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Founded in 1608, Quebec City is located on the banks of the Saint Lawrence River in Canada. The historic, mostly French-speaking city is fun to explore on foot. Built on a hill, Quebec City has several staircases and the Old Quebec Funiculair that connect Quebec’s Upper and Lower Towns. Narrow, cobblestone streets are lined with charming bistros and boutiques. Historic landmarks include fortified walls with gates built around the city in 1690 to protect it from attacks. With Quebec City’s French architecture, cuisine, and history, it almost feels like being in France!
Fun Things to do in Quebec City Canada
After three days of sightseeing in Montreal, we rode Via Rail Canada to Quebec City. (Canadians pronounce Quebec “Keh-bek”, not “Kwuh-bek” like Americans say.) The three-and-a-half hour train ride was comfortable and scenic. At the small and charming Gare du Palais station (built in 1915), we easily found a taxi for the five-minute drive to our hotel – the Hilton Quebec.
During our stay, we learned a lot about Quebec City, founded in 1608 by French explorer Samuel de Champlain. Old Quebec (Vieux-Québec) has 400-plus years of fascinating history. Among the most unique features are the massive stone walls and several gates built around the city in 1690 for protection from attacks.
However, the French were conquered by the British in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. The British began fortifying the existing walls, which remain today. In fact, these walls distinguish Quebec City, a UNESCO World Heritage site, from other provinces.
Getting around Quebec City
We used our Quebec City and Area Passport for free admission to several attractions. Quebec City is best explored on foot, and there are private and group tours to discuss the city’s history. The narrated Quebec Tours double decker buses are an affordable way to get to major attractions in the city. These include Musee de la Civilisation, Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, Observatoire de la Capitale, and Notre-Dame de Quebec. Buses also travel to surrounding areas like Parc de la Chute-Montmorency.
TravelingMom Tip: Be sure to wear good walking shoes!
Hilton Quebec’s Prime Location
Located atop a hill, the Hilton Quebec has an ideal location just steps from the Parliament Building and the old city. In fact, the hotel sits just outside the historic walls built around the city. We walked by the walls and the Saint-Louis Gate to and from our daily outings.
Besides the hotel’s convenient location, we appreciated our spacious room with city views and handy amenities. A mini fridge held our boxes of leftover meals, and chilled our wine. And at the Executive Lounge on the 23rd floor (with stunning city and river views), we enjoyed a complimentary deluxe continental breakfast and afternoon hors d’oeuvre. There’s a heated rooftop pool on the same floor.
The hotel is great for families with young kids, too. Upon check-in, kids under 12 get a bracelet with three detachable tabs they can swap out for onsite treats. Movie nights with free popcorn and soft drinks take place Thursday – Sunday nights.
Upper Town: Old Quebec
First on our agenda: a guided walk with Tours Voir Quebec. I like foodie walking tours because it’s a good way to get oriented while sampling regional dishes and spirits. We met our food tour guide at the Centre Infotouriste (Information Center). On our leisurely, two-and-a-half hour tour through the walled city, we enjoyed sips and bites at about six venues. Along the way, we stopped at historic sites like the Saint-Jean Gate.
At Le Tournebroche, a farm-to-table eatery, we sampled house-made honey products. We were also served a local white wine, paired with wild boar pate on bread. Other tour stops included Le Snack Bar, where we got our first taste of traditional poutine (fries with cheese curds and brown gravy. C’est bon!
We also enjoyed sweet samples like maple syrup at Delices Erable & Cie, and chocolat at Chocolaterie Érico. At tour’s end, we retraced our steps to the Information Center, across from the famous Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac.
Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac
When friends heard we were going to Quebec City, they asked if we were staying at the “castle” – the iconic Le Chateau Frontenac. So popular is this landmark, tourists pose for photos inside and outside the hotel. Nous aussi! We took a little tour to admire the stately public spaces, elegant decor, and artwork. We ate dinner at the hotel’s Bistro Le Sam, where we shared a bottle of wine and enjoyed views of the St. Lawrence River. For dinner, I had the maple-smoked pork loin, and Christina enjoyed the grain-fed chicken supreme.
Quebec City and Surroundings Areas
After breakfast we met Élyse Busque, our delightful private tour guide, for a comprehensive look at the city and surrounding areas. A Québécois of Quebec City, Élyse was passionate about sharing her knowledge of the city. Much of it comes from growing up nearby, as well as exploring with her own three children and five grandchildren.
Our first stop: the Parliament Building, built between 1877 and 1886. A stately building, its architecture was inspired by the Louvre Palace in Paris. Facing the building is the Fontaine de Tourny, originally installed in Bordeaux, France.
Next, we drove to the Plains of Abraham, a very important historic site. “They were created in 1908 for two reasons: to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Québec City and to commemorate the battle of 1759 between the British and the French,” said Élyse.
As we drove through the park, she explained that Quebec grew under two important cultural periods – French and British. Britain’s victory in this battle was the beginning of British control of Quebec.
“The park today is very much part of Quebecers everyday life. [These include] winter activities linked to the Carnival, winter sports, and in the summertime, music festivals. It’s the lung or breathing space of Quebec,” she said.
We made a pit stop at the Promenade des Gouverneurs, a popular spot for river views. From there, a boardwalk leads to the Château Frontenac. We continued our tour by car, driving through Quebec City’s hilly streets. Élyse pointed out places for us to visit later on our own.
