The picturesque Quebec City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that sits on the Saint Lawrence River. It is the capital of the Quebec Province and the only fortified city north of Mexico. Aside from the rich history that emerges from each cobblestone walkway, Quebec is unique in that it is one of the only places in North America where you can abundantly soak in French-Canadian culture. The French heritage has shaped this city and still seeps throughout, allowing tourists to feel like they have stepped into a french village.
Quebec City is truly a year-round destination, with an abundance of activity offerings for Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. It is especially known for the enchanting winter-wonderland that envelopes the city during the winter months and while COVID circumstances led us to a more desolate Quebec, we were not disappointed in the beauty that the city was decorated with by the winter snow.
If you are only considering a trip to this historical landmark, we recommend that you turn that consideration into a definite bucket lister. From the historical structures to the divine food and french culture, Quebec is certainly a destination for the books.
In March of 2020 we had a fully booked itinerary that would take us to seven different European Countries over the span of twelve days. But, our plans like so many others’ were suddenly altered when the world became exposed to COVID-19. While this virus had not put a halt to life in America as of early March, it would only be a matter of days we would learn. Thankfully we decided to refund our European ‘baby-moon’ and choose a different destination within driving distance. It was only two days after we returned from Canada that borders began closing, travel restrictions were set in place, and lock-downs began to normalize in cities across the world. God protected us from hopping on a plane en-route to Europe. It was a huge blessing and it gave us the unique opportunity to experience a rather quiet Quebec City.
How To Get There
Plane - Quebec City has one of the top ranked airports in Canada located approximately 20 minutes from the city center, offering daily flights to many national and international cities.
Car - Driving is truly a great way to not only see Quebec City, but to also see the surrounding countryside. For this reason, we personally prefer to drive over other transit methods. The drive is approximately eight hours from New York City and seven hours from Boston. Once you get to the city it can be challenging to find parking but many hotels offer valet services for reasonable rates and there are available parking garages within close proximity.
Train - Traveling by rail to Quebec City can be a unique option, providing the opportunity to see the country outside of Quebec City. This option can be quite lengthy though with travel times of up to a day from New York City. However, if you are already in the Montreal area the travel time by train is just 3.5 hours and will take you right into the heart of Quebec City.
How To Get Around
Quebec is a very accommodating city to visit and travel. By far the best way to get around and experience the old town is by foot. Almost everything is within a few minutes walk. Cycling is also a popular option and you can even rent a bicycle to use during your visit. If you are looking to see the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac we recommend riding The Funicular as it provides views along the ride and saves a great deal of time versus walking to get there.
There are parking garages located right within the heart of old city so parking can be a convenient option and if you are looking to get outside of the old town then driving and parking is recommended as well as taking the public transit system which offers weekly and daily passes.
When To Visit
Quebec City offers year-round excitement for visitors. Whether you’re interested in terrace dining during the warmer months or strolling the snow-capped cobblestone streets during the winter months there is something for everyone throughout the different seasons of the year.
Popular times to visit Quebec City are during the warmer summer months of June through September where guests can experience natural landscapes and being outdoors. In contrast, the winter months of December, January and February are also popular destinations times that offer winter sports, holiday enchantment and cozy atmospheres, drawing in tourists from around the world.
We personally took a long weekend to explore during March and we were not disappointed despite the current COVID closures and the slower pace after the popular excitement of the holiday season. We would love to return to Quebec City during December to experience Old Quebec turned into a beautifully lit winter wonderland.
Where To Lodge
Quebec houses a vast array of top-notch lodging options. The city offers every desirable stay from world-class ranked hotels to quaint, cozier lodging. Regardless of where you choose to lay your head while visiting Quebec, you are bound to experience cozy and/or natural beauty within steps.
Auberge Saint-Pierre - Our personal choice for luxury accommodations. Cozy is the word to describe Auberge! This beautiful 19th century heritage structure located conveniently in the heart of Old Quebec offers suites and rooms that will make you want to justify staying inside during your visit. The hotel staff are extremely accommodating, offering services from dining and warm beverages to cozy fireplace settings where you can curl up with a good book or puzzle. We simply did not want to leave.
Le Monastere Des Augustines - If you’re looking to fully embrace culture and history during your stay then look no further. Experience a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lodge and dine amongst the Augustinian sisters’ in the hotel-dieu de Quebec Monastery.
Hotel de Glace - Only open during particular months of the year, this Ice Hotel is the only of its kind in North America and worth noting. With changing themes, beautifully designed ice sculptures and the awe of being surrounded by a structure crafted out of ice, this Hotel is a must experience!
Fairmont Le’ Chateau - Arguably the most popular lodging within Quebec City, this luxurious hotel offers views of the Saint Lawrence River, over 600 rooms and provides an elegance intertwined with history. The Fairmont Le’ Chateau is family friendly with activities that range from kids scavenger hunts to couples massages and fine dining. Even if you choose not to stay here during your visit to the city it is certainly worth visiting the stunning architecture and design.
