Québec 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 Québec 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 to many times – 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. I heard only good things about walking up – or, preferably, down – the path. The latter contains a military museum that may be of interest to some.
Basilique Cathedrale Notre-Dame-de-Québec ♥ boasts a very ornate golden interior and some nice stained-glass windows. The Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral is 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 Québec ♥.
Museums in Québec do not rise to worldwide renown but may be worth checking out if your time in town allows. Specifically, Musée du Fort ♥ is not really a museum but rather a sound-and-light show illustrating the military history of Québec. 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.
Musée des Ursulines ♥ offers a nice and compact exposition centered on the all-girls school at the convent, whose peak was in the 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 worth considering for a future visit are Musée de la Civilisation and Musée National des Beaux-arts du Québec.
Fortifications of Québec National Historic Site ♥♥ is one of the main attractions in town – and a key part of Québec’s UNESCO World Heritage designation. You can explore the walls and the gates on your own with a good guidebook or you can join a 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. The guide may or may not have a great command of English and may speak in formulaic cliches, but it is nonetheless a good exposure to the history of the walled town; if you visit Musée du Fort prior to the tour, you may hear quite a lot of the same stuff. Walking on top of the remaining walls in the latter part of the tour was an 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.
If you are staying overnight in Québec 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 small cluster of pedestrian streets lined up with galleries, shops, and restaurants. It carries a whiff of a 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 (for a fee, of course), connecting the Quartier with the Terrace above it.
On the edge of the Quartier is Place Royale ♥♥, an atmospheric and very European-like square with shops and cafés. It is also home to Eglise Notre Dame des Victoires ♥ which has a prominent place in the town’s history; it is certainly worth a quick look.
Marche de vieux-port ♥ is in a different part of the Lower Town, but also near the waterfront. It is a delightful covered market selling produce, flowers, delicacies, wines, etc.
One of the activities not to miss in Québec City is taking a river cruise ♥♥. 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, and a souvenir shop. The commentary is nearly non-stop throughout the trip (in French and English) and it is quite informational.
Plains of Abraham, a large park where a famous battle between Québecois defenders and British aggressors occurred in 1759, is another possible point of interest for history buffs.
Montmorency Falls ♥♥♥ are slightly further afield, located about 20 minutes away from historic Québec 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.
In the “memorable stays” category, Auberge St-Pierre (link) 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 with very nice rooms; suite 405 on the top floor is fantastic, with partial views of Chateau Frontenac. Breakfast, included in the price of our rooms, is served on a “European” system, via a sit-down, take-your-order service, which obviously causes a bit of congestion at opening times.
As far as eating out is concerned, whether you reserve a table in advance based on online ratings or just pick a restaurant at random, it is hard to have a truly disappointing meal in Québec City. I personally prefer local vibes in less touristy areas, but sometimes sitting down in an eatery on a crowded square can have its rewards.
Worthy of specific recommendations are: Café St-Malo (on Rue Saint-Paul near the Old Port), a small family-run place; and Le Lapin Saute (in the heart of Quartier du Petit Champlain), with a fantastic selection of rabbit entrées.