Explore the cobbled streets of Vieux-Québec, bike the Samuel-de-Champlain bike path, and learn about the French presence in the Americas at the Séminaire de Québec before having a glass of local beer in the Saint-Roch neighborhood. No matter what strikes your fancy, you're set to find it in Québec City-with a French-Canadian twist. Just remember to pack your walking shoes, as this compact town will have you walking up and down hills, amazing views guaranteed at every turn.
There are fewer more significant places in Canada than the Plains of Abraham, also called National Battlefield Park. On this land, which belonged to farmer Abraham Martin, the French and British Army fought for the control of Canada in September 1759. The commanders of the two rival armies both perished and are commemorated on a shared monument, but at the end of the day, the British took the day and the French colony. The battle lasted just 40 minutes but changed the fate of the country. The fortifications and the Martello towers still visible today recall the military heritage of the Plains. Today, this huge urban park is mostly used for outdoor activities and festivals. The Musée du Québec, set on its grounds, has one of the most impressive art collections in Canada.
The historic district of Old Québec, or the Vieux-Québec, as the locals call it, was included on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985 and has undergone extensive restoration since then. There is a lot to see in this district divided between la Basse-Ville (lower town, by the river) and Haute-Ville (upper town, on the hill). Start your visit by the river, where Samuel de Champlain established the first French settlement in 1608, walk to Petit-Champlain Street, the oldest commercial avenue in the U.S. and Canada, and have coffee on Place-Royale before you climb the hill to the Musée de l'Amérique Francophone. The museum, set in the Séminaire de Québec, which housed the first university in Canada, celebrates French culture. Right next door, explore the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Québec, the most important Catholic Church in the province. Don't miss climbing on Québec's old walls. These ramparts are the only ones of their kind still standing north of Mexico.
Most Iconic Place
No Québec hotel is more photographed than the Château Frontenac, a five-star Fairmont property inaugurated in 1893 and named after the Comte de Frontenac, one of the first governors of Nouvelle France. Conceived by an American architect, the castle and its impressive central tower sit on top of Cap Diamant. The long walkway in front of the hotel, the Terrasses Dufferin, overlooks the river. Every winter, a big wooden slide appears and is a must for kids and adults alike. Do not hesitate to enter the Château. There you'll find shops, cafes, one of the best restaurants in the province, and a beautiful wood-paneled bar perfect for a cocktail.
Most Unique Experience
Every half hour or so, a ferry, or traversier, links Old Québec to Lévis, a cute town across the St. Lawrence River. The ride lasts about 15 minutes, costs less than $5 for a round trip, and will allow you to get some of the best views of Old Québec and the Château. In the winter, the crossing is especially thrilling, as the ferry, also an icebreaker, cuts through thick pieces of ice. If you have time, get off in Lévis and explore the brand-new park and water games on Quai Paquet or climb the red stairs. Up there, stop for a chocolate-covered ice cream at Les Chocolats Favoris on Avenue Bégin or to peruse the book collection at the Lévis library, set in an old chapel.
Neighborhood to Explore
Saint-Roch is a hip and fun neighborhood where students, young professionals, and creatives alike chat over a glass of wine or a locally brewed beer during 5 à 7, the French-Canadian version of happy hour. Bookstores, theaters, boutiques, and excellent restaurants and cafes, including le Clocher Penché and la Buvette Le Voisin, all line Saint-Joseph Street. By foot, you can also venture to neighboring Limoilou. There, Third Avenue is the place to go out at night.
Best Day Trip
Only a 30-minute drive from Québec City, Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier, its river, and its fjords are simply stunning. You can come for the day, hike some of the 60 miles of walking trails, kayak or canoe on the river, or stay overnight in one of 16 all-equipped tents.
Right outside of Québec City, on the side of the river, the Montmorency Falls (Chutes Montmorency) plunge 276 feet, farther than Niagara Falls. In winter, dew from the falls produces one of the most impressive ice walls on the continent. Hiking companies can outfit you and teach you how to climb with ice picks. Right in front of the falls is the bridge leading to Île d'Orléans, "60 miles of quiet things," wrote revered poet Félix Leclerc. You need about a day to tour the island, stopping every so often to sample the local bounty of strawberries, apples, local wine, and cheese. There are also accessible beaches on the island that locals can point you to.
Off the Beaten Path
The Promenade Samuel-de-Champlain, a walkway that starts close to Old Québec and stretches all the way to the Pont de Québec, is one of the main legacies of Québec 400th anniversary. And what a legacy! There is no better access in town to the St. Lawrence River. You can enjoy the walkway by foot or by bike. In the middle of the wooden structure, a belvedere offers great views. A day spa, right on the riverbank, just opened in the same area.
Best Cultural Experience
To experience First Nations culture in Canada, visit the village of Wendake is right next to Loretteville, one of Québec City's boroughs. The Huron-Wendat nation has opened a hotel and a gourmet restaurant in the middle of the village. In the summer, outdoor shows allow visitors a glimpse at the rich culture of this native community.
Every winter, a hotel made solely of ice appears close to the village of Valcartier. Each room is unique in this frosty establishment that is reinvented once a year. You can come for the night or for a quick visit. Locals like to enjoy a cocktail in a glass made of, you guessed it, ice.