VRBO - While Quebec City offers an extensive variety of hotels to choose from there are certainly options for renting a more intimate and private setting through VRBO. Many of the options listed on VRBO are located conveniently in the heart of the city, or close to popular attractions.
What To Do
The number one recommendation we have for you during your stay in Quebec City is simply to walk, explore and marvel at all of the hidden gems that lie within the city. Quebec City is unique in that it is arguably more convenient to walk in order to get from location to the next. From the picturesque Rue Petit Champlain to the Umbrellas of Rue du Cul-de-Sac or the stunning river views from the Dufferin Terrace, the only true way to soak in the vibrance and beauty of this city is to get out and explore on your own two feet.
2) Get Cozy!
If you choose to visit during the colder winter months like we did then you will likely find yourself daydreaming about curling up by a crackling fire with a warm cup of something as you glance at the white blanket across the cobblestone streets outside. The entire city has an ability to transform your mindset into the ultimate winter wonderland and most hotels and restaurants know how to accommodate this with fireplaces and warm beverages to turn your great daydream into a reality. You will also find a number of warming stations located throughout the historic centre where you can cozy up by a bustling outdoors fire for a few minutes.
It comes as no surprise that Quebec City would also offer fantastic shopping options. You can easily find yourself slipping out of one store and quickly into the next one, there are endless options. Quartier Petit Champlain offers an array of shops, many of which are local to the city and provide a diverse category from clothing and accessories to souvenirs and wine/dine. We were personally impressed with the multitude of art galleries and studios found within the city. It would be fair to assume that people from both far and near come to Quebec City to observe and purchase pieces of art such as glass, paintings and even sculptures.
4) Place Royale
This square located in the heart of Old Quebec City truly encompasses all of the above and more. Lined by local shops and restaurants and sheltered by the picturesque stone church Notre Dame Dest Victoires, this square is crafted for a movie scene or something you read about in books. More historically, Place Royale represents the founding location of Quebec City in 1608.
5) Basilica Catedral Notre Dame
This impressive structure surviving since 1647 was the first church to be made of stone in Quebec City. The Catedral has been transformed and renovated a number of times throughout the years but has maintained many of it’s original structure creating a beautiful eye piece for visitors of the city.
6) Montmorency Falls
If you’re looking to remove yourself from the bustle of the city take a quick detour to Montmorency Falls. This massive waterfall along the Montmorency River offers views year-round by cable car, on-foot or via snowshoe, observation decks, or the suspension bridge. There’s a little fun for everyone from ziplining to ice-climbing. Dining options, while limited during the winter months, offer an assortment from warm beverages to ice cream during the warmer months.
Old Quebec City in itself has a ton to offer, but if you’re just craving sport and outside activity you don’t have to travel far either. There’s a depth of options for everyone, and if you find yourself fortunate enough to be in Quebec City during the peak winter months of December, January or February you will have a unique opportunity to experience one or many of the winter activities that are offered. These include, but are not limited to Cross-Country Skiing, Dog Sledding, Snowmobiling, or even Snow Tubing.
Village Vacances Valcartier - Just so happens to be the largest winter playground in North America and makes a great place to start your winter adventures.
Au 1884 - Stop by for the ultimate experience of a Toboggan slide right in the center of Old Quebec. This one is a must-do!
Parks Near and Around Quebec City - There are plenty of trails, parks and activities that can fulfill your removal from city life to an outdoor thrill. Keep in mind when planning that some parks admissions may vary depending on the time of year due to weather. A few notable parks include:
Surrounded by breathtaking mountainous terrain and glacial valleys this park is only 30 minutes from Quebec City and offers almost any type of recreation you can imagine, from canoeing and fishing to hiking and skishoeing. Rentals are available through the park and the National Park also offers lodging accommodations.
Offering spectacular views of the Saint Lawrence River and free for admission, Plains of Abraham is a popular destination for walking and ski/snowshoeing.
Soak in the outdoors like a local with this park, closer to the Quebec City Centre which offers beautiful views of the river and natural scenery of Quebec year-round.
Ice Skating - Many of the parks mentioned above also offer a true canadian favorite - ice skating! Rentals are widely available. Notable, in-town rinks are:
Located in the heart of Old Quebec this skating rink is free for admissions with available rentals.
Located conveniently to old Quebec City, this ice-skating trail is available day and night.
8) Explore Île d'Orléans
Located on the Saint Lawrence River only a few kilometers from downtown this island was one of the first areas colonized by the French. Known for it’s fresh produce, cheese and maple this is a great place to drive for a local outing. There’s everything from tastings and delicious dining to shopping and local art. We managed to drive the majority of the island within a half day but due to Covid we were unable to stop at many locations so it could easily be a quick morning trip or extended to a full day trip depending on your itinerary.
Because Quebec City is embraced with history and culture, there are a number of museums to choose from, many which are conveniently accessible.
Musée de la civilisation - We stayed across the street from the back entrance of this museum. Unfortunately we were unable to visit due to COVID-19 closures. However, we were told more than once to return and tour the educational exhibits. It gives a well depicted account of the historical happenings of the city.
Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec - This art history haven is situated within four pavilions and offers both modern and ancient art.
