20 Best Things to Do in Quebec City — Poutine and Nordic Spas Included

Here's how locals recommend exploring the French-Canadian destination.

<p>CHENG FENG CHIANG/Getty Images</p>


Steeped in old-world elegance, Quebec City is one of the oldest European settlements in North America, and it has the historical sites to prove it. From the cobblestoned streets of Old Quebec (Vieux-Québec) to myriad bakeries turning out buttery croissants, visitors to the French-Canadian metropolis have ample opportunities to learn about its history and to partake in time-honored traditions.

Home to lively festivals, innovative restaurants, and green spaces that serve as year-round playgrounds, the city also makes for a great weekend getaway, one with a dose of European flair (without the transatlantic flight). With the help of the city’s top concierges and tour guides, we’ve put together a list of the best things to do in Quebec City.

Related: The Best Times to Visit Quebec City, According to Locals

Take a walking tour of Old Quebec.

<p>Lauren Breedlove/Travel + Leisure</p>

Lauren Breedlove/Travel + Leisure

Founded in 1608 by the French explorer Samuel de Champlain, the Historic District of Old Quebec is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the continent’s only fully walled city north of Mexico. Head to the tourist information center in Upper Town, across the street from the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, to join a historic walking tour with Tours Voir Québec. Or book a private adventure with Tours Accolade, which offers tours based on your genealogy and multi-sensory excursions for the visually impaired.

Explore Quartier Petit Champlain.

<p>Lauren Breedlove/Travel + Leisure</p>

Lauren Breedlove/Travel + Leisure

Immerse yourself in 17th-century New France by strolling around the Petit-Champlain and Place Royale area. “Explore the oldest stone church north of Mexico, Notre-Dame-des-Victoires (built in 1687); grab a coffee at Smith Cafe, and continue your exploration along Petit-Champlain, one of the oldest commercial streets in North America — often voted among the most beautiful streets in Canada,” says Geneviève Guay, head concierge at Auberge Saint-Antoine.

Marvel at Montmorency Falls.

<p>Lauren Breedlove/Travel + Leisure</p>

Lauren Breedlove/Travel + Leisure

At 272 feet, this gorgeous waterfall is about 100 feet higher than Niagara Falls, and there are plenty of nearby activities to try, too, including zip lines and via ferrata routes, plus a suspension bridge, cable car, and cliffside boardwalk with panoramic views. The best part? It's just a 15-minute drive from the city center.

Have a picnic at the Plains of Abraham.

<p>Gabriel Mello/Getty Images</p>

Gabriel Mello/Getty Images

The site of a battle in 1759, the Plains of Abraham is now a giant urban park enjoyed by tourists and locals alike. “The Plains is the perfect place for a glass of wine and gourmet picnic in the summer sun,” says Simon Bovoli, director of concierge service and luxury experiences at Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. “I always recommend that visitors stop at one of the city's gourmet bakeries or fresh produce vendors to purchase all of their picnic essentials and find a spot with a view of the river or near a local busker to enjoy.”

Peruse the world’s largest collection of Quebecoise art.

<p>Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images</p>

Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Art lovers will want to carve out at least a few hours to visit Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, which houses more than 40,000 works from the 17th century to the present day. Be sure to find the noteworthy collection of Inuit art housed in the stunning Lassonde Pavilion.

Discover the city’s military history at Artillery Park.

<p>LeonU/Getty Images</p>

LeonU/Getty Images

This park features 18th-century French army barracks and is a must-visit for history lovers. Don’t miss the Arsenal Foundry (a giant model of Quebec in the 19th century) and the Dauphine Redoubt, where you’ll find guides in period costumes speaking in character. “It’s not often included in the walking tours of the city, or even the bus tours that are offered, but it’s a fascinating place covering the history of the French and British troops in Quebec City from 1712 to the end of the 20th century,” says Christian Gingras, a local guide with Tours Voir Québec.

Appreciate the view from the St. Lawrence River.

<p>Vladone/Getty Images</p>

Vladone/Getty Images

For one of the best views of Quebec City, get on the river via commuter ferry — the boat to Lévis leaves every 30 minutes and only costs a few bucks. After the 15-minute crossing, you can stroll along the waterfront in Lévis. “In the winter, it’s also a great experience to see the blocks of ice being crushed and pushed around by the ship when you’re on the bridge of the ferry,” says Gingras.

Learn about the area’s Indigenous cultures.

Travelers don't have to go far to immerse themselves in the province's rich Indigenous cultures. Just 20 minutes from downtown, Wendake is the cradle of the Huron-Wendat Nation and offers numerous ways to learn about its traditions. Join a craft workshop at the Huron-Wendat Museum, go on a night walk through an illuminated forest with Onhwa' Lumina, see traditional dance performances, hear stories at the national Ekionkiestha' longhouse, or sample delicious First Nations cuisine at Restaurant La Traite.

Have afternoon tea at Fairmont Le Château Frontenac.

<p>CHENG FENG CHIANG/Getty Images</p>


This property is said to be the world's most photographed hotel, and it’s easy to see why. Perched on a clifftop, Quebec City’s grand dame hotel dates back to 1893 and boasts beautifully preserved decorative features. Even if you’re not staying here, it’s worth popping in to gaze up at the chandeliers in the lobby and indulge in a leisurely afternoon tea at the Champlain Restaurant, which dates back to 1893.

Stroll along Dufferin Terrace.

