North American Star: Quebec City's Old World Charm and Cosmopolitan Flair

Luxury travelers who love delving into European culture and history don’t have to fly across the Atlantic. One appealing option closer to home is to take a luxury oceangoing cruise to / from Quebec City, founded in 1608 by French explorer Samuel de Champlain. Situated at a narrow spot along North America’s St. Lawrence River, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and a bastion of French-Canadian heritage and culture. 

Last year, the Port of Quebec posted 15 percent passenger growth and Disney Cruise Line and Windstar Cruises arrived on inaugural calls. Quebec’s friendly residents speak French (both they and their language are often called Quebecois / Quebecoise) but most will happily converse with travelers in English. On a pre- or post-cruise visit or port call, cruisers can explore such centuries-old sites as The Citadel’s ramparts, historic churches and Lower and Upper “Old Town” areas that ooze Old France charm. That said, Quebec City also sports a trendy, cosmopolitan side with wine bars, savory restaurants, galleries, museums and eclectic shops. 

Le Place Royale in Lower Town is a restored market square with 17th- and 18th-century stone architecture. // Photography: Stephane Audet

Among the ultra-luxury lines sailing to Quebec City is Seabourn. On August 30, the 450-passenger Seabourn Quest will depart Montreal, Canada for Boston on an 11-day “Canadian Maritimes and New England” voyage; one plus is that the ship will arrive in Quebec City at 7 p.m., overnight in the city and not depart until the next evening, so guests can go ashore for nightlife and spend the next day sightseeing. The ship also sails from Boston to Montreal on September 10. Also, on September 21, the ship will sail roundtrip from Montreal on a 12-day “Canadian Autumn” itinerary, including a full day (with late-night departure) in Quebec City. A repositioning, 12-day “Atlantic Coast Harbors” voyage departs October 25 from Montreal to Miami and spends one day in Quebec City.  

To soak in the city’s historic vibe, we’d recommend Seabourn’s “Historic and Modern Quebec: A UNESCO Partner Tour,” which begins at Place Royale, the Lower Town’s lovely restored market square with 17th- and 18th-century stone architecture. This tour includes a guided visit to the Notre Dame Basilica-Cathedral and the National Battlefields Park on the Plains of Abraham, where the French surrendered to the British in the mid-18th century. At Cap Diamant (Cape Diamond), cruisers can snap selfies with scenic views of the St. Lawrence River, Lower Town and countryside, before the tour continues to Quebec’s Parliament building. 

Montmorency Waterfalls Park is one of the top draws in Quebec City. The falls are a full 30 meters higher than the Niagara Falls. // Photography: Québec City Tourism / Yves Marcoux

Desire to explore beyond the city? Seabourn’s “Countryside of Quebec, The Sugar Shack and Montmorency Falls” excursion will transport guests into the French-Canadian countryside, the Laurentian Mountains’ foothills and the lovely Lac-Beauport area. At the falls (much higher than Niagara Falls), cruisers will ride a cable car and savor tea and pastries at the elegant Montmorency Manoir at the top of the falls. Then it’s on to rural Ile d’Orleans, just a 15-minute drive from downtown yet seemingly a world away with vineyards, strawberry farms, small villages, cute cottages, 19th-century resort homes, wine- and cider-tasting venues and art galleries. At one of the island’s local “sugar shacks,” Seabourn’s guests will learn about maple syrup production and sample sweet maple taffy.  

Another ultra-luxury option? Crystal Cruises will operate eight-day 2020 voyages on the 980-passenger Crystal Serenity from New York City to Quebec City on September 20 and October 6, and from Quebec City to New York City on September 28 and October 14. The line also sails other voyages within the region during 2020. Depending on guests’ schedules (getting off or staying aboard for the next cruise), Crystal typically will offer diverse shore options. 

Ile d’Orléans’ centuries-old villages, farms, churches and heritage homes take guests back to 18th-century rural Quebec. // Photography: Québec City Tourism / Sébastien Larose

Among those is “Flavors of the Island of Orleans,” transporting guests to an 18th-century manor house for a guided tour and on to Cidrerie Bilodeau, a cider house for tastings of different mustards, duck pâté, onion preserves and cider wine. For its savory conclusion, this Ile d’Orleans tour will visit L’En-Tailleur, an authentic “sugar shack” for maple taffy tasting. Crystal’s mix of other tours typically will include such options as the Arthur Gilles Copper Art Museum and Workshop; a historic Vieux Carre (Old City) walking tour by foot and horse-drawn carriage; play at the area’s 18-hole La Tempete Golf Club, designed by architect Darrell Huxham; or a “Jacques Cartier Park on Horseback” outing.

