I always imagined Quebec City as a European dream, but conveniently closer for Canadians and Americans. I’d never contemplated there was more to the city than… well, the city. So when we were invited to visit, we discovered a delightful taste of what Quebec City and the surrounding region has on offer for families.
Where Is Quebec?
For the uninitiated, Quebec City is the capital of the Canadian province of Quebec and one of the oldest continually habited cities in North America. Old Quebec (the oldest portion of the city) is surrounded by striking UNESCO World Heritage ramparts that look a like a cityscape you’d find in Europe. It brought back memories of our sojourns in cities such as Dubrovnik, Luxembourg and even Jerusalem.
Quebec City is situated along the Saint Lawrence River valley, on the north bank near the river’s convergence with the St. Charles River.
Where We Stayed In The City
We spent our first 2 nights at Hôtel Plaza Québec, a couple minutes drive west of Old Quebec. It was a family friendly hotel perfectly located near kid centric activities such as the aquarium. It housed a rather inviting indoor swimming pool that unfortunately we never got around to using – we were having too much fun around the city.
In-costume characters roamed the hotel entertaining kids. We bumped into Spiderman, Elsa, Captain Jack Sparrow and Arial. Our kids were thoroughly delighted.
Although our hotel room didn’t include breakfast, we ate at the on-site restaurant one morning. The service was pretty dull (perhaps that’s the French influence), and the food just passable, so the next morning we ate elsewhere.
Wi-Fi worked well and they offered convenient on-site parking for free. Plus the bed came out of the wall, which was pretty impressive for me and the kids. :)
Nature In The City
There was plenty to keep us busy in our 2 days in Quebec City so we made the most of every moment.
The falls are located on the Montmorency River about 12 km east from the heart of old Quebec City.
Stretching 275 feet high (84 meters) and 150 feet wide (46 meters), Montmorency Park Falls are 98 feet (30 meters) taller than Niagara Falls! It’s a stunning natural symphony with a melodious crash. While there’s an option to climb the cliff staircase up to the suspension bridge that crests the falls, we took the easy option with the aerial tram (cable car). Much better on little legs too.
The falls are a very popular tourist spot, and once on the bridge you can see why. Beautiful views of the Saint Lawrence River stretching out to the horizon.
Old Quebec In 1 Day
After our stop at the falls it was back in the car and straight into the heart of Old Quebec. There’s quite a few parking lots (if you know where to look), costing roughly CAD$18 for the day.
We continued towards the river and found the Old Quebec Funicular (Funiculaire du Vieux-Québec) that links the Upper Town to the Lower Town. This is no any ordinary funicular; in fact it’s the only one of its kind in North America. Opened in 1879, it’s been carrying passengers for over 135 years!
The cobbled streets at the bottom felt almost like a jaunt through Crete in Greece. Once we reached the river we caught a ferry (CA$3.50 per adult) to see the old city from a different perspective in all its historic beauty.
Back in Lower Town we enjoyed a quick family lunch at the Spag & tini Le Resto! They offered an impressive kids menu and fun colouring activities, plus the kids received a free toy with their meal. The food was delicious too.
With full tummies, we were all feeling slightly tired so we grabbed the next Le Bus Rouge to do a hop-on-hop-off tour around the city. With all the summer festivals on at the time the driver really had to deftly navigate traffic and improvise on road closures.
The live guide brought Quebec’s history to life from vivid tales about the 1759 battle on the Plains of Abraham between the French and British, to behind-the-scenes insights into everyday life in modern Quebec.
We completed one loop and soaked up the sights before arriving back near the Fortifications of Québec. At the ticket desk for the underground ramparts the kids received an activity book to complete for a special reward at the end.
The Ramparts are the only remaining fortified city walls in North America and are recognized as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. Underneath the current pedestrian mall we discovered a dark, cool cavern filled with artefacts and remnants of a bygone time.
It was very child friendly and our kids’ favourite part was digging in the sand for their own “artefacts”.
By the end of that we were all exhausted. It had been a long day. So we collected our car from the parking lot and returned back to our hotel for some much needed R&R.
Quebec For Kids
Our 2nd day in Quebec we got off to a (slightly) later start and first stop was the Aquarium Du Quebec.
This was much more than just an aquarium. It also included outdoor animal exhibits with walruses, seals and polar bears. As well as humorous pirate performers meandering around the premises.
I could have spent hours watching the polar bear playing with his tyre and bucket in the water, swimming from top to bottom and round all alone in his own world. So majestic, so beautiful, so huge – with big soft paws and snow white fur.
We watched a walrus show, however the seats were outside in the hot sun and we melted under its intense glare and were happy to retreat to the shade as soon as the show finished.
After we checked out of our hotel we drove the short way to Centre d'amusement Carie Factory, an indoor playground and arcade with 4D movie theatre. Kids will adore this place, but adults might feel slightly overwhelmed with the bright flashing lights, perpetual noise and wild children. It’s a bit like a Vegas casino, but for kids.
The games use a token system, with the more tokens you purchase, the cheaper they are. Free Wi-Fi for the parents allowed us oldies to chill in the seating area. While a gatekeeper near the entrance ensured kids didn’t escape.
They use to have a dental education element to the centre, but it is no longer in operation. Our kids were in heaven and we stayed several hours, before finally rounding up our over-stimulated youngsters.
My husband left his sunglasses in the storage room downstairs along with his shoes (which you must leave in storage) and when we returned they were gone. So please be careful with your belongings left in the storage room.
Leaving The City For A Country Life
After spending hours in the arcade with our kids, I felt relieved to leave the bright lights and city traffic behind. The bustling cars and traffic lights faded away within half an hour, replaced by swaying green trees, fields of grass and cute country houses.
Station touristique Duchesnay is a year round site that covers 89 km² by the shores of Lake Saint-Joseph. It comprises of a modern hotel with the soul of a wooden country cabin - each room offering open views of the lake. Also available are individual chalets which suit families and larger groups.
We stayed in the hotel and soaked up the view… and Wi-Fi (which was strong). The breakfast buffet in the on-site restaurant was delicious.
After 2 jam-packed days in the city it felt good to wake up late, and wander through the woods to the lake. Josh took the kids out on a kayak in the late morning while I watched from the banks, happy to be shivering in the weak sun.
We ended the morning with a long soak in the warm Jacuzzi. Ahhhhh!
There is so much more to be done at the Station to make a summer vacation deliriously relaxing. However the Station is much better known for its winter activities – snowmobiling, skiing, and dog sledding. But I can guarantee a summer getaway for a few days will not leave you wanting.
Sightseeing Or Relaxing?
Quebec City offers a taste of Europe without the jetlag, and insight into Canadian history unlike any other city. It’s had a pivotal role in North American history, and preserves elements of it’s past beautifully. But at the same time it still feels like a modern, vibrant, evolving city.
So the tough choice… holiday sightseeing or relaxation in nature? Well, there’s enough room for both around Quebec City, so leave the tough decisions for another time, and squeeze both into your next getaway.