11/16/2023     by Guest Contributor

Three Days in Québec City

One of the oldest European settlements in North America, Québec City boasts Old-World charm, magnificent landscapes and modern enticements in equal measure. Québec City has year-round charm, but the weather is best from late spring through early autumn, allowing maximum opportunity to explore outdoors. Read on to find out where to dine, stay and wander over a long weekend.


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Rue du Petit-Champlain


Set dramatically on a cliff overlooking the rushing St. Lawrence River, Québec City feels like it’s been plucked straight from Old-World France. It was founded by Gallic explorer Samuel de Champlain in 1608, and the fortified historic center still retains its vast ramparts and photogenic stone architecture, lending a fairytale air to its narrow, cobbled streets.

Exploring those streets is exactly what’s called for on the first day here — soaking up the split-level historic core and all its storybook atmosphere. Begin in the Lower Town, navigating the enticing maze of cafes, craft boutiques and galleries (multilocation Beauchamp features work by local artists, for example). Place Royale, fronted by 17th-century Notre-Dames-des-Victoires, is particularly picturesque, as is Rue du Petit-Champlain; don’t miss confectionery store La Petite Cabane à Sucre on the latter for its glut of maple-flavored delights.

At the northern end of Rue du Petit-Champlain, the city’s oldest stairway — the ominously named Breakneck Stairs, built in 1635 — connects the Lower Town with the Upper. But if tackling its 59 steps sounds daunting, simply hop on the nearby funicular; the zoom upward deposits visitors onto broad wooden boardwalk Dufferin Terrace, flecked with striped kiosks and affording sweeping views over the St. Lawrence River. Directly adjacent, the palatial figure of landmark hotel Fairmont Le Château Frontenac — which has hosted the likes of Queen Elizabeth II, Paul McCartney and Celine Dion — sweeps up into the sky. Pop in for a regal afternoon tea or an aperitif with a view in 1608 Bar. Or simply continue exploring Upper Town, taking in scenic Rue Saint-Louis and the magnificent basilica. Come dinner time, the Upper Town is bursting with atmospheric French restaurants. Truffle-laced dishes and a sublime Burgundy and Bordeaux-heavy wine list are wheeled out by dapper waiters at celebrated staple Le Saint-Amour.


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La Citadelle de Québec


After a fortifying croissant at Paillard on Rue Saint-Jean, it’s time to tackle another of the city’s legendary fortifications: La Citadelle de Québec. From the outside, its star-shaped figure at the cusp of the old town is imposing, but on a guided tour the space opens up to rolling lawns, military buildings and epic views of the river and city. Delve into the complex history of the British-built structure, still an active garrison of the Royal 22nd Regiment, and witness the elaborate Changing of the Guard ceremony that takes place every day at 10 a.m. (summer only).

Directly to the west of the Citadelle, the Plains of Abraham — site of the pivotal French-English Seven Years’ War battle in 1759 — is now a rambling park and forest area. Marked history trails lay out the timeline and crucial locations of the battle, perfect for a scenic walk on warmer days. If the weather isn’t agreeable, a dedicated Plains of Abraham Museum showcases uniforms, maps and period artifacts at the edge of the park.

Québec City has plenty of other excellent museums — the Naval Museum in the old port details Canada’s military history on water; the National Museum of Fine Arts showcases epic painting and sculpture. But the Museum of Civilization is truly unique, showcasing the cultural, economic and social history of Québec from its 17th-century founding through the 1960s Quiet Revolution into the present day. Continue the distinct Quebecois flavor by enjoying dinner at Aux Anciens Canadiens, set in what’s said to be the oldest house in the city. Dishes range from poutine (cheese, fries and gravy) to tourtière (French-Canadian meat pie) and sticky maple syrup tart.


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Montmorency Falls


Enjoy a morning excursion outside the city, heading into the lush wilderness that the province of Québec is known for. Only 15 minutes’ drive from the center, Montmorency Falls gushes over a rock face to a waterway 262 feet below. A visitor center affords a postcard-perfect view from afar, though the hike up a 487-step staircase provides a closer look (as well as a workout).

Afterward, carry on toward bucolic Île d’Orléans, a 21-mile-long island cast into the center of the St. Lawrence River. Dotted with farmhouses selling locally made cider, wine and cassis, it’s a favorite stop for gourmands. The chocolaterie on the southwestern tip of the island is especially popular; order a soft-serve ice cream dipped in dark chocolate.

Back in the city, foodies can find more treats at Le Grand Marché de Québec, a vast hall stuffed with everything from local cheeses to seasonal fruits. Or, alternatively, sign up for an indulgence of a different kind. In the old town, Strøm Nordic Spa has thermal pools overlooking the St. Lawrence River and a range of massage and facial treatments that are perfect for a low-key pampering afternoon.

As evening falls, catch a show in the historic environs of the Théâtre Capitole, with its opulent frescoed ceiling reminiscent of a Parisian opera house. Then, the fusion of Québec produce and Asian flavors next door at Bo Cuisine d’Asie awaits for a buzzy late-night feast. It’s a deliciously contemporary finish to a stay in Canada’s historic city gem.


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