Things to Do in Quebec City
Higher than Niagara Falls, the impressive Montmorency Falls stand 272 feet (83 meters) tall and serve as the centerpiece of Montmorency Falls Park (Parc de la Chute-Montmorency). The site is a year-round destination for visitors to Quebec City and Montreal, offering an array of outdoor activities and the stunning sight of the falls, which form at the mouth of the Montmorency River and drop over a cliff into the St. Lawrence River.
With its narrow, cobbled streets and historic 17th- and 18th-century homes and monuments, there’s no place else in Canada that feels quite like Old Quebec (Vieux-Québec). As the only existing fortified city north of Mexico, it’s full of living history, rich Quebecois culture, and European-style charm. The historic district of Old Quebec—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—is a must-see when in Quebec City.
The passing of centuries has had little impact on Quebec's Royal Square (Place-Royale), a 17th-century plaza that has been at the center of Quebec City life since Samuel de Champlain founded the city in 1608. The Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church, the oldest stone church in North America, still stands here, and the Fresque des Québécois mural can be seen nearby.
During the 17th century, Quebec City’s charming Old Port (Vieux-Port) was bustling with European vessels and crews offloading supplies to New France. Now thronged with passengers from incoming cruise ships, the area is filled with historic buildings occupied by art galleries, boutiques, and inviting French-influenced restaurants.
Running alongside the famous Château Frontenac in Quebec City, Dufferin Terrace (Terrasse Dufferin) is a wide boardwalk offering views of the city and the St. Lawrence river. In the summer, gazebos along the promenade host street performers and musicians, while in winter, the popular Les Glissades de la Terrasse toboggan run draws locals and visitors alike.
The oldest Christian parish north of Mexico, the grandiose Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica-Cathedral started life as a much more modest church in 1647 but was damaged and rebuilt several times—most recently in the 1920s following a devastating fire. The basilica is a must-see for anyone with an interest in architecture, art, and history.
One of Quebec City’s best-preserved historic neighborhoods, the Petit Champlain District (Quartier Petit Champlain) has cobbled streets with sidewalk cafés, art galleries, and boutiques and European ambience. The city’s oldest staircase, the Breakneck Steps (L'Escalier Casse-Cou), leads from this quarter to the Côte de la Montagne.
Part of Battlefields Park, the grassy expanse of the Plains of Abraham (Plaines d'Abraham) was the setting for a major military clash in 1759, which led to the British takeover of New France—a battle that is well-documented in the Plains of Abraham Museum. The park is an outdoor playground for Quebec City residents who come here to stroll, cycle, jog, sled, and cross-country ski.
The Aquarium du Quebec is a family-friendly destination and home to more than 10,000 marine animals. Kids learn about the magic of the marine world through visits to tanks, marine mammals like polar bears and walrus, and educational exhibits. Animal feedings and trainings, seasonal events, and a riverside picnic area are also popular.
Encircling Old Quebec, these historic walls are the defense system of the only surviving walled city in North America. Originally developed by the French to protect them from the British, and later by the British to protect them from the Americans, the restored Fortifications of Quebec are now a National Historic Site.
More Things to Do in Quebec City
The huge star-shaped Citadel of Quebec (Citadelle de Quebec) is the largest military fortress in North America still occupied by troops. Begun by the French in the 1750s, the fortress was completed by the British in the mid-19th century, but never actually saw any action. Today, Canada’s French-speaking Royal 22nd Regiment (Royal 22e Régiment) is based here.
Quebec City visitors in the mood for a scenic stroll won’t want to miss the Promenade Samuel-De Champlain. Popular with cyclists and runners, the waterfront park is a must for city goers looking to escape the busy streets for a few hours.
Perched atop Cape Diamond (Cap Diamant) overlooking the St. Lawrence River, Upper Town (Haute-Ville) is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Old Quebec (Vieux-Québec). Historic fortifications, built by the French and British, enclose a series of well-preserved streets lined with buildings dating back as far as the 17th century.
Between Upper Town (Haute-Ville) and the St. Lawrence River, Quebec Lower Town (Basse-Ville) is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Old Quebec (Vieux-Québec). Aside from cobbled streets lined with boutiques, galleries, and French-style bistros, the neighborhood is also home to Place Royale, the site of the first settlement of New France.
Located in the walkable heart of Old Quebec (Vieux Quebec), the Roman Catholic Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church (Église Notre-Dame-des-Victoires) is among the oldest in North America. Construction of the small stone church began in 1688 on the site of Samuel de Champlain’s original settlement, and it remains a beloved landmark.
One of Canada’s most-visited shrines, the Shrine of Saint-Anne-de-Beaupré (Sanctuaire de Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré) attracts more than a million pilgrims every year. Though the shrine’s origins can be traced back to the 17th century, the colossal twin-spired basilica that stands today—which dwarfs the modest village in which it sits—is much newer, having opened only in 1934.
