With winding cobblestone streets, crooked rows of brick buildings, and horse drawn carriages navigating the tree-lined streets, spending time in Quebec City can feel like a European vacation. To get the most out of a lazy day in this history-steeped town, stray beyond the souvenir shops of the old town, and discover the charm and delicious food that the city has to offer.
Start your day off with Le Clocher Penché, on rue St Joseph in the Lower Town (Basse-Ville) of Quebec. Weekend brunches are divine, with a menu that changes seasonally, but always includes original takes on breakfast classics. The price of the meal includes coffee and a pre-brunch appetizer, which is usually yogurt, homemade granola, and fruit. During the week, when brunch at Clocher Penché is unavailable, opt instead for pastries and a bowl of café au lait at Le Croquembouche, also on rue St Joseph. With everything from perfectly flakey croissants to mouth-watering pastries with unpronounceable names, you’re sure to find something to suit your tastes. Tables are limited, but the bakery is less crowded on week days than weekends.
Once you’ve enjoyed breakfast, take a leisurely stroll along the St Charles River towards the Old Port Market. This pedestrian path goes through parks, under bridges, and behind the train station, avoiding the traffic of downtown Québec. It is a popular route for locals on bikes, rollerblades, and foot. Once you reach the market, get a sampling cup of strawberries or raspberries, eat gelato in the courtyard, or simply enjoy the bright colors of fresh, local produce. The market is open every day of the year except Christmas Day, and vendors change with the seasons.
From the market, turn up to rue St Paul, where antique stores, art galleries, and eco-boutiques crowd with cafés and condos. You’ll find everything from handmade soaps to collector hockey cards to oil paintings, and even if you aren’t looking to buy browsing is a fun way to discover Québec culture (for example, many antique stores carry miniature versions of Québec’s famous Bonhomme Carnaval from many years ago).
Near the end of rue St Paul is a collection of cafés and restaurants, clustered around a figurehead fountain in a square. This fountain, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, also doubles as a water park for overheated kids in the summer. Stop in one of these cafés for an afternoon snack, and maybe a beer on the sidewalk terrace, and watch the people go by. SSS (for Simple Snack Sympathique) has a wonderful assortment of shareable plates, including beer-battered onion rings with a honey-ginger dipping sauce.
While escaping the crowds of tourists is the best way to see the city, a visit to Québec wouldn’t be complete without taking in the Petit Champlain neighborhood, the oldest commercial neighborhood in North America. From rue St Paul, turn right onto rue Sault du Matelot, and continue onto rue Notre Dame. Old churches, artists’ workshops, street performers, tourist shops, and restaurants compete for attention in the tiny streets. For a view across the river or to visit the Chateau Frontenac, work your way up the long staircase to the Upper Town (Haute-Ville), or take the funicular and enjoy the ride.
You will find a good dinner at almost any one of the restaurants in this area, but for good food with a great view walk back along the water to Café du Monde. Tables on the terrace and next to the large windows look out across the St Lawrence River, and sunsets are spectacular. Service here is friendly and the menu has a wide selection of local specialties.
If you are visiting during the summer be sure to check out the various festivals that take place in and around Québec City. Between the Old Port Market and Café du Monde you will find both the free Cirque du Soleil show and the Image Mill, a selection of films projected onto the grain mill on the river.
Quebec is a welcoming city, and no matter where you are from or what you do you’ll be met with smiles.