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Get your virtual walking shoes ready as we explore the streets of Old Québec.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985, Old Québec (Vieux-Québec) is the only walled city north of Mexico. Sitting on the borough of La Cité-Limoilou in Québec City, every street and every corner in Old Québec speaks of so much history and beauty. It seems that there is a story behind each structure and the whole town is just bursting with that French Village charm.
Old Québec is popular with tourists during summer because of the multitude of things to see and do, and the pleasant weather makes the walking tours all over the town very enjoyable. But in a city like Québec, the long months of winter are just as extraordinarily enticing. The city is transformed into a fairytale-like frozen wonderland and a host of winter activities await the cold-loving adventurers.
We visited during autumn and although it was off-season and there were fewer things to do in the city, we were there just in time to witness the peak colors of the fall foliage which was truly a sight to behold. It was also close to Halloween and most of the main tourist spots were beautifully decorated. Frankly, I think anytime is the perfect time to visit Old Québec!
Québec City is an 8-hour drive from Toronto and a 3-hour drive from Montreal. There are several stop-overs you can do along the way which makes driving a popular choice to get to Québec City. For travelers coming from the US, Québec Region is just over the border from New York, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire. From Vermont, it’s about a 4-hour drive to Québec City.
You can also travel by bus using the Orleans Express or by train through the VIA Rail Canada for just about the same travel time if you drive a car. The bus and train station in Old Québec is the Gare du Palais, another one of Québec’s treasured landmarks. Québec City’s primary airport is the Jean-Lasage International Airport that serves at least ten airlines with destinations within Canada and in the US, Central America and Europe.
The Port of Québec is one of the largest ports in Canada making Québec City a popular stopover for cruise ships between the months of May and October.
If you are to include Québec City in your Central Canada road trip, I highly recommend staying for at least 4 days to give you sufficient time to explore the city at a more relaxed pace. And if you can, choose a hotel in the city center so that you’ll have more flexibility and added time exploring the area.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE USING THIS GUIDE
The best way to explore Old Québec is on foot. Old Québec is divided into two: the Upper Town (Haute-Ville) where you can find most hotels, restaurants, parks and historical buildings, and the Lower Town (Basse-Ville) which is known for its picturesque little streets and is commonly regarded as one of the most charming towns in the world. These two towns are very walkable and are connected by the Funiculaire or by using the Breakneck Stairs.
The tourist spots in both Upper and Lower Towns are either right next to each other or just within a few minutes walk so there’s really no need to bring a car to see Old Québec. This walking itinerary is designed to be a whole day activity however it can be easily split into two or three-day itinerary depending on how much you want to see per day, and of course, depending on the season. I have to tell you though that part of this walking tour would require uphill and downhill walks, especially in the Upper Town, which could be a challenge for some travelers. In which case, you can either split the itinerary into a number of days or you may want to consider booking a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour instead for convenience.
Ideally, you should start your walking tour by 9:00 AM if you want to cover everything that’s on the list. The itinerary route goes on a loop, which means you can basically start from anywhere that’s most convenient for you. There are several parking areas in Old Town that are good starting points for this itinerary but the ones I recommend are those located near the Plaines d’Abraham, Parc De L’Esplanade or the Hôtel de Ville de Québec (City Hall). Unless you plan on walking around the Plaines d’Abraham, you should be able to pass by the tourist sites between Parc De L’Esplanade and La Citadelle de Québec just in time to catch the Changing of Guards ceremony at 10:00 AM (only available during summer). The tour ends somewhere in Hôtel de Ville de Québec, which should be quite close to where you started the tour.
Are you a fan of the Korean drama Goblin? If so, I’ve included a few notes on this walking tour about some of the shooting locations from the drama that might be of interest to you. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, feel free to skip those bits but for the curious souls, you may want to watch the series before you go to get you even more excited for your trip. And maybe you’ll be a converted K-drama fan too! (Goblin tidbits below are in Italics.)
OLD QUÉBEC TOWN WHOLE DAY WALKING TOUR
PARC DE L’ESPLANADE
A large park with great views of the Parliament Building, it is especially wonderful to visit and stroll during the summer when kids can enjoy the playground or couples can take a horse-drawn carriage around Old Québec.