Le Monastere des Augustines - Remember the monastery that you can lodge in for a night? Well, while you’re there be sure to check out the museum that’s attached. This exhibit will place you right back in time to discover and learn about the hospital that was once located within the walls of the monastery. You will be introduced to the tools and practices that evolved the mixture of modern and spiritual practices of the Augustinian sisters.’
Citadelle de Quebec - To learn more about the history of Quebec City, specifically it’s military background, take a guided tour or visit the museum within the Citadel. This property which offers breathtaking views of the city also houses Canada's oldest military building along with other impressive historical establishments relevant to its history.
Musee du Fort - Remember that Quebec City is the only fortified city North of Mexico and there's plenty of history surrounding that. Musee du Fort is a smaller museum but helps to connect the battles and history of the city and it’s formation.
Erico - Take a step away from the city's history to learn about something that’s also very important and exciting, the history of CHOCOLATE! Handmade with care and creativity, Erico’s offers an educational experience while tasting exquisite chocolates.
10) Attend a Festival
Winter Carnival - Probably one of the most noteworthy and recognized festivals of Quebec City is its annual Winter Carnival in February. There’s everything to experience from ice sculptures, ice-canoeing, and nightly parades. This pre-lent festival in the heart of winter offers excitement and thrill that will warm the soul.
Québec Exquis - Offered multiple times throughout the year, this is a unique opportunity to taste some of the most exquisite cuisine from renowned local chefs.
Carrefour international de théâtre - Each spring the Carrefour International de théâtre hosts this innovative theatric festival in Quebec City. Come enjoy local and international talent rooted in theatre and cultural arts.
New Years Eve - If you think NYC is the place to be for New Years Eve, think again. Apparently, Quebec City puts on quite a festival to ring in the year as well.
Festival d'été de Québec - For all the music lovers out there this isn’t just SOME music festival. This is the LARGEST music festival in Canada. In fact, it’s so large that it has to span a number of days, featuring well known and some up and coming bands/musicians.
Pentathlon des neiges - Calling all athletes - or anyone just eager to have some fun and get outside. Grab your gear and get ready for this multisport event that happens each February. You can register solo or as a team to complete the challenge. Then, once you reach the finish line it’s time to celebrate!
The Bordeaux Wine Festival - A combination of exquisite cuisine and Bordeaux wines…. Need I say more?
Wine & Dine
Quebec is known for it’s one-of-a-kind, culturally divine cuisine throughout the city. There’s truly something appealing for everyone, and of course a few dishes that you just have to try while you're there.
1) Maple Taffy - When in Quebec you must taste some delicious maple taffy made from local maple syrup.
La Petite Cabane a Sucre de Quebec offers a unique opportunity for you to make your own by putting the maple syrup into the freezing snow and watching it turn into maple taffy right before your eyes.
2) Poutine - Think Fries with Comfort - Local to Canada are delicious Fries, Gravy and a Cheese cuisine that is a must try.
3) Crepes - Eating Crepes when in Quebec is an absolute must! Our go-to spot for a delicious variety was Le Bellig. We cannot recommend it enough! The service was amazing. The atmosphere quaint and cozy and every single crepe we tasted was outstanding.
4) Tourtière - Essentially a meat pie. We didn’t actually have any while we were there but it was on the menu at a ton of different places and is a Quebec staple.
5) Le’ Buffet De L’Antiquaire - If we had stayed longer this would have been our go-to spot for many breakfast meals. Think french diner in a quaint, convenient location serving all of your favorites!
6) De-Sac Resto Pub - We stumbled upon this pub our first night in town and it fulfilled every desire for delicious, warm food in the coziest of atmospheres. It was representative of everything we imagined for winter wonderland Quebec. Complete with a wood-burning stove making delicious pizzas and friendly servers greeting you as you walk in from the brisk snowy streets.
7) Ciel! Bistro-Bar - If you’re looking to dine with a view this is your spot. We cannot personally attest to the quality of the food since we did not get the opportunity to eat here. However, we can deduce that from the location, on the 28th floor of Hotel Le Concorde that your dining experience will be embraced by panoramic views of the city.
8) Épicerie J.A. Moisan - The Oldest grocery store in North America with a delectable variety of local foods, as well as international selections. What more could you ask for?
Extra Tips & Tricks
* Clothing - Think Layers! Especially in the winter months. Going in and out of the cold will require some intentional layering. Keep in mind it IS cold outside, but also very warm inside.
*Don't hesitate to try something unfamiliar!
*While English is widely spoken in Quebec City, French is the primary language and most commonly spoken throughout the city.
* Don't just stay indoors! Get out and explore or participate in one of the many outside recreational offerings.
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We are the Bests! Jo and Mo. Founders of BestCapturedTravel.
We have been immensely blessed with many opportunities to see various parts of the world. We live an average, working life in Cambridge, MA but through our many opportunities have developed a passion to see the world. Our goal is to share with other desiring travelers different tips and experiences from around the world as we begin to check them off our bucket list. If anything, we hope to provide a little sense of motivation and adventure to those wishing to embark on their own journey!
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