Québec City is the only fortified city north of Mexico in North America.
Its historical zone, commonly known as Vieux-Québec, is split between Haute and Basse Ville (High and Lower town). The upper side features the city’s citadel perched above the St. Lawrence River and the lower is where the popular Quartier Petit Champlain is located.
For those seeking to make a trip to Canada to enjoy a rich history and a stunning architecture, the charming Québec City is a perfect spot. From its iconic and luxury Château to its busy commercial and student-filled streets, there’s much to discover in and outside of its walls.
The Symbol of the City
Opening its doors for the first time in 1893, Le Château Frontenac is a symbol of the city with over 600 rooms. This massive hotel is known to be the most photographed in the world due to its striking castle-like configuration, grand copper roofs and stone towers that overlook the St. Lawrence.
Terrasse Dufferin is a lively boardwalk located just below the Château and extends hundreds of meters. In the summer, you will find street performers and during the winter you can slide down in a toboggan.
Must See’s in Town
From Terrasse Dufferin, you can head to Basse-Ville where Quartier Petit Champlain is located. A former home to artisans and dockworkers, today it is a popular spot for tourists.
Rue du Petit-Champlain is one of the liveliest streets of this district with a variety of shops, boutiques and galleries. Nearby is the picturesque square, Place Royale, surrounded by restored 17th and 18th century houses where the Église Notre-Dame-des-Victoires is worth a quick visit.
Even though the lower town can be quite touristy, it is still able to maintain an atmosphere of its former days.
First constructed by the French, its star-shaped fortifications existent today were built by the British between 1820 and 1830. This still active base, called La Citadelle de Québec is a large military installation located at the edge of the city’s Cap Diamant cliffs.
If you enjoy history, I recommend taking their sixty minute tour. It will lead you through the complex and teach you about the city’s past as well as Canada’s development as a nation.
Tip: Take La Promenade des Gouverneurs: A boardwalk path that skirts the cliff walls behind the Citadel's fortifications. You will have wide views of the St. Lawrence as the path leads you to Terrasse Dufferin .
You Cannot Miss the Market
Marché du Vieux-Port is open most of the year and offers products grown from regional farms and also from Île d'Orléans - an island located in the middle of the St. Lawrence River.
The market is lined with numerous stands with each farm displaying their name and as you walk by them, they regularly hand you pamphlets explaining about their location and products.
Below is a short list of some of the stands you should definitely stop by:
Cidrerie et Vergers Pedneault, Charlevoix: Great for sampling hard apple cider. They produce different types including the region’s main cider - the hard iced cider - made from frozen apples.
Les Serres Roch Hébert, Île d'Orléans: Has a variety of legumes, fruits and an amazing sample of maple syrups!
- Cidrerie Verger Bilodeau, Île d'Orléans: They have an assortment of apple products such as hard ciders, pies, jams, syrups and apple butter. Please, sample their apple butter… it is fantastic!
Streets to Explore: Rue Saint-Jean
Saint-Jean is one of the liveliest streets in the city and leads visitors in an out of old Québec. Outside of the walls you will find a variety of shops, pubs and restaurants that run along this street.
Here are some of the shops we enjoyed while exploring Saint-Jean:
Épicerie J. A. Moisan: Was established in 1871 and it is a beautiful historical specialty shop that you can stop for a snack, enjoy different gourmet items or buy very nice gifts.
La Carotte Joyeuse: A natural grocery store that sells many different organic products and has a great selection of natural supplements.
- Pâtisserie Simon: One of my favorite bakeries, where you will find a diverse assortment of traditionally home-made cookies, cakes, biscuits, pies and many other tasty sweet treats.
As you walk on Saint-Jean towards Vieux-Québec, you will approach one of the four doors of the walled city called Porte Saint Jean. Once you cross it, you will enter a major commercial area of the city packed with tourists, restaurants, coffee shops and souvenir stores.
Other Streets to Explore
If you want to see the city from above, especially rue Saint-Jean, you can walk above a section of its historical walls. This section goes from Porte Saint-Jean to Porte Saint-Louis, about a 10 minute walk.
The narrow pedestrian alley called rue du Trésor should not be missed. This small passageway has artists gathering to sell etchings, drawings and watercolors and if you have been to Paris before, it will most likely remind you of the small artist-filled streets behind the famous Basilique du Sacré-Coeur.
If you have extra time, explore Grande Allée. This extensive street runs along restaurants, bars, nightclubs and calm residential neighborhoods.
Here are interesting sights you will encounter as you walk along Grande Allée:
Le Parc des Champs-de-Bataille: Known as Canada's first national urban park, it houses the city’s premier art museum, Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec.
- Avenue Cartier: This street has a laid-back atmosphere and a wonderful selection of restaurants and retail stores.
Take The Ferry!
During our time in Québec, we took the Québec City–Lévis Ferry to see the sun set from the other side of the St. Lawrence River.
The ferry is a short ride across the river to Lévis and by arriving at sundown, we were lucky to observe spectacular views of the city alongside purple, pink and orange hues from the sunset.
The ferry is located right on the waterfront in Vieux-Québec and the round-trip takes about 30 minutes with some wait time.
KEEP IN MIND
The Hotel: Château des Tourelles. A quaint B&B run by a very attentive French couple alongside their lovely dog. Their rooms are comfortable, the breakfast is excellent and it is located on the lively Saint-Jean.
The Crêperie: Le Billig Crêperie-Bistro. Located on rue Saint-Jean, this Brittany inspired crêperie was the best restaurant we ate during our whole trip. I truly was upset that we had only found this place on our last day. They serve Brittany hard apple cider coupled with a vast selection of regular and sweet crepes. If you are not into crepes, they also serve distinct dishes such as pork cheeks.
The Café: La Maison Smith is a coffee shop in Place Royale offering an amazing selection of macaroons with flavors such as crème brûlée, apple butter, blueberry and lavender.
The French Bistro: Bistro B was highly recommended by our innkeeper. Located in Avenue Cartier, this is a great choice if you enjoy a chef-inspired contemporary restaurant. They specialize in farm-to-table meals that change daily.
If You Have Extra Time: Head to Observatoire de la Capitale to appreciate extensive views of Québec City. It is located on the top floor of the Marie-Guyart Building and is the highest point in the entire city.