The oldest city in Canada, Québec City was originally known as New France, a settlement established by cartographer and explorer, Samuel de Champlain in 1608 — long before the British showed up, throwing their weight around like they owned the place.
Of course, the British eventually won possession of Québec City, and New France, and got their way. Soon, the French places were occupied by the British, who established their own places, and although the British ruled over Québec for quite some time, French Québec eventually regained control of the city. Sure, it got ugly for a little while, but tempers cooled down, tourism increased, and the Québec of today is a very different place.
Today, Québec City is vibrant and brimming with culture. Cobbled streets and outdoor patios entice visitors to sit and enjoy a café au lait or chocolat chaud, inviting them to immerse themselves in the city’s history, European charm, and delicious food.
There is so much to experience on your first trip to the city, that we decided to create this Beginners Guide to Québec City to help make your first trip fabulous.
Neighbourhoods to Explore
Your first time in Québec City can be a little overwhelming; what should you see and do? Is it just an old city with old museums, or is there more? Visiting the old city is a must for everyone, this is the essence of Québec, but once you have explored the old city, it is time to branch out and explore other neighbourhoods.
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A neighbourhood that is more popular with locals than visitors, Saint-Roch is a 20 min walk from Vieux-Québec, and a great neighbourhood for foodies, craft beer lovers, and those seeking live music. Head over to La Korrigane for a local brew, then go to Le Cercle for live music — the nightclub is on the main floor and the underground music scene in the basement. Good times to be had!
A beginner’s guide to Québec City would not be complete without suggestions on which activities you MUST do while you’re in the city. These are our top picks for beginners. If you want to consider more activities, check out our Things to Do page!
Observatoire de la Capitale
Rent a Bike
Visit La Citadelle
Marché du Vieux-Port
French or English?
Is Québec French or English? Québec City is about 90% French, but as a popular tourist destination (more with Americans and the French than with Canadians), there are enough people in the old city who speak English that you can get by. Here are a couple tips to make things easier:
- Never assume someone speaks English, the locals don’t like that. In fact, I know some anglophones who live in the city that pretend to be francophone when approached by a tourist who assumes they speak English. Don’t be a jerk.
- In neighbourhoods like Saint-Roch and Limoilou English-speakers can be found, but these neighbourhoods are mostly French. Say Bonjour, make an effort. The locals will figure things out very quickly and if they speak English, most will answer in English.
- I always start with “Je parle un peu français”, which means I speak a little French. This helps break the ice in a friendly manner. If a local speaks a little English, they’ll tell you. If not, then you’re both resorting to charades or using your google translate app.
The food scene in Québec City is filled with micro-restaurants run by passionate chefs, gourmet bistros, and sinfully delicious comfort food spots that are a heart-attack waiting to happen. You may go to Québec City to experience the history and the ambience, but you’ll end up gaining ten pounds while you’re there. It is inevitable.
Where to sleep
A guide to Québec City would not be complete without a couple suggestions on where to sleep. Thankfully there are plenty of places to rest your head in the city.
The old city has two hostels: Auberge Internationale de Québec (HI Québec) on rue Saint-Ursule, and Auberge de la Paix on rue Couillard. There are plenty of B&Bs, guesthouses and hotels with rates under $100 per night. Most boutique and luxury hotels are in the neighbourhood of Vieux Port, however, there are some in Vieux Québec, Ste-Foy and Saint-Roch.
No matter the budget, there are plenty of places to stay.
Québec City has a lot of festivals throughout the year, so be mindful of those and book accommodations early — especially if you are planning to attend Carnival in Jan/Feb or planning to visit the city during the summer months.
If you want to stay for a week or more and don’t want to deal with hostels, try an AirBnB rental instead.
- Hostel recommendation: Auberge Internationale de Québec
- B&B recommendation: Petit Hôtel-Café Krieghoff or B&B Au Petit Roi
- Mid-range Hotel recommendation: Auberge du Trésor or Monastère des Augustines
- Apartment recommendation: Les Lofts St-Joseph
- Luxury Hotel recommendation: Auberge Saint-Antoine or Hotel Manoir Victoria
Québec is a walking city. You can get just about anywhere on your feet and is a popular option in spring, summer and autumn. Another option is to rent a bike.
If you want to see some of the neighbourhoods outside the main tourist areas, and you don’t feel like walking, take a public bus. The city has an app, RTC mobile, that is really useful.
Note: the app is in French, so you may want to use it along with the Google Translate app.
Québec City is quite possibly one of my favourite places in the world. We love the vibe, the people, the culture, the history, the food. Don’t let the language barrier keep you from exploring the city. Come with an open mind and be ready to be blown away. Once you visit Québec City, you’ll want to come back again, and again.
- Québec City Travel Planner: Search through our handy travel planner for information on everything from driving routes, taking the train, when to visit, how to get around and more!
- Urban Guide Québec City guidebook: Discover the local food and culture of Québec City in this guidebook focused on promoting local artisans, producers and businesses. Explore popular neighbourhoods, or embrace the local side, both are represented in this guidebook on Québec City.
- Champlain’s Dream by David Hackett Fischer: Written by a Pulitzer Prize-winner, Champlain’s Dream is a captivating read about the man who established the colony of New France, and considered to be the father of Québec. A tome worthy of any book collection.
- Québec: The Story of Three Sieges by Stephen Manning: Understanding some of the key battles in Québec’s history is one of the best ways to begin to understand the mentality of Québec, and the relationship between French and English. This book is one of the best in terms of the major battles that helped to shape Québec’s future.
- Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny: A local favourite, Louise Penny crafts a captivating murder mystery set in Québec City. Book six in her Chief Inspector Gamache series, you don’t need to read the first five to enjoy this story which will take you through some of our favourite places in Old Québec.
- An Essential Winter Packing List: Planning to visit Québec City during the winter months? Make sure you pack these items for a warm and fun trip!
- Winter Bucket List: 40+ Things to See & Do: The air may be crisp, and the ground may be covered in fluffy white snow, but there is still plenty to see and do in Québec City in winter!
- Google Translate – you don’t need to speak French, but knowing a couple words can be helpful. Download the app before your trip to help communicate with locals.
- DuoLingo – learn some French words and phrases before your trip! DuoLingo is a great app for learning French a little bit at a time.
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