Family Vacations to Quebec City, Canada

Sail Past Old Quebec, Quebec City, Canada
Sail Past Old Québec (Corbis)

Québec City Highlights

  • Stroll the Terrasse Dufferin for its river views and lively street performers.
  • Learn about the First Nations at the Museum of Civilization.
  • Ride a cable car to the top of a 272-foot waterfall at Montmorency.
  • Walk across suspension bridges for spectacular views of the steep Canyon Sainte-Anne.
  • Canoe, kayak, and mountain-bike in the Laurentian Mountains.

Overlooking the mighty St. Lawrence River, Québec City exudes a French flair unique to its North American location. The only fortified city north of Mexico, Old Québec (officially the Upper City, Haute-Ville, within the fortifications) has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But the Lower City, Basse-Ville, is actually the oldest part of town since it was here that Samuel de Champlain built his first settlement. Both areas, with their narrow streets, historic buildings, and cafés, are great for strolls, while tumbling waterfalls and scenic parks just minutes from the city make it a great place to enjoy the outdoors.

In Québec's Upper City, walk along the Terrasse Dufferin, just outside the palatial Château Frontenac Hotel, which is perhaps Québec's signature landmark occupying a bluff overlooking the city and the river. This promenade is perfect for summer strolls with its glorious river views as well as jugglers, musicians, mimes, and other street performers entertaining you as you go. At the Citadel (La Citadelle), watch the changing of the guard (10 a.m. daily, late-June through Labor Day). Little kids will get a kick out of the horse-drawn carriage rides through the old streets of the Upper City, available at the Place d'Armes. To get to the Lower City, head down the Breakneck Stairway (Casse Cou), not really that difficult to walk as long as you go slowly, or board the funicular that descends at a just-exciting-enough 45-degree angle.

The Museum of Civilization (Musée de la Civilisation) is the city's most interesting museum. At the First Nations gallery, a clever mix of artifacts and interactive displays, admire a 35-foot birch-bark canoe, view a video of an Amerindien crafting snowshoes and building an igloo, and listen to a Mohawk talk about his Nation's history.

Just outside the city walls is Battlefield Park (Parc des Champs-de-Bataille), site of the Plains of Abraham where the important 1759 battle between the French and British forces took place. If kids aren't drawn to the history, they'll still enjoy the 250 acres of gardens and woodlands.

Waterfalls, wetlands, and mountains lie within easy reach of European-flavored Québec. At Montmorency Falls Park (Parc de la Chute Montmorency), Beauport, about a ten-minute drive from downtown, ride a cable car to the top of the 272-foot-high cascade. About 25 miles east of the city near the Beaupré shore of the St. Lawrence, the waterfall at Canyon Sainte-Anne cascades 244 feet; for spectacular canyon views, walk across the three suspension bridges. Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area, Saint-Joachim, is about 35 minutes east of Québec City. Here there are nature trails through wetlands and a path to the mountain's summit. At Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier, about 30 minutes north of the city in the Laurentian Mountains, summer canoeing, kayaking, mountain biking, and hiking are the big attractions.

Tip: The Huron-Wendat Village, about 20 minutes outside Québec City in Wendat, is a re-created Huron village circa 1600. Although there are some kitschy displays, kids interested in First Nations history will like the living history, especially the welcome dance.

Recommended Side Trips: Charlevoix, Montréal's resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 2 Nov 2007 | Last Updated: 7 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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