What do you do when you’re dying to visit Europe, but don’t have a large budget to spend on five people? Would you take out your credit card and charge the expense? Or do you try and expand the budget? The answer is neither, you should think of a viable alternative instead. In our case, it was to go to Quebec City. The old part of the city is particularly famous for being the most European city in North America.
Just a little background…
Quebec City is a former French colony having been founded by French explorer Samuel de Champlain in 1608. It sits on the Saint Lawrence River in Canada’s mostly French-speaking Quebec province, not very far from the northeastern border of the United States. It is one of the oldest European settlements in the continent— the oldest city in Canada.
In fact, the country got its name from the indigenous people of the area– the name “Canada” comes from the Iroquois word “kanata,” meaning “village” or “settlement.” The St. Lawrence Iroquoians lived in the area centuries before the French came. My theory is that the French mispronounced the native word as they can hardly pronounce the letter T (think about ballet, or buffet, if you’re hungry).
So far, I’ve been to Rome, Florence, Venice, and Pisa– all Italian cities. But I’ve never been to France. With a strong colonial architecture influence from the French, going to the Old Quebec is hardly a compromise.
As with any trip that we went to, we stayed within our budget. Remember, being very intentional about how you spend your money is how millionaires stay that way.
Driving to Quebec City
Being “only” a little over 600 miles away, Quebec City is completely drivable from where we live. At least, from my point of view (having driven coast-to-coast across the USA). This means that I don’t have to spend money on plane tickets. No need to rent a van to haul people around. Just don’t forget to bring your valid U.S. passport with you.
Gasoline prices may be on the rise, but so is Jet fuel. Bringing your own car to the destination is still the cheapest mode of transportation, especially when you have four people with you. Airfare would have easily cost us $752 per person or $3,760 total.
“Are we there yet?” was usually the question of the day in long trips like this one. But surprisingly, it wasn’t asked as frequently as I expected. My kids, ages nine and twelve, are showing some signs of maturity as they start to appreciate the beauty of nature that surrounds us while travelling. It certainly helped that the east coast has some of the best views in the whole of continental North America— bushier and greener than the west, at least in the summer.
The trip could easily take 9 hours, depending on your stamina and the activity of your passenger’s bladder. Less if you wisely time your trip to avoid that busy New York traffic. It took us a little over 10 hours, including refueling and bathroom breaks.
The egg and mayo, peanut butter and jelly, and Nutella sandwiches that my wife prepared were more than enough to satisfy our raging appetites during the trip. We have nutritious, affordable and deliciously prepared meals with us 100% of the time.
The fuel cost for the entire trip is around $220– we were travelling in a ten-year-old Honda Pilot with terrible fuel efficiency.
Staying in a classy hotel
“Classy” is relative. What is classy for me could be too cheap for you– in a negative sense. My choice of accommodation certainly did not disappoint– it had everything on my wishlist:
- A family suite that can accommodate five people
- A clean indoor pool that can get the kids excited
- Modern exercise room, weight training equipment, and sauna
The suite was quite small, but it added to the overall European experience; space is a precious commodity there. What’s surprising is seeing only one small bed when we first stepped into the suite. That turned out to be spare, and the dining table and sofa can actually transform into a bed by simply pulling down the handles!
This hotel is close enough from the Old Quebec downtown, but not too close. By picking a place that’s outside the main tourist destination, we’re able to walk to the local Walmart for groceries and souvenirs at non-tourist prices.
At $190 per night, it’s a bit pricey for me. But still, a bargain compared to the $350 a night that I would have spent had I chosen to stay at Chateau de Frontenac (see featured image).
Day One: People and Places
One common misconception is that French Canadians are such a snob. But nothing can be further from the truth. Everyone we encounter is very polite. We speak no French, but we never encountered any problem while asking for directions, for example, even when the native knows little or no English. As long as you don’t try too hard to speak to them in French, you’ll be fine.
Finding a good parking spot in the Old Quebec City is a challenge, so it’s important to plan in advance. In our case, we strategically parked in the underground lot of Hôtel de Ville de Québec, or simply the Quebec City Hall. That way, we can easily get back to the car if we need to grab a bottled water from the cooler or maybe some snacks.
Just across the street is the Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica, you might want to visit even if you’re not religious– be prepared to be dazzled by the beauty and ambiance of the basilica’s interior.
Not very far from the basilica is Place de Royale. This is a place where you can grab a coffee and a macaron or two and enjoy an hour of sitting. The ambiance is so picturesque and relaxing. It’s a wonderful area to capture some great pictures.
The history of the little town square is also interesting– besides being an old marketplace, it was a place where criminals were executed! Now it’s a place where the cash in your wallet can be easily executed. So make sure you bring snacks with you if you’re on a budget.
If you’re traveling with an elderly person, Place de Royale offers a funicular that can give a lift to get you to the plaza just outside of the beautiful Château Frontenac, the most photographed hotel in the world, for a little over $2 per person. Otherwise, you’ll have to climb the stairs with at least a couple of hundred steps just to get there.
Since grandpa is no ordinary elderly person, he walked up the stairs with us like a real champ.
No vacation is complete without a hearty dinner. If you’re on a budget, consider making lunch your main meal of the day as dinner can be very expensive.
The highlight of the day was a late lunch at Cafe Buade– an old restaurant housed in a building that dates back to 1860. The food is excellent and service is great. I definitely would recommend this place to anyone looking for a place to eat– good portions and reasonable prices.
Day Two: Art and Politics
I wanted to go to the Hotel du Parlement (Parliament Building), but the guided tour won’t start until 12 noon. Admission to the building and the nearby National Assembly Library is free to the general public. The guided visits are also free, but you have to make a prior reservation.
To kill some time, we spent the better part of the morning viewing the exhibits at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, which is slightly over a kilometer away.
As a result, I took some of the weirdest pictures that I’ve ever taken.
The museum certainly did not disappoint. But the best-kept secret lies in the dining room. We had the best lunch– delicious and delightfully presented.
After a hearty lunch, we headed back to the Parliament building. The long walk felt like a few moments as we passed some of the Quebec’s most interesting historical residential and commercial buildings.
Once inside the Parliament building, we were given a very informative tour. The architectural details were pointed out and explained along with Canadian and Quebec history. I also learned that on certain days you can actually eat lunch in the Parliament dining room. The set lunch was about $20, including a delicious dessert.
The building is beautiful. However, we cannot see the whole facade since it is under renovation.
Day Three: Montmorency Falls
Sitting less than 10 miles northeast of Old Québec still along the St. Lawrence River, Parc de la Chute‑Montmorency features a 272-foot waterfall— almost 100 feet higher than Niagara Falls. The good news is that you only have to pay for the parking, which cost about $10 Canadian in the summer.
You can walk on the suspension bridge directly above the fall to admire the view from a variety of angles and locations. You can take the cable car that travels between the base of the falls and the top of the cliff. One-way or round-trip tickets can be purchased.
There’s a wide variety of activities at the park, including hiking trails, playgrounds, bike paths and a double zip line. There are also various activities in the winter like snowshoeing, but that’s something that I’m not contemplating of doing anytime soon because Quebec can have one of the harshest winters in North America.
The total cost of the trip
In the end, the trip costs a fraction of what we would have spent had we gone to Europe. With a total of $1,320.02, this is less than half of what we spent when we went to California last year.
|Three nights at the hotel suite
|Approx. 1400 miles
I hope this post can help you plan your trip to Quebec City.