Is there another place like Quebec City in Canada (or North America for that matter)? I don’t think so. Without crossing the Atlantic, one feels as if you landed in Europe. With its cobblestone streets, fortifications, and French speaking citizens, Quebec City welcomes visitors with ease and charm. Ever since seeing photos of the city, I always said that the first place I want to visit when I get to Canada was this city. Finally, I was going to spend a weekend in Quebec City.
Arriving at Jean Lesage International Airport late at night, my only option was a 20-minute taxi ride to downtown (during the day, you could opt to take bus 78). Six hours later, I was ready to explore Quebec City. Staying on the Rue Saint Louis, I only had to step out of the hotel to be in Old Quebec. The city won me over on my first look down the street. What’s great about staying in Old Quebec is that everything is within a short walking distance. I was surprised by how easy it was to get around on your feet.
At the end of Rue Saint Louis stands the iconic Chateau Frontenac hotel. Overlooking the St. Lawrence River, the hotel was built in 1893 to accommodate visitors arriving via train. For me, the appeal of the hotel was not in its design, but was instead in Terrasse Dufferin, the wide boardwalk in front of the hotel. The views of the river are phenomenal and, later in the day, a great place to sit (while enjoying gelato!) and people watch.
Quebec City is divided into two parts – haute-ville, or upper city, and basse-ville, lower city. My destination this morning was the basse-ville. From the boardwalk, it’s a long set of stairs to get to the lower city. If stairs are not your friend, there is a funicular connecting the two sections(opens at 7:30 a.m.; $3 per trip). Walking down the steep Cote de la Montagne, there are great views of the impressive La Fresque des Quebecois, a massive mural detailing the story of Quebec. Following the street leads one directly to the mural, which deserves an up-close inspection.
Walking up the cobblestone street, I arrived at Place Royale. I suddenly felt as if I stepped back several centuries in time. A small square, but a marvelous one, lined with small cafes and independent stores that quickly became my favorite spot in the city. The focal point is the charming Eglise Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, the oldest standing church in the city.
As it was still early and store fronts were closed, I did some window shopping at the many art galleries in the area. Heading along Rue Saint-Pierre, I stopped at Buffet de L’Antiquaire for one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had. Nestled between antique shops, the buffet is a charming restaurant. Sitting at the counter, I was transfixed by the chefs maneuvering all the meals on the grill.
With my belly full, it was back to the Place Royale to look around now that everything was open. As I hate to retrace steps, I detoured to Sous-le-cap, a back-alley street with lots of lovely porches. It was time to explore Quartier du Petit-Champion with its cobblestone streets full of unique shops and restaurants. Going to the end of the street, there is another beautiful mural, Fresque du Petit-Champlain, detailing the history of the water-front, which is across the street.
Leaving the lower city via the L’Escalier du Casse-Cou, a long set of steps, it was time to start exploring the upper city. My first stop was the Basilique-Cathedrale Notre-Dame-de-Quebec. Though it’s a lovely church, my favorite part was across the street from the church in the Place de l’hotel-de-ville. Here one can sit and spend time watching street performers hone their craft. And that was one of the things I love most about Quebec City – massive support of artists. Alongside the Trinity Church, there was a small market with only handmade items from candles to jewelry to scarves. It was a treat looking (and buying!). But the place to be for art in the city is the Rue du Tresor. Located by the Chateau Frontenac, original works fill both sides of the street. There is just so much originality and creativity in this town!
For sunset, I took a walk through the residential streets by the Chateau loving the plentiful colorful doors. Hiking up the steep hill, I took a seat at la terrasse saint denis (just below the Citadelle) and before me was all of Quebec City with the Chateau Frontenac dominating the skyline. It was the perfect end to the day and I couldn’t wait to continue my weekend in Quebec City the next day.
The next morning, I boarded the #800 bus to Montmorency Falls. Disembarking at the last stop, des Rapides, I walked down a small path through a wooded area. Before long, I was standing on a bridge right over the top of the falls!
On the other side of the bridge are a series of steps and viewing platforms leading to the base of the falls. Venturing all the way to the end guarantees a soaking.
At the far end, once you’ve reached the bottom, there’s a gift shop, restaurant, and restrooms. It was a leisurely two hours exploring the entire site before jumping back on the bus back into town.
Disembarking at Place D’Youville, it was off to walk along the fortifications. This historic site is a reminder that Quebec City is the only fortified city in north America. Strolling along the ramparts, taking in the various city gates is a wonderful way to see the town.
From the last gate of the fortifications, Porte Saint Louis, it was a short stroll to the Plains of Abraham. This large, idyllic park was where the English defeated the French in 1759. With all its gardens, statues, and overlooks, it’s easy to forget the bloodshed that took place here. Now, people have picnics, play games, read, jog, and just enjoy being outside. At the end of the park is the Musee National des Beaux-Arts du Quebec. Even if you don’t go in (like me), there are sculptures that one can appreciate outside.
I’ve never been to a place quite like Quebec City. People are friendly. The city possesses so much charm and appeal. And everywhere you look, original artistry is on full display. It is the perfect blend of old world and modernity. It was a wonderful weekend in Quebec City.