Luxury boutique line Viking Ocean Cruises calls at Quebec City on its 13-day “Eastern Seaboard Explorer” sailing from Montreal to New York; departures are September 26 on the 930-passenger Viking Sea and on September 28 from Montreal to New York on sister ship, Viking Sun, among other itineraries. In 2020, Viking Star will sail from Montreal to New York on September 10 and in reverse on September 22. The line includes a downtown walking tour within the cruise fare but also offers some other shore options at an added charge. 

We’d splurge for the half-day “Helicopter Adventure to Ile d’Orleans” tour, a VIP journey by sedan and air. A deluxe vehicle will transfer Viking’s guests to a local helipad for a flight with views of Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, the Plains of Abraham, St. Lawrence River and Montmorency Falls. The helicopter will land on Ile d’Orleans, where guests will be met by a guide and a deluxe vehicle to begin a scenic drive through traditional rural villages. At the island’s tip, they’ll see 19th-century merchant class homes and Quebec’s skyline across the water. After lunch at a local eatery, travelers will return to the city and their ship via the deluxe sedan. 

Galerie Le Jardin des Artes displays and sells eclectic art, jewelry pieces, pottery and artwork created by Quebec artists. // Photography: Susan J Young

During a post-cruise stay last fall, Luxury Travel Advisor ventured independently by car to Ile d’Orleans. We loved simply “meandering by car” — stopping at a fruit stand to admire the fresh strawberries and popping into Confiturerie Tigidou, a quaint jam factory, where we met the owner, perused the artsy building — with quirky chairs as décor for one interior wall — and sampled the tasty jams. Another highlight was a stop at Galerie d’Art Le Jardin, which displays and sells eclectic art, lovely rings and other jewelry pieces, pottery and artwork created by Quebec artists.  

Luxury travelers who’d like to create their own customized independent itinerary to Ile d’Orleans can simply talk to their travel advisor or the cruise line’s shore desk about reserving a private car / driver. For history and maritime buffs, we’d recommend a visit to Ile d’Orleans’ Parc maritime de Saint-Laurent to learn about wooden shipbuilding in a bygone era. 

Another ultra-luxury line calling at Quebec City is Silversea Cruises, which offers a “Canada and New England” cruise on the 254-passenger Silver Wind from Reykjavik, Iceland to Montreal on September 5. This is a good option for those who may wish to explore Iceland on land for a few days and then have three relaxing days at sea after departing Reykjavik; there is also a day of cruising Quebec’s Saguenay River. Port calls include St. John’s and Corner Brook, Newfoundland; Saint Pierre, Saint Pierre and Michelon; Havre St. Pierre, Sept Iles and Saguenay, Quebec; plus, two full days in Quebec City.

The ship’s cruise on September 17 from Montreal to New York City has one Quebec City port day. While in Quebec City, Silversea’s guests can choose from multiple shore excursions, including the half-day “Bicycling Adventure to Montmorency Falls,” with nearly 16 miles of pedaling adventure. After meeting their professional cycling guide, cruisers will walk to a local cycle shop, receive a bicycle, helmet and water bottle. After a brief safety demonstration, the bikers will head out — passing the Québec Yacht Harbor and the industrial grain elevators — before crossing the St. Charles River to Domaine de Maizerets, a historic site and landscape garden, for a photo and water stop. 

Confiturerie Tigidou in Ile d’Orleans is a jam factory. Its artsy building has quirky chairs as décor for one interior wall. // Photography: Susan J Young 

Back on their bikes, Silversea’s guests will pedal along a cycle path parallel to the St. Lawrence River, and once reaching Montmorency Falls, bikers will take an aerial tram ride to the mountain’s summit for breathtaking views of the falls. Then bikers will pedal back to the ship.  If travelers prefer a bit more relaxing shore trip and wine tasting, a good choice is Silversea’s half-day “Sainte-Anne Canyon & Winery Visit” along the Beaupre Coast. On this tour, guests will see Montmorency Falls and the Shrine of Sainte-Anne, learn about local vineyard cultivation and winemaking methods as well as taste the local wines. 

