The Best Sights and Things to Do in Quebec City

A weekend getaway guide to Quebec City filled with local-approved recommendations for first-timers. What are the main sights? Where should you eat? What are Quebec City’s best kept secrets? Use this easy-to-follow guide to Montreal’s stunning little sister to plan your trip.

2-4 Rue des Pains Bénits, Ville de Québec, QC G1K Rue des Pains Bénits, Québec, QC G1K 4G7, Canada
The Place Royale in the Lower Town is a modest cobblestoned square lined with some souvenir shops and restaurants, in restored buildings that span the 17th to 19th centuries, as well as Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, which dates from 1688 (making it the oldest stone church in North America). While it may be small in scale, it looms large in terms of its symbolism: This is where Quebec City was founded, in 1608, so it’s a symbolic heart not just of the city but of the province. The church, which sits in the middle of the square, has been rebuilt several times over the past three centuries; its interior has been extensively restored in recent decades to bring it closer to its original French colonial character. On the north side of the square, the Musée de la Place-Royale covers the long history of the square and its inhabitants, beginning with Samuel de Champlain.
61 Rue du Petit Champlain, Québec, QC G1K 4H5, Canada
Even in a city with picturesque scenes around every corner, the Petit Champlain area, located along the waterfront in the Lower Town, stands out as an especially charming corner of Old Québec. The heart of the neighborhood is the Place Royale while its spine is Rue du Petit-Champlain. While the area claims the distinction of being North America’s oldest commercial district, for most of its history its buildings housed the offices of fur traders and stevedores lodged in the tenement apartments. Today, while it’s still a bustling neighborhood, the boutiques and bistros are what draw visitors to the cobblestoned lanes. In the summer, café tables spill out into the streets; in the winter, the neighborhood exudes a Québecois sense of coziness, especially at night after a snowfall, when every restaurant offers a tempting shelter from the cold.
1 Rue des Carrières, Québec, QC G1R 4P5, Canada
Set high above the St. Lawrence on Cap Diamant, overlooking Old Québec, this imposing yet inviting landmark is as much a lodging as it is a tourist attraction, borne out of its reputation as the most photographed hotel in the world. Opened in 1893 by the Canadian Pacific Railway to drum up luxury riders for its trains, the castle-like Fairmont Le Château Frontenac feels every bit as grand today as it must have when Roosevelt and Churchill secretly hatched plans for the invasion of Normandy here in 1943—and it continues to be the hotel of choice for A-list celebrities and other notables. A $75 million renovation in 2014 updated the 611 rooms with a more contemporary feel, draping spaces in chic furnishings and soothing shades of gray and cream, plus butter-yellow or soft turquoise accents. The spa features seven treatment rooms adjacent to an indoor pool, whirlpool, steam rooms, and a gym, but the hotel has become a destination for its food: Champlain restaurant is helmed by acclaimed young chef Stéphane Modat and offers a modern take on Québécois cuisine alongside magnificent views, while 1608 Wine & Cheese Bar highlights local wines, cheeses, and charcuteries.
16 Rue du Petit Champlain, Québec, QC G1K 4H4, Canada
A steep escarpment divides Old Québec into two parts: Lower Town, where the port was located, and Upper Town, where the wealthier residents lived and the site of most of the important civic and religious buildings. Fashions change, of course, and today many of Lower Town’s once-gritty warehouses and tenements house boutique hotels and leading restaurants. Since 1879, a funicular has connected the two sections of town. While the journey is short, ascending only 59 meters (195 feet), it’s a scenic ride that costs just $2.25 and will save you some steps.
44 Chaussée des Écossais, Québec, QC G1R 4H3, Canada
Today, Québec City is decidedly francophone. While 50 percent of Montreal‘s residents describe their mother tongue as only French, the figure is 95 percent for Québec City. This was not always the case, and for much of its history the city had a significant anglophone minority. The Morrin Centre is one reminder of that period. In 1868, the building, which had been used as the town’s jail (the old cells are included on tours of the building), was renovated to become Morrin College, an affiliate of Montréal’s McGill University. It offered instruction in English, though it would be forced to close in 1902 as the number of students interested in an English-language education dwindled. The institution lives on as an English-language cultural center, and book lovers should be sure to visit the elegant library, established the same year as the Morrin Centre by the Literary and Historical Society of Québec, Canada’s first learned society.
