Quebec City (French: Québec) is the capital of the province of Quebec in Canada. Located at a commanding position on cliffs overlooking the St. Lawrence Seaway, Quebec City's Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the only city north of Mexico with its original city walls.
Quebec City fashions itself the "national capital" of Quebec. Much of the business here is of the administrative and bureaucratic nature, which would normally make the city quite dull. Fortunately, the city has a remarkable history, as the fortress capital of New France since the 16th century. Although the town's day-to-day life leaves things a little yawn-y at times, the vibrant historical center makes for an incredible visit.
Orienting yourself in Quebec is fairly easy. Practically all sights of interest are in the Old Town (Vieux-Québec), which is divided in two: the walled city on top of the hill is known as Haute-Ville ("High Town"), and the neighborhood between the walled city and the river is Basse-Ville ("Low Town"). The two are connected by the aptly-named Escalier Casse-Cou ("Breakneck Stairs") and the rather easier funicular.
The Jean Lesage International Airport (airport code: YQB), in Ancienne-Lorette, is found about 30 minutes from downtown Quebec. It offers regular flights from cities such as Montreal, Toronto and New York, and also provides charters to remote areas of the province such as Kuujjuaq, Gaspé and Baie-Comeau.
Please note that there is no public transit or hotel shuttles to the airport. The taxi fare from Old Quebec to the airport is a flat fee of $30.
A passenger train station is found at the port of Quebec, 450 rue de la Gare du Palais. The Quebec VIA Rail station is a picturesque building, emulating the architectural style of the famed Chateau-Frontenac overlooking the station. The Quebec-Windsor corridor trains run regularly, with stopovers at Montreal and Toronto.
Another train station is located in Ste-Foy, 3255 chemin de la Gare, near the Quebec and Pierre-Laporte bridges. However, public transit does not run there as often as the Quebec station and requires walking for a couple minutes.
The bus station, Terminus Gare du Palais located at rue de la Gare du Palais, is also found at the old port of Quebec, next to the train station. Intercar and Orleans Express offer services province-wide.
Another bus station is located in Ste-Foy, 3001 chemin des Quatre-Bourgeois, which is easily accessible by city transit.
Quebec City is 2.5-3 hours by car from Montreal, taking either Highway 40 or 20 (north and south side of the St. Lawrence, respectively). Both drives are rather monotonous drives through endless forest dotted with farms. For a slower but more interesting tour of Quebec's heartland, drive along the Chemin du Roy, which follows the north bank of the river, instead.
Visiting the Old Town, it is best to travel within and around the walls by foot. If your feet fail you, use the funicular to go between the upper and lower parts of the Old Town. $1.50 will get you from near the base of the Breakneck Stairs (Escalier Casse-Cou) back up to the front of the Chateau Frontenac. This is well worth it if you have small children or large packages.
The Route Verte is a system of provincial bike paths that pass through parks and local attractions. The Corridor des Cheminots is a peaceful trail that runs from the Montmorency Falls to Val-Bélair, which continues on to the Jacques-Cartier park area.
Quebec's urban bike paths are not as well documented as Montreal paths, but are well-marked throughout the city. They are open from April to October.
Driving in the Old Town can be tricky, since the cobblestone streets were designed for narrow 17th-century horsecarts rather than 21st-century SUVs. One way streets abound throughout the Old Town, and parking is difficult to find.
Outside of the Old Town, the use of a car is recommended. Right turns on red are allowed unless otherwise indicated.
During the months of November through April, snow will definitely affect driving conditions. Snow tires are strongly recommended, as some roads will lack snow removal, sand or salting.
The RTC, Quebec's public transportation system, is a system of buses and express shuttles that cover the whole city. Tickets cost 2.25 CDN each, which will earn you the right to ride one direction with a transfer valid for 2 hours. There are daily passes and monthly passes available. It is also possible to ride without a ticket, the fare being 2.50. Drivers do not carry money and cannot change bills.
The Metrobus line is actually two bus lines (800 and 801) that both start in Ste-Foy, head toward the Old Town, and end in Beauport and Charlesbourg respectively. They can run as often as one every 3 minutes during rush hour along Boulevard René-Lévesque/Boulevard Laurier/chemin des Quatre-Bourgeois.
The STL, Lévis's public transit, operates within the south shore of Quebec. There is also a shuttle from St-Augustin to Quebec. These different transit companies all pass through Quebec City, which explains the different colours of buses around town.
Quebec City's main sight is the Old Town, the upper part of which is surrounded by a stone wall built by both French and British armies. It is now a tourist district with many small boutiques and hundreds of historical and photographic points of interest. Some of the buildings are original structures, while others are built in the same style and architecture as former buildings.
