I am so excited for today’s post to be live! This was one of the best trips I’ve been on in a while, and I am so happy to get to share it with you today. This post was also truly a labor of love—I edited over 100 photos (don’t worry, I narrowed down the ones I posted here quite a bit!) and spent hours writing up a comprehensive guide to one of my favorite cities ever: Quebec City, Canada! When I was researching my own trip to Quebec City, I couldn’t find very many blogger guides to this charming city, so I wanted to make sure mine was extra resourceful. Since I visited Quebec City with my sisters, Jennifer and Lindsey, in June, many of my recommendations about things to do are summer-specific—but if you’re looking for a wintertime guide, definitely check out my friend Heather’s! Hers was the most helpful blogger travel guide I used during my planning!
This was not my first time to Quebec City, as I visited with a friend 14 years ago when I was in middle school. I loved it then and knew I wanted to go back one day, and I loved it even more this trip. If you’re looking for a city that feels very European without having to hop on a transatlantic flight, is full of history and culture, and is extremely walkable, add Quebec City to your list. An added bonus for us when we went was that the US Dollar was about 25% stronger than the Canada Dollar, so everything we bought was essentially on sale. There’s something for everyone in Quebec City, making it perfect for a girls’ trip, family vacation, romantic getaway, or even a bachelorette party!
HOW TO GET THERE /
From the DC area, there are currently no direct flights to Quebec City. We flew out of Dulles to Montreal, and then from Montreal to Quebec City. The first flight was about an hour and a half, and the second flight was about 25 minutes. We flew through Montreal on the way home, too. All of our flights were booked under the same itinerary on Air Canada and cost about $500. I watched the flight prices for a while, and because the Quebec City airport is very small, they didn’t drop much lower than that.
We only had about an hour layover in Montreal between our flights on both the way there and the way back. While that was ideal in that we didn’t spend half a day at the airport just sitting around waiting, it made the customs process extremely stressful. On our way to Quebec City, once we landed in Montreal, we had to collect our gate-checked bags, walk a long way to Customs, pass through Customs, and then make it to the other end of the airport. We made it to our flight with about 20 minutes to spare, and squeezed in a mimosa before hopping on our small plane to Quebec!
Things on the way home, though, required a Home-Alone-style airport run. Our plane was delayed leaving Quebec and then we sat on the tarmac once arriving in Montreal because there was a plane at our gate. Once we were off the plane, we had to wait for our bags, and then had about 30 minutes to run to the opposite end of the airport, go through Customs, go through security again, and go through US Immigration. (They have passengers flying from Canada to the US go through customs at the Montreal airport instead of when you land in the US.) The only reason we made our flight is because boarding was delayed by about 15 minutes. As such, if I was to head to Quebec City again, I’d look for flights with longer layovers in Montreal since there is very little room for error.
GETTING AROUND QUEBEC CITY /
Getting around Quebec City is super easy! The only time we took an Uber was to and from the airport and when we ventured away from downtown Quebec City for Mexican food one night. Everything else we could do was within walking distance of our hotel—and we always felt safe to walk!
In the towns around Quebec City, there’s a ton of stuff to do—like visiting the Shrine of St. Anne de Beaupre, the Parc de La Chute-Montmorency waterfalls, visiting the Storm Nordic Spa and enjoying their infinity pool. We chose to stay downtown and explore the historic Old Quebec for our trip, so we didn’t rent a car. However, if any of this appeals to you, I would definitely recommend renting a car because I think it would be cheaper in the long run. And, while Ubers were available in Quebec City, there weren’t nearly as many on the roads as I’ve seen in other cities, so we usually had to wait at least 10 minutes for one. I talked to the hotel concierge about this for a little bit and she said most people still take taxis, so that’s another option for getting around.
If you’re looking for a great way to see Quebec City by boat without breaking the bank, take the ferry across the St. Lawrence River to Lévis. It only takes 12 minutes to get across and ferries run every 15 minutes. Tickets are $6 Canadian Dollars round trip. We didn’t do this because we did a party boat cruise (more on that below!), but if we hadn’t, I definitely would have wanted to do this to see the city skyline by water.
Quebec City has a fortified, historic core called the Old Quebec or the Old City, which is surrounded by a wall and gates that used to open and close every night or as needed as a defensive system. Because it sits on a cliff, within the Old City, there’s an Upper and a Lower Town. Though you can walk up and down a hill (with many steps!) to get between one and the other, you can also take the easier route and ride the funiculaire, which is essentially an elevator between Upper and Lower Town. It costs $3.50 per rider, one way, and is cash only! Like many places in Quebec, they will take US Dollars, but only give you change in Canadian Dollars, meaning if you pay with US Dollars, you’re paying more. We rode it a few times—some for practicality, and some just to take in the stunning views of the city! If you’re afraid of heights, it’s a quick ride and looks a lot worse at the bottom than the incline appears to be when you’re riding it.
