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Visiting Quebec City is a great way to get your Europe fix without leaving the continent. With its cobblestone streets, historic Old City, and French language and influence, it is an incredibly unique destination in North America and one of the best places to visit in Canada.
Located on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, this UNESCO World Heritage City is the only walled city in North America north of Mexico. It’s compact Old Town is easy to explore and makes for a great weekend destination.
We recently visited Quebec City to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. This is our recommendations for the best way to spend 48 hours in Quebec City and the best things to do in Quebec City. While we visited without kids, we made sure to keep an eye out for great activities for families and include a separate section at the end with the top things to do with kids in Quebec City.
While Quebec City is beautiful to visit any time of year, the activities we suggest are best suited to spring, summer or fall. In winter, Quebec City offers a completely different experience with skiing, skating, an Ice Hotel and Winter Carnival.
- 1 The Best Things to do in Quebec City
- 2 Quebec City With Kids
- 3 Where to Stay in Quebec City
- 4 Our Verdict
The Best Things to do in Quebec City
FREE Walking Tour
There is a lot of history in Quebec City and the free city walking tour provides a great foundation on the early settlers, New France as a colony and its role in the formation of both Canada and the United States. I would definitely do this tour your first day in Quebec City so you can better understand what you are seeing throughout your stay. It highlights the most important places to visit in Quebec City, all in a few hours.
There are a few free walking tours in Quebec City, but we can definitely recommend this one. No need to register in advance, it runs every day of the week from mid-May to mid-October and it is very thorough at 2.5 hours long. We were a larger group, but we were provided with headsets which made it really easy to hear. Denis, our guide was extremely interesting and it was a great refresher for us on Canadian and Quebec history and the politics of Quebec. The tour will allow you to see which Quebec City attractions you want to return to, to spend more time.
Of course the tour relies on tips and we were more than happy to contribute $20 per person. The tour starts at 10 am from the Plains of Abraham and finishes in the Old City.
Wander the Old City
The Old City has many cute laneways, shops and restaurants to explore. While the walking tour will show you many Quebec City highlights like the Chateau Frontenac, the Parliament Building, the Ursuline Convent, the city gates, Grand Allee, and the most important churches, there is still much to explore in Quebec City old town. You can go back and spend time visiting the museums, Citadel, walking the walls, going inside the churches and Parliament Building or simply wandering the beautiful streets. Even if you aren’t staying at the Chateau Frontenac, walk through the lobby, eat a meal there or visit the free museum on the lower level. Outside of the Chateau, Dufferin Terrace runs along the cliffs and is a beautiful area to walk along. There are often street performers to keep you entertained here.
In summer time the restaurants overflow into the streets and you can enjoy a French meal or drinks on patios throughout the city.
Petit Champlain is located in the lower part of the Old City along the St. Lawrence River. It is the epicentre of tourism in Quebec City and can get very busy. The picturesque heritage buildings are incredibly charming with lots of shops and restaurants catering to visitors. If you don’t want to go up or down the many stairs to get to Petit Champlain from Chateau Frontenac and the upper city, there is an inexpensive ($3) Funicular that you can take.
Take the Ferry Across the St. Lawrence
Directly across the St. Lawrence River from the Old City is the city of Levis. Every thirty minutes ferries leave from each shore for the quick 12 minute crossing. While there isn’t a ton to do in Levis, the public ferry is a cheap way to get out on the water and offers spectacular views back at the Old City and Chateau Frontenac.
You can sit outside on deck and enjoy watching life on the river. For the best photos, take the ferry in the morning when the sun is not behind the Old City. There is a nice new park on the Levis side that has a splash pad that children will enjoy. You can walk up the red stairs to the top of the cliff for some incredible chocolate dipped ice creams at Chocolat Favoris. Alternatively, there is a similar shop at the base of the cliffs if you don’t want to climb. The ferry costs $7 CAD/return. You can do this activity in an hour if you only spend 30 minutes on the Levis side.
Eat Some Quebecois and French Food
The restaurants play up the French factor in the Old City and you will find lots of French onion soup, cream brulee, rabbit, duck and pate. There are many wonderful Quebec City restaurants to choose from, some more touristy than others.
Our first meal of the weekend was at Chateau Frontenac’s 1608 wine bar. I love the old railway hotels across Canada and this is the perfect way to get a taste of the luxury that this hotel has been providing for 125 years. They have great wines and spirits, delicious charcuterie boards for a light dinner and don’t take reservations.
As vegetarians we are so thankful that we found Bistro L’Orygine, located in Petit Champlain. This seriously might have been the best meal I have ever had in my life! The bistro uses all local and organic products and features meat, vegetarian and vegan friendly dishes. We had the 5-course chef’s menu for $59/person and it was incredible. Make a reservation as it is extremely popular.
Even as Canadians, we can’t resist enjoying a poutine or Beaver Tail when we are in a popular Canadian tourist destination. The poutine originated in Quebec, so it is only appropriate that you enjoy this fatty and salty mess at least once when visiting Quebec City. Beaver Tails are deep fried dough with toppings like cinnamon sugar, Nutella or fruit. There is one in Petit Champlain and we definitely recommend this as a snack.
If you truly want to taste Quebecois food (and not just French food), La Buche was our guide’s recommendation for authentic Quebec classics like sugar pie, meat pie and everything maple syrup.