Towering over Parliament Hill at the 31st floor of the city’s highest skyscraper, Capital Observatory (Observatoire de la Capitale) is Quebec City’s premier and uppermost viewpoint. Having welcomed over a million visitors since it first opened its doors in 1998, it offers breathtaking panoramas 221 meters over sea level of not only Quebec City itself but also the mighty St. Lawrence River, Island of Orleans, Appalachian Foothills and the Laurentians. A special exhibit named Horizons takes visitors on a discovery experience presenting four perspectives of Quebec City filled with cool facts and stories about the local history centered around four main themes: politics, history, culture, and society.
Quebec City’s National Museum of Fine Arts (Musée National des Beaux-Arts) houses one of the largest collections of Quebec art in the world. Situated behind the scenic Plains of Abraham (Battlefields Park), the museum’s pavilions showcase famed Canadian artists such as Jean-Paul Riopelle and an impressive Inuit art collection.
Quebec City’s Fort Museum (Musée du Fort) is known for its light and sound show that recounts the compelling military history of the only fortified city in North America. Located directly in front of the Château Frontenac, the informative museum offers a convenient, kid-friendly way to learn about—and kick off your visit to—Quebec City.
A former industrial area transformed into a hip urban neighborhood, Saint-Roch in downtown Quebec City is home to bars, restaurants, shops, and galleries and is the city’s nightlife epicenter. Take the Faubourg elevator from this youthful, vibrant quarter to the Upper Town for sweeping views.
Rising as a beacon of modernity in historic Old Quebec, the Museum of Civilization (Musée de la Civilisation) looks at humanity across the world as well as the history of Quebec through an extensive lens. Surrounded by glass panes and greenery, the museum is impressive from the exterior alone. Pre-existing buildings were incorporated into the completed design, which finished construction in 1998. Inside, both its permanent and rotating exhibits are highly interactive and educational, ranging from Quebec’s Aboriginal roots to contemporary culture.
The museum has become known for its fresh and original designs and perspectives, and is thought to be a leading cultural hub of Quebec. It has hundreds of unique and original historic art and artifacts, many of which collectively tell the story of Quebec. There are often family workshops as well as guided tours (in both English and French) available for those looking to take a deeper dive into the museum.
Museum of Francophone America (Musée de l'Amérique Francophone) is part of the broader Musées de la Civilisation complex in Quebec City and focuses specifically on the evolution of French-speaking culture in both the province of Quebec and North America. It is housed inside a former seminary dating back to 1663, technically making the museum Canada’s oldest. It promotes the development of French culture around the world and offers invaluable information on the colonial history of the Americas, all while allowing the traditional Quebec arts & crafts to shine through. There are many permanent and temporary exhibitions inside the museum, notably in the historic chapel, which serves as a beautiful backdrop.
Run by the wife and family of the late, great coppersmith, Albert Gilles, the Albert Gilles Copper Art Museum and Boutique showcases artwork by both Gilles and his family. Part of the economusee network of Canada, this small museum allows visitors to make their own copper memento, and groups with reservations will get to see live copper work demos. In the museum store, you’ll also find artworks and jewelry for sale.
Albert Gilles was born in Paris in 1895, where an aunt taught him the craft of copper embossing. Crossing the Atlantic in the 1930s to make a new life in Quebec, Gilles quickly established a name for himself as a master coppersmith and created work for everyone from Walt Disney to Pope XII. Perhaps his most famous work is the copper doors he created for Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré basilica, 22 miles outside Quebec City. This famous cathedral receives up to half a million pilgrims a year, and in Quebec City itself you can spot Albert Gilles’ designs on the copper roof of the iconic Château Frontenac hotel.
On the northern shore of the St Lawrence River, Quebec’s Charlevoix region is known for its beauty, filled with fjords, bays, and mountains.One of the world’s first populated UNESCO World Biosphere Reserves, the region is named after the famous French explorer, François-Xavier de Charlevoix, who first traveled here in the 18th century. Ever since, Charlevoix has been a popular visit with America’s bourgeoisie, and a popular base while in the region is the upscale resort town and longtime artists’ enclave of Baie-Saint-Paul, 60 miles from Quebec City.
Popular year-round, in summer Charlevoix is known for hiking, biking, and kayaking opportunities in the region’s two national parks — Les Grands-Jardins and Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie. In winter it’s all about skiing, sledding, and snowboarding at one of the region’s many ski resorts.
Central Charlevoix is also known for its food producers who specialize in French favorrites like cheese, pate, and foie gras. On the Flavour Trail, which starts just outside Baie-Saint-Paul, you can visit more than 40 farms and breweries for tastings and tours.Upper Charlevoix has some of the world’s best whale watching opportunities. From mid-June to late-October, by boat or kayak look out for humpbacks, minkes, finbacks, blue whales, and belugas at the confluence of the St Lawrence and Saguenay rivers.
Given the region’s pastoral scenery, it might be surprising to find that much of Charlevoix’s landscape was sculpted by a crater formed from a meteorite over 350 million years ago. A series of glaciers and earthquakes did the rest of the work in creating this peaceful scene.