From winding, cobblestone streets to chic French cafes, one of the best things to do in Quebec City is to do nothing at all and just take it all in. Quebec City is like a living museum since it was settled in the 17th century and many old structures are still standing today.
Although French explorer Samuel De Champlain established the first settlement in Quebec City, First Nations have lived in the city for thousands of years. Many of the museums in Quebec City have special galleries dedicated to indigenous culture like the Musée de la Civilisation.
For some modern experiences, you’ll want to take a food tour and check out the city’s famous ice hotel. Let’s get into our list of the best things to do in Quebec City.
Things to do in Quebec City, Canada
Get acquainted with Quebec City on this Quebec City Tour. This 2-hour tour. takes you to the the Plains of Abraham, ramparts, the Château Frontenac, Place Royale, and much more as you learn of the history, and culture of Quebec City. Easy cancellation within 24 hours in advance of tour.
Old Quebec UNESCO World Heritage Site
Once the capital of New France, old Quebec has 400 years of history sitting inside its city walls and is a must-see when visiting Quebec City. From medieval-style city walls that encircle the entire city to its charming European vibe, a visit to the first permanent French settlement in Canada is like a step back in time.
It is the only standing walled city north of Mexico and is divided into two parts – Upper Town and Lower Town. Many of the historic attractions in Quebec City sit within these two areas and tell a story of not just the city’s history but also of Canadian history.
Upper Town – (Haute-Ville)
The Upper Town sits on top of Cap Diamant, which overlooks the St. Lawrence River and in turn makes for a militarily strategic position. Fort Saint Louis was established here in 1608. This part of the old town is where many of Quebec City’s historic buildings and structures sit. They include the Citadel, Chateau Frontenac, and the Notre Dame Basilica.
Where to Stay in Old Quebec
Lower Town (Basse-Ville)
The Lower Town of Quebec City sits near the harbor and is where Samuel De Champlain first settled. He built a fort, trading post, and a residence in the area we now know as Place Royale. Place Royale is known for its combination of French and British architecture and is considered the birthplace of French North America.
Today, Place Royale is a medieval-looking square that houses numerous restaurants and cafes. The lower town is home to many museums like the Museum of Civilization and the Naval Museum. It is also home to the famous Petit Champlain quarter which is full of boutiques, galleries, and restaurants.
You can take the funicular system from near the gorgeous little plaza at Place Royale in the Lower Town all the way up the top of Cap Diamant. Alternatively, you can take the stairs between the upper and lower parts.
Book this Old City Walking Tour – This two hour grand walking tour of Old Quebec to see all of the top attractions including Notre Dame de Victoires Church, Place Royale, City Hall, Notre Dame Basilica and much more.
Old City Walls
Quebec City is the only walled city north of Mexico. This historic fortified city helped to land it on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Founded in the 17th century, Vieux-Québec is one of the most historic places in North America. To get an up-close-and-personal look at the Historic District of Old Quebec, visit the Fortifications de Quebec National Historic Site. The site is made up of Dufferin Terrace, Dauphine Redoubt, Montmorency Park, Dufferin Terrace, and the Governor’s Garden.
Visit the Fortifications
The fortifications are 4.6 kilometers in length and you can wander on the ramparts themselves. From here you get a view of the picturesque lower town and the busy harbor below. You can also visit the gates to the fortification – St. Louis Gate, Kent Gate, and Saint John Gate.
For an insider’s look at military living, you can visit the Dauphin Redoubt. It is one of the oldest military buildings in the US and Canada dating back to 1712. Inside you’ll get a chance to see how the soldiers lived by touring through the building and visiting their quarters, chambers, the kitchen, and a mess hall.
Some say it’s the most photographed hotel in the world and for good reason as the hotel’s architects took their inspiration from old French castles. The hotel was built by the Canadian National Railway to encourage luxury travel on its trains. Château Frontenac sits inside the walls of old Québec City and overlooks the Saint. Lawrence River. It is next to the Plains of Abraham in Battlefields Park where the battle for Quebec played out between the British and French in 1759. If you don’t want to stay in the hotel, you can take a guided tour instead.
The Château Frontenac has 18 floors and 611 rooms as well as an indoor pool and stunning terrace. Although it has modern conveniences, old-world glamor can be found at every turn with period pieces against a mahogany backdrop.
Book this tour of the historic Fairmont Chateau Frontenac: If you are not staying at the Chateau Frontenac, take a tour to walk the walls of Canada’s most historic hotel. Learn of the famous people that have graced its halls and learn about its history.
Notre Dame de Québec
First built in 1647, the Notre Dame de Québec Basilica-Cathedral has a storied history in Quebec City. It was bombed and rebuilt in the 1700s and is an important part of religious history in Canada. Although it was first built as a standard church for the new community of European settlers in Canada, it was later renamed a basilica. That was because of the number of pilgrims that visited this Québec City holy site. Saint John Paul II visited the church in 1984, further solidifying its stature within the holy places in the Roman Catholic faith.
