Jet lag. Long and expensive flights. Limited vacation time. There are many reasons why a trip to Europe seems intimidating with children. Having made over a dozen trips across Europe with my own young children, I can sympathize. But a magical place exists right here in North America that eliminates many of these challenges and provides a great entry point for more ambitious European travel: Quebec! In as little as a few nights (but ideally a full week or more), families can get a great mix of the city’s historic ambiance and the outstanding natural beauty of Quebec City and its surroundings.
Family activities in Quebec
Quebec City is the big draw for most tourists coming to Quebec Provence, and for good reason. This compact, walkable city sits along the St. Lawrence River, offering cool breezes throughout the summer and plenty of charm. For families with school-aged kids and up, this is a great town to book a 2-3 hour walking tour to get you oriented on your first day. My family combined a historical walking tour with a food tour, organized by Tours Voir Quebec. It was great to snack on some of the area’s local treats (who can resist a maple syrup tasting?) while learning about its fascinating history. If the attention span isn’t quite enough for that, take a horse-drawn carriage ride instead.
The old town (called “Vieux Québec”) is divided into two sections: upper and lower. Strategize your visits around these two areas.
Upper Town of Quebec
The Frontenac castle
Visitors never have to ask for directions to this impossibly regal-looking Fairmont-branded hotel, as it can be spotted from all over the city due to its dizzying height. This makes a city break truly spectacular, but even if you can’t splurge on accommodation, be sure to wander downstairs just to soak up the atmosphere. Rooms start at $469 CAD per night here in the summer for a family of four.
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Just outside the Chateau Frontenac footprint is a large open plaza where crowds gather throughout the summer to see street performers. These artists are selected and invited by the city, and the quality is fantastic. The kids will be thrilled, and it gives everyone a chance to rest their legs (there are usually bleachers set up to sit on). Make sure you have cash on hand to pay performers.
walk on the walls
The old walls are one of the main elements that give Quebec its distinctive European character. In fact, it is the only fortified city that still exists in North America. In the upper town, you can climb to the top of several sections of the wall for more great views. Kids will love the different cannons they spot around town.
You might think you’ve crossed the Atlantic to witness the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace if you’re planning a visit to The Citadel to coincide with that regiment’s Changing of the Guard. It’s really fascinating, even for children. Note that this is still an active military base, so families can’t wander the grounds alone – although that seemed even cooler to my sons.
Quebec Lower Town
Quebec City would be a nightmare to explore by bike given the steep climb and narrow roads. But there is a fantastic trail that runs along the river in the lower part of town, and you can walk for miles on beautiful, traffic-free paved paths. It’s a great way to get some fresh air.
Take the ferry to the town of Lévis, where the little ones will delight in the dozens of fountains they can play in all summer long. It’s a great place to pack a picnic, and parents will love the view (and photo ops) of the city from this vantage point.
Museum of Civilization
If the weather becomes unfavorable, or if everyone just needs a change of scenery, this museum will appeal to all members of the family. There is a good mix of world expositions and areas focused on the Quebec region. And much of it is very practical and intended for children.
Elsewhere in Quebec
Montmorency Falls and Île d’Orléans make excellent day trips from the city. Bus tours are organized for those who do not want to rent a car.
To extend your stay in the region, plan a few extra nights in the countryside to enjoy the rugged natural beauty of this part of Canada. Families can find national parks and resorts that offer everything from lush green hills and gorgeous lakes to dramatic cliffs and hiking galore. Two areas to consider would be Mont Tremblant and Tadoussac, both located near major national parks.
If you are more drawn to cities than rural areas, Montreal and Quebec go well together and are only about 3 hours away by car or train.
Families need to know
• Don’t forget that Quebecers will all speak French and that the signs will all be in French, as will most restaurant menus. This gives families a great introduction to a French-speaking environment. Ideally for American visitors, people are very willing to speak English.
• To get from the lower town to the upper town of Québec, you can take the funicular for only a few dollars.
• You will need your passports. Be sure to check expiration dates! If you are driving into Quebec from the United States (very doable for New Englanders), check online for wait times at various border crossings and familiarize yourself with what you can and cannot bring to across the border to avoid a tedious search for your vehicle. .
Editor’s Note: Photos by Nicole Wiltrout.