Go beyond the gates: 10 free or almost free must-dos in Quebec City
Depending on who you talk to, Québec City in winter is either a living archaeological site dating back to the founding of New France, a humble political and civil service hub, or... the tundra. But really, it’s a bit of all that and a bit of neither. Both inside and outside the iconic grey stone walls that surround Old Québec, Québec City is full of surprises, many of which can be enjoyed for free or at super low prices. Let’s have a look around…
Old Québec and area
Place d’Youville ice rink
Within sight of the gates of the Old City, less than a five-minute walk from HI Québec City, the Place d’Youville ice rink is open until 10 p.m. each night. Bring your own skates and just hop on the ice, or rent a pair of skates on-site for $8.
Plains of Abraham
Walk (or snowshoe or ski) in the footsteps of the soldiers who fought the battle that shaped modern Canada. The Plains of Abraham, overseen by the National Battlefields Commission, are now a vast and well-maintained public park. In winter, you can ski or snowshoe through the park, either with your own equipment (free) or with rented equipment (available onsite, $$). Bring your skates and check out the floodlit outdoor skating oval. If you prefer watching, elite skiers and speed skaters will take over the plains from February 24 to 25 as part of the ITU Winter Triathlon. Dress warmly and come cheer on the athletes at this free public event.
Did you know that Québec City has had an English-speaking community for centuries? It’s one of our better-kept secrets, as is the Morrin Centre, an anglophone cultural centre and library, which has had an eventful past. The building served as a military barracks and then a jail before being transformed into a college for young men and then a historical society. In 2011, it reopened as an English-language library, historical society and performance space. Guided tours of the jail in French and English are available for the curious ($$) and the elegant 19th-century library is the perfect place to spend a quiet afternoon.
Québec’s decades-long push to create a distinct society and intense internal debates about what that society should look like have given it one of the most exciting and constantly fluctuating political landscapes in the nation. Get a local perspective on Québec history, politics and culture with a free guided tour of the National Assembly, available in French, English or Spanish. (Be prepared to go through airport-style security.)
Le Faubourg St-Jean-Baptiste
Québec City is definitely a coffee town, and there’s no shortage of high-quality brews. But the “best buzz for a buck” award has to go to Cantook. This small coffee roastery on Rue St-Jean serves up the best espresso in town, not to mention excellent lattés, for the lowest prices around.
Pub session at Le Nelligan
Every Tuesday night, some of the best free live music in town can be found at Le Nelligan, an Irish pub at the corner of Rue St-Jean and Côte Ste-Geneviève. Traditional Québécois music takes a lot of inspiration from Celtic traditions. Starting at about 9 p.m., dozens of musicians fill the pub’s back room with the sounds of fiddles, accordions, bodhrans, tapping feet and probably a song or two! Bring your own instrument and learn or share a tune, or just enjoy a drink and listen. If jazz and blues are more your thing, the Fou-Bar, across Rue St-Jean, is a cozy neighbourhood bar where live local jazz, blues and folk artists perform nearly every night (admission by donation).
Musée du Chocolat
The Érico chocolate shop on rue St-Jean houses the Musée du Chocolat, probably the city’s most delightful free museum. Retrace the history of chocolate from pre-Columbian America to the present day, look at the chocolate sculptures and taste the raw and refined chocolate for 25 cents per sample! Érico’s rich, creamy hot chocolates ($$) are also legendary… the perfect end to a long afternoon walk up and down our many hills!
Limoilou and Lower Town
Vieux Bureau de Poste
If you’re looking to send a package at this post office, you’ve got the wrong address. The Vieux Bureau de Poste, a restaurant at the corner of Rue Dorchester and Rue St-Joseph, is open late and offers a wide range of pub classics for $4.95 each. Drinks are sold at more standard prices but aren’t mandatory. The only real drawback is the wait—be prepared to stand in line if you plan to eat here late at night or on weekends.
École de cirque de Québec
The École des arts de cirque de Québec (Québec School of Circus Arts) is located in an old church in the lower town, and passersby are welcome to have a look around at the historic building and admire the churches carvings, frescoes and hidden chapels while watching aspiring acrobats practice. See the results of their hard work at the Jours de Cirque (Circus Days) festival in late May.
Eleven kilometres of hiking, cross-country skiing, winter cycling and snowshoeing trails are at your disposal in the Domaine Maizerets, a vast public park in Lower Town known as the Central Park of Québec. Bring your own equipment for a free day out, or rent equipment on site for a small fee. There’s also a public ice rink in the shadow of a 300-year-old manor.
Québec City hasn’t had an NHL team since the Nordiques left in 1995, but for a high-quality, low-cost hockey night, go to a Québec Remparts (Québec Major Junior Hockey League) game at the Centre Videotron, in Lower Town, the newest and flashiest junior hockey rink in the province. Tickets start at $17 for adults ($8 for kids under 13) and you’ll be seeing future NHL stars in the making—Sidney Crosby is just the best known out of hundreds of NHLers who got their start in the QMJHL!
Marché du Vieux-Port
After an exhilarating but bone-chilling walk through the Old City or a ride on the Québec-Lévis ferry, there’s no better place to warm up than the Marché du Vieux-Port. On the water a short walk from the VIA Rail train station, it’s a must-stop for discovering local cuisine, including locally made fine cheeses, liqueurs and ciders. From the end of November to Dec. 31, the market is in full holiday mode, with choir performances, cocktail hours and other special activities. The light pear cider from Ile-aux-Coudres, northeast of the city, known as l’Or de l’Isle (Island Gold), is definitely worth a taste, as is the blackcurrant liqueur from Ile d’Orleans, the berry wines and fruity ports from Le Ricaneux (the Cackling Man) winery, and any one of the several apple ciders and maple liqueurs on offer. Free samples and enjoyment guaranteed.
This list is just scratching the surface of what winter in Québec City has to offer. Please let us know if there’s something we missed!