Situated along the Saint Charles and Saint Lawrence Rivers, Quebec City is an ideal destination for anyone who is tired of the nondescript, tall buildings, traffic jams, and poor air quality which plague many urban centers. Quebec’s provincial capital dates back to 1608, making it the oldest city in Canada. It claims more than a half-million residents, yet is extremely walkable. There are no neighborhoods to avoid and the skyline is low, giving the city a more intimate feel. While 96% of Quebec City is native French-speaking, most people in the service sector speak fluent English (although not to the extent that you’ll find in nearby Montreal).
You can reach Quebec City by plane, train, or boat. Here is a 24-hour itinerary which includes a bit of history, cuisine, culture, and exercise.
Fairmont Le Château Frontenac
The New Grand Market
Funiculaire du Vieux-Québec
Épicerie J.A. Moisan
Musée de la civilisation à Québec
Il Teatro Quebec City
Musee du Fort
Muséee de l'Amérique francophone
Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica-Cathedral
FORTIFICATIONS OF QUEBEC NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
Observatorie de la Capitale
Start Your Day at the New Grand Market (Le Grand Marché de Québec)
With more than 100 vendors, the New Grand Market is an ideal place to start your day. This is where the locals shop. By making the market your first stop, you’ll be able to get a feel for the pulse of Quebec City. Vendors from around Quebec sell different meats, fish, cheeses, pastries, and seasonal produce as well as processed foods like jams, maple butters, berry-infused vinagrettes, etc.
Most of the vendors are on the ground floor. The first floor has a seating area, a family zone for children (which offers different activities throughout the year) as well as a market restaurant with an ever-changing menu of seasonal items from the region. For a more hands-on experience check out the chef’s table or Les Urbainculteurs, which promotes eco-friendly urban agriculture. They offer workshops throughout the year.
Like the airport, the market is located west of the city center. If you see something you like, but don’t want to carry it to and from the city center, you can always stop at the market on your way back to the airport. It’s open daily from 9 to 5. Buses 3, 4, 801, and 802 all stop at the market. There is no direct route from the airport to the market, so private car is a better option. To really experience the market, allow at least an hour.
Learn Quebec History at the Museum of Civilization (Musée de la civilisation)
After you finish touring the market, head to the Basse-Ville, which is a hammer-shaped neighborhood between Old Quebec and the Saint Lawrence River. At the Museum of Civilization, you can get a crash course in Quebec history in less than two hours. A half-dozen different exhibits are spread out between two floors in this spacious museum. If you’re only interested in local history, check out the permanent exhibits, This is Our Story and People of Quebec…..Then And Now. For something lighhearted and a bit more quirky check out Observe. More Than Meets The Eye, which is also a permanent exhibition.
The museum is open daily from 10-5. You can easily spend an entire day here if you plan to visit every exhibit. Bus 1 stops near the entrance.
Take the Quebec City Funicular to the top (Funiculaire du Vieux-Québec)
From the Museum of Civilization, the Old Port of Quebec City is just 400 meters north. If you’re curious about the area’s naval history, you can check out the Naval Museum of Quebec, which is along the waterfront. From either museum, you can then continue south along Rue Dalhousie past Belvedere de l’Artefact and Place des Canotiers until you reach Rue du Marche Finlay. Turn right there and you’ll pass the Place de Paris monument and Royal Palace before reaching Rue Notre-Dame. Turn left and you’ll see Notre-Dame-des-Victories, which is a 17th century stone church, which was rebuilt in 1763 after the Siege of Quebec.
One block west of the church is both the entrance to the famous Breakneck Steps (Escalier Casse-Cou) as well as the Funiculaire du Vieux-Quebec. If you’re looking for some exercise and photo ops, you can take the Breakneck Steps to the Escalier Frontenac. You’ll end up at the UNESCO Monument along Fort Street. Likewise, if you want to end up in the same place, but need to save some energy for later, you can take a quick, one-minute ride up on the funicular. At the junction of Fort and Saint Louis, you’ll see the famous Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, which is an ideal location if you want to stay in Old Quebec. A who’s who of world leaders and entertainers have stayed here since it first opened in 1893.
