Old Quebec City in the Summer: 3 Day Travel Itinerary
This 3 Day Working Joe Travel Itinerary of Quebec’s Old City focuses on a visit during the warm weather. (Click on our Old Quebec: WJT 3 Day Winter Itinerary for ideas of things to do in the colder months.) This trip planner is designed to give you an overview of the Old City and its must-see sites. To immerse in all this vacation destination has to offer, we suggest you book lodgings inside of the Old City’s walls. It is more expensive, but also more fun and relaxing!
The neighborhood of Old Quebec is rich with history and romance. It is built around a castle (the Hotel Frontenac) that sits on top of a cliff overlooking the St. Laurence River. The area is protected by thick stonewalls and a star-shaped fort. The streets exude a charming French flair.
Old Quebec in Quebec City, Canada is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It consists of two parts; Upper Town (Haute Ville), and Lower Town (Basse Ville). Despite being over 400 years old, the “towns” have a youthful, festive feel. The area hosts many music and art events, and has great year-round shopping, food, and hotel options.
Old Quebec is a destination Joe and I return to every few years. We love that once we are settled in our hotel, we walk everywhere. Each trip there is something new to explore. We re-visit our favorite places, and enjoy the artists and street performers that are based here.
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PACKING TIP: Watch the weather forecast closely. Old Quebec is beautiful in any weather, but the climate is fickle. Even on warm days, there can be a stiff breeze. When the sun goes down, the air cools quickly. Storms blow in and out with little warning. When packing for a summer visit, it is best to layer clothing and have rain gear handy. Also, don’t be afraid to dress with a little verve. The Quebecoise like to have fun with their fashion.
Day 1: Citadelle and Ramparts
Check in and dig out your walking shoes. This afternoon's walking tour of the Old Quebec's historic district calls for a visit to the Citadelle, and a trek along the fort’s ramparts. The fort sits at the city’s highest point with spectacular views of Quebec City, Battlefield Park, and the St. Laurence River.
The star-shaped Citadelle has safeguarded the city’s port since 1693. The site consists of a military base and thick stone ramparts that encircle the Old City. Through the years, the base has changed hands from French to British control. It is currently the largest active British fortress in North America.
This National Historic Site is the official residence of the Governor General of Canada. The compound is a garrison of the Royal 22nd Regiment, and there is a museum of the same name onsite. The base offers daily tours, a noonday gun, and a colorful 10 am changing of the guard from June to September.
When you are finished at the Citadelle, locate the fortification wall that runs downhill toward the Porte Sainte-Louis Gate. As you walk along the Ramparts of Old Quebec, you will see many of the fortifications’ original structures on the 4.6 km route. There are cutouts where you can view city streets below as well as cast-iron fences, grassy embankments, and cannons lining the route.
The trek will take you to the lovely Porte Saint-Louis Gate overlooking Rue St. Louis, the Porte Kent Guardhouse and Tower, and the Porte St. Jean Gate. Exploring the gates’ 17th century stairways, stone turrets, and tunnels in the middle of a modern city is remarkable and fun. On top of the ramparts, you are removed from the bustle, but still a part of it. It’s a great perspective.
At Porte St Jean Gate, gaze over to Place D’Youville, a public square that separates Quebec’s Parliament Hill with the Old City. If there is an event going on, wander over for a while. If all is quiet, descend the rampart’s stairway and take a stroll down Rue St. Jean, one of the city’s oldest streets.
In the summer, Rue St. Jean becomes a pedestrian way lined with restaurants, boutiques, churches. There are chocolate and tea shops, and lots of outdoor dining. Stay on Rue St. Jean until it turns into Cote de la Fabrique and you pass City Hall.
A short time later, you will come to the Basilique Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Quebec. If the doors are open, stop in. The cathedral is graced with an intricately painted ceiling and lovely stained glass. There is a large crypt where the bodies of various dignitaries are buried.
Follow Rue des Jardin as you leave the cathedral. You will walk by the castle-like Hotel Frontenac before coming to the Ursuline Monastery. The nuns of Ursuline have worked out of this convent since the 1600s. Over the years there have been orphanages and schools onsite. You can view the chapel and a small museum. Next door there is a cemetery with the graves of soldiers from the colonial era.
It is difficult to say how much time you should allow for this walk. The total distance is about (2-4miles) depending on how far you wander. Plan for about a four-hour outing.
After a rest, choose a restaurant in Upper Town for a lazy dinner (see our list of restaurant suggestions below). After dinner, take a walk to the Dufferin Terrace. This 420-meter boardwalk runs behind the Hotel Frontenac. In the summer it is a gathering place for people to assemble to see the sun set, the lights of lower town, and the street performers who entertain the crowds.
Day 2: Governor’s Walk, Lower Town, and Old Port
This morning, the itinerary offers two options. Sleep in, have breakfast, and spend the morning shopping in Upper Town’s boutiques. Or, jump back into your walking shoes. For those who choose to walk, Joe and I suggest the following loop.
Make your way to the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac (Hotel Frontenac). The brick and copper castle, with its towers and turrets, has been accommodating wealthy diplomats and travelers since colonial times. Enjoy a scenic breakfast at its restaurant, Place Dufferin. The restaurant’s windows face directly onto the Dufferin Terrace and St. Laurence River (make reservations for a window seat).
