This post was most recently updated on November 15th, 2017
Visiting Quebec City has been a dream of mine since I took French in junior high. And yet, it took another 40 years to see it fulfilled. My husband and I just returned from an epic road trip through Ontario and Quebec, including three amazing days in Quebec City! Come with me as I share our itinerary, which may help you as you plan your own visit…
Driving into Quebec City
We drove into Quebec City from the villlage of Lanoraie along the King’s Highway 138 (better known as Chemin du Roy in Quebec). If you have the time, you can follow it all the way to Quebec City. It is a beautiful meandering road that mostly parallels the St. Lawrence river and carries you through many quaint towns with fantastic views. We eventually cut over to Highway 40 to speed up our arrival because we had reservations for a walking tour we didn’t want to miss. Once you arrive in old Quebec City, driving is tricky. The roads are narrow and angled. It’s best not to bring a car into the old city as it’s also a bit crowded and you may find yourself behind a slow-moving horse-drawn carriage! We were fortunate to have a hotel with a small parking lot available, so we went directly there, and never used the car again until we left.
Samuel DuBois’ Free Walking Tour
I’d read about this free walking tour and decided it would be the best start to our visit. We could learn about the history of Quebec City while seeing it all firsthand and orienting ourselves so we could find our way around better afterwards. Besides this, it was just plain fun!
We met at the Fountain Tourney near the Parliament building, hoping to find a bite to eat nearby, but there was nothing close. We’re not good about making time to eat when we travel — a decided disadvantage when there is so much good food available. We would remedy this later!
Samuel arrived promptly at 2:00 pm and spent a few minutes getting to know where we were all from. He then led us through the old gate of the city, but not before telling us the Fountain of Tourney was imported from France for a total of $6 million — a gift from the owner of the Simons clothing stores! Samuel regaled us with story after story — how Dufferin saved the old British fortifications from being torn down, how a single ‘skyscraper’ was built in an otherwise low-profile town, and about a nun who started the oldest institution of learning for women in North America. By the way, the tour is presented in English.
We also learned that the Chateau Frontenac is not a castle at all, despite its name, but a luxury hotel built by the railroad. It was there that Churchill and Roosevelt planned their D-Day strategy during World War II. Samuel was funny and knowledgeable, and everything he shared with us was very interesting.
We eventually found ourselves in the oldest part of Quebec City — Place Royale in the Petit Champlain neighborhood, first settled in 1608. ‘Charming’ doesn’t even begin to describe these narrow cobblestone streets with rowhouses converted to cafes, boutiques, and souvenir shops. With flowers in window baskets, signs all in French, and hanging light globes, I felt like I was in a Disneyland creation! This is where our nearly two-hour walking tour ended. Samuel’s tour is completely free, but you’re going to want to tip him well — he’s that good!
Remember…we never ate lunch! We rushed to the closest ice cream store, Sucrerie de La Nouvelle France, (did I mention it was about 80 degrees F?) and indulged in a cone and some ice water!
Although we’d parked our car, we hadn’t actually checked in to our hotel yet. Time to see our room! I have to say it wasn’t easy for me to decide where we would stay in Quebec City. I knew I wanted to be within the old city walls, but there were lots of choices. After checking availability, reviews, and rates, I zeroed in on Hôtel Champlain. People really liked the hotel, and I liked the location on Rue Sainte-Anne — very close to everything we wanted to see. Plus the rates were reasonable for high season. (We visited at the end of September)
The reception staff was very friendly and accommodating, and never tired of answering my questions. They flowed seamlessly between French and English, and that made things much easier for me! (My weeks of practicing French on Duolingo weren’t quite enough!)
I was very pleased with our room on the 5th floor. And when I looked out the window, I was thrilled with our clear view of the Chateau Frontenac. Our bed was very comfortable and our room spacious and decorated well. We even had goldfish swimming around in our bathroom sink! (Painted, of course). Breakfast was included in our room rate, and it was amazing — I especially enjoyed their bread pudding. Honestly, it felt like more luxury than we were paying for.
Exploring more of Quebec City
For the rest of our first day in Quebec City, we covered a lot of ground. Our goal was to find a good place to watch the sunset. Perhaps the Citadelle and the Plains of Abraham might be a good place for that; it’s a large city park founded on the battleground where Quebec City was won by the British. Once there, we had great views of the St. Lawrence River, but we weren’t oriented the right way to get a good sunset photo.
