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Quebec City


Quebec City is the capital city of the Canadian province of Quebec. It is perched atop a steep cliff that overlooks the Saint Lawrence River. Explorer Samuel de Champlain founded a French settlement here in 1608 and adopted the Algonquin name - Kebec, meaning 'where the river narrows', because the Saint Lawrence narrows close to the promontory of Quebec and its Cap Diamant. Quebec City is one of the oldest European settlements in North America. The ramparts surrounding Old Quebec (Vieux Quebec) are the only fortified city walls remaining in the Americas north of Mexico. This area was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985 as the 'Historic District of Old Quebec'. It's comprised of two parts: the Lower Town (Basse Ville) and the Upper Town (Haute Ville). The Lower Town is where the original settlement was located and is known for its picturesque cobbled streets and historic stone buildings. This is where you'll find Place Royale and the Quartier du Petit Champlain. The Upper Town was originally developed for its military advantage and contains the defensive Citadel, as well as some of the city's most iconic landmarks, like the Chateau Frontenac and Fortifications of Quebec. The upper and lower districts are connected by winding streets, steep staircases and a timeless funicular. With enchanting vistas, excellent museums, fantastic cuisine and old world architecture - North America’s oldest French speaking city is a traveler's dream.

Begin your adventure in the Lower Town at charming Place Royale. It stands on the site of the town's actual foundation - the spot where Samuel de Champlain established a fur trading post that soon grew into the capital of French America. Named in honor of Louis XIV whose bust adorns it, Place Royale is the largest surviving ensemble of 17th and 18th century buildings in North America. The most historic structure within the quaint square is the Eglise Notre Dame des Victoires. Begun in 1687 and named for French victories over the British in 1690 and 1711, this is North America's oldest stone church. Hanging from the ceiling is a replica of a wooden ship called the Breze, thought to be a good luck charm for ocean crossings and battles with the Iroquois. Just around the corner, the Quartier du Petit Champlain is perhaps the most beautiful area in town. Wandering the narrow streets that lace between the old stone buildings makes you feel like you are in some European city. Its main street is the Rue du Petit Champlain. This pedestrian only thoroughfare is home to a wide variety of souvenir and sweet shops, artisan boutiques, art galleries, cafes and restaurants. Be sure to seek out the whimsical multistory trompe l'oeil mural (Fresque des Quebecois) at the far end of Rue du Petit Champlain, that gives a glimpse into the city's history.

Nearby, the Musee de la Civilisation is a contemporary institution that delves into the many facets of human history and the establishment of French America. Designed by the well known architect Moshe Safdie, this modern museum is of great architectural interest. The permanent collection draws from civilizations around the world, as well as exploring Quebec's Indigenous society. Across the road is the 19th century Old Port (Vieux Port). It is a national historic site and was once a hub of cultural activity centered on Bassin Louise - the nation's 'Ellis Island', as Quebec was then the main gateway for immigration to Canada. Today, the waterfront area welcomes pleasant strolls along the river. From the Old Port, make your way to the Upper Town. Do take the super cool funicular, Quebec City's solution to its extremely hilly geography. Note: the funicular runs from Quartier du Petit Champlain in the Lower Town to Chateau Frontenac in Upper Town to save weary travelers from steep staircases. It has been transporting passengers at a staggering 45 degree angle since 1879, most recently updated in 1998 with glass walled elevator carriages.

Once you exit the funicular in the Upper Town you will be greeted by the enormous Chateau Frontenac. Reputedly the world's most photographed hotel, this audaciously elegant structure was opened in 1893 by the Canadian Pacific Railway as part of its chain of luxury hotels. Its fabulous turrets, winding hallways and imposing wings graciously complement its dramatic location atop Cap Diamant, the cliff that cascades into the Saint Lawrence River below. Note: in August 1943, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill met here with Canada's Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King (First Quebec Conference) to plot the final stages of World War 2. In front of the hotel is the Terrasse Dufferin. Perched 200 feet above the Saint Lawrence, this 500 yard long boardwalk is a marvelous setting for a walk - with spectacular, sweeping views. Note: look for the statue of Samuel de Champlain. Continue your trek south along the Promenade des Gouverneurs toward the Citadel and Battlefields Park. The Citadel (La Citadelle) is a massive star shaped fortress that is protected by thick walls, ramparts and trenches. North America's largest fort was begun by the French in the 1750s, but what we see today was constructed by the British from 1820 to 1850. Today, the Citadel is the base of Canada's Royal 22s (the Vandoos). Note: the only French speaking regiment in Canada, it was formed during World War 1 and saw action at the Battle of the Somme in France.

