- a city like no other in North America
There's a fairly commonly-held belief that all large cities in North
America are much the same; and up to a point there's a good degree of
truth in it. But there are exceptions, and surely none more so than
Blue marker :
Tourist Information office and
start of self-guided walking tour
Quebec city is like no other in North America. One
of the oldest big cities in North America, with roots going back to the
early seventeenth century, it is the only major city in North America
to have kept intact a substantial historic quarter; and above all, it
is the only historic walled city in America north of Mexico.
While other historic cities like Boston and New
York have lost all or most of their historic heart, Quebec has kept it
more or less intact. Uniquely among cities north of Mexico, old Quebec
has all the feel of a historic European city, which in reality is what
it is - a European city in North America.
Quebec, or Quebec City, has been a capital city
since it was founded in 1608, as the capital of
French-speaking Canada; at the time, the whole of Canada was a
French colony. It was thus founded a year after the establishment
of Jamestown, Virginia, and 22 years before Boston; and it
has remained a capital and an important city ever since.
To this day, old Quebec - le Vieux Quebec -
remains largely nestled within its ramparts like some of the finest old
in Europe. The ramparts that still survive to this day date
back to the start of the nineteenth century, when the city was
controlled by the British, and many of the buildings inside the old
town date from the same period; but there are others that date back to
earlier centuries. The men who built them were French or British or
Canadian, and they built them in the traditional materials and styles
of the time, making Quebec, with its buildings of brick and stone, the
most European of North American cities north of Mexico.
bit of Paris ? Rue du Trésor, in Old Quebec
Le Vieux-Québec - Old Quebec
Old Quebec does not just look like a European city, it has the
atmosphere of a European city too. Doubtless the fact that people here
speak French contributes to the atmosphere. But walk round the streets
and alleyways of old Quebec, and you will be forgiven for imagining
that you are in Paris or Edinburgh or some city in provincial France.
Old Quebec, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is
divided into two parts, the walled Upper
(la Haute-Ville) and the Lower town, down by the port: the two are
connected by roads, steps and a funicular railway. The upper town is
more extensive, with its old streets, its museums and galleries,
and its restaurants and cafés. From many places there are
fine views down to the Lower
town and the river beyond.
from the Upper town of old Quebec, down to the Lower town and the Saint
A self-guided walking tour
around Old Quebec
A trip around Old Quebec can start from anywhere, but one place to
begin is in the heart of the Upper town or Haute Ville, outside the Tourist
Information Office at the junction of Rue du Fort
and Rue Sainte Anne (see marker on map above), an area packed
with restaurants, souvenir shops, art galleries and small
museums. The pedestrianized Rue
Sainte Anne is
the most popular street in Old Quebec. From here, first discover the
narrow streets and passageways between the Rue Sainte Anne and the Rue de Buade. You
may also want to discover Notre
Dame cathedral, at the east end of Rue de Buade, whose
outside walls date from the 18th and
early 19th centuries. The interior of the cathedral is classic French
baroque, from the early 19th century.
It's easy to spend a morning enjoying this central
part of Old Quebec, and there are plenty of places here to take lunch
or sit back and enjoy a drink before setting out on an easy self-guided
walking tour of the
other sites of Old Quebec.
tour : this circuit is just over 2 miles, plus
any extras you may want to add in.
From the Tourist Information Office at the east
end of the Rue
Sainte Anne, it is a very short walk past the statue of Champlain
(the founder of Quebec) to the Promenade
des Gouverneurs, with its funicular
to the Lower town and magnificent views. But more about the Lower town
later. For the time being,
remain in the Haute Ville, and take a walk
along the Promenade,enjoying the views to the St. Lawrence and beyond.
At the start of the Promenade des Gouverneurs is
the Terrasse Dufferin,
the most popular viewpoint, and behind it stands the iconic 611-room Château
Frontenac hotel (the
place to stay in Quebec, if you can afford it), reputedly the world's
most photographed hotel, and a symbol of Quebec. It is just about 400
metres (440 yards) from the Champlain statue to the
impressive fortifications of the
the finest historic military fortress in North America. The
Citadelle was built by the British between 1820 and 1850, largely on
the basis of plans laid out by the 18th century French military
architect Vauban. Naturally, entrance to the citadelle is at the
landward end, so from the Promenade des Gouverneurs you need to walk
round the walls to the entrance.
functioning military establishment, but it is also open to tourists;
the most popular event is (just like outside Buckingham Palace) the
ceremony of the Changing
of the Guard, that takes place daily at 10
a.m. from June 24th to Labour Day (first Monday in September).
From the Citadelle, return down the Côte de la
road to the Rue
Saint Louis and the Parc de l'Esplanade, for the
best views of the city
walls of Old Quebec, and the Porte Saint Louis,
the finest of Quebec's city gates.
Away from its popular tourist areas, there is
another part of Old Quebec that is definitely worth the visit, if you
want to discover a more intimate and traditional part of the city.
From Rue Saint Louis, return to the Place de
Ville, then carry on down the Rue des Jardins and the Côte de
Fabrique. At the foot of the Côte de la Fabrique, turn right
the narrow Rue Couillard.
Walk a few yards, shut your eyes, then open
them again, and wonder where you are. Rue Couillard looks like a street
lifted straight out of provinicial France or England, a narrow street
of small brick or stone houses, still much the same as they were two
centuries ago. The same goes for parts of the streets at the lower end
of rue Couillard.
Couillard....the most European looking city street in North America ?
From there, make your way down and
north towards the Quai
Saint André, but stop off in the area
round the Rue Saint Paul,
with its pavement cafés and small
From here it's a short walk to
the centre of the Lower town which stands on the site of the original
settlement, beside the water at the foot of the bluff. At the heart of
the Lower town is la
Place Royale, with the church of Notre Dame des
Victoires, the oldest stone-built church in North America,
between 1687 and 1816. Also on Place Royale there is an
interpretive centre. Close by, though in a modern building, is the
From Place Royale, it is
an easy walk back up to the centre of the Haute-Ville, and to the point
from which you began your walking tour. Alternatively, take the
funicular railway which will bring you almost straight up to your
original starting point.
Other tours of Old Quebec
For those who don't want to walk, much of the above tour,
and more, can be taken using the hop-on hop-off buses of
Quebec tours. These bright red open top tour buses run every half hour
in the summer season.
For something more romantic or exquisite, there are horse-drawn carriage
these have three official departure points, at the Hotel Frontenac, the
Porte Saint Louis, and the Esplanade Park; but customers can also
arrange to be picked up at other locations.