I cannot believe the stars finally lined up for a long weekend in Quebec City – a much needed weekend getaway. I’ve been to Montreal twice and was always impressed with its old town. Friends, family and fellow travel bloggers who have been to old Quebec City have told me that when it comes to the narrow cobblestone streets and historic building, you haven’t seen anything until you visit Quebec City.
Quebec City is fiercely European with an even fiercer grip on the French Canadian identity.
Nearly 4,4 million tourists visited the Quebec City region in 2016 and 800,000 were from outside of Canada. Since the St.Lawrence river is still very deep around Quebec City, it is able to accommodate cruise lines – some from as far away as Europe. Our guide, Elyse told us one summer they had seven cruise ships in one day!
Sure you can get a taste of the city in a single day – taste being the operative word as the food scene here is off the charts with a strong focus on local and regional produce. But if you can stay for a weekend, the compact size makes it perfect for walking and seeing all the Quebec City attractions.
There are some steep hills, specifically between the lower town and the upper town and in the upper town itself but rest assured I kept all that in mind when I created this itinerary.
Any additional calories you burn can be traded in for food at some of the amazing restaurants I’m about to introduce you too 😉
History Of Quebec City
The Soul Of The Province
- Québec City was founded by French explorer Samuel de Champlain in 1608. In the 17th century, the first French explorers, fur trappers, and missionaries came over and established a colony. Thus, it is considered the cradle of the French Civilization
- Old Quebec was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985
- Just for the record French explorer Jacques Cartier arrived in 1535, it was Champlain who founded “New France” and built a fort (called Place Royale today) which we’ll see a bit later.
- Quebec City ranks among the top 20 most romantic destinations. (I’m not the romantic cheesy-type but I can definitely see why it made the list)
- The British wanted to remove the French from North America and even though the forts that New France built reinforced their position on the top of the cliff, Britain’s navy ultimately led to New France’s demise. General James Wolfe led his army to Québec City in the summer of 1759.
Getting To Quebec City
Air Canada, which flies from the U.S. via Montréal or Toronto, is the most popular airline. However, WestJet, Alaska, and United are also good options. All flights arrive at Québec City Jean Lesage International Airport (YQB), which is only a 20-minute cab ride into downtown.
The bus is the least expensive option and relatively easy to use (as long as you don’t mind making extra stops along the way) – I personally hate taking buses for longer than a couple of hours. From NYC to Quebec City, the Greyhound runs from New York and Boston to Montréal. From there, you can transfer to one of the hourly buses connecting to Québec City via Orléans Express.
There are two directions you can take when leaving Montréal: Autoroute 20 or the more scenic Autoroute 40. Both routes take approximately three hours to get to Québec City. Driving from New York City takes about eight hours, while Boston is about six. Coming from New York or destinations south of the Big Apple, take Interstate 91 to the Canadian border. From Boston, take the Interstate 93 and switch to Interstate 91 in Vermont. After crossing the border, Interstate 91 becomes Québec Autoroute 55 which you take to Sherbrooke. From Sherbrooke take Autoroute 55 to Autoroute 20.
Driving from Toronto To Quebec City takes about eight-hours.
Where To Stay In Quebec City
Hotel Le Germain Quebec
During my weekend in Quebec City, I was invited to stay in the Hotel Le Germain Quebec located in the neighborhood that saw the birth of Quebec – Quebec City’s historic Old Port district.
The hotel was inaugurated in 1997 in what was once the office building of Dominion Fish & Fruit Limited, which was erected in 1912, If you’ve ever stayed in a Le Germain Hotel, then you know how meticulous they are in their attention to detail.
Elegance, comfort, refinement and I gotta say they have an outstanding breakfast that will forever challenge your notion of what a continental breakfast should be.
More Quebec City Hotels
Since the Frontenac dominates the Quebec City Skyline I’d feel bad if I didn’t suggest it as a hotel option.
Old Quebec hotel can be found within the 18th century fortified walls of Quebec City’s Latin Quarter. The hotel is located within walking distance of all the popular sites – cobblestone streets, filled with unique shops, local restaurants, and art galleries.
I’ll talk about Le Monastère des Augustines, a health and wellness center, a little later in this post. It is a former monastery from the 17th century that has been completely restored. There are two room types of rooms the “Authentic” and the “Contemporary” designed to promote relaxation and tranquility.
The night before…
Chez Rioux & Pettigrew
With the creative cuisine of Chef Dominic Jacques – a winner on the television show “Les chefs” in 2012. Chez Rioux & Pettigrew has evolved to a bistro-style restaurant, from what was once a Rioux and Pettigrew wholesale grocer.
