"I'll be heading to Montreal for a week, I'm super excited for it!"
"Oh, are you also going to Quebec City? If not, you have to go!"
Virtually every time I mentioned that I was going to Montreal for a week (more on that later), that's how the conversation went.
I hadn't initially considered making a stop in Quebec City when I first made plans to visit Montreal. Since I was only there for 9 days and working full-time for 5 of them, I originally planned to dedicate all my time there to fully explore Montreal. Repetition is a powerful tool however; I think I had about 6 or 7 people in total nudge me towards visiting Quebec City. Halfway through my stay in Montreal, one final nudge sent me down the hill of curiosity and a 30 minute research session later, I found myself booking a bus ticket over for a day trip in the city.
We were set to depart the bus station at 6am, meaning I had to wake up at 4:30 to get there in time. It was forecast to not just rain, but pour for the morning. I realized I had mostly touristy places on my itinerary due to my hasty planning, locations I feared may be too crowded or tacky.
Despite what seemed like a perfect storm for a disappointing trip, I've wholeheartedly joined the army of Quebec City ambassadors. You really have to go if you've never been.
We had just under 10 hours in the city before we had to catch our bus back to Montreal, so I planned our destinations and route based on walkability and efficiency. I've included our itinerary at the bottom of the post in case you'd find it helpful. Our first destination? Brunch of course.
Located right in the Petit Champlain district, Cochon Dingue would be a perfect place to start a day of touristing around. I say "would" because while the atmosphere is lovely, the staff are friendly, and there's free coffee (lattes, cappuccinos, and drip) included with breakfast orders, I didn't find my dish especially good. Mind you I ordered the Rosti with Tomato sauce & Asparagus and a latte, so perhaps some of the other choices on their intimidatingly grand menu would have been better.
They serve a variety of toasts and spreads with their breakfast orders as well, and the server suggested their apple butter (essentially butter mixed in with apple sauce) which I enjoyed as an indulgence for waking up so early. Just don't get the baguette if you want to try it, mine came already generously buttered.
While we hoped that the rain would die down by the time we were finished our meal, things only got worse. Luckily, our next destination was just outside the door.
Quartier Petit Champlain
One of the most iconic streets in the city, Champlain is filled with the cutest souvenir stores, restaurants, and bars. I can imagine it getting extremely crowded here when the weather is cooperative, but it was surprisingly spacious save for the occasional roaming group of tourists. If you're in the market for something quirky and unique, this is the place to get it. We saw the some of the most interesting umbrellas being sold here, as well as several stores selling collections of things from Russian nesting dolls to paintings.
Just a few minutes north of Cochon Dingue is Place Royale, one of the oldest parts of Quebec City. Everything is meticulously maintained however, and the square is surrounded by restaurants now. Do yourself a favour while you're there and pay a visit to La Maison Smith. They offer a unique variety of drinks and their matcha white chocolate & almond cookie was absolutely delicious.
Just walking between locations took much longer than it should have. I was completely absorbed by the beautiful architecture of the city. As somebody who's always dreamed of traveling to France, I'm guessing this is the closest I'll get until I'm actually there. Every building I passed by was made alive by hanging flowers, pops of colour, quirky architecture, or a mix of all three.
Our next destinations were two libraries: one as modern as could be, the other one rustic and quaint. They were quite a distance away from Place Royale, but as you can imagine, we weren't complaining thanks to the beauty of the streets.
Maison de la Littérature
If you're either a fan of architecture or an avid reader, this is the place for you. I can safely say it's one of the most beautiful libraries I've ever been in, and it must be seen in person to believe. Do be mindful of your camera here however, as the entire place is nearly silent and should be kept that way. If you're looking for a place to relax for a few hours to catch up on some reading, this is the place for you. If you prefer somewhere more cozy, step out the door and walk just across the street to...
What a contrast, huh? This was once a city prison built over 200 years ago, and now serves as a library, cultural centre, and museum. It's a lot smaller and less grand than La Maison de la littérature, but it makes up for it in soul. Again, it's simply magical in person.
From there, we ended up going on a journey to nowhere. We first attempted to visit La Observatoire de la Capitale for an overhead view of the city, but the very helpful clerk recommended not going up. Due to the dreary weather, he kindly informed us that we "can't see shit" from the top and recommended that we check out Rue St. Joseph for the bars and restaurants as a non-touristy destination. The walk wasn't for nothing though, as there was something interesting to catch our eyes virtually every block.
Our next intended destination was the Plains of Abraham, followed by La Citadelle de Quebec. We managed to visit the Plains in the absolute worst time however: the path across was blocked by construction and the grass was soaked with a fresh layer of rain. A moment of silence for our once-dry shoes, which would be unpleasantly moist for the rest of our time in the city.
While we thought we could simply walk right across the Plains over to La Citadelle, we hadn't realized that it was and still is a military fort, meaning that it was purposely designed to prevent entry from all sides. We ended up taking a scenic detour all the way around La Citadelle, a walkway that overlooks the St. Lawrence River. I'd highly recommend walking along it on a sunny day when your feet aren't surrounded by wet sponges which were foremerly your shoes. I'd also recommend taking the proper front entrance into La Citadelle rather than walking all around it only to be too demoralized to walk back and check it out.
This detour could be seen as a blessing disguise however, as we did stumble upon a little spot that rewarded us with a fantastic view of the Old Port.
From here, we finally took a look at that charming castle looming in the distance in many of my previous photos.
Fairmont Le Château Frontenac
It was simply jawdropping inside. 'Nuff said. Besides gawking at the beautiful architecture, there are a few little souvenir stores, as well as a bar and, oddly enough, a Starbucks that sticks out like a serf among royalty. It was a rejuvenating shelter from the rain, and pure eye candy for the uneducated architecture lover inside me.
At this point, we only had a single destination left on our list. We were quite exhausted from the lack of sleep and the walking, so after a forgettable early dinner, we slowly made our way back towards the final location on our list.
Quality coffee, donuts, and other baked goods. The perfect way to start and end a long adventure. Just under a 10 minute walk away from the bus terminal, this would make a perfect breakfast spot if you're looking for something light. I just ordered a macchiato for a quick sample of their espresso, and definitely wasn't disappointed.
We returned to the bus terminal after spending some time relaxing in the cafe. Over 20,000 steps later, the 3 hour bus ride back was well-needed therapy for our legs.
It astounds me that I had initially brushed off the idea of paying Quebec City a visit. Despite the (figurative and literal) perfect storm of symptoms of a mediocre daytrip, this was one of the most magical places I've visited in my life (and yes, I've been to Disneyland). This was just the tip of the iceberg of this city as well; we only covered a small portion of what this region has to offer. I'd definitely love to come back one day, there's still much I'd like to see here. Fall would be absolutely gorgeous thanks to Quebec's glorious deciduous trees, I've yet to see Montmorency Falls, and I've heard a lot of good things about the Maple Sugar Shacks littered across the province.
Again, if you're in the area, you have to go. Don't make the same mistake I almost did. Spend at least a day here, preferably two. Build an itinerary, but follow it loosely. Distractions from the path can sometimes be better than the destination.
As promised, here's a little map of the places I visited, but please take this list of suggestions and turn it into a trip much grander than mine.