Also in the Area:
Fortifications of Québec Historical Site: Stroll along the fortification walls surrounding Old Québec and get an insight into the city’s defense history. You can walk on the walls or on the sidewalk, passing through the four currently standing gates: Porte Saint-Louis, Porte Kent, Porte Saint-Jean and Porte Prescott. Porte Saint-Louis has one side looking into the Grande Allee and the other leading you to Rue Saint-Louis and all the way to Château Frontenac. It is located in between the Esplanade Park and the Citadelle and is a great starting point if you plan on circling the fortifications.
Hôtel du Parlament: Inspired by the Louvre, the Parliament Building is the seat of Québec’s government and is the city’s oldest historical site. It is one of the most beautiful architectural landmarks that you’ll see in Québec.
Fontaine de Tourny: Right in front of the Parliament Building is the Fontaine de Tourny. This fountain was originally erected in Bordeaux, France and upon its removal due to high maintenance costs, it was purchased and donated by a wealthy businessman to the City of Québec to commemorate its 400th anniversary. Fontaine de Tourny is another Goblin shooting location.
Plains of Abraham is the site of the historic Battle of Québec (or Battle of the Plains of Abraham) wherein the British defeated the French and took control of Québec City. A variety of events are usually held here especially during summer and winter, which makes it a popular park for residents and tourists alike. There is a statue of Joan of Arc in a beautiful garden that is worth visiting.
Also in the Area:
Musée des Plaines d’Abraham: Know more about the Battle of the Plaines of Abraham and Battle of Sainte-Foy in this interactive museum.
Grande Allee: This is the main boulevard coming from Sainte-Foy lined with beautiful residential homes and restaurants. New Year celebrations are held at the Grande Allee for both tourists and Québec City residents.
Observatoire de la Capitale: Enjoy a bird’s eye view of Québec City from this 221m high observation deck. The 360 degrees view of the city is magnificent.
Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec: This beautiful building houses some of the best works of Québec’s renowned artists from the 17th century to the present. The Inuit Art Exhibit is a must-see.
LA CITADELLE DE QUÉBEC
One of Québec’s most important landmarks and also a National Historic Site of Canada is the Citadelle. It is a functioning military installation of the Canadian Armed Forces and is also the official residence of Canada’s monarch and Governor General. Guided tours and access to the museum are available. It is also one of the best places to get a panoramic view of the city and St. Lawrence River.
From the Citadelle, there are two ways to go down to Terrasse Dufferin. One of them is by the Promenade des Gouverneurs and the other is by making a quick stop to Terrasse Pierre-Dugua-De-Mons.
Also in the Area:
Changing of the Guards Ceremony: During summer at 10:00 AM is the daily Changing of Guards Ceremony by the palace grounds. The ceremony lasts for 35 minutes and is a must on your visit.
The Terrasse Pierre-Dugua-De-Mons is Old Québec’s hidden gem when it comes to fantastic views of the city. Situated on a hill between the Citadelle and Terrasse Dufferin, the Terrasse Pierre-Dugua-De-Mons can be accessed via Avenue Saint-Denis or by walking through the trail up the hill past Hôtel Terrasse Dufferin.
The best time to visit the Terrasse is in the late afternoon before the sun sets. For that picture-perfect views of the river and Château Frontenac, climb the hill going to the direction of the Citadelle. We came in a little bit late but it was still a wonderful thing to see the night lights.
Also in the Area:
Parc du Bastion-de-la-Reine: This park will give you one of the best views of the Château Frontenac, Ile d’Orleans and St. Lawrence River. It’s also another shooting location from Goblin. This was where the tombstones were erected.
Terrasse Dufferin is a promenade right on the base of the Château Frontenac built in 1879 by Lord Dufferin. It is popular with tourists because of the magnificent views of the St. Lawrence River, the City of Levis and Old Québec’s Lower Town.
Underneath the Terrasse Dufferin was the original site of Fort Saint-Louis built by Samuel de Champlain in 1960 and a château that served as the official residence of New France Governors for two centuries until it was destroyed by a fire in 1834 and then converted into a promenade. It is currently known as the Saint-Louis Forts and Chȃteaux Historic Site and you can actually take a peek inside the preserved archaeological site through a glass partition in Terrasse Dufferin.
