It’s just six hours away by train, but Quebec City is a whole world apart from anything else Canada has to offer.
With its grand stone buildings, historic fortified walls and walkable cobblestone streets and alleys, it’s a city that transports visitors in time – and seemingly back to Europe.
As a quick and affordable weekend getaway, this iconic city on the St. Lawrence River has it all: a thriving food scene, cultural activities and incredible nature destinations, some of them within a 15-minute drive of downtown.
With VIA Rail’s convenient service, getting there is easy and CAA Members can save up to 20% on the best available VIA Rail fares. Once there, Members can also rent a car to explore further afield – and save with Enterprise or National Car Rentals.
If you plan on visiting, here are some of the top things to do in Quebec City to make the most of a long weekend.
What to see
Founded on July 3, 1608, Quebec City is drenched in history, but just 15 minutes from downtown is Parc de la Chute-Montmorency, a must-see destination that combines political history and Quebec’s renowned natural beauty. The centre piece of the park is the 83m high Chute-Mortmorency, a natural waterfall that is 30m taller than Niagara’s highest point.
Adventurous hikers can walk along the rockface on one side of the falls, or take the breathtaking gondola ride to the top, where you can venture across the suspension bridge or wander through the park itself. There’s also a zipline, food carts and plenty of places to picnic in the shade.
Looking for royalty? The large and imposing Montmorency Manor behind the falls was once the summer residence of Queen Victoria’s father, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent. Built in 1781, it now houses a restaurant, an interpretive centre, reception rooms for events and a boutique.
Ride the public bus number 800 from Old Quebec toward Beauport and get off at stop Montmorency. You can also book a guided tour featuring Montmorency Falls, order an Uber from the city and get dropped off in the parking lot, or drive there yourself.
If you love historic plaques, Quebec City is the place for you. Attached to every building, outside of parks or just bolted to a wall, the city’s story is memorialized in dates and words – in both official languages. They are a handy guide for exploring popular tourist destinations like Place Royale and Quartier Petit-Champlain, where the sense that you’re somewhere ancient and European is underscored by cobblestone streets and narrow lanes against the city’s famous fortifications (complete with cannons!).
Petit-Champlain is one of the oldest shopping streets in North America, in the historical and cultural heart of the city. Browse quaint shops like Boutique Marino, which sells moccasins and bags made in Quebec, and dine at cozy restaurants such as Le Lapin Sauté, which serves French fare. The area often boasts festive decor, depending on the season. Find Umbrella Alley for a fun photo-op and ride the Funicular between Upper and Lower Town.
Fairmont Château Frontenac
Whether you plan to enjoy the exterior views or marvel at the inside, Fairmont Château Frontenac is an iconic part of the city’s skyline and deserves a visit. Walk along the Dufferin Terrace for a stunning panorama of the St. Lawrence River and the towering castle-like hotel.
If you don’t plan on staying the night, you can always take a tour, followed by a meal at Champlain Restaurant or afternoon tea at Place Dufferin. No matter how you dine at this marvellous chateau, it’s sure to be an experience worth remembering. Reservations are required in advance for tea and are available Fridays and Saturdays.
Considered the cradle of French culture in Quebec, Ile d’Orleans was one of the first settlements in the St. Lawrence Valley from 1680. The first 300 families who immigrated from France first settled on the island, thanks to its surprisingly diverse agricultural profile. Today, there are more than 100,000 descendants of those families in North America. (Wondering if you’re amongst them? Head to Maison de nos Aïeux, the island’s genealogy centre, where you can pore over 300-year-old census and municipal records.)
There are six municipalities and main villages in total, forming a loop around the island. A day drive should include plenty of stops to look at berry farms and lavender fields, art galleries and quaint stores with homemade preserves, cheese shops, wineries, chocolatiers and even a nougat maker.
There are many unique ways to have an island adventure without a car. Hop on an electric bike tour with Quebec Adventure Tours, plan a personalized island tour with Quebec Discovery Tours, follow the island’s flavour trail with Quebec Bus Tours, or see the island by sea kayak with Quatre Natures. Many guided tours are seasonal, so check what is available when visiting.
Strøm Spa Nordique
Gaze out to the flowing St. Lawrence River, feel the tranquility of an escape from the hustle and bustle at this relaxing Nordic spa. Hidden behind the Plains of Abraham, you’ll feel secluded as you soak away the day, only a few minutes from Old Quebec. Float in a massive salt bath surrounded by candles, enjoy a thermal cycle hopping from hot to cold pools, walk under spa waterfalls, warm up in a Finnish sauna, enjoy the scenery from the infinity pool, relax by a fireplace and have a cozy meal at the bistro.
You can also add beauty treatments or a massage appointment to your thermal cycle experience. Make your Strøm Spa Nordique online bookings at least two days in advance as they accept walk-ins, but you’ll be on a waitlist if they have reached capacity.
Plains of Abraham
Walking along the paved paths or overlooking the St. Lawrence River, an active imagination can easily recreate the pivotal Battle of Quebec on the Plains of Abraham. Now a huge and well-maintained public park, the park was where British troops (after a three-month seige at the end of the Seven Years War) finally overcame the army of General Louis-Joseph Montcalm in just one hour on September 13, 1759. General James Wolfe, who led the British, perished during the battle although his exact place of death is not recorded, although a famous painting by Benjamin West in Canada’s National Gallery in Ottawa depicts the scene.
Today, the urban park has an expansive green lawn where people can walk, run, view wartime artifacts, attend concerts, or enjoy winter fun during Carnaval de Quebec.
Where to eat
Aux Anciens Canadiens
Feast on a traditional Quebec meal in the oldest house in Quebec City, one of the oldest in the province, which dates back to 1675. This preserved heritage building serves classic cuisine in five different dining spaces adorned with antiques. Treat your palate to meals from tourtière and poutine to duck confit, parmesan fondue, and many others for lunch or dinner. Satisfy your sweet tooth with syrup or chocolate pie.
Take a journey to Switzerland in Quebec City at this welcoming, specialty fondue restaurant. If you’re already a fondue lover or have never had an authentic experience, this is a must-visit for a unique dinner in the city. Try the Trio of Fondues Special, which includes a Quebec cheese fondue, your choice of seafood or beef and then finishes with a chocolate or maple one for dessert. The restaurant also offers traditional Swiss Raclette. Reservations can be made online.
This quintessential Canadian restaurant is like walking into an old-school sugar shack decorated with sap buckets, wooden sleds and vintage snowshoes. Servers in buffalo plaid shirts will serve you Canadian classics with a modern touch, such as tourtière, shepherd’s pie, onion soup or rabbit wings. You can also stop by during brunch for French Toast with caramelized apples or a cheese omelette. Pop into the sugar shack shop next door for treats and souvenirs for the road.
Café La Maison Smith
With multiple cafes in the city, this branch of coffee shops keeps its warm and cozy atmosphere nestled in different historic buildings, serving hand-roasted beans. Enjoy a latte with a giant almond croissant, ham and cheese sandwich or sweet pastry. If you’re going for lunch, there are wraps, salads and pizzas. The location at Place Royale is the original, in a building dating back to 1653, so enjoying a cup there feels like going back in time.
Save on your way to Quebec City
Sit back and relax on the train on your way to Quebec City. CAA Members can save up on the best available VIA Rail tickets. Book online and enter your CAA number for exclusive travel savings and remove the stress of highway driving. Once there, book a rental car with National or Enterprise and save as a CAA Member.