For my friends on the East Coast, Quebec City is a popular destination. But for those of us on the West Coast, this city isn’t on our radar. When Californians think about Canada we imagine Vancouver, Victoria, and Whistler--all terrific destinations. However, Quebec offers something that those places do not, a city steeped in European charm, food and culture. Everywhere you turn there are historic and well preserved buildings, some dating back to the mid-1600’s. Everyone speaks fluent French and will greet you with “bonjour.” This is a part of the country that considers itself Quebecois first and Canadienne second.
Table of Contents
When To Visit Quebec City
When to visit Quebec City really depends on interests. I’ve written many times about my preference for traveling in non-peak seasons to benefit from lower prices and smaller crowds. My recent trip to Quebec City took place in early May (non-peak season) and I found it ideal, with the exception of the cool weather. June through August are better for people seeking warmer weather. The fall foliage season is at its peak in September and October, so this will definitely be the busiest time of the year in Quebec. Fall foliage cruises along the East Coast of the U.S. and Canada are very popular and highly rated.
Finally, while visiting in the winter will be seriously cold (below freezing is common), it also offers an opportunity to experience the popular winter carnival. The 2019 Carnaval de Quebec kicks off February 8 and lasts for two weeks. This event features parades, shows, winter sports and of course regional foods intended to keep revelers warm. During my recent trip I had the opportunity to experience some of the Carnaval activities and that definitely piqued my curiosity--I might just brave the cold and come back for this famous festival.
Where To Stay In Quebec City
I love it when I’m researching hotels in a city and have a difficult time selecting one because there are so many options. Quebec City has a wealth of classy hotels at a variety of price points. I opted for the Hotel Le Germain Quebec and would go back in a heartbeat. The combination of good service, lovely rooms and a great location made it an excellent choice for me. Like many European hotels, this one also included breakfast. Add in turn-down service, robes and slippers, and I’m ready to move-in. The only warning is that the Hotel Le Germain will require a steep uphill walk to the most popular site in the city, Chateau Le Frontenac. I told myself this was a great chance to walk off all the delicious food I ate.
The purpose of my visit to Quebec was for the Women in Travel Summit, so I had the opportunity to query several other women about their accommodations. As an alternative to hotels, there are hundreds of great AirBnB’s in this city, many in historic buildings. Parking in Old Quebec City is very limited, so for those considering an Airbnb, ask about the parking options if driving here or renting a car.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the opportunity to stay at Fairmont Le Chateau de Frontenac. Since most of our conference took place in this lovely venue I had ample opportunity to explore it. Many of my fellow conference guests stayed here and enjoyed the luxurious surroundings. Every room, window covering, light fixture, and piece of furniture is beautifully designed at the Chateau. As a five star hotel, this is an expensive option, but it would be a memorable stay.
Getting Around Quebec City
Describing this city as walkable may depend on your perspective. Quebec City was built as a fort on a cliff overlooking the St. Lawrence River, so many of the streets are steep. A day of walking around will definitely provide a good workout. However, walking provides visitors with surprises around every corner--an old church, convent, charming cafe, or maybe just colorful, historic buildings like the l'epicerie pictured above. This is also a remarkably safe city, so walking was a viable option for me both day and night.
What Quebec City does not offer is a subway or metro system. Instead there are only buses. While the buses are popular with locals, they aren’t often used by visitors. So many visitors, when tired of walking, opt for taxis and ubers. Personally, I never took a taxi since I found uber to be highly efficient and affordable in Quebec. In fact all of my uber rides for one week, including round trip from the airport, were a total of $85 US.
Where to Eat in Quebec City
I’ve written a long article about the food scene in Quebec which I hope any visitor will find helpful. For this article, I’ll focus specifically on where to eat in Quebec City for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
To start your day, Paillard Cafe is essential. The pastry case full of sweet treats was impressive, but I was determined to order their pain au chocolat. This light, flaky croissant was still warm and included a generous amount of soft chocolate. Since I was the only person ordering in English, this is definitely a local favorite. If Paillard is not an option, another breakfast choice would be La Maison Smith. Their croissants were not as good as Paillard, but their coffee is excellent and the location near my hotel in La Place Royale was charming.
