Tourists visiting Canada will definitely be drawn to Quebec City, the capital city of the Canadian province of Quebec. How can they not be? Google has many breathtaking and hair-raising pictures and the list of attractions sounds very exciting and overwhelming :
- Old Quebec
- The Petit Champlain
- The Citadelle
- Château Frontenac
- Plains of Abraham
- Aquarium du Québec, etc.
Here is an honest opinion of Quebec City’s attractions. Let’s say how things really are to help visitors plan their trip. Some sites are worth it, some can be avoided.
How big and impressive is Quebec City?
Quebec City is like a big jewelry box containing a small diamond ring :
- the box is pretty big compared to its core content,
- the main content is really beautiful, but that does not fill up the empty space in the box.
That imagery of a jewelry box is indeed how Quebec City feels. The core of Quebec City is stunning, but the bigger area does not contain much else to see. The surrounding activities outside the core lack excitement and originality… But again, the core is exquisite! “Quality over quantity” is the perfect quote to describe Quebec City as a touristic destination.
How to get there to Quebec City? Must we rent a car?
The most frustrating aspect about visiting Quebec City is actually getting there. Tourists can take the bus or the train to get to the old capital. The budget will need to be planned in consequence because both solutions are not cheap! It is advised to instead find a carpool solution (like Kangarida) or rent a car with other people. From Montreal, it is at least a 2.5-hour drive. From Ottawa, it takes 5 hours. Once in the city, a car is not necessary to go around Quebec City‘s most beautiful attractions as they are all downtown from a walkable distance from each other. Finding a free parking space downtown is impossible. Be warned!
How long should visitors stay in the city?
The answer is short and simple. Visitors do not need more than a few days to visit Quebec City and the surrounding : three full days are enough to see most of the area. One might get bored after four days. Unless it is summer time…
Winter or summer? When to visit Quebec City?
Summer! Summer! Summer! Visitors must visit Quebec City during June, July or August. Visitors need to celebrate La fête nationale du Québec (a provincial holiday) in Quebec City on June 24th (known as La St-Jean). During summer, Quebec City is on fire : the amazing Festival d’Été de Québec in July with its 10 days of festivities and concerts is the main event. A festival pass is required to see the main shows, but there are several free shows downtown during this big event. Plus, there are many smaller festivals in the city before and after the Festival d’Été de Québec. Quebec City is unbelievable, surprising and marvelous during those hot months of the year. Again… Summer! Summer! Summer! Travelers will have unforgettable memories of their summer adventure there. The excitement is palpable during June, July and August!
“During summer, Quebec City is on fire. Quebec City is unbelievable, surprising and marvelous during those three hot months of the year.”
From September to May, Quebec City is a sleeping beauty : graceful, peaceful and soothing. After three months of celebration, the city feels (and looks) tired and drained. From September on, Quebec City is a calmer and a more low-key destination. It is important to know that Quebec City’s winter is nothing like Montreal’s winter. The constant wind and the high humidity are not pleasant! Only the cold-cold-cold winter lovers will find pleasure from November to April. Yes, April is still wintry in Quebec City. Honestly speaking, the Carnaval de Québec is not worth the hype. It is really overrated. This winter event happens during winter’s coldest and cruelest days : February and its icy winds. Unless one likes to walk endlessly in a -35°C (-31°F) freezer, the activities around the Carnaval de Québec are not amusing nor enjoyable. Truth be told, the Carnaval de Québec is really a distraction to the local people. : it keeps their mind away from the fact that winter is never going to end…
The real jewels of Quebec City and the big commercial flops
Most of the magical and charming attractions in Quebec City is in the central area called La Cité-Limoilou. The three other main areas are not worth the detour as they are not central : Sainte-Foy, Beauport and Charlesbourg. Visitors will need a car if they really want to see the boring grey cement scenery of those three areas. Tourists can find there noisy highways, typical suburban apartment buildings and big concrete shopping malls. Amazing… Better stay downtown.
To make it really easy to understand, here is a list of the attractions worth seeing during a few days stay. Funny enough, all the “paying” attraction are not worth the visit. The good stuff is free!
Attractions Worth Seeing
- The Petit Champlain and the Place Royale : There are lots of boutiques, bars and restaurants, but it is really about the view and the historical feel of the narrow streets.
- The Château Frontenac : Visitors can enter the hotel for free. Lots of people are walking outside and enjoying the Terrasse Dufferin and the view over the St. Lawrence River.
- The Plains of Abraham, the Citadelle and the Battlefields Park : It is a calming and invigorating walk. It is the perfect place to do jogging, yoga or have a picnic with friends.
- The Grande Allée, Charest Street, St-Jean Street and St-Joseph Street : Visitors can find everything they need on those four main streets. There are restaurants, pubs, grocery stores, pharmacies, shopping stores, bookstores, sex shops, etc.
- The Old Port and the Promenade Samuel-De Champlain : The St. Lawrence River’s wind is really soothing. Why not take a nap and get a tan?
- Limoilou : This neighborhood used to be a poor area, but it has known a boost of investment and development over the past few years. It is a trendy area where locals go to chill away from downtown.
- The Parliament Building and the Ramparts : Just because they are central and in every picture. Take your selfie stick out!
- Montmorency Falls Park and L’île d’Orléans : Visitors will need to rent a car to visit these two attractions. They are outside the city, but not too far from downtown. The more athletic sightseers can get there by cycling during summer. Not impossible! It is a nice ride.
Overrated Attractions… Maybe Not Worth Seeing If The Stay Is Short
- Aquarium du Québec
- Musée de la civilisation
- Colisée Pepsi
- Le Relais
- Village Vacances Valcartier
- Any shopping malls… Ok, all of them.