WHERE TO STAY
When venturing to Quebec City, I recommend staying in the Old City or as close to it as possible. We stayed at the Quebec City Marriott Downtown, and the location could not have been more perfect. It was literally a block away from the St. John Gate and the historic Old City. Our room was very spacious, clean, and had a great TV with the Netflix app installed—and we can confirm that Netflix has way more options in Canada! The staff was also very attentive and welcoming. We went with this hotel as it was one of the only ones we could find with a double queen bed option—nearly every other option had double full beds. Since we were sharing beds and there for four nights, we wanted to make sure we were set up for the best sleep possible. No one travels well when they are tired!
If you’re a Hilton person, the Hilton Quebec City was right next to our hotel, and also in a fabulous location. And, if you’re looking for a splurge, I’d recommend the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac. Not only is it the most iconic building in the city, it’s in a wonderful location and of the quality that Fairmont hotels are known for! When we were pricing out options, it was actually very comparable to the Marriott, but of course, went with the latter because of the queen beds.
There are also so many cute boutique hotels and Airbnbs in the city if that’s the type of lodging experience you prefer to have!
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
There is no shortage of places to eat and drink in Quebec City! There are also more Subway sandwich shops than anywhere I’ve ever seen—so if that’s your fast food chain of choice, you’re in luck ;]. Here’s where we indulged:
- Le Chic Shack—located right near the Tourist Informational Center and the Chateau Frontenac, Le Chic Shack was one of my favorite meals in Quebec City! In hindsight, we should have eaten their twice. They have amazing burgers, fries, and milkshakes—which can be made boozy if you want. We were lucky enough to sit on their patio and take in amazing views of the Chateau.
- Cafe du Monde—since we had a four-hour party boat cruise, we knew we needed to eat dinner before we boarded, and Cafe du Monde is right near the AML Cruises dock, which is why we picked it. (My sister was confused as to why we were eating beignets before the boat cruise—there’s no relation to the one in NOLA!) We had an amazing seafood chowder, shrimp cocktail, and burrata salad here. Definitely ask for the bread, too—it’s free and comes warm straight out of the oven!
- Place Dufferin—we splurged on the brunch buffet at Place Dufferin at the Chateau Frontenac, and it was so worth it! All-you-can-eat food was $55 per person, and included everything we could have wanted for breakfast, including my favorite: an omelette station. Mimosas were $15, but you can bet we enjoyed a few. This was definitely our most expensive meal in town, but so much fun to enjoy a meal at the most famous hotel in town. If you’re looking for another way to enjoy Chateau Frontenac without checking in, definitely check out their 1608 Wine Bar. Like Place Dufferin, it offers stunning views!
- La Cour arrière du Festibière—this was by far my favorite place we hung out in Quebec! We stumbled on it because it’s right behind Cafe du Monde and right off the walkway along the St. Lawrence River. In all my research, this place never came up, so it really just goes to show you, sometimes spontaneity is a great thing. This is an outdoor beer garden/beach bar type of place—only in addition to having your standard picnic table seating, they have several wading pools with beach chairs in them for patrons. It was the best atmosphere! They did have a pizza truck on site when we were there, but their main focus is beverages. We split a few pitchers of the white sangria, which I would recommend! Needless to say—this is a seasonal bar.
- Spag & Tini—we passed by this restaurant in the Petit Champlain district of Lower Town on our way home from our boat cruise and thought their yellow umbrellas were super cute, so we decided to come back for dinner the next night. They had a beautiful patio we dined al fresco on, and some of the best cheesy bread I’ve ever had. Spag & Tini is at the bottom of Lower Town and looks right up the hill to the Chateau Frontenac—the view is stunning! (It’s shown in the first photo of this post, on the lefthand side.)
- Cosmos Club—located on the Grande Allée, which is a strip of bars and restaurants right outside the Old City known for nightlife, we stopped in for brunch at Cosmos Club. We were lucky enough to snag a seat on their patio, but after that, we experienced really poor service—our waiter was really rude, he only brought two mimosas when we ordered three, and we ended up stuck there for nearly two and a half hours. When we finally did get our food, it was good—but in hindsight, we should have eaten somewhere else. If you do go, they have matchbooks—and they were the only restaurant we ate at in Quebec City we could find them!
- Café La Maison Smith—a local Quebec coffee shop chain, there are several of these around the city. We ended up at the one in the Place Royale for gelato one afternoon, but they also have coffee, sandwiches, beignets, quiches, and smoothies.
