Québec City, founded by Samuel de Champlain in 1608, was the first significant settlement in Canada and is one of the oldest cities in North America. The beautiful historic district of the city (Vieux-Québec), named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has a very old world feel inspiring many visitors to compare it to a European vacation without leaving North America.
Whether you are interested in history, culture, shopping, outdoor activities or food there is so much to do in Québec that you are sure to fall in love with the city and want to return again and again.
A trip to Québec City is wonderful any time of year but there is something truly special about Québec City in summer!
Visiting in winter? Read Fun Things To Do at the Québec Winter Carnival
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Getting to Québec City
Québec City is located on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River northeast of Montréal in the province of Québec.
We have both flown to Québec City and driven from our home outside Toronto and taking the train is also an option depending on where you live. We generally fly if we are only visiting for a couple of days and drive if it is part of a longer road trip vacation. We drove on our most recent trip as the visit to Québec City was the tail end of a road trip to the Gaspé Region of Québec.
Distance to Québec City from Montréal: 255 km (158 miles) which is a little less than 3 hours driving time. Distance to Québec City from Toronto: 800 km (497 miles) which is approximately 7.5 hours of driving time. Distance to Québec City from Boston: 640 km (398 miles) which is approximately 6.5 hours of driving time.
Things To Do in Old Québec
We have visited Québec City several times during the summer and it’s one of my favourite cities in Canada. The historic part of Québec City is very walkable so the best thing to do is head out on foot and discover for yourself the many things to do in Québec City on a summer vacation.
Whether you have a weekend in Québec City or several days to explore, these are our recommendations for the best things to do in and near Québec City in summer.
1. Walk the City’s Fortifications
Québec City, the only remaining fortified city north of Mexico, is known for the massive stone walls or ramparts that encircle the Old City (Vieux Québec). The walls, built between 1608 and 1871, were the city’s defence system and were designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1957.
The Fortifications of Québec National Historic Site is managed by Parks Canada and there are 90 minute guided walking tours to learn more about the history of the city, explore the fortifications and enjoy the great views. Tours depart from the Frontenac Kiosk on Dufferin Terrace and information about times and pricing are available on the Parks Canada website. Parks Canada also offers a GPS guided walking tour designed specifically for families with kids aged 6-12 if you’re travelling with children.
If you opt to explore on your own then you can spend as little or as much time as you want walking part of the wall or all of it. The total length of the fortifications is 4.6 kilometres and walking the entire distance would take several hours. We have only walked portions but some day I plan to take the time to walk the entire length of the fortifications – on a day when it’s not too hot.
2. Explore Quartier Petit Champlain and Lower Town
My favourite thing to do in Québec City in summer (or any time of year for that matter!) is wander around Lower Town (Basse-Ville) which is the oldest part of the city – it’s such a charming neighbourhood and ideal for strolling.
The bustling Quartier Petit Champlain with its historic buildings, one-of-a-kind shops, restaurants and cafés is my favourite place in the city. The entire neighbourhood is charming and picture postcard but I love the view of the street below from the steps of l’Escaliers Casse-cou (the Breakneck Stairs). The pedestrian-only Rue Petit Champlain is said to be the oldest commercial street in North America and this area is packed with tourists during the summer months but can’t be missed because it’s so beautiful.
Place Royale was the town marketplace in the original settlement of New France and the square is surrounded by beautiful 17th and 18th century stone houses that would have belonged to wealthy merchants as well as Notre-Dame-des-Victoires which is the oldest stone church in North America.
Take some time to stop and have a good look at La Fresque des Québécois, a giant mural which tells the story of Québec City. Québec’s distinctive architecture is represented in the mural and if you look closely at the windows then you will see historical figures, writers and artists depicted. It is sometimes hard to distinguish the painted people from the real – particularly in photographs.
The Old Port of Québec which stretches along the St. Lawrence River is home to more picturesque streets and the cruise ship terminal as well as antique shops and art galleries.
3. Enjoy Breathtaking Views from the Water
The best view of the Québec City skyline is from the water and it can be easily enjoyed by hopping on the Québec-Lévis ferry. We returned to the city by ferry from our day trip to Grosse-Île and loved the spectacular view approaching the city from the water even though it was an overcast day.
