Last Updated on May 18, 2022 by Pamela
Let’s start this beginner’s guide to Quebec City with a little history. One of the oldest cities in Canada, Quebec City was originally known as New France, a settlement established by cartographer and explorer, Samuel de Champlain in 1608 — long before the British showed up, throwing their weight around like they owned the place.
Of course, the British eventually won possession of Quebec City, and New France, and got their way. Soon, the French places were occupied by the British, who established their own places, and although the British ruled over Quebec for quite some time, French Quebec eventually regained control of the city. Sure, it got ugly for a little while, but tempers cooled down, tourism increased, and the Quebec of today is a very different place.
Today, Quebec City is vibrant and brimming with culture. Cobbled streets and outdoor patios entice visitors to sit and enjoy a café au lait or chocolat chaud, inviting them to immerse themselves in the city’s history, European charm, and delicious food.
There is so much to experience on your first trip to the city, that we decided to create a Beginner’s Guide to Quebec City to help make your first trip fabulous.
Beginner’s Guide to Quebec City: Neighbourhoods to Explore
Visiting Old Quebec City is a must for everyone, this is the essence of Quebec, but once you have explored the old city, it’s time to branch out and explore other neighbourhoods.
Your first time in Quebec City can be a little overwhelming; what should you see and do? Is it just an old city with old museums, or is there more?
Let’s start this beginner’s guide to Quebec City by breaking down the neighbourhoods.
OLD QUEBEC CITY (VIEUX-QUEBEC)
The number one ‘hood in this beginner’s guide to Quebec City for first-timers is Old Quebec City (Vieux-Quebec). Also known as Haute-Ville or Upper-Town, it’s the location of the Fairmont Château Frontenac and beautiful 18th and 19th-century architecture.
You don’t have to stay at the château to explore the hotel’s Great Gatsby-esque royal blue and gold decor. If you’re a lover of history, consider taking a historic walking tour of the hotel.
Walk to Terrasse Pierre-Duga-des-Mons and then up the hill for a postcard shot of Château Frontenac, the Saint-Lawrence River and Old Quebec City. Follow the path around La Citadelle and wander along the ramparts and fortifications of Quebec. For drinks, hit up Bar Sainte-Angèle on rue Sainte-Angèle or Pub Saint-Patrick on rue Saint-Jean. Visit important religious sites like Basilica Notre-Dame de Quebec, the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity or Le Monastère. Dine on a patio or do a little shopping. Wander down quiet side streets.
A relatively small neighbourhood, located next to Quartier Petit-Champlain, Place-Royale is the site of the first settlement in New France (circa 1608). This is where Samuel de Champlain started building the city we now know as Québec City.
Along rue Notre-Dame, you will find one of the oldest churches in North America, Notre-Dame-des-Victories. In the summer the church is open to visitors and worth a little visit. If you’re looking for a café, hit up La Maison Smith for some café au lait and a croissant.
If you’re looking for a beer then try out Pub l’Oncle Antoine – which is housed in a very old building with walls so thick that it’s unlikely you’ll have cell service once you’re inside. Place-Royale is small but full of charm.
Do not let Petit-Champlain’s small size fool you, this little neighbourhood packs a big punch!
One of the oldest shopping streets in Quebec City, rue Petit-Champlain has almost everything: clothing and shoes, chocolatiers, art, gourmet food shops, and some of the city’s most delightful bistros.
Wander the cobbled streets, do a little shopping, then take the Funiculaire or Escalier Casse-Cou back up to Old-Quebec at the top of Cap Diamant. Before you venture up top, pop into Pape George or Q-de-Sac for a pint or maybe visit Petite Cabane à Sucre or La Fudgerie for a sweet treat.
Located outside the city walls, Grande Allée is a popular street among tourists and locals in the neighbourhood of Montcalm. One of the best places to experience Quebec City nightlife.
Take time to visit the Musée national des beaux-arts de Quebec (MNBAQ). Dine out or do a little foodies souvenir shopping on Ave Cartier. Take a free tour of the Parliament building or enjoy the city views from Observatoire de la Capitale.
Sip artisanal cocktails or enjoy drafts of beer, meet locals and let loose. When you finally crawl out into the wee morning hours, hit up Chez Ashton for some late night/early morning poutine. It’s magical after midnight.
A thriving local neighbourhood, Saint-Roch is a 10-15 min walk from Old Quebec City, and a fabulous neighbourhood for foodies, craft beer lovers, and those seeking live music.
Head over to La Korrigane or Le Noctem for a local brew. Shop for vintage records at Le Knock-Out or trendy clothing at the boutiques along rue Saint-Joseph Est. Dine on fine gourmet food in unpretentious restaurants.
Easily one of our favourite neighbourhoods in Quebec City.
Top Things to See & Do in Quebec City
Beginners’ guide to Quebec City would not be complete without suggestions on the best things to do while you’re in the city. These are our top picks for first-time visitors. If you want to more activity ideas, check out this article!
1. Go On a Walking Tour
I highly recommend taking a historical walking tour of Old Quebec City with Cicerone Walking Tours; it’s affordable, entertaining, and gives a good overview of the city. If you’re a foodie, consider this fabulous food tour exploring Québecois cuisine or treat yourself to a truly gourmet food tour experience.
For a more personalized experience, consider hiring a private tour guide.
2. Observatoire de la Capitale
Take in the views of Quebec City from 221 meters above the ground! Observatoire de la Capitale offers visitors a 360º view of the city. Definitely worth your time, especially on a clear day. Autumn is our favourite time to visit, but spring and summer are also beautiful as well. Visit their website for more information.