It is neoclassical in architecture and the stained glass within is reminiscent of churches in Europe. There are beautiful Chancel gold sculptures within the Québec City church and a Christmas Church mass is one of the hottest tickets in the city in December.
Musée de la Civilisation
The Musée de la Civilisation was established in the 1960s in Québec City and hosts numerous exhibitions dedicated to the human condition. One of the most controversial things the Musee De La Civilization houses are remains of murder victims.
The Musee De La Civilization sits in the Quebec City old town near the St. Lawrence River. You can visit exhibitions dedicated to the Maya as well as Canada’s ancient fishing heritage. A special exhibition is also dedicated to Canada’s aboriginal cultures, which provides a true glimpse of Canada’s pre-colonial times. These exhibitions take you on a tour of ancient Aboriginal customs and art that make up the fabric of what it means to be Canadian.
When you are visiting Québec City, you can purchase tickets to visit all exhibitions or just to visit the Maya section alone. You should purchase tickets ahead of time online and note that the hours are limited on the weekends. Also note that with your ticket purchase, you will be given a time to attend, you must visit at the specified time.
Downtown Quebec City
It is the heartbeat of the region, downtown Quebec City is filled with restaurants, museums, markets, and shops. Although there are no absolute defining boundaries, you’ll discover that the downtown of Quebc City sits partly in Old Quebec within the walls and partly outside of it in the neighborhood of Saint Jean Baptiste. We’ll talk about old québec city a little later so let’s focus on the Saint Jean Baptiste side of downtown.
First off, you’re going to absolutely fall in love with the aesthetics as it’s a hilly area filled with cute little houses in all colors of the rainbow. And right smack dab in the middle of it all is Quebec City’s main shopping street. Rue Saint-Jean. From exquisite chocolates to bakeries and fresh grocers, the street is filled with shoppers all day.
When the sun goes down, this is the place to be for dinner and drinks after. The area has high-end restaurants where you can get oysters on ice. Or if you’re looking for something more relaxed, you can head to a local microbrewery. And if you’re looking for Parisian vibes, you’ll find many a cafe for that in this area.
Saint Lawrence River
The Saint Lawrence River is part of the fabric of Quebec City as it brings in tourists, transports locals, and helps with the import and export of goods in the city. The Saint Lawrence River connects Lake Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean so you’ll see all kinds of boat traffic on it during the warmer months.
Some of that traffic is from boat tours you can take up and down the St.Lawrence River. There is also ferry traffic, which you can take from old Quebec over to Levi. This is an economical way to get out on the river and take in the views.
If you want to go swimming or take part in some water sports, you can head to Beauport Bay. The bay is just minutes by car from the old city. You can paddleboard, windsurf or just laze around on the river if you want. There are play areas for kids as well as a biking trail nearby.
Plains of Abraham
Located on the St. Lawrence River the Plains of Abraham was the site of a pivotal battle of Seven Years War in 1759. The British Army and Royal Navy against the French Army fought right here just outside the city walls of Old Quebec. When visiting Quebec City, you must visit the Battles 1759-1760 permanent exhibit. This museum showcases the battles of the Plains of Abraham in 1759 and the Battle of Sainte-Foy in 1760. The park itself spans 242 acres with walking trails, monuments, a Martello Tower. This is a great place to go for a stroll and learn of Quebec and Canada’s history.
We have stayed at the Hotel le Concorde overlooking Quebec City, the Plains of Abraham and St. Lawrence River. It was a great central location.
Winter Trip to Quebec City
Some of the best things to do in quebec city happen in the winter months. In fact, if you don’t visit in the winter, you can’t enjoy one of the most fun things to do in Quebec City – tobogganing. Now, this isn’t your average tobogganing adventure. This is tobogganing down Cap Diamant at up to 70 kilometers an hour.
The wooden toboggan slide was built in 1894 on Dufferin Terrace. There are side-by-side tracks that make for some fun competition while you’re out there. And you also get beautiful views of St Lawrence River. You might want to follow that up by making your own maple taffy. All you’ll need is snow and maple syrup to do it.
You can visit any one of the maple sugar shacks that pop up around the city in the winter months to do this activity. Other activities include snow rafting and skiing at one of the local ski resort areas like the famous Mont-Sainte-Anne. One of the other things you can only enjoy in the winter in Quebec City is the Bonhomme Winter Carnival, which we’ll get into next.
Bonhomme Carnival Winter Carnival
It is the largest winter carnival in the world and brings in thousands of visitors from around the world every year. That’s because Quebec City knows how to truly celebrate the existence of ice and snow. There’s a ton of things to see and do at the carnival but one of the best ways to start off is to visit Bonhomme at his ice palace.
Bonhomme is the famous seven-foot snowman that is the mascot of the winter carnival and every year an ice palace is built for him. Here you can meet Bonhomme, tour the palace, and marvel at the detail of the fully furnished ice structure.
