The heart of Québec City is Vieux-Québec (the Old City). It’s divided between Haute-Ville (Upper Town) and Basse-Ville (Lower Town). The former is home to a lot of the city’s most famous sites—like the majestic Château Frontenac, Terrasse Dufferrin (Boardwalk) and more—while the latter, once home to dilapidated warehouses, is now filled with boutique hotels, trendy shops, attractive bistros and chic art galleries. What’s nice is that Lower Town, with its narrow cobbled-stone streets and old buildings, still maintains the original architectural feel.
The historical heart of the Old City is Place Royale. It’s not only the birthplace of French civilization in North America, but also one of the continent’s oldest settlements. Dominating the plaza is the oldest church in Québec, Notre Dame Des Victoires. If you take a peek inside you’ll see a small boat suspended from the ceiling. An explanation inside the church explains. In Place Royale you can also see an immense tromp-l’oeil mural of people—historic figures, and nearly a dozen of Québec’s leading artists and writers—from the early city.
Steeped in four centuries of French, English and Canadian history and tradition, fortress walls still encase part of this beautiful historic city and UNESCO World Heritage site. Small, dense and well maintained, the Old City is as romantic as any coastal town in Europe.
As the soul of New France, Québec is almost entirely French in feeling, spirit and language. Many of the chairs along the rue de Petit-Champlain (the oldest street in the city) are styled after those of famous cafés in Paris. Although the majority of the population is French speaking, many of the residents know some English, especially those working in restaurants, hotels and shops. However, knowing some French before visiting is very helpful.You can spend an entire visit of the Old City on foot, walking from one Town to the other. L’Escalier du Casse-Cou (Breakneck Steps) or a ride on the funiculaire (the only one of its kind in Canada) connect the two.
My first visit to Québec was a little over four years ago, just before I married my husband, a Québécois. Despite my extensive travel around the world, I surprisingly never had visited Québec and had no idea of the jewel that was in my backyard, so to speak. We got married here, I’ll tell you more about it in another post, but for now I want to tell you about an entire city, slightly beyond the Old City, that many visitors never explore. My husband, a former guide (during his university days), showed me a few jewels of the city that I might never have explored on my own.
Outside the Walls
Slightly beyond the Old City, there’s quite a bit to experience and all you need is just half a day to see it. For example, there’s St. Roch, the funky former industrial area that’s becoming known for its restaurants, great shopping and artistic edge.
Avenue Cartier, the Grand Allée (one of the city’s oldest streets), and rue St. Jean all have restaurants and shops well worth visiting. These areas bustle with trendy restaurants, eclectic boutiques, unique cafés, bibliothèques (libraries), churches, and interesting épiceries (grocery stores)—like Épicerie J.A. Moisan—that tend to attract more of the locals than tourists.
Colorful and bohemian in appearance and vibe, it’s hard to miss the buzz along rue Saint-Jean. This friendly and up and coming chic neighborhood is a great place to shop, hang out, eat, people watch, or go for a stroll.
Rue St. Jean is also home to Choco Musée Érico, an old timey shop that sells gourmet chocolates and has a small room with historical information about how chocolate is made.
We stopped at a great little Bistro, Le Hobbit, for lunch. I loved the ambiance—exposed stone and brick walls, charming old French music (I think we heard Aznavour singing) in the background, and large windows overlooking the bustling rue St. Jean. The atmosphere was warm and cozy, the service was excellent, and the food we ordered was perfect for a light lunch.
We ordered a salade champêtre (country salad), a beet salad and poutine, a popular Canadian dish that originated in Québec. More on poutine and Québec City to come. Until then, have you been to Québec City or have you tried the very popular poutine??!