Last Updated on December 24, 2023 by Pamela MacNaughtan
Quebec City, one of the oldest cities in Canada, is a favourite destination among those who want to wander down cobblestone streets lined with stone tin-roofed houses. Established in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain, Quebec City began in what is now known as Petit-Champlain and Place-Royale, before moving up to the top of Cap Diamant — which gave the settlers a better view of the Saint-Lawrence River, and thus a better chance of defending themselves against possible enemies — and stretching into what we now call Vieux-Port.
The beauty of a self-guided tour is that you have complete control: start whenever you want, choose which points of interest to spend time and which ones to skip, and take as many café breaks as you want — we’ll mark cafés on the tour map as well as wifi hotspots!
This self-guided walking tour of Quebec City will take you through Old Quebec City, which is perched atop Cap Diamant, then down the cap, into Vieux-Port, Place-Royale, and Petit-Champlain, before returning you to the starting point.
let the self-guided walking tour begin!
starting point: fairmont château frontenac
1, rue des carrières
Designed by Bruce Price, an American architect, Château Frontenac was built in 1893; as one of the château-style hotels built for the Canadian Pacific Railway (Fairmont Banff Springs, Fairmont Château Laurier, and Fairmont Château Lake Louise were also built as part of this initiative). Sitting atop Cap Diamant in Quebec’s Uppertown (also known as Old Quebec City), Fairmont Château Frontenac stands tall and majestic as though it is protecting the city from invasion — which makes sense as the Saint-Louis Fort once stood just in front of the hotel’s current location.
Start your tour outside the château, on rue du Fort, making your way to Monument Samuel de Champlain, which stands on Dufferin Terrace, in front of the château. This is an LGTBQIA2S+ safe space.
monument samuel de champlain
Created by the French sculptor, Paul Chevré, and architect, Paul Alexander le Cardonnel, Monument Samuel de Champlain (the founder of Quebec) stands on Dufferin Terrace, just in front of the Fairmont Château Frontenac.
In January 1896, a contest took place to find an artist to create a monument of Samuel de Champlain. Artists submitted sketches and models (there were 11 sketches and 14 models in total) of their proposed vision for the monument, which were then judged by a committee. The winner, a young sculptor from France, Paul Romain Chevré was awarded $30,000 to create the statue of Samuel de Champlain — which was placed on Dufferin Terrace in September 1898. The base upon which the statue stands was created by Paul Alexander le Cardonnel using stone similar to that of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
- Instagram a shot of the monument from a distance with Château Frontenac in the background, or move up close to admire some of the finer details — look close enough and you’ll notice that crown resting upon one of the angels resembles the old fortress.
- Capture a shot of Dufferin Terrace and Fairmont Château Frontenac.
- Stand along the railing to Instagram a shot of Petit-Champlain, which is located at the bottom of Cap Diamant, with the Saint-Lawrence River in the distance.
(point of interest)
Leaving Dufferin Terrace, walk past Au 1884 (the gazebo), up the stairs, and into Jardins des Gouverneurs. Here, in the centre of the garden, you will find a monument erected to honour General James Wolfe & Marquis de Montcalm; one English, the other French, both died during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759 (which only lasted 15 mins).
From the top right corner of Jardins des Gouverneurs, you’ll see rue Haldimand, a short street with a steep hill, the houses on this street date back to 1823 — owned by a couple of mayors, legislative councillor, a lawyer, a notary and a judge. To be honest, we just love the houses and the fine details that can be found when we look closely.
- Take time to admire the fine architectural details on the houses along rue Haldimand – the ornate knobs are our favourite!
A popular spot with visitors in spring, summer, and fall, Terrasse Pierre-Duga-de-Mons is a small terrace situated above Dufferin Terrace. A small terrace with a little flower garden and bench seating, a bronze bust of Pierre Duga de Mons (sculpted by Hamilton MacCarthy in 2007) rests in the centre.
Pierre Duga de Mons, a French explorer who travelled to the new world on a couple of occasions at the beginning of the 17th century, before entrusting his lieutenant, Samuel de Champlain to establish the colony of New France — known today as Quebec City.
- Walk up to the top of the grassy hill for one of the best views of Château Frontenac, the Saint-Lawrence River, and Old Quebec City. It’s a classic postcard shop — and one of our favourite places to go for sunset picnics.
After Instagramming your classic postcard shot of Quebec, following the path along the top of the Citadel, making your way to back to rue Saint-Louis, then continuing on the next point of interest on rue Donnacona — of course, you may want to make a couple of Instagram stops along the way, here are some suggestions:
- Visit La Citadelle, a military fortress that is over 300 years old, and still active! Instagram the changing of the guard in summer, or a cool shot of the fortress walls and guns.
- Visit the ramparts and fortifications of Quebec on rue Saint-Louis, climb the stairs at the wall to get a shot from above.
- Walk down rue Saint Louis to rue de Corps de Garde where you’ll find a cannonball lodged at the base of the tree– it’s said to have landed there during the Battle of Québec in 1759, OR placed here on purpose to keep horse-drawn carriages from bumping the tree.
- Instagram some of the unique doors on rue Donnaconna or Monastère des Ursulines de Québec.
cathédrale holy trinity
(31, rue des jardins)
The first Anglican church to be built outside Britain, The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity is the seat of the Diocese of Quebec City. Built between 1800 and 1804, the cathedral is British-Palladian – in architectural style – and fashioned after London’s Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. The cathedral’s tower has eight bells, the heaviest being 840 kg and the lightest being 297 kg. The cathedral is also home to a silver communion set which was ordered by King George III.
