After spending a week on assignment in Quebec City, I thought I’d make a list of some of my favorite finds. (Let me know if you have others to add by leaving a comment below, because this is one city I’ll definitely be returning to soon.)
And, while I was able to spend a full seven days in Quebec’s loveliest city (sorry, Montreal!), I realize not everyone is blessed with that much time to explore. That’s why I put together a video itinerary of the “Perfect Day in Quebec City.”
Best Grand Hotel: Is there any question? The recently refurbished Fairmont Le Château Frontenac is a far cry from the slightly musty hotel I stayed at a few years ago. Following a massive renovation, the historic Upper Town grande dame now boasts fantastic restaurants and beautifully appointed rooms with plenty of amenities. Plus, you can’t put a price on the wonderful feeling that you’re staying in one of the most legendary hotels in the world.
Best Boutique Hotel: I loved staying at Le Germain Hotel, away from the crowds of Lower Town and just around the corner from the famous antique stores on Rue Saint-Paul. Occupying a space that was once home to Dominion Fish and Fruit (circa 1912), the hotel’s aesthetic somehow manages to be cool and contemporary but also extremely homey (Exhibit A: the fireplaces and oversize chairs in the lobby). Perks: Guests can order room service from nearby local favorite L’Échaudé, then borrow one of the hotel’s bikes to work it off. Tip: Ask for Esther at the front desk—she gives the best insider advice in the city.
Best Place for an Afternoon Cocktail: I was meeting a friend at 4 p.m. and couldn’t find a bar or bistro open anywhere in Lower Town. We ended up at Le Café du Monde, a restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the St. Lawrence River. Even though the place is next to Quebec City’s cruise terminal, it’s not a tourist trap—the wine list and food are both excellent, and the beautiful setting makes you feel almost as though you’re aboard a boat yourself.
Best Casual Restaurant: Le Bureau de Poste was one of my favorite stumble-upons. As its name suggests, this always packed eatery is housed in a former post office building. The restaurant is known for its great beer selection, and every food item on the extensive menu—think casual fare like burgers, salads, and tacos—is CAD $4.95. The owners love skateboarding, something that’s clearly (and endearingly) reflected in the hip eatery’s decor. Tip: Go here for brunch. You won’t be sorry.
Best Day Trip: Spending at least a few hours on the Île d’Orléans is a must if you’re visiting Quebec City, especially in the summer. Before my latest visit, I had no idea such a treasure trove of local farms, wineries, and culinary artisans (the island is known as the “Breadbasket of Quebec”), not to mention beautiful bed-and-breakfasts, was just a stone’s throw from downtown.
Best Museum: The permanent exhibition on Quebec City history at the Musées de la civilisation is a key tool to understanding the French-Canadian cultural hub’s past and future, while fascinating rotating exhibitions (a memorable one during my visit was Horse Power!, which highlighted the evolution of horse-drawn carriages) round out the experience. Tip: The museum doubles as a great place for lunch—its on-site restaurant, Café 47, serves up inexpensive—and delicious—quiches and soups.
Best Unexpected Beauty: Near the edge of the Saint-Roch neighborhood, you’ll discover highway overpasses supported by concrete pillars that have been splashed with colorful frescoes. They create beauty in an area that would otherwise be completely unappealing. Though you will find striking murals all over the city, these are located in the most surprising of locations.
Best Antiques: It’s hard to go wrong when you’re shopping on Rue Saint-Paul, the center of Quebec’s antiques scene. As a traveler, I had a particular soft spot for La Nouvelle-France Antiquités with its lovely vintage trunks, posters, license plates, and artwork from destinations around the world.
Best Bites: I returned to Pâtes Fraîches et Cie at the Marché du Vieux-Port a whopping three times for a fancy version of a frozen pizza roll (more elegantly known as a croustillant). Other must-try bites: the banana and chocolate dessert crepe at Le Billig, the feta-and-olive loaf at Paillard.
Best Local Shop: I went gaga over the huge selection of Made-in-Quebec clothing and jewelry at Signatures Québécoises, housed in the lower level of an old church in the funky Saint-Roch district.
Best Place to Relax Outside: The Plains of Abraham is the city’s largest park by far (it’s more than twice the size of New York’s Central Park!), and full of treasures. My favorite find was the Joan of Arc Garden, which is centered around a statue of the French heroine and provides a stunning venue for more than 150 varieties of flowers and plants. That it’s one of the most popular places in town for locals to stage engagement and wedding photos is no surprise.
Best View: I loved picnicking in front of La Citadelle and marveling at the larger-than-life Château Frontenac. But at Ciel, you get a bird’s-eye view of the city in all directions. Located on top of the Concorde Hotel near the Plains of Abraham, Ciel provides wide-angle shots of the St. Lawrence River and Old Town. Plus, the modern French-Canadian bistro offers up plenty of ways to keep your mouth occupied while you soak up the beauty that surrounds you.