The grassy Battlefields Park contains the historic Plains of Abraham, site of the infamous 1759 battle between British General James Wolfe and French General Louis Joseph Montcalm that determined the fate of the North American continent. Exhibits retell the tumultuous history of how Quebec City resisted and then fell to the British. The park is packed with old cannons, monuments and the remains of two Martello towers, later additions to Quebec's fortifications. Also, created in the late 1930s, the Joan of Arc Garden designed by Louis Perron has a fabulous display of flowers from spring until fall. Note: the Plains of Abraham are named for Abraham Martin, a Frenchman who was one of the first farmers to settle in the area. Additionally, it was here that O Canada, the Canadian national anthem, written by Adolphe Basil Routhier with music by Calixa Lavallee, was sung for the first time on June 24, 1880. Not far away is the Musee des Plaines d'Abraham. This educational museum spread over three levels presents a fine multimedia history show entitled Battles: 1759-60. Incorporating maps, scale models, interactive games, period uniforms and an audiovisual presentation, the exhibit immerses visitors in the pivotal 18th century battles that shaped Quebec's destiny during the Seven Years' War between France and England.

The Fortifications of Quebec are protected as both a Canadian National Historic Site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the more than 400 years of its history, Quebec City has come to possess a variety of fortifications, all of which can be explored on an hour long circular walk. The bastions, walls, towers, gates and countless old cannons show how well the former French colony was protected. First built in 1690, the three miles of defensive ramparts on the west flank of the Old City were constructed of granite and sand, the only fortifications of this kind in North America. Next, head to the Musee National des Beaux Arts du Quebec (MNBAQ). This extraordinary art museum is one of the province's best. Permanent exhibitions range from art in the early French colonies to Quebec’s contemporary artists, with individual halls devoted entirely to 20th century artistic giants such as Jean Paul Lemieux, Fernand Leduc and Jean Paul Riopelle. The museum's highlight is the Brousseau Collection of Inuit Art - a selection of 100 pieces by 60 artists located at the top of the Pavillon Pierre Lassonde. The MNBAQ hosts frequent temporary exhibitions from abroad and elsewhere in Canada. Note: the museum is open daily from 10a-6p.

From there, make your way to the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. Consecrated in 1804, this handsome church was the first Anglican cathedral built outside the British Isles. Designed by two officers from the British army’s military engineering corps, it is modeled on London's Saint Martin in the Fields, with pews built of oak imported from Windsor Castle’s Great Park. The bell tower, an impressive 150 feet high, competes for attention with the nearby Basilique Notre Dame. Upon the church's completion, King George III sent the cathedral a treasure chest of objects, including candlesticks, chalices and silver trays. The elaborateness of the gifts heading toward the New World sent London’s aristocracy aflutter. Note: the silver collection is on permanent display. Close by is the Basilique Cathedrale Notre Dame de Quebec. The city's Roman Catholic basilica got its start as a small church in 1647. Despite frequent fires and battle damage over the ensuing years, especially during the Siege of Quebec in 1759, the church was repeatedly rebuilt, ultimately becoming the much larger cathedral you see today. The interior is appropriately grandiose, though most of its treasures did not survive a fire in 1922 that left behind only the walls and foundations. It reopened in 1925. Note: between May and September, guided tours allow you to visit the basilica's crypt - everyone from four governors of New France to archbishops and cardinals has been laid to rest down here.

Conclude your tour of Quebec City with a lovely saunter down Rue Saint Paul in the Lower Town. Known as 'antiques row', this charming street has several specialty shops. My 2 favorites are Les Antiquites Bolduc (89 Rue Saint Paul) and Savonnerie Candeur (117 Rue Saint Paul). Bolduc sells furniture, household objects, old paintings, vintage coins and other trinkets from the 19th and 20th centuries. Candeur is the perfect spot for small gifts. This pretty boutique specializes in artisanal soaps made with goat's milk, herbal oils and other natural ingredients. The beautifully displayed soap selection features a pleasing array of colors and charming French touches, such as soap bars imprinted with fleur de lis motifs. Note: the store is open daily from 10a-5p.


