Quebec City

Château Frontenac

Quebec City (French: Québec) is the capital of the Canadian province of Quebec. 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 in North America (outside Mexico and the Caribbean) with its original city walls. Quebec is a city of about 700,000 residents.

Understand

Quebec City is the capital city of the province of Quebec (though it is referred to as the National Capital in the province). Much of the business here is of the administrative and bureaucratic nature, which would normally make a 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 yawny at times, the vibrant historical centre makes for an incredible visit.

Quebec was first settled by Europeans in 1608 in an "abitation" led by Samuel de Champlain and celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2008. The generally accepted dates of Champlain's arrival in the city are July 3rd and 4th and were marked with major celebrations. The area was also inhabited by Native peoples for many centuries before the arrival of the Europeans, and their ongoing presence has been notable since then.

Founded by the French to make a claim in the New World, the name Quebec originally referred to just the city. It is an aboriginal word for "where the river narrows" as the St. Lawrence River dramatically closes in just east of the city. It is situated on 200 foot high cliffs with stunning views of the surrounding Laurentian mountains and the St. Lawrence River. Under French rule (1608-1759), the major industries were the fur and lumber trades. The French lost the city and the whole colony of New France to the British in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. Much of the French nobility returned to France which resulted in British ruling over the remaining French population. Fortunately, the rulers of the colony allowed the French to retain their language and religion leaving much of the culture intact. The 1840s saw an influx of Irish immigrants during the Potato Famine. Due to cholera and typhus outbreaks, ships were quarantined at Grosse Ile to the east of the city past l'Ile d'Orleans. The bodies of those who perished on the journey and while in quarantine are buried there. The city remained under British rule until 1867 when Lower Canada (Quebec) joined Upper Canada (Ontario), New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to form the Dominion of Canada.

French is the official language of the province of Quebec though in the tourist areas of Quebec City English is widely spoken as a second language by almost all of the staff. It is also not unusual to find Spanish, German and Japanese spoken in many establishments in Vieux Quebec. Outside of the tourist areas, some knowledge of French is advisable and perhaps necessary, depending on how rural the area is you are visiting. It should be noted that while older locals will struggle when attempting to sustain a discussion in English, most people under 35 should be able to speak conversational English. Less than a third of the overall population is bilingual French/English.

In French, both the city and the province are referred to as "Québec". Which is meant is determined by context and by the convention of referring to the province with the masculine article ("le Québec or au Québec") and to the city without any article at all ("à Québec"). This may lead to confusion when following provincial road signs as the City of Quebec, (Ville de Québec) is referred to only as Québec in official signage.

Orientation

Orienting yourself in Quebec is fairly easy. Many sights of interest are in the Old Town (Vieux-Québec), which constitutes the walled city on top of the hill. Many surrounding neighbourhoods, either in Haute-Ville ("Upper Town") or in Basse-Ville ("Lower Town"), are of great interest : Saint-Roch, Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Montcalm, Vieux-Port and Limoilou. Haute-Ville and Basse-Ville are connected by many staircases, all of which are unique, such as the aptly-named Escalier Casse-Cou ("Breakneck Stairs") and the more easily climbable "Funiculaire".

The city spreads westward from the St. Lawrence River, for the most part extending from the original old city. The true downtown core of Quebec City is located just west of the old city. Across the river from Quebec City is the town of Lévis. Frequent ferry service connects the two sides of the river.

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) -8 -6 0 8 17 22 25 23 18 11 3 -5
Nightly lows (°C) -18 -16 -9 -1 5 11 13 12 7 2 -4 -13
Precipitation (mm) 90 71 90 81 106 114 128 117 126 102 102 104

See the Quebec City 7 day forecast at Environment Canada

Visitor information

Get in

By plane

Jean Lesage International Airport (IATA: YQB). About 20 min from downtown Quebec, it offers regular flights with Air Canada, Air Inuit, Air Transat, American, Canjet, Delta, Porter, Sunwing, United, and WestJet (http://www.aeroportdequebec.com/en/flights/destinations-from-quebec-city/)

Please note that there is no public transit or hotel shuttles to the airport, except an RTC public bus 78 Printed schedule that goes to and from the airport only a few times a day ($3). The taxi fare from Old Quebec to the airport is a flat fee of $34.25 to downtown.

By train

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 (3-5/day), with stopovers at Montreal ($34-102 w tax, +3h15) and Toronto.

Another train station is in Sainte-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 this station requires walking for a couple of minutes.

By bus

The bus station, Terminus Gare du Palais located at 450 rue de la Gare du Palais, is located at the old port of Quebec, next to the train station in the same building. Intercar (from Montreal, 1/day, $57 w tax, +3h15) and Orleans Express (more than 10/day, $57 w tax, +3h-5h) offer services province-wide.

