Looking for new places to discover is always fun. When you are heading over to Canada, you should visit Quebec City. I guarantee that you will find a country you are not expecting. It will blow you away. This handy Quebec City itinerary is here to get your adventure started.
Canada’s European flavours
When you think of places with fortified walls, narrow cobblestone streets and stone buildings, you might automatically think of Europe. Add a dash of colonial flavour, stir in some bistros and boutiques while you pepper it with French sounds. What you get is not France. It is Canada. True story.
Although Canada is a young country, the Europeans settled here long before it became one. The French and the English battled on the banks of Saint Lawrence River centuries ago, each trying to make a mark on this new land. Today, you can roam the old battlefields where history was made. Most of them are now parks, much different from those days.
Blast of the past
Quebec City dates back to 1608 and it’s one of the oldest towns in North America. Sitting on the banks of Saint Lawrence River, it keeps the secrets of the past and gives tourists something to talk about. Vieux-Quebec, or the Old Quebec in English, has the distinction of being the only fortified North American city north of Mexico. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, arrived at the site of an abandoned settlement called Stadacona in 1608. About a century before that another French explorer, Jacques Cartier built a fort here in 1535. Times were different then. Clashes with native tribes and harsh winters let to the site’s abandonment until de Champlain gave it another go.
As the French built their stronghold and clashed with the English, Quebec City grew into the heart of the Francophone culture. Today, this is the capital of the Province of Quebec and Canada’s little piece of Europe.
Quebec City itinerary
Today, you can walk the narrow cobblestone streets, admire the centuries-old stone houses and soaring church spires. No matter what season you visit, this Quebec City itinerary has something for everyone.
1 Walk the fortified walls of Old Quebec (Vieux-Québec)
This city has seen many battles and sieges in its military history. The protective fortification wall constructed around 1690 surrounds the old city to this day. Originally, there were 11 towers and the wall underwent numerous replacements over the years. The wall we see today dates back to 1745.
You can admire the views from the gates with pedestrian access to the fortification walls. The Porte Saint-Jean gate offers great view over Rue Saint-Jean and its many shops, restaurants and cafes. You can stroll along the fortifications wall to the Porte Kent gate while enjoying the views of the past on one side, and the modern one on the other. Depending on the season and time of day, you can you’ll get different views of the city.
2 Discover the Citadelle of Québec
Within the great walls of the fortification lies the Citadel – the largest British fortress in North America. It sits on top of the city’s highest point, Cape Diamant. The British completed the Citadel after the war of 1812. The 2.3 km² fortress and its many secret passages was intended to provide defence against an American invasion that never came.
Today, this is an active garrison and home to the Royal 22nd Regiment of the Canadian Forces. It is the only French-language regular force infantry regiment. For those interested in military history, a tour of the Citadel and its museum are a must.
3 Stroll the old battlefields at the Plains of Abraham
Today, you wouldn’t know that this beautiful park, perched on a picturesque hill, was once a site of an important battle. In 1759, British General James Wolfe and French General Louis-Joseph Montcalm fought here an important battle that shaped the place we know today as Canada. Both generals died that day and this short battle, roughly 15 min in all, resulted in France surrounding the territory to the British.
Don’t be surprised to see people picnicking, running and biking with old cannons and monuments in the background. This is where the Winter Carnival festivities and open-air summer concerts take place. A much different function for this former battleground, named after a French farmer Abraham Martin who settled here.
4 Marvel at the Château Frontenac Hotel along the Terrasse Dufferin
One of my favourite buildings in Quebec City is the elegant and majestic Château Frontenac Hotel. It is said to be the most photographed hotel in the world and it is easy to see why. The hotel, built in 1893 by the head of Canadian Pacific Railway, stands proudly atop the Cap Diamant cliff overlooking the St Lawrence River.
The intricate design of turrets, imposing wings and winding hallways reflects the architectural styles of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The hotel’s architect, Bruce Price, elegantly “immortalized the history of the two great powers that had occupied Quebec City’s highest promontory,” according to the hotel’s site.
Your Quebec City itinerary wouldn’t be complete without a stroll along the Terrasse Dufferin. Here you will find fantastic views of Château Frontenac and its surrounding area, including the river 60 m below. You can’t go wrong, no matter what time of day.
