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Imagine a European-style trip complete with fabulous cuisine, cobblestone streets, and even French battleground tours. Now imagine that vacation is just an hour-long flight from Boston. No, it’s not too good to be true—it’s a weekend in Québec City, Canada’s destination for rich historical sites, modern cuisine, and European-inspired charm. Marked as the beginning of French civilization in North America, Québec offers visitors a peek into its 400-year-old European culture through historical sites, museums, and fine dining.
Day 1: walk back in time touring Old Québec
To kick off a weekend in this charming city, set your sights on Old Québec, an impeccably preserved area that feels like a trip back in time. Founded by Samuel de Champlain in 1608, Old Québec is comprised of Upper Town, the city’s historic military, religious, and administrative center, and Lower Town, which boasts art galleries and popular restaurants and bars. Start with Upper Town’s Château Frontenac, said to be the most-photographed hotel in the world. Take a free weekend tour of the beautiful building before continuing on a walk along Terrasse Dufferin, a boardwalk with sweeping views of the St. Lawrence River and the Laurentian Mountains.
Next, explore the city’s old stone fortifications, which date back hundreds of years, via a guided or walking tour. Québec is the only remaining walled city north of Mexico, and a walk along the three-mile walls offers a historic look into how the city’s military operated in the 18th century. Walk the entire route to end at the Citadelle, perched atop Cap Diamant. The star-shaped Citadelle was once home to the British troops, who built the fortress after narrowly fending off an American invasion during the War of 1812. Military buffs can take a guided tour of the site or watch the changing of the guards.
A boardwalk running alongside the Citadelle extends into the Plains of Abraham, once a battlefield for clashes between the French and British empires. Today, it’s a lovely 250-acre public park with rolling hills and meadows perfect for enjoying a picnic lunch. Just a few blocks north is the Observatoire de la Capitale, or Capital Observatory, where you can take in a 360-degree view from the 31st floor of the Marie-Guyart Building. For more historical enjoyment, continue to Artillery Park to hear guides in period dress speak about life in the barracks or visit the impressive Parliament Building to see bronze statues of distinct men and women in Québec’s history.
End your day in Upper Town with a meal at La Bûche, where locals delight in traditional Québec food with a twist. Savor shepherd’s pie, foie gras, or bone marrow onion soup, but save room for dessert: the maple syrup pie and poor man’s pudding are a must.
Day 2: take in—and take home—the arts down in Lower Town
After a stay in Upper Town, a quick funicular takes you to Lower Town, a lively hub for eating, drinking, and exploring the rich arts and music scene. You’d be remiss not to spend time in Place-Royale, a public square known as the birthplace of French America. In the 1600s, Samuel Champlain established Place Royale as a trading post, and today, its buildings make up the largest remaining group of 17th- and 18th-century buildings in North America. Visit the Place-Royale Interpretation Centre to learn more about the settlement of the town, or take a trip through the Musée de la Place-Royale to see historic houses or take part in a period costume workshop.
For a religious history lesson, visit the Église Notre Dame des Victoires, or “Church of Our Lady of Victories.” One of the oldest stone churches in Canada, the church features stunning murals, a fortress-shaped altar and a replica ship of the Brézé, the boat that brought French soldiers to Canada to help chase out the Brits.
Adjacent to Place Royale is Quartier Petit Champlain, a neighborhood known for its bustling, one-of-a-kind shops and bistros. Narrow cobblestone streets lined with historic architecture mean it’s just about as far from a traditional shopping mall as you can get. Enjoy strolling between Petit Champlain’s quaint leather, fur, and souvenir shops, or experience the area’s historic cuisine with lunch at one of its highly rated eateries. Try contemporary Québec delicacies and sugar pie at Le Lapin Sauté, or dig into modern European cuisine at Cochon Dingue.
Spend the afternoon at the Museum of Civilization to see two permanent exhibits that detail the social and political history of Quebec. Next, head to 19th century Old Port, where a public market offers everything from fresh vegetables to bicycle rentals. Rent a bike to further explore Lower Town, stopping at La Maison Smith, a cafe on Rue Notre-Dame, for an espresso and macarons. If you’re staying the night, return your bike and enjoy a cocktail or two back in Old Port. Take in the area’s lively nightlife scene—and maybe even grab another slice of sugar pie—before a morning flight back to New England.