With its towering ramparts, views of the river, and old European-style buildings, Quebec City could easily be mistaken for a European city. It is one of the oldest European cities in North America and the oldest known French settlement in North America. The Historic District of Old Quebec is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Quebec City is located in the province of Quebec, about 250 km east of Montreal. The Saint Lawrence River narrows here and meets the mouth of the Saint-Charles River.
Quebec City is quite walkable during the summer months. There is a tramway and public bus system that will take you to all of the main tourist attractions.
Via Rail, the main Canadian railway, has an access point at Gare du Palais within the city, which is also a bus terminal.
Quebec City is accessible by car. However, you can also fly to the nearby Jean Lesage International Airport, the ninth-busiest airport in Canada, just west of the city.
Quebec is named for the Algonquin word Kébec, which means “where the river narrows.” This refers to the Saint Lawrence River, an important shipping route along the Saint Lawrence Seaway. While it was established in 1541 by Jacques Cartier, it was abandoned just over a year later due to the severe winter weather and attacks from neighboring Iroquoians.
Samuel de Champlain, the Father of New France, tried once again in 1608 successfully. It was a landing site for missionaries and priests, and eventually served as a base for the raids against New England in the French and Indian Wars between 1688 and 1763.
The city changed hands a few times in its history. In 1629, it was captured by English privateers but returned in 1632 as part of negotiations between England and France. During the Seven Years War in 1759, the British captured the city. The Americans attempted to free Quebec from British rule in 1775 but were unsuccessful. During the War of 1812 there were fears that the Americans may once again attack the city, so an active military point, the Citadelle of Quebec, was constructed to help defend the city.
Quebec became one of the founding members of the Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867.
Quebec has just over 4.6 million visitors annually, with about a quarter visiting from outside of Canada. It is a largely French-speaking population however English is spoken in touristy areas. There are lots of activities and attractions for visitors to enjoy.
Old Quebec is a true French city, with all of the European architecture to prove it. The city wall surrounding Old Quebec is the oldest rampart in North America, North of Mexico. The walls were built in the 1700s to defend Quebec and are now a major tourist attraction in the city.
Today you can stroll the district and enjoy the 400 years of history, with plenty of shops, cafes, and restaurants to choose from. Walk down to the Citadelle, an active military installation, and visit the museum dedicated to the Royal 22e Régiment. Here you can see the changing of the guard or go on a lantern-lit tour after dark.
If you visit during the winter, be sure to rent a toboggan and slide down one of the slides that overlook Old Quebec City. You can also go ice skating or cross-country skiing on the Plains of Abraham.
The Basilique is the oldest church in Canada and the first Canadian basilica. The original chapel was constructed by Samuel de Champlain in 1633.
During the siege of Quebec, it was destroyed by fire, and again in 1922 by a Canadian faction of the Ku Klux Klan.
It has been restored and is now a beautiful example of a 17th-century church. It is home to the only “Holy Door” in the Americas. Opened during the Jubilee years that the Pope designates, these doors are open to all and symbolize a path to conversion and blessings.
The Château Frontenac is an 18-floor, 611-room hotel that dominates the skyline of Old Quebec City. It is the iconic symbol of the city and overlooks both the city and the Saint Lawrence River.
The Canadian Pacific Railway commissioned the hotel to help promote luxury travel through rail. It opened in 1893 and was the site of the First and Second Quebec Conference. Here, Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and William Lyon Mackenzie King discussed strategies on how to win World War II. Much of the planning for D-Day took place at the hotel.
The Château architecture style of the building is uniquely Canadian, with similar hotels built throughout the country. They resemble fortresses but were made for upscale accommodation. Examples include the Royal York in Toronto and the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa. The hotel was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada in 1981.
Today, the hotel is managed by Fairmont and is a great way to get immersed in the history of Quebec while staying in luxury accommodations. If you aren’t able to stay in the hotel, you can still visit and enjoy the Champlain Restaurant onsite, with tables overlooking the St. Lawrence River.
Carnaval de Quebec (or just “Carnaval”) is the largest winter carnival in the world with over one million attendees. If you can bravely visit this cold destination in February, you won’t be disappointed.
A large masquerade ball takes place annually in the Château Frontenac, similar to those that take place at Versailles Palace in France. If you cannot attend this limited event, there are plenty of free outdoor events. This includes a snow sculpture contest held on the Plains of Abraham, an international event held over three days.
Sporting events such as snowboarding, dog-sledding, and hockey take place. Some of the events are linked to the World Championship tournaments.
The mascot of the festival is Bonhomme Carnaval, a snowman in a red cap. He is a strong symbol of Quebec tourism and a beloved figure in the city, with songs written in his honor. Bonhomme leads the famous parades that travel through the city day and night throughout the month of February.
Finally, if you are feeling exceptionally brave, you can attempt the bikini snow bath!
Plan your visit to Quebec City during the summer, when temperatures are warmest – between 22 and 25°C. If you visit during the winter, you cannot miss Carnaval de Quebec, an annual February tradition that has been held since 1894.
Quebec winters are cold, with high winds and snow. Temperatures drop as low as -36°C, but average around -13 to -18°C. Unless you are specifically visiting to enjoy skiing, snowshoeing, or the winter carnival, Quebec City is best explored in the summer months.