We had such a fantastic time in Montreal, but were excited to see Quebec City, the European-looking capital of the province. After a two-and-a-half hour drive, we reached our destination, one of the oldest cities in North America.
As we approached Quebec City, we felt as though we were so far from America—and this century. The winding cobblestone streets, weathered stone buildings and horse-drawn carriages transported us to another time. As we drove through the stone archway into the courtyard of the castle-like Fairmont le Château Frontenac hotel, we felt as if we had entered a fairytale. The streets in Old Quebec City are lined with charming shops and eateries. We couldn’t wait to explore.
We spent the entire first day wandering around Old Quebec (Vieux-Québec). From the hotel, perched on top of Cap-Diamant, we strolled along the St. Lawrence River, Old Port (Vieux-Port de Québec) and Dufferin Terrace (Terrasse Dufferin), descending level after level until reaching Petit Champlain (Quartier Petit-Champlain).
Slightly below Château Frontenac overlooking Old Quebec, Dufferin Terrace, a boardwalk-type walkway along the edge of the cliff, offers spectacular views of the Saint Lawrence River. Formerly a military fortification, this public park still houses historic cannons.
The St. Lawrence River Old Port has been a part of the city’s economic landscape for more than 400 years. A park, bike path and street artists bring the Old Port to life, along with antique shops, art galleries and sidewalk cafés.
We descended the famous Breakneck Stairs (Escalier Casse-Cou) but, for around $2, you can take the Old Quebec Funicular (Funiculaire du Vieux-Québec) tram, which links the Upper Town (Haute-Ville) to the Lower Town (Basse-Ville). Along the way, we passed Place Royale, a small section in Old Quebec, which provides a step back in time to the early days of New France and is considered the birthplace of the French colony.
Each area we passed was more quaint than the next, until we finally reached the captivating Petit Champlain, the oldest shopping district in North America. The Lower Town is filled with original architecture and street designs, dating back to the city’s beginnings. Murals and statues adorn the neighborhood as do a wide variety of boutiques, many featuring handcrafted goods.
Quebec City is surrounded by fascinating and beautiful natural attractions, so we decided to go on an adventure the next day. The only time we used our car for sightseeing while in Canada was to visit Montmorency Falls Park (Parc de la Chute-Montmorency) and the Island of Orleans (Île d’Orléans). A 15-minute drive east of Quebec City along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, Montmorency Falls are an impressive 272 feet—98.5 feet higher than Niagara Falls. Views of the falls from various platforms along the way are spectacular, but the full impact can be seen from the suspension bridge at the top. If you are able, climb the 487 stairs to the top at no charge or you can take a cable car round trip for around $10.
A little west of Montmorency Falls we crossed the bridge to Île d’Orléans, where in the early 1800s immigrants from Normandy, France, populated the fertile land. Many artisans and farm stalls line Route 368, which circles the perimeter of the island. Make your way from one adorable village to the next and enjoy the island’s famous strawberries and apples, as well as freshly baked bread, wine, ice cider, black currant liqueur and other local delicacies.
On day three, we learned that we didn’t have to travel all the way to Buckingham Palace in London to see the changing of the guard. Along the southern end of Old Québec, we witnessed the tradition at The Citadel (La Citadelle), the largest British-built fortress in North America, which forms the centerpiece of the Fortifications or Walls of Quebec, the only remaining fortified city walls in the U.S. and Canada. These walls surround most of Old Quebec and were declared a World Heritage site by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The entry cost of approximately $10 at Citadel includes a guided tour, museum access and viewing of the changing of the guard. Be sure to make a reservation in advance for the traditional weekday morning ceremony and learn about the connection between the British and French Canadians.
Quebec City felt so European. Though most of the employees at the hotels, restaurants and shops spoke English, traveling outside the touristy areas, many people did not, adding to the foreign ambiance. The vacation was a perfect introduction to European travel—we were all captivated by Quebec’s rich history and charm. Bonus: We discovered the most amazing final destination.