Last Updated on February 19, 2021
Enjoying the sounds of surrounding French chatter, we considered dipping in to another creperie when the sound of clicking of hooves on the cobblestone street distracts us and we swivel around to get a shot of the horse-drawn carriage as it comes into sight. The symphony of sounds on the streets are so classically French it is hard to believe we are actually in Canada. But this is indeed Canada – we are spending 24 hours in Quebec City during our Great American / Canadian road trip, and we want to make every minute count.
While a city 400 years old might not be much in Europe, it makes Quebec City just about the oldest city in North America. The French influence here is as much in the architecture as the language, with the gray brick houses that line the streets harking back to a village in Normandy.
To remind ourselves that we are indeed in Canada, we stop for the classic (French) Canadian dish, Poutine, at Chez Ashton, and make sure ours is loaded with cheese curds and gravy from the best poutine makers in town.
After the quick carb overload, we walk it off with a hike up to Parliament, passing through the only intact city walls north of Mexico. The Parliament building itself is a testament to the French settlers who founded Quebec in 1608, and several snap-happy tourists (yes, us included) line up to take pictures of the intricate sculptures and frescoes on the building.
From here we walk over to La Citadelle, the city’s former fort which protected Quebec from the Americans in the 19th century (Quebec was actually taken at that time by the British). Today, looking out here over the views of the mighty St. Lawrence river, the imposing canons placed all around the fort remind the relaxing teens and tourists of a time when Canada was at odds with its neighbor to the south. If you happen to be in Quebec between June and September, make sure to get to the Citadelle just before 10a.m. to witness the traditional changing of the guard ceremony in the capital of French-speaking Canada.
Château Frontenac might make it on every ‘Must-See List’ written on Quebec, but witnessing the building close up, it is impossible to consider it any other way. Towering over all the buildings of Quebec and visible from far out of town, the castle hotel is the center point of Quebec’s skyline and featured on every postcard of the city. The hotel makes for a great stop to indulge in a glass of champagne and to take in the views over the city. If you have only 24 hours in Quebec and you’re trying to pack in as much as we did, there isn’t much time for a break, but this one is well worth it.
Next stop is the Terrace Dufferin, a large boardwalk promenade high over the river, as we leave Haute-Ville, the Upper Town, and make our way down the hill to Place Royale in ‘Basse-Ville’, the Lower Town. Some take the 2 minute, $2 ride down the steep hill in the Funiculaire du Vieux-Québec, but we prefer snake through alleyways and scale staircases on foot down to Place Royale. The story goes that Place Royale is the actual square where French explorer Samuel de Champlain began the settlement of Quebec.
In the calm before the storm we are touched at how charming this area of Quebec is, until we are suddenly constricted within these narrow alleyways, surrounded by masses of cruise ship passengers in full on group-think mode who pass by in waves, following their tour guide from place to place. The city is definitely sweeter earlier in the morning and after dark, when many of the big tour groups have left the city.
Although the Place Royale is probably the most picturesque part of the town, this army of determined tourists is hard on our exploratory spirit, and we take a seat at a typically French cafe to rest. I couldn’t be happier with my French style Café au Lait, and Jess loved her super strong espresso shot.
Back up to the Haute-Ville again for dinner, we scope out several locals’ eateries on Rue Saint-Jean towards the university, far away from the overpriced tourist traps around Place Royale. As we poke our heads in and out of shops on this road, we are now reminded of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile rather than France.
After powering up on veggie sushi (what could be more French, after all, than sushi) we just make it over to the free outdoor Cirque de Soleil show, held under an unusued underpass in the center of town. Called Les Chemins Invisibles, the quality of this free show is top standard Cirque de Soleil at its best.
The perfect way to end a perfect day in Quebec City…
Travel Tips for Quebec in the summer
The Cirque du Soleil show: Les Chemins Invisibles
As we mentioned, we couldn’t get enough of this one hour show, so if you do visit Quebec during the summer months, you can visit the free Cirque du Soleil show Les Chemins invisibles (Invisible Paths). This urban renewal project was created for the city’s 400th anniversary celebrations in 2008, but has been maintained ever since due to its extraordinary popularity.
The Summer Festival
During Quebec’s summer festival at the beginning of July, hundreds of musical acts at various indoor and outdoor venues play to over 1 million visitors, making it the largest festival in Canada.
Travel Tips for Quebec in the winter
The Ice Hotel
Quebec City is home to one of only two ice hotels in the world. From January to March visitors are able to stay in beds completely made of ice and quipped with deer furs and Arctic sleeping bags. Even if you don’t dare spend the night, stop in for a visit, and make sure to grab and ice-cold drink in a glass made of ice!
The Winter Carnival
Held every year in February, the winter carnival is a big outdoor festival in the Plains of Abraham, where you can pursue winter activities such as skiing or snow rafting, ride in snow sled-slides, see some fantastic ice sculptures and outdoor shows or ice skate on the giant ice rink.
Where to stay in Quebec
These are some of the best rated budget mid-range and luxury hotels in Quebec City.
Budget hotels in Quebec
- Petit Hôtel – Café Krieghoff – Charming little boutique hotel in the heart of Quebec (on L’Avenue Cartier). Double rooms start at around US$60 per night.
- La vie est belle – Modern apartment with a rooftop terrace (and great city views), a gym and free parking. About 1.3 miles from the center of Quebec / Quebec Old Town. The apartment starts at US$63 per night.
- Place des Arts – Artsy 1-bedroom apartment with a living room, a fully equipped kitchenette and bedroom. About 1.5 miles from the center of Quebec / Quebec Old Town. The apartment starts at US$61 per night.
- Grande Allée Lofts – The lofts are in a beautiful, renovated historic home and all feature a fully equipped kitchenette, living room and dining area. Lofts have dishwashers and washing machines. The lofts start at US$81 per night.
The best mid-range hotels in Quebec
- Les Lofts St-Pierre by Les Lofts Vieux-Québec – beautiful modern loft in a great location. The lofts are equipped with a kitchen, dish washer, coffee maker, a seating area with a sofa, and a flatscreen TV. Lofts start at US$85 a night.
- Les Lofts 1048 – Stunning airy lofts in Old Quebec. The lofts have open kitchen / lounge areas, separate bedrooms and a rooftop terrace with fantastic views. Lofts start at US$118 per night.
- Hotel le Priori – Small hotel in the heart of Quebec. Gorgeous rooms with exposed brick walls in a building from 1734. Double rooms start at around US$120 per night, breakfast included.
- Hôtel des Coutellier – Charming hotel right by the Old City. The hotel has a fitness center, and every room has a flatscreen TV, air conditioning, coffee machine and a minibar. Rooms start at US$123 per night, including breakfast.
The best luxury hotel in Quebec
Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac – The most famous and hotel in Quebec is the fairy tale castle that is the iconic Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac. The hotel right in the heart of Old Quebec has fabulous European-style rooms, a spa and an indoor swimming pool. Double rooms start at US$198 per night.
Have you been to Quebec City? We would love you to share other must-see or must-do tips in the comments below.