Perched atop Cap Diamant (Cape Diamond) and overlooking the Saint Lawrence River, Quebec City was first settled by the French in 1608 and named for a native Algonquin word meaning 'where the river narrows'. The ambience, lively spirit, high safety rating, and comfortable blend of past and present make Quebec's provincial capital worthy of its place among the world's top cultural destinations.
The cradle of French civilisation in North America and still notably European in spirit, the historic Old Quebec neighbourhood has an unmistakable charm. Small cafes, cosy restaurants, classy boutiques, lively terraces, elegant squares, theatres, museums, and street performers give it life.
Million of visitors are drawn to Quebec City every year, savouring the famed Quebec gourmet scene and the beauty of the historic old district's winding cobbled streets, where 17th and 18th-century stone houses, churches, parks, and numerous monuments still stand. The city is included on UNESCO's World Heritage List and is one of the only fortified cities in the Americas.
Despite having been ceded to the British in 1759, the city's population remains 95 percent French-speaking, lending a definite and French elegance to the atmosphere.
Just outside the old city walls stands the imposing 19th-century Parliament Building, inspired by the Louvre in Paris and designed by the architect, Eugene Etienne Taché. Although it is the working home of the 125-strong National Assembly, the buildings are open to visitors for free guided tours, offered in English or French, which highlight the historic value of the unique building as well as informing visitors about the organisation and proceedings of the Québec National Assembly. Tours should be organised in advance for groups of 10 or more. There is a restaurant and a gift shop at the Parliament Building.
The site of the historical Place-Royale complex was used in ancient times for trading by the First Nations, until the leader of the first Quebec French settlement, Samuel de Champlain, constructed a formal fortified fur trading post in 1608.
The trading post flourished and grew into a thriving town, constructed largely of wood until it was destroyed by fire in 1682. Reconstruction was in fire-resistant stone, accounting for the buildings that still stand today. Known as the market square, the site once again became a hub of activity, until the end of the 19th century when its importance declined.
By 1950, the Place-Royale was a neglected and decaying area. The Government then initiated a restoration programme that has turned this historic site, known as the 'birthplace of French America', into one of the city's main attractions. It features a clutch of interesting museums, living history demonstrations, and tours of historic buildings.
A panoramic bird's eye view of historic Quebec City can be had from the cabin of the funicular that travels at a 45 degree angle from Louis Jolliet House in the heart of the Old City to Dufferin Terrace. The funicular has been an attraction in the city since the original steam driven version was erected in 1879.
Claustrophobic visitors may not enjoy the trip up in the little compartments, but most will relish the views and novel mode of getting around. The walk down from the Old City is pleasant and easy, but the walk up can be rather painful. Many people choose to take the funicular up and walk back down.
Guided walking tours of the three mile (5km) wall surrounding the Old City of Quebec trace the evolution of the city's defence system across three centuries. The walls were built between 1608 and 1871 as part of the fortifications in the area, which was the region's main colonial stronghold. The walls are set with interpretation panels and can be explored independently.
Following the walls is a wonderful way to explore the old city and visitors will pass many interesting sights in the historic centre along the way, including the Esplanade Powder Magazine. Quebec is the only surviving fortified city in North America and this fact contributed to its being named a World Heritage City.
Montreal's Old Port is actually fairly new, having undergone a major facelift to make it the most popular site in the city. Named Vieux Port de Montreal in French, it draws some five million visitors each year to its bustling wharves.
In the 19th century, the port of Quebec on the Saint Lawrence River was one of the most important in the world, with thousands of ships and sailors passing through. There are still plenty of boats in evidence but nowadays they are mainly tour boats, ferries, and amphibious buses, offering trips along the river or around the port. Ferries cross to the Parc des Iles, site of the Expo 67 World's Fair, which lies in the Saint Lawrence and offers facilities for picnicking, swimming, and skating and skiing in winter.
The Old Port itself is a thriving arts and entertainment venue where something is always happening. It also offers a huge open-air skating rink, IMAX cinema, vibrant cafes, and a Science and Technology Center with interactive displays.
The clock tower offers excellent views across the city and contains an exhibition that traces Montreal's history. Around the port are the city's original 17th-century fortifications, while characters in period costume conduct guided tours through the streets and alleys and point out the points of historic significance.
Once the setting for bloody battles between the British and the French, the Plains of Abraham today serve as Quebec City's primary 'green lung'. A playground and peaceful arboreal retreat, it's a venue for a variety of festivals, fairs, and events.
