Roam Guide / Quebec City
Myriam is a French-Canadian who currently lives in Minneapolis with her wife Kelly and their two dogs, Bolt and Vivian. She moved to the United States 13 years ago to play college hockey at the University of Minnesota Duluth and learn English. She grew up in a rural town just outside of Quebec City where her family still resides. She returns a couple times a year to fulfill her poutine cravings and stock up on maple syrup. In her spare time she is a Red Bull Crashed Ice competitor who has finished 3rd in the world, three years running, taking her first epic win in her hometown.
Quebec City is often overlooked for the larger eastern Canadian cities of Toronto and Montreal but do not let its predominantly French speaking population intimidate you. One of 18 recognized Canadian UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Historic Old Town will charm you with it's picturesque architecture and 400-year-old cobblestone streets. Overlooking the Saint Lawrence river, Quebec City was established in 1608 by the French explorer and navigator Samuel de Champlain as the capital of New France. It's reminiscent of Old Europe without the jet lag or lengthy flight.
When to go?
Depending on your preference, you can visit Quebec City year-round. From it's internationally recognized Winter Festival in February to the Summer Music Festival beginning in July. In the Fall, you can enjoy the "leaf-peeping" and in the Spring you can participate in maple syrup harvesting. While there is something to suit travelers anytime of the year, now is the time to take advantage of the strong US dollar and head North for a 25% discount.
How to get there?
Easily accessible by car from the northeastern corner of the United States, you may also elect to fly into Quebec City's International Airport (YQB). From there, you can hop in a taxi and you'll be downtown in 30 min. The Montreal Airport is also an option, but be aware that you'll have to drive 3 hrs or take a bus from the airport to make it to Quebec City.
We have made the drive from Minneapolis. It takes around 25 hours and my wife says it's like a portal, as soon as you cross over from Ontario into Quebec everyone is speaking French.
Where did you stay?
Usually I stay at home with my parents in St-Michel-de-Bellechasse, although we were married in the city and pointed our guests to Le Clarendon, built in 1870 and centrally located with all the amenities one would need. Of course, The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac is the most iconic hotel of Old Quebec, but there are other options nestled within the city that offer comfort and charm in a more intimate setting. For those looking for a romantic boutique hotel, I suggest the luxurious Auberge Saint-Antoine. If your budget is limited, the city offers many independent B&B's or home rentals at a reasonable price. If you are visiting January through March and want a truly unique experience consider Quebec City's Ice Hotel, Hotel De Glace.
RTip: Book the Hotel Du Vieux Quebec which is within walking distance of the Fairmont where you can visit the iconic hotel, grab a drink and pet their Canine Ambassador, Daphnie.
What should we do?
Walk! Everywhere! The City offers many landmarks accessible by foot and countless independently owned shops and restaurants. Old Québec is made up of two sections, the Upper Town which is home to cathedrals and monuments, and Lower Town, nestled below the ramparts, where you'll find the cities original settlement along the river. You can access The Lower part of old town by walking down the steep roads and using the famous "breakneck" steps (make sure to snap a photo at the top with the Quartier Petit Champlain in the background). Walking up to the Upper Town is quite the workout. I would suggest using the funicular and take in the view. If you want to better understand the history of the city, many guided walking tours are offered. If you need to get off your feet, book a carriage ride and let the horse and its coachman take you on a tour.
Make sure to visit the quaintest neighborhood of the Old City: Quartier Petit Champlain (only accessible by foot). This area used to be the heart of New France and is particularly magical during the winter with it's thousands of twinkling lights. You may have seen a picture of the colorful umbrellas that hang above the Rue du Cul-de-sac in this pedestrian center during the summer. Here you'll really have an opportunity to experience Old Europe.
The street entertainers here are excellent performers because they have to be licensed. When I was little this was my favorite thing to see in old town, especially during the summer music festival.
Nearby, you can walk along the Dufferin Terrace, which is a wooden boardwalk along the St. Lawrence river in front of The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. In the summer it's worth a trip under the Dufferin Terrace to see the Saint-Louis Forts and Châteaux. This is a national historic site which includes an underground archeological crypt revealing what was the official residence of the French & British governors from 1620 to 1834. In the Winter, you can race down the ice slide situated on the western side of the Dufferin Terrace. This man-made toboggan run is a exhilarating ride that descends almost 500 feet, so bring your GoPro.
To get another view of the Château Frontenac and the Capital you can book a day or evening cruise on the iconic AML Louis-Jolliet and take in the scenery from the St.Lawrence river. You can brunch or dine on board, but if you don’t have that much time or money to spare, book a one-way ticket on the Quebec-Levis ferry and stay on the boat for as long as you want to snap pictures and take in the view.