After strolling the Grande Allee and stumbling upon an old Martello Tower, we were still not facing a good western view for the sunset. We crossed back over to Boulevard Rene-Levesque and turned back towards our hotel. My feet were killing me, as by now we’d probably covered ten miles or more. By chance, as we passed the Hilton Quebec, we caught the last traces of pink and orange sky.
Dinner at Bistro L’Escale Creperie
Now it was definitely time to eat dinner. We walked back down to Petit Champlain and chose a creperie called Bistro L’Escale at the top of the staircase, looking over the old neighborhood lit up for the evening. The food was very French and delicious…an entertainer serenaded nearby…and the temperatures were finally cool enough to be comfortable.
We strolled once more through these quiet little streets, admired the hanging globe lights, and windowshopped. Then completely exhausted, we took advantage of the Funiculaire to ascend to the top of the hill and return to our hotel.
One more stop
Just one more place to see before calling it a night. Samuel had introduced us to a church-turned-library on our walking tour. When he mentioned it was a favorite Instagram location, my husband and I determined we would go back and check it out. The Maison de la Litterature (House of Literature) used to be a Wesley Temple, built in 1848. Now it is a library dedicated to the literary works of Quebec authors — along with the preservation of Quebec culture, traditions and language. It is also a very stunning location to photograph!
Day 2 in Quebec City
We were ready to start exploring beyond old Quebec City. You may be surprised at how much we did on our second day! After a leisurely breakfast at Hôtel Champlain, we strolled down Rue Sainte-Anne to the ‘Information Touristique’ office.
We arrived at about 9:20 am to get information about the Old Quebec Tours’ blue line bus to Montmorency Falls and learned a bus would be leaving at 9:30 am. Our timing couldn’t have been better! We got our tickets and immediately boarded the bus across the street — then we were on our way. Montmorency Falls is about 9 miles (14 km) from Quebec City. We could have driven our rental car there. But the thought of extricating our car from its spot in a tiny parking lot and then driving behind horse-driven carriages favored using the bus! Plus our driver, Jean-Pierre, was very knowledgeable and funny! The bus makes its loop often enough that it was easy to return on our own schedule.
Two hours at Montmorency Falls gave us plenty of time to ride the tram up to the Manor house, hike an easy trail to the top of the falls, cross the suspension bridge, and then take the staircase all the way down on the other side of the falls — all the while having the most incredible views of the falls from every side and angle you can imagine! If you want to see Montmorency Falls (and I highly recommend it!), be sure to check out my post, ‘Montmorency Falls: A Quebec City Must-See’, for all the details. But I will tell you the falls are beautiful and seeing them, even crossing over them, is exhilarating!
When in Quebec City, you have to try poutine as it was created here! It is said that the cook who was first asked to combine fried potatoes, gravy, and cheese curds exclaimed, ““Ça va faire une maudite poutine,” or, “That’s going to make a dreadful mess!” So technically, poutine means ‘mess’. Regardless, it IS a winning combination of flavors; we had our first taste at Le Chic Shack — right around the corner from the Tourist Center. We ate at a counter overlooking the street so we could people-watch while sampling both classic poutine and poutine with a twist, plus some wonderful craft sodas.
Ferry to Levis
Directly below Old Quebec City is a ferry terminal with regular ferries running to and from Levis, on the other side of the St. Lawrence River. If you’ve ever wondered how photographers get the best photos of Quebec City with the iconic Chateau Frontenac in all its glory, it is from the river. And taking a ferry ride is an easy and enjoyable way to be on the river! From the terminal, it is a 12-minute ride to Levis, where you will de-board and re-board for the return trip (or you can stay and explore Levis for awhile).
Museum of Civilization
La Musée de la Civilisation is rated the best museum in Quebec City, and it is certainly worth a visit. It was there that we learned much about the First Nations people of Quebec (or aboriginals, as they are also referred to). Extensive exhibits of art, sculpture, dwellings, and cultural and lifestyle information are presented in great detail. Another exhibit focuses on Canada’s involvment in World War II, and a special exhibit on Belgian cartoonist Hergé was fun to see. Even the museum store is a fascinating place to browse!
The charming promenade with 1800’s gazebos just below Chateau Frontenac is called Terrasse Dufferin, or Dufferin Terrace.
I could imagine ladies with parasols and gentlemen with their canes walking arm in arm here. Today, couples still stroll arm in arm, but you will also see children perched on the cannons, tourists taking selfies with the Frontenac in the background, and buskers entertaining the crowds. Don’t know what a busker is? A busker is a street performer, often with a theatrical flair — and part of a long Quebecois tradition. We enjoyed watching a couple trained in stunts of agility, bravery, and working the crowd!
