As a point of clarification, both Montreal and Quebec City reside in the province of Quebec. Quebec City is the capital, though much like how New York City is so much the heart and flavor of New York it’s taken on its name, so has Quebec City really come to be known as Quebec. So in this post just assume ‘Quebec’ refers to ‘Quebec City’ and not ‘Quebec province’.
Quebec, not unlike these boots, was built for walking. It’s such a fascinating and dense city that it is almost impossible not to turn a corner and run into something either beautiful, historic, significant. or all three. With a little bit of interesting and quirky thrown in for seasoning. It’s not an easy walk at times though. There was very little space for Quebec to grow as a city, and so it just kept building higher and higher with steeper and narrower roads as the city progressed. At certain points the trek will either be a steep climb or a series of very many narrow and high steps. Not for those with knee or general mobility problems. To somewhat ease the strain, there are a few (like two or three) bus routes that circle the city and for $3 CAD one-way you can use the historic funicular that connects the Terrasse Dufferine and the Chateau Frontenac at the top of the hill to the Old Quebec section of the city at its base. This can get costly though and they only accept cash, so plan accordingly.
Because of this though, Quebec is a wonderful city of whim and spontaneity. I had very little in terms of a formal itinerary or agenda when I first came to Quebec and I thought that was because I figured there’d be very little to do. It ended up being the best thing for the trip because the truth of the matter is, there’s just so much to explore and there’s a great thrill in waking up and heading out for the day and just going where the wind takes you. I made a giant winding mess of the city with no real rhyme or reason but I was happy and excited and energized by the thrill of discovery. This is what Quebec, with its rebellious identity so different from the rest of Canada, gives to the traveler. Character, discovery, and exploration. My best recommendation when planning a trip here is a) bring very comfortable shoes b) wear layers to combat the cold with the strain of urban hiking and c) just know the main landmarks and significant noteworthy destinations of Quebec, with no real plan or schedule, and give yourself enough time to create a wide radius of discovery around each of them.
Not forgetting Quebec’s important role not only as a significant port of trade but also as a river fortress for both the French and the British, there are many places around the city where the ancient ramparts of Quebec’s warring days still remain. These are often some of the best places to get a view of Quebec as well as the St. Lawrence River. Models of old cannons and strategic hay and wood defense posts contribute to the historic aesthetic. There is something dramatic and beautiful about framing Quebec, the river, and the cities across the water in the same shot as these old ancient stone walls and the mighty cannons that rest on them. By the Louis Hebert Monument you can get great shots of the ramparts and cannons overlooking the river as well as defensive shooting windows that overlook the narrow streets as invaders were most likely trying to push their way up the hill. In Old Quebec there is also the last remaining cannon battery, one of many that used to defend the city against the British navy. It stands right by the river and offers a great place to enjoy an outdoor lunch, view and hear the river traffic and ferries, and again, remember the historical significance of this beautiful city. You can easily walk along some of the old walls to get an idea of how big old Quebec really was.
Shopping Streets/Rue Saint Paul/Rue de Petit Champlain
Many of Quebec’s narrow streets are dotted with shops, curios, curiosities, and galleries. It was always a delight to just walk along them and admire the wide variety of antiques and boutique goods these unique shops had to offer. They have big window displays that really catch the eye and if you’ve got the budget for it, would make interesting souvenirs and gifts. Rue Saint Paul has a few fascinating antique and secondhand goods stores as well as some candy shops with a wide variety of modern and classic candies. There are also some art galleries with gorgeous portraits and landscapes in the windows showcasing some truly talented artists. Rue de Petit Champlain is not only where you can catch the Funicular to get back up to the top of Quebec, it is also the main artery of the shopping and dining streets of Quebec. There are plenty of restaurants with outdoor seating, souvenir shops with your standard touristy gifts like shirts, candies, knickknacks, and syrups, but there are also little candy and snack shops. One of my favorites was a maple sweets store with traditional maple ice candies (maple syrup poured onto ice and frozen like taffy), soft maple sugar candies, and maple soft serve. It was a particularly hot day that day so walking around people watching and exploring with a cool cake cone filled with that rich maple soft serve was just lovely. Some of the most interesting sit down restaurants are in this area, but if you just want a quick snack, I’d recommend the maple soft serve or a deep fried beaver tail with cinnamon sugar or Nutella and banana (think like an improved, flattened, wider zeppole with toppings; a real Quebecoise treat)!
