La Vieille Capitale: A Beginner’s Guide to Quebec City

By: Jennifer Merrick

January 9, 2014


Vieux-Quebec is what first attracts visitors to the much-loved capital city of Canada’s French-speaking province. The 400-year-old fortressed heritage district is as romantic as they come with beautifully preserved architecture, historic fortifications and a tangle of cobble-stoned lanes brimming with galleries, artist studios, boutiques, restaurants and museums. But what brings visitors back again and again is almost always the people, and fantastic food. Take a look at our beginner’s guide to Quebec City for the inside track on what to see while you’re in town.

Vieux-Quebec is divided into Haute-Ville (Upper Town) and Basse-Ville (Lower Town), and walking is the best way to explore both.

A Castle and a Boardwalk


Chateau Frontenac, Fairmont’s landmark hotel and the city’s most recognisable building, is a good place to begin. Sitting high above the city on “˜Cap Diamond’ cliff, its castle-like presence gives the city a storybook feel. Take a peek inside at its gilded rich decor, ooh and ahh over their art deco treasures, and then step outside onto theTerrasse Dufferin.


Terrase Dufferin | A Beginner's Guide to Quebec City

All the trimmings of a Victorian boardwalk promenade © Jennifer Merrick


It’s everything a boardwalk promenade should be. Victorians, dressed in their finery, would stroll the wooden planks and look out at the panoramic views of the St. Lawrence River and Lower Town when it was built in 1878. Today camera-wielding visitors enjoy the buskers, ambiance, ice cream, and snap countless pictures of those same gorgeous views. Under the boardwalk lies the remains of Chateau St. Louis, the original home of the 1st governors of New France. Visitors can tour the architecture site to glimpse 17th-century life in the outpost.


Up to the Battlefield and Down Breakneck Stairs


You’ll soon find out that Quebec City has more than its share of steps (and hills). From the boardwalk, some of the best sights can be reached by stairs, both upwards and down towards the river.


Chateau Frontenac | A Beginner's Guide to Quebec City

Views from the Upper Town of Quebec City © Luc-Antoine Couturier


Up leads you to the Governor’s Promenade, connected to the boardwalk on the west side, and then to the Citadel and the Plains of Abraham. It was on this battlefield that the French and English fought on the morning of September 13, 1759. Guided tours and an interpretive centre are available for history enthusiasts. But the central park is also a local favourite natural space for leisure activities, such as biking, hiking, skating and snowshoeing.


Down will take you to the Escalier Casse-Cou, which literally translates to breakneck stairs. Fortunately, you can also take the funicular down to Lower Town, where you’ll find yourself in a place you wouldn’t think existed in North America. The Petit Champlain Quartier looks like a village from the 18th century that has been lifted out of Northern France and plunked across the ocean. It’s the oldest commercial district in North America and commerce is still going strong with numerous restaurants, artist studios, cafés and boutiques. Visit the Place Royale and the Notre-Dame-de-la-Victoire church, the site of the first French settlement. The Civilization Museum and the French America Museum here in Lower Town can satisfy your curiosity about what you’re seeing.


Place Royale | A Beginner's Guide to Quebec City

Traditional procession at Place Royale © Ville de Quebec


Rest up after all that walking at one of the city’s restaurants, and enjoy some delicious local food. A few good choices in Vieux-Quebec are Café de la Paix, Les Frre de la Coté and Café de la Terrasse in Upper Town; and L’Échaudé and Laurie Raphaël in Lower Town. Indulge in a glass of wine or two and people watch. As you relax, you’ll start to feel seduced by the joie de vivre of the city and its people, and make a promise to yourself to come back.


Travelling to Quebec? Then book a flight with Virgin Atlantic and Delta to one of over 80 US cities.


Have you spent time in Vieux-Quebec? Where do you like to visit when you’re in town? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

Written by Jennifer Merrick


Jennifer Merrick

Born with itchy feet, Jennifer travels whenever she can with her family, writing about their adventures in numerous publications, including Buffalo News, American Eagle Latitudes, Montreal Families, Washington Times Community and Ontario Magazine. @jenmerrick

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