Last Updated on November 26, 2023

Quebec City was the final port call on my recent seven-night MSC Explora Journey cruise from New York City to Canada. Truth be told, I took this trip because it occurred during my favorite season of the year, autumn, and it would give me an introduction to a place I’d long wanted to visit, Quebec City.

Though I only got a taste after spending just one day, I’ll admit Quebec City was everything I imagined it to be – and more.

Quebec City is the capital of Canada’s Quebec Province. It’s one of the oldest cities in North America, with a rich history dating back to its founding by Samuel de Champlain in 1608.  

Perched on Cap Diamond, a rocky promontory above the St. Lawrence River, beautiful Quebec City is known for its well-preserved historic architecture and European charm.

Quebec City reflects its French birthright in thousands of ways from cobbled streets lined with charming outdoor cafes, slate-roofed vintage stone houses, patisseries, and a playful though studied attitude toward life.

French is definitely the number one language spoken here, so visitors should brush up on their French before visiting or upload the Google Translate app. I guarantee you’ll use it. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but there were definitely some language barriers my group of friends encountered, but that’s on us, not the people of Quebec.

Quebec Tourist Highlights

For those with only one day in Quebec, having a plan is necessary to take full advantage of your time in seeing the top sights in this Old France meets the New World destination. This is best carried out by researching in advance of your visit or scheduling a tour with a local guide.

Because I was with a group of friends who’d been to Quebec City and were familiar with the Haute-Ville and Basse-Ville (upper and lower towns), we took off on a walking tour – the most ideal way to explore the historic and compact city.

Le Château Frontenac

Le Château Frontenac in Quebec City.
Le Château Frontenac in Quebec City. Photo by Noreen Kompanik

This stunning beauty queen perched on a promontory with breathtaking views of the St. Lawrence River and the fortified old city is without a doubt Quebec City’s most iconic and recognizable landmark. Not only does the location of the historic hotel opened in 1893 offer jaw-dropping vistas, but the European-style charm of its rooms and luxurious property promises guests an unforgettable stay.

Just having the opportunity to walk through its storied lobby filled with echoes of its fascinating past was a joy.

Even if you have no time to go inside, standing on the outside of this incredible Renaissance Revival structure is aweinspiring. Its turrets, towers and steep roofs give it a medieval, castle-like appearance,

Explore Vieux-Québec (Old Quebec)

The historic district of Old Quebec is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s best to plan your visit to Old Quebec by dividing your time between Haute-Ville and Basse-Ville.

Top Haute-Ville Sites

Haute-Ville (Upper Town) includes the Le Château Frontenac as its classic landmark. Terrasse Dufferin is an elevated boardwalk offering panoramic views of the St. Lawrence River and a great place for a leisurely stroll. Street performers and artists often entertain visitors in this area.

Home to the impressive Joan of Arc Garden, the Plains of Abraham is a historic battlefield turned urban park. The locals use it for picnics, walks and other outdoor activities.

Place d’Armes, a picturesque square surrounded by historic buildings is a popular gathering place. An impressive statue of Louis XIV is a focal point of the area.

Cross your fingers and hope that Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica-Cathedral is open for a visit inside. As one of the oldest cathedrals in North America with construction beginning in 1647, its stunning French classical style and Gothic Revival architecture and religious artworks are incredibly impressive.

Must-See Basse-Ville Sites

Walking tour through Old Quebec.
Walking tour through Old Quebec. Photo by Noreen Kompanik

As we wound our way through meandering streets down to Basse-Ville’s lower town, we marveled at the intriguing allure of the city.

“Now I know why everyone who’s ever visited here falls in love with Quebec City,” I said to my friends who smiled and agreed.

Our final descent into this area was via Escalier Casse-Cou, also known as Breakneck Steps for its steep historic stone staircase offering scenic views.

Basse-Ville includes Petit-Champlain District, one of the oldest commercial districts in North America. The charming area with narrow cobblestone streets, boutiques, art galleries and restaurants is reminiscent of the small towns I’ve visited in France throughout the years.

Place Royale’s historic square is where Samuel de Champlain founded the first permanent French settlement in North America. The area is filled with well-preserved 17th and 18th-century architecture and the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church, one of the oldest stone churches in North America, a classic example of French colonial style construction.

Dining in Quebec City

Poutine, Quebec City's most iconic food.
Poutine, Quebec City’s most iconic food. Photo by Noreen Kompanik

After walking several hours through Vieux-Québec, we were famished and ready to sample some of the area’s most notable cuisine in the Petit-Champlain District.

You cannot tell anyone you’ve gone to Quebec City and didn’t try its most famous dish: poutine. This iconic Canadian treat originated in Quebec, and Quebec City excels at cooking up Canada’s favorite comfort food.

Poutine typically consists of three main components piled one on top of the other: French fries, cheese curds and gravy. It’s such a popular dish that it’s now spread beyond Canada’s borders, gaining recognition and appreciation around the world.

Though I admit to not being its biggest fan, I did sample. My friends, however, scarfed up every last bite. I have to say much of family loves too.

There was no way I was passing up a classic French onion soup topped with piping-hot local cheese. Every bite was a delight. Another friend ordered a bison burger (popular in this area) and before heading back to our ship, we stopped at a local Creperie for Crêpes à la Québécoise (Quebec City crepes), a highly French-influenced sweet treat.

Yes, Quebec City impressed, but true to form, visiting a place with such a “wow’” factor can only mean one thing – a return visit is definitely in the cards!

Author

  • Noreen Kompanik

    Noreen Kompanik is a retired registered nurse, legal nurse consultant and military spouse turned travel writer. She launched her travel writing career in 2014 and has over 1,000 published articles in a variety of digital and print publications.