The capital city of Canada’s Quebec province, Quebec City is a beautiful destination that is filled with history, culture and magnificent architecture. The area surrounding the city is also spectacular, overlooking the St. Lawrence River with the Laurentian Mountains in the background to the north.
Quebec City has always been one of Canada’s top tourist destinations, what with its Old Town, Parisian-like charm and great festivals. It is a place for romance, families and solo travellers, with something to offer everyone. It is a fantastic city, with loads to do, however these are the 15 best things to do in Quebec.
1. Go back in time
Old Quebec is home to North America’s only remaining fortified city walls. It is also home to the oldest military building in Canada; La Citadelle.
This historic neighbourhood was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. It is split into two areas; Upper Town and Lower Town.
Upper Town is the main tourist area, home to the famous Château Frontenac, Hotel-Dieu de Québec, the Séminaire de Québec and the Ursulines Convent. Lower Town is where you will find Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, Place de Paris and Gare du Palais.
2. Wander around a prison
The 200 year old Morrin Centre was Quebec City’s first ever prison. Today it is a museum and a learning centre, and is home to the city’s only English library.
The Morrin Centre is a National Historic Site of Canada, as it dates back to 1712. The former prison was once home to the city’s first Anglophone institute of higher education, while today it houses the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec.
Take a tour of the buildings and explore the jail cells, including those used for inmates on death row and in isolation. You will also be taken to the chemistry lab of the historic college and will learn about the charming Victorian library.
3. Relax in a park
But not just any park; the Battlefields Park. This historic park is home to the Plains of Abraham, which is where the Battle of the Plains of Abraham took place.
Battlefields Park is home to around 50 historical artillery pieces, including the four Martello towers. These towers were built by the British to stop Americans from entering the old city walls.
Today, the Plains of Abraham is used as the park’s main exhibition area, where festivals, outdoor concerts and sports events take place. It is also just a nice place to relax.
4. Visit parliament
The eight-storey Parliament Building is a stunning building that dates back to 1877. The Second Empire architectural style building features a frontal tower that stands at 52 metres tall.
The Parliament Building sits on Parliament Hill, just outside of the old city walls. There are some lovely sculptures of important people in Quebec’s history in front of the building and around its lovely gardens.
Free guided tours are available that detail the history of Quebec’s government and of the building itself. You can also wander around the beautiful gardens.
5. Go to church
Sitting just east of the city along the Saint Lawrence River is the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, a beautiful Romanesque revival basilica. When the church was first built it was done so to honour Saint Anne.
Today, the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré is an important Catholic church that is visited by millions of pilgrims each year. Because of this, it has been designated as a Patrimoine culturel du Québec.
The basilica is said to cure the sick and disabled. Whether or not that is true is something that you can find out for yourself. Or you can just go to see the shrine of Saint Anne and to admire the architecture, frescoes and hand-made copper doors.
6. Explore one of North America’s oldest communities
The narrow streets, steps and postcard village feeling makes the Petit-Champlain district stand out amongst the rest. It also happens to be one of North America’s oldest commercial enclaves.
Explore the neighbourhood and all of its glory. Small boutiques shops and bistros line the cobblestone streets, most of which are housed in refurbished historic buildings. It is a romantic neighbourhood, with a European charm.
Petit-Champlain sits at the bottom of Cap Diamant. The Breakneck Stairs is one of its key landmarks, which is the oldest staircase in the city.
7. Snap photos of a waterfall
Montmorency Falls sits around 12 kilometres outside of Quebec City. The 84 metre high waterfall is one of the city’s top attractions, even though it isn’t actually in the city proper.
The falls are the largest in all of Quebec, dropping over a cliff into the Saint Lawrence River. There are several staircases surrounding the falls where you can take photos and admire the beauty of it.
In the summer, the falls let off a yellow glow as a result of the high iron content. As well, the summer is a great time to visit due to the fireworks competition that takes place right in front of it, which is truly spectacular.
8. Walk around a castle
Although Château Frontenac is within Old Quebec, it is also an attraction in its own right. In fact, the magnificent castle is the world’s most photographed hotel.
