Exploring Québec City is like discovering a secret passageway into Europe, with historic charm and modern flair around every corner.
Plus, it’s closer than you may think. Located 150 miles north of Montreal, it’s a 1.5 hour flight from New York City and a 6-hour drive from Boston. It’s a city filled with art, culture, history and cuisine — a bit of Paris in your own backyard.
Both French and English are spoken here, and the locals are happy to indulge your attempts to speak their language. We’ll get you started with a few key phrases below.
Old-world European charm in North America
Before making your way into the walled city of Old Québec, start here: The beautiful and historic Petit-Champlain district. Stroll through the pedestrian-friendly brick-lined streets of this quaint district that’s bursting with bistros, boutiques and patisseries to get a taste of the Québecois way of life. Here you’ll find centuries-old stone houses built in the French architectural style, impressive murals that span multiple stories and art galleries galore. Each side street reveals a new picturesque vantage point, practically begging to be Instagrammed.
After getting a taste of Québec in Petit-Champlain, it’s time for the main course. Ride the funiculaire, an inclined cable railway that departs every five minutes (during the warm season) from within a souvenir shop on Rue du Petit Champlain, connecting the lower city to the upper city for some incredible views. If heights aren’t your thing, there’s also a set of stairs nearby.
Pouvez-vous me prendre en photo s’il vous plaît? C’est pour Instagram. / Will you please take my photo for Instagram?
Majestic views and a bite to eat
When you step out of the funiculaire onto the Terrasse Dufferin, a former military fortification and now public park-meets-boardwalk, it’s impossible not to be awed by the sheer beauty of the sights that lay before you.
On one side is the steady waters of the Saint Lawrence River, where boats pass by en route to Lake Ontario from the Atlantic Ocean. On the other is the iconic and castle-like Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, a 611-room luxury hotel perched high above the city and a designated National Historic Site of Canada. Enjoy the view of both, as well as street performances in the area throughout the summer. (During winter there’s an epic, 800-foot long toboggan ride here instead.)
When you start to get hungry, depart on foot from the Terrasse Dufferin and make your way down Rue Saint-Louis in search of a bite to eat. All along this picturesque route (“rue” means “street” in French) are delightful stone houses — some of the oldest buildings in the city — plus ample options for shopping and dining.
The très popular Aux Anciens Canadiens is located in one of the oldest houses in Québec, the historic Maison Jacquet, which dates back to 1675. Here you can nosh on regional staples like soupe aux pois (pea soup), tourtière (meat pie in a pastry crust) and filet of deer. A few doors down at Le Continental, it’s dinner and a show, as a troupe of chefs perform tableside, cooking dishes as simple as a Caesar salad all the way up to the decidedly more theatrical flambéed meats that go up in flames right in front of you.
J’aimerais avoir le poulet s’il vous plaît. / I’ll have the chicken, please.
A religious experience
Since Europeans first settled this area of “New France,” Québec has maintained a strong religious presence rooted in faith. Though the city includes a range of religious observations today, Catholicism persists as the most popular. In fact, there are some 85 Roman Catholic churches in the area.
The Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica is a prime example. Though the building has been rebuilt multiple times due to fire, the site has played host to the church since 1664, making it the oldest cathedral north of Mexico.
Once inside, stand in awe of the Baroque-style dome and shimmering alter, gilded in gold leaf, plus an impressive collection of religious paintings.
For those looking for a truly spiritual experience, there’s the Holy Door, a bronze gate that you can walk through as a symbol of good faith, renewal and conversion. Part of the Jubilee of Mercy holy year, the passageway will be accessible at Notre-Dame through the middle of November.
À quelle heure l’église ouvre-t-elle? / At what time does the church open?