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Top things to do in Quebec City: a traveller’s guide

Learn about the history, language, and best time to visit Quebec in our travel guide below. Looking for things to do in Quebec City? We’ve gathered some amazing experiences that are not to be missed.

Please note: It’s important to keep up to date with the latest global health information due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As the world slowly opens up again, make sure to respect the local guidelines put in place for your own safety as well as the health and safety of others.

History of Quebec City

Quebec City is a travel destination just waiting to be explored. Sitting on the St-Lawrence River, the capital of the province of Quebec offers must-see attractions from the Chateau Frontenac to the Citadelle of Québec, beautiful natural experiences just outside the city, and a unique perspective into Canadian history and culture. The first European to land on the shores of Quebec City was French explorer Jacques Cartier in the 1500s, followed by Samuel de Champlain, who eventually ‘founded’ the city in 1608.

What does the word Quebec mean?

The term Quebec comes from the Algonquin word ‘kebec’, which means ‘where the river narrows’. The Algonquin people are an Indigenous tribe originally from southern Quebec, eastern Ontario, and parts of Maine.

Note that the city is often referred to as just ‘Quebec’, but this really means Quebec the province, not Quebec the city. It’s best to avoid using ‘Quebec’ in reference to only Quebec City to avoid the confusion. The entire province of Québec has a population of over 8 million people and is the largest province in Canada.

view of Chateau Frontenac

Language in Quebec

While you will find some English spoken in the main tourist areas, most Quebec City residents speak French as their first language, otherwise known as being francophone. While Canada is officially a bilingual country (French and English), Quebec is a unilingual province; the official language of Quebec is French.

Best time to visit

The best time for visiting Quebec City if you’re looking for ideal weather is between the months of June through September, and December through February. The late spring and summer months are when the patios of restaurants in Vieux-Québec come alive with locals and tourists alike taking in the beautiful old city vibes and some delicious food and drink along the way. The winter months mark festival time in Quebec City, with Carnaval as the highlight in February. See the beloved Bonhomme Carnaval, drink some local ice wine or hot chocolate, and get on Quebec time (just be sure to bundle up!).

people outside of a snow sculpture castle in quebec city during a winter festival
Winter carnival time in Quebec

Top things to do in Quebec City

With a mix of outdoor experiences from skiing in the winter to waterfalls and hikes in the summer, world-class gastronomy, festivals, and captivating culture to boot, there are so many reasons why Quebec City is a great addition to any travel bucket list. Many of Quebec City’s top sights are in the city centre known as ‘Old Quebec’ or ‘Vieux-Québec’, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can easily spend a few days at the attractions here before heading to explore some natural wonders. Wondering how you can make the most of your trip? Here’s our list of 12 unmissable things to do in Quebec City.

1. Walk the streets of Quartier Petit Champlain

This experience is probably one of the most popular things to do in Quebec City. Wander the cobbled streets here and you’ll instantly see why Quebec City is often labelled a very ‘European’ city in Canada. The Quartier Petit Champlain is home to indie boutique shops, galleries, and restaurants with such picturesque storefronts that you’ll never want to leave. Don’t miss the famous Breakneck Stairs (don’t worry – they are safe!) which is 59 steep stairs that were originally constructed in 1635. The restaurants along this charming quarter of Quebec City won’t be cheap but the food will be quality, and it’s worth the splurge.

2. Hop on the Quebec City-Lévis Ferry

Go on a mini-adventure and get some of the best views of Quebec City along the way. The highly accessible (and cheap!) Quebec City-Lévis Ferry takes passengers year-round between Old Quebec and the nearby town of Lévis along the south shores of the St. Lawrence River. The journey is only 12 minutes and this popular activity for tourists and locals alike. Book your trip at night to enjoy the views of the Chateau Frontenac and other Old Quebec attractions lit up in the distance. Crossings happen throughout the day from early morning until late at night. Check the ferry schedule here.

view of the Chateau Frontenac on the Levis Ferry in Quebec City

3. Spend the afternoon at Montmorency Falls

Did you know that one of the largest waterfalls in Canada is just a short drive away from Quebec City? The Montmorency Falls is a large waterfall on the Montmorency River. This is a great thing to do in Quebec City any time of year! The falls are part of the Parc de la Chute Montmorency (Montmorency Falls Park), and travellers can access the park by car, bike, or public transit from Quebec City. There’s a small fee to enter the park, and extra for the zipline and cable car. You can also walk the suspension bridge above the falls or admire them from the viewing platform at the base.

4. Visit the Musée de la civilisation à Québec

A popular attraction in Old Quebec is the Musée de la civilisation à Québec. Complete with eight rotating exhibitions, this popular museum showcases the culture and history of Quebec City and its growth into the city it is today in a unique setting. The kids will love the museum’s Discovery Zone and their interactive exhibits. The Musée de la civilisation is set to reopen on June 20th, according to their website.

