In Old Quebec City, you have the chance to experience the French culture and cuisine on the North American continent. You will almost feel like you are at one of Europe’s premier destinations. This vibrant and charming getaway of the Quebec province is one of the oldest settlements here in Canada. There is still a strong population of French speakers here, as they teach it next to English for everyone. It’s a smaller city compared to others but it gives that old-world feel we travelers love to experience. It is idyllic, with a well-known history and enough attractions and activities to keep you well captivated.
You will see how the old world transitions seamlessly with the modern world. This city is divided into Upper and Lower Town. The upper town is the administrative center of the city while the lower town is the historic district. It’s easy to walk to both parts and you can take the funicular instead to reach the higher and lower levels. When planning your trip, your itinerary should include some if not all of these wonder attractions.
Top Things to Do in Old Quebec City
Fairmont Le Château Frontenac
The shining icon of what Old Quebec City represents, it’s the capital’s most visited tourist attraction and one of the most photographed hotels in the entire world. Located in the upper town of Old Quebec, the European style of architecture is what makes it dazzle. This may look like a castle but it is technically not and was built in this style during 19th century Canada. It’s been a central meeting place for political and global leaders during its history.
You don’t need to book accommodations here and can instead take a tour of the hotel or just stroll around the outside for some quality Instagram photos. Most walking tours will include this as a stop and explain the history of this location, from the early 19th century to World War 2.
This wooden boardwalk is a great place to stroll along the Saint-Lawrence River as you overlook Old Quebec and the surrounding landscape. It’s great for panoramic photography and is located just below and behind the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. See the line of extensive military cannons that decorate one side of the boardwalk. You can find live music and local performers here during the summer and during the winter season, you can take part in a toboggan run down the short hills.
Quartier Petit Champlain
The oldest commercial street in North America is a particular highlight. You will find this is the perfect place to explore the narrow cobblestone streets of Old Quebec with all its colors on the historical houses. It will give off so much European charm from the preserved architecture and streets made from cobblestone. Filled up with many unique shopping boutiques of clothing, bistros, jewelry, and specialty crafts.
It’s a great atmosphere here and you can spend your time exploring the different streets and sightseeing. During the holiday season, you will find it filled with lights and decorations making this place a fairytale wonderland. Once you are done you can take the funicular back to Upper Town. Choose this instead of Breakneck Stairs if you want to save yourself some energy for the day.
Notre Dame De Québec Basilica
In the heart of Quebec’s Old City, this is Canada’s first and oldest church as it has remained in the same location since the 17th century. This was deemed a National Historic Site of Canada as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Inside you will find religious paintings and the neo-Baroque architectural style. You don’t have to be a churchgoer to be impressed by its design and craftsmanship.
Located in the center of Lower Town, here is where the city was originally founded in 1608 and is still a center of local activity with plenty of visitors passing through every day. This tiny square was the hub of civilization in these parts. Stepping back in time, you still have cobblestone streets through this neighborhood with French and British-influenced stone buildings.
Even the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires is popular as the oldest stone church in America. Most of the surrounding buildings are the original and have been refurbished for a plethora of souvenir shops, restaurants, and cafes. It’s amazing to see the different influences from Europe making up this part of the city. Around the corner is the largest mural in the city, “Fresque des Québécois”, focusing on the history of the city. It’s quite nice to sit down and relax here on a sunny day and enjoy the vintage attractiveness.
Plains of Abraham
Here you can see the open fields where the French and British military fought to control their interests in North America. The previous battlefield is now a historic park but is perfect for bicycling, running, or just walking. It’s almost nearly empty in the mornings so it’s very peaceful to just sit down at one of the benches and take it all in. During the summer season, you will find the Quebec City Music Festival brings in hundreds of visitors for live musical performances. Stroll to the end of the plains to see the Martello (small fort) and small cannons placed just near the cliff to overlook the river.
