Canadian flag flying over a picturesque Old Quebec City at sunset

Your Trip to Quebec City: The Complete Guide

••• Gabriel Shakour / Getty Images

Quebec City is a destination unlike any other you’ll find in North America. The only fortified city north of Mexico and the birthplace of French Canada dates all the way back to the 17th century, with swirling cobblestone streets, world-famous castles, and original European architecture drawing more than 4.6 million tourists per year. The capital city of Quebec, specifically the Historic District of Old Quebec (a UNESCO world heritage site since 1985) transports visitors into a Eurocentric playground without leaving North America.

Perched atop a cliff above the Saint Lawrence River and one of North America’s oldest cities, Quebec City is a great destination for all types of travelers. Thanks to its rich history, picturesque architecture, and seductive food and wine scene, it’s easy to plan a tailor-made trip to Quebec City to suit your specific style and interests.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best time to visit: Depending on what you’re hoping to see and do, the best time to visit Quebec City is between June to August, when the weather is temperate and festival season is in full swing. Alternatively, if you want to experience the iconic winter festivals, book a trip in February (and bring a good jacket).
  • Language: French and English; while both are official languages in Canada, the majority of people in Quebec City speak French.
  • Currency: Canadian dollar
  • Getting around: Cyclo Services rents a wide variety of bikes, which is the quickest and easiest way to get around the downtown core. You’ll need to rent a car or download Uber for longer trips outside of downtown; public transit is available but is considerably sparse compared to other big cities.
  • Weather and climate: Weather in Quebec City ranges from extreme cold to acute heat, with very little in between (spring and fall usually only last a few weeks). The winter months usually consist of several snowstorms, with at least a foot of snow on the ground on any given day; temperature usually sits around 14 degrees F but can drop as low as minus 40 degrees F. Summertime usually sees at least a few weeks of heatwave-level temperature, but the average temperature sits somewhere around 77 degrees F.

Things to Do

While Quebec City is significantly smaller than neighboring Montréal, there’s still a lot to be said about the historic town. Whether you travel for cultural or historical enrichment or you prefer to kick back on a sunny patio, drink in hand, there’s something for everyone in Québec’s capital city.

Go shopping: Quebec City proper is largely geared to tourism, but there are still handfuls of charming boutiques and big box shopping up and down its charming cobblestone streets. The Quartier Petit Champlain is one of the most beautiful sites in Quebec as well as one of the oldest commercial streets in North America, with handfuls of European-style boutiques, big box stores, souvenir shops, and of course, plenty of restaurants, music venues, and more. At Marché du Vieux-Port, you’ll find fresh fruit and veggies, alongside local specialties like Québecois cheeses, provencal wine and cider, and artisanal crafts and souvenirs. And with 280 boutiques and stores, 35 restaurants, and 18 rides (including a roller coaster and Ferris wheel), Les Galeries de la Capitale is the perfect spot to waste away a rainy day in Quebec City.

Attend the events and festivals: Each year, the city welcomes thousands of visitors to the Quebec Winter Carnival, where locals and travelers alike can experience nighttime parades, snow sculptures, skating, and shows for all ages. In August, Quebec City and neighboring Lévis host Grands Feux Loto-Quebec, which attracts more than 700,000 visitors for six nights of highly curated firework shows, free of charge. Canada’s largest outdoor music festival, Festival d'été de Québec (FEQ), held every July, touts over 80,000 spectators to rock out to big name acts (from Mariah Carey to Slipknot) across 10 urban venues around the city.

Hike the Montmorency Falls: If you’re looking for an outdoors activity to get your blood pumping, head to the Montmorency River, just outside of downtown Quebec between the borough of Beauport, and Boischatel. Climb to the top of the falls (which are a full 99 feet higher than Niagara Falls), and test your fear by crossing the suspension bridge that hangs over the crest of the falls.

Visit La Citadelle de Québec: The citadel is comprised of the oldest military building in Canada, and it's where you'll find the only remaining parts of the city's fortifications. It's nestled atop Cap Diamant on the Plains of Abraham, where the British battled the French in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759.

Eating & Drinking

Quebec City has some of the best French cuisine in the province, as well as other types of international and American cuisine. Don’t be afraid to explore outside of Old Quebec—it’s here you’ll find the restaurants catered to locals, which are generally more affordable and, well, more true to the gastronomic pleasures that Québec is known for.