Have lunch in North America’s oldest grocery store
From Old Quebec, Bus 11 will drop you near the corner of Dauphine and Route 440. From there, walk two blocks north to Rue Saint-Jean and turn left. After you cross Boulevard Honore-Mercier, you’ll be in the Saint-Jean-Baptiste district, which is home to some international chain hotels and the Park of French America (Quebec was once called New France). Épicerie J.A. Moisan will be two blocks on your left.
Dating back to 1871, Épicerie J.A. Moisan claims to be North America’s oldest grocery store. Minus the clothing and hairstyles of the employees and patrons, Moisan looks like something out of a 1920s silent film. The key to appreciating Moisan is to focus on its old world charm and ignore the (ofen crowded) narrow lanes and longer than usual wait times. There’s a small seating area near the window facing Rue Saint-Jean. You can order some cheese, fruit, pate, and french bread and have an indoor picnic while people-watching through the window. This is not the type of experience that you want to rush through. Allow up to an hour.
Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth at the Chocolate Museum (Erico Musee du Chocolat)
Moisan has desserts, but try to save at least enough room for a chocolate truffle or two at Erico, which is directly across the street. This compact dessert boutique doubles as a one-room chocolate museum with fun facts about cocoa as well as a 25-cent cocoa bean dispenser. There’s also a timeline which chronicles important dates in the history of chocolate from 400 AD to present.
Look Out Over Quebec from the City’s Tallest Building
Part of Quebec City’s charm is its small European village feel. With that said, Quebec still offers tourists the chance to take in paroramic views of the city from its tallest building. Between Febrary and mid-October, you can take the elevator up to the top of Observatorie de la Capitale which is just 400 meters south of Erico and Moisan.
Tour the Fortifications of Quebec National Historic Site
In addition to being Canada’s first city, Quebec is also its’ only walled city. The walled section is referred to as Old Quebec. In 1985, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The walls were started by the French around 1745 and completed by the British in 1759. They form a 4.6 kilometer (2.8 mile) wall around the city and can reach as high as 40′ high and up to 20′ thick.
Just 650 meters east of Erico (along Rue Saint-Jean) or 900 meters from Observatorie de la Capitale, you’ll find the Fortificaitons of Quebec National Historic Site. Free 90-minute guided tours are available from mid-May to early November.
Have Dinner at Il Teatro
Il Teatro gets its’ name from Le Capitole Theatre, which the restaurant is connected to. Like the nearby fortifications, the theatre is also a National Historic Site. It dates back to 1903 and has an 1,100 seating capacity, giving it an intimate feel not unlike that of Quebec City itself. You can catch an afternoon or evening play, making the complex the ideal area for dinner and a show.
The a la carte menu at the exquisite, two-floor Il Teatro offers mostly upscale Italian fare with a modern European twist. For example, their meatballs are made with duck and their roasted scallops come with a honey mustard sauce. One of their salads combines burrata cheese with coppa and apples from Quebec. They offer pizza with mostly traditional ingredients as well as a three-course host’s table menu, which is popular among theatre-goers.
An adjacent hotel (which will also be called Le Capitole) will be opening in late 2019.
Take an Evening Stroll along Rue Saint-Jean
After your dinner and/or a show, continue east on Rute Saint Jean for an evening stroll replete with window shopping and people watching. Whether you’re into shopping or not, you can imagine yoursef in the shoes of a local for the evening and pop in and out of the different artisanal boutiques, souvenir shops, and cafes. Portions at Il Teatro are on the smaller side, so if you still have some of your appetitie left, Rue Saint-Jean is an ideal steet where you can try local favorites like crepes and poutine. Also, if the upscale atmosphere of Il Teatro is not for you, there are plenty of smaller, more casual dining options all along Rue Saint-Jean.
Walk Past Canada’s First University and see the only Holy Door in the Americas
Rue Saint-Jean ends at the junction of Rue Couillard and Cote de la Fabrique. Instead of bearing left onto Couillard, continue onto Fabrique. Right after you pass Rue Saint-Famille, you’ll see a walkway beteween the Centre de la francophonie des Ameriques and the Notre-Dame Basilica-Cathedral. Past those two landmarks is the courtyard of the Laval School of Architecture, which is beautifully lit up at night. The Notre-Dame de Quebec Basilica-Cathedral claims the only holy door in the Americas. The church itself dates back to 1647 and is another National Historic Site of Canada. The Muséee de l’Amérique francophone closes at 5, but is worth a visit if you plan to stay a bit longer. They are an affiliate of the larger Musée de la civilisation.