Musée du Fort
A visit to the Musée du Fort includes a 30-minute animated diorama depicting the history of Quebec City and the battle between the French and the British. It really helps you to understand the role that geography, culture, traditions, and strategy played in creating what is Quebec City today. Definitely worth the time to see the 30-minute film!
Quebec City’s Artist Alley
Just around the corner is Rue de Tresor, an artist’s alley. If you like to meet the artist with his/her handiwork, this is the place to be. I loved discovering this alley and the artwork on display. It reminded me of a similar area in Florence, Italy, where many artists gather near the Ponte Vecchio (old bridge) to sell their work.
What else can you find in old Quebec City?
You will also find souvenir shops with beautifully decorated windows, a delightful Christmas store and plenty of places to eat, including several sidewalk cafes reminiscent of the ones we’ve seen in Paris.
‘Dinner and a Movie’
We chose Chez Jules and were very pleased with our dinner, as well as the service, the lilt of French voices all around us, and the proximity to a talented street musician! It was very romantic and magical. (I just have to add that for us, this was much better than Paris where we were forced to eat indoors to avoid cigarette smokers. No smokers here!)
An evening stroll through one of the city gates brought us to something unexpected — a street festival! This one was a Quebec City Film Festival, and it brought out a lot of local Québécois. The films were French, and we didn’t get much out of watching them, but we did enjoy the energy of the crowds, and the street entertainers that were here, too.
Day 3 in Quebec City
Our last day in Quebec City was a Sunday, and we wanted to attend church. We drove to a chapel just outside of Quebec City where services were entirely in French. The church members were kind enough to provide an English translator for us, and we really appreciated the warm welcome we received.
After checking out of our hotel, we planned a hike in Jacques-Cartier National Park. At the last minute we opted for a detour — a drive around Île d’Orléans, the mostly agricultural island in the St. Lawrence River near Quebec City. It’s a very bucolic setting: farms and farm stands, quaint villages, historic churches, a few restaurants, and groves of evergreen trees. We drove clockwise around the island, stopping at a park where locals were picnicking near a observation tower.
The views were certainly worth the climb! I would have loved to stop and explore the beach resorts on the Levis side of the island, or even stopped to take more photos, but we didn’t want to cut our hiking time too short.
Jacques-Cartier National Park
This national park is less than an hour drive from Quebec City, yet it seems worlds apart. Although it was still quite warm, there were plenty of shaded trails, and we loved the views of the Jacques-Cartier River and the surrounding hills and foliage. There are lots of hiking trails and a shuttle to drop you off at the trailhead. Plenty of wildlife, too. I saw several squirrels and a red fox.
We started on the Sentier de la Riviere Sautauriski trail, a gentle flat trail along a tributary river. When it intersected with the Les Coulees trail, it turned away from the river and headed uphill. Much more of a workout, although the denser forest provided more shade. Our hike took about three hours, and we have some of the best souvenirs — photos to remember how beautiful it was!
Auberge du Jeune Voyageur Bed & Breakfast
Nearly within the park boundaries is a great little B & B, run by Bruno and Brigitte from Switzerland, called Auberge du Jeune Voyageur. We felt very welcome, and our room was quite comfortable and private. I was grateful to be able to just relax for the evening, and when we awoke in the morning, we were treated to a wonderful breakfast of eggs, muffins, yogurt, toast, fruit, and hot chocolate!
Thoughts About Quebec City
- We absolutely packed every single minute with things to do. You could certainly take a much slower pace and relax more than we did!
- It is lovely that the French language and culture have been so well preserved in Quebec City. Try to learn some French before you visit; it goes a long way. But that being said, about 90% of Quebec City residents do speak English and are not reluctant to help you.
- I have been to Paris twice. I felt much more welcome and “at home” in Quebec City — just sayin’!
- While it was sunny and warm in late September, Quebec City is also a popular winter destination (think Currier & Ives-picture-postcard-perfect when the fresh snow falls!).
- Quebec has laws, culture, and traditions completely separate from the rest of Canada. Embrace it!
- Quebec City is a UNESCO World Heritage treasure. You will love how much Europe there is in Quebec!
- Quebec City’s website is a great resource for planning your visit, too.
Note: I was graciously hosted by Quebec City Tourism. That means I received some help with admissions (the museums) and transportation (Old Quebec Tours bus, ferry, Montmorency Falls tram, and the Funiculaire). I paid for my own accommodations and transportation to Quebec City, and all of my opinions are my own.
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