The park is to Quebec what Central Park is to New York, covering 108 hectares and containing 6,000 trees, monuments, and interpretive centres. In winter, locals and visitors alike enjoy a giant skating rink and a few fun ski-tracks in the park. Summertime is ideal for strolling the fragrant gardens, jogging or rollerblading, and picnicking.
Just to the east of Quebec City lies the spectacular Montmorency Falls which plunges 272 feet (83m), one and a half times higher than Niagara Falls. Besides a beautiful setting, the park also boasts historic buildings and a variety of fun activities. A cable car runs up to the historic Manoir Montmorency manor house, dating from 1781, where there is a restaurant, viewing terrace, interpretation centre, reception rooms, and boutiques. A suspension bridge hangs directly across the falls, providing a breathtaking view, and a second bridge gives access to the east side of the falls where there are numerous viewpoints and trails.
The little island in the Saint Lawrence River, just 15 minutes from downtown Quebec City, is an historical treasure trove containing 600 heritage buildings. Algonquin natives called the island Windigo, meaning 'bewitched corner', before French colonists arrived in 1535 and named it for the Duke of Orleans.
The island is the ancestral home of more than 300 Quebecois families and still has more than 7,000 inhabitants. A perimeter road called the Royal Way, which extends across the Taschereau Bridge to the mainland, connects all the six villages on the island. Visitors enjoy cycling or driving around the island to marvel at panoramic views of the river and explore sites like the oldest church in New France.
Basse-Ville is Quebec City's Lower Town, a charming old quarter full of narrow, winding streets, historical stone buildings, and an overwhelming array of trendy cafes, bars, and boutique stores. The oldest urban district in Canada, Lower Town has a distinctly European feel to it. Recent efforts to gentrify the area have been undertaken with appropriate sensitivity and class, resulting in postcard-perfect photo opportunities lying in wait on every street corner.
Lower Town is also home to many of Quebec City's most celebrated sights and attractions, including the Place Royale, Petit Champlain, and the must-see Funicular. The heart and soul of Old Quebec, Lower Town is a beguiling and enchanting neighbourhood. All visitors to Quebec City should anticipate spending a lot of time walking its streets and soaking up its unique atmosphere.
Summer is undoubtedly the most popular time to visit Quebec City. June, July, August, September, and October are the only months of the year when the city is sure to be free of snow, with the annual average snowfall measuring 14 feet (4m).
It has been known to snow right up to early May. Temperatures drop well below freezing from late November to early April (Autumn/Winter), averaging between 0°F (-18°C) and 17°F (-8°C) in January.
Summer days (June to August), by contrast, are usually pleasantly warm and sunny, ideal for outdoor activities, with average highs around 77°F (25°C). Summer nights can be cool though. The city usually revels in an 'Indian Summer' for a few weeks in early October, making autumn another popular season for visiting.
Walking is the easiest way to explore the compact Old City of Quebec, where most sightseeing opportunities are. Many visitors also enjoy hiring a bicycle and enjoying the city's system of cycle paths.
Public buses are run by the Reseau de Transport de la Capitale (RTC), operating throughout the week (there are a limited number of night buses at weekends). Tickets are bought upon boarding with exact change or in advance from newsagents, which is cheaper. Transfers are free within 90 minutes of a single journey. One-day passes can also be bought.
Taxis can be hired at the airport, ordered by telephone, or hailed in the street in the centre of the city.
Many interesting sights and tourist attractions are located in the Old Quebec district, including dozens of small shops, boutiques, and attractive historical buildings. The more modern Upper Town and Lower Town also have interesting neighbourhoods.
Quebec City is compact and easily walkable. Visitors who get tired or can't navigate the steep stairs between Upper Town and Lower Town can take a scenic ride in the Funicular, or hire one of many horse-drawn carriages for a quaint mode of sightseeing.
Attractions include the National Museum of the Arts, the Franco-American Museum, and the Capital Observatory, which is in one of the tallest buildings in Quebec. Visitors could also ferry across the St. Lawrence River to Lévis and enjoy memorable views of the Chateau Frontenac and the Old City. Sunset cruises on the Saint Lawrence River are a must. Children may relish a trip to the Chocolate Museum or a spin around the Old City's ice rink, while Villages Vacances Valcartier has waterslides and go-karting in the summer.
Just a few kilometres from downtown, the unspoilt wilderness areas surrounding Quebec City present numerous opportunities for outdoor activities and recreation, like horseback riding, canoeing, hiking, and skiing.
No direct flights from Heathrow to this Destination