Ultra-luxury Regent Seven Seas Cruises also sails to Quebec City on multiple voyages this fall and next. The 490-passenger Seven Seas Navigator operates 10-night voyages from New York to Montreal on September 3, and September 23, and from Montreal to New York on September 13 and October 3, plus it also will operate several departures between New York and Montreal in 2020. 

How about something spooky? Regent Seven Seas often will offer “The Ghost Tour of Quebec,” during which a costumed guide will take guests on a two-hour moderated walk from the pier through the Old City, holding a lantern light as cruisers walk over cobblestoned streets and see centuries-old buildings. At Place Royale, cruisers will hear about the unusual qualifications of the city’s 17th-century executioners, and while standing before the Civilization Museum, they’ll hear about a past murderer credited with the deaths of more than 1,000 people. At St-Paul Street, they’ll listen to a hair-raising short story at a 17th-century seminary. 

For those seeking a romantic outing, Regent Seven Seas’ “Romantic Dinner in Quebec” excursion will begin with a horse-drawn carriage ride through Old Quebec with its Victorian buildings and cobblestoned streets. The couple will arrive at the revolving Le Ciel Bistro-Bar restaurant (on the 28th floor of the Hotel Le Concorde Quebec) for a four-course meal and 360-degree views of the Old and New City; a complete rotation of the restaurant takes 90 minutes. Following dinner, the couple can take a leisurely walk back to the pier, or if preferred, transportation will be provided back to the ship. 

Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, which recently received a multimillion-dollar update, has 611 rooms and suites. // Photography: Mathieu Dupuis

Le Ciel Bistro-Bar was updated / redesigned several years ago by famed architectural firm Lemay Michaud. Last fall, Luxury Travel Advisor dined here at brunch — finding the food tasty and of higher quality than what is often encountered at other revolving restaurants across the globe.

One reason is that this high-in-the-sky restaurant is operated by Groupe Restos Plaisirs, also managing such Quebec eateries as Cochon Dingue, Paris Grill, Lapin Saute, JaJa, and, conveniently at Quai 22’s cruise terminal, Le Cafe du Monde. 

We dined pierside at Le Cafe du Monde for lunch and can recommend the escargot puff pastry (black garlic and mushroom cream). While Le Cafe du Monde’s menu has many fresh seafood choices, its popular “Cafe Du Monde Platter for Two” serves up pork rillette, chicken liver mousse, ham, prosciutto, capicola, chorizo, marinated vegetables, olives, caperberries, caramelized onions, sesame bread sticks and croutons. Another interesting choice is the “Stout Beer & Cranberry Venison Stew.” 

As ships sail into Quebec City, cruisers can’t miss the destination’s crowning jewel, the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, a former railway hotel and today a world-class luxury resort, which towers above the city. Celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, it recently received a multimillion-dollar update and its top suites were just revitalized, too. Cruisers whose voyage ends / begins in Quebec City can opt for a pre- or post-cruise stay here. 

In fact, we stayed at the chateau after disembarking Cunard’s 2,691-passenger Queen Mary 2 at Quebec City last fall. Cunard offers a similar seven-night “New England and Canada” voyage this year, with the QM2 departing New York on September 1, and calling at Bar Harbor, ME; Corner Brook, Newfoundland; Sept Iles, Quebec; and ending in Quebec City. A 14-day option sails roundtrip from New York with all those calls plus added calls on the return to New York at Saguenay, Quebec, and Sydney and Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The ramparts of Quebec City are a major attraction for guests visiting the Upper Town. Shown here is the Saint Louis Gate. Photography: Québec City Tourism / Francis Gagnon

One plus of the QM2 onboard experience is the amazing ballroom dancing venue, the largest at sea; nightly, it was an enclave of live music and elegant dance moves, and a modern-day throw-back to cruising’s Golden Era of the 20th-century “liner experience.” Onshore in Quebec City, Cunard offers many tours, including one shore excursion that features a refreshment break at Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. Tour-goers first explore the Old City, including Place Royale on a walking tour from the pier, then take the funicular for a ride up the cliffs for dramatic views, before having tea or coffee at the chateaux’s restaurant. 

Independently minded travelers also can make online reservations for dining at the chateau. At lunch, the chateau’s Bistro Le Sam awaits with St. Lawrence views (from some tables) and a menu that includes everything from beet salad with fresh goat cheese to bison tartare or St. Lawrence seafood stuffed baked shell. From our recent trip, we’d highly recommend the Stimpson surfclam chowder from the Magdalen Islands, which was topped with a scrumptious, melted 1608 cheese from Charlevoix.  