5. Explore the Citadelle of Québec

Immerse yourself in history during your trip inside the fortress La Citadelle de Québec. This popular thing to do in Quebec City is a National Historic Site and is actually one of Canada’s first heritage conservation projects. The Citadelle is still an active military base today and was built by British troops in the 1800s, back when Quebec City was the main port of call in Canada. Come here during the summer months when they typically have a daily changing of the guard’s ceremony.

view across the river on Montmorency Falls, a popular attraction near Quebec City
Montmorency Falls

6. Take the kids to the Aquarium du Québec

Looking for things to do in Quebec City with the kids? The Aquarium du Québec is the place to entertain kids of all ages. Here you can find over 10,000 marine animals, including the aquarium’s two polar bears, Taiga and Eddy! Beyond the beautiful animals, there is plenty to do here to keep the kids happy. There are water games in the aquarium’s outdoor area in summer, a Tree-to-Tree circuit, and kid-friendly events throughout the year on special occasions like Halloween and March Break. Bring your CAA card and you’ll get a 10% discount on admission.

7. Go skiing

While western Canada and the Rocky Mountains are a ski-lovers dream, plenty of downhill skiing options can be found in the province of Quebec. If you’re looking for things to do near Quebec City in winter, there are plenty of ski resorts just a short drive away. Head to Mont Sainte-Anne, Le Relais, Stoneham, and Le Massif, home to the highest ski slopes in Quebec.

8. Do activities galore at the renovated Méga Parc

Located within Les Galeries de la Capitale, this recently revamped Méga Parc is the largest indoor amusement park in eastern Canada. This popular Quebec City attraction is complete with 18 rides, the largest indoor skating rink in Canada, and even the first spokeless Ferris Wheel in Canada! Take the kids here for the day and they’ll never want to leave.

tourists walking along a commercial street in Old Quebec in winter

9. Go to the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Québec

What was once known as ‘New France’, the recent history of Quebec City is steeped with Roman Catholic spirituality and this is showcased in the many churches scattered across the city. If you’re looking to experience a church on your trip to Quebec City, head to the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Québec, which is the oldest in the Americas north of the Spanish colonies in Florida and New Mexico. You can easily walk here from other popular Quebec City sites like the Quartier Petit Champlain and the Chateau Frontenac.

10. Drink wine and eat your heart out in Île d’Orléans

Just 5 kilometres east of Quebec City is the beautiful Île d’Orléans, which is actually one of the earliest settlement areas for the first French inhabitants of Quebec. This area provides the perfect recluse from the downtown area, where you can indulge in one of the sweeter sides of Quebecois culture. Île d’Orléans is a booming wine region and a centre for agritourism, so foodies, be warned! You’ll find some of the best Quebec foods here. Head to a vineyard, sample local cheese, homemade jams, maple syrup, and eat chocolate brioche at a quaint little boulangerie. Île d’Orléans is also a perfect place to drive to during the fall months if you want to experience the fall colours. What more could you want?

the fall colours by sunset in Ile d'Orleans, Quebec
Guide to Quebec City: foliage in Ile d’Orleans

11. Have a cocktail at the Chateau Frontenac

You might recognize this Quebec City attraction from Instagram. Perfectly placed right by the river in the heart of Old Quebec, Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac is the most photographed hotel in the world for good reason, and is definitely one of the top things to do in Quebec City. Head to the 1608 Wine & Cheese bar and treat yourself to some fine dining on the actual site where the city was discovered.

12. Go local in Saint-Roch

Looking for something different to do on your trip? Spend the day exploring the area of Saint-Roch. Saint-Roch is probably the hippest neighbourhood in Quebec City. Filled with funky arts cooperatives, boutique shopping, street performances in the summer and some of the best farm-to-table, inventive cuisines, this part of the ciyy will definitely impress you!

Looking for more top things to do in Quebec City? Try a food tour and sample some unique Quebecois delights during your trip.

Where to stay in Quebec City

Here are our top picks for hotel stays in Québec City for every budget. Take a look and see which one is right for you!

hotel in Quebec City

For the luxury traveller: If you’re truly looking to go all out on your trip, then splurge at the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac. With a spa, pool, business centre, restaurants and shops on-site, airport shuttle, and other transport services, this top hotel in Quebec City has everything.

For the mid-range budget: Auberge Place d’Armes. Great for couples, this ideally placed Quebec City hotel has stylish decor, is pet-friendly, and offers plenty of amenities like free WiFi, a restaurant on-site, a business centre, and express check-in/check-out.

For the budget traveller: The Auberge Jeunesse à Loulou is the best-rated hostel stay in Quebec City complete with great vibes and super clean facilities. Situated across the river in Lévis, this hostel is close to public transportation so you can easily access the best of the city.

Getting in and out

The Quebec City Airport (YQB) is about 11 kilometres from the city centre. There are direct flights from Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and more. Quebec City is only a 3-hour drive from Montreal, so it makes for an easy road trip.

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