I started with a local beer called Belle Guelle which was absolutely delicious.
Gordana had the L’Achille (Quebec Exquis) – which is described as a flaxseed-fed duck from Canard du Village in Sainte-Pie, infused sea buckthorn leafs jus, tangy berries from La Ferme d’Achille, creamy butternut squash gratin, puree & palet, sea buckthorn mustard –$35
I had the Réconfort – Slowly braised beef shoulder, potato ragout au jus, creamy cabbage, brussels sprouts, carrots, refreshing citrus flavored herb coleslaw & charcutière sauce – $34
Gordana’s dessert was the Ma Foi C’est Exquis – Sea buckthorn Choc!, Cacao Barry dark chocolate mousse with a siphon, truffle, powder, berries in syrup & sea buckthorn sorbet from La Ferme d’Achille –$10
As for me, I had L’Erable – Maple flavored éclair, light cream, tangy ice crabapple puree, craquelin & maple candied walnuts –$10
Things To See In Quebec City
Located on the lower part of old Quebec, Quartier Petit-Champlain was once the capital of New France, a small portside village that in 1608 comprised of fur trading posts. Now, the narrow, pedestrian-only, cobblestone streets are lined with historic buildings, souvenir shops, aboriginal shops, bistros, artisan boutiques, and Québec-cuisine restaurants.
Rue du Petit-Champlain
The main road running through Quartier Petit-Champlain is Rue du Petit-Champlain where you’ll find some of the first houses from the former French colony that was built hundreds of years ago. Along this street you’ll find bistros, art galleries and specialized handicraft boutiques (leather, jewellery, decorative arts, clothing, wood and more)
I’ll be honest. I hate steps and as I soon discovered there is no shortage of hills and steps here in Old Quebec City – at least these steps are pretty.
This outdoor staircase, dates back to 1635, a few years prior to the death of Samuel de Champlain, (the city’s founder) and they are the oldest in Quebec City. In 1895, the old wooden staircase was replaced by one made of steel and the current staircase was built in 1968.
Café La Maison Smith
Place Royale stands on the site of Québec’s foundation, wherein 1608, Samuel de Champlain erected a fur trading post and permanent settlement in New France – the cradle of French civilization in North America. Place Royale has the largest group of 17th and 18th-century buildings that reflect the four centuries of history in North America. It was named Place Royale in
It’s simple but simply beautiful. Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church is one of the oldest churches in North America built on the ruins of Champlain’s first settlement in 1723. It was rebuilt in 1859 after being heavily bombarded in 1759 and to this day continues the tradition of blessings and handing out buns on the feast day of St. Genevieve.
Quebec City Mural
I love these frescos on the side of some of these buildings. Here in Parc de la Cetiere, the fresco depicts 400 years of Quebec City history through a series of interpretation panels that show the different buildings that were erected on this site over the years. 15 historical figures are represented in the mural, including Felix Leclerc, Jacques Cartier, and Marie Guyart. In addition shows and concerts are staged here in the summer and during the Christmas holidays.
The Royal Battery was named in honour of Louis XIV of France, who founded its construction back in 1691 and was part of the city’s defenses under the French Regime. It helped protect the city during the siege of 1759 and sits across the Quai Chouinard, which is a departure point for cruise ships sailing the St. Lawrence.
Old Quebec City
From here we can take the funicular up to the upper town of Old Quebec City – the cradle of French Civilization in North America and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the only walled city north of Mexico that is still well preserved after 400 years.
Honestly, when I think about a walled city, I think of Europe – Canada wouldn’t even cross my mind.
It’s quite remarkable.
Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica-Cathedral
Notre- Dame de Quebec Basilica-Cathedral was built-in 1647 under the French Regime. It has been expanded, bombarded, burnt to the ground, rebuilt in 1925 and designated as a national historic. It is the final resting place of four New France governors and the bishops of the Quebec City diocese.
La Boutique de Noël de Québec
This year we had a long and cold winter which just refuses to go away. Honestly, I was not in the mood to be reminded of anything winter related…
But – there’s something oddly beautiful about the spirit of Christmas and its effects on my soul.
Even though the weather outside is frightful – a store that sells Christmas stuff all year can brighten up anyone’s day. From decorations, nativity sets and villages to souvenirs and other Christmas collectibles.