Another upscale line, Oceania Cruises, also features tea and pastries at the chateau as part of an extensive Quebec City walking tour (two hours of walking over uneven and cobblestoned surfaces) for fit guests. The line has multiple other shore options, as well. Oceania’s 684-passenger Insignia calls at Quebec City during late summer / fall cruises both this year and next year, plus the 1,250-passenger Riviera also operates voyages to the region this fall and the 684-passenger Sirena does so next year. 

Showing just how popular Quebec City and the St. Lawrence region is becoming, Ponant’s new 184-passenger Le Champlain will sail a new 10-night “Great Lakes of North America” departing Quebec City on September 12, but that is fully booked, as are several other regional voyages this year. In 2020, Ponant will offer a unique itinerary, “From Saint Pierre & Miquelon to the St. Lawrence,” which also includes Quebec City and had space at press time. 

Windstar Cruises’ oceangoing 212-passenger Star Pride also sails a 12-day “Maritimes and Manhattan” itinerary, departing September 12 from New York City to Montreal. Luxury travelers in New England likely will appreciate several voyages between Boston and Montreal (with a Quebec call). Many  oceangoing vessels from Holland America Line, Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises, Pearl Seas Cruises and other premium and contemporary lines also sail to Quebec City, providing many choices — a good opportunity for travelers seeking to step up into higher level accommodations for the first time or simply vacation with a different onboard style. 

New Cruise-Focused Developments 

  • In late 2018, Strom Spa Nordique, Vieux-Quebec opened adjacent to the Port of Quebec; the new spa offers massotherapy, beauty treatments and healthy dining. 
  • By 2020, a second cruise terminal will open at Berth 30 in the Port of Quebec. The $30 million project will allow the port to accommodate mega-ships carrying 4,000-plus passengers. 
  • Starting this April, updates will begin at Promenade Samuel-De Champlain, the large urban park along the St. Lawrence River. Pointe-à-Carcy will gain a new aerial pedestrian walkway and bike path, urban beach, an infinity-style swimming pool and reflecting pool, with completion expected in 2021. 

On Cartier Avenue in Montcalm, paintings are even seen on street lamps. Photography: Idra Labrie

Eclectic Fun in Quebec City

On a recent Quebec City post-cruise stay, Luxury Travel Advisor enjoyed these three unique experiences.

Quartier Montcalm: Not far from the Plains of Abraham, Quartier Montcalm is a trendy, art district neighborhood with commercial shops, bookstores, museums, theaters, eateries and galleries. The artistic highlight? It’s Cartier Avenue’s “lumiere sur l’art,” a gorgeous collection of street lampshades (extending out over the roadway) that showcase reproductions of art pieces from Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec (MNBAQ). 

The Augustinian Monastery: Since the 17th century, Catholic “sisters” from the Augustinian Monastery (Le Monastere des Augustines), part of the historic Hotel-Dieu de Quebec monastery, have tirelessly provided high-quality medical care to Quebec’s residents — establishing multiple hospitals, including the one next door. But while their centuries-long legacy thrives, the sisters’ numbers have dwindled. Most are elderly, so they’ve entrusted the monastery to a non-profit foundation that’s preserving it via cultural, heritage and holistic / wellness draws. 

Epicerie J.A. Moisan, North America’s oldest grocery store, is decorated with antiques and souvenirs from a past era. Photography: Susan J Young

Why not drop in for a tour, peruse the exhibits and stroll through the sisters’ chapel and 17th-century garden from the New France era? It’s a fascinating glimpse at four centuries of medical care and the nuns’ cloistered lifestyle. Today, the monastery also offers updated, overnight accommodations (some basic and others more modern and spa-like), holistic / wellness activities and a healthy cuisine restaurant.

Epicerie J.A. Moisan: Decorated with antiques, souvenirs and articles from a past era is the charming Epicerie J.A. Moisan, founded in 1871 and North America’s oldest grocery store. Check out the cheeses and jams, fresh fruits, vegetables, spices, deli offerings and local wines. Why not buy picnic lunch fare for dining along Quebec City’s waterfront or atop the Plains of Abraham? At Epicerie J.A. Moisan, travelers are likely to pop for five minutes, but end up staying for a half hour or more. 

For more activity options for Quebec City, visit

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