My feet hit the cobblestone street, a little sore from the day’s walk. I wasn’t really paying attention to where I was going, my eyes moving back and forth from the beautiful doors to the flower boxes hanging from windows to the gorgeous roofs of the historic buildings. I looked around and realized I made it to my destination, Place Royale, the embodiment of Old Quebec City.
Within its fortifications, Quebec City allows you to be immersed in the rich culture that still thrives over 400 years later. Je Me Souviens (I remember), the motto for the province and for the only Francophone military regiment in Canada, is a motto that is embraced by the residents of Quebec.
They remember their French heritage as well as the struggle and sacrifices made throughout the years.
Founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain, Vieux-Quebec (Old Quebec) is the only fortified city in North America north of Mexico whose walls still exist. It was named as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985. In Quebec City, you’ll stumble upon history that shaped Canada to the country it is today.
Recently, Travel+Leisure named Quebec City the best tourist destination in Canada. It is easy to see how the city, with its European feel and historical charm, beat out other top cities like Toronto and Vancouver.
I recently took advantage of a long weekend in Ontario to hop on a plane for a three-day whirlwind tour of Old Quebec. Three days can be sufficient to explore the cobblestoned streets in-depth, but not enough time to eat at all of the amazing restaurants.
Travel Tip: Canada is a bilingual country, although most of the French-speaking population is concentrated in Quebec and New Brunswick. In addition, the high tourist population in the city means many of the residents will speak English. Although, knowing phrases such as bonjour (hello), merci (thank you), excusez-moi (excuse me), pardon (sorry) are useful.
Travelling solo for those three days allowed me to explore the city at my own pace and in my own taste. Most stores and activities open at 10am, which means for a morning person like myself, I had a couple hours to explore the vacant streets. If you’re not a morning person, this means more sleep in time for you! Here are some of the highlights of my trip:
When in Quebec, it is important to try some of the local cuisine. Dipped in history, Quebec cuisine highlights native ingredients used in new and interesting ways. How about venison ravioli, handmade duck confit rolls, or rabbit with blueberry-cranberry wine sauce? A new take on an old dish.
And of course, you should dive head first into a big plate of poutine – French fries with cheese curds and gravy.
Restaurants dot the streets attracting any passer-by with the luring scents of a home-cooked meal.
During my stay, I tried each meal at a new restaurant. Prepare to spend around $50CAD per person for an entrée or a couple of appetizers plus a cocktail or two. There are cheaper options, but who would want to miss out on all the delectable food just waiting to be consumed.
There are over 200 hotels in Old Quebec, and I’m sure another couple dozen just outside the fortifications. There are so many to choose from based on your needs and budget.
I stayed at the Monastere des Augustines, a converted monastery in the heart of Old Quebec. The hotel does well to preserve its history rooted in medicine and healing. It offers guests the chance to heal and reflect with many workshops in holistic health. It’s a paradise for yogis and meditators.
The hotel offers 33 authentic rooms, which restored “in the spirit of monasticism” and 32 contemporary rooms.
The hotel occupies the old Hotel-Dieu de Quebec monastery, built in 1639, where the Augustine Sisters dedicated their life to healing the body and the soul.
I’ll be going more in-depth about my stay at such a unique establishment in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!
Quebec City’s historical buildings
When you’re in Quebec, you’re in one of the oldest cities in Canada. Every building has a story layered upon each other like the chapters of a book.
In the coming weeks I’ll be drawing out my three-day walking tour so you can follow along but here are some of my favourite stops in Quebec.
Chateau Frontenac is easily the most recognizable building in the city. With its impressive stature and majestic architecture, the landmark is the most photographed hotel in the world.
The Chateau was built in 1893 and has always been a hotel. It has over 600 rooms!
Make the Chateau your number one stop. It looks so beautiful in the morning light and there are fewer tourists around.
Quartier Petit Champlain
The second most recognizable place in old Quebec is the Quartier Petit Champlain. The cobblestone roads and older buildings make you feel like you’re in Europe. (Insert heart-eye emoji). I just fell in love all over again.
Take a stroll through the souvenir shops, stop at the little restaurants, and enjoy the musicians drawing a crowd in the streets
To get to the Quartier, you can head down the Escalier Casse-Cou (literally breakneck stairs) or the Funiculaire, an elevator that goes up and down the side of the cliff. Currently, the ride costs $2.50CAD each way. Worth it instead of going up those stairs!
While in the Quartier try to find the fresco of Quebec’s history and Place Royale, a cobblestone square where Samuel de Champlain first settled in 1608.
Did you know the Citadelle was not built by the French? It was built by the British between 1820 and 1850 and was the most important fortification at the time. It was built in a star-shaped pattern in order to see the enemy coming from all sides and in response to the failed American invasion of 1812.
Take a walking tour of the grounds, which is still an active military base, home of the “Van-doos”, the only French-language infantry regiment in Canada.
At 10am, you can catch the military tradition and ceremony to mark the changing of the guard assigned to garrison security.
Fun fact, the Citadelle has a royal goat, Batisse, a descendant from the original goat gifted from the Queen.
Quebec City was mostly a walking adventure for me, however, if you get the chance, go tour the countryside.
Whether by car, or bus tour (which I took), you get a unique look at the French Canadian countryside where you can buy fresh produce and see rolling hills.
The Ile d’Orleans is a gorgeous county island just minutes from Quebec City. The fresh strawberries grown there are so juicy. You can also watch the St. Lawrence River tides (yes the river has tides, 18ft tides, isn’t that crazy?) while eating fresh bread and maple butter. Doesn’t that sound delicious?
Whether you fall for the city’s charm or get swept away in the enchanting history, Old Quebec City is a must for anyone visiting Canada.
Have you ever been to Quebec City? What was your favourite part?