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Quebec City, Canada Travel Guide

Weekend Getaway

Cool Quebec
French Charm and a Whole Lot More
By Laura Reiley

The beautiful panorama of Quebec City on the St. Lawrence River
Quebec City, Canada Panorama

Quebec City is beautiful, rich with civic pride and steeped in history. Easy to navigate, with affordable restaurants and hotels, it's on an intimate scale — nearby Montreal's population of more than 1.6 million dwarfs Quebec City's 507,000. Despite its small size, more than 2 million visitors flock to Quebec City each year. The cradle of French civilization in the New World, Quebec City's allures are, like those in Mother France, historical, cultural, gastronomic and just plain picturesque. Boutiques and cafés line the streets, horse-drawn caleches clop along cobbled avenues past heritage homes, musicians do their darnedest to serenade passersby and the river rushes on, indifferent, behind it all.

Plains of Abraham Park in Quebec City, Canada
Plains of Abraham Park

Utterly walkable, Old Quebec packs nearly 100 restaurants into its tiny streets. The Quebecois cuisine could best be described as French-ish, but with a laudable focus on local cheeses, game and produce — far beyond the maple syrup for which Canada is so justifiably renowned. For a taste of the local delicacies, try a tourtière with its flaky, buttery crust and seasoned meat filling, or rich cretons pork spread (try it on toast for a hearty breakfast). Oh, and yes, visit one of several sugar shacks to see just how maple sap is harvested and turned into myriad maple treats.

On a scale that can be fully appreciated in just a few days, Quebec City has the sophistication of a much larger city, something evidenced by the sheer array of luxury accommodations. Historic buildings in the Old City have been repurposed as boutique hotels (Auberge Saint-Antoine, Hôtel Le Priori, Le Saint-Pierre), and are worth the money and worthy of a stay, as are the many grand old hotels, including Chateau Frontenac. That said, when compared to counterparts in many European cities, Quebec City's hotels and inns are bargain priced.

Visa is accepted at many hotels, restaurants, stores and attractions; but if you need cash, you can use your Visa Debit Card and get Canadian dollars at ATMs all across Quebec City. Enjoy your trip!


The very heart of Quebec City is the St. Lawrence River, flowing from Montreal through the Quebec-Levis, narrowing under the cliffs of Upper Town and then rushing on toward the Atlantic
St. Lawrence River

Almost all boutique hotels in the Old City offer an inclusive complimentary breakfast of bagels, cold cuts and pastries. If your accommodations lack this amenity, break the fast at Café de Paris' attached l'Omelette restaurant, with a full range eggs and pastries served all day. Then begin the day by exploring the walled city and the heart of Old Quebec by foot. Start at the Place-Royale, which is where explorer Samuel de Champlain constructed his first building in 1608. It was the city's financial center in the 1800s, but during the last century it lay derelict and slummy, boutiques and businesses having migrated elsewhere in the city. Just a couple of decades ago, using building plans from 1700, the city rebuilt sturdy stone, Norman-style buildings (adapted to Canadian winters with sloped or mansard roofs with deep overhangs), and businesses flocked back. Old Quebec was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, but this 400-year-old city is a living, working place.

The most iconic structure in the heart of Old Quebec overlooking the St. Lawrence River, the vast Fairmont Le Château Frontenac casts a broad shadow across the upper town, with 618 rooms and its long Dufferin Terrace at the river's edge out back. The hotel was built in three stages, the first in 1896, the last in 1986 — it's worth following behind one of the costumed tour guides, or at least strolling through the lobby before walking along the terrace, a huge promenade that runs along the river in back of the hotel. There, street performers busk away, and at the end of the terrace, the Glissades de la Terrasse, a toboggan ride in winter, becomes a 270-foot water slide for daredevils each summer.

Auberge Place d'Armes in Quebec City, Canada
Auberge Place d'Armes

Before taking the Brokeback Stairs, a steep flight that leads from the Chateau Frontenac down to the lower town (or, alternatively, hopping the Funiculaire du Vieux-Quebec, located directly next to the Brokeback Stairs at the back of the Chateau Frontenac, for the 45-degree, glass cable railway with its panoramic views), stop into the little Musée de l'Amérique française, about a minute's walk from the Chateau. It's the oldest museum in Canada, tracing the history of French presence in America. It's the place to learn the colorful and touching story about the city's history, strongly supported by abundant documentation from the Séminaire de Québec archives.

The rest of the afternoon might be pleasantly spent wandering, stopping in at little shops such as the Coop Vert Tuyau. A showcase for the works of local artists and artisans, Vert Tuyau — literally meaning a 'green pipe' — is a small store that bursts with creativity. Here you can find inventive ecologically friendly ideas, from handbags made of recycled cassette tapes and quilted belts that look much like modern-day versions of those originally worn by early Quebec settlers, to simple, but beautifully put together, patchworks made of colorful hand-me-downs.

The Quartier Petit Champlain looks much like it might have centuries ago with its narrow winding streets and one-floor, eighteenth-century stone construction edifices. The area houses a wide array of small boutiques, jewelry stores, zany fashion houses, European-style restaurants and bistros.

A new addition to the area is La Fudgerie, which makes a wide array of fudge-based goodies that include long sausage-like fudge bars that — from a distance — might make you think you were entering a butcher shop.

Even if you haven't splurged to stay at Auberge Place d'Armes — a cozy European-style boutique hotel in an historic building located at the heart of the Old City, you can dine at the adjacent Le Pain Beni, a bistro-inspired restaurant that features local produce and classic French dishes.

Continue to Day 2


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Chateau Frontenac surplombant boulevard Champlain in Quebec City, Canada

* Panorama image and little image in box by Yves Tessier, Tessima

(Updated: 08/04/11 SG)

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