City Hall of Quebec City
Rue Saint-Jean & Porte Saint-Jean
One of the main and popular streets is Rue Saint-Jean with its trendy cafes, restaurants, bars, and shops. During the summer evenings and weekends, cars are not allowed inside the fortifications making it pedestrian friendly
At the top of Rue Saint-Jean is Saint-Jean Gate, one of Quebec City’s most recognizable landmarks.
Paillard – St-Jean
Paillard is bread first and foremost. But it’s also croissants, biscuits, eclairs, sandwiches, soups, salads, gelato, cakes, chocolates … In short, a whole world of homemade delicacies that made the reputation of the Paillard coffee-bakery.
I can’t even begin to describe how delicious their smoked meat sandwich was…It actually brought a tear to my eye. We ended up eating here twice!
Le Monastère des Augustines
On August 1, 1639, three sisters from the Augustinian Order came to Quebec to establish what would become North America’s first hospital north of Mexico.
For about four centuries, the Augustinian Sisters devoted themselves to caring for the body and soul. They founded 12 hospitals which became the foundation for Quebec’s public healthcare system. Today the Monastery continues the passion and compassion that inspired and motivated the sisters by functioning as a place of welcome, hospitality, memory, rest and renewal.
Épicerie J.A. Moisan
JA Moisan Epicerie is the oldest grocery store in North America. Yes, you heard me correctly. It was established in 1871. The interior takes you back in time and could easily pass as a museum except it’s still in use.
It has everything you need, things you didn’t know you need and everything in between – like 50 varieties of mustard!
Chez Boulay-bistro boréal
Chefs Jean Luc Boulay and Arnaud Marchand, together, opened Chez Boulay – Bistro Boreal, to highlight Quebec’s unique regional and seasonal products from the boreal region. Elk, trout, elderberry flower (I love elderberry juice by the way) and Labrador tea. Cranberry seed oil, hemp oil, and apple cider vinegar can all be found on the Nordic-inspired blend of Quebec culinary traditions and international influences.
I went for the braised beef cheek with Labrador tea, potato purée with brown butter, roasted cabbage and oyster mushrooms, fresh herbs
Gordana opted for the seared Atlantic cod, creamy spaghetti squash with confit garlic and smoked coldwater shrimp, egg yolk, kale with sumac
Together (well mostly me) we shared the frozen caramel parfait with apple center, buckwheat cookie, roasted apples and candied sunflower seeds
Things To Do In Old Quebec City
The Fairmont Château Frontenac
The Frontenac was constructed for the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1894 and is one of the city’s most prominent landmarks. It can not only be seen from most parts of the city but from miles away as it stands tall in front of Dufferin Terrace.
This elevated vantage was the original site of Fort St.-Louis, the governor’s residence in colonial times – tourists can see the ruins underneath the promenade.
One of the six notable moments in the Château Frontenac’s 125-year history is during World War II, it was the host of two important conferences on military strategy. In August 1943, the leaders of the Allied powers, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill – hosted by Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King met to plan the invasion of Normandy.
Named after Lord Dufferin, The Dufferin Terrace is located on the site of Fort Saint-Louis, which was built by Samuel de Champlain in 1620 – and where he died in 1635.
From here you’ll view of the river as well as on Lower Town and Place-Royale
Plains of Abraham
Outside the city walls, to the west of the Citadel is the Plains of Abraham (Champs de Bataille). This is where the British led by General Wolfe fought the French-led my Montcalm and won back in 1759. Located throughout the park are archaeological artifacts, multi-media exhibits and displays that show the siege of Québec.
La Citadelle de Québec & Musee Royal 22e Regiment (Museum)
Sitting on top of Cap Diamant at a height of 100 meters is Québec’s star-shaped Citadel. It was built in 1832, and not only is the fortress protected by thick walls, ramparts, and ditches it is still an active military post. It’s used by generals, officers, and servicemen, as well as the summer residence of the Governor General of Canada.
The tour guide had a real hatred for Toronto and had no problem expressing his feelings. As upsetting as that was, surprisingly as a Torontonian I’m used to it. It’s just jealousy.
The Musee Royal 22e Regiment Museum has one of the largest military collections in Canada.
Monument Samuel-De Champlain
This monument of Samuel-De Champlain was created in Honour of the founder of Quebec City – a work by Paul Chèvre that was inaugurated in 1898.
This area was once called the Grande Place during the French Regime. With a gothic style fountain in the center, it was the most popular meeting place for military parades and public speaking events.
Besides Canadian back-bacon and maple syrup, poutine seems to be the highlight of Canadian cuisine. Of course, there’s a ton of debate over the best poutine in Quebec. Ashton’s has a great dish and is the McDonalds of poutine.