Another bus station is in Sainte-Foy, 3001 chemin des Quatre-Bourgeois, which is easily accessible by city transit.

By car

Quebec City is 2.5-3 hours by car from Montreal on either Highway 40 or Highway 20 (north and south side of the St. Lawrence, respectively). Both routes are rather monotonous drives through endless forests dotted with farms. For a slower but more picturesque tour of Quebec's heartland, drive along the Chemin du Roy (Highway 138), which follows the north bank of the river instead.

By boat

A seasonal cruise operates during the summer months between Montreal and Quebec City. The one-way trip takes approximately 7 hours and is slow-going, but the views make it worthwhile.

Get around

On foot

The Funiculaire, Quebec City's diagonal, counterweight railway

Walking is a great way to get around the Old Town, as the compact layout makes distances short. You will see beautiful old buildings and little vistas around every corner. You will get exercise. Do be careful of uneven cobblestones and narrow streets, though.

Côte de la Montagne is a steep, winding street that connects Upper Town and Lower Town. If you get tired, use the Funiculaire to go between the upper and lower parts of the Old Town. $2 per person will get you from near the base of the Breakneck Stairs (l'Escalier Casse-Cou) back up to the front of the Chateau Frontenac. It is well worth it if you have small children or large packages.

Many intersections are set up with separate traffic signals and cycles for cars and for pedestrians. At one point in the cycle, all traffic lights turn red and all pedestrian signals turn white, meaning that you can cross the intersection in any direction. Yet when the traffic light is green and the pedestrian signal is red, you may find cars turning in front of you. Some intersections have a pedestrian button to activate the signals, and you will never get a pedestrian cycle unless you push that button.

By bike

The bicycle network of Quebec City has been growing slowly but steadily for the last decade. Although small compared to the extensive utilitarian network of Montreal, it now offers a few recreational bike paths called Corridors with complete bidirectional and segregated bike lanes beginning downtown and ending in the countryside, generally giving splendid views of the area on the way. Most of them are part of the Route Verte system of provincial bike paths.

Corridor des Cheminots is a peaceful trail that runs from the Old Port to Val-Bélair, which continues on to the Jacques-Cartier park area. Even though it can be a challenge because of its long uphill slope, it (obviously) is a breeze on the way back.

The eastern section of Corridor du Littoral leads to Chutes Montmorency. This one-hour route (2 hours both ways) runs along the St. Lawrence River, unfortunately hidden by the Dufferin Expressway. By crossing under the expressway, you can make brief stops at the Baie de Beauport recreational park and the Battures de Beauport vista point for restrooms and views on the river. Keep some of your strength for the stairs up at Chutes Montmorency: the view is well worth it.

The western section of Corridor du Littoral leads to the award-winning Samuel-de-Champlain promenade. This time, no expressway stops you from having spectacular views on the river and you might even enjoy some nice contemporary architecture on the way. Restrooms and a cafe can be found at the end of the promenade. 1½ hour both ways.

The Parcours des Anses is in Lévis, across the river. Cross with the ferry for $3 (an experience in itself) and bike west on the south shore until you reach the Quebec Bridge and cross back on the north shore to connect with the Samuel-de-Champlain promenade and Corridor du Littoral. Crossing the Quebec Bridge is not for the faint of heart though, as it is the longest cantilever bridge in the world and the path is narrow. That said, this route is the most rewarding of all and will take you a whole afternoon to complete. Part of the route on low-traffic streets still lacks a proper bike path.

The city offers maps of its bicycle paths online They are open from April to October.

By car

Driving in the Old Town can be tricky, since the cobblestone streets were designed for narrow 17th-century horse carts rather than 21st-century SUVs. One way streets abound throughout the Old Town, and parking is difficult to find. Be aware of parking signs and ask locals to ensure parking regulation is understood. Parking patrols are effective and unforgiving.

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 required by provincial law between December 15 and March 15 for all vehicles plated in Quebec as some roads will lack snow removal, sand or salting. Vehicles plated in the US or in other provinces are not subject to this requirement.

If snowfall occurred recently, watch out for red flashing lights. It means snow removal is underway. Cars parked on the street will be fined and towed. Parking in an underground garage is advised.

By public transit

The RTC (Réseau de transport de la Capitale), Quebec's public transportation system, is a system of buses and express shuttles that cover the whole city. Tickets cost $3.25 each, which will earn you the right to ride one direction with a transfer valid for two hours.You can get a pre-paid card loaded with up to 12 trips (in bunches of 2) from licensed stores. Daily passes (2 for 1 on weekends) and monthly passes are also sold the same stores. Free for children below the age of 6. Drivers do not carry money and cannot change bills so do carry exact change - to buy your ticket you place the money in a cash drop box at the entry of the bus. Google Transit can be used to find the best itinerary.

