Autumn in Québec City: A Visitor’s Guide
Québec City is easy to fall in love with, especially during autumn.
From late September to early November, when the city still gets a good dose of sunshine, the leaves begin to change their color, transforming the landscape into a sea of golden yellows and warm reds, a kind of last hurrah before the trees lose their foliage to the harsh east coast winter. This changing of the colors is a big reason why the city is so popular with visitors from all over the world during this time of year.
Despite the tourist crowds, including thousands of cruise ship passengers that arrive in port each day, Québec City is absolutely beautiful and completely enjoyable to visit in the fall. With charming architecture, fascinating history, a vibrant café and restaurant scene, and an atmosphere reminiscent of Europe, Québec City stands out as one of Canada’s most charismatic cities.
So, if you're planning to visit Québec City consider heading there during the fall foliage season, and be sure to read on below to discover plenty of things you should see, delicious places to eat, and other useful things to know before you go.
What to See
Château Frontenac The uphill streets, along with the majority of the tourist crowd, all eventually end up at the world-famous Château Frontenac (the most photographed hotel in the world!), which looks like an immense castle straight out of a fairy tale.
Terrasse Dufferin The ideal spot for a bit of sun-bathing and people-watching, Terrasse Dufferin is a wide, wooden boardwalk that wraps around the front of Château Frontenac. You'll find street performers and buskers here daily, and in the winter visitors can toboggan down the slides at speeds of up to 70km/hr!
Gare du Palais What I originally mistook for a fancy hotel, a smaller Château Frontenac perhaps, is actually the train station, Gare du Palais. It is located beside the Old Port and the architecture is particularly beautiful.
La Citadelle The oldest military building in the country, the Citadel of Québec is an active military structure and the official residence of the Governor General of Canada. La Citadelle comprises part of the fortifications of Québec City, which is one of only two remaining walled cities in North America, the other being in Mexico.
Marché du Vieux-Port de Québec Grab some fresh local produce and browse the selection of handicrafts at the Public Market by the water’s edge in the Old Port of Québec City. Open weekdays from 9am to 6pm and weekends from 9am to 5pm.
Plains of Abraham This historic area is the site of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, which took place on September 13, 1759. The battle was fought between British and French troops, eventually leading to the surrender of Québec to the British.
Parc de l'Artillerie Rich in important architectural heritage, Artillery Park bears witness to more than two and a half centuries of history. By the end of the 17th century, it was already recognized as a strategic site and military engineers built various fortifications there over the years. From the middle of the 18th century onward, the park's installations were used as military quarters, which housed French and British soldiers, and as a final function it became a large industrial complex. The great strategic importance of Artillery Park lies in its location overlooking both the plateau to the west of the city, from which an army could lay siege to it, and St. Charles River, where boats could land soldiers. Under French rule, all the lines of defense that were proposed or built passed through this territory.
Petit Champlain Québec City’s cutest neighborhood is made up of cobble stoned alleys, historic brick buildings, restaurants, and stores. Typically, you’ll find it teeming with tourists and tour groups but it’s definitely worth checking out. Petit Champlain was named after Samuel de Champlain, the French navigator and explorer who founded Québec City in 1608.
Funiculaire The funicular that links the upper Old Town with the lower Old Town opened on November 17, 1879, and originally used the water ballast system of propulsion, similar to that still used by the Nerobergbahn in Wiesbaden, Germany. The line was converted to electrical operation in 1907. On July 2, 1945, a major fire destroyed the structure, necessitating a rebuild that was completed in 1946. Since then, major renovations have taken place in 1978 and 1998. In 2004, the funicular celebrated 125 years of operating. One trip on the line travels over 60 meters at a 45-degree angle.
Old Port of Québec Walk down to the Old Port at night and you’ll find the grain silos, which are nothing special by day, transformed into an impressive display of various colors meant to represent the Aurora Borealis.
Place Royale Here in the heart of Québec City’s old town you’ll find Place Royale, the original location that Samuel de Champlain chose as the first permanent French settlement in North America. This site served as a fort, storehouse, trading post, and a residence for Champlain.
