One of North America’s oldest cities, Quebec City, dates back to 1535 when Jacques Cartier built a fort at the site, which was eventually abandoned. Samuel de Champlain returned to the area in 1608 to found Québec, and the settlement stuck. The city is located on top of Cap-Diamant (Cape Diamond) at the narrowing of the Saint Lawrence River, making it a good strategic point for a city. The ramparts surrounding the Old Québec section of the city make it one of only two cities in North America with fortified city walls. The city has developed a distinct culture over its long history, with many unique attractions for visitors to explore.
The Observatiore de la Capitale is a good place to start your stay. Located on the 31st floor of the Marie-Guyart building, the observatory offers 360-degree views of the city from its highest point, so you can take in all the sights from one place and get yourself oriented. It also includes multimedia exhibits that introduce you to the very long and storied history of Quebec City.
Chateau Frontenac served as one of Canada’s grand railway hotels, which was built by (or for) the country’s railway companies in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The chateau-style hotel opened in 1893, and has remained a dominant feature of the city’s skyline since. Fortunately, you don’t have to stay in the iconic hotel to experience its history and beauty. It provides a guided tour that explores the people and events that have shaped the hotel throughout the years, as well as the development of the building itself. The hotel also offers an app that takes you on a short, interactive historical trip through time. And, ugh, can I just say one more time that it looks so, so, so pretty?
If a grand railway hotel is out of your budget, the Auberge Saint-Antoine is another elegant option. Its location overlooks the St. Lawrence River and is within walking distance of some of the city’s biggest attractions, like the Musee de la Civilisation and Palace Royale. Dining options include Chez Muffy, a French-Canadian farmhouse-inspired restaurant; The Bar Artefact, a casual spot with a great cocktail menu that's decorated with historical artifacts; and the Panache Mobile, a gourmet food truck that’s open from late spring to early fall. The hotel also offers unique amenities, including an archaeological tour of artifacts uncovered during the hotel’s construction, a children’s program and a private movie screening room.
At 276 feet, the Montmorency Falls is actually taller than its famous cousin to the southwest, Niagara Falls. Visitors can take a 487-step staircase from the base to the top of the falls. If that sounds like too many stairs, a cable car can whisk you to the top of the cliff. Once you’re there, walk across the bridge that’s suspended over the falls. There’s also a restaurant that offers food along with spectacular views. If it’s thrills you’re seeking, there’s a zipline along with three via ferrata routes (which is sort of a combination between hiking and rock climbing).
The Musee de la Civilisation is a modern museum that presents visitors with a wide range of information. It provides "a fresh and often unexpected look at the human experience" and includes exhibitions on the history of Québec and indigenous peoples, and an interactive section called “Observe: More than Meets the Eye” that’s geared toward kids. The museum also hosts a lot of various travelling and temporary exhibits. Come back time and time again to see what new displays they have on. And, all in all, their collections contain a quarter million objects to display, so you can take your time soaking all of the rich history here.
The historic neighbourhood of Old Québec is divided into two parts: Haute-Ville (the Upper Town) and Basse-Ville (the Lower Town). The Lower Town is the site where Samuel de Champlain built the Habitation de Québec in 1608, founding the city. The area is now the location of Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, a small stone Roman Catholic church started in 1687, as well as more modern attractions like the Musee de Civilisation. When you’re done exploring the lower portion, take the funicular (inclined elevator) to Haute-Ville. This was the location de Champlain chose for Fort Saint Louis in 1608. It’s full of military, public administration and religious buildings, as well as many parks and hotels.
More than 10,000 animals from more than 300 species call this aquarium home. The insanely massive 40-acre facility includes both indoor and outdoor areas with attractions on the oceans, Canada’s coastlines, wetlands, the Arctic and local wildlife. In the summer, kids can play on a tree-to-tree ropes course and enjoy water games. In the winter, the outdoor areas are lit up with more than 500,000 LED lights for its annual Festi Lumiere. Try to time your visit to see the polar bear, walruses, and seals being fed, or just enjoy petting the stingrays in the touch tanks.
People say the best way to experience a place is through its food. In Quebec City, the best place to do that is Buffet l’Antiquaire. This diner serves up big plates of traditional French-Canadian comfort food (including several types of poutine). It’s tucked away between the antique stores (hence the name) of Old Quebec City, making it the perfect place to grab a bite after you’ve worked up an appetite while shopping. And if you're a breakfast-all-day kinda person, this joint offers the chance to enjoy the most important meal of the day for every meal, all day.
If you need a way to work off that plate of French fries, cheese curds and gravy (or whatever your indulgence was), a walk along the Terasse Dufferin will hit the spot. The wooden plank walkway wraps around the Chateau Frontenac and heads toward the Citadelle of Québec. Benches and gazebos line the way if you need a break or just want to stop and enjoy the view. If you happen to be visiting during the Québec Winter Carnival (which takes place between late January and mid-February), you’ll see a ramp on the west end of the terrace being used as a toboggan run.
La Citadelle is an active military installation and the official residence of the Canadian Monarch (currently Queen Elizabeth II) and her local representative, the Governor General of Canada. It’s the oldest military installation in Canada, and forms part of the fortifications that still surround the city. Guides are available to help you explore the fortress’s history, architecture and views of the Saint Lawrence River. It’s also home to the Royal 22nd Regiment (also called the Van Doos), a French-speaking regiment formed during World War I, as well as a museum dedicated to the regiment.
Quebec City has four distinct seasons with warm, humid summers and cold, snowy winters. Spring and fall are short and bring warm or chilly weather. For those wanting to take advantage of the winter weather, the city is surrounded by several ski resorts, including Le Relais, Stoneham Mountain and Mont Saint-Anne. Quebec City is also known for its pre-Lenten Winter Carnival, with activities like a masquerade ball, outdoor activities, snow sculptures, food and more. In the summer, it hosts an 11-day music festival and a Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day celebration.
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