- Bistrot Le Pape Georges—this was a fun bar in a 400-year-old tavern. The inside definitely feels a little dark and cold, but they also have a patio if that’s more your scene. It’s right in the Petit Champlain neighborhood, next to the umbrella installation, so it’s the perfect spot for an afternoon cocktail to cool down.
- Sapristi—we ate at the Sapristi on the Rue Saint-Jean in Upper Town, but there’s also one one in Lower Town in the Petit Champlain neighborhood, right near Spag & Tini. Sapristi serves up classic Italian fare and we loved our time al fresco on their back patio.
- Bar Le Sacrilège—located on the Rue Saint-Jean outside of the Old Quebec, we had a night cap here one night. It is definitely more of a locals spot, and en route, we passed several other bars that looked like a lot of fun—so this would be a fun strip to bar hop on. They’re known for craft beer, but also have a few wines and make basic hard liquor cocktails.
- La Bûche—if you’re looking for bottomless brunch, this is your place—$12 for unlimited mimosas! We sat on the back patio, but the inside is designed to look like a ski lodge. This place would be so cozy in the winter months! And, definitely check out the bathroom.
- Señor Sombrero—on our last night in Quebec City, we were really craving Mexican food, and this was the highest ranked place on Google within a short drive of the Old City. It did not disappoint! The owner is from Mexico City and all the food we had was very authentic—the tortillas were amazing. Service was a bit slow, but it was worth the 15 minute Uber ride.
- Second Cup—while there is no shortage of Starbucks in town, there was a Second Cup right next to our hotel, so we grabbed coffee and breakfast here two days in a row. They have bagels, breakfast sandwiches, and smoothies, all for a great price.
We didn’t have a ton of reservations before we went because in my research, it seemed like only the most exclusive restaurants in the city—think the one with four $ on Open Table—had an online reservation presence. Though we did have restorations for Spag & Tini, Sapristi, and Cafe du Monde, the only place I’d say it’s absolutely necessary to have a reservation in advance for is Place Dufferin.
WHAT TO DO /
There are so many activities in Quebec City. On our first night in town, we took a cruise down the St. Lawrence River with AML Cruises. While they have several different types of cruises—daytime sightseeing tours, brunch cruises, and dinner cruises, we opted for the evening cruise since it seemed like the best intersection of our interests and value. It essentially was a four hour party cruise that was so much fun. While it’s still light outside, you get amazing views of the city at sunset, and the MC gives you a lot of context to the area you’re seeing. As the sun sets, the DJ comes out and starts a party on the dance floor. It felt like a wedding without a bride and groom. Though they sell the evening cruises as different options—3-course dinner cruise, 5-course dinner cruise, and the evening cruise—they all happen on the same boat. We walked by the dining room where the dinner cruise was happening, and it felt really stuffy and skewed older. Meanwhile, we opted to enjoy snacks before the cruise and took advantage of the free beer for the first 90 minutes of the cruise and had a great little happy hour on deck. After the free beer window ends, there’s a full cash bar on deck. I would do this cruise again in a heartbeat!
One thing I love to do whenever I visit a new city is take a walking tour within the first day or two of being there. It always helps me learn the layout of the city and gives me ideas for what to do on the subsequent days of the trip. For Quebec City planning, I actually spent a lot of time on Trip Advisor since I couldn’t find any blog guides, and through that research, discovered Tours Voir Quebec. They offered a two-hour English walking tour for about $25 Canadian Dollars, so I signed us up in advance. The tour leaves from the Tourist Information Center right near the Chateau Frontenac, so we scheduled our tour for right after brunch at Place Dufferin. Tours Voir does have a booth in the Tourist Information Center, so you can sign up once you arrive if your schedule isn’t hammered out—but tours do sell out, so I’d book in advance if you can. Our tour guide was great and gave us so much historical context and recommendations. She ended up making our tour closer to two and a half hours, so I feel like this tour was an amazing value. A few of the friends we met on our boat cruise the night before told us they did this tour and also had a really positive experience!
Another tour we booked in advance was our free tour of the National Assembly of Quebec Parliament Building. Like the other tours we went on, this one is offered in both French and English. It lasted about an hour, but plan for 90 minutes as there is tight security given this is a working government building. Our guide walked us through the history of Quebec and Canada’s government, which the history nerd in me loved. Quebec City is the Capital of Quebec Province, and provincial laws are made at this Parliament Building for Quebec. Federal laws are made in Canada’s Capital, Ottawa. Throughout the Parliament Building, there are many nods to Quebec’s French heritage—it was a French colony until France lost the Seven Years War to England. A large painting in the Red Room honors King Louis XIV of France as he made Quebec a colony to encourage more settlers. Quebec then was a British Colony until 1867, when Queen Victoria signed the papers to make Canada an independent nation, so there are many nods to her as well. Our guide also gave us a great explanation of how modern government in Canada works, which is something I feel like I should know way more about than I actually do!