The ferry from the Old Port of Québec to Lévis connects the north and south shores of the St. Lawrence River and the crossing takes about 12 minutes. The ferry which runs frequently throughout the day year-round is used by cars, bikes, and foot passengers and is the most affordable way to view the old city from the water.
Check the Québec-Lévis ferry schedule for times and pricing. Prices vary but as an example using 2023 pricing: a vehicle including driver is $9.40 and a passenger on foot or vehicle passenger age 16-64 is $3.95.
A Québec City Guided Sightseeing Cruise is another option to view the city from the water. A sightseeing cruise is significantly more expensive than the ferry but is longer and will generally include additional sights such as Montmorency Falls and the Île d’Orléans.
4. Visit the Plains of Abraham
The Plains of Abraham is the historic area of Québec City where the Battle of the Plains of Abraham took place in 1759 and British forces led by General Wolfe defeated French troops led by the Marquis de Montcalm. Wolfe and Montcalm were both killed in the battle that ultimately led to the French losing control of New France and Britain taking control of the colonies that would become Canada until Confederation in 1867.
Today the Plains of Abraham (also known as Battlefields Park) is a beautiful urban park enjoyed by thousands of residents and tourists. Visitors can stroll the beautiful gardens, have a picnic, and enjoy the great views of Old Québec City while walking in the park. There are also free outdoor concerts and special events held here in the summer. The Plains of Abraham Museum has exhibitions, activities and information about the park.
5. Visit the Musée de la Civilisation
The Musée de la Civilisation, a museum located in the port of Old Québec in the lower town near the St. Lawrence River, is fun for families visiting Québec City with kids and for adults as well. The engaging museum, designed by renowned architect Moshe Safdie and built in the 1980s, explores Québec’s culture and history with interactive exhibits that are both entertaining and educational.
In addition to touring exhibitions, the museum has a permanent exhibition This is Our Story which introduces the 11 indigenous nations that inhabit the territory of Québec and their history, stories and art.
Located at 85, rue Dalhousie. Open 7 days a week in summer 10 am – 5 pm. Pricing in 2023: Adult (age 35-64): $24; Adult (age 18-34): $19; Senior (age 65+) $23; Age 12-17: $8; Age 6- 11: $5.50; Age 5 and under: free.
6. Admire the Artwork at the Fine Arts Museum
If you enjoy art then you must visit the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec (National Museum of Fine Arts of Québec) while in Québec City. Conveniently located along the Grande Allée, the MNBAQ focus is primarily on Québec art from ancient to contemporary.
The museum’s collection encompasses 42,000 works of art dating from the 17th century to present day. In addition to the collections, the museum offers workshops, guided tours, concerts, public talks, films, summer camps and special events.
Main Entrance – 179 Grande Allée Ouest – 20 minutes walk from the Parliament Building along the Grande Allée. Open 7 days a week in summer 10 am – 6pm and until 9 pm on Wednesdays. After Labour Day: closed on Mondays and open 10 am – 5 pm, 9 pm on Wednesdays. 2023 Admission Fees: $7-25 based on age. 12 and under are free. Wednesday evenings are half-price and First Sunday of every month is free.
7. Savour Québécois Food
One of the best parts of travelling is enjoying local dishes and in Québec City that means trying crèpes, poutine (french fries topped with cheese curds and gravy), blueberries and anything topped with or flavoured by maple syrup! Pea soup, tourtière (a meat pie), and fèves au lard (baked beans) are also popular traditional Québec foods but I think of them as winter comfort foods.
A great option for traditional Québécois food is the Restaurant aux Anciens Canadiens which specializes in old-fashioned Québécois cuisine. The restaurant is located at 34 Rue Saint-Louis in a house built in 1675 which is reputed to be the oldest house in Québec City,
Whatever you decide to eat, it is lovely to sit outside and enjoy a meal during the summer patio season in Québec City.
8. Take a Walking Tour
Québec City is best explored on foot and you can see a lot just wandering on your own but sometimes a walking tour is a great way to explore the city and learn from an experienced and knowledgeable guide.