For lunch I recommend Chez Ashton, a local fast food chain offering delicious poutine in very generous portions. As an alternative to fast food, Le Chic Shack, located across the street from Le Chateau de Frontenac, has delicious burgers, french fries and milkshakes.
Finally, for dinner--my favorite meal of the day since it comes with wine--I have several recommendations. First is Chez Boulay offering Nordic style cuisine made with local ingredients. Next is Buffet L’Antiquaire which has a menu loaded with Canadienne comfort foods. And last, but certainly not least, is Restaurant Legende where a group of nine women spent over three hours enjoying a highly unique and delicious feast.
Tours of Old Quebec City
Anytime I travel I take advantage of local tour companies as a way to learn about the area. Fortunately, there are many great tours of Old Quebec City and choosing one simply depends on personal preference. For my trip I selected three tours; food, beer and architecture.
The Quebec City food tour was provided by Tours Voir Quebec and included seven stops for sampling an array of delicious food including poutine, cod fritters, salmon, crepes, honey, maple syrup, and chocolate. Food tours are an excellent way to learn about the local cuisine, but they are also helpful in understanding the local history and culture.
The beer tour was provided by Broue Tours which took us on a tasting extravaganza to four breweries. The highlight for me was a visit to Noctem Artisans Brasseurs where we met the brewmaster and owner, Yann, and learned about the beers he crafts. Having recently visited Portland, Oregon, and learned about sour beers, I was delighted to try some different types of sours here in Quebec.
As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Old Quebec City is full of fabulous architecture that has been well maintained or carefully restored. Unfortunately the day of my architecture tour was cold, rainy and windy. I’ll admit to being so distracted by my shivering that I did not hear all that the guide had to say. However, our guide, Judith, of Tour Levis Quebec, was passionate about the history and architecture of her city, and despite the weather, I still learned a great deal. We covered many of the top sites including the Morrin Centre, Maison de la Litterature, and Notre Dame de Quebec.
As always, free walking tours are always a great option in cities where they are offered. Quebec City offers such a tour and according to TripAdvisor is highly rated.
What to do in Quebec City
Through a combination of three great tours I was able to see many of the best sites in Quebec and was given a wealth of great information. Later during my trip I went back to several places to explore more. The first place I returned was the Morrin Centre. If you are like me, and a fan of the murder mystery author, Louise Penny, then you know all about this place. For many years this was the central gathering place of the English community in Quebec City. Penny used this place as the centerpiece of her drama, including the unearthing of an old corpse. The primary reason to visit is the library which is reminiscent of scenes in Harry Potter.
For a great view of the city head to the ferry terminal and take the ferry across the river to Levis. I had limited time so we went to Levis and back to Quebec City right away, but the views were as advertised. This activity will take less than an hour, but the view from the deck of the river and city was marvelous.
I took plenty of time to explore Le Chateau de Frontenac and the surrounding Terrace Dufferin, a boardwalk in front of the hotel with view of the river. The public areas of Le Chateau are limited, but if time permits, consider grabbing a cocktail at the bar, 1608. Exploring this area both in daylight and at night is recommend.
Finally, I repeatedly enjoyed both Petit Champlain and La Place Royale--which are very close to one another. Yes, there are loads of tourists here taking selfies, but this is also the place where the city began, so the history packed into this small space is impressive. Petit Champlain is where the Funiculaire is located which is seen in many Quebec photos. On days that I couldn’t face the uphill climb to my conference, I paid my fare and enjoyed the view. This is worth doing at least once.
Visit Quebec City Soon
I’ve often heard Quebec City described as “Europe but Closer” or “Europe in North America.” I understand these descriptions, but I think they take away from the uniqueness of this city. The layers of history and culture that are infused throughout Quebec make it unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. The influence of the First Nations, French and English have impacted the cuisine, traditions, art and architecture. Add to that the pristine condition of Old Quebec due to its UNESCO status and the result is a very special place worthy of visiting.