Have just 24 hours in Quebec City? The beguiling capital of the Quebec province will satisfy your search for charm in a day and will undoubtedly leave you wanting more. As a first time visitor to the city, it’s easy to get confused by all of the names for each slice of the city: Old Town is divided into two sections, the upper old town and the lower old town, plus there’s Petit Champlain and Place Royal in the lower old town. My biggest takeaway? If you’re exploring on foot, you’ll likely run into each of these areas naturally, and you can always ask if you’re feeling turned around!
STAY: I’m a boutique hotel lover, but even I couldn’t resist the charm of Chateau Frontenac, the iconic Fairmont property that takes the title for the world’s most photographed hotel. If you think the outside brings some serious flair, the inside will definitely wow with regal decor befitting of a castle property. Located at Terrasse Dufferin, the funicular is just steps away for easy access to the captivating old town. If you can, opt for a room with a view to enjoy the stunning vistas of the river and city below (if you’re going in low season, you can ask about upgrades upon arrival to try for discounted options).
DO: Quebec City seamlessly meshes the charm and culture of France with that of Canada, but make no mistake: the city is far more French than anything. If the architecture doesn’t give it away, the French-speaking population will instantly transport you to Europe during your time in North America’s oldest city. If you’re a breakfast eater, start your day off in true French fashion with a crepe or croissant and grab a coffee for the road – it’ll warm you up and fuel you as you begin your journey.
Once you’re ready to hit the road, enjoy a walk around Terrasse Dufferin to scope out pretty views of the old town below. You’ll see people manicuring the snow nearby for the toboggan ride that runs during the snowy season. If you’re up for it, it’s too close to pass up! Enjoy a morning ride if conditions are comfortable enough to make it enjoyable.
A visit to Quartier Petit Champlain in Quebec City’s old town is a dream and it’s not to be missed. You know those next-level jaw-dropping photos that you’ve seen online and on Instagram? This is where the majority of those too-good-to-be-true photographs are captured. During the holidays, expect Christmas trees and holiday lights by every storefront and restaurant, with just the perfect dash of snow for good measure. The area is quaint and easy to explore on foot so give yourself a few hours to enjoy the main thoroughfare.
While you’re at it, head up to Place Royale, which is said to be the cradle of French civilization in North America. The square is an icon with its stunning stone church, Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, which looks like it was dropped in directly from the French countryside. As the oldest stone church in North America, it bears more of a resemblance to Europe than it does to the Americas. At the holidays a massive Christmas tree takes center stage, lit for all to see. Other historic buildings reside in the square, and a bakery on the main street (facing the church) is the perfect place to slip away for a hot chocolate and a sweet bite if you need to escape the cold in the winter months.
Just down the steps from Place Royale, you’ll run into L’Oncle Antoine’s, a pub that was recommended to us that’s a must for anyone visiting Quebec City. By day, you can enjoy a bowl of French onion soup by the fire; by night, sip local brews or mulled wine in the old stone cave-like bar.
If you can pry yourself away from the allure of the lower old town, make your way to Marché du Vieux-Port de Québec. It’s only about 15 minutes on foot, but if the weather is a deterrent hop in a cab – or an Uber (there’s wifi at L’Oncle Antoine’s that you can use to hail an Uber) to get there quickly. During the holiday season, it’s transformed into an indoor Christmas market (not to be confused with the German Christmas market that exists a couple of minutes away from Chateau Frontenac) where vendors sell locally crafted ice wines and ciders, local honey, fois gras (the de facto national food of Quebec from what we experienced), fresh fish, maple-inspired treats, Christmas ornaments and ready-to-eat food. On a freezing day, it’s the perfect enjoyable indoor experience.
With so much mouth-watering food at every bend, our trip to the market turned into a snack pit stop armed with a fresh baguette, a large wedge of brie, and cured meats purchased at different stalls around the building. If you’re feeling thirsty, visit the shop right at the entrance for a selection of cold craft beers made right in Quebec.
DINE: Montreal takes the spotlight for great food in the Quebec Province, but Quebec City has an impressive array of options. There’s a hearty selection of French cuisine, but there’s also dining that’s staunchly Canadian, and plenty of international dining options as well. During our two nights we had two totally different dinner experiences:
Our second night, we dined at Le Lapin Saute, a charming restaurant tucked into Quartier Petit Champlain. After taking the funicular down from Chateau Frontenac, we had a short two-minute walk down the wreath-laden and starlit street to reach the restaurant. For me, Le Lapin Saute and restaurants like it better capture the experience and charm of Old Quebec; cozy, warm and homey. The food was great, but the setting really made the experience shine. Bonus: it’s just a short walk from L’Oncle Antoine’s — we cut through Place Royale, and enjoyed a snowball fight for good measure, before indulging in a nightcap at the quaint pub.
For our first dinner, we opted for Légende, a restaurant that is utterly Canadian in every respect. The restaurant’s concept? They serve up a menu that’s made up of only Canadian inputs. The focus is on using only locally sourced ingredients that highlight Canadian fishermen and farmers. That means basics like olive oil (not produced in Canada) are out, and crisp radishes, chicken livers, and fresh salmon are in. You can order a lá carte, but the tasting menu, delivered family style, is the star. For me, the concept was golden, the food was good (though not great, possibly because I don’t eat meat), but I preferred the overall experience of a cozy place like Le Lapin Saute considering the environment. With only a day, I’d choose cozy charm over avant-garde, but both were great in their own ways!
In case you missed it and need more inspo to visit Quebec City, check out the video from our quick getaway!
How would you spend 24 hours in Quebec City?