Also in the Area:
Promenade des Gouverneurs: The Governors Promenade connects the Plains of Abraham and Citadelle to the Terrasse Dufferin. It’s also one of the many viewing points of St. Lawrence River and the City of Levis.
Parc des Gouverneurs: Walking along the Terrasse Dufferin and just before you reach the Château Frontenac, you’ll pass by the Governor’s Park. In front is the Wolfe-Montcalm Monument, an obelisk erected as a tribute to winning British General James Wolfe and losing French General Louis-Joseph Montcalm of the Battle of Plains of Abraham.
Monument of Samuel de Champlain: Erected in 1898 right on the Terrasse Dufferin is the statue of Québec’s founder, Samuel de Champlain.
Add-on Experience: 2.5-hr Private Québec City Walking Tour (min 2 pax)
FAIRMONT LE CHÂTEAU FRONTENAC
Probably the most photographed hotel in the world, the Château Frontenac is truly breathtaking whether you see it up close or from any other viewing point in Old Québec. Named after a well-known governor of New France, it is not just a luxury hotel but is also an important historical landmark of the city that earned the recognition of National Historic Sites of Canada. There is something magical about Château Frontenac that you can’t seem to take your eyes off it. And whether it’s day or night, you would want to capture its every detail and every color. Oh, and you’re of course welcome to take a peek inside too. Although if you have any plans on staying the night, better be prepared to pay for the experience of a lifetime.
Add-on Experience: Guided Tour of the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac
The Château Frontenac was also prominently featured in Goblin and was depicted as being owned by the Goblin himself. In fact, during the peak of the drama’s popularity, the Château Frontenac offered a special room package for fans who are willing to pay for the Ultimate Goblin Experience (which includes a stay on the very room where they shot the scenes). Talk about die-hard fans!
Also in the Area:
Musée du Fort: Watch a 30-minute sound and light show about Québec’s important battles that shaped its history.
Place d’Armes: Place d’Armes is a popular meeting place and venue for events. In the center of the plaza is an eye-catching gothic fountain.
Rue du Tresor: In a small alleyway between Place d’Armes in Rue Sainte-Anne and Notre-Dame de Québec in Rue de Buade is an open-air art gallery featuring Québec’s talented local artists.
TAKE THE FUNICULAIRE TO GO DOWN THE LOWER TOWN OR USE THE BREAKNECK STAIRS (ESCALIER CASSE-COU)
There are two ways to go down from Haute-Ville to Basse-Ville. One is by the Funiculaire (C$3.50/one way) and the other is through a flight of stairs called Breakneck Stairs. Although Funiculaire is obviously the most convenient choice, I would suggest taking the stairs on your way down so can get a good view of Rue du Petit-Champlain from the top of Breakneck Stairs.
Also in the Area:
Mary’s Popcorn Shop: At the corner of the Breakneck Stairs is this little gourmet popcorn shop. We just couldn’t resist the smell of freshly popped (and flavored) popcorn. You can even bring home a gallon-sized canister! My personal favorites are Québec Style and Classic Caramel.
Porte Prescott: It is one of the standing gates in the fortification and you’ll pass by this gate if you take the Frontenac stairs from the Upper Town to go down to Lower Town. Porte Prescott is one of the shooting locations in Goblin.
Add-on Experience: Lower Town Historical Bike Tour
The whole stretch of Rue du Petit-Champlain is filled with quaint restaurants and bistros, artisan and souvenir shops. It is one of the oldest commercial streets in North America and is often recognized as one of the most charming and picturesque streets in the world. It is especially known for its true-to-life winter wonderland decorations that lasts all through the cold season and not just over the holidays.
Also in the Area:
Maison Louis-Jolliet: Built in 1683, this house was named after the famed French-Canadian explorer Louis Jolliet. It now serves as the lower station and entrance of the Funiculaire.
Parc Felix-Leclerc: Halfway through Rue du Petit Champlain is this lush mini park that is often decorated depending on the season. We were there just before Halloween and it was just lovely.
Theatre Petit-Champlain: This theatre hosts many famed local artists and productions. What’s interesting though is that its bright red back door right by the Rue du Petit-Champlain also attracts unusual attention from fans of the popular K-drama Goblin. It is depicted as a magical portal between Seoul and Québec.
