Our family is American, but we have a very unpatriotic habit of traveling internationally over the Fourth of July. In our defense, Independence Day almost always comes part-in-parcel with a long weekend off from work, and as we’re always itching to go somewhere. So why not Canada? After all, now that we’re in the Northeast, it’s just a quick (okay, that’s a bit of a stretch) road trip away. But Quebec City with kids? What is there for them to do? Or eat?
As it turns out, there’s a ton for kids to do in Quebec City.
We fell in love with the city back in 2011, when our oldest was just a baby. It’s easy to forget you’re still in North America when you’re there - definitely more a more Bordeaux feel than, say, Buffalo. The Historic District of Old Quebec was named on of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites in 1985 due to the fact that it's an exceptionally preserved fortified colonial town - the best one North of Mexico.
So we packed up the minivan with our three kids, enough snacks to kill an elephant, a wide variety of audio books, and drove the eight hours north to Quebec City. My parents drove from Michigan to meet us there. For this trip, we decided to prioritize location in our lodging search, and we ended up in a 3 bedroom apartment in the heart of the old city that we found on booking.com. Quebec City is a delightfully walkable place, if a bit hilly, and the ability to explore on foot from our place of lodging was a must-have. Also, since Old Quebec is reasonably compact, we knew that by staying within the boundary of the historic neighborhood that we would be able to walk just about everywhere we might wish to go.
Quebec City for Kids: Our Top 10
We arrived in Quebec City late at night, and were eager to head out and explore the city as soon as we were all up. My parents had never been to Quebec City before, so we started with the most classic, most picturesque of places, the Chateau Frontenac, the single most photographed hotel in the world. The fact that it offered a Starbucks on the main level was not lost on the coffee enthusiasts in the group, either. The Chateau Frontenac is a bit of a misnomer, as the building was never an actual castle. It was built in the late 19th century as a luxury hotel, and has remained so ever since. Set high above Lower Town and the St. Lawrence River, it's a perfect spot to begin any exploration of the city.
While tours of the 19th century building aren't available, you can enjoy an opulent brunch or afternoon tea at the Champlain Restaurant inside. But with our gaggle of small children, fine dining wasn't on the itinerary for this trip. Instead we headed right out front of the hotel and onto the terrace.
1. Visit the Dufferin Terrace in front of the Chateau Frontenac.
With the stage of parenting we’re in, we’ve come to value pure, simple open space at a high premium. I've mentioned this before. Is there a place where everyone can run around safely? Okay, we’re in. It could be an abandoned parking lot, and it could work for us.
But the 200-year-old wooden terrace offers so much. Not only can kids explore freely, adults are able to enjoy fantastic views of the St. Lawrence River, admire the darling green and white gazebos, and peek at the original fortifications of the Upper Town. Visiting Quebec City with kids during the summer months? They will be sure to enjoy a wide range of street performers. Also, if you’re our kids, you can climb atop Russian cannons that were once captured by the British in the Crimean War.
Or if you're lucky your children can even sneak in on a french speaking tour, where a fictional Samuel de Champlain is explaining the history of the city to tourists. (Side note: our kids don’t happen to speak French, but happily nodded along to the performance.)
And it’s from the Dufferin Terrace that you can make your way down to the Lower Town via a funicular. If you're looking for exercise, the stairs, known as the Breakneck Steps (yes, you read that right, and they're from 1635) are available. That's Josh, my dad, and our double stroller in case you're curious!
2. Ride the Funicular
The funicular in Quebec City is the easiest link between the Upper Town and and Lower Town. The funicular arrives right in the heart of the charming, if mildly touristy, Quartier Petit Champlain, which is the oldest commercial district in North America.
All of our children found the ride up and down the Quebec City funicular especially exciting - maybe it’s the big glass windows where you can watch the decent and ascent? Bonus: it’s only $3 per person to ride, and our kids were free. Cheap entertainment for all! The only drawback is that strollers have to be folded up.
3. Stroll Pedestrian Streets
I know, I know. Pedestrian streets are nice and all, but not that exciting for adults. For me, it's not that different of an experience than walking next to streets with cars. But for young children, the ability to walk without having to hold an adult’s hand or, worse, ride in a stroller is a major perk. And, as a parent, I appreciated the ability to let them explore without the fear or automobile collisions.
Quebec City has quite a few pedestrian-only streets, including Rue du Petit-Champlain and Rue Saint Jean, some of the more popular streets to visit. Thus our kids happily peeked in store windows, danced to street performers, and roamed about aimlessly while we strolled a few yards behind them. We’re so often dragging them places, with varying degrees of compliance. But when we have the opportunity as parents to let them take the lead in where we walk and what we look at in a city, they have a sense of ownership and appreciate the experience all the more.
4. Play in the fountain in Quartier Petit Champlain.
We stumbled across the La Vivrière fountain while we were exploring the lower city. I have no idea whether or not kids are supposed to play in the water. But ours did, enthusiastically. It's located at the intersection of Rue Saint-Paul and Rue Saint-Pierre in Lower Town.
5. Take the Quebec City-Levis Ferry to the Fontaine du Quai Paquet (A Fantastic Splash Pad)
For a small fee, you’re able to hop on a ferry that will take you to the other side of the St. Lawrence River. This is a fabulous option for kids for a few reasons:
First, you can get some of the best views back toward the city from the boat.
Second, boat rides are especially entertaining for small people.
