For your first visit you need 2 full days to be able to fully appreciate the city and all of its major sights while keeping pleasantly unhurried pace.
Distances are walkable, you are unlikely to need use of any public transport except the funicular.
Don’t miss: A cruise on the St-Lawrence river.
Worthy attractions: Basilique Cathedrale Notre-Dame-de-Quebec and a number of churches; Musee du Fort; Musee des Ursulines.
Recommended day trips: Montmorency Falls Park.
Left for another visit: La Citadelle de Quebec (only walked around); Musee de la Civilisation; Musee national des beaux-arts du Quebec.
Last visit: May 2015.
Quebec City is full of history and charm, with plenty of picture opportunities around every corner. It is not big – if you spend minimal time on in-depth tours, you can cover all points of interest in town quite easily in less than a day.
Old Quebec is divided into two parts with direct relation to elevation. Upper Town (Haute-Ville) ♥♥♥ is where all of the historic and monumental entities are located and it certainly gets more focus from every visitor. Terrasse Dufferin ♥♥♥ is a likely first location you would go to once in town – and possibly return many times to – a boardwalk overlooking the expanse of St Lawrence river from on high.
The towering Château Frontenac has never been anything but a hotel. It is among the most-photographed sights in the world, but as much as it is impressive on the outside, a visitor will not find anything truly extraordinary on the inside. Your mileage may vary if you actually lodge there.
At the end of the terrace starts La Promenade des Gouverneurs, a cliffside stairway leading up to the Citadel. The former fell out of our itinerary although I heard only good things about walking up – or, preferably, down – the path. The latter was not part of our plans, we only looked at it from outside; it contains a military museum that may be of interest to some.
Basilique Cathedrale Notre-Dame-de-Quebec ♥ boasts a very ornate golden interior and some nice stained-glass windows, but we did not manage to avoid a service taking place inside the church while visiting and therefore did not explore it in full. We also stepped inside Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral which is certainly worth a quick look, as are a couple of other churches in the Upper Town.
After leaving the cathedral, go through the gates immediately to the right of the main entrance, to step into the impressive inner courtyard of Seminaire du Quebec ♥.
Museums in Quebec do not rise to worldwide renown but may be worth checking out if your time in town allows. Specifically, Musee du Fort ♥ is not really a museum but rather a sound-and-light show illustrating military history of Quebec. It is quite well presented and reasonably educational – if you need an introduction to what the city holds with pride you can hardly do better than spend time on the 20-minute show (and even younger children can enjoy the targeted lighting of the diorama).
Musee des Ursulines ♥ offers a nice and compact exposition centered on the all-girls school at the convent, whose peak was in 19th century. Visiting here is especially rewarding with teen and preteen daughters although surely any curious mind will find something of interest here.
Other museums that did not make our itinerary are Musee de la Civilisation and Musee national des beaux-arts du Quebec. Maybe next time.
Fortifications of Quebec National Historic Site ♥♥ is one of the main attractions in town – and a key part of Quebec’s UNESCO World Heritage designation. You can explore the walls and the gates on your own with a good guidebook or you can join the walking tour ♥ that starts on the Dufferin Terrace (inquire at the prominent booth near the entrance to the funicular), takes you by the Citadel, and then proceeds to the walls. Our tour-guide had less than perfect command of English and spoke in formulaic cliches. Still, it was a good exposure to the history of the walled town, and if we have not been to Musee du Fort before we would have heard quite a lot of stuff for the first time. Walking on top of the remaining walls in the latter part of the tour was the undeniable highlight.
There are many street musicians on the major walking routes and tons of art galleries selling paintings and various crafts. A small pedestrian street, Rue du Tresor ♥ is completely given to art sellers, with walls displays of paintings covering both sides of the street end to end.
Is you are staying overnight in Quebec and the weather is cooperating, make sure that you take a stroll in the Upper Town and commandeer a bench on the Terrace after dark. It is pretty serene and quite magical.
Lower Town (Basse-Ville) ♥♥♥ encircles its elevated counterpart on all sides. The most popular part of it is Quartier du Petit Champlain ♥♥♥, a few pedestrian streets lined up with galleries, shops and restaurants. It has a little bit of Disney-fied “Main Street” artificiality, but it is still quite delightful.
If you move between the Upper and Lower towns more than once, you may want to use the funicular on your way up. It is very useful and efficient (not free), connecting the Quartier with the Terrace above it.
On the edge of the Quarter is Place Royale ♥♥, an atmospheric and very European-like square with shops and cafes. It is also home to Eglise Notre Dame des Victoires ♥ which has a prominent place in the town history; it is certainly worth a quick look.
Marche de vieux-port ♥ is in the different part of the Lower Town, but also near waterfront. It is a delightful covered market selling produce, flowers, delicacies, wines, etc.
One of the activities not to miss in Quebec City is taking a river cruise ♥♥ offered by company called AML. The cruises start and end at the pier directly underneath the Terrace, a two minute walk from Quartier du Petit Champlain once you get down to the Lower Town. The 90-minute excursion takes place on a nice ship with a variety of seating options inside and outside; there is also a full bar, a snack bar, a souvenir shop. The commentary is nearly non-stop throughout the trip (in French and English) and it is in-depth and educational.
Plains of Abraham, a large park where a famous battle between Quebecois defenders and British aggressors occurred in 1759, is another point of interest that we skipped on this visit.
Places to Eat
Using TripAdvisor with a grain of salt is the best way to gauge the appeal of a restaurant nowadays, so feel free to take advantage of that resource. Here are the places that we ate at in spring of 2015 and brief notes:
Cafe St-Malo ♥♥ – small family-run place, nice atmosphere, friendliest proprietors, all choices we made were great.
SSS ♥♥ – lively, very good efficient service, inventive menu (nothing “simple” about it), tasty choices all around.
Lapin Saute ♥♥♥ – a number of rabbit entrees, try them all if you have a group of four or more, they are all outstanding; excellent service, pretty busy place, available outside seating in a pedestrian square.
Bistro Sous le Fort ♥♥♥ – best meal in town for one of the members of the family and not a bad meal for others. Friendly service, excellent choices on the menu, good ambiance, couples can sit on the street-side terrace. Highest marks for ravioli and for crème-brûlée.
Auberge St-Pierre ♥♥ is on a quiet street two minutes away from Place Royal, around the corner from the main climb to the Upper Town. A boutique hotel, nice rooms, friendliest staff; suite 405 on the top floor is fantastic, with partial views to Chateau Frontenac. Wi-fi did not always work great, but was manageable. Breakfast, included in the price of our rooms, was served in not the most efficient system, via a sit-down, take-your-order service in a room that got full on at least one occasion; the menu had sufficient choices for all tastes, though. Last stay: 2015.
The waterfalls ♥♥♥ are about 20 minutes away from historic Quebec by car. The park offers an opportunity for an excellent half-day trip (or longer, if you chose to have a picnic at the top). There are several spectacular perspectives from all sides of the main waterfall (cable car to the top, bridge above the falls, stairway on the side), plus picnic and trail areas, a full-service restaurant, and many picture opportunities.