- The Citadel, this fortification at the juncture of the Old City wall and Grand Allée holds a changing of the guard ceremony mornings at 10 am complete with funny fur hats, weather permitting.
- Chateau Frontenac, . Quebec City icon. Claimed to be the most photographed hotel in North America. Stay the night if you can (see Sleep) and pop in for a martini if you can't (see Drink).
- Dufferin Terrace. Boardwalk situated alongside the Chateau Frontenac, and offers a grand view of the St. Lawrence river.
- Observatoire de la Capitale, . One of the tallest buildings in Quebec, offering a panoramic view of the whole city. Admission is 5$.
- Musée de l'Amérique française, 
- Plains of Abraham Battlefield Park, tel. 649-6157, . Site of the 1759 battle that saw the British conquer Quebec, now used for public events, sports, and leisure activities.
- Place-Royale, . The spot where Samuel de Champlain landed in 1608 and founded the first French settlement in North America, now converted into a postcard-pretty public square. Don't miss the huge mural covering the entire side of a nearby building; the figure with a hat standing at the base of the 'street' is Champlain.
- Musée de la civilisation, 85 rue Dalhousie, +1-418-643-2158, . Museum devoted to the world's peoples, with a well-done if still somewhat dull permanent exhibit on the history of Quebec. The changing exhibitions can be good, but overall it can't hold a candle to the far larger complex in Gatineau. Open Tue-Sun 10 AM-5 PM. $8.
- Chute Montmorency, . At 83 meters, it stands 30 meters taller than Niagara Falls. Hosts the Loto-Québec Fireworks Competition in the summer.
- Île d'Orléans, . Beautiful biking or driving excursions.
- Horse-drawn carriages. A one hour tour of the Old City.
- Ferry to Lévis. Beautiful views of the Chateau Frontenac and the Lower Old Town, and the other side of the river. http://www.traversiers.gouv.qc.ca/trav/quebec/index.asp
- Festival of New France, first weekend in August. http://www.nouvellefrance.qc.ca
- Winter Carnival, city-wide, first week of February. A truly spectacular event, the Winter Carnival is a 100-year tradition in Quebec City. Each year, a giant ice palace is built in the Place Jacques-Cartier as the headquarters of the festivities, but there's activities all during the week. The International Ice Sculpture Competition sees teams from around the world build monumental sculptures. There are 3 parades during the event in different quarters of the city, and other winter-defying competitions including a canoe race across the St. Lawrence and a group snow bath. The festival's mascot, Bonhomme Carnaval, a sashed snowman, is the city's most famous logo. http://www.carnaval.qc.ca/
- Festival d'été. Beginning to mid-July, a lot of almost free music shows (you buy a button for $12 or $15 and it gives you access to all the shows, for the 10 days of the festival) in and around the Old Town, with international and local artists (for example in 2004, The Nits, Wyclef Jean, Bérurier Noir). http://www.infofestival.com/
- Villages Vacances Valcartier. Water park and go-carts open during the summer season. Tubing and ice skating offered in the winter. http://www.valcartier.com/english/index.htm
- Mont-Sainte-Anne. Ski and snow during the cold season. Camping, biking and hiking at summertime. http://www.mont-sainte-anne.ca
- Station touristique Stoneham. Ski and snow during during the winter and an animated summer camp from June to August every summer. http://www.stoneham.ca
Québec is a great city for going out to dance traditional and nuevo argentinian Tango. You can find out about classes, practicas, milongas and events at the local association or at L'Avenue Tango.
Quebec City's Old Town, especially Basse-Ville, is riddled with shops for tourists. Watch for leather goods and various handmade crafts made by Canada's First Nations Peoples.
- Marché du Vieux-Port, 160 Quai Saint-André. Farmers' market just north of Basse-Ville, offering cheap and tasty local produce. Open daily 8 AM-8 PM.
- Verrerrie La Mailloche, by the Breakneck Stairs (Basse-Ville). They often have glass blowing demonstrations and will explain the craft to you.
All restaurants in the Old City will post menus out front in French and in English. Look for the table d'hote specials for a full course fixed price meal. On the cheaper (but very satisfying) side, have a traditional tourtière quebecois (meat pie), or a poutine (fries, gravy, and cheese curds).
The cafe culture is very much a part of Quebec City as in most of Europe. It should be very easy to find a quaint cafe around Marche Champlain, and around the Chateau. Food is fairly expensive in Canada and even a simpler cafe or bar may be costly: however the quality is as good as any cafe directly in Paris.
Most Quebec City delicatessens and markets offer a large variety of Quebec cheese from farms in the surrounding countryside. Specialty of the region include brie or camembert style cheeses made with raw milk (lait cru), which endows the cheese with superior flavours and textures not usually found in North American cheeses of the same type.