Third, there’s a beautiful splash pad and park on the other side. If it's a warm day, come prepared with towels and bathing suits. Otherwise you’ll be bringing back children that resemble drowned rats (like us.)
The ferry costs $3.50 for adults and $2.40 for kids 5-15 years old.
Check out the schedules at the ferry's website.
6. Eat ice cream, crepes, popcorn, and poutine.
If you’re a kid, what’s to quibble with on that list? Chocolats Favoris will serve up the most incredible dipped cone you ever licked - and there are six locations in and around Quebec City, and the closest one to Old Quebec is just a mile away from the Chateau Frontenac and a couple blocks from the Plains of Abraham. Check out the full list of locations here.
It’s not to be missed. There are 12+ dip flavors and all the toppings you could ask for. SO MANY CHOICES. We love it so much we've written a whole post about it.
While strolling down Rue Saint-Jean, we couldn’t help but miss a sweet popcorn scent wafting our way. Naturally, we could hardly resist snagging a small bag of Mary's Popcorn. Flavors include Chicago Style, Quebec Style, caramel, and cheese.
Finally, a visit to French Canada would be remiss without the classic heart-attack-on-a-plate: Poutine. This dish consists of french friends layered with gravy and topped with cheese curds. Because french fries on their own were too healthy, right? But it’s mega popular, mega flavorful, and definitely worth a try. We enjoyed some from Le Trois Garcons.
7. Stroll the Plains of Abraham.
Remember what I said about open spaces? Great for kids. And open spaces with historical significance and beautiful vistas? Great for the parents. Win, win.
In 1759 the British fought the French at the famous Battle of Quebec in the French and Indian War on this spot, named for the farmer who owned the land. It's adjacent to the Citadelle, a star-shaped British fort dating back to 1820.
Today it's a great urban park that hosts a wide variety of concerts and other cultural events throughout the year. Tons of green space for exploring, and a few food stands available on nice days.
8. Visit the Marche du Vieux-Port.
Looking to sample cheese, grab fresh, local produce, and pick up masses of maple syrup? You’ll find it all - and more - and the Marche du Vieux-Port (in English: the Old Port Market.) Located in the lower city , it's just a short walk from Rue du Petit Champlain and the bottom of the funicular, adjacent to the city's old port.
Our group headed to the market with the idea that we'd be able to find lunch items there - a sandwich or kabob or something of the like. After exploring, however, we determined that it's much more of a farmer's market-style place, and not a ton in the way of meal options. Still delicious, but you may want to make lunch plans elsewhere.
Here's the website - but note that it's completely in French.
9. Walk up the old city walls.
Quebec City retains it’s historic city walls, and it’s possible in many parts to walk up to the top. It’s generally safe, but I would recommend keeping a close eye on small children when you’re up so high.
10. Take a trip out to the Montmorency Falls.
We've written all about it here. It's a quick car ride to an impressive waterfall with options to hike, ride a cable car, and walk across the top on a bridge. Heck, you can even zip line across.
Is Quebec for Kids?
In my opinion, it's a resounding yes.
If none of the 10 listed above is of interest, perhaps Quebec City is not for you. But we would happily take our family there anytime - and would like to visit again for the famed Quebec Winter Carnival. (Call us crazy if you wish, as the average low temperatures in January hover around 3 degrees Fahrenheit.)
Wait, there's more!
In addition to our top 10 list, there are a wide variety of additional options that rank high on the Family Fun scale that are worth investigating for your family's next trip. Some of them are others are a bit pricey, but depending on your time frame and budget, they're all great choices for a trip to Quebec with kids.
11. Take a horse and carriage ride.
These are available all over Old Quebec, but with a price tag around $100 we chose to pass. Our children did beg for it, however.
12. Visit the Aquarium du Quebec.
With mixed reviews and a price tag of $19 for adults and $9.50 for kids 3+, we chose to not to visit. However, if you have a sea life enthusiast in your group, it might be well worth it.
13. Visit the Citadelle
Want to delve into Canadian history? Visit Old Québec’s fortress. You'll get a guided tour of 300+ years of Canadian history, taught by members of the active garrison stationed there.
You can also watch the men and women of the Royal 22e Regiment in ceremonies like the Changing of the Guard and the daily noon-day gun. There's even a couple days a year that the Citadelle offers a sample day of 18th century military training.
$16 for adults, $6 for kids 11-17, and free for kids 10 and under. There are also some family/senior/student discounts that might apply to your group.
14. Check out the festivals & shows.
When we visited back in 2011, some other tourists tipped us off that a free Cirque du Soliel show was going on that evening under an overpass in Quebec City. With our infant daughter in tow, we walked down to the specified location and were thrilled to witness the lights, acrobatics, and impressive trampoline tricks on offer by Cirque du Soliel. Despite it's grungy location, the show was almost as impressive as ones we've seen in Las Vegas. And, it was free! What an unexpected treat.
Before you embark on your adventure, be sure to check online to see what local festivals are going on in Quebec City that might interest your crew. (Or, on the flip side, perhaps you'd choose to avoid a popular festival weekend in lieu of a quieter experience.)
15. Take a trip out to see the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre
Located just a bit past the Montmorency Falls, this is a beautiful, massive, ornate church. It has been credited by the Catholic Church with many miracles of curing sick and disabled visitors. It's really beautiful.
Looking for your next family adventure? Look no further. It's the Europe you can drive to from North America, chock full of tasty treats, stunning architecture, and rich history. And whether your kids are tiny or teenagers, Quebec offers something for everyone to enjoy.