Cobbled stoned alleys leading to hidden little known places, colourful awnings lining the buildings, and chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, are all things that people normally associate with Europe, particularly the country sides of France, Switzerland, Germany, etc. But what if I told you that you could find all of these things and more only a short plane or train ride away from the United States? You’d probably think that I had gone mad; that there was nowhere anywhere near America that could provide the specific uniqueness that Europe is renowned for. But alas, you need only venture up into Canada and to Quebec City to be able to experience this European like atmosphere.
Quebec City, the capital of French Canada, is a small gem often overlooked for the more metropolitan cities of Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. Yet Quebec, believed to be one of the oldest cities in North America, first conquered by the French then overtaken by the British, is bursting with architectural beauty, amazing pastries and a distinctive culture, that makes it a worthy stop on anyone’s Canadian vacation. With conflicting areas of the city, the business and cosmopolitan end and the Lower and Upper Old Towns, this is a larger city that definitely deserves a few days of good exploring.
Old Quebec is definitely the more popular area to visit, and it is not hard to see why. Originally built by the French, this part of town is like an open air museum that with every turn brings you to even cuter buildings than on the street before. One of the busiest streets, lively with tourists, is Rue du Petit-Champlain, which is lined with alfresco restaurants, clothing boutiques, and of course dessert shops, especially gelato stores, which are plentiful within the entirety of the city. With flavours in abundance it is hard to choose which to get, and so you’ll of course have to keep coming back for more! Or am I the only one that uses that excuse?
With the food scene in the lower half being more cafe stye, it is up above that you’ll be able to find a wider range of dining options offering international cuisines, though French restaurants are the prominent choice.
Split in two, Lower and Upper Old Quebec are more or less similar in the French architectural design, though the upper area is considerably larger in size sitting within the fortified old city walls, and includes sites like the Citadelle of Quebec, and the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre Dame de Quebec. Upper Quebec is also the home of what is said to be one of the most photographed hotels in the world, Chateau Frontenac.
Lower Old Quebec is occupied with antique stores and art galleries displaying the most beautiful pieces on Quebec and the surrounding area. The best way to see all of these things is to just keep walking. Open a map if you desire, but getting lost is half the fun in this city, if you just go from one site to another, you would miss all of the adorable side streets that sometimes end up being even better than visiting the attractions themselves.
If you’re after a more leisurely morning or afternoon adventure then head to The Battlefields Park and the Plains of Abraham, the Central Park of Quebec, for some relaxing and people watching. The historic park was the site of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, hence the name, though the only trace of the battle now are memorial statues and artefacts. This was definitely one of my favoured spots in the city. Though even further afield, located just outside of the city, Montmorency Falls is a fantastic site worth a visit. A towering waterfall that offers some beautiful scenic views as well as activities that are sure to give you a rush.
Quebec is a city that is lucky enough to experience all four seasons, and each offers a unique perspective on the city. From the spring and summer colourful blooms to the winter wonderland that the city turns into in the snow, and who could forget the beauty of the fall months, when the leaves begin to turn and maple flavoured treats are showcased in all of the chocolatiers and candy stores.
Being the capital of French Canada, the people of Quebec’s first language is of course French. This fortunately gave me the opportunity to brush up on my extremely basic French knowledge before heading off to France in a few weeks time, though not so fortunate for the shop attendees and waiters who had to try and digest my broken attempts at the French language. Thankfully, most Quebecois speak fluent English as well, so you should have no trouble with language barriers. Yet they are appreciative when you attempt to speak their language.
With narrow streets and a European flare, and the constant chimes of bells from Notre Dame sounding in the background, this city truly does have the capability of transporting you all the way across the sea to Europe, without ever having to leave the continent. However, while it does have a lot of similarities to European towns, it still is not the real deal, so obviously a trip to both Quebec and Europe is a must!
A bientot Quebec!