Québec City's alluring setting atop Cape Diamond (Cap Diamant) evokes a past of high adventure, military history, and exploration. This French-speaking capital city is the only walled city north of Mexico. Visitors come for the delicious and inventive cuisine, the remarkable historical continuity, and to share in the seasonal exuberance of the largest Francophone population outside France. The historic heart of this community is the Old City (Vieux-Québec), comprising the part of Upper Town (Haute-Ville) surrounded by walls and Lower Town (Basse-Ville), which spreads out at the base of the hill from Place Royale. Many sets of staircases and the popular funicular link the top of the hill with the bottom. Cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, and elaborate cathedrals here are charming in all seasons. The Old City earned recognition as an official UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985, thanks largely to city planners who managed to update and preserve the 400-year-old buildings and attractions without destroying what made them worth preserving. The most familiar icon of the city, Fairmont Château Frontenac, is set on the highest point in Upper Town, where it holds court over the entire city. At the confluence of the St. Lawrence and St. Charles rivers, the city's famous military fortification, La Citadelle, built in the early 19th century, remains the largest of its kind in North America. In summer, visitors should try to catch the Changing of the Guard, held every morning at 10 am; you can get much closer to the guards here than at Buckingham Palace in London. Enchanting as it is, the Old City is just a small part of the true Québec City experience. Think outside the walls and explore St-Roch, a downtown hot spot, which has artsy galleries and a bustling square. Cruise the Grande-Allée and avenue Cartier to find a livelier part of town dotted with nightclubs and fun eateries. Or while away the hours in St-Jean-Baptiste, a neighborhood with trendy shops and hipster hangouts.
Bistros, sidewalk cafés, and chic, cutting-edge restaurants make up the dining scene in Québec City. "Grab and go" is more the exception than the rule—be prepared to eat at a leisurely pace; dinner can take a few hours. With cuisine ranging from traditional French dishes like foie gras and escargot to distinctly French-Canadian specialties such as tourtière (meat pie), with international influences sprinkled in, Québec's thriving culinary community attracts tourists from around the globe. Sample local fare—sip ice cider, indulge in poutine, and dive into sweet maple sugar pie. Crepes—those delectable, paper-thin pancakes made of flour, eggs, and milk or cream—can be found on menus everywhere. Whether they're sweet or savory, Québec City crepes have been part of French gastronomy for centuries.
With so many options, choosing where to go can be difficult. Many establishments post their menu du jour outside, so you can stroll along and let your cravings guide the way. However, bear in mind that reservations are a must at most restaurants during holidays, Winter Carnival, and in the summer months, when the coveted outdoor terraces open. When ordering, remember that in this French-speaking province, an entrée is an appetizer and the plat principal is the main course. Plan to tip at least 15% of the bill.
More than 35 hotels are located in Old Québec, and there’s also an abundance of family-run bed-and-breakfasts. Landmark hotels are as prominent as the city's most historic sights, while modern high-rises outside the ramparts have spectacular views of the Old City. Another option is to immerse yourself in the city's historic charm by staying in an old-fashioned inn, where no two rooms are alike.
Be sure to make a reservation if you visit during peak season (May through September) or during the Winter Carnival, in January and/or February.
During especially busy times, hotel rates usually rise 30%. From November through April, many lodgings offer weekend discounts and other promotions.
Québec City has a good variety of cultural institutions for a town of its size, from its renowned symphony orchestra to several small theater companies. To sample its nightlife, you'll probably find yourself heading to the clubs and cafés of rue St-Jean, avenue Cartier, and Grande-Allée, and to a lesser extent Lower Town.
On the fashionable streets of Vieux-Québec, shopping has a European tinge. The boutiques and specialty shops clustered along narrow streets such as rue du Petit-Champlain and rues de Buade and St-Jean are especially traditional.
Stores are generally open Monday–Wednesday 9:30–5:30, Thursday and Friday until 9, Saturday until 5, and Sunday noon–5. In summer most shops have later evening hours.