14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Québec City
One of the most beautiful cities in North America, Québec City reigns as a focal point of French culture. The hilltop French-speaking city has a strong defensive position, set on a rocky spur with 100-meter cliffs and protected on two sides by rivers. In 1608, Samuel de Champlain established a small settlement at what is now Place Royale. Initially a center for fur trading, the infant colony soon became the thriving administrative center of French America. In September 1759, British General Wolfe led a force against Montcalm and the French. A bloody battle ensued on the Plains of Abraham, wherein both generals lost their lives and the British gained control of the city. As the capital of Québec Province, Québec City is an important commercial center. But it hasn't lost sight of the past. With its narrow streets, walled fortifications, and centuries-old buildings, Québec is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
See also: Where to Stay in Quebec City
1 Carnaval de Québec
Québec's winter carnival, Carnaval de Québec, is held amid the snow and ice of late January and early February. The festival covers a wide range of activities, both during the day and into the evening. Some traditional events at Carnaval de Québec include dogsled races, canoe races on the St. Lawrence River, skating, sledding, family oriented games, evening dancing, and parades.
2 Château Frontenac
The Canadian Pacific Railway built this iconic hotel in 1894, and it has endured as the historic city's most impressive landmark. Château Frontenac sits above Quartier Petit-Champlain and Basse-Ville, its wide Terrasse Dufferin providing excellent views of the St. Lawrence River.
This elevated vantage was the original site of Fort St.-Louis, and a historic site allows you to see the ruins underneath the promenade. Next to the hotel, the Jardins du Gouverneur honor Generals Montcalm and Wolfe.
Address: 1 Rue des Carrières, Québec City
3 Musee de la Civilisation
A museum comprised of three separate locations, Musee de la Civilisation delves into the many facets of human history and the establishment of French America. The main museum, near the Old Port, is a modern structure from architect Moshe Safdie. A second museum is on Place Royale, where Samuel de Champlain founded a fur-trading colony in 1608, and the third is in the hilltop seminary.
Address: 85 Rue Dalhousie, Québec City
Ramparts, thick walls, and ditches surround the star-shaped Citadel in Québec. It sits atop Cap Diamant, allowing wide views over the St. Lawrence River and surrounding region. The British completed the massive fortress in 1832, but continued to strengthen the defensive position until 1850. The complex encompasses a military museum, restored powder magazine, and the summer residence of Canada's Governor General. The 22nd Canadian Regiment is stationed at the Citadel and performs a summer Changing of the Guard ceremony.
Address: 1 Côte de la Citadelle, Québec City
5 Quartier Petit-Champlain
Once the bustling capital of New France, the narrow streets and low buildings of Quartier Petit-Champlain now house artisan boutiques, Québec-cuisine restaurants, and the odd souvenir shop. It is one of the most scenic areas of the city, and the pedestrian-only streets make it a lovely area to stroll.
6 Parliament Hill
The spaciously laid out district, immediately southwest of the old Upper Town, is the seat of Québec's provincial government. The Parliament, completed in 1877 but later extended, could have been modeled on any number of Parisian public buildings. The Salle de l'Assemblée Nationale (National Assembly) and Salle du Conseil Législatif (Legislative Council) are open to the public. Both are fine old chambers, sumptuously furnished. Tickets should be obtained in advance. Nearby, find the Grand Théâtre (a venue for plays, concerts, and symphony performances) as well as the large Palais des Congrès shopping and entertainment complex.
Address: 1045 Rue des Parlementaires, Québec City
7 Place Royale
It was at this spot, in 1608, that Samuel de Champlain founded a fur trading post that soon grew into the capital of French America. Historic buildings, most notably the petite church Notre-Dame des Victoires that dates to 1688, flank a cobbled square. There is also a branch of the Musee de la Civilisation at Place Royale.
8 Grande Allée
Beyond the city walls, Grand Allée forms the spine of the city. The district near Parliament Hill is of greatest interest to visitors. Here, a bevy of restaurants, patios, and entertainment venues bring local and visiting crowds. The street's grandiose 19th-century buildings were once home to the city's upper class. Other Québec City attractions on Grand Allée include the Grande Allée Drill Hall, Battlefields Park, and the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec.
9 Editor's Pick Québec-Levis Ferry
A ferry crosses the St. Lawrence River, providing a connection between Québec City and Levis. But the quick crossing is also a favorite opportunity to admire the city skyline, especially at night when lights illuminate Château Frontenac, the Price Building, and other historic structures.
The waterfront station is on the river in Lower Town, a short walk from Quartier Petit-Champlain and Place Royale.