If I was to recommend a museum I would suggest The Citadelle which offer various exhibits and activities that provide insight on the City’s origins. It is the largest fortified base still occupied by troops, and the battle site where French and British empires clashed and eventually wrote the fate of North America. Set on the highest point in the city, the view is worth the visit even if you don't tour the museum.
Also worth visiting is The Morrin Centre, a cultural hub rooted in the French capital of North America. This stunning 200 year-old building has had many functions, from military barracks, to a public prison to eventually becoming the first English-language institute of higher education in Quebec City. Discover the rich history and take a tour of the vintage chemistry lab, the haunting Victorian-era library, and the sinister jail cells where you can see inmate graffiti dating back to the 1800s.
In the winter months, you can also downhill ski at Mont Saint-Anne Ski Resort on Laurentian mountain, 25 miles outside Quebec City. Or you can check out Le Massif De Charlevoix's sled run, a one hours drive outside the city. A unique experience which offers spectacular scenery as you slide almost 5 miles down Mont Liguori.
Where should we eat?
There are many places to indulge in some of the best French food outside France, including steak-frites, oysters and pastries. But you can't leave without having Poutine, my favorite snack made of a combination of fries, cheese and gravy, which originates in Quebec. You can get poutine at most of the bistros, chances are, it’s on the menu. You can even get it at McDonalds. My favorite is Chez-Ashton which is like a fast food joint. We love it so much we had it as a midnight snack at our wedding. I'm a traditional girl but you can get other versions like the popular Galvaude, which is topped with shredded chicken and peas. Another good spot for traditional poutine is Frite Alors.
All poutines are made with fresh cheese curds that "squeak" when you bite into them. If it doesn't squeak, it's not fresh.
For classic comfort food, check out Le Chic Shack for an incredible array of burgers served on artisan brioche buns. When in season they even make a lobster burger.
In the Old Port, Le Café du Monde’s menu has variety, is affordable and its patio overlooks the St. Lawrence river. It's sister restaurant, Le Lapin Sauté is a wonderful option with a terrific outdoor seating area perfect for people watching. Rabbit is their specialty, and they offer a brunch plate which includes eggs fried in maple syrup.
Don't forgot to get a chocolate covered dipped soft serve from one of the many Chocolat Favoris locations in Quebec City. In the winter you can go for the perfect cup of hot chocolate at Erico Chocolatier. Order the namesake, or if you want something darker try the Decadent, made with 3 different dark chocolates, that will warm you up.
What should we drink?
Be sure to pair your poutine with a local micro-brew. The have over 120 breweries in Quebec City. One standout brewery worth mentioning is La Barberie, where they have lots of seating, a lengthy list of solid beers and a great snack menu. Another option is the quirky Noctem brewery, where you can have a Catnip IPA or an Arnold Schwarzenbock. Here they offer more expansive food options (poutine of course) and great outdoor seating. If you'd like, you can visit both on a small group tour through the breweries of the St. Roch neighborhood.
During the winter carnival, you must drink the classic "Caribou" cocktail served hot or cold and made from wine, brandy and maple syrup. It's often served in an ice cup or in a cane, a plastic tube with a head that you unscrew to drink from. The head depicts the "Bonhomme," the King of Winter and the official carnival mascot.
What is the one can't miss item on your itinerary?
Just like in Italy you order a spritz, in Quebec you order a Maple Old Fashioned. They make a great one at Bistro Le Sam & Bar Atrium inside The Fairmont. If you don't drink, enjoy something else maple related. In the spring, consider visiting a Sugar Shack like Érablière le Chemin du Roy not far outside the city.
Tell us something we don't know?
Less than 2% of the City’s population claims English as its mother tongue. Quebec City is the only North American city to have preserved its ramparts.
Don't assume everyone speaks English, ask politely and talk slowly. We are not rude to the non-french, we are proud of our language and culture but we do want outsiders to come and discover.
What should we shop for, or bring back with us?
Visit the artists stands of Rue du Trésor (Treasure Street) and bring back a painting depicting your favorite Quebec landscape. My wife Kelly always buys the Canadian Red Mittens from the Hudson Bay Store. They issue a new style every year. It supports the Olympic teams and she essentially collects them. Near the Erico Chocolatier you'll find J.A Moisan, which is an authentic and charming gourmet food store known for it's time capsule like atmosphere and its many offerings of amazing local goods (like maple syrup). If you love poutine as much as I do, bring back some gravy, it comes in a can or a packet. You just can't find traditional poutine gravy in the states - at least I haven't yet.
Rtip: is to visit the m0851 leather goods store in Quebec. This Canadian retailer makes some of the yummiest leather bags, wallets and purses.
What should we take on the trip?
A good pair of walking shoes or boots and some sort of French-English dictionary. Evenings can be chilly especially during the transitional months, a versatile hoodie or zip-up is advised. If you don't pack one, buy one at Roots.
Click here to see everywhere Myriam suggests you put in your Quebec City itinerary.