Fresque du Petit-Champlain: At the end of Rue du Petit-Champlain is another striking mural to admire. The Fresque du Petit-Champlain depicts a few historical events and significant disasters in the area.
Add-on Experience: 2-hr Walking Tour Through Québec City’s History
The Place Royale is a charming small square in the heart of Lower Town. It is lined with cobblestones and surrounded by beautiful stone structures and the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires. This was where Samuel de Champlain, the founder of Québec, built his first home. A bust of King Louis XIV is prominently displayed in the square.
Also in the Area:
Parc de la Cetiere: A few steps away from Place Royale is another popular park especially during summer when it is full of tourists and street artists. It is also the home of the impressive Fresque du Québecois.
Fresque du Québecois: Don’t miss this huge mural featuring fifteen historical figures, authors and artists that helped define Québec as it is today.
Notre-Dame-des-Victoires: Built in 1688, the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires is the oldest stone church in North America. Champlain’s original home was torn down and the church was built in its place.
Notre-Dame-des-Victoires in Place Royale
MUSÉE DE LA CIVILISATION
If you are interested in learning more about Québec’s rich history, a visit to Musée de la Civilisation is a must. The museum closes at 5:00 PM though, so it’s either you put this on top of your list or come back the next day. Allow at least 2 hours to fully explore the museum. There is a parking garage just across the street for those who are traveling by car.
Also in the Area:
Place des Canotiers: This is one of my favorite spots in Lower Town for the best view of Château Frontenac. It’s a beautiful urban park perfect for people-watching and just enjoying the views of Old Québec and St. Lawrence River. Sunset is the perfect time to capture that postcard-worthy photo.
GO BACK TO THE UPPER TOWN
Take the Funiculaire, use the Breakneck Stairs or walk through the Côte de la Montagne Road by the Parc de la Cetiere back to Upper Town
NOTRE-DAME DE QUÉBEC BASILICA-CATHÉDRAL
The Notre-Dame de Québec is the oldest Catholic church north of Mexico and has the only Holy Door outside of Europe. Impressive works of art can be viewed inside the cathedral.
Also in the Area:
Séminaire de Québec: The oldest educational institution in Canada, the Séminaire de Québec is another architectural gem in Old Québec. Be sure to go inside and see the inner courtyard.
Parc Montmorency: Not to be confused with Parc de la Chute-Montmorency, Parc Montmorency is also one of the National Historic Sites of Canada and was home to its seat of power from 1791 to 1883.
Musée de L’Amérique Francophone: If you are curious about the French-speaking culture in Québec and North America in general, this is the perfect place to visit. It is only a few steps away from the Holy Door of Notre Dame de Québec Basilica-Cathédral.
Add-on Experience: 2-hr Québec City Walking Tour (max 15 pax)
HÔTEL DE VILLE DE QUÉBEC
Located in the heart of Old Québec, the architectural design of the City Hall of Quebec arose from different styles of Classical, Romanesque Revival and Medieval accents.
Add-on Experience: 2.5-hr Small-Group Québec City Food Tour
Also in the Area:
Place de l’Hôtel de Ville: A public square in front of the City Hall of Québec. It’s a great gathering place where street performers are scattered all over the place. During Advent, a German Christmas Market is held in the area.
Rue Saint-Jean: A trendy street lined with restaurants, cafes and boutiques. In the summer, it converts into a pedestrian-only street. Stop by Erico Creative Chocolate Shop and Museum for some truffles and hot chocolate indulgence.
Place D’Youville: This popular public square in Rue Saint-Jean is converted into an ice skating rink during winter.
This is where we conclude our walking tour. Some of the other areas that you may want to visit are the Old Port, Marche du Vieux Port de Québec and Gare du Palais. These are all a bit out of the way but if you have extra time in Québec, it is all worth visiting. There is an Aurora Borealis Light Show on the Bunge grain silos by the Old Port that runs from sundown until midnight. You can also take the Québec-Lévis ferry to see a different perspective of Old Québec.
Add-on Experience: Québec City Guided Sightseeing Cruise
I have grown to love reading about Québec’s rich history after my visit and while writing this walking tour guide and if you are interested too, I highly recommend adding A People’s History of Québec on your reading list prior to your trip.
Québec City, to date, is one of my favorite travel destinations. And I’m pretty sure it’ll be yours too!
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