THE CABIN CREW on my delayed flight to Quebec City almost saw a revolt on the tarmac of Detroit International. Undisclosed technical problems had passengers walking on and off the plane with their belongings three times before it was confirmed to be functional. At this point, people were cranky. When it was revealed that the reason we still weren’t moving was to wait for a new cabin crew (ours had exceeded their legal limit for the day) and because the plane still hadn’t been fueled (the kicker), annoyed mumbles turned to louder displays of agitation. A disgruntled French Canadian man lifted a single finger in the air as he watched the flight attendant gather her bags amidst a chorus of grumbles and growls.
“Excuse me? You stay here until the next crew arrives.” He wasn’t asking her. He was telling her.
“Sir, I cannot legally leave the aircraft until the next crew arrives.”
“It looks like you are leaving,” he called after her, his finger still raised defiantly. The people around him started shaking their heads in unison, voices rising.
I wondered how many times a day she wished she could turn around and punch someone in the face.
With fuel and a new cabin crew, we made it 6 hours late. Enough time to rent a car, check into a hotel, and plot how best to spend my only 24 hours in Quebec City.
1. Find the right hostel.
My press-trip digs far exceeded my normally dirt cheap budget, so I spent some time grilling my guide about the cheapest places to sleep in Quebec City. He recommended a few spots, and one unconventional option.
- For cycling: Quebec’s International Hostel has a secure inner courtyard geared specifically toward bikers who want to keep their rentals or personal bikes safe at night.
- For partying: Planète Backpacker is a brand new hostel in Quebec City’s up-and-coming student neighborhood of St. Roch — right around the corner from the nightlife on Rue St. Joseph.
- For an extended stay: If you’re visiting between May and August, it’s possible to rent a dorm room on the Université Laval campus 20 minutes outside the city. Includes breakfast, and is considered a better value if you’re staying for an extended period.
2. Rent a bike.
With the willpower to pedal up a few extremely steep hills, you can easily see all the main sights in Quebec City in a matter of hours. A convenient spot to rent a bike is Cyclo Service, right across the street from the Central Train Station and the Old Port Market. The longer you keep it, the better the value. $15 for 2 hours, $35 for the day. Helmets cost extra, but you should have one for those crazy hills.
3. Buy your picnic at the Old Port Market.
Before you start your ascent into the steep stone alleyways of Quebec’s Old City, make a stop at the Old Port Market at the corner of Quai Saint-André and Rue St. Paul. Farmers from across the region rent stalls in the covered market to sell their fruits, vegetables, cheese, meat, honey, and maple syrup. There are a few amazing bakeries operating in the market, as well as vendors that make crepes to order.
Load up on local specialties for a picnic in one of the green spaces at the top of the hill. Enjoy eating locally sourced products and avoid the steep prices you’ll find in Old City restaurants.
4. People watch at L’escalier Casse-Cou and the Citadel.
After I ditched my bike, I went back to the Old City to explore a few unbikeable corners on foot. The walk up L’escalier Casse-Cou, which literally translates to “the neck breaker,” is supplemented by 24-hour street performers who serenade you as you climb. A teenager wearing hemp played the same folky Bob Dylan song on repeat. A few more flights and around the corner, a blind man in his 60s played the accordion.
I continued up the hill to the Citadel, the remains of Quebec City’s 17th-century fortifications. The park is connected to the city’s other sprawling park, the Plains of Abraham, where a famous battle was fought and the British whomped the French in 1759. People laze in the grass when the sun is shining. A duo of middle-aged men traversed the park, each with a guitar and a straight face, playing and singing until they arrived at their apartment’s front door.
5. Take a walk down Artist’s Alley.
Rue du Tresor is a tiny road at the top of L’escalier Casse-Cou that the locals call “Little Montmarte,” likening it to the bohemian maze of artist studios you find at the top of Montmarte Bluff in Paris. Locally made jewelry, sculpture, and water colors sell on this covered street, with a much more laidback atmosphere than the frenetic energy of the neighborhood in Paris.
6. Find your party in St. Roch.
Even in the middle of the day, you get a vibe from St. Roch that’s markedly different than the rest of the European-style, cobblestoned streets of Quebec City. There’s an irreverence that lives here, in the students that are lurking down the street, only just waking up at 1PM. On the walls of modern buildings peeling with concert posters and ads for bikes and apartments. In the used guitar shops. I wandered back to this part of town once it got dark, and my suspicions were confirmed: This is the place to find your party in Quebec City.
- Le Cercle: This place is divided — half the building is a restaurant and the other half is an intimate bar and concert venue. Live music starts after 10PM on weekends and leans more towards quirky instrumental jams. The bottom floor where the bathrooms are is a constantly changing gallery space for local artists. 228 Rue Saint-Joseph Est.
- Boudoir: Boudoir is a perfect manifestation of Quebec’s beloved outdoor “terrasse” culture — tables and chairs on the sidewalk outside nearly every restaurant, where locals sit and sip their drinks each summer when the weather turns sweet. This spot turns into a club around 10 or 11 when the DJs get geared up. 441 Rue Du Parvis.