Notre Dame des Victoires Church Place Royale is also home to Notre Dame des Victoires, the oldest stone church in North America, built in 1688.
Place de l'Assemblee Nationale Walk to Place de l'Assemblee Nationale and you’ll be able to see the Parliament Building, the National Assembly of Québec, and the west walls of the Old Town. During the winter months, the Ice Palace of the Québec Winter Carnival is erected in the place of the National Assembly.
Rue Saint-Jean In this colorful and quirky neighborhood, you’ll find an endless assortment of restaurants, cafes, churches, and cool clothing stores. This is the perfect place to wander leisurely and enjoy the atmosphere of Québec City.
Musée de la Civilisation Located in the historic Old Town, the Musée de la Civilisation features permanent and temporary exhibitions, which are usually related to humanities, and virtual exhibitions are also available. The institution also hosts a discovery zone which is geared towards children and offers other services such as guided visits, a French America reference center, shows, souvenir boutiques, a cafeteria, and a leisure room.
Where to Eat
Le Chic Shack Located directly across from the Château Frontenac, with a fantastic patio where you can watch the tourist crowds pass by, Le Chic Shack has regularly priced pub food including burgers, milk shakes, and some delicious poutines.
CIEL! Québec City’s only revolving restaurant gives you a full 360-degree view of the city while you enjoy a meal. One rotation takes approximately 90 minutes. If you can’t make it in time for dinner at CIEL!, the bar is usually still open for another hour or two after the kitchen has closed.
Côtes à Côtes Located in the Petit Champlain area, Côtes à Côtes is close to many tourist attractions and historic buildings. The restaurant has a cozy interior and a sunny patio with a view of the Château Frontenac towering above. Dishes are French-inspired bistro cuisine.
Where to stay
Château Frontenac Obviously! If you can afford it, or if you’d like to treat yourself, then definitely book the Château Frontenac. This is the quintessential Québec City hotel and you can be sure that you’ll get a 5 star experience.
Hôtel le Saint-Paul Or, if you’re more like me, and looking for a hotel that fits a modest budget, and is clean, comfortable, and centrally located, then you can do no wrong with Hôtel le Saint-Paul. Located less than a 10 minute walk from the cruise ship pier and steps away from the Old Town, this little boutique hotel is quiet and includes a complimentary breakfast.
A note on hotels: The fall season (September/October) is one of the busiest times in Québec City as this is when cruise ships carrying thousands of passengers stop in port each day. This means the hotels typically fill up fairly quickly and early in the year so it's best to book soon if you've found a great deal. When I was researching for accommodation in Québec City, I found the hotel prices to be quite high in comparison to other North American cities. It can be an expensive place, especially during the autumn months.
If you're on a budget, be sure to check out Airbnb as there are some great options that cost far less than a hotel.
Québec City is an incredibly pedestrian friendly city and I would highly recommend you set out on foot to best discover and enjoy the various neighborhoods, especially the Old Town. There is a myriad of winding cobblestone streets, plenty of little hidden alleyways, public art exhibits, and little quirks that can only be seen and appreciated by taking the time to walk around. If you wander far enough, you’ll come across quiet little squares with magnificent churches and buildings adorned with hanging flowers and lacy curtains in the windows.
If you’d like to see the sights a little bit faster, you can take advantage of the almost 400km of bike paths throughout the city.
Taxis in Québec City are clearly labeled and easy to find. A one-way taxi ride between Downtown Québec City (this includes the Old Town) and Jean Lesange International Airport costs a fixed rate of $34.25 and takes approximately 20 minutes. The airport has a taxi stand that is open 24/7 and you just need to walk up to the stand when you're ready to leave the airport.
If you need a taxi to take you to the airport at an ungodly hour to catch your flight home, then your hotel/hostel reception can reserve one for you in advance.
For the budget conscious traveler, there is also a bus that connects the airport to the city center. Further information can be found here.
Are you planning a trip to Québec City?
Get the most relevant, up-to-date advice on top attractions, off-the-beaten-path restaurants and shops, plus plenty of other useful information in Lonely Planet's Montréal and Québec City guide book.