Where to Stay

Quebec City has handfuls of well-known hotel chains and luxury properties, from Hilton to Fairmont, but many visitors opt for boutique hotels or family-run bed-and-breakfasts over big-name hotels.

The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac is inarguably Quebec City’s most desirable address. Overlooking the Saint Lawrence River, the stunning property, set in a former castle, touts unobstructed views of the city and surrounding area.

If wellness-focused stays are more your speed, consider checking into Le Monastère des Augustines. Set in the site of the continent’s first hospital north of Mexico, this holistic health hotel still sports authentic former cells, as well as modern suites.

In the mood for luxury? Consider dropping your bags at Auberge Saint-Antoine Relais & Châteaux, the city’s top rated boutique hotel. Nestled right into Quebec City’s Old Port, the charming property touts contemporary comforts in a historic setting.

Quebec City is bursting with charming French-style bed and breakfasts, which offer more personalized services at affordable prices. We like Le Château du Faubourg, in particular; the family-owned château boasts just three bedrooms and two suites, complete with a charming formal dining room and cozy library room, all adorned with antique furniture and grand chandeliers.

Getting There

Located about 250 kilometers northeast of Montreal, Quebec’s capital city sits on the banks of the Saint Lawrence River, overlooking Lévis, Québec to the east. It’s the largest city directly to the west of New Brunswick and north of Maine.

Quebec City is about a three-hour drive from downtown Montreal, an eight-hour drive east from Toronto, and eight and a half hours north of New York City.

  • Air: Quebec City Jean Lesage International Airport is about 10 miles (15.5 kilometers) or a 25-minute drive from Old Québec.
  • Train: VIA Rail transports travelers to the city's Gare du Palais.
  • Bus: Orléans Express and Maritime Bus serves Quebec City from Montreal and various other towns in Quebec, including Trois Rivieres and Drummondville. Buses arrive at the downtown Terminus d'autobus de la Gare du Palais.
  • Car: Quebec City is roughly 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the nearest American border, in Jackson, Maine.

Culture and Customs

  • Canada’s two official languages are English and French, but in Quebec City, about 80 percent of the population are native francophones, with French being the only spoken language. Unlike Montreal, where visitors can easily get by with only speaking English, locals in Quebec City appreciate travelers making an effort to speak French before switching to English. Don’t let that deter you, though. Most locals working in hospitality speak at least basic English.
  • Keep in mind that most restaurants with table service will add a 15 percent tax on your bill, and a tip is expected on top of that. A proper tip is considered between 15 and 25 percent, but in a pinch, an easy way to remember how much to leave is at least the tax rate. Getting drinks at a bar or patio is an exception to this rule; in Quebec, it’s expected to tip at least $1 per drink.

History of Quebec City

While French explorer Jacques Cartier arrived in 1535, “New France” (later renamed Quebec City) was founded 73 years later in 1608 by French explorer Samuel de Champlain, making the French-speaking metropolis the oldest city in Canada and the third oldest in North America. The riverside town became a major trading hub with the fishing, fur, timber, and shipbuilding industries expanding quickly.

The constitution of 1791 named Quebec City as the capital of Lower Canada, until Canada was created in 1867 by the Act of Confederation (which united Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia), and it was named the province’s capital city. In Quebec, the city is still known as "la capitale nationale," which reflects the provinces nationalist tendencies, which are still topical in Quebec society and politics today.

Quebec City has retained much of its 17th-century architecture, specifically in the historic Old Quebec, which sports cobblestone streets, original French architecture, and fortified city walls.

Money Saving Tips

  • Take a ferry ride: It might be tempting to spend on catamarans or sail boat rentals, but taking the ferry from from Quebec City to Lévis and back costs just $7 round-trip and offers passengers spectacular views of the city skyline.
  • Go on a parliament tour: If you're met with an overcast day, taking a tour of the handsome Parliament building is a great way to waste away a few hours indoors. The walking tour is completely free and offers interesting insights for architecture and politics.
  • Have a picnic: During the summer months, locals love to pick up a nice bottle of wine, some cheese, charcuterie, and baguettes and enjoy happy hour al fresco. Pack your own basket of Quebecois terroir and head to the Pierre-Dugua-De-Mons Terrace to enjoy your snacks with unobstructed views of the old city and the river.
Article Sources
TripSavvy uses only high-quality, trusted sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Québec City Tourism. "Figures on our Tourism Industry."

  2. Statistics Canada. "English, French and official language minorities in Canada."

  3. Tourisme Québec. "Useful Information: Taxes and Tipping."