Montmorency Falls Park
A short drive from downtown Quebec City is Montmorency Falls Park, open year-round. The main attraction are the waterfalls; 272 feet tall, making them 99 feet higher than Niagara Falls.
We rode a cable car to the top of the cliff, where there’s a visitor center, gift shop and restaurant. A footpath leads to the suspended bridge for close up views of the thunderous waterfalls. There are several good lookout points where you can watch people on a zip line. From this vantage point we could also see a distant bridge that would connect us to our next stop.
This small island is a lovely day trip. One of the first parts of the province to be colonized by the French, Île d’Orleans produces a bounty of sweet strawberries, apples and many other food products. One road leads to farms, vineyards, churches and historic homes.
Cassis Monna & Filles
After crossing the bridge, we went to Cassis Monna & Filles, a black currant farm in the Saint- Pierre township. Local guide Beatrice Sunderland gave us a tour of the grounds, which include the farm, a restaurant, wine cellar, and gourmet boutique..
The lovely property is in the hands of an authentic French family. A native of Southern France and fourth-generation liquoriste, Bernard Monna arrived on Île d’Orléans in the early 1970s. He is the first to produce black currant wines and Crème de Cassis in Québec. His two daughters Catherine and Anne oversee operations.
“Black currants have more vitamin C than oranges, and more antioxidants and total vitamins and minerals than blueberries or pomegranates,” said Beatrice.
We had a chance to sample fresh black currant products over a delicious lunch at the onsite La Monnaguette. Our table on the second floor terrace overlooked the countryside and river. It was an idyllic setting.
We began our meal with drinks – a homemade black currant sangria for my daughter, and kir royal (L’Orpailleur brut et creme de cassis) for me. Our drinks paired well with lunch. For me, a veggie sandwich with black currant mustard. For Christina and Élyse, popcorn chicken with churned black currant honey. We each had fries, and salads with a black currant vinaigrette.
After lunch, we visited the wine cellar to sample their award-winning black currant wines.These include fruite apertif (great for a sangria), and Maderise, an oxidized wine good with meat and cheese. The family favorite Capiteux is a velvety after-dinner wine typically served with cheese.
Feeling full and relaxed, we went for a drive around the island before heading back to Quebec City.
Quebec City Ferry
With a few hours before dinner, Christina and I set out again to explore Upper and Lower Towns on foot – and by boat. From the Hilton, it was a short walk to the ferry terminal. In minutes we boarded a ferry for a cruise between Quebec City and Lévis, a city on the south side of the river. From the ferry, we admired views of Old Quebec City, Cap-Diamant, the Château Frontenac and Dufferin Terrace.
Lower Town: Quartier Petit-Champlain and Place Royale
After the ferry, we walked to Lower Town, a popular quarter with European-style, narrow streets packed with cafes and boutiques. Here also is the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, a small Roman Catholic stone church in the Place Royale square. Built in 1688, it’s one of the oldest churches in North America.
So enchanting was Lower Town that we returned a few times to shop, and to enjoy happy hour at outdoor cafes. We also rode the funiculaire, which connects Upper and Lower Towns.
From Lower Town, we walked to trendy Saint-Roch, a former working class district. Today, the main drag – Rue Saint-Joseph Est – is a hopping place with bars, restaurants and show venues. We ate dinner at Le Clocher Penche Bistrot, a farm-to-table restaurant sourcing its produce and meats from Île d’Orleans.
Historic Sites Meet Modern Places
By day three we knew our way around and were eager to discover more places on our own.
Citadelle de Québec
Watching the Changing of the Guard at La Citadelle is among the unique and fun things to do in Quebec City. Based on the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, the ceremony features soldiers of the Royal 22e Régiment decked out in scarlet regimental dress and bearskins. The ceremony marks the arrival of new sentries to relieve those on duty at the garrison.
Christina and I arrived early to watch the changing of the guard at the entrance, and the half-hour ceremony on La Citadelle’s parade grounds. The colorful military tradition includes the inspection of the guard by the officers, and the Regimental Band. We were impressed that the beloved mascot – Batisse the Goat – fell in line perfectly with the soldiers. The ceremony takes place at 10 .m. daily in summer. (The only exceptions are July 1 and July 3 when Quebec celebrates Canada Day and the Freedom of the City.)
We hopped on a Quebec Tours double-decker bus to catch a ride to the Old Port. There, we perused the aisles of the Marche du Vieux-Port, a public market. The lively market features fresh fruits, vegetables, and local cheeses, as well as horticultural and maple products. We bought a few items for lunch, including the delicious croustillant au fromage brie et gouda.
Our impromptu lunch was just the right amount of food for our next stop: the annual Festibiere de Quebec. Perfect timing for my daughter who enjoys beer. The four-day beer fest features about 80 of Quebec’s microbreweries, as well as food trucks and music. Admission is free, but to drink beer we paid $25 for a souvenir glass and tokens for tastings. We enjoyed the festive, laid-back vibe and mingling with locals.
On our last night in Quebec City we enjoyed a special dinner at Ciel! Bistro-Bar, a revolving restaurant on the 28th floor of the Hôtel le Concorde. Floor to ceiling windows offer 360-degree panoramic views as the restaurant makes a full rotation in 90 minutes.
As we savored our meal with views changing by the minute, Christina and I agreed we would return one day to this lovely French Canadian city.