Other than the structured activities above, we spent a lot of time walking around and enjoying the different neighborhoods and sites to be seen in Quebec City. Here are a few you’ll definitely want to check out:
- Chateau Frontenac—even if you don’t stay or eat at the hotel, you should definitely walk around the lobby and its lower level, which has some amazing history placards. Opened in 1893, it was never actual a real castle—it was built by a Canadian railroad company, Canadian Pacific, to house its growing number of passengers and elevate the luxurious nature of rail travel. You can also take a guided tour or enjoy a free tour via mobile app.
- Place Royal—this is where Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec City as a fur trapping outpost in 1608. It’s anchored by the historic Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church, which is the oldest stone church in North America. The church is open to visitors, but it’s closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
- Rue Saint-Jean—located just steps away from our hotel, this is one of the main shopping streets in the Old City and also has a ton of restaurants and bars! The street is closed to traffic on weekends and holidays in the summer so it creates a really pedestrian-friendly street. One fun thing we did while we were on the Rue Saint-Jean was go into the local drugstore and see what beauty products are hot in Canada—they carried so many luxury brands that when you do the conversion rate, it was a steal. They also had some unique Kit Kat flavors.
- Quartier Petit Champlain—one of the oldest commercial streets in North America, this might be my favorite street in Quebec! They have string lights strung up that are beautiful at night, and it is on this street where the Funiculaire Station is. Many of the shops in this area are souvenir shops, but there is also a good mix of homewares, Canadian goods, high-end clothing, and the like.
- Breakneck Steps—QC’s oldest stairway, dating from 1635, and so-called because of their steepness, which lead you right onto the Rue du Petit Champlain.
- Terrasse Dufferin—this is the beautiful boardwalk hat wraps around the Château Frontenac in Quebec City towards Citadelle of Quebec, overlooking the St. Lawrence River. If you eat brunch at Place Dufferin, it overlooks the Terrasse Dufferin.
- Grande Allée—known for its sidewalk restaurants and cafés, this is also one of the big nightlife streets in Quebec City. We ate brunch here and it was the cutest street, but we never made it back at night. Definitely worth venturing away from the core of the Old City for this street—and it’s not that far of a walk!
- Rue du Tresor—an open-air art gallery where artists sell their works. You can buy everything from affordable postcards and prints here to expensive originals. If you love buying art on your travels, this street is a must!
- Umbrella Installation—located on the Rue du Cul-de-Sac, right next to Papes Georges, this umbrella installation was breathtaking, as you could see the Chateau Frontenac above.
A few other notable places in Quebec City we didn’t check out this trip, but you may want to add to your own list: Plains of Abraham, Citadelle of Quebec (this is where the Queen stays when she comes to town and there are Buckingham Palace Guards here!), Governors Walk, Musées de la Civilisation, Marché du Vieux-Port de Québec, and Lieu Historique National des Forts-et-Chateaux-Saint-Louis (which are really cool archaeological ruins beneath the Terrasse Dufferin).
A FEW RANDOM THINGS TO NOTE /
We were in Quebec City Canada from Saturday through Wednesday, so five days and four nights, and it felt like just the right amount of time. We were able to do everything we wanted to do and didn’t feel rushed—we could take our time exploring and spend a few afternoons just relaxing, without sacrificing any sightseeing time. You could also definitely make Quebec City work over a long weekend—but I think you’d wish you had more time!
We had about $40 in Canadian Dollars for our trip, and it was more than enough. Nearly everywhere accepts credit cards. Make sure you’re paying with a card that has no foreign transaction fees, otherwise, you’ll pay a fee each time you use your card in Canada. Contactless cards are also big in Canada—and moreso abroad than in the US—I realized quickly that inserting your card into the chip reader was not the norm anymore in Canada! If you do need cash, our hotel exchanged money for no fees, so I’d recommend going that route over the exchange booth at the airport, if possible.
Since both French and English are official languages of Quebec Province, most signs, menus, and historical placards are written in both languages. Every tour we went on was in English, though a French version was available, and on our boat cruise, the MC would first make his announcement in French and then repeat it in English. The vast majority of people we met spoke English, and as soon as they realized we weren’t native French speakers, they would switch over for us. We did make an effort to use elementary French when we could as a show of respect. There were only a few times when there was a language barrier, and in those instances, we relied on pictures and hand gestures!
I had the best time exploring Quebec City, and sharing a place I fell in love with years ago with my sisters. I know we will remember this trip for a lifetime! As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about our trip, I’m more than happy to help: firstname.lastname@example.org.