Want somewhere more off the beaten path? Try La Fabrique Montcalm, in the trendy arts district of Montcalm. Here, poutine gets fancy with braised beef, pulled pork or confit duck.
The Morrin Centre was first constructed as a military barracks more than 300 ago. Then it was used as a prison with balconies from which prisoners were hung. Then it was repurposed once again into Quebec’s first English-language college with one of the world’s most beautiful libraries.
Today, the Morrin Cultural Centre explores the history of English-speaking culture in the area.
Southwest of the old Upper Town, is the seat of Québec’s provincial government. The Parliament, completed in 1877 holds The Salle de l’Assemblée Nationale (National Assembly) and Salle du Conseil Législatif (Legislative Council) which are open to the public.
Observatoire de la Capitale
At the top of the Marie-Guyart Building is 360-degree observatory that provides a bird’s-eye view of Quebec City from the 31st floor. It also has some pretty cool interactive exhibits that show how Québec City developed and grew over the years.
Aux Anciens Canadiens
La Buche is a pretty cool place. The manager Vicky told me that it was inspired by a sugar shack. The inside makes you feel like your in a log cabin deep in the Quebecois wilderness. The brick, wood and stone walls are adorned with various animal pelts and items that locals would use out in the woods for animal trapping. Even their menu is fun!
Francis Bècotte Marchand & Luc Ste-Croix deliver everything from deconstructed shepherd’s pie and tourtière to poutine with a daily topping – all with traditional Quebecois style.
As a person who absolutely loves anything made with, covered in or injected with maple syrup – honestly, I would eat a brick if it was smothered in maple syrup.
I started off dinner with a maple beer brewed by McAuslan called St. Ambroise Maple Beer.
It was one of the best beers I ever drank.
Gordana had the Two-Salmon Tartar, Ice Cider mayo, Maple Vinegar, Apples, Dill and Hazelnuts, Served with Fries and Salad
While I had the First Nation Bison Skirt Steak, Mushrooms, Smoked Bacon and Kariboo Sauce, Served with Vegetables and Mashed Potatoes
For dessert, we split a pure Maple Fudge.
Places To Visit In Quebec
For day three we were accompanied by Elyse Busque, a tour guide with Quebec City Tourism Board and probably one of the best times I ever had with a tour guide. Elyse is an absolute delight, with an incredible, witty, sense of humour. Plus she was so knowledgeable of the history, the city, the region and the province – did you know that Quebec “means where the river in narrowest” One of the many things Elyse taught me 🙂
Elyse started us off along Route de la Nouvelle-France, which was like a journey through the first agricultural settlement of New France.
The landscape of Cote-de-Beaupre is surrounded by the St. Lawrence River, the Laurentian Mountains, waterfalls and canyons. Which means there are tons of outdoor recreational activities to be experienced on or near Mount-Sainte-Anne.
The most popular destination in the Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre Basilica, a famous pilgrimage destination.
Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré
Sainte Anne is the patron saint of Québec and dates to 1926, but the first chapel was built in this location back in the 17th century. It is known for its miracles of healing the sick and disabled which as a result receives half a million pilgrims each year. In fact, near the entrance, there are two pillars filled with racks of crutches, canes, braces etc., left behind by pilgrims who reported being healed.
Else told me that the brass doors at the entrance are made of copper and are the hand made work of Albert Gilles (a local Côte-de-Beaupre resident) which depict biblical scenes.
The Montmorency Falls are located about 12 km from the heart of old Quebec City and are protected within the Montmorency Falls Park.
Believe it or not – the waterfalls are 83m tall, which makes them 30m higher than Niagara Falls.
Musee de la Civilisation
The Musée de la Civilisation in Québec City takes a look at the many facets of human history as well as the establishment of French America. The permanent collection draws from civilizations around the world, as well as exploring the Québec experience.
I usually say museums are great but not great for short trips as they take up a lot of time but because this Quebec City weekend was a long one We had an extra day.
The illusions collection was an absolute blast!
The Perfect 3 Days In Quebec City
I managed to put together the biggest, action-packed list of top things to do in Quebec City.
I’ve been to Europe so many times and can’t believe this little piece of Europe exists in my own backyard.
Gordana and I had an amazing Quebec City weekend and quite honestly I think I’m in love. I’m already looking forward to my next weekend in Quebec City and my mouth is already watering for that smoked meat sandwich and anything covered in maple syrup.
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