The best things to do in Quebec City embrace the French-Canadian joie de vivre. When it comes to fine food, breathtaking historic architecture, and unbridled charm, Quebec City has it all in spades.
At times, wandering through the streets of this graceful French-Canadian city feels vaguely reminiscent of a European capital, yet with a distinctly North American flair. From its cathedrals and mansions to the unmistakable Château Frontenac, this city on the St. Lawrence River cuts an impressive figure.
Here are some of the very best things to do in Quebec City.
Have Afternoon Tea at Le Château Frontenac
The undisputed grande dame in town is Le Château Frontenac, a designated National Historic Site of Canada located right in the heart of Old Quebec City.
Built in the late 19th century as one of the country’s grand railway hotels, it commands a spectacular view of the Saint Lawrence River and exudes an architectural majesty inspired by the chateaux in France’s Loire Valley.
Even if you’re not staying there, this is one hotel worth visiting for the history alone. One of the best ways to take in the ambiance is at Afternoon Tea.
This daily ritual consists of the traditional tower of warm scones with house-made jam and Devonshire cream, crustless sandwiches, savory amuse-bouches, and dainty desserts, plus the requisite pot of perfectly steeped loose-leaf tea. You could even add a glass of champagne.
Note that advance reservations are essential, and while a dress code isn’t as strictly enforced these days as it was in the past, part of the fun is getting dressed up.
Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth
Quebec produces a whopping 72 percent of the world’s maple syrup, and 90 percent of Canada’s. It should be no surprise then that the Quebecois are obsessed with the sweet stuff, which lends an incredible depth of flavor to desserts here.
Maple taffy, or ire sur la neige, is a seasonal, sugary candy the color of fossilized amber, while pouding au chômeur, or “poor man’s pudding,” is a multilayered dessert rich with maple syrup that has its roots in Depression era-cookery.
When thrifty French-Canadian housewives didn’t have any eggs, they invented this simple white sponge cake soaked in caramelized maple syrup.
One of the simplest and best ways to enjoy it is on French-Canadian crêpes, which have a golden hue from an egg-rich batter and slightly lacy edges from the copious amounts of butter in which they’re fried.
Often, they’re made with buckwheat flour, which gives them a slightly earthy flavor. Thinner than American-style pancakes and ever-so-slightly thicker than their traditional French crêpe, they’re such a superb vehicle for maple syrup that after trying them, you may never be able to go back.
L’Épicurien is legendary for its crêpes—order the classic with sirop d’érable (maple syrup) or opt for the more elaborate Tatin, with sautéed apples, salted butter-caramel, almonds, and whipped cream.
Finally, the ultimate Quebecois treat is a slice of tarte au sucre, literally a “sugar tart.” Although the filling contains little more than maple syrup, cream, butter, and eggs, the short ingredient list belies this dessert’s incredible complexity.
For an absolutely classic rendition, order it at the Cochon Dingue, a textbook French-Canadian brasserie.
Shop ‘Til You Drop at the Quartier Petit Champlain
Whether you’re hunting for souvenirs for yourself or gifts for someone special back home, the Quartier Petit Champlain is the place to prowl.
Shopping in this glamorous setting is a true experience, as well as an excellent opportunity to source one-of-a-kind local crafts and fashions.
Start at Amimoc, a boutique store with the largest array of hand-stitched, traditionally made moccasins in Canada, then check out the wares in Atelier La Pomme, which has been offering a curated selection of fashions and accessories by local Quebecois artisans for more than 40 years.
Warm Up With Hot Chocolate
Fall in Quebec may be chilly, but locals have learned to cope with the precipitous temperature drop each year by cranking up the cozy factor.
As soon as the leaves begin to turn and until the chill lifts from the air in spring, you can expect to see plenty of roaring fireplaces and lots of good cheer. Even if the Quebecois didn’t invent the term hygge—that honor belongs to the Danes—they certainly embody the lifestyle.
It follows then that this is a city that takes its hot chocolate, or chocolate chaud, very seriously. The best places in town serve ultra-premium chocolate thick enough to coat a spoon topped with a cloud of whipped cream.
Érico, a patisserie that also serves as something of a miniature museum on the history of chocolate-making, serves a stellar version.
Take the Ferry Along the St. Lawrence River
Quebec was originally an important port town and much of the historic old center overlooks the banks of the mighty St. Lawrence River. One of the best ways to appreciate this striking body of water is simply to board the Québec-Lévis Ferry.
Over the course of about an hour, passengers will take in gorgeous views of both the river and the city itself. Be sure to have your cameras ready to capture Le Château Frontenac in the distance.
Some of the first French settlers to these shores came from Normandy, a region renowned for its alcoholic, bone-dry ciders.
Unlike their mass-produced American counterparts, which tend to be syrupy sweet and one-dimensional, these hard ciders often boast astonishing complexity, courtesy of the heritage varieties of apples from which they’re made. It’s an Old World tradition that lives on among the Quebecois today.