After breakfast, explore the hotel’s lobby and public spaces. Then, walk outside to Dufferin Terrace. Morning is a great time to get some photos of the hotel, of Lower Town, the St. Laurence River, and the surrounding scenery.
The views will continue as you make your way up the Governor’s Promenade. The walkway connects the Dufferin Terrace to the Plains of Abraham by some 310 steps that are broken up by landings that offer spectacular vistas of the river, and the cliffs that separate Upper Town from Lower.
At the top of the Promenade, the Citadelle will be behind you and the Plains of Abraham in front of you. The Plains are part of Battlefield Park; the site of many historic battles and happenings over the years. Today, it is a beautiful green space with views of Quebec City, the Citadelle, and the river. You are likely to see joggers, strollers, and horse drawn carriages on its landscaped paths.
Explore a bit, and then exit the park onto Rue St. Louis. Follow the avenue down under the Porte Saint-Louis Gate. Browse the shops and restaurant menus as you make your way back to your hotel. With photos and browsing, plan for a 1.5-hour walk.
TRAVEL TIP: Note that the loop can be done in either direction. As written, you will be walking up the 310 stairs of the Governor’s Promenade. But at the walk’s conclusion, the shops on Rue St. Louis will be open for browsing. If you reverse the route, you will be walking down the 310 stairs.
After resting a few hours, ready for an afternoon and evening away from the hotel.
Stroll back to Dufferin Terrace and locate the Breakneck Stairs. The stairs connect Upper to Lower Town. On this outing we will explore Lower Town and Old Port. Bring a map, but don’t be tied to it. The area is small. As you wander you are likely to run into each of the sites discussed below.
Lower Town is seeped in cobblestones, narrow lanes, and romance. There is French inspired architecture, high quality boutiques, and inviting restaurants. The area encourages visitors to linger with lots of benches and little nooks to congregate. The landscaping is exquisite and there are decorations hung in every season. In the summer, street performers mosey among the crowds.
At the bottom of Breakneck Stairs, follow the shop-lined road down to Rue de Petit Champagne. This narrow pedestrian lane is one of the oldest streets in the city. Once home to wealthy traders and merchants, it is now lined with shops full of paintings, textiles, Inuit carvings, fashions, and religious idolatry.
At the end of the lane, make a “U” turn onto Boulevard Champlain. Window-shop along the street. At the end, let yourself wander. You will find historic houses, little galleries, museums and churches. Eventually, you will likely wind up in the “heart” of Old Quebec, Place Royale.
Place Royale’s cobblestone square is the site of the city’s original settlement and market. A monument of King Louis XIV, the Museum of Place Royale, cafes and shops line the square. There is also the Notre-Dome Des Victories Church. This beautiful stone church is one of the oldest in North America.
From Place Royale, walk on until you find the antiques district. Spend some time walking along rues St. Pierre and St. Paul. The area is full of restored warehouses and buildings that are now devoted to antiques, art galleries and unique retail finds.
When your belly rumbles, walk toward the water and follow the boardwalk to Old Port. This section of town has been a working port for over 400 years. Find a restaurant or pub and enjoy drinks and dinner by the water. Afterward, stroll the boardwalk lined with restaurants, bars, ships, and shops. On a summer evening, it should be easy to find live music to enjoy.
On your way home, walk back through Place Royale and the pedestrian streets of Lower Town. There will be the glow of sparkling lights and mystery in the air.
Day 3: Biking along the St. Laurence, a Ferry Ride, and Artist’s Ally
Begin the day in Old Port. Several businesses in the area offer bike rentals. Cycle along wharfs and waterfront on marked bike trails for an hour or so. Next, take a Ferry Ride across the St. Laurence River to Levi. You can catch the ferry behind the large Place Champlain parking lot. It is a short ride across the river (approximately 15 minutes), and then the ride back. There are stunning views of the city and it’s fun to get out on the water.
Back on shore, take a last walk through Lower Town. At the end of Rue de Petit Champagne take the Funicular rail car up the cliff.
Stroll from the Dufferin Terrace across the road to Place de Armes Park and discover an outdoor art gallery. Tucked in a corner of the park, Rue du Tresor is home to a number of artists who display their wares on the wall of the alley. At the end of the passage, continue on to explore Rue St. Anne and the surrounding neighborhood. Look for a drawing, a piece of lace, or a carving to purchase that will remind you of the Old City.
Travel Tip: Here are a few of Joe and I’s favorite restaurants / dining locations:
Aux Anciens Canadiens (Rue St. Louis) – Famous for Quebecoise cooking with French meat pies and blue and white décor. The white building with red roof is one of the oldest homes in the city.
D’Orsay Restaurant & Pub (Corner of Rue de Buade and Jardin) – Upscale pub food and drink. Crowded, but comfortable and intimate. Stained glass bar. Windows open onto sidewalk in summer.
Champlain Restaurant (Hotel Frontenac) – Gourmet. Expensive. Elegant décor. Spectacular views of St. Laurence River and beyond. Great food. Reserve a table by the windows for a late lunch. It is much the same menu as dinner, but at much less cost.
Place Dufferin (Hotel Frontenac) – Serves breakfast and afternoon tea. Expensive, but good food and cozy. Great views of Dufferin Terrace and river.
Restaurant Parmesan (Rue St. Louis) – Good Italian food. Loud. Crowded. Lively. Occasional live music and waiters who break into song.
Au revoir for now! Laura and Randy
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