Quebec City has a number of great places to eat and have a drink or two. Start your day at Cafe La Maison Smith, located in the Lower Town at 23 Rue Notre Dame. This attractive cafe on the corner of scenic Place Royale is a solid spot for coffee and a croissant. Also in the Lower Town is the lovely Les Cafes du Soleil, found at 143 Rue Saint Paul. This cozy cafe has a friendly atmosphere and delicious pastries. Paillard is at 1097 Rue Saint Jean in the Upper Town. Be prepared for delectable homemade treats at this bright and buzzy cafe boulangerie. Its alluring display cases are downright irresistible, try the chocolate eclair or equinox - nougatine with walnuts, choco caramel mousse and sacher biscuit. If you fancy crepes, head to Le Casse Crepe Breton at 1136 Rue Saint Jean. Tiny and unassuming, this perennial favorite specializes in both sweet and savory crepes. For a dynamite bagel, hit Bugel Fabrique de Bagels at 164 Rue Cremazie Ouest. This delightful neighborhood nook has been in business since 1987. Do get an everything bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon, or au gratin with ham and asparagus.

As far as fast food goes, nothing is more Quebecois than poutine - that classic comfort dish made of fries smothered in cheese curds and gravy. In Quebec City, regional chain Chez Ashton (54 Cote du Palais), founded in 1969, is the local favorite for hurried lunchers and late night snackers. Another yummy grub popular in the province is smoked meat, a variation on corned beef that is similar to pastrami. The pursuit of smoked meat is a religion in Quebec and for a quick lunch it is hard to think of a better place than Phil Smoked Meat, located at 461 Rue Saint Joseph Est in the Saint Roch district. I went with the classic smoked meat sandwich and a side of pickles. As long as we are indulging in gluttony, I wish to confess another sin - my lust for chocolate. My salvation in town is Erico, shining bright at 634 Rue Saint Jean. The sights and smells in this delectable boutique will send chocophiles into conniptions of jubilation. The main shop brims with truffles, chocolate chip cookies, ice cream and seasonal chocolate treats, while the quirky museum next door has old fashioned gumball machines dispensing cocoa beans and a window through which you can watch the chocolatiers perform their miracles.

For lunch, make your way to Le Cafe du Monde at 84 Rue Dalhousie in the Old Port. This Paris style bistro is the only restaurant in the city directly on the Saint Lawrence River. Bright, airy and casually elegant, it swears by bistro classics like steak frites and duck confit, but there’s also a great choice of other dishes, from grilled salmon to deer stew. Note: the weekday three course lunch menu is a hit. Nearby at 73 Rue Sault au Matelot is the excellent L'Echaude. Everything comes beautifully plated and bursting with flavor at this relaxed but very classy bistro, one of the rare Old Quebec eateries where locals regularly outnumber tourists. Classics such as duck confit, steak frites and salmon tartare share the menu with daily specials like fish and mussel stew in a lobster and wine broth. The terrific wine list favors bottles from France, go with the Sancerre. Chez Boulay is located at 1110 Rue Saint Jean in the Upper Town. Renowned chef Jean Luc Boulay's flagship restaurant serves an ever evolving menu inspired by seasonal Quebecois staples such as venison, goose, blood pudding, wild mushrooms and Gaspe Peninsula seafood. Lunch specials and charcuterie platters for two (served 2p to 5p) make for a lovely afternoon experience.

Le Pied Bleu can be found at 179 Rue Saint Vallier Ouest. This quaint bistro in the Saint Sauveur neighborhood is a Quebecois take on a Lyonnaise bouchon, which means it serves such meaty fare as andouillette sausage made from pork or veal, duck liver pate, roast pork and the signature quenelles (fish dumplings). Another splendid spot is Le Clocher Penche, located at 203 Rue Saint Joseph Est. This Parisian inspired bistro is a favorite among locals, contributing significantly to making its neighborhood, Saint Roch, a key gourmet destination. Celebrated for its simple yet refined market cuisine, the restaurant has recently undergone a complete transformation - with modern decor inspired by natural colors in the forest and chef Mathieu Brisson’s creative menu. Note: the restaurant is closed on Sunday and Monday. Restaurant Le Clan is at 44 Rue des Jardins in the Upper Town. Beloved chef Stephane Modat opened his dream restaurant during the pandemic. Set in a historical building, on a side street in the heart of Old Quebec, Modat feeds his guests food driven by his passion for Quebec’s terroir. Inspired by the food raised and gathered by his friends, whom he calls 'le clan', he cooks free of all and any conventions.