5 Sample the local cuisine
No visit to Quebec City would be complete without sampling local cuisine. Do yourself a favour and embrace the local specialities, especially the crepes and the poutine. If French cuisine is your thing, you’ll be happy to know that there is a great selection of restaurants, cafes and bars to be found.
During the summer months, you will find locals and tourists alike spilling onto the streets, patios and parks. You’re likely to find entertainment throughout summer with festivals, concerts and special events.
6 Step back in time the Petit Champlain district
There is no better place to feel like you are in a small French town than in the Petit Champlain district. Located on the shore of St Lawrence River and at the foot of Cap Diamant, this is also known as Lower Town.
You can stroll along Rue du Petit-Champlain, one of the oldest commercial streets in North America, or stop by the historic Place Royal. It is a lovely square where time stands still and you are transported to the early days of New France. Grab a coffee, do some people watching and immerse yourself in 400 years of history.
Here you’ll find the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church, the oldest stone church in North America dating back to 1688. Around the corner, you’ll discover an enormous mural dedicated to Quebec’s historical figures. It definitely is picture worthy. Alternatively, you can take the Funiculaire du Vieux-Québec back up to the top of the hill.
7 Hôtel du Parlement
Just outside the fortification walls of the Old City lies the National Assembly. As one of America’s oldest parliamentary institutions, it is an imposing building and definitely one worth visiting. Inspired by the renovations to the Louvre in Paris, it was built in the architectural style of the Second Empire at the end of the 19th century.
Free tours are offered in English, French and Spanish all year round.
8 Ursuline Convent and museum
Interwoven into the history of Quebec City is the historic convent of Ursuline nuns. While largely forgotten, the sisters played an important part of the city’s history. The Ursulines were the first order of nuns to arrive in the new land. They established the continent’s first school for girls in 1641.
Today, about 50 nuns remain. You can learn about their fascinating history at the museum dedicated to their experience and admire numerous artifacts including the intricate embroidery.
9 Check out local art and museums
As any place with long history, Quebec City also has a number of interesting museums.
Musée de la Civilisation – Here you will find a fascinating mix of modern design incorporated into pre-existing architecture. There are a number of permanent exhibits, many devoted to the people of Quebec, human experience and various contemporary issues. There are also a number of rotating exhibits so check for schedule to help you plan our visit.
Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec – Located on the Plains of Abraham, this museum host frequent international and Canadian exhibits among its four halls. Many of the permanent collections are dedicated to the history of Quebec and its French roots. The museum also hosts a number of events, classes and concerts. In addition, you can enjoy great views of Battlefields Park from the outdoor terrace.
La Maison Henry-Stuart – For a taste of what life was like for Québec’s English-speaking bourgeois family, check out this well-preserved cottage, built in 1849. After a guided tour and a visit to the past, you can enjoy some lemon cake and tea that are part of your admission.
10 Train station and the waterfront
Quebec City is all about views. Walking along the St Lawrence River’s waterfront is no different. Small, narrow streets filled with cute houses, shops and restaurants are a given. You can drop by the farmer’s market, watch the boats float or marvel at the views of Château Frontenac Hotel. You can even take this 50 km path all the way to Montmorency Falls.
Here you will get a glimpse of this old port and its industrial past. This was the stomping ground for grain merchants and wholesalers as well as the financial district. Make sure to stop by the stunning Gare du Palais train station for more jaw-dropping surprises. It might remind you of the hotel on top of the hill and that would be because it was built in the same style in 1915.
What you need to know
Canada is mainly an English speaking country, but we do have two official languages. Quebec is the only province in Canada where French is the main language. Quebecers are very passionate about their culture, so while you can get by in English, few words in French will go a long way.
Remember that Canada is a large country. Places like Quebec City, Montreal and Toronto are quite far from each other. You can do a road trip out of that, take the bus, train or fly.
I’ve had many people ask me if they can drive to Quebec City for a weekend from Toronto. The drive from Toronto is about seven to eight hours and it feels even longer. You are better off flying. Plan your time ahead of your visit to avoid disappointments.
Summers here can get very hot and winters very cold and snowy. Make sure to prepare for the weather before you come, depending on when you are planning your trip.
I have always loved visiting Quebec City. It’s such a unique place and makes me feel like I’m in Europe. There are many great places in Canada that I love, and this is definitely one of them. You won’t be disappointed.
Have you been? Let me know!
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About the author:
Travelling in the footsteps of history and blogging about it. Forever Indiana Jones wanna be. Come along for the ride!