<p>David Boutin Photography/Getty Images</p>

David Boutin Photography/Getty Images

This wooden boardwalk sits beside the Château Frontenac and offers one of the most beautiful views of the St. Lawrence River and the surrounding area. Walk along the promenade, relax on a bench, and enjoy live music from buskers in the summer, or head down the locally loved toboggan run in the winter.

Sample small-batch maple syrup.

Quebec is the world’s largest producer of maple syrup, so travelers would be remiss not to sample the province's liquid gold. The sugaring season typically runs from the end of February to the beginning of May, but you can also taste quality maple syrup at local markets and restaurants year-round. “It is a backbone of our cuisine at the restaurant, and also a staple food you can find in every single household in Québec City,” says Tim Moroney, chef-owner of Restaurant Alentours. “If you want to nerd out, go for a syrup — maple, birch, and bourbon-aged — tasting at Domaine Small.”

Attend the Quebec Winter Carnival.

<p>Marc Dufresne/Getty Images</p>

Marc Dufresne/Getty Images

Every February, Quebec City hosts one of the world’s largest winter carnivals — a tradition that has been going strong since the 1950s. The 10-day celebration includes night parades, ice canoe racing, musical performances, and activities like snow bathing and tobogganing. But one of the major highlights is watching artists carve extraordinary snow sculptures.

Hit the trail in Jacques-Cartier National Park.

<p>Jef Wodniack/Getty Images</p>

Jef Wodniack/Getty Images

Only a 45-minute drive from downtown, Jacques-Cartier National Park is a spectacular glacial valley sliced by a stunning river. There are more than 60 miles of trails to traverse, or you can kayak or canoe. And while the park is beautiful year-round, it is particularly stunning at the end of September and the beginning of October when the fall foliage in Quebec hits its peak. “Les Loups Trail rewards you with a spectacular view of the entire valley from its summit,” says Guay.

Relax at a Nordic spa.

After all the walking, head to one of Quebec City's many Nordic spas to soak in thermal waters. There are several options right in the heart of Old Quebec, including the architecturally stunning Strøm Nordic Spa and Sky Spa; the latter boasts a year-round rooftop patio and a view of the St. Lawrence River. Prefer to recharge in nature? Head to Sibéria Station Spa to enjoy hot pools and saunas nestled in the forest.

Sample poutine, a regional staple.

<p>marieclaudelemay/Getty Images</p>

marieclaudelemay/Getty Images

A trip to Quebec City wouldn’t be complete without trying poutine, one of Canada’s most iconic dishes. For a local take on the dish — French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy — head to La Souche Microbrasserie, which Moroney describes as “a beautifully raw neighborhood brewery” and a “true local hangout” in one.

Catch a live show.

<p>Barry Brecheisen/WireImage via Getty Images</p>

Barry Brecheisen/WireImage via Getty Images

Thanks to several bar de chansonniers (bars with folk music) and concert venues, it’s easy to rock out in Quebec City any time of year. Guay suggests that true music fans should visit in the summer, when the city hosts several festivals. In early July, Le Festival d'Été brings together hundreds of artists for 10 days of music. The Cigale festival brings live performances to the beaches of Baie de Beauport, just minutes from downtown Quebec City, in August.

Visit Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré shrine.

<p>Henryk Sadura/Getty Images</p>

Henryk Sadura/Getty Images

The oldest pilgrimage site north of Mexico and one of five shrines in Quebec City, this site lures architecture lovers with its intricate features. Stained glass, stone, and wooden sculptures decorate the Catholic basilica, and there are paintings and mosaics to see as well. In the summer, a river shuttle connects Old Quebec to the shrine, making it easy to explore the site and its scenic surroundings.

Explore the island of Ile d'Orléans.

Ile d'Orléans is a bucolic island just 15 minutes from Quebec City by car, and it's a favorite among gourmands and history lovers. Home to vineyards, orchards, strawberry fields, and centuries-old buildings, you can easily spend a full day visiting wineries here and loading up on homemade jams, chocolates, and other goodies. For the best views, locals recommend a fall visit. “As the vines turn to red and gold, sit back and enjoy a glass of locally made wine with the views of Montmorency Falls and the colorful Côte de Beaupré in the background,” says Frantz Noël, co-owner of tour agency Conciergerie du Terroir.

Tour the largest British fortress in North America.

<p>zrfphoto/Getty Images</p>

zrfphoto/Getty Images

Sitting at one of the highest points in Quebec City, the Citadelle of Québec is a vital component of the city’s fortifications. It’s still an active military base, so you must join a tour to explore its buildings, which date back to the 1800s. The site often offers seasonal events, such as musical performances and changing of the guard ceremonies, so it’s a good idea to check the website before planning your visit.

Sleep in an ice hotel.

<p>Courtesy of  Hotel de Glace</p>

Courtesy of Hotel de Glace

For a one-of-a-kind overnight experience, head to Hôtel de Glace, a hotel built with 2,300 blocks of ice and 15,000 tons of snow. Located at Village Vacances Valcartier, just 20 minutes from downtown Quebec City, this architectural wonder welcomes guests for tours and overnight stays from January to March. The temperature of the rooms hovers around 23 degrees Fahrenheit (even when it's -22 degrees Fahrenheit outside), and guests can warm up in hot tubs, saunas, insulating sheets, and arctic-grade sleeping bags. While you’re there, hit the ice skating paths and massive snow slides for a true Canadian adventure.

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