One of the most popular restaurants in town is Battuto, found at 527 Rue Langelier in Saint Roch. This snug spot stands out in Quebec City’s landscape for its minimalist, refined approach to Italian cuisine. Owners Guillaume Saint Pierre, Paul Croteau and Pascal Bussieres are a young and dynamic group of friends taking a neo bistro approach to classic French inspired Italian dishes. Like any good nonna, the Battuto team makes their bread, pasta and sauces from scratch every day. Be sure to save room for the tremendous tiramisu. Note: reservations are essential. An additional in demand place is JJacques, located at 341 Rue Notre Dame des Anges. This speakeasy oyster and cocktail bar is not to be missed. Velvet banquettes and privacy curtains create a cozy atmosphere in this hip and sophisticated space. I highly recommend the locally sourced oysters and raw scallop dish. Note: the restaurant is closed on Tuesday. One more spot for outstanding oysters is Sardines at 1 Rue Saint Jean. A living metaphor for a can of sardines - with its small space (20 seats) and its explosion of flavors, it is a must stop for foodie travelers. I enjoyed a dozen oysters and the grilled arctic char with buttermilk. Note: the restaurant is closed on Sunday and Monday.

Set in a former general store founded in 1860 of the same name, Chez Rioux & Pettigrew is rooted in the history of Quebec City’s antique district at 160 Rue Saint Paul. Once inside, the brick walls, crackling wood floors and vintage gramophone make diners feel like they are time traveling, but chef Dominique Jacques brings a conversely modern take to the food. Go with the four course 'experience' tasting menu and wine pairing. Note: the tasting menu is a 'blind experience' meaning it will be a surprise. Only local products will be served in their upmost beauty. Not far away at 117 Rue Dalhousie in the Old Port is Laurie Raphael. One of Quebec's finest establishments, this architecturally stunning, silver service restaurant with celebrated chefs Daniel and Raphael Vezina at the helm offers exceptional tasting menus with wine pairings. Expect such sensations as maple lacquered smoked and stuffed calamari, and trout and leek omelette with a razor clam and celery salad. Note: the restaurant is closed on Sunday and Monday.

L'Affaire est Ketchup is located at 46 Rue Saint Joseph Est in Saint Roch. Book ahead for this quirky local favorite with only eight tables. Dressed in tee shirts and baseball caps, bantering with one another as they cook on a pair of electric stoves, founders Olivier Lescelleur St Cyr and Francois Jobin specialize in home cooking with a trendy modern twist. The ever changing menu ranges from classics like duck breast with lentils or stewed pork with mashed potatoes, to the unexpected - octopus salad with crunchy vegetables or lime gelatin with apple, cucumber and mint mousse. There is a good selection of wines and mixed drinks at the well stocked bar. Note: the restaurant is closed on Sunday and Monday. My most memorable dining experience was at the unique La Taniere, found at 36 Rue Saint Pierre in the Lower Town. Set in a historic vaulted cellar dating back to 1686, Taniere offers an immersive experience that puts forward a finessed take on Quebec’s culinary landscape. Choose a seat at the counter to participate in an intimate experience where talented chef Francois Emmanuel Nicol and his team present and explain the creative process, inspirations and techniques used in every dish. It’s a menu that reflects the seasons while highlighting Quebec’s history. Note: reservations are imperative. End your evening in Quebec City with a drink or two. Justine can be found at 303 Rue Saint Paul, close to the Gare du Palais train station in the Lower Town. This classic speakeasy has a decor that takes you back to the days of prohibition with black velvet curtains and no visible sign outside. A hushed atmosphere and emblematic cocktails from the 1920s are on the menu. Note: the bar opens at 5p and is closed on Monday and Tuesday.


Quebec City offers a number of places to call home during your stay and there are 2 that I especially enjoyed. Both are in prime locations and provide exceptional service, modern amenities and comfort. The first is Auberge Saint Antoine, located at 8 Rue Saint Antoine in the Lower Town. Set across three stone buildings, this stylish boutique hotel is adjacent to the Musee de la Civilisation and a short walk from Place Royale. Comfortable rooms feature archaeological artifacts, and come with free WiFi and flat screen TVs, plus Bose stereos, Nespresso machines and minibars. They also have bathrooms with heated floors. Upgraded quarters add living areas and balconies with river views. There's a rustic chic restaurant (Chez Muffy), a bar and a bright cafe. Other amenities include spa services and archaeological tours.

A second option is Le Capitole Hotel, located at 972 Rue Saint Jean in the Upper Town. This elegant hotel faces a square and the historic ramparts of Old Quebec. It is a short walk from the Plains of Abraham and iconic Chateau Frontenac. Contemporary rooms have complimentary WiFi, flat screen TVs, minibars and coffeemakers. Upgrades add living areas. Other perks include two restaurants - Il Teatro (Italian) and Bo Cuisine d'Asie (Asian). There is also an impressive performance venue, the Theatre Capitole.

Quebec City is full of fascinating history, excellent museums, wonderful architecture, charming squares and superb cuisine. It treated me well and I look forward to returning.


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