Four of the bus lines are frequent-service lines called Metrobus. They are served by recognizable green and grey articulated buses. 800 and 801 both start in Ste-Foy, head toward the Old Town, and end in Beauport and Charlesbourg respectively. 802 starts at Beauport to Belvedere, through Limoilou and Saint-Sauveur. 803 runs along Lebourgneuf blvd and connects with the Galeries de la Capitale terminus. They can run as often as one every three minutes during rush hour.

The Ecolobus, a short electric bus, was deemed inefficient and removed from service in January 2015.

The STLévis, 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.

By boat

From Quebec to Lévis, the ferry costs $7 for a car (including driver) and $3 for pedestrians and cyclists, and takes approx 15 minutes, all year round. There are departures every 20 minutes at peak hours, 30 minutes off peak. It gives the best view in town.

See

Winter in the lower 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.

Haute-Ville

Basse-Ville

Place-Royale

Other

Do

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.

Best Canadian city for culture, 4th best Canadian destination, and 7th most romantic city in the world in 2010 according to TripAdvisor.

Events

Buy

Shopping in Basse-Ville

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.

Eat

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 québecoise (meat pie), or a poutine (fries, gravy, and cheese curds).

The café 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 Quebec, and even a simpler café or bar may be costly.

Most Quebec City delicatessens and markets offer a large variety of Quebec cheese from farms in the surrounding countryside. Specialties of the region include brie or camembert style cheeses made with raw milk (lait cru), which endows the cheese with superior flavors and textures not usually found in North American cheeses of the same type.

As far as fast food is concerned, Chez Ashton is a local chain found only in the Quebec City area, which is popular among the locals for its reasonably priced, yet delicious poutines.

Haute-Ville

Basse-Ville

Drink

There is a place for nearly every visitor, from the wild nightlife to the cozy corner. Drinking age is 18 though enforcement is hazy.

Quality wine and liquor can only be purchased at SAQ shops, most of which are open until 6PM Sunday - Wednesday and 8 or 9PM on weekends; the smaller SAQ Express outlets are open daily from 11AM to 10PM, but the selection is restricted to the SAQ's most popular items. Beer and a small selection of lower-quality wine are also sold at convenience stores (dépanneurs) and grocery stores (not what you would usually bring to a dinner party but sometimes drinkable-—it has been imported in bulk and bottled and sometimes blended in Quebec and known as "piquette" by the locals). All retail alcohol sales stop at 11PM and bars and clubs stop serving at 3AM.

There is only one SAQ within the walls of the old city, a SAQ "Selection" inside the Chateau Frontenac. It has high-end wines and liquors, a small selection of other liquors and no beer. A SAQ "Classique" with better (though still small) selection is located just outside of the walls on Rue St-Jean on the south side of the street.

During the frigid Carnaval, a local specialty known as caribou is available to warm you up (did you know that those canes they sell are hollow?). Though the mixture varies with what is available, it tends to be port or red wine with a hodge-podge of liquors, normally vodka, brandy and perhaps even some sherry.

The Grande Allée has most of the city's clubs & youth-oriented bars and spots:

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:

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.

Sleep

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

The level of violent crime and homicides in Quebec is far lower than almost all other large cities in Canada or the USA.

For twenty months, between November 1st 2006 and July 14th 2008, the city of Québec reported no homicide on its territory.

During the day, you should have no fear about traveling around the city; but at night, there might be the usual drunk bar patrons and those who prey on people unfamiliar with where they are. Take the usual precautions to protect yourself and you should be fine. However, the city is very safe for solitary female travellers.

Connect

The organization ZAP Québec provides free wireless Internet in cafes and other locations throughout the city.

Nearby

Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré

Chutes Montmorency

Île d'Orléans

Go next

Routes through Quebec City

Montreal Lévis  W  E  END
Montréal Trois-Rivières  W  E  END
Chicoutimi-Jonquière via  N  S  Lévis Saint-Georges via
Montréal Trois-Rivières  W  E  Château-Richer Sept-Îles
Saguenay Jct N  N  S  Lévis → Jct END


Routes through Lévis

Montreal Drummondville  W  E  Montmagny Rimouski
Montreal Drummondville  W  E  Quebec City END
Montréal Drummondville  W  E  Montmagny Rivière-du-Loup
Chicoutimi-Jonquière via Quebec City  N  S  Saint-Georges via
Saguenay Quebec City  N  S  Jct END


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