Address: 1 Rue des Carrières, Québec City
10 Plains of Abraham
In 1759, the Plains of Abraham was the site of a fierce battle that decided the future of the city. British General Wolfe won Québec City from French General Montcalm. The battlefields lie west of the hilltop Citadel. Exhibits retell the tumultuous history of how Québec City resisted and then fell to the British. There are also two Martello Towers in the park. Louis Perron designed the park's pretty Joan of Arc Garden.
Address: 835 Ave Wilfrid-Laurier, Québec City
11 Observatoire de la Capitale
Atop the Marie-Guyart Building, this 360-degree observatory provides more than just a bird's-eye-view of the city from the 31st floor. Interactive exhibits introduce how Québec City developed and grew over the centuries. The panorama extends beyond the old walled city to Levis, the St. Lawrence, and Île d'Orléans.
Address: 1037 de la Chevrotière, Québec City
12 Basilica of Ste-Anne de Beaupre
Ste Anne is the patron saint of Québec and is credited with many miracles of healing the sick and disabled. Located northeast of Québec in Beaupre, this Catholic basilica is a destination for a half-million pilgrims each year. The present-day church dates to 1926, but the first chapel was built here in the 17th century.
13 Ile d'Orleans
A few kilometers downstream from Québec, Île d'Orléans splits the St. Lawrence waterway into two. Only nine kilometers wide, the island has kept its rural character almost intact. Despite a recent influx of prosperous Québécois in search of their own small haven of peace, life on the island still evokes something of the pioneering spirit of the earliest colonists of New France.
There are six delightful villages on Île d'Orléans well worth visiting, including the oldest European settlement Ste-Famille.
14 Pont de Québec
Spanning the St. Lawrence River at a slight narrows, the massive iron frame of the Pont de Québec became familiar to the world even before its completion. During construction, between 1899 and 1917, two serious accidents occurred in which more than 80 workmen lost their lives.
The Pierre Laporte Bridge twins the Pont de Québec. It is named for one of Québec's former Vice-Premier's, Pierre Laporte, who was killed during the famous October Crisis. At the time it was built, in 1970, it was the longest suspension bridge in Canada with a span of 1,040 meters.
Where to Stay in Quebec City for Sightseeing
Most handy to the tourist attractions are hotels in Old Quebec, between the Chateau Frontenac and the Citadel or in the lower Basse-Ville along the river. Shops, restaurants, cafés, and historic sights are concentrated in this fairly compact area, with a funicular to save climbing the steep hill that separates the upper and lower neighborhoods. Here are some highly-rated hotels in Quebec's Old Town:
- Luxury Hotels: A Quebec landmark at the epicenter of the Old Town and a prime tourist attraction itself, Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac has a rich history, along with elegant public rooms and magnificent views. Almost directly below in the riverside Basse-Ville, Auberge Saint-Antoine displays historic artifacts in its stunning public areas and guest rooms, so it's like staying in a museum. Right next to the Parliament Building and gates to the Old Town, Hilton Quebec has an indoor/outdoor pool, spectacular views, and is a short walk from all the main attractions.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Art Deco elegance and style mark the Hotel Manoir Victoria, which also offers a pool and a superb restaurant in the pedestrianized zone of quaint streets and boutiques. In the historic Basse-Ville, Le Saint-Pierre Auberge Distinctive is a few steps from the Museum of Civilization. Near Parliament and the best shopping streets, right by the Old Town walls, Quebec City Marriott Downtown has a good fitness center.
- Budget Hotels: Maison du Fort is one of a row of historic stone homes along Rue St. Genevieve that have been converted into small hotels. In the same neighborhood, on a picturesque street near the Citadel, Chateau Fleur de Lys - L'HOTEL gives guests warm personal attention. Only a block from the Citadel, Le Chateau de Pierre is in another converted stone house.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Quebec City
Sightseeing by Bus: If you want to see some of the city's top attractions in a short amount of time, the Quebec City Sightseeing Tour is a great option. This two-hour excursion in a comfortable motorcoach takes you around the city's top sites, such as Old Québec, the Plains of Abraham, and Place Royale. Along the way, you'll hear stories about the city's culture and history from an experienced guide.
Walking Tour: Exploring on foot is a great way to soak up the European feel of Old Québec City. The Quebec City Walking Tour takes you down the narrow streets of the Upper and Lower Town to see historic attractions such as the Fortifications of Québec, Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church, and the Citadelle of Québec. As you stroll down the narrow streets, the experienced guide will share fascinating stories about the city's past.
Whale Watching Tour: To escape the hustle and bustle and experience the wild side of Quebec City, hop aboard a Full-Day Whale Watching Cruise. This exhilarating tour travels along the St. Lawrence River to Baie-Sainte-Catherine, where you can board either a small zodiac boat or a three-level observation boat, with a certified naturalist, and cruise the waters for three hours in search of seals, whales, and belugas.