Had history been different, this article would probably be written in French. New France, the birth child of French colonialism, once spanned the majority of eastern North America, dipping feet in both Hudson’s Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. It was only after the British captured the city in 1759 and opened the port of the St. Lawrence River did the once promising dynasty of New France cease to exist.
Although New France is long forgotten throughout most of the continent, Quebec City still embraces the same French language, culture and identity as it did nearly four hundred years ago. Visiting this city will bring you back in time to an earlier Canada – one of cobblestone streets, narrow houses, clanging church bells and horse drawn wagons. Quebec City is a unique location unlike anywhere else in Canada, being a slice of Europe seemingly untouched by the modern world. It is for these reasons and more that Expedia.ca asked me to write about this incredible city.
There are many ways to get to Quebec City, such as by plane, train, bus, car, bike or boat.
If you are coming from abroad your best bet would be to arrive at Jean Lesage International Airport, which is only a twenty minute taxi ride away from the iconic Old Quebec.
If you are coming from Montreal, you have several additional options other than flying in – which would take just about an hour, and range anywhere from $300 to $500, round trip. An alternative way to arrive in Quebec City is by train, which would take just over three hours. While it takes longer than flying, it is much cheaper and offers an opportunity to witness the dynamic Quebec scenery, which ranges from rolling plains to towering mountains. Driving takes about the same length of time as the train.
There are two other options for those with plenty of time on their hands. The first is by bike, which would take 14 hours, and the second is by boat, which would take seven hours, leaving at 9 in the morning and arriving at 3:30 in the afternoon. However, people who have taken the ferry say the return trip is much more scenic, as it offers am incredible view of the morning sun off the towering Château Frontenac, Quebec’s iconic luxury hotel.
For those across the river in Levis, half hour ferries go between the two cities seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Depending on how you arrive in Quebec City, you might have to cover some distance to get to your hotel. While the best hotels are in Old Quebec, there are plenty of other locations to stay throughout the city, such as in a HomeAway suite, which is a home and room rental service owned by Expedia. Regardless of where you stay, you won’t have too much trouble getting around as Quebec City is a very walkable city. However, for those covering larger distances, the public transit is phenomenal and I very much recommend it. While a single fair can cost $2.90, an unlimited weekend pass costs $15.
Additionally, Quebec City is home to Cyclo Services, a bicycle renting company that allows people to rent bikes anywhere from 2 hours to 2 weeks. If getting to Cyclo to rent a bike is a problem, just give them a call and tell them your address. Cyclo delivers the bikes to your hotel free of charge. Cyclo Services also rents out snowshoes, and has been since 1870.
It is also important to note that while the people of Quebec City are French speaking, it is very easy to get around by only speaking English. Most of the locations in Quebec City are operated by Parks Canada, which is a bilingual organization, allowing tourists of either language to easily use their services. While smaller shops and restaurants are also bilingual, it is polite to learn at least some French words – such as "merci beaucoup", which means "thank you very much".
It’s worth noting that although many buildings in Quebec City have "hotel" in their name, they are not actually hotels. "Hotel" is French for "building", so "Hôtel du Parlement" is actually the Legislative Building and "Hôtel-Dieu de Québec" is actually a teaching hospital.
The main place you’ll want to visit in Quebec City is Old Quebec, a UNESCO Heritage Site. Old Quebec is easily recognisable from outside thanks to its towering stone walls – making Quebec City the only walled city north of Mexico in North America.
Old Quebec is broke into two parts – Upper Town or Haute-Ville and Lower Town or Basse-Ville – which are accessible by stairs, by road or by funicular, a short railway that scales the side of the hill separating the two areas.
Haute-Ville was originally home to the clergy, which at a time made up a quarter of the city’s population. As a result, this area is home to many ancient churches, such as Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame. Notre-Dame was first constructed as early as 1647, and while being a church, it is also a museum.
