamon rolls are the reason Tim Horton’s made this list, because they were so delicious and SO cheap (CAD $1.50). Tim Horton’s is also the reason Toronto Airport is one of my favorite layovers!!
Quebec City is wonderful, but the surrounding area definitely merits a few days exploring. My favorite day trips were Jacques Cartier National Park, Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre, and Ile d’Orleans. Check out this post for my top 6 daytrips!
The Basics: Quebec City has a population of about 517,000, and the province of Quebec has a population of about 8.2 million. The official language of the province is French, although English will be widely spoken everywhere in cities. Quebec City is the capital of the province, but Montreal is the larger city of the two. The official currency is Canadian Dollars (CAD). US Dollars (USD) cash will be accepted in some places, but at an awful exchange rate, so pay with Canadian dollars.
Getting Around: Everything within Old Quebec is walkable, but if you’re staying farther away you might want to rent a car. While the city has bus transportation, buses tend to be on the pricey side and less frequent. I’d also recommend renting a bike, as the city is fairly bike friendly!
Where I Stayed: I stayed at Smile Konnects International House for my stay in Quebec City. While the location is in a residential neighborhood (not in Old Quebec, and farther away from attractions), the place was absolutely great for my stay. The house is all private rooms (2-person to 6-person), had a very well-stocked kitchen, free parking, and a very nice backyard. During my stay, there were lots of long-term guests (staying for a month or more), which gave it a great communal vibe. I’d definitely stay here again!
Quebec City has so many great attractions and sites, but one of the best experiences is simply getting lost in the cobblestone streets of Old Quebec, and feeling transported back in time to Europe while staying in North America. The picturesque town is surrounded by stunning scenery, and the small-town charm gave me a great experience as a traveler. A trip to Quebec City is not to be missed!
Have you ever been to Quebec City or another place in Canada? Share your experiences in the comments below!