Other things to do include watching the canoe races on the frozen St Lawrence and checking out the massive snow sculptures that sit around the city. Every night there is a parade complete with music, lights, floats, and fun characters. The festival takes place everywhere in February.
You can visit Quebec’s spas any time of year, but to get the Scandinavian spa experience, you have to visit in winter. Inside you’ll be treated to eucalyptus-infused steam rooms, sweltering hot saunas and then you’re expected to head outside and jump into frigid cold pools. It definitely sounds crazy, but you’ll find spas like this everywhere in countries like Finland and Norway. It is believed they increase circulation and help your body get rid of toxins.
You can book your entry ticket in advance to this picturesque spa overlooking the St. Lawrence River. Easy cancellation for full refund if booked within 24 hours advance of experience. Also, easy upgrade to the luxurious premium thermal experience.
Hotel De Glace – Ice Hotel
Most people expect a lot of ice and snow when they visit Canada but they aren’t usually expecting ice hotels. If you visit Quebec City between January and March, you should expect to see (and maybe even stay) at the city’s only ice hotel. The hotel is made of pure ice and snow and in turn, that means that your room will be too.
Besides the suites of ice, there is also a chapel of ice and slides made of ice you can get childish with. For a little social hour while freezing in low temperatures you can visit the Hotel de Glace ice bar and get some super unique Canadian cocktails to thaw you out.
You don’t have to stay at the ice hotel to experience it, you can purchase a day pass to visit. There are ice skating trails, an ice slide, and even a snow tubing package you can add to your day trip.
You cannot go to Quebec City without getting a taste of delicious French Canadian food. There is usually no better way to get to know a city’s culture than by understanding its food. If Quebec is known for one thing, it’s got to be for poutine. This quintessential Quebec treat is made of crispy french fries topped with gravy and cheese curds and you can find it all over the city. This Old Quebec City Food Tour let’s you sample must-try local cuisines at five different venues
Another famous French Canadian dish is sugar pie. Tarte Au Sucre (Sugar pie) is pie crust filled with a combination of maple syrup, butter, cream. Aux Anciens Canadiens in old Québec City has a yummy version, but most self-respecting Quebec City versions will have a good one too. Head to Quartier Petit Champlain if you want to taste some of Quebec’s finer fare.
In Quartier Petit Champlain sits Rue Petit Champlain, which is the oldest commercial street in North America. On that street are some of the region’s finest restaurants and cafes. There you will be served French specialties like rabbit, duck, and lamb cooked in the traditional French way.
A great way to get a real flavor of French Canadian food is by taking a walking tour dedicated to food. These food tours will take you to distinct food regions of Quebec City. Spending an afternoon tasting craft brews, ice wine, fancy cheeses, locally-cured meats is definitely one of the best things to do in Quebec City. Read more: Best Canadian Food to Try in Canada
It’s 30 meters taller than Niagara Falls but gets less than half the visitors, Montmorency Falls is a bit of a local secret. It sits just a few minute’s drive outside of Quebec City near Beauport. They are part of the Montmorency Falls Park system and you can access them via steps from a number of entrances.
There is also a suspension bridge that gets you very close to the falls and lets you move from one side of the park to the other. Although people think it’s one falls, Montmorency Falls is actually made up of three separate falls.
Frequently Asked Questions About Quebec City
A lot of the fun to be had in Quebec City is related to the region’s food and cafe culture. You will see that people congregate in cafes near city squares and spend time chatting while sipping on coffee or wine. In the evenings, the city’s restaurants are always full and you’ll hear the clinking of glasses and laughter into the night.
If you want European flavor with the down-to-earth feel of Canada, then Quebec City is definitely worth a visit. You can visit the city’s 400-year old fortifications and follow that up with a meal at top-quality restaurants serving everything from rabbit to steak frites.
You should definitely not miss a visit to Old Quebec where most of Canada’s historic buildings sit. As the first French settlement in North America, you’ll find that it hasn’t lost much of its Frenchness. The streets are narrow and cobblestoned like they are in France. And on these streets sit hundreds-year old structures like the city walls themselves.
The answer to that question will depend on the kind of getaway you want. You can spend up to 3 days in Quebec City. That will give you enough time to explore the city centre including the old city. However, if you want to have a leisurely stay and really get to explore the different neighborhoods and explore nearby areas then a week is good.
Head to the Bohemian enclave of Rue Saint Jean and spend an afternoon sipping French coffee and eating croissants. There are hundreds of restaurants and cafes where you can experience delicious You can stay at Chateau Frontenac which was built in the 1800s and inspired by a French Castle. Today, it’s a giant Fairmont hotel, but it retains its old-school grandeur. If you want don’t want to stay at Chateau Frontenac, you can take a guided tour and enjoy some lunch.
And these are the best things to do in Quebec City. Have you been to North America’s most European City? What did we miss and what should we do the next time we visit?
Read more about Quebec and Canada Travel