Basilica Notre Dame du Quebec
Just like Montreal, Quebec has its own Notre Dame cathedral with the same large, ornate, and impressive brassy doors. Around the immediate area of the cathedral is the plaza, Place d’Armes, more bars and restaurants, and a few streets away the much more historic and seemingly untouched plazas of Old Quebec, with the stone paved walkways and narrow corridors. The cathedral here is much less visited than the one in Old Montreal so you won’t have a line to worry about to get inside and admire the architecture and beautiful stained-glass windows. It is also much smaller and so can be a smaller part of your day as you focus on walking around the heart of downtown Quebec and admiring the more modern selections, like an Irish pub and some surprising Asian restaurants. The Basilica is just impressive enough to warrant a visit to see the ancient brass doors and beautiful craftsmanship of its architecture and windows, but just underwhelming enough to keep moving along.
Citadelle du Quebec/Plains of Abraham/Governor’s Promenade
If your feet haven’t fallen off yet and your shoes still have some life in them, definitely take the 600+ meters and 300+ steps of the Governor’s Promenade. This wooden walkway suspended over the edge of the hill connects the Terrasse Dufferin to the Plains of Abraham, literally nailed into and sticking straight out of the walls of the ancient Citadelle du Quebec. I did not realize just how long and how high this path would go, but it rewards you with constantly beautiful views of the water and an intimate closeup at the weathered and mighty walls of the Citadelle that defended the city for so long. When you finally reach the summit, you are greeted with the vast lush green fields of the Plains of Abraham. This was once a bloody battlefield vital to the ongoing hostilities between the French, British, and First Nations Peoples. Now it is a beautiful large park with soft green grass that is perfect for a picnic lunch, afternoon stroll, or to sunbathe and catch up on reading and some relaxation. This is also the best way to get access to the Citadelle and view the ancient ruins of the fortress, like old ammo caches, cannon batteries, and soldiers’ barracks.
Fairmont Chateau Frontenac/Terrasse Dufferin
Standing like some magical castle straight out of a childhood fairytale, the Chateau Frontenac is the most beautiful, largest, and most famous hotel in Quebec. (But remember, not the oldest!) No matter where you are in the city, at the base or near the top, the Chateau Frontenac remains visible and impressive like the North Star. You can easily orient yourself anywhere in the city by finding where you are in relation to the hotel. The building is dotted with ramparts, towers, and huge spires. It is a beautifully impressive building of brick and stone that is a shining example of old Gothic architecture. At night, it is illuminated by spotlights that dot the walls and shines like a second moon. It’s a truly magnificent sight. Nowadays it is almost impossible to get a hotel room, and honestly unless you splurge on a suite, most of the rooms are way too tiny anyways. (It was originally used as a boarding house for rail workers. Now it’s one of the most expensive and luxurious hotels in Canada. Go figure.) It is much more impressive simply to look at from the outside, and if you can’t stay there, I’d still recommend you drink there. There is a wonderful bar with a full menu of craft cocktails and high-quality spirits as well as small bites inside the hotel with a great view of the boardwalk outside. The hotel also acts as a semi art gallery with some sculpture around the lobby and in the bars and restaurants. I certainly wouldn’t dissuade someone from wanting to spend an hour or two in there enjoying a few drinks.
Right outside the Chateau is the Terrasse Dufferin, a large wooden boardwalk that connects the hotel on one side to the Citadelle on the other. It’s now because a great way to capture wonderful views of the St. Lawrence River and grab some snacks and enjoy a walk. Quebecers also happen to really love their street performers, and it is inevitable while walking to not run into a few. Stop and enjoy and appreciate the sights and sounds of these performers. They are all vouches for and supported by the local government and people. While I was there I got to see a trumpeter, a full band, a singer, and a magician.
If you use these various places around Quebec like beacons, and allow yourself to stray a little further from their light to explore the lesser known places, I guarantee you’ll have an incredible time. You’ll fall in love with the city much like I have, and there is a great chance that your wandering spirit might even take you to places I’d never been or seen or known of. It’s incredible just how much that tiny densely packed city can offer, but it is truly a marvel and such a gem. A combination of Canadian free spirit, European charm, history, and truly unique Quebecois magic.
Man: 296 Loneliness: 33