This week’s Travel Bucket List Wednesday post is all about some of my personal favorites: paid and free things to do in Quebec City! I fell so deeply in love with its walled old town and basse-ville when I visited last June. Just, the vibe… unbelievably romantic, captivating, beautiful. So glad I got to cross this lovely town off my travel bucket list on my first trip to Canada!
Old Quebec City from a room at the Hilton by Sean Haynes, Flickr
Paid + Free Things to do in Quebec City: My Personal Recommendations!
My first Quebec City travel tip? Go online and print a map of the city. Why? Because I did my best to arrange the recommendations and landmarks on this photo essay in a way that allows you to create your own walking tours! So dot down/circle the places I have listed, connect them all with a line, and have a fun holiday 😀
**You me start at Upper Town and end at Citadel — vice versa 😉
St. Lawrence River ferry, Vieux-Québec
Get lost in Upper Town & the vicinity
I Couchsurfed in Quebec City and let me tell you, it was an experience in itself. For 4 days, my base was a neighborhood north of Rue Saint-Jean and Avenue Turnbull (up the hill, bordering Upper Town). It was so multicultural and charming. People always had a smile on their faces, willing to strike a conversation. You could easily walk up to a small grocer and find everything from Polish beet soup to a complete assortment of Indian spices. Let alone the variety of charming restaurants/cafes down the hill, within easy walking distance of Vieux Québec. My type of neighborhood! 🙂
Upper Town and vicinity, Québec City
Lazy morning (or afternoon) at Gare du Palais & Rue Saint-Paul
Yes, I’m actually recommending you to spend some time at Quebec City’s central train station (450 Rue de la Gare du Palais), whether you arrived or are leaving from here or not. For starters, it’s a beautiful building! I took several pictures of its architecture, inside and out. Moreover, its good cafés, people watching, and free Wi-Fi are the perfect ingredients to “waste some hours away.”
Even the central train station has character in Québec City!
Continue your day walking down Rue Saint-Paul, which is nearby!
Stroll down picturesque Rue Saint-Paul: another idea on free things to do in Quebec City! (Photo: Gilbert Bochenek, Wiki Commons)
A few hours at Musée de la Civilisation
Outstanding architecture and history of the ambiguous Quebecois heritage are always on display at Musée de la Civilisation (85 Rue Dalhousie). Marvel at its beautiful façade, the adjacent Maison Estèbe, and the Pagé-Quercy Vaulted Cellar.
Integrated into one of the exhibition rooms, “Pagé-Quercy Vaulted Cellar is part of the 27 vaults of Place-Royale, which are some of the city’s oldest and most beautiful structures” (MCQ.org)
Speaking of exhibitions, you must NOT miss the “People of Québec…Then and Now”–the museum’s permanent run-through of over 400 years of the province’s history. It will really put things in perspective for every visitor.
Musee de la Civilisation façade (Photo: Claude Gagnon, Wiki Commons)
Château Frontenac: inside and out
While just being inside this gorgeous mansion is absolutely amazing, their afternoon tea (offered on selected dates; call for details) is icing on the cake. Unless you actually book a night at the hotel + buy a President Club membership…now that’s just royal. Literally.
Château Frontenac in all its glory
Mural scavenger hunt, ferry ride & nightlife in historic Basse-Ville
Basse-Ville dates back to the 1608 settling of Quebec and, since there wasn’t electricity back then: did you know that many of this district’s buildings have an entire side without any doors or windows? I forget which direction they face, but it’s where the strongest, chilliest winds come from. So! In order to cover this “unattractive” side of the buildings up, many artists took the task of painting beautiful windows and murals over them. Why not take a couple of hours to do a “mural scavenger hunt,” with the player who spots the most camouflaged walls and murals winning a prize? 😉 It’s harder than you think!
yup, that’s a plain flat wall – with gorgeously-detailed MURAL!
After the exhausting hunt, take a ferry ride to Levis. You don’t even have to get off on the other side: just relax and enjoy the Saint Lawrence River and Old Town views from a different perspective. Particularly impressive in the winter, by the way!
View of Levis and the frozen St. Lawrence from the ferry by Robbie, Flickr
Not tired yet?! Stick around and join the happening scene after 6 PM. Cafés, some bars, and even a street musician or two start to spice up the streets then!
EXTRA tip: Try to visit during the New France Festival, to watch (or join!) hordes of people dressed in 17th-18th century costumes.
Quartier Petit Champlain, North America’s oldest commercial district
Speaking of Basse-Ville, did you know that Quartier du Petit Champlain is North America’s oldest commercial district?! Incidentally, Rue du Petit-Champlain is the oldest commercial street in the continent.
While the quarter has become a little bit of a tourist trap, you may still find specialty stores selling unique Quebecois merchandise–which you might not find anywhere else.
Long walk down Terrasse Dufferin & picnic at Plains of Abraham
One of my favorite free things to do in Quebec City is a long walk down Terrasse Dufferin, the 671-meter boardwalk that starts right below Château Frontenac and extends along the St. Lawrence River:
The start of Terrasse Dufferin, right by Château Frontenac
Bring your own picnic basket and (weather permitting!) walk all the way down the Terrasse until you reach the Plains of Abraham. There, lay on the grass and bask in the peace & beauty of the entire city below you. Or, if feeling particularly adventurous, visit the former battlefield’s Discovery Centre + follow the tip of a Tripadvisor user: “Find the underground entrance and view the house and military items hidden behind sod bunkers. It’s a walk but well worth it.”
One of SEVERAL distinct, panoramic views from the expansive Plains of Abraham by meddygarnet, Flickr
Free tour of the Parliament Building
Looking for more free things to do in Quebec City? Take advantage of the Hôtel du Parlement English tour, where Québec’s National Assembly meets (Grande-Allee and Honore-Mercier Avenue). The guides, who are friendly and extremely responsive, will teach you about the history and functions of the provincial government. Fascinating, informative, fun!
And, while not free, I highly recommend you finish off your Parliament visit with an unforgettable meal by elected Quebecois representatives at the café, which offers an excellent Menu de Jour for CAD $8.
Parliament building, Québec (my apologies for the shitty exposure: gloomy day!)
Changing of the Guard & Governor General’s residence at La Citadelle
Speaking of Parliament, did you know that “Canada’s monarchy operates in Quebec as the core of the province’s Westminster-style parliamentary democracy and constitution” (Wikipedia)? This takes us to another Quebec City landmark, La Citadelle (1 Côte de la Citadelle)! Great tours included in admission price, plus magnificent views of the Saint Lawrence River and Old Town thrown in.
I highly recommend you start a full day around Old Quebec here, arriving early enough to join the first tour (9 AM from May to September; 10 AM from October to April). Then, stay for the Changing of the Guard at 10 (seasonal; June 24 to the first Monday of September only). A true history buff? I also recommend the tour of the Governor General’s residence at 11, which is free by the way! You will enjoy them all, pinky promise.
**Please note, the Citadel is closed December 25 and January 1
Spectacular shot of the Changing of the Guard, with Château Frontenac in the background, by Conrad Kuiper, Flickr
That’s it for my favorite things to do in Quebec City! Mind you, this list is not exclusive–I had to leave some attractions out due to space and time. Which reminds me, my next Quebecois post will be all about my favorite places to eat in Québec’s capital! 😀
Got more tips and things to do in Quebec City? Share them below!
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