As the oldest walled city north of Mexico, Quebec and its 400 years old town (Old Town) attract crowds of visitors all year round. Fortunately, you don’t have to drive too far to escape the crowds.
Less than half an hour from the center, you can visit the 272-foot gushing Montmorency Falls waterfall and vineyard jump on Île d’Orléans, or visit the Huron-Wendat First Nations reserves in Wendake for a illuminated night walk brought to you by renowned exhibitor of interactive light, Moment Factory.
But if you drive a little further, you’ll find pretty artsy towns, pristine Unesco-recognized nature reserves, and one of the most important Catholic sites in North America (don’t believe me, Pope Benedict is about to visit 2022).
Once your phone is full of photos of the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac hotel and you’ve had fun in Quebec City, try these fun day trips within a two-hour drive of the French-Canadian capital.
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Why go: The Pope is visiting and you should too
A short drive from Quebec on the coast of the St. Lawrence, the Côte de Beaupré is one of the most important Catholic sites not only in Quebec, but in all of North America. Pilgrims have been making the journey to the Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré for over 350 years, and next July one of these devoted pilgrims will be Pope Francis himself. We recommend making your own pilgrimage to see the spectacular 330-foot-tall basilica, which just might be the most beautiful church in Canada.
While you’re there, have a coffee at Apollo Cafe and take a short stroll through this colorful city. Don’t forget to poke around in the quirky treasures of the Time Stops boutique, before heading down Rue du Sanctuaire to Quai de la Paix for a tranquil view of the St. Lawrence River.
Before or after your visit to the shrine, stop at Pare Workshop, a studio and sculpture garden dedicated to Alphonse Paré, one of Quebec’s most beloved artists. Two of the sculptor’s former apprentices, Françoise Lavoie and Scott Kingsland, took over the studio after Paré’s death and their passion for the late artists’ work is contagious – learn about Paré’s depictions of scenes of guilt from Catholic legends .
Before or after a visit to the Atelier Paré, have a snack at the Bakery Chez Marie. The bakery is located in an almost 400 year old stone house and uses an oven that was built in 1860.
How to get to Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré: From Quebec City, drive northeast on Route 138 (Sainte-Anne Boulevard) to the Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Basilica. Atelier Paré is on Avenue Royale, a windy civil road parallel to the main street which is slower and much prettier.
Why go: For a colorful art scene and UNESCO-recognized nature
Driving on the green hills of Charlevoix and seeing Baie-St-Paul for the first time is simply breathtaking. Thousands of birds line this arc-shaped bay on the St. Lawrence River, inviting you to descend on one of Canada’s prettiest cities.
The city of Baie-Saint-Paul has long attracted artists and, more recently, circus artists. Cirque du Soleil started here in the 1980s with a troupe of stilt walkers, dancers, musicians and fire eaters, and the town itself celebrates more creativity with a great bistro scene, wonderful art galleries and the Contemporary Art Museum of Baie-Saint-Paul.
Bring a picnic for lunch and spend your day strolling along the boardwalk. If you have time, stay for dinner on the huge terrace facing the water of the The Black Sheep. From July 21 to 24, The Festive! transforms Baie-Saint-Paul into a big festival with young and old artists playing in 25 different places and sites across the city.
This is the perfect place if you have a few days to spare. A large part of the Charlevoix The area is protected as a Unesco recognized biosphere reserve and is great for hiking. The best place to start is Grands-Jardins National Park, where you can climb a mountain and see the fifteenth-largest meteorite crater on earth (it’s nearly 35 miles in diameter).
How to get to Baie-Saint-Paul: Drive northeast from Quebec on Route 138 along the north coast of the St. Lawrence, or leave the car and take the Train from Charlevoix, which takes place from June 17 to October 10, in 2 hours 40 minutes to reach Baie-St-Paul. You will have four hours to explore before the train returns to Quebec.
Lower St. Lawrence
Why go: To explore off-the-beaten-track towns and feast on artisanal chocolate
Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula is a wonderful mish-mash of French-Canadian and maritime culture, with candy-colored houses and wilderness that makes you feel like you’re at the edge of the earth. There’s too much to conquer in one day, but you can get a taste of Gaspésie and the south coast of the St. Lawrence River by stopping at the riverside town of Kamouraska.
When you arrive in town, you can stroll past idyllic homes and wave to locals hanging out on their porches. Some houses are also antique shops or art galleries, so stop and look around. A big stop is Folk artwhich has an original collection of local art as well as a funky sculpture garden.
In the city center, there are more art and souvenir shops as well as excellent restaurants. Stop for lunch at Bell tower cafe so treat yourself to artisanal chocolates from The Gourmet Fee. In September, Kamouraska becomes a hub for mushroom pickers, hosting the Kamouraska Forest Mushroom Festival.
How to get to Bas-Saint-Laurent: Drive south over the bridge from Quebec and take scenic Route 132 instead of the Trans-Canada Highway; you will reach Kamouraska in just under two hours.
Jacques-Cartier and Stoneham National Park
Why go: For wilderness and top-notch skiing
Escape the capital and drive north to Jacques Cartier National Park, a provincial park dominated by verdant mountains, located at the meeting point of two scenic rivers. The park offers spectacular hikes and all sorts of water sports are possible along the river, which is calm in many places but also has low-level white-water rapids (so you can check out water canoeing long live on your to-do list here).
When winter comes, skiers and snowboarders flock to Stoneham, one of the best mountain resorts in Quebec. It is best known for its snowpark, with modules, jumps and rails for skiers and snowboarders of all levels.
How to get to Jacques-Cartier National Park and Stoneham: Jacques-Cartier National Park is only 30 miles from Quebec and the drive along Route 175 takes about 45 minutes by car. Four Natures offers a shuttle service to the park from downtown Quebec City from May to November. In winter you can jump on a local bus to Stoneham for skiing.