This year we debated about going abroad for vacation. I was pushing Scotland, Mike was pushing a beach in Michigan. After some debate and research and perhaps my declaration that we HAVE to do something different, we decided to take the kids to Canada.
We thought it would be a way to get the kids out of America and into a new culture (I realize Canadian culture is not the major shift to the senses that, say, Chinese culture would be), but without the cost and travel pains of Europe or beyond. [Note: The area is French speaking and, as you can imagine, signs and menus are in French and English. Locals speak French first and switch to English when needed. We don’t speak a word of French and it wasn’t a huge problem, but dusting off your high school French would be helpful.]
So the plan was to treat this trip as a true traveling vacation rather than plunking down at a beach or resort (though that is also wonderful). We structured it to include four days in Quebec City and then travel by train to Montreal for another four days. I won’t lie, it was also a bit of a test to see what our kids (and we) could handle.
We booked two AirBnb apartments for the trip (more on that later) and planned to cook ourselves a few meals and do our laundry in the apartments.
The outcome? I think we all agree the trip was a success. It was exhausting and there were difficult moments (quite a few of them), but we learned a lot from this experience. That’s a post in and of itself, friends.
But back to Quebec City.
If you’re like me, you want to know tips and recommendations from other parents who have been to the places I am researching, particularly when traveling with kids. It just helps to see what you’re heading into. We used a Lonely Planet guidebook, as well as blog and Pinterest research.
I put together a list of what we did and would recommend. Of course, this list is just one perspective from one family during one summer. So if you have other recommendations, please add them into the comments. I’d love to be a resource for others who are contemplating this trip.
Quebec City Highlights:
Montmorency Falls. As soon as I announced we were heading to QC, I started hearing that we needed to head to “the waterfall.” So I made a note that we HAD to do this. Indeed, Montmorency Falls (located outside QC) was the highlight of our time there. It’s a gorgeous waterfall (a bit taller than Niagara) located in a suburb about 30 minutes from Quebec City. To get there, hop on the 800 bus outside the Metrobus station (kids ride free) and take it all the way to the last stop. Our bus driver pointed out how to get into the park.
We took rain jackets because it was rainy and overcast when we left our apartment that morning; however, they’re a good idea even if it’s sunny. You can walk across the waterfall via bridge and trek down to the base (several hundred steps) via wooden stairs. Once you get to the base, prepare to get drenched as the mist and wind swirl around you. It’s a lot of steps, but when are you going to get this chance again? We used the tram to get back up to the top of the waterfall and had a nice lunch at the hotel there. The kids are still talking about the waterfall.
Citadelle – Changing of the Guard
We took the opportunity to visit the Citadelle and witness the changing of the guard. This occurs every morning at 10 am. It’s a very popular tourist activity, but we didn’t enjoy it as much as we thought we would. After paying to enter, we were guided to an open area where the transfer takes place. The military band and soldiers were impressive. However, it was extremely hot and sunny (no shade) that day and we were so tired from all our walking at the Montmorency Falls. We could have pushed it, but our instincts said to cut bait. Rather than stay for the guided English tour around the Citadelle, we chose to leave and head out for snacks and some resting at the Boardwalk. However, if you’re into military history, this could be a great. And, had it not been so hot that day, we probably would have stayed.
Fort Saint Louis- Interactive exhibit under boardwalk
This quick and interactive exhibit of the archeological remains of Fort Saint Louis and the Chateau was a lot of fun. It was less than $10 for our entire family and lasted 30 minutes. The Canadian Parks department has done a great job with this exhibit, providing explorer notebooks for kids to fill out as they walk underground. A mini archeological site is provided for kids to dig out “artifacts” – mostly old ceramic plate pieces. A few dress up clothes are also available and interactive screens hang from the ceiling in each corner for further exploration. Tickets can be purchased on the boardwalk (Terrasse Dufferin boardwalk).