A few walking tour options include: Old Québec City Classic Walking Tour; Old Québec City Food and Drink Tour; Québec City Craft Brewery and Beer Tasting Small Group Tour or a Combo Historical and Food Tour of Old Québec City.
9. Tour La Citadelle de Québec
La Citadelle de Québec (Citadel of Québec) is the largest British fortress built in North America and an integral part of the fortifications of Québec City. Located on Cap Diamant which is the highest natural point in Québec City, La Citadelle was named a National Historic Site of Canada in 1980.
La Citadelle, a star-shaped polygon, is an active military garrison which was built on the Plains of Abraham between 1820 and 1850. The Duke of Wellington had this fortress built in anticipation of further attacks from the Americans after the war of 1812.
La Citadelle is open for guided tours only and during the summer the men and women of the 22e Régiment (the only fully francophone unit in the Canadian armed forces) perform ceremonies.
In 2023 the Changing of the Guard and Retreat of the Guard ceremonies have been replaced by Music in Red – a 30 minute musical performance by members of the regiment dressed in scarlet red regimental dress and bearskin hats held in the centre of the parade square in the heart of the fortress. During the summer months, there is also daily cannon fire which announces when it is noon.
There is also a museum on site which houses one of Canada’s largest military collections of more than 13,000 artefacts covering over 300 years of history from the French Colonial period (17th century) until present day.
1, Côte de la Citadelle. Open daily 9-5:30 daily summer hours. Guided tours available hourly in French and English. 2023 Admission Fees: Adult (18+): $18; Seniors (65+): $16; Student (18+): $16; Youth (11-17): $6; Age 10 and under: Free.
10. Ride the Funicular
There are two ways to get from Upper Town to Lower Town – by foot or by funicular – and you really should try both at least once!
There has been a funicular on site transporting people between Upper Town and Lower Town since the first was built in 1879. Without the funicular, it’s necessary to climb steep hills or stairs to get from Lower Town to Upper Town.
The current Funiculaire du Vieux-Québec boards passengers near the Château Frontenac on the Terasse Dufferin and descends down an inclined 64 m (210 ft) track to the Quartier du Petit-Champlain providing a great vantage point of Old Québec and the St. Lawrence River while travelling up and down the cliff face. I’m afraid of heights and have taken the funicular (but only once!) because I wanted the experience but if your fear of heights is bad then you might want to skip it and stick to the stairs.
If you choose to ride the funicular in one direction only then I would recommend walking down the stairs and riding the funicular back up to save yourself the stairs workout. Lines to ride the funicular can be long during the summer months but your only other option is climbing back up the stairs or a steep hill.
Upper entrance is on Dufferin Terrace. Lower entrance is at Maison Louis Jolliet 16 rue Petit Champlain. $5 per person per ride. Open daily year-round from around 9 am until late evening.
11. Explore the Parliament Hill Neighbourhood
You should definitely make time in your schedule to explore the Parliament Hill neighbourhood which is located in upper town just outside the fortifications. The Parliament building itself is stunning – the architecture was inspired by the Louvre in Paris and is unique in that there are 26 statues of historical figures on the front facade of the building. There are also lovely gardens on the grounds with many monuments and statues to explore.
Visitors can take a free guided 60 minute tour of Parliament to learn more about how Québec government works, the history of the province, the architecture of the building and the many works of art on display. There are also 60 minute guided tours of the gardens available in the summer from late June to early September.
The elaborate Tourny Fountain, located in the forecourt of the Parliament building, was purchased in Bordeaux, France and gifted to the city of Québec on its 400th anniversary. This is a popular spot for photos as it is quite beautiful with the Parliament building in the background.
Nearby is the elegant tree-lined Grande Allée known for its Victorian architecture as well as the the cafés, shops and restaurants and lovely outdoor patios to enjoy during the summer season. Grande Allée has a lively, busy vibe throughout the year but becomes even more vibrant when it is pedestrian-only on summer weekends and during the Festival d’été (Summer Festival).
