When it comes to tourism, Montréal often hogs all the glory. Canada’s second-largest city is exciting, cosmopolitan, and cultural with a long list of fabulous restaurants, boutique shops, and epic festivals. While there’s no doubt that Montréal is totally worth exploring over and over again (see: our favorite things to do in Montréal), Québec City often flies under the radar, and we’re not sure why. Although they represent Canada’s two major French-speaking hubs, the two cities are very much distinct and each boast their own charms and personality.
Truly a country within a country, Québec City is a destination filled with cultural experiences, easy access to some of the best national parks in Canada, and a proud heritage. So what exactly does Québec City offer that makes it worth visiting? Here are 8 of the best things to do in Québec City.
Right off the bat, Québec City will dazzle you with its picturesque natural setting. Perched upon the hillside, the city overlooks the rushing St. Lawrence River below and sprawls along the waterfront for miles, meaning unforgettable views aren’t exactly hard to come by. Not far from the city center, Montmorency Falls is a local wonder that’s certainly worth witnessing up-close in all its might. At 276 feet, the cascading waterfall is taller than Niagara Falls and dominates the surrounding landscape. For a completely different feel, Île d’Orléans is a mere fifteen-minute drive from Old Québec and has a traditional French countryside feel to it with scattered vineyards throughout the island.
Boasting more than 400 years of history, Québec City is a sensational journey into the heart of francophone Canada. It’s here you can simply meander along the winding cobblestone streets of Old Québec (one of our favorite things to do in Canada), which unfold gracefully like an open-air museum of architecture. Bask in the old-fashioned European charm and admire the 17th and 18th-century stone houses, Baroque Catholic churches, and picturesque town squares. Old Québec is the only walled city north of Mexico and it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Throw in glorious Parliament buildings and La Citadelle de Québec, the continent’s largest military fort, and you have one of the world’s most extraordinary displays of architecture.
One of Québec City’s oldest and most unique attractions is the giant toboggan slide that’s been in operation since 1884. Open from December until around mid-March, the Toboggan Slide au 1884 is a heart-pumping ride on an old-school wooden device that hits a top speed of 70 km/h. The ride affords stunning views on both sides of the Château Frontenac, famously known as the world’s most photographed hotel, and the St. Lawrence River on the other, making for a wonderful winter experience and one of the best things to do in Québec City.
There’s no better way to enjoy Québec City’s phenomenal hillside location than with a stroll along the iconic Dufferin Terrace. Stretching from the foot of the Citadelle, the 671-meter long boardwalk is filled with street performers, rollerbladers, and hand-holding couples at any given time. On one side, you have the iconic Château Frontenac, the centuries-old hotel that seems as if it was plucked straight from a storybook. On the other, you have spellbinding views of Old Québec and the St. Lawrence River below. Oozing with charm and character, Dufferin Terrace is one of the country’s most romantic strolls.
Speaking of getting cozy, the Hôtel de Glace is a one-of-a-kind winter-themed retreat. Constructed from 30,000 tons of snow and 500 tons of ice, the building is an architectural marvel in itself. It’s located on the slopes of the Laurentian Mountains, just 10 minutes from downtown, and offers the unmatched style and intimacy of an igloo. Spend a night in the theme suites, which feature majestic sculptures and beds with a solid ice base, and take advantage of the outdoor spa and sauna that’s open year-round. Finish the day off by unwinding at the Ice Bar over a few expertly-mixed cocktails and enjoy the magical ambiance found throughout the hotel.
Drawing its roots from French cuisine, Québecois has evolved into something all its own. Remaining untouched by time, there are plenty of places to indulge in the generations-old recipes and food traditions. Aux Anciens Canadiens is one of the most famous examples. Housed within the historic Jacquet House, which harks back to 1675, the family-run establishment has been serving up typical Québecois specialties for centuries now. Chez Ashton is another popular spot that serves up comfort food and it’s also where some locals will point to for the city’s best poutine. For a completely different gastronomic experience, there’s a growing movement on the verdant Île d’Orléans that takes advantage of its fertile soil and Normandy-style farmhouses with restaurants that exclusively use locally-grown ingredients and recipes.
Place-Royale is one of the most magical locations in the city. Initially the site where Samuel de Champlain decided to erect the first French settlement in North America, the square retraces the story of Québec with some of the country’s oldest buildings. The fairy tale atmosphere continues to Rue du Petit-Champlain, which is located right off the square. The cobblestone streets are lined by hanging shop signs, lively pubs, and artisanal shops, and it really comes to life during the holiday season when it’s illuminated with festivity.
Billed as one of the best winter festivals in the world, Carnaval de Québec is the exuberant 17-day festival that takes place every February. It should come as no surprise that locals have learned to love the cold, so expect countless parades, market stalls, ice sculptures, and street performers during the festivities. The Carnaval provides a unique glimpse into the civic identity and pride, with hundreds of fleur-de-lis flags proudly waving throughout the city.