Quebec City is a gorgeous city with an Old World feel and European Charm, that is only a few hours from major U.S. cities (a direct flight from Chicago is 2.5 hours, and it’s less than 2 hours from New York City).
I would recommend 2-3 days to really get a taste of what the city has to offer, but if you’re there for longer, take a day trip and visit Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre (notable for its stunning Shrine) and Île d'Orléans (go during the summer months for the markets and vineyards). Montreal is also 3 hours away by car, or just over 3 hours by train, so you could always pop over to the for a night to visit Quebec Province’s largest city.
As you’re prepping for your trip to Quebec City, a few tips for making it a great experience, based on my recent (solo) visit:
- Speak the language: In Quebec, there is a such an emphasis on speaking French and maintaining the language. The people are incredibly nice everywhere, but it is appreciated if you at least try to speak French. Most people also speak English, and they may switch to English for you after hearing your accent, but from my experience, many were more comfortable speaking French and were patient enough to hold a conversation with a non-native French speaker.
- If you don’t speak French at all, learn a few common phrases and words before going. Even a simple “good morning,” “thank you,” and “good evening” will get you far. Better yet, learn to ask “Puis-je parler anglais?” [May I speak English?] before launching into a dialogue of whatever you’re trying to ask or order.
- Restaurants also typically have menus in both French and English. If you have a preference for one or the other, just ask!
- It’s cold: May in Quebec is still quite cold. You’re right on the water, and it’s Canada! The wind is almost always blowing and it’s very chilly. Plenty of people were still wearing full parkas (it’s mid-May), and there were times when I regretted not having mine. At the same time, the last day of my trip was a gorgeous 60-degree day and it seemed the entire city was out enjoying the many terraces…. Just be ready for some quickly changing weather. Layers are your friend.
- There are stairs: Google Maps tells you things for a reason. In Quebec, there are stair passageways to help you go from lower town to upper town (somewhat similar to San Francisco – be prepared for hills and take the stairs when they’re available!). After muscling my way up a few streets, I started to follow the map’s directions, which would lead you to a set of stairs way easier to climb than a steeply inclined, winding road with cars zipping by. Once you find a few staircases, keep going back - they really are a game changer.
- Note: this would be a very challenging city to do with small children / strollers, etc. I saw a few during my trip, but not only are the stairs a challenge, but you’ll be getting a major workout pushing a stroller up and down all of the hills. There are also certain places you won’t be able to go (walking around the Citadel, for instance) without some kind of all-terrain stroller.
- Put away the athleisure: Probably not a shock, but no one wears athleisure in Quebec City like we do in the U.S. A surefire way to stand out as an American would be to wear a pair of Lululemon leggings and a crop top (better yet if something is highlighter) for a day of sightseeing. You’re better off packing a pair of skinny jeans, a slouchy sweater and a scarf. Go for layers. Not only will you blend in with what locals are wearing, but you’ll be better prepared for the drastic weather swings.
- Stay outside of Old Quebec: If you stay within Old Quebec, it’s likely you’ll never leave (and you didn’t really come to Canada eat in an English Pub, or drink at a bar full of Americans, did you?). Try a different neighborhood, like young, hip Saint-Roch, or quaint Saint-Jean Baptiste. They are completely walkable to Old Quebec, but offer a variety of less touristy… everything (not to mention, better prices). The restaurants and cafes in these neighborhoods are excellent and offer more authentic dining experiences. You’ll also get a better feel for how people actually live in the city. Airbnb and VRBO are popular here and offer a great selection of spaces at friendly price points.
- Porter Airlines is amazing: When booking my trip, I was thrown off by this small regional airline with propeller planes and despite my best efforts, ended up booking one leg of my trip on Porter Airlines. It was actually fantastic. It is a small, regional airline, which for me, meant that my flight was not full and there was plenty of space. The flight attendants were incredibly nice (we’re talking, airlines-20-years-ago kind of nice), and they served you snacks and drinks in actual glassware (a little sad how far we’ve come, that glassware really make a difference). Additionally, the airports are regional as well, which might as well mean they’re private hangers. They’re incredibly nice and well done, set up like beautiful lounges where you wait until the plane starts to board.
- On another note, the Quebec City airport is also stunning. YQB is small, bright, clean, modern, tons of space to sit, watch television, plug in your electronics. Yes, security basically makes you unpack your entire bag (TSA precheck won’t get you anywhere here), but they’re incredibly nice, and you have to give them some points for being thorough.
So please, book the trip, go and have a great time! I want to hear about your experiences when you get back and if there are any pointers that were missed!