The earliest orchards in the region date all the way back to the 17th century, while some of the most famous cider houses have been operating continuously since the 19th century.
Connoisseurs may want to set aside a day for a tasting trip to the Île d’Orléans, which is home to multiple cideries renowned for their ciders and ice ciders. One of the most famous is Cidrerie Verger Bilodeau, a family-owned establishment.
Visit the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity
First opened to worshippers in 1804, the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity bears the distinction of being the first Anglican church built outside of the British Isles, as well as one of the oldest surviving churches in North America. Even after centuries, the original character and Palladian architecture have remained intact.
While this may be a historic site, it is also an active place of worship. It’s also a genuinely humbling place to hear live music, with some of the best acoustics in the city.
The church is home to a beautifully refurbished 19th-century gallery organ and has hosted musicians from around the globe. When planning your visit, be sure to check the upcoming schedule to see if there are any upcoming performances.
Take in the View From the Dufferin Terrace
For an unforgettable view of the St. Lawrence River, simply head down from Le Château Frontenac to the broad, lamp-lined terrace named for Governor General Dufferin.
Not only does the Dufferin Terrace offer postcard-perfect images aplenty, but it also serves as a main promenade for the city. Circus performers, musicians, acrobats, and other buskers gather here in droves during the warmer months to play for enthusiastic crowds.
When snow blankets the city, it’s possible to go tobogganing down from here at more than 40 miles per hour. For a less pulse-pounding mode of transport, travelers can hop a ride on the funicular that runs down to rue du Petit-Champlain.
Promenade Down the Grande Allée
From the Champs-Élysées in Paris to Kurfurstendamm in Berlin, many cities have their iconic thoroughfares that act as a de facto hub. In Quebec, the Grande Allée is the ultimate place for people-watching.
Many of the stately Victorian buildings along the street date back to the 1800s. Restaurants, bars, and sidewalk cafés line the centrally located street, which is buzzing with both locals and international visitors from morning until late at night.
Particularly during the warmer months, the entire length of the Grande Allée takes on the air of a convivial block party. Swing by in the morning for a cappuccino and croissant in the sun, at noon for a leisurely Quebecois-style lunch with a glass of wine, or in the evening to see the nightlife spring into action.
No dish is more synonymous with French-Canadian cuisine than this glorious mess of French fries, gravy, and cheese curds.
While most Quebecois are quick to point out that there is more to their culinary scene than just poutine, it’s hard to dispute this dish’s iconic status. For many, the best way to enjoy this admittedly indulgent dish that Canada is famous for is at the end of a raucous night out, but really, it’s delicious at any time of day.
As with any beloved local specialty, there’s a fierce, ongoing debate as to who makes the best version here. Options range from rustic to gourmet, traditional to newfangled, with everything in between.
Arguably the most famous fries in town belong to Chez Ashton, which keeps it classic with potatoes from the Île d’Orléans in the Saint Lawrence River fried to order.
For a slightly more rarified version, head to La Korrigane Brasserie Artiginale, a craft microbrewery with a focus on exceptional beer and slow food prepared with regionally sourced products. The poutine, served with a beer-spiked gravy, pairs perfectly with a pint of their signature red ale.
Marvel at Montmorency Falls
Situated just 15 minutes from the center of Old Quebec, these majestic waterfalls could give Niagara Falls a run for its money. Not only are they taller—with water cascading from 272 feet—but they’re also an impressive sight to see all year round.
Many travelers opt simply to admire the thunderous deluge of water from afar. For those willing to make more effort, there’s a 487-stair climb along a panoramic staircase that rewards the bold with some incredible photographs.
If that isn’t enough to get your heart racing, you may wish to give the double zipline that whizzes past the falls for 984 feet a go.
Sample Local Wines & Cheeses
Like their French forebears, Quebec is known for its wines and cheeses. And while restaurants in Quebec import the best of the best from both the New and Old World, some of the very finest come right from the surrounding region.
All of the Quebecois wines come from vines hardy enough to withstand the blistering cold of Canadian winters, while many of the cheeses are produced by small-scale, artisanal farmers.
Frontenac Noir and Frontenac Blanc are the most commonly grown grape varieties, as they’re particularly well adapted to the cold, although there are many others, from Pinot Gris to Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc.
Lean Into Quebec’s Spooky Side on a Ghost Tour
Whether or not you believe in spirits with unfinished business lurking on the earthly plane, a ghost tour can be a fun way to explore a new city.
With its historic architecture and winding cobblestone streets, Quebec certainly makes for an atmospheric place to wander as the lights get lower. As a bonus, ghost tours here come accompanied by plenty of colorful anecdotes and a healthy dose of history.
Discover the magic of the French-Canadian capital on a luxury cruise along the country’s coastline. Peruse Celebrity’s cruises to Quebec City and book your next voyage today.