With the dollar weak against the euro, that European vacation you were hoping to take this year might need to be put on hold for a while. In the meantime, why not experience a bit of European flavor without leaving North America? With its narrow, cobblestone streets and bustling cafes serving excellent French cuisine, Quebec City can be the perfect alternative.
I’m not going to pretend that Quebec City is a cheap getaway for everyone in the U.S. But those in the Northeast can fit a nice little getaway into a $500 budget, especially during the winter and early spring. This year is a particularly good one for visiting since the whole city is celebrating its 400th anniversary. And if you do your homework, you can find some good bargains packaged with all the exciting events.
Getting to Quebec City
Airfare to Quebec City will cost around $450 from many departure cities in the Northeast, so flying isn’t a viable option if you want to sleep indoors, eat, and stay under budget. However, those within striking distance can drive and ultimately get more value out of the budget since you’ll only have to pay for gas. Imagine Quebec City for under $300 instead of $500.
To play fair and make the grand total as true as possible, I estimated the cost of gas to and from Quebec, from my home city of Boston. I took the total driving mileage of 789.86 miles round-trip and divided that number by 33 miles per gallon (which my car gets on the highway), then multiplied that number with the current national average of $3 per gallon, totaling $71.81 for gas. Of course, this number will be different depending on your departure locale and car’s mileage.
Finding a hotel in Quebec City
To keep things within $500, you’ll have to forgo staying at the iconic and fancy Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, which seems to temp most visitors. Don’t worry though, because you can admire this grand fairy tale castle, which towers high above Old Quebec City, from just about anywhere. Instead, think small and look for auberges or gîtes, inns or B&Bs. At these establishments, you can often find comfortable rooms for around $100 or less per night, and breakfast is usually included in the price.
Some of these places have historic relevance and will make your stay extra special. For example, the oldest grocery store in North America, J.A. Moisan, offers rooms in its 19th-century B&B. Rates start at $125 CAD per night, plus a five percent federal tax of $6.25 and a 7.5 percent provincial tax of $9.38, totaling $140.63 CAD (about $137 US; see XE.com for current exchange rates) for two people sharing a room, or $68.50 per person. Stay for three nights and pay only $205.50. The grand total—including gas, hotel, and breakfast—comes to $277.31 US. One question remains: What to do with the second half of the budget?
Before we go there, however, I want mention a few special offers to give you several additional affordable hotel options. Québec City Tourism consistently posts hotel packages on its website, even for big events like its famous Winter Carnaval.
For example, the four-star Hôtel Clarendon located in Old Quebec city is offering a Winter Carnaval package that includes one night’s lodging, full breakfast, and one Carnaval “Effigy” pass from $74.50 US per person (before taxes). Additionally, the hotel’s Ski & Quebec City 400th anniversary package available on its own website costs $400 CAD per person and includes four nights’ accommodations, four full breakfasts, and a three-day lift ticket at an area ski resort. Most hotels are currently featuring winter packages, but check back throughout the year for other seasonal offers.
Affordable things to do in Quebec City
With such reasonable hotel prices, you’ll likely have plenty left in the $500 budget for activities and food. Here’s a rundown of my top affordable things to do and places to eat: Riding the funicular down to the romantic old streets of Lower Town, particularly around the 17th-century Place-Royale; taking a guided character tour of Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, and outdoor adventures like cross-country skiing on the Plains of Abraham.
Though I enjoy wandering the streets of Old Quebec City like most visitors do, I also love hitting all the food shops along Rue St. Jean such as J.A. Moisan, the grocer mentioned above; Le Paingrüel, an artisanal bakery that focuses on whole grain breads; and even Choco-Musée Érico, a chocolate shop and museum. A short walk away on Avenue Cartier, you’ll find an upscale food mall selling Quebecois cheeses and other specialties, as well as perhaps my favorite Quebec City restaurant, Le Graffiti. Here, the wine list is stunning and the seared foie gras heavenly. Look for the reasonably priced table d’hôte menu. If you want to stay in the Old City, you can pick up more gourmet sundries at the market in Quebec’s Old Port.
For more affordable things to do, read our latest Quebec City Trip du Jour.
Email me your favorite money-saving tips for Quebec City, and I might publish them in a future article. Or, feel free to comment or suggest a new Escapes Under $500 destination.
All prices, dates, and booking details listed here were valid at the time of publication. Some information may have changed since that time.