12. Admire the Château Frontenac
The historic Fairmont Château Frontenac, a luxury hotel in Old Québec perched atop Cap Diamant, is said to be the most photographed hotel in the world. This fairytale castle, inspired by the châteaux of the Loire Valley in France, is one of the grand hotels built by the Canadian Pacific railway company late in the 19th century. The Château which was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1981 is now part of the Fairmont chain of hotels.
Staying here is a splurge but worth it for the experience – we stayed once when our daughters were little and they felt like princesses staying in a castle! Even if you aren’t a hotel guest, you can dine at one of the restaurants or enjoy the elegant afternoon tea.
Visitors not staying at the hotel can usually have a look around the lobby or there’s also an option of booking a guided tour of the Fairmont Château Frontenac – a one hour tour by a local guide interpreting a historical character to learn about the architecture of the iconic hotel, its history and famous people associated with the hotel.
At the very least you will take photos of yourself outside the beautiful hotel!
13. Stroll the Dufferin Terrace
Dufferin Terrace, the pedestrian boardwalk outside the Château Frontenac, is teeming with people in the summer with buskers entertaining the crowds. Most everyone is congregated in the area just outside the hotel so walking just a bit farther down the terrace means you can enjoy a stroll without the congestion and the views of the St. Lawrence River from the terrace are magnificent!
On a hot summer day be sure to buy an ice cream from Au 1884 – the café and dairy bar kiosk located on the terrace. There is also an archaeological crypt under the Dufferin Terrace that can be visited during the summer months and the boardwalk is the place to be for a great view of the Grands Feux Loto-Québec fireworks which takes place over the St. Lawrence River every Tuesday and Thursday evening in August.
14. Browse the Rue du Trésor
If you are in search of a unique souvenir of your visit to Québec City then head to the Rue du Trésor, a cobblestone street near Place d’Armes where artists gather to sell their original works of art – mostly prints of Québec scenes. The street gets its name “trésor” from its location which was the former royal treasury where colonists paid their taxes during the French regime. Artists have been exhibiting their work on the streets since the 1960s.
The Rue du Trésor is open every day from mid-May to mid-October and the rest of the year there might be artists set up particularly on weekends or holidays.
15. Celebrate at a Summer Festival
Summer is a time to celebrate in Québec City and if you are in town at the right time then you can enjoy one of the city’s summer festivals. Including: Festival d’été de Québec (Festival of Summer) in early July; New France Festival in early August; Check the Québec City Annual Calendar of Festivals and Events to see what events are taking place at the time of your visit.
Things to Do Near Québec City and Day Trips
If time allows then you can add these things to do that are a short distance from old Québec and day trips from Québec City to your itinerary.
16. Visit Montmorency Falls
This breathtaking waterfall which is one of the province’s top attractions is located just a short distance outside of Québec and is accessible by public transit if you don’t have a car. Named by Samuel de Champlain, Montmorency Falls is 83 metres (272 feet) high which is actually higher than Niagara Falls although not as wide.
At Montmorency Park there are several activities to choose from including a cable car ride to the top of the falls, dining at Manoir Montmorency, a suspension bridge, and a via ferrata and zipline or if you’re not feeling adventurous then you can enjoy a leisurely walk on the paved walking trail to the viewing platform at the base of the falls.
Located off AutoRoute 440 East approximately 12 km from downtown Québec.
17. Visit the Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré
The Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, located in the town of the same name along the St. Lawrence River, is worth visiting for the architecture and design of the Basilica even for those with no interest in visiting for religious purposes.
The shrine, dedicated to the mother of Mary and grandmother of Jesus, is the second oldest pilgrimage site in North America and has been credited by the Catholic church with miracles of curing the sick and disabled. Pilgrims have been visiting the site for more than 350 years and today the shrine welcomes annually nearly a million people of all faiths from around the world.
10018 Avenue Royale, Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré – approximately 35 km (a 20 minute drive) north-east of the city.
18. Take a Drive on Île d’Orléans
Known as the garden of Québec, Île d’Orléans located in the St. Lawrence River about 5 km (3 miles) east of Québec City, is only 34 km long and 8 km wide and could be driven in about an hour but the pleasure is in the stops along the way.
