Upper Town (Vieux-Quebec: Haute-Ville)
Start: Château Frontenac, the castlelike hotel that dominates the city
Finish: Hôtel du Parlement, on Grande-Allée, just outside the walls
Time: 2 to 3 hours, depending on whether you take all the optional diversions
Best Times: Anytime, although early morning when the streets are emptier is most atmospheric, and the best time to take unobstructed