A city passed between British and French rule during the Seven Year War, Quebec City landed under French rule in 1763 and from there, blossomed, embodying a mixture of French and Canadian culture. Two hundred and fifty years later, the winding cobblestone streets are packed tight with shops that fill the air with wafts of poutine, chocolate, and maple. We explored these charming streets in both the older, history-rich Old Town and in the newer, bohemian-styled Saint-Jean. Although there is much to see in Québec and the surrounding area, here’s how we did it in two days.
Exploring Old Québec and the city
Old Quebec is easily walkable with the right shoes and a few stops along the way.
Our walking tour of Old Québec
- Start at the Fortifications of Quebec National Historical Site. Catch a first glimpse into the history of the city.
- Walk the old streets to the Notre Dame de Québec Basilica. Part of the walk through this area is touristy and full of international brands. This area wasn’t our favorite, but walk through to discover more of Québec’s local side.
- After the church, we backtracked to check out the Old Port Market. Market shopping is a great way to experience a lively environment full of cheap, local food, and this one didn’t disappoint. The market was full of seasonal fruits and veggies, traditional maple syrup, local booze and warm food.
- We returned to our path through Old Québec past the Museum of Civilization. Stop in this museum for some insight on the history of humanity.
- From there, visit the boardwalk at the Château Frontenac, one of the world’s most photographed hotels. The boardwalk itself is full of art and street performers and offers an excellent view of the St. Lawrence River. Stairs in the boardwalk lead down to the archeological ruins of the old Château Haldimand, an centuries old Canadian governmental building.
- Next, continue down the boardwalk and visit La Citadelle, and the Plains of Abraham. La Citadelle is the oldest military institution in Canada and the home to some of Canada’s most important people. See the Canadian Forces museum and the changing of the guard here, or simply explore the surrounding plains.
Discovering Canadian Nature: Parc National de la Jacques Cartier
Canada is known for its natural beauty, and while we stayed in the city, we wanted a taste of the mountains and forests that set Canada apart. Parc National de la Jacques Cartier, one of Canada’s oldest national parks, is only a 30 minute bus ride from downtown Quebec.
How to get there:
- Take the “Intercar” bus from Gare du Palais in downtown Quebec. Roundtrip tickets are 20 CAD per person.
- Mention Parc National de la Jacques Cartier when buying tickets and to the bus driver. The park stop is a flag stop, meaning the bus doesn’t stop unless notified.
- The flag stop is just off the highway and a short walk to the gates of the park. Entry to the park is 8 CAD per person.
- All the main hiking paths begin at the discovery center, which is about a 45 minute walk from the park gates. Save time by walking down the street with your thumb out and fingers crossed that someone picks you up. It’s very safe to hitchhike as the road has no turn offs and is well-traveled. We were picked up by a park employee who gave us the following advice:
- Walk on the same side of the road as the cars going in the direction you wish to go; walking on the other side of the road indicates that you don’t want to be picked up.
- Hitchhiking in Canada, especially to and from these areas is extremely popular, so if you’re bold, buy a one-way bus ticket and hitch a ride all the way back to Quebec. While hiking, we actually met a man who offered us a trip back to the city, reinforcing to us how easy it can be to find a ride.
- If you’re skeptical, and you’ve made a round trip reservation, be sure to call the bus company and tell them to alert the driver to stop at the Parc National de Jacques Cartier flag stop as you’re leaving the park. The pickup point will actually be just north of the original drop off point.
We only spent about four hours in the park, which worked for a short hike. If you’re looking for a little bit of a longer hike, there are plenty of trail heads, all varying in length that start from the discovery center. The park employee who picked us up recommended Les Coulées, a near 6.5 mile looping trail featuring a midway overlook of the park. To the midway point and back down took us about 2 hours and while the incline gets steep, the views are definitely worth it.
We started our journey in this city and fell in love with it’s winding streets, rustic outskirts, and its feeling of life, culture, and love. The French Canadian culture of the province’s history is there in full force and it smells like poutine, tastes like maple, and feels like a young city with an old heart, eager to invite any and everybody in.