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Enjoying the sounds of surrounding French chatter, we considered dipping in to another creperie when the sound of clicking of hooves on the cobblestone street distracts us and we swivel around to get a shot of the horse-drawn carriage as it comes into sight. The symphony of sounds on the streets are so classically French it is hard to believe we are actually in Canada.

quebec city horse-drawn carriageWhile a city 400 years old might not be much in Europe, it makes Quebec City just about the oldest city in North America. The French influence here is as much in the architecture as the language, with the gray brick houses that line the streets harking back to a village in Normandy.

quebec city housesTo remind ourselves that we are indeed in Canada, we stop for the classic (French) Canadian dish, Poutine, at Chez Ashton, and make sure ours is loaded with cheese curds and gravy from the best poutine makers in town.

Canadian PoutineAfter the quick carb overload, we walk it off with a hike up to Parliament, passing through the only intact city walls north of Mexico. The Parliament building itself is a testament to the French settlers who founded Quebec in 1608, and several snap-happy tourists (yes, us included) line up to take pictures of the intricate sculptures and frescoes on the building.

parliament sculpture quebec cityFrom here we walk over to La Citadelle, the city’s former fort which protected Quebec from the Americans in the 19th century (Quebec was actually taken at that time by the British). Today, looking out here over the views of the mighty St. Lawrence river, the imposing canons placed all around the fort remind the relaxing teens and tourists of a time when Canada was at odds with its neighbor to the south. If you happen to be in Quebec between June and September, make sure to get to the Citadelle just before 10a.m. to witness the traditional changing of the guard ceremony in the capital of French-speaking Canada.

quebec city cannons
Château Frontenac might make it on every ‘Must-See List’ written on Quebec, but witnessing the building close up, it is impossible to consider it any other way.  Towering over all the buildings of Quebec and visible from far out of town, the castle hotel is the center point of Quebec’s skyline and featured on every postcard of the city. The hotel makes for a great stop to indulge in a glass of champagne and to take in the views over the city.

view over quebec cityNext stop is the Terrace Dufferin, a large boardwalk promenade high over the river, as we leave Haute-Ville, the Upper Town, and make our way down the hill to Place Royale in ‘Basse-Ville’, the Lower Town. Some take the 2 minute, $2 ride down the steep hill in the Funiculaire du Vieux-Québec, but we prefer snake through alleyways and scale staircases on foot down to Place Royale. The story goes that Place Royale  is the actual square where French explorer Samuel de Champlain began the settlement of Quebec.

In the calm before the storm we are touched at how charming this area of Quebec is, until we are suddenly constricted within these narrow alleyways, surrounded by masses of cruise ship passengers in full on group-think mode who pass by in waves, following their tour guide from place to place. The city is definitely sweeter earlier in the morning and after dark, when many of the big tour groups have left the city.

quebec city lower town alleyAlthough the Place Royale is probably the most picturesque part of the town, this army of determined tourists is hard on our exploratory spirit, and we take a seat at a typically French cafe to rest. I couldn’t be happier with my French style Café au Lait, and Jess loved her super strong espresso shot.

quebec city coffeesBack up to the Haute-Ville again for dinner, we scope out several locals’ eateries on Rue Saint-Jean towards the university, far away from the overpriced tourist traps around Place Royale. As we poke our heads in and out of shops on this road, we are now reminded of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile rather than France.

quebec city houses old townAfter powering up on veggie sushi (what could be more French, after all, than sushi) we just make it over to the free outdoor Cirque de Soleil show, held under an unusued underpass in the center of town. Called Les Chemins Invisibles, the quality of this free show is top standard Cirque de Soleil at its best.

The perfect way to end a perfect day in Quebec City…

Travel Tips for Quebec in the summer

The Cirque du Soleil show: Les Chemins Invisibles
As we mentioned, we couldn’t get enough of this one hour show, so if you do visit Quebec during the summer months, you can visit the free Cirque du Soleil show Les Chemins invisibles (Invisible Paths). This urban renewal project was created for the city’s 400th anniversary celebrations in 2008, but has been maintained ever since due to its extraordinary popularity.

cirque du soleil les chemins invisibles quebecThe Summer Festival
During Quebec’s summer festival at the beginning of July, hundreds of musical acts at various indoor and outdoor venues play to over 1 million visitors, making it the largest festival in Canada.

Travel Tips for Quebec in the winter

The Ice Hotel
Quebec City is home to one of only two ice hotels in the world. From January to March visitors are able to stay in beds completely made of ice and quipped with deer furs and Arctic sleeping bags. Even if you don’t dare spend the night, stop in for a visit, and make sure to grab and ice-cold drink in a glass made of ice!

The Winter Carnival
Held every year in February, the winter carnival is a big outdoor festival in the Plains of Abraham, where you can pursue winter activities such as skiing or snow rafting, ride in snow sled-slides, see some fantastic ice sculptures and outdoor shows or ice skate on the giant ice rink.

quebec city art

Have you been to Quebec City? We would love you to share other must-see or must-do tips in the comments below.

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13 Comments

  1. Québec City in the winter is absolutely magical! I visited in February so I was able to tour the Ice Hotel (amazing!) and experience the Winter Carnival! I also highly recommend taking the ferry across the river to Lévis and back – it gives you a fantastic view of the city!

    1. Oh, you are so lucky! Since I’ve found out about the Ice Hotel I want to go back to Quebec in the winter so bad!! Thanks for the tip with the ferry – will put that on the list of things to do for our next visit 🙂

    1. Hi Lily, the poutine photo makes us hungry too every time we look at it 😉 Quebec City really is so charming, I would even go as far as saying the most charming city in Canada, what do you think?

    1. You should definitely visit Quebec City!! It’s such a beautiful little town… well worth a visit! And once you’ve made it all the way to Montreal, it’s only a couple of more hours till you’re in Quebec City 🙂

  2. I absolutely love Quebec City! It’s great to see these photos though, because I’ve only ever been there in the winter, when the snow is several feet thick over everything. It makes quite a difference!

    1. Thanks Kelsey! You should definitely go back in the summer, I can only imagine how different the city must be. I hope we get to go back one day and stay in the Ice Hotel, go to the winter fair & enjoy some hot beaver tails 🙂

  3. Photos are amazing, like someone else said above, the city in winter is simply gorgeous ! Been there 4-5 years ago, because hubby had to do some work related projects there and we stayed 5 days in the winter, it’s simply stunning !

  4. Poutine!

    We were in Quebec City about 4 years ago during the fall – very beautiful time of the year, and we loved the city. I think I was about 6 inches taller than doorway of the restaurant in your first photo.

    They also make great foie gras there.

    1. Hey Don! Loved poutine – french fries with cheese and gravy? Genius! Quebec is like visiting Europe without the long flight. Glad you loved the city, too!

    1. We absolutely loved it too Nancie, and we haven’t met anyone who doesn’t rave about a trip to Quebec City. So glad we didn’t leave it out of our North American itinerary last year!

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