- Cochon Dingue, 46 blvd Champlain (Basse-Ville), . Touristy, but in a good way — the "Crazy Pig" is cavernous but usually packed, with hefty portions from a frequently-changing menu. Lunch specials are good value at $10-15, including starter and coffee.
- Les Frères de la Côte, 1190 rue Saint-Jean Québec (Haut-Ville), tel. +1-418-692-5445. Filled more with locals than tourists, this small eatery serves up a good selection of European dishes including their trademark moules (mussels). $30.
- Hotel Le Continental, 1 block from the Chateau Frontenac. Warm, cozy environment. Fantastic food - Shrimp Scampi that melts in your mouth, Filet Mignon cooked at table side, and other delectable dishes. Expensive, but well worth it.
- Saint Amour, not worth the money. The environment is a mish-mash of styles that does not work together. The wait staff is friendly and knowledgeable. The food is well prepared, but not worth the money.
There is a place for nearly every visitor, from the wild nightlife to the cozy corner.
The Grande Allée has most of the city's clubs & youth-oriented bars and spots:
- Le Dagobert. One of Québec's biggest clubs, with shows by local and international musicians. With its heart-stopping techno and enormous outdoor disco ball, you can't miss it.
- L'Ozone. Offers great music and atmosphere. ~$5/pint.
La Rue St. Jean, beyond the city walls on the west end, is where travelers will find the best pubs in Québec, as well as some smaller dance clubs:
- The St. Patrick is an excellent bar with multiple indoor levels, in addition to its outdoor terrace at the heart of Old Québec. It serves typical bar food, but come for the live music, of the folk and Irish variety, that fills the atmosphere multiple nights a week. Try the draft cider, at about ~$9/pint.
- The St. Alexandre is another great bar/resto that specializes in imports, but charges a price for them. A 16 oz Belgian import can be $9-12.
- The Casablanca is a small, upstairs, tucked-away club that plays heavy rosta-beats & has room to dance. It's a good place to bring your own party, with a unique ambiance.
- Le Sacrilège is ideal for a relaxed atmosphere with good friends.
Spread throughout Old Québec are many upscale bars and jazz clubs. Search out the hotels, as they typically have the best venues for jazz and music at night.
- Bar Château Frontenac, 1 rue des Carrieres (in Chateau Frontenac Hotel). Famous for their perfectly mixed and generously sized martinis, available in numerous versions including half-a-dozen named after famous visitors ranging from Winston Churchill to René Lévesque. Try to score a window seat for great views across the St. Lawrence. The ice wine martini is a great treat. $13/16 for a martini with house/premium vodka.
- Auberge Internationale de Quebec, 19, rue Saint-Ursule, Quebec City (near St-Dauphine), 418-694-0755, . Student and family friendly hostel. Offers many types of bedrooms/suites to suit your budget travel needs. Some rooms offer ceilings fans while others do not, so ask first. Huge kitchen and dining area with cookware and utensils for common use. Offers laundry, game/pool room, Internet, lockers and other services. On the northwestern edge of Haute-Ville, it is a short walk to the rest of Vieux-Quebec. Online bookings offered. $26/night for a bed in a dorm. Offers HI member discounts.
- Relais Charles-Alexandre, 1 Grande-Allée Est, tel. +1-418-523-1220, . Squeaky-clean small hotel in a new building built to look like an old one, a 10-minute walk from the Old Town. Rooms are small, but equipped with en-suite bathrooms, and a tasty breakfast made to order is included. Rooms from $89/119 low/high season.
- Loews Le Concorde Hotel 1225 Cours Du General De Montcalm, 418-647-2222, .
- Le Château Frontenac, 1 rue des Carrieres, tel. +1-418-692-3861, . One of Canadian Pacific Railway's grand old hotels, this castle-like building dominates the Quebec skyline and claims, with some justification, to be the most photographed hotel in North America. The location right next to the funicular connecting Haute-Ville and Basse-Ville is as convenient as it gets, but expect tour groups marching through the lobby at five-minute intervals. $300+, but offers AAA discounts.
This small city does not suffer from high criminality. Do not worry about getting attacked anywhere in town in the middle of the day, unless you get really unlucky. Some petty crimes may happen during night, especially at bar closure, but do not expect high criminality.
- Visit a sugar shack (cabane à sucre) on the nearby Ile d'Orleans in the middle of the St. Lawrence River. The maple season typically runs from March to April.
- The Basilica of Saint Anne de Beaupré is an enormous church which is reputed to have healing powers similar to those of Lourdes.
- Montmorency Falls is a nice spot to visit if you are driving outside the city.