The 611 room hotel was designed by American architect Bruce Price and opened its doors in 1893. In 1980, it was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada.
You don’t have to be a guest of the hotel to enjoy its splendour. Anyone can dine in one of its elegant restaurants or sip a glass of wine in its bar. It also has a fantastic spa. You can also just admire the building from the outside, which is particularly beautiful when it is lit up at night.
9. Look at marine life
The 16-hecatre Aquarium du Québec is home to over 10,000 animals of 300 species. The aquarium first opened in 1953 as a marine biology centre, but today it is a public aquarium with gardens, pools and several exhibits.
The Aquarium du Québec has both indoor and outdoor areas, each of which is separated into different exhibits. There are four areas indoors; Awesome Ocean and its 350,000 litre water tank, Discover the Coastal Zone, Fresh & Salt Water and Scientific Crossroads.
The outdoor area of the aquarium has three sections, with The Arctic Sector being the most popular. Here, you can see seals, polar bears and walruses both above the water and in it through an underwater glass view.
10. Enjoy a festival
There are three famous festivals that take place in Quebec City each year; Winter Carnival, Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day and the Quebec City Summer Festival. There are also others, but these are the biggest and most popular.
Winter Carnival takes place in February and is best known for its International Ice Sculpture Competition. Close to one million people come to the festival each year, making it one of the world’s largest winter festivals.
Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day is celebrated on June 23rd and 24th to celebrate French Canadian culture. Around one week later is the Quebec City Summer Festival, which is a music festival that attracts millions each year, with past musicians performing that include Peter Gabriel, Snoop Dogg, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Queens of the Stone Age and Sting.
11. Go skiing
If you are visiting Quebec in the winter, there is no excuse for not going skiing. Mont-Sainte-Anne is just 40 kilometres northeast of the city, boasting 71 different trails.
The ski resort has trails on three sides of the mountain, 19 of which are open for night skiing. Runs range from easy to extreme, and are great for skiing and snowboarding.
If skiing is not your thing, you can go sledding, ice skating, snowshoeing, tubing or even dog sledding. Mont-Sainte-Anne also happens to be Canada’s largest cross-country ski centre.
12. Gaze at art
There are over 35,000 works of art at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec (National Museum of Fine Arts of Quebec), most of which are made by Quebec artists. Some artwork displayed at the gallery dates all the way back to the 18th century.
The museum was established in 1933 and is located on the Plains of Abraham. Since then, the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec has hosted numerous exhibits, including Treasures of Tutankhamun, Rodin in Québec and Le Louvre in Québec.
Wander around the museum and gaze at the artwork within it. Get more in-depth information by going on a guided tour, or take it one step further and join a workshop.
13. Walk along a famous street
The Grande Allée is one of the city’s most famous streets; running parallel to the Saint Lawrence River. It is a lovely street that is lined with restaurants, stunning architecture and the Parc de la Francophonie.
This street was once the only one in Quebec City and was used by fur traders that lived outside of the city, which is today Old Quebec. It runs from east to west, linking the old town with the Cap-Rouge district in the west.
Some notable buildings found on the Grande Allée include House of Louis St-Laurent, Henry-Stuart House and Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec.
14. Ride a ferry
Jump on a ferry and ride across the Saint Lawrence river from Quebec City to Levis. The ferry accommodates passengers, bicycles and even cars.
Crossing the river is not the main draw of this ferry ride; the spectacular scenery is. Some fantastic views of Old Quebec and Cap-Diamant can be seen when taking this journey.
There are restaurants, bars and concert halls on either side of the river near the piers. In the summertime, take a bicycle across to ride along the marked path at Parcours des Anses.
15. Enjoy the views
The observatory on the 31st floor of the Marie-Guyart Building is by far the best place to enjoy views of the city. The 360-degree observatory even offers views stretching as far as Levis, Île d’Orléans and the surrounding countryside
The skyscraper is an office tower, though the 31st floor is open to the public. Here, views of the city and beyond can be seen from 221 metres above sea level.
Observatoire de la Capitale, as it is called, features large floor-to-ceiling windows around the entire building, giving you a view from all angles. It is the highest building in Quebec City, towering over Parliament Hill.