Quebec City is a 400-year-old capital of the French-speaking Canadians. And it’s not just the language that has come from France, it’s also the food and the architecture.
Wandering through the old town, one simply cannot be impervious to the charm of the extraordinarily well-preserved antique stone facade buildings lined with hanging flower baskets, the cobbled streets and the lively music from the many roadside artistes. What impresses most is how the city has made a point of restoring and celebrating many characteristics from its past, which has made it into a modern city that retains its rich old-world enchantment.
As soon as you cross the St. Jean gate and enter the old town, you could be excused for feeling like you’ve staggered into a delightful Parisian borough.
There is so much to see in Quebec City and for every kind of traveller. Whether you are a history buff, a foodie, an architecture enthusiast, or simply looking for a fascinating weekend getaway, you will find it here. The city is divided into two parts: the upper town (Haute Ville) and lower, older part of town (Basse Ville). The upper town has the ramparts, the bastions and the gates which has helped make it to the UNESCO heritage list. It also has the museums, myriad churches, historic monuments, the citadel and the most captivating Château Frontenac, built to resemble a castle, and looks something out of a J.K. Rowling setting, magical and fascinating.
Terasse Dufferin, the boardwalk right outside the Chateau, offers you a lovely view of the city, as it is perched on a hill. A stroll on this boardwalk will allow you to enjoy the view of St Lawrence River, the hustle and bustle of the street performers, and a peek through the looking glass into the excavations of a bygone era.
Close to Chateau Frontenac is Cathedral of St. Trinity, the oldest Anglican Cathedral in North America. In the courtyard of the cathedral, local artisans have been displaying their handcrafted ware since 1973. What started as an idea by neighbouring committee of ladies to set up tables in the courtyard to display their handicrafts, has now become a well-known artisans corporation, and the past 45 years have seen a growth of handcrafted jewellery, ceramics, handmade toys — all made by artistes from Quebec. Esther, one of the first members of this artisans’ corporation, designs jewellery using porcelain beads and describes her creations as a tribute to love and peace — “I put a hand on each piece because I craft it with my own hands and a heart because the world needs more love.”
Popularly known as Chere Esther (dear Esther), she will happily share with you the history and charisma of the town which attracts thousands of visitors throughout the year. “This town is so special, it is a vortex of peace, people from all over the world come here, but the locals never get tired of receiving the world.” Esther believes that a Quebec local can never settle anywhere else and always returns back to their roots. That could be very true since all the artisans who were at the market were locals and were so willing to share their stories.
Another fun way of learning more about the people and the place is taking a walking tour. Samuel Dubois and a few other tour guides like him will promise to give you a unique perspective of the town. Since a number of guides were born and grew up in the city, they have a lot of information and stories to tell. It is advised to look for a free walking tour (ask your concierge or a local shop owner and they will guide you to the right direction). However, a tip is appreciated for their hard work.
The street performers have their unique stories as well and one of them with an interesting “past” but a loyal following is Claude Berger. Walking on the streets close to Frontenac, you will be intrigued by the sounds of trumpeteering a la Louis Armstrong. Follow the sounds, and you will find a large gathering around a silver-haired man perched on a wooden chair — a former professor of music and a trumpet player with the Quebec symphony, and an ex-“gang” member.
Claude Bergen serenades his audience singing well-known classics followed by his lively trumpet for all to join in a street party. If music is not your scene, then you can catch a multitude of street performers doing acrobats, street theatre enactment of the history of the city and magic shows all around the upper town.
The best part, unlike a lot of touristy cities, no one begs for your attention or coaxes you to either buy their ware or watch their performance, the choice is entirely yours.
The funicular can be used to get from the upper to the lower town, if you don’t care to traverse the steps and steep streets. The city’s compact size makes it ideal for walking, and it shines brightest when you slow down and take it all in, so take the funicular only for the experience or if you have mobility issues.
Le Petit Champlain, near Place Royale, is one of the Lower Town’s most delightful pedestrian streets. This small lane is flanked by stone buildings with window boxes spilling over with the most beautiful seasonal flowers, boutiques, restaurants with patios and galleries and artisan shops. Just around the corner is Place Royale, popularly known as “the birthplace of French civilization in North America”, and the oldest part of Quebec.
The pretty cobble-stoned town square is dominated by a bust of Louis XIV and surrounded by stone buildings, their roofs painted yellow, bright red and green. The Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, the oldest church in North America, is in this square. If there is no wedding taking place, do go inside, it’s free and beautiful.
You are certain to eat very well whatever you order, and some of the restaurants are kitchens managed by families, who have delicious family secrets to delight your palette. All you have to do to have a good time in Quebec City is to meander! You will enjoy it the most with unstructured wandering and discovery on your own.
As the only walled city in North America (besides Mexico), Quebec City exudes with old world wonder and beautiful views all around. Cafes and boutiques meet impressive and lovely architecture and urban public art surprises you at unexpected corners and walls. It is important to take to Old Town and Upper Town by foot to revel in the slow and gorgeous pace of the city. It is really well-worth a trip wherever you are in the world. A Bucket List destination!