Kid-Friendly Historical Stops in Québec City
It was a sweltering hot day in late August as we sat sipping cold drinks on the patio of the Café La Maison Smith in Québec City. My kids, who were enjoying the shade and the colourful macaron, were oblivious to the fact that I was about to impart a lesson in Canadian history.
We were sitting in Place Royale, a historic square that not only houses the oldest stone church in North America, but is the very spot on which Samuel de Champlain founded the city in 1608. This very spot is widely considered to be the birthplace of French North America. By far the best way to enjoy the historic square is with a nice beverage (hot or cold depending on the weather) at the café.
That’s the beauty of visiting Québec City: the city is a living museum and evidence of its 400-year history is everywhere. The old part of the city is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and just wandering around it will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. If time allows and your kids are old enough to enjoy it, there are many guided walking tours available that help put context to what you are seeing.
On our three-day summer visit to Québec City, we got to dive in deep to the history of the area and, more importantly, the kids had fun doing it!
Top places to visit in Québec City that bring history to life
If you’re going to explore history, you have to start at the source. Indigenous people have lived on the land now known as Canada for more than 12,000 years so learning about their history and culture is top of the list for us when we visit new places.
Just 20 minutes outside of Québec City is the Musée Huron-Wendat, which gives a comprehensive introduction to the history, culture and art of the Huron-Wendat people, as well as other Indigenous nations. We first walked through the permanent exhibition called Territories, Memories, Knowledge, which showcases rare artefacts, historic objects and interactive displays. The information is presented in an interesting way, with lots of beautiful pieces of art to look at. My older kids especially enjoyed this part of the museum because they could read the information (available in both English and French) and learned so much about the culture of the Huron-Wendat people and the effects of colonization. There is also an audio guide available in six languages.
We then walked outside to visit the impressive Ekionkiestha’ National Longhouse, which is surrounded by a protective fence made from hundreds of trees. The Longhouse showcases life in the pre-contact era and guided tours are available. We enjoyed seeing the Longhouse inside and out and the kids were wowed by the structure.
If time allows, the museum also offers hands-on workshops. Visit their website for additional information.
Saint-Louis Forts & Châteaux National Historic Site
The archeological crypt that lies under the popular Dufferin Terrace (right beside the famous Chateau Frontenac) was a surprising hit with the kids. It isn’t a large site but it feels a bit like you are uncovering a secret when you descend down the stairs and into the underground. Here archeologists have uncovered the remains of the big residence (which housed successive governors) that sat in this location from 1620 until it burned down in 1834.
On a hot summer day, the area is blessedly cool and a nice change from the buzz of activity outside. We enjoyed looking at the artefacts — there are more than 100 — uncovered during the dig and learning about the diplomats that called this place home. You can get a glimpse of what life was like in the 17th and 18th Century in Québec. Self-guided and guided tours are available. For more information, visit Parks Canada.
The most well-known site of Québec City is the iconic and imposing Fairmont Château Frontenac. It dominates the skyline and impresses all those that walk by it. Built in 1892-1893 by the Canadian Pacific on a large cliff known as Cap Diamant, the hotel overlooks the St. Lawrence River and is a National Historic Site.
The children loved running by the “castle” and eating ice cream on the Dufferin Terrace and also enjoyed the performances that often take place in the warmer months outside the hotel. As a special treat, we also went inside and had a lovely breakfast in the dining room. The buffet breakfast is very kid-friendly with options to make them happy but it also has lots of delicious food for parents.
We were able to enjoy the hotel inside and out while learning about its place in Canadian history — how it has welcomed a number of dignitaries over the years and hosted the two Québec Conferences during the Second World War. The castle-like structure is said to be the most photographed hotel in the world and an excellent example of the Château-style hotels build by Canada’s railway companies.
For dining reservations, reach out to the hotel directly.
The Walled City
One of the kids’ favourite activities in Québec City was seeing and climbing the massive stone walls that encircles the Old City. Quebec City is the only fortified city in North America north of Mexico and the walls run for 4.6 kilometres around the oldest parts. The fortification system contains bastions, gates and defensive structures.
Formally known as the Fortifications of Québec National Historic Site, the interconnected walls can be explored from different points in the city and they offer amazing views. The Saint-Jean Gate was a favourite. Climb the stairs to the top and you can see the street below all stretch out. From here, you can follow a walkway for even more great views of the city and to connect to the other gates.
Whether you choose to take a guided tour with a Parks Canada guide or just explore on your own, you’ll quickly get a sense of just how these fortifications were used to protect the city. For a full understanding of the defensive structures of Québec City, you can also visit the Citadelle (the biggest British fortress in North America) and the Plains of Abraham (a hilly park that was the site of the famous battle in 1759) — both of which offer gorgeous views and interesting bits of history.
Other sites to see in Québec City
With more than 400 years of colonial history and 12,000 years of Indigenous history, there are dozens of other places, museums and historic spots to visit in and around Québec City. Here I’ve listed the spots we enjoyed most on our recent visit to the old city with three young children and I hope it inspires you to travel to this beautiful city.
In the coming weeks and months, I will be writing more about our summer visit to Québec, which included stays in Charlevoix, the Québec Maritimes and the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean regions. If you’re interest in travel to Québec — and Canadian travel inspiration in general — I encourage you to sign up for our weekly Landsby Journal.