3. Go on a Self-Guided Instawalk
If you’re an Instagram lover, Quebec is the perfect city. It’s full of delightful details, you just need a camera and an eye for detail. Wander on your own, or take one that has already been set up. Either way, it can be a fun way to pass the time.
4. Rent a Bike
When the snow is gone, rent a bike and explore the city. Ride the path along the Saint Lawrence River and venture out to Montmorency Falls or into the neighbourhood of Limoilou. Quebec City is the perfect place for a scenic bike ride.
5. Hop-On Hop-Off Double-Decker Tour
They look cheesy, but double-decker hop-on hop-off bus tours can be fun, and it is generally a good way to get a lay of the land. Use the tour to figure out where you want to explore more fully, and which areas that are not of interest to you.
6. Visit La Citadelle
As the only fortified city in North America (north of Mexico), the citadel is one of the best things to do in Quebec City. While it’s possible to visit and take a tour during the day, consider doing the Night Tour, complete with a guide in a period costume.
7. Québec-Lévis Ferry
Looking for where to snap a picture-perfect shot of Quebec City’s skyline? Easy, ride the Québec-Lévis ferry. Take the ferry to Lévis and snap some photos of the Quebec City skyline, stop for a pint at the brewery, wander around, then catch the ferry back to the city. We recommend doing this all year-’round.
8. Go to Le Grande Marché Quebec
Replacing the farmer’s market once located in Vieux-Port (Old Port), Le Grand Marché is a beautiful market filled with delicious Quebec terroir.
Take a city bus for $3.50 CAD (each way) or opt for the free shuttle which runs a few times a day and departs from Place d’Armes, just outside Château Frontenac.
In summer, buy everything you’ll need for a picnic – we highly recommend the strawberries. Try out maple products or buy some locally produced wine, cider, cheese, charcuterie, and more.
French or English?
Is Quebec City French or English? While Quebec City is about 95% French, as a popular tourist destination, there are plenty of people in Old Quebec City who speak English. In fact, most places will not hire staff unless they are bilingual. That being said, speaking a little French can go a long, and is greatly appreciated by the locals.
Here are a couple of tips to make things easier:
- Never assume someone speaks English, the locals don’t like that. In fact, I know some anglophones who live in the city that pretend to be francophones when approached by a tourist who arrogantly assumes they speak English. Don’t be a jerk.
- In neighbourhoods outside the old city, like Saint-Roch and Limoilou, English speakers can be found, but these neighbourhoods are mostly French. Say Bonjour, make an effort. The locals will figure things out very quickly and if they speak English, most will answer in English.
- I always start with “Je parle pas un français”, which means I don’t speak French. This helps break the ice in a friendly manner. If a local speaks a little English, they’ll tell you. If not, then you’re both resorting to charades or using your google translate app.
Quebec City Food Scene
The food scene in Quebec City is filled with micro-restaurants run by passionate chefs, gourmet bistros, and sinfully delicious comfort food spots that are heart attacks waiting to happen. You may go to Quebec City to experience the history and the ambience, but you’ll end up gaining ten pounds while you’re there. It is inevitable.
Dine on everything from Italian to Asian, and be sure to leave room for some classic French dishes, as well as flavourful Quebecois eats. Try poutine. Sip on some incredible French Onion soup (just Onion soup here!). Sample the gourmet food scene and stuff your face with cheap late-night eats.
Where to Stay in Quebec City
A beginner’s guide to Quebec City would not be complete without a couple of suggestions on where to stay. Thankfully there are plenty of places to rest your head in Quebec City!
The old city has two hostels: Auberge Internationale de Québec (HI Québec) on rue Saint-Ursule, and Auberge de la Paix on rue Couillard. There are plenty of B&Bs, guesthouses and hotels with rates under $100 per night.
Most boutique and luxury hotels are in the neighbourhood of Vieux-Port, however, there are some beautiful ones in Old Québec, Ste-Foy, and Saint-Roch as well.
No matter the budget, there are plenty of places to stay.
TIP: Quebec City has a lot of festivals throughout the year, so be mindful of those and book accommodations early — especially if you are planning to attend Carnival de Quebec in Jan/Feb or visit the city during the summer months.
If you want to stay for a week or more and don’t want to deal with hostels, try an Airbnb rental instead.
- Hostel recommendation: Auberge Internationale de Québec
- B&B recommendation: Petit Hôtel-Café Krieghoff or L’Addresse sur Grande-Allée Lofts
- Mid-range Hotel recommendation: Hotel Nomad or Monastère des Augustines
- Apartment recommendation: Les Lofts St-Joseph
- Luxury Hotel recommendation: Auberge Saint-Antoine or Hotel Manoir Victoria
Quebec City is a walking city. You can get just about anywhere on your feet and is a popular option in spring, summer and autumn. That being said, you can also rent a bike or take public transportation.
If you want to see some of the neighbourhoods outside the main tourist areas, and you don’t feel like walking, take a public bus. The city has an app, RTC mobile, which is really useful. You can pay cash (correct change only) when you board or buy tickets at a Jack et Jill tabagie for a discounted price.
Note: the RTC mobile app is in French, so you may want to use it along with the Google Translate app.
Quebec City is quite possibly one of my favourite places in the world. We love the vibe, the people, the culture, the history, and the food. Don’t let the language barrier keep you from exploring the city. Come with an open mind and be ready to be blown away. Once you visit Quebec City, you’ll want to come back again, and again.