9 of our Favourite Things to Do in Québec City
Founded by Samuel de Champlain more than 400 years ago, few North American cities can match Québec City’s rich history – or its many charms.
Québec has made a point of restoring and celebrating many elements from its past, resulting in a modern city rich with Old World enchantment; wandering down Québec’s cobbled streets, you could be forgiven for feeling like you’ve stumbled into a charming Parisian arrondisement.
Fortunately for North Americans, the flight to Québec is much shorter (just an hour and a half from New York), leaving you with little excuse not to experience it for yourself. In this post I’ve rounded up a few of my favourite things to do in Quebec City, which help reveal the unique character of this historic and romantic town.
1. Old Québec
Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, Québec’s historic district is an absolute must. The former capital of New France, Québec has played an important role in both the province and the country, and its well maintained historic district is as illuminating as it is charming.
Old Québec is made up of two sections, the Upper Town, perched on a cliff atop Cap Diamant and defended by fortified ramparts, and the Lower Town around the Palace Royale (both of which we’ll discuss in more detail below).
2. Upper Town (Haute-Ville)
Québec is the only North American city to have preserved its ramparts, and the various bastions, gates and defensive measures make for a fascinating living history lesson.
In addition, the Upper Town is considered the religious and administrative centre of the city, home to myriad churches, convents and other historic monuments like the Dauphine Redoubt, the Citadel and Château Frontenac.
3. Lower Town (Basse-Ville)
At the bottom of the funicular is Old Québec’s Lower Town, the location of the city’s original settlement along the St. Lawrence. Replete with charming shops, restaurants and galleries, and largely inaccessible by car, strolling through the Lower Town will truly make you feel like you’ve been transported to Europe.
An absolute must at any time of year, Lower Town particularly comes alive around Christmas, when Christmas Markets pop up throughout the district, complete with lights and carolers, imbuing the already historic surroundings with festive flair.
4. The Funicular
Linking the Upper and Lower Towns is the funicular, pictured above, a railway set on a 45 degree angle that transports people between the two parts of town. The funicular first opened in 1879 and was used as a water ballast.
Today it retains its old-world charm and offers incomparable views over the Lower Town and the St. Lawrence River.
5. Place Royale
In the heart of Lower Town is Old Québec’s famous town plaza, one of the city’s most important social centres.
Today the square is a picture-perfect step back in time, as the historical buildings that surround the square have been meticulously and beautifully restored. After an afternoon spent wandering the Lower Town, take a seat at a café and enjoy some people watching in one of Québec’s most charming settings.
6. Terrasse Dufferin
This is one of Québec City’s most popular sights and meeting places, and for good reason. Walking along Terrasse Dufferin, with the Château Frontenac perched behind you, you can take in the view as the mighty St. Lawrence River sprawls out in front of you.
The Terrasse was built in 1879 at the request of Canada’s Governor General, Frederick Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood (more commonly known simply as Lord Dufferin, hence the name). The boardwalk’s open-air pavilions and streetlamps were inspired by the French urban architecture common under Napoléon III.
7. The Citadelle
The Citadelle represents three centuries of North American military history and is still in use. Since 1920, it has housed the Royal 22e Régiment of the Canadian Forces, known fondly as the “Van Doos,” a regiment distinguished for its bravery during World War II.
There are some 25 buildings to visit including the prison, hospital, and officer’s mess hall. The citadelle has never borne the brunt of a single cannonball, though it has acted as an important element of discussion.
8. La Promenade Samuel-De Champlain
Another great way to get active in the city is to join the hundreds of Québécois who bike, walk and run through this park along the banks of the St. Lawrence.
Stretching about 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles) from the Cageux Wharf to the Sillery coastline, the park was a gift from the provincial government to the city in celebration of its 400th anniversary.
9. Musée des Beaux-Arts
Located on the famous Plains of Abraham, the site of a historic battle between the British and the French, this museum showcases more than 38,000 works dating from the 17th century to today.
In addition to the art, the museum frequently hosts cultural activities and offers a restaurant and café.
Parc de la Chute-Montmorency
Parc de la Chute-Montmorency offers natural splendour and a bit of adventure, all just a 20-minute drive from Old Québec.
The park plays home to the 275-foot waterfalls that overhang the Montmorency River, which are taller than the world-wonder Niagara Falls. The park opened two via ferrata routes in 2013, allowing travellers of all ages to to traverse the falls via hiking or rock climbing.