- Take time to admire the intricate details inside the cathedral: the ornate ceiling, the antique wooden pews, the beautiful stained glass windows. There are so many beautiful details to photograph, and admire.
- Want to know more? Consider taking a guided tour of the cathedral with a local historian. Book a tour here.
(15, rue des jardins)
As much as we love to walk around and explore this beautiful city, sometimes we like to take a mini-break to enjoy a café au lait, espresso, or chocolat chaud; a fresh pastry or macaron is also a must. One of our favourite spots in Old Quebec City is La Maison Smith.
A new café in Upper Town (the original location is down in Place-Royale), La Maison Smith is small with seating for roughly twenty-two people. The focus is on their extensive counter, which holds delightfully delicious pastries made by Paillard as well as macarons and cakes made locally, and gourmet sandwiches. This is an LGTBQIA2S+ safe space.
My recommendation: café au lait or chocolat chaud and a warmed croissant avec amandes (almond croissant).
- After your café break stop by Notre-Dame de Québec: admire the gorgeous details inside, the old wooden spiral stairs, stained glass, and more!
- Wander down rue Saint-Famille, then exploring the quiet streets of rue Garneau and rue Christie.
- Chez Temporel (women-owned + LGBTQIA2S+ safe space) on rue Couillard has been a favourite among local artists for years — and appears in the book Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny.
- From rue Couillard wander onto rue Hébert, looking for the fine architectural details that seem to pop when you pay close attention.
- Turning left on rue des Remparts, take time to Instagram the cannons along the city wall, or admire some of the unique architecture on the houses across the street.
(point of interest)
As you walk along rue des Remparts the road will fork, stay right. Turn right onto Côte du Colonel Dambourgès, a charming cobbled street. As you reach the bottom of the hill, Sous-le-Cap will be on the right.
Known as the oldest and narrowest street in Quebec City, Sous-le-Cap is a skinny street/alley that runs behind many of the buildings along rue Saint-Paul. In the beginning, the street was nothing more than a dirt track running along the base of Cap Diamant, not far from the banks of the St. Lawrence River (yes, the river was once very close to the cap).
Easily one of our favourite spots on this self-guided tour of Quebec City!
- Wander down rue Sous-le-Cap and Instagram a shot of the wooden staircases and terraces that span across the street.
(point of interest)
Follow rue due Sault au Matelot, turn right onto Côte de la Montagne, then an immediate left on rue Notre Dame. Welcome to Place-Royale. From the beginning of the street, you’ll face La Fresque des Québécois, a fresco mural spanning the side of one of the stone buildings in Place-Royale, which was commissioned for Quebec’s 400th anniversary.
At one end of the square, you’ll see Notre-Dame-des-Victories, one of the oldest churches in Canada — you may recognize it from one of the final scenes shot for the movie Catch Me If You Can with Leonardo DiCaprio. The square is also home to Boutique Métiers d’Art du Québec, a shop selling products made by Québec artists, and the original La Maison Smith café.
- Instagram a shot of the stairs beside La Maison Smith, or find a unique angle to photograph the old stone house.
- Walking through Place-Royale to Quartier Petit-Champlain, walk down the small hill to Cul-de-Sac, from this point you’ll have a unique shot of Petit-Champlain with Château Frontenac standing majestically in the background.
- Wander down rue Sous le Fort (just before Cul-de-Sac) and Instagram the Batterie Royale or some of the fieldstone houses along the street.
- Stand at the corner of rue Notre Dame and rue Sous le Fort for a shot of Petit-Champlain, the funiculaire track rising to the top of Cap Diamant, and a portion of Château Frontenac.
- Take a detour to the Quebec-Levis ferry and ride it across the St Lawrence River (and back) for a classic shot of the Quebec skyline.
(point of interest)
Continue this self-guided tour of Quebec City with a walk along Boulevard Champlain, stopping in Fudgerie for a sweet snack, and photographing the Cul-de-Sac or the boulevard before reaching the stairs leading to the beginning of rue du Petit-Champlain.
One of the oldest neighbourhoods in Quebec City, Petit-Champlain was revitalized in the 1960s (it had, over time, been taken over by warehouses and become a kind of slum) when the city made the decision to restore it to its glory days, making it a tourist destination. Today Quartier Petit-Champlain is a charming neighbourhood filled with boutiques, historically restored houses, and gourmet restaurants.
- Keep your eyes open for pieces of street Banksy-esque street art, or take the classic shot of rue du Petit-Champlain with the stairs of lower in the far distance. There are many Instagram-worthy stops, including Escalier Casse-Cou, the oldest stairs in Quebec City!!
ending point: fairmont château frontenac
1, rue des Carrières
After exploring and Instagramming your way down rue du Petit-Champlain take the funicluaire ($4 CAD) up the cap to Dufferin Terrace. You have now completed this self-guided tour of Quebec City and back at the starting point.
If you’re still up for exploring wander through the inside of Château Frontenac to admire its Great Gatsby-like feeling — we are suckers for royal blue and gold accents. They have a tour as well!
- Feeling hungry? We highly suggest enjoying gourmet poutine or delicious burgers at Le Chic Shack, located just below Musée du Fort.