There are six villages on Île d’Orléans and one road that circles the island (Route 368) known as Chemin Royal or Royal Road. You could visit any time of the year but mid-June to mid-October is peak season for produce.
The bridge to Île d’Orléans is quite close to Montmorency Falls so it’s easy to visit both on one day trip. Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré is not too far away either if you wanted a full day seeing as much as possible.
If you don’t have a car then you will have to book a tour to visit Île d’Orléans. Options for a guided tour include: the Island of Orleans Taste and Drink tour, a Food Tasting and Cultural E-bike tour, or Wine Tasting on Île d’Orléans.
The bridge to Île d’Orléans is only a few kilometres from Old Québec – about 15 minutes to drive.
19. Visit the Grosse-Île National Historic Site
A day trip to Grosse-Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site will take the better part of a day but is well worth it particularly if you enjoy learning more about Canadian history.
This national historic site commemorates the importance of immigration to Canada as well as the tragic events experienced by Irish immigrants particularly during the typhus epidemic of 1847. Visitors to the island can tour the historic buildings, interact with costumed interpreters and learn about the history of the quarantine station from Parks Canada guides.
A private ferry company, Les Croisières Lachance, provides cruises to Grosse-Île, Québec that depart from Berthier-sur-Mer on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River (approximately 70 km or an hour’s drive from Québec City). Tickets for the cruise include the Parks Canada admission and tickets must be purchased in advance. Tours operate late May to early October.
20. Take a Day Trip to the Charlevoix Region
The drive from Québec City along the majestic St. Lawrence River through the province’s Charlevoix Region to La Malbaie is one of Canada’s most scenic drives. With the Laurentian Mountains on the north and the river on the south, this drive takes you up and down rolling hills, through picturesque villages and along the riverfront with many interesting places to stop along the way.
The distance from Québec City to La Malbaie is approximately 150 km (94 miles) or about 2 hours of driving time on QC-138 East but with stops this will be a full day trip. We rented a car and drove from Québec City, however, it is also possible to travel on the Train de Charlevoix which runs alongside the coast for 125 km from Montmorency Park to La Malbaie.
Where to Stay in Québec City
Over several visits to Québec City we have stayed at three hotels that I can recommend – Fairmont le Château Frontenac, Hilton Québec, and Québec City Marriott Downtown.
Fairmont Le Château Frontenac
This luxury hotel, also now a National Historic Site, was one of Canadian Pacific’s grand railway hotels built late in the 19th century to appeal to upscale travellers.
We stayed here when our daughters were young and they loved feeling like they were princesses staying in a castle. I loved both the hotel’s historic charm and its location in the Upper Town of Old Québec overlooking the St. Lawrence River. The location is ideal for exploring the old city on foot – both Upper Town and Lower Town as it is mere steps from the doors of the hotel to either the funicular or Escalier Casse-Cou (the Breakneck Steps).
This is a beautiful hotel that should definitely be on any bucket list of Canadian hotels!
1 Rue des Carrières
I have twice stayed at the Hilton Québec which is located in Upper Town across from Parliament Hill just outside the walls of the old city. It is only a short walk from the Hilton to the historic Old Town, the restaurants and cafés of the Grande Allée and the Plains of Abraham urban park.
The Hilton has a convenient location and rooms are stylish and comfortable with floor to ceiling windows that provide breathtaking views over the city. The hotel also features a modern fitness centre, a heated indoor/outdoor pool which is open year-round, two restaurants on site and complimentary Wi-Fi for Hilton Honors members.
1100 Bd René-Lévesque E
Québec City Marriott Downtown
On our most recent visit we stayed at the Québec City Marriott Downtown which is conveniently located just outside the Saint-Jean Gate (one of the entry points through the fortified walls of Old Québec) and near the shops and restaurants of Rue St. Jean which is partially pedestrianized during the summer months. We had a difficult time figuring out how to access the hotel arriving by car but once we had parked we appreciated the location.
This hotel has more of the feel of a boutique style hotel with just over 100 rooms. The rooms have been recently renovated and are stylish and comfortable with flat panel TVs. There is one restaurant in the hotel and a fitness centre that is open 24 hours.
850 Rue D’Youville
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