5300 Boulevard Sainte-Anne, Québec, QC G1C 1S1, Canada
Under 20 minutes by car from Québec City (or, if you are feeling ambitious, less than an hour by bike, with most of the ride on a well-maintained path), Chute-Montmorency (Montmorency Falls) is the area’s most impressive natural wonder. If you visit the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec before you go, the sight will look familiar: Montmorency has long been a popular subject for local painters. Think Niagara is impressive? The cascade here is a full 99 feet higher—272 feet to the Horseshoe Falls’ 173 feet. In winter, spray from the falls freezes into a hill at its base, known as the Sugarloaf, and snowshoes are available for rent if you want to explore the nearby trails. In the summer, there’s a zip line for those in search of an adrenaline bump. Year-round, a cable car carries passengers to the top of the falls, providing bird’s-eye views en route.
1 Côte de la Citadelle, Québec, QC G1R 3R2, Canada
Atop Cap Diamant (Cape Diamond), at the city’s highest point, the Citadelle overlooks Old Québec, the St. Lawrence River, and the Plains of Abraham. There have been defensive structures here as early as the French period—in fact, the location of Québec City was chosen because Samuel de Champlain saw the strategic advantages that Cap Diamant offered. The fortifications you see today, however, date to the 19th century: They were built after a failed attempt by Americans to conquer Québec City during the War of 1812. Students of World War II history may be familiar with the Citadelle as the site of the Québec Conferences, when Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Canada‘s prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, met to plan their countries’ strategies during the war. The Citadelle is still an active military base; the museum inside is devoted to the 22nd Regiment, which makes its headquarters here.
1037 Rue de la Chevrotière, Québec, QC G1R 5E9, Canada
A good start to your visit to Québec City is a stop at the Observatoire de la Capitale, just past the Parliament Building. The observation deck on the 31st floor of the Marie-Guyart Building stands 725 feet high and offers 360-degree views of the city. From here, the highest building in the city, you can get a sense of the lay of the land—Old Québec jutting out into the St. Lawrence River, Cap Diamant to its south, the Louise Basin marina and St. Charles River to its north. New signage added in 2016 provides cultural, economic, and historical background on the sights below. After you have surveyed the city, descend and explore it on foot.
Lac-Beauport, QC G3B 0W4, Canada
The forested Laurentian Mountains north of Québec City have long been popular with skiers and hikers. Get a quick look at the region by taking a half-hour drive to Lac-Beauport, the name of both a town and the lake it sits on. The easygoing town with some 8,000 residents offers restaurants serving Québecois fare; afterwards, you can swim in the lake or go for a hike in the surrounding area.
179 Grande Allée Ouest, Québec, QC G1R 2H1, Canada
This sprawling museum is located in four buildings near Battlefields Park—the most recent of them, the Pierre Lassonde pavilion, opened in 2016 and was designed by starchitect Rem Koolhaas’s OMA. The 25,000 works in its permanent collection cover the history of art in the province, beginning with the French colonial period and including artists who are still active today. The museum also holds one of the world’s most important collections of Inuit art, with some 100 pieces—mostly carvings in stone, whalebone, or ivory—on display at any one time. Temporary exhibitions focus on both local and international artists. If you have time for a sit-down meal, Tempéra Québecor—helmed by Marie-Chantal Lepage, one of Québec’s best-known chefs—is near the entrance of the new pavilion, with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the grounds and the Grande Allée.
85 Rue Dalhousie, Québec, QC G1K 8R2, Canada
Located in Old Québec, not far from the St. Lawrence River, the Musée de la Civilisation (Museum of Civilization) is an enormous (for Québec City, at least) museum with lofty ambitions. Exhibits cover just about every culture imaginable—at any given time you might find Greek sculptures displayed alongside totem poles, or an inquiry into Egyptian ideas of the afterlife juxtaposed with Australian Aboriginal artworks. Most of the time you can count on at least one exhibition focusing on some aspect of Québecois or Canadian culture, from the history of trapping to spotlights on individual Québecois artists and designers. Many of the exhibits, like a recent one focused on cats and dogs, are designed with kids in mind, with engaging, interactive installations. Even if you’ve been here before, every visit to the museum is, by design, a new experience.
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