48 Hours In: Québec City
Québec City is one of Canada’s most charming historical gems perched on the banks of the St. Lawrence river in Québec. This little town dates all the way back to 1608 and its narrow European-style streets are now packed with museums, restaurants, boutique shops and one of the finest and most historically significant hotels in the country.
Stay at a chateau
The Fairmont Chateau Frontenac stands proudly atop a promontory overlooking the river; a location that was coveted throughout history for its strategic advantage. The hotel’s grand architecture and prominent feature in Québec City’s skyline has made it the most photographed hotel in the world. But you’ll also get some of the best views of the city and the river from its rooms.
If you’re in need of a little pampering head to the hotel’s Moment Spa for a rejuvenating treatment like the Valmont Signature Facial, then relax in the eucalyptus steam room adjacent to the pool. Later on, the 1608 bar and Bistro Le Sam are great places to go for cocktails and people watching in the evening. You can even request a historic tour of the hotel to discover the fascinating people and stories that built its legacy.
Discover the Petit Champlain neighbourhood
The narrow streets of the old Petit Champlain neighbourhood make you feel like you’re exploring one of Europe’s prettiest small towns. Take the stairs for some exercise or descend in the funicular for a fun ride and fabulous rooftop views over this UNESCO World Heritage Site. At the bottom you’ll find yourself among stone buildings housing boutique shops with everything from souvenirs to art galleries and designer clothing.
To the right is Rue de Petit-Champlain, a picturesque stretch of little shops that was voted Canada’s most beautiful street in 2014. Walk down the street straight ahead and turn left, and you’ll find Place Royale where Samuel de Champlain founded New France, the oldest permanent French settlement in North America, and to many proud Quebecers the heart of French culture in Québec. Pop into Musée de la Place Royale to discover the history of the founding of Québec.
Try authentic Québécois food
If you haven’t had it before (and if you have) you can’t not order a poutine while you’re here. Québécois food is known for being rich and heavy, and even this quick street-food style staple will fill you up. At its most basic it’s a bowl of fries topped with cheese curds and gravy, but there are as many variations on the theme as you can dream up.
Head to Chic Shack for La Braisée with the addition of red ale-braised beef, Parmesan, pickled onions, horseradish aioli and fresh herbs, or La Forestière with wild mushroom ragout, Parmesan, shallots and fresh herbs. Here the potatoes are chunked and perfectly fried. It makes for an ideal midday fuel to continue exploring the city.
For dinner try La Buche where you’ll find plenty of hearty classics like tourtière, a meat pie with Québec venison, pork and beef and served with the traditional fruit ketchup. One of the more unusual dishes is a pan-fried foie gras with poor man’s pudding and bacon, a curiously sweet creation that’s served as a starter.
Venture across the Plains of Abraham
To work off the richness of the food you might want to consider spending a few hours traversing the Plains of Abraham. Now a 240-acre park, this vast green space was the site of a pivotal battle between the French and English in the Seven Years War in 1759. Cultural events and music festivals take place on the plains throughout the year, and it’s a great place for hiking and biking in the summer, and snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter.
Visit in winter
Quebec City is one of the more magical places to discover in the winter time. Every year it plays host to Carnaval de Québec where the city transforms into a winter wonderland with ice and snow sculptures, an ice palace with a bar serving drinks in ice glasses, and tons of activities for the whole family ranging from axe throwing for kids (yep) to tobogganing down an ice slide along the river’s promenade. Quebecers will show you how they sing and dance and celebrate their way through the coldest time of year with smiling faces. Keep an eye out for Bonhomme, the festival’s friendly mascot.
If you plan to explore the city on foot, remember that some maps don’t show elevation. Roads that look short can be steep, so be prepared! Also, double check that attractions are open on the days you’ll be there; museums in the city are often closed on Mondays.
If you’re visiting in winter, pack warm! It not only gets very cold but it can be windy too, so bring hat, gloves, scarf, a proper winter jacket and warm winter boots.