Rent Bikes and Visit Montmorency Falls
If you want to add some activity (following that poutine) to your 48 hours in Quebec City, rent bikes and head to Montmorency Falls. This is a great almost free thing to do in Quebec City. It is 14 km each way and takes about an hour along an off-road bicycle path. We rented from Echo Sports in Petit Champlain for $27 CAD/bike for 4 hours, which is the perfect amount of time to go there and back and enjoy some time at the Falls. Once we got to the Falls, we felt we deserved a nice cold beer.
Montmorency Falls are higher than Niagara Falls, although narrower and set in a beautiful location overlooking the St. Lawrence River. Once you arrive at the Falls (free to enter, there is a charge for parking if coming by car), you can take the cable car up to the top for an additional charge. We opted to head up the hundreds of stairs instead to the bridge over the top of the waterfall. There is also a zipline and Via Ferrata course for adventure seekers.
If you would like to explore Quebec City with a shorter bike ride, the 9 km St. Charles River loop is very scenic.
Strom Nordic Spa
Quebec City has a new Nordic Spa set along the banks of the St. Lawrence River. After working hard cycling, relaxing at this gorgeous spa is the perfect way to spend the afternoon. The suggested way to enjoy the thermal experience is by alternating hot and cold cycles, combined with deep-relaxation. There are dry saunas, wet steam rooms and whirlpools throughout the grounds to heat up your muscles. Next, you want to cool your body with a cold water plunge. Lastly, you get to relax in the hammocks, infinity pool, and comfy chairs with gorgeous views. Then you repeat as many times as you desire. We spent 4 hours there including lunch making sure we tested out every room and feature.
Strom is set up to be enjoyed at any time of year, with pools and experiences inside and out. We ate at the bistro and it was delicious and well-priced healthy food. The spa is set up for relaxation and many of the rooms require absolute quiet, while some areas allow quiet talking. You can also book a massage and other relaxation treatments. The thermal experience costs $54 CAD/person. Note that due to the tranquil atmosphere, this is an adults only activity.
Other Great Activities in Quebec City
We didn’t have time for these, but they are on our list for what to see in Quebec City on our next visit.
- Whale Watching Tour – during June-September, whales can been seen near Quebec City
- Saint-Louis Forts and Châteaux National Historic Site – Parks Canada runs tours of the archaeological crypts under Dufferin Terrace for a very reasonable cost. Stop by their kiosk at the Terrace for English tour times.
- Food tours – a great way to appreciate Quebecois foods
- Attend one of Quebec’s many festivals. We were there for FEQ (Festival d’ete de Quebec) – a huge music festival in July.
- Explore the hip neighborhood of St. Roch – restaurants, microbreweries, bookshops and more.
Quebec City With Kids
Many of the things mentioned above are great things to do with kids in Quebec City as well. Kids will love practicing their French and the exotic French feel of Quebec City. Here are some activities and attractions that kids will enjoy:
- Street Performers – if you visit during summer time, there are street performers set up around every fountain and public square. Many of them are acrobats and almost all perform their acts in English.
- Ride the Ferry – kids will love taking the ferry across to Levis.
- Splash Pad Levis – on the Levis side there is a splash play zone that kids will enjoy, so bring bathing suits. They will also enjoy the chocolate dipped ice creams on that side.
- Swimming Pool along the St Lawrence River – the Plains of Abraham Park has a public swimming pool and playground right on the River for kids to cool down in.
- Beaver Tails, Maple Popcorn and Poutine – these Quebec kid-friendly foods will be a hit with kids and adults alike. You can get all three in Quartier Petit Champlain.
- Ride the Funicular – kids might complain about going up and down the hundreds of steps between Chateau Frontenac and Petit Champlain, but will love taking the Funicular up the cliff. Cost is only $3 CAD.
- Rent Bikes – there are great bike paths along the St. Lawrence River and St. Charles River and older kids will love the challenge of cycling to Montmorency Waterfall. They will also enjoy the cable car, zip line and Via Ferrata course there. Echo Sports has bikes for families.
Where to Stay in Quebec City
My best piece of advice about Old Quebec City hotels is to venture away from the big brand hotels and stay in a smaller, independent hotel in the Old City. If visiting during the peak summer months of July or August, book early to not be disappointed.
Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac – the most iconic and luxurious place to stay in Quebec City, Chateau Frontenac truly is a fairy tale hotel. It is the most popular of all the places to stay in Quebec City, with a matching price tag. Rooms blend historic features with modern elegance and the views of the St. Lawrence and the Old City can’t be beat. Click here to check the latest prices.
Auberge Place D’Armes – located right in the centre of the Old City, this family run auberge gets great reviews, making it one of the best hotels in Quebec City. The rooms blend old and new, the staff are attentive and the adjoining bistro, Chez Jules is great too. We loved our stay here and they can accommodate families in some rooms. Click here to check the latest prices.
Chateau de Pierre – this is a good budget friendly option in the Old City with helpful owners and rooms full of character. Click here to check the latest prices.
Auberge St. Pierre – this is a great option for families with rooms that can comfortably sleep 4. It has a central location, warm staff and historic feeling rooms. Click here to check the latest prices.
For a little slice of Europe in North America, visit Quebec City for a truly unique destination. All visitors will soak up the fascinating history, rich French culture and atmospheric Old City. With a compact foot print, you can get a taste for Quebec City in 48 hours, making it a perfect weekend destination. It was the perfect place for us to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary and we hope this guide helped your discover what to do in Quebec City to plan your trip.
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