Picture of a horse drawn carriage in Quebec City, Canada

A guided horse-drawn carriage tour in Quebec City, Canada

Photograph by Susan Seubert

By Heather Greenwood Davis

For more than 400 years stone walls and cobblestone streets have welcomed travelers to one of Canada’s oldest cities and the only remaining fortified city north of Mexico. The striking ramparts, bastions, and gates mark the entrance to the UNESCO World Heritage site Vieux-Quebec (Old Quebec) and have allowed it to be preserved for modern-day tourists to enjoy. But don’t confuse preservation with boring or old-fashioned. In and amongst the gas lamp-lit streets you’ll find modern artisans and funky clothiers as well as longstanding favorites. It will take you days to fully explore Old Quebec, from its Upper Town perched on a cliff overlooking the St. Lawrence River to its Lower Town filled with history and lore. And when you’ve explored it tip to tail, there’s still the modern city to discover on the other side of the centuries-old wall that surrounds the old town. From fine arts museums that boast the best of Quebec and the world to forts that bear the scars of fierce battles between French and English, visitors are never far from history in this striking city on the water. Trendy restaurants and revitalized neighborhoods showcase quaint boutiques and haute cuisine in architectural stunners that still bear the scars of the conquerors. The result: a city that is as interesting as it is unique. Quebec City offers European-like laissez-faire and a Canadian friendliness and welcoming spirit that will quickly make you a convert.

When to Go: Le Festival d’été de Quebec (Summer Festival), July 3-13. Cirque du Soleil performs from July 24 to August 17. SAQ New France Festival, August 6-10. Le Festival International de Jazz de Quebec, October 15-November 2.

"Festival d’été de Québec is the largest outdoor music event in Canada! Music is everywhere in this beautiful and historic city and regardless of your musical taste, you’ll find something you like! It is one of the most affordable ($78 for an 11-day pass), family-friendly, and diversified festival in the province!" —Daniel Gélinas, Quebec City

How to Get Around: The old wall is a border for Quebec City. Most things are described as being either inside the wall (Old Quebec) or outside (Quebec City). In Old Quebec you’ll find your feet are your best mode of getting along on the narrow streets, but catching a horse-drawn carriage for an evening out or taking the funicular between Upper and Lower Town are definitely options to consider. Outside the wall you can walk to many neighborhoods, but when your feet tire, an easy-to-use public transit system awaits. There's also a hop-on/hop-off double-decker bus tour that can show you 11 of the most popular stops in both parts of the city.

"If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s that everything is within walking distance. Take it from me, sometimes longer walks are the most rewarding." —Pamela MacNaughtan, Quebec City

Where to Stay: A castle with a unique perch on a hill overlooking Lower Town, the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac is always a top choice to capture both the feel and history of the area. If you’re looking for something more intimate try Auberge Saint-Antoine, and for a more modern, minimalist feel on the other side of the wall try Tryp Quebec Hotel Pur.

Where to Eat: Start your day in an authentic bistro overhearing the latest gossip from the mover-and-shaker clientele at Paillard. Savor your croissant and café au lait without any pressure to move along. Chef Daniel Vezina thrills with his offerings at Laurie Raphaël. Panache in the Auberge Saint-Antoine near the Old Port offers an intimate and memorable meal as well. For poutine (a must when in Quebec) locals head to fast food giant Chez Ashton. For a taste of Quebec as it was long ago, head to Aux Anciens Canadiens in Upper Town. You’ll want to make a reservation, as it's a popular stop for tour groups. Dessert options are equally prevalent in this city. Line up for your choice of made-to-order crepes at Casse-Crêpe Breton, or pop in for the crème brûlée of the day at Tournebroche.

"My favorite restaurant is Le Pied Bleu. It's a French restaurant, and it’s so good. The staff is friendly, and they always call you by your name. My favorite item on the menu is the blood sausage. It’s amazing, and it’s made in-house. They also have a great selection of wines and liquor, and a big dessert buffet." —Jean-Francois Frenette, Quebec City

Where to Drink: Cocktail hour sounds better here. Referred to as “cinq à sept” (five to seven) it literally refers to the after-work hours during which many bars and restaurants offer happy hour-type pricing on drinks and nibbles. Almost anywhere on La Grande Allée is a good spot to stop. The craft beer scene is huge in Quebec City. Chat with locals to figure out the latest and greatest in any given neighborhood but L’Inox on La Grande Allée and La Barberie Microbrasserie in St. Roch are two of many that have stood the test of time.

What to Buy: Traditional animal-skin moccasins, authentic peace pipes, and other First Nations artisanal offerings can be found at Le Sachem. For other truly local souvenirs, Quartier Petit Champlain won’t disappoint. If you’re looking for gifts for foodies, a bottle of Quebec's ice cider dessert wine can be found in North America's oldest grocery store, J.A. Moisan. Traditional maple syrup and other treats abound at Maple Delights.

"Whenever I travel, the first places I want to visit are grocery stores, so I'm tempted to recommend our best food-related shopping opportunities. I love the Old Port's Public Market, to meet with local producers; J.A. Moisan, for their spices, local gourmet products, and ready-made dishes; Épicerie Européenne, for their fine cheeses, cured meats, and gourmet products from around the world; Morena, for anything and everything Italian; and La Route des Indes (inside the Old Port's Public Market) for their selection of hard-to-find ingredients." —Marie Asselin, Quebec City

What to Read Before You Go: Fans of Order of Canada recipient Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series will enjoy Bury Your Dead (Minotaur Books, reprint 2011), in which Quebec City features prominently. Meanwhile, Willa Cather's 17th-century-set Shadows on the Rock (Vintage, originally published in 1931) offers an entirely different historical view of the city.

What to Watch Before You Go: Alfred Hitchcock’s 1953 I Confess was shot in Quebec City. Among the director’s rumored favorite stops was the Montmorency Falls, which are more than a hundred feet higher than Niagara Falls and located just outside the city. The city also featured prominently on the Amazing Race Canada game show.

Cultural Tip: While English is widely spoken in Quebec City, honest attempts at French are usually appreciated. Learn the basics and you’ll get off on the right foot with those you meet.

Helpful Link: Quebec City Tourism; bonjourquebec.com

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