The funicular is a little tram that takes people between the Upper and Lower Town areas. The Lower Town is where you head to be close to the river, and walk through cozy streets filled with restaurants and shops. The boardwalk area of the Upper Town boasts beautiful river views and fun street performers (my son thought they were fantastic). When I say take the Funicular, it’s sort of a general phrase for exploring the shops and restaurants down in the Lower Town area, as well as touring the boardwalk. The steps and hills are STEEP here. It’s nice to take this little tram up or down when your knees get weak. And also it’s cool to say the word funicular.
Notre Dame de Quebec Cathedral
A beautiful catholic church sits in the middle of the Old Town. Free admission. This is a quick stop if you’ve got little ones who aren’t so excited about a big church visit. It was impressive to our children, who don’t have much exposure to cathedrals. And we could easily pop in, take some pictures, and then pop out. Perhaps some of you have children who like to stay for long time periods in super quiet places… also maybe you don’t. This was an easy stop for our family.
Boat ride at sunset
I should state upfront that we chose to do this at 11:30 a.m. rather than sunset. When traveling with kids you often have to make concessions for temperament and, well, bed times. Ah well. It’s a beautiful 1.5 hour tour of the St. Lawrence River, which takes you by Ile d’Orleans and past the Montmorency Falls. Drinks and snacks are available during the guided architectural tour. It’s a nice non-walking activity for little ones and adults with sore feet! Ferry rides are also available if you want something quicker. Side note: Horse rides are also a very popular (but pricey) way to tour around the old streets. We didn’t take one, but they look wonderful.
Chateau Frontenac – extremely famous hotel
We chose to stay in an Airbnb while in Quebec City. However, the Chateau Frontenac is a huge, extremely beautiful, and popular hotel that gets high marks. Even though we weren’t staying there, we knew we wanted to stop in and have a look around. We originally planned to grab an afternoon snack and drinks there. However, timing didn’t quite work out. It was mid-morning when we found ourselves in the lobby. We opted to wander downstairs instead and enjoy some Starbucks (I know, I know), which opens out onto the boardwalk. It was still fun!
Running around the city walls
Exploring the city walls and running around the stone steps is a free and easy way to view the city from above. The kids really responded to the open spaces and the chance to imagine they were under siege!
Swing by Tim Horton’s
We knew we wanted to stop in at Tim Horton’s before leaving Canada. So we stopped in for coffee, donuts and TimBits early one morning. And, yes, it was delicious. Fine, fine, okay. We stopped by there twice in Quebec City. And also in Montreal. Donuts, people… donuts.
So Is Quebec City good for kids? Would we recommend it?
It’s a beautiful city and feels very quaint and European. There were several things our children loved, including the waterfall, the Fort Saint Louis, the boardwalk area and all the chances to explore the city walls. But Quebec City is not Disney World and if you’re looking for big parks and amusement rides, then it may not be the right fit. We knew all of this going in and we thought it was a great city to explore.
It was a lot of walking. Bring good shoes. No matter how energetic your children are, a trip likes this requires a lot of walking and that can be tiring and frustrating. Combine that with parents who are in unfamiliar neighborhoods and are also trying to figure things out and, well, there are moments.
Our family spent three days there and that felt about right. But you could spend a lot more time here and explore more. Isn’t that always the case? We skipped the museums because a) Chicago offers a lot of museum opportunities already and b) our kids really wanted to be outdoors. However, the museums did look interesting and I’d be curious to hear what others have to say about them. There are lots of restaurants and pretty shops, but our kids cannot stand shopping. We didn’t really even bother to shop. Although we did take the bus to a large toy store called Benjo, which we had read about in our guidebook, and allow the kids to each pick out a small toy.
When our time in beautiful Quebec City was finished, we headed to Montreal next, and we’ll be writing up our experiences on that city soon. In the meantime, feel free to add your thoughts, tips, experiences, and recommendations in the comments. We love hearing what others enjoy!