Clinging to the top of a 100-meter cliff that towers over the broad St-Lawrence River, Quebec City can boast of being North America’s only walled city, and it exudes a charm usually associated with medieval Europe. Its tight network of cobbled, winding, 17th-century streets are lined by proud old stone houses, elegant parks and squares that all beg to be explored on foot. After-dark quirky bistros, exquisite restaurants, hip bars and chic nightclubs round things off nicely.
Not only is Quebec City incredibly attractive, wanderable and engaging; its prestigious religious, military and political past has also furnished it with grand buildings and excellent museums. Two not to be missed are the Musée de la Civilisation, for its brilliant insight into French-Canadian culture, and the Musée National des Beaux Arts, whose 20,000-piece-strong art collection covers regional art stretching back to the city’s beginnings, along with some inspired Inuit pieces.
The city’s major landmark is Château Frontenac, a luxury hotel whose flamboyant medley of turrets and terraces command prime views over the St. Lawrence River and provide a ready marker for the location of the old town: Vieux-Québec, or Old Quebec. All this is considered so romantic that the hotel claims to have had at least one pair of honeymooners staying every night since opening in 1893.
The Frontenac is perched on a knuckle of rock known as the Cap Diamant, which provides the setting for Quebec City’s Haute-Ville (Upper Town). This overlooks its Basse-Ville (Lower Town), an old waterfront mercantile area which spreads out below the cliffs and just outside the city walls. It’s here that Samuel de Champlain first established the city as a New France settlement, and it’s most famous street is the quaint, narrow and bustling Rue Petit Champlain. This leads north towards the busy city port and marina district where Rue Saint-Paul is the key street. Dotted with boutiques, bistros and antique shops it leads out of Vieux-Québec to connect the train station and beyond to the heart of the St. Roch district.
Back in Vieux-Québec, the Haute-Ville not only encompasses much of the walled city – including the Notre Dame Basilica-Cathedral, the Citadel and the City Walls – it also technically spreads beyond to a modern downtown area. Here government buildings on Parliament Hill remind that Quebec City is the provincial capital; while the adjacent Grande Allée, a busy hotel, restaurant and bar strip, provides somewhere to relax after all those heated debates.
The huge swathe of greenery that lies between the Grand Allée and the St. Lawrence River is called the Plains of Abraham but is sometimes known as Battlefields Park – as it was once the site of a major battle. Today it’s the city’s most important central park and where many of the Winter Carnival celebrations take place. Just to the north lies St. Jean Baptiste, a blue-collar district focused on Rue St. Jean, with its many locals’ restaurants, shops and bars.
Recent falls in commodity prices (which underpin the Canadian economy) have put the Canadian Dollar back at a more usual rate against most other currencies. This means travellers from Britain and Europe will find Canada quite reasonably priced while travellers from the US, Australia and New Zealand will find overall costs similar to back home. No matter where you’re from, the single most significant way of saving money is always to avoid travel in the July and August peak season when all costs are at a premium.
Accommodation, almost certainly your main cost, can be very pricey if you want luxury, or are travelling alone, since single rooms tend to be priced very similarly to doubles. But in general modest motels tend to be priced keenly and there plenty of bargains to be had elsewhere, not least via the burgeoning Airbnb market.
The price of eating out tends to be reasonable, though supermarket food can be expensive.
One final cost to bear in mind is that of travel insurance, particularly medical insurance.
Many variables that can throw these figures out but here are some typical costs depending on your style of travel.
If you’re travelling on a tight budget you could get by on around C$70/US$55/£35 a day. You’d be buying food to picnic, staying in hostels or similar and stick to the least expensive bars and restaurants.
More standard would be a moderate budget of around twice that – C$140/US$110/£70. This would allow you to stay in a motel or nice private (eg airbnb) accommodation, eat out in medium-range restaurants and enjoy some nightlife most nights; the main variable would be the cost of your room.
Double the standard budget again to arrive at a more typical cost of a luxury holiday: C$280/US$220/£140. Of course the sky’s the limit really and if you’re want to stay in the very best hotels and make every night a big night out, you’ll need more.
Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We donât want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in C$.
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $5 per person
$$ => Tickets $6-15 per person
$$$ => Tickets $16 per person
$ => Rooms less than $100 for a double
$$ => Rooms $101-200 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $201 for a double
$ => $1-20 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$ => $21-40 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $41 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-30 per person
Most international air traffic arrives in Montreal, leaving Quebec City’s own Jean Lasage Airport (YQB), 20km west of the city center, to cater almost exclusively to domestic flights. Airport shuttles provide service to several downtown hotels, while taxis (Taxi Coop Quebec) do the twenty-minute journey for $35.
Trains from Montreal (Via Rail; 3hrs; 3-4 daily; approx $100 return) arrive on the northeast fringe of Quebec City’s Old Town at the Gare du Palais. This adjoins the long-distance bus terminal from here you can get local buses to destinations like Mont-Sainte-Anne.
Once in Quebec City itself you’re likely to do most of your getting around on foot, though you might take the occasional taxi (see above) or even treat yourself to a horse-drawn carriage ride.