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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.

Vieux-Québec

If you’re not following @manucoveney you should be. We love his shots of Québec City. #quebecregion #urbanguideqc

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The number one ‘hood for those visiting the Québec City for the first time, Vieux-Québec (Old Québec) is also known as Haute-ville or Upper-Town and is the location of Fairmont Château Frontenac and some of the oldest houses in Québec City. You don’t have to stay at the château to see it, so if you’re up to it, check out the royal blue and gold decor inside — it’s very Great Gatsby-eque, maybe take the historic walking tour, and then venture out to see the rest of one of our favourite Québec neighbourhoods.
Walk to Terasse Pierre-Duga-des-Mons and then up the hill for a postcard shot of Château Frontenac, the Saint-Lawrence River and Vieux Québec. Follow the path around La Citadelle and wander along the old city walls. For drinks, hit up Pub Alexandre or Pub Saint-Patrick along rue Saint-Jean, or venture down rue Coullaird, a quiet street beside Pub Saint-Patrick, and pop into Chez Temporel for a pint and friendly local chatter.

Place-Royale

Notre-Dame-des-victories, one of the oldest churches in North America ⛪️ #QuebecRegion #UrbanGuideCA

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A relatively small neighbourhood, located next to Quartier Petit-Champlain, Place Royale is the site of the first settlement in New France (circa 1608). This is where Samuel de Champlain started building the city we now know as Québec City.
Along rue Notre-Dame, you will find one of the oldest churches in North America, Notre-Dame-des-Victories. In the summer the church is open to visitors and worth a little visit. If you’re looking for a café, hit up La Maison Smith for some café au lait and a croissant. If you’re looking for a beer then try out Pub l’Oncle Antoine – which is housed in a very old building with walls so thick that it’s unlikely you’ll have cell service once you’re inside.
Place Royale is small but full of charm.

Petit-Champlain

A beautiful shot of Petit-Champlain’s globes by @k_t.k #QuebecCity #Repost

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Do not let Petit-Champlain‘s small size fool you, this little neighbourhood packs a big punch! One of the oldest shopping streets in Québec City, rue Petit-Champlain has almost everything: clothing and shoes, chocolatiers, art, gourmet food shops, and some of the city’s most delightful bistros.
Wander the cobbled streets, do a little shopping, then take the Funiculaire up to Vieux-Québec (Old Québec) at the top of Cap Diamant. Before you venture up top, pop into Pape George for a pint or maybe stop by Petite Cabane à Sucre for a maple treat.

Grande Allée

Located outside the city walls, Grande Allée is a popular street among tourists and locals. There are not many shops or boutiques here, but there are several restaurants, and a couple bars and nightclubs – as well as a cigar club.
After dinner, head over to Maurice Nightclub for a night of dancing and fun, and when you finally crawl out of the bar, it’s time to hit up Chez Ashton for some late night/early morning poutine. It is magical after midnight.

Saint-Roch

an essay on annoyance ; people that know coffee really well. #35mm #superiaxtra200

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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!

Activities

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!

Walking Tour

I highly recommend taking the one with Cicerone Walking Tours; it’s affordable, entertaining, and gives a good overview of the city. Cicerone offers a fabulous historical walking tour of Old Québec, and they also run the tours at Fairmont Château Frontenac.

Observatoire de la Capitale

Take in the views of Québec City from 221 meters above the ground. Observatoire de la Capitale offers visitors a 360º view of the city. Definitely worth your time, especially on a clear day. Autumn is our favourite time to visit, but spring and summer are also beautiful. Visit their website for more information.

Self-Guided Instawalk

If you’re an Instagram lover, Québec is the perfect city. It’s full of delightful details, you just need a camera and an eye for detail. Wander on your own, or take one that has already been set up. Either way, it can be a fun way to pass the time.

Rent a Bike

When the snow is gone, rent a bike and explore the city. Ride the path along the St. Lawrence River and venture out to Montmorency Falls or into the neighbourhood of Limoilou. Québec City is the perfect place for a scenic bike ride.

Double-Decker Tour

They look cheesy, but double-decker bus tours can be fun, and it is generally a good way to get a lay-of-the-land. Use the tour to figure out where you want to explore more fully, and which areas that are not of interest to you.

Visit La Citadelle

As the only fortified city in North America (north of Mexico), the citadel is one of the top Québec City things to do. While it’s possible to visit and take a tour during the day, consider doing the Night Tour, complete with a guide in a period costume.

Québec-Lévis Ferry

Looking for where to snap a picture-perfect shot of Québec City’s skyline? Easy, ride the Québec-Lévis ferry. Take the ferry to Lévis and snap some photos of the Québec City skyline, wander around, then catch the ferry back to the city. We recommend doing this all year ’round.

Marché du Vieux-Port

The farmer’s market in Vieux-Port (Old Port) is one of our favourite places in the city. In summer, buy everything you’ll need for a picnic – we highly recommend the strawberries; in winter, try out maple products or buy some locally produced wine, cider, cheese, charcuterie, or maple syrup and give them as gifts for Christmas.

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.

Food


It’s lobster season!! I swooned over the Lobster Burger at Le Chic Shack, and you will too. #foodie #QuebecCity

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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.

 

Transportation

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.


POPULAR RESOURCES

  • 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.

 

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links, which means we earn a small commission when you click through and make a purchase or booking. You don’t pay anything extra. Affiliate links (as well as our Urban Guide Québec City guidebook) are some of the ways we make money, which, in turn, helps to keep this site running.

About The Author

Founder

Travel writer and photographer, Pamela has a deep love of all things Travel. She is an anglophone from Ontario who prefers living in Québec. An avid city explorer and chocolat chaud connoisseur, Pamela also writes for Québec Region blog, Savoir Faire Abroad and several other publications.

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