The Citadel of Quebec
Next to the Plains of Abraham, it’s the oldest military building in Canada. Still active and garrisoned by the Canadian military, you can take a tour inside and watch the changing of the guard. Its star-shaped design is quite interesting but you won’t be able to see it entirely from the ground. You can find it located on top of Cap Diamant, the highest natural point in the city. It has spectacular views of the city landscape and the river. You don’t need to go inside but can still walk along the edges of the fortifications.
Quebec Ramparts and Gates
You may have noticed as you are exploring Old Quebec all the fortifications and stone walls with small towers and ramparts. This is the only walled city north of Mexico as they have managed to keep these intact as they were expanded and maintained due to their significance and protection around the city. A guide can take you on a walking tour explaining their construction with some nice vantage points to view the historic district.
An impressive bit of architecture, the parliament building is centrally located with statues of political and historic figures throughout Quebec and Canada’s history around the building. They do offer free walking tours through the building but it’s not necessary. It’s just nice to walk by as you go exploring. All the government buildings around this area have excellent architecture that is worth observing.
Other Activities in Old Quebec
Morrin Centre – An unknown gem with little to no crowds, it is a former prison turned library. You will find it filled to the brim with rare books and antiquities like furniture and paintings. It’s interesting to see decorated halls alongside empty prison cells when you take your tour inside the building. Another national historic site helps to inform the public about the background and development of the English-speaking culture here in Quebec.
Musee du Fort – Avid history and military fans should stop by here to learn about all of Quebec’s military and military engagements throughout its history. There are popular historical reenactments of major conflicts here, a light and sound show on a large-scale model of the entire area with plastic figurines, and even some interactive entertainment at the end. It’s a nice bonus to stop here as you explore the city and only takes a short time.
Montmorency Falls Park – After Old Quebec this is the most visited site in the province. Just outside of the city, the towering waterfall is perfect for a half-day out. You can ride the cable car up to the top and then head over to the suspension bridge or along the waterfall paths to some spectacular overlooking viewpoints. It’s a nice and easy way to experience the natural landscape.
Where to eat in Old Quebec City
If you want to experience a city, you need to enjoy the food. Quebec is filled with many regional dishes. Experience French-Canadian cuisine with all the boutique restaurants inside the Old City. Indulge yourself in the maple-syrup-flavored treats Quebec is famous for, from the sugar shacks to maple taffy and baked beans. The culinary delights have put this place on the international map.
Start with the most famous dish in Quebec, poutine. You will find many follow traditional recipes or choose to put their spin on this classic entrée. For the colder weather stick with ragoût de boulettes, or meatball stew to warm you up before heading back outside.
Some of these places still have old stone structures and architecture as a bonus. Stop by Aux Anciens Canadiens, which remains one of the oldest buildings in the city along with an incredible selection of traditional Québécois meals and a friendly family atmosphere.
Grand Marché de Québec isn’t located inside Old Quebec but has become of the top food markets in the city. With local producers in the farmers market along with artisanal shops selling cheeses, pastries, desserts, and assorted meats it’s a foodie paradise and well worth heading outside of the city walls.
Where to Stay in Old Quebec City
For places to stay in Old Quebec, you have a lot of options. Staying here makes more sense too instead of finding accommodations outside of the city and commuting in every day. There are many old and historic hotels situated in the city. Of course, you can book a room at the Chateau Frontenac but it’s a little on the expensive side. Mid-rated hotels include the Hotel Clarendon and Hotel Manoir Vieux Québec.
If you want to have a little more rustic atmosphere, stay at the Auberge Place d’Armes, a very cute inn located right in the center of the historic district within easy walking distance to all the tourist sites listed above. It’s also popular for being one of the oldest in the city and has been restored with modern amenities while keeping its warmth and architecture.
Once you are done here perhaps take the train west to the neighboring city of Montreal for another travel adventure or keep going east and maybe explore New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Or you may want to take a day trip to Île d’Orléans. You will have an absolute delight spending time here. Old Quebec combines everything you can need as a traveler while still maintaining the charm and warmth we all feel when in Canada. It’s no wonder this is such a popular destination and will continue to be so.