Notre-Dame contains written testimony of the deadly Siege of Quebec, dozens of beautifully displayed artwork, historical documents and an underground crypt. Photography within the crypt is forbidden as it is still in use, but it is home to over a thousand unknown skeletons, dating back to the 1650s. The church is also home to a "Holy Door", which is the first of its kind outside of Europe.
Haute-Ville is also home to the Ursuline Monastery, the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (which is known for its ghostly apparitions) and the stunning Château Frontenac. The Château Frontenac dominates the skyline of the city and can be seen from just about every corner of Old Quebec, much like the Eiffel Tower in Paris. People can stay, eat and rest in this beautiful luxury hotel, but they can no longer tour it, as tours are said to disrupt the tranquility of the guests.
The hotel is surrounded by a wooden terrace, which spans over the hill below and allows an unprecedented view of Basse-Ville and the harbor. Below the terrace is the newly opened St. Louis Fort and Châteaux Historic Site, a museum showcasing early New France lifestyle.
Unlike Haute-Ville, Basse-Ville was originally home to the working class of the city, so this area is full of narrow streets, quaint shops and local restaurants. The restored Royal Battery can also be found in Basse-Ville, which was used to defend the city from the British during the Siege of Quebec. After the Siege, the Royal Battery was no longer needed and was built over and forgotten, lost until 1970. Today it is operated by actors, teaching tourists and locals how to handle 18th Century cannons.
Basse-Ville is also home to Théâtre Petit Champlain, a venue showcasing plays, concerts and standup comedy.
Just outside Old Quebec is the Citadelle of Quebec, also called La Citadelle. La Citadelle is a military fort used originally by the French against the British during the Siege of Quebec. Built into the hill, the fort cannot be seen by land or sea, and was key to the cities defenses. Just south of La Citadelle are the Plains of Abraham, the fortresses’, and the cities, only vulnerable spot. It was here the two armies clashed in a fifteen minute battle at sunrise that determined not only the fate of Quebec City, but that of New France as a whole.
It is easy to find places to shop in Basse-Ville, as the neighborhood has been one of the most prosperous ports in Canada for over 400 years. The streets of Basse-Ville are littered with fashion boutiques, art galleries, and souvenir shops. However, while this might be North America’s oldest shopping district, it isn’t the only place in the city to go shopping.
Rue Saint-Jean, just beyond the fortifications of Old Quebec, is one of the premium shopping and eating districts within the city. Lined with restaurants and outdoor tables, the smells of classic Quebec cuisine drift through the air. Baked beans, pea soup, meat and sugar pies, poutine, fresh lobster, fresh chocolate and even bannock are common throughout the city.
Following Rue Saint-Jean south arrives you at Avenue Cartier, a shopping district in the heart of Montcalm. Far enough away from the crowds, this shopping street is has over one hundred businesses. This street is also home to Bachir, a Lebanese restaurant that happens to be the best rated restaurant outside of Old Quebec.
There’s a lot of great things to see in Quebec City, but the area around it is equally as interesting. A twelve minute drive away from Quebec City is Montmorency Falls, the tallest waterfall in the province of Quebec. The area around the falls is lined with over three kilometers of hiking trails, including a 487 step staircase that clings to the edge of the cliff. In the winter, the falls freeze and can be climbed by beginning to novice climbers. The ice from these falls are also harvested to be used in the construction of the iconic Ice Hotel in Quebec City.
Across the river from Montmorency Falls is Île d'Orléans, a beautiful island of Old World communities. Only five kilometers away from Quebec City, this island is mostly uninhabited, occupied by farmers and small towns. The island is known for its hiking and biking trails, locally grown fruit and wineries. The island is also home to numerous bed-and-breakfasts, many restaurants, roadside fruit stands and unique art galleries. Getting less than a million visitors a year, Île d'Orléans is a picture perfect vision of French island country life.
Have you ever been to Quebec City? Is there something I’ve forgotten? Let me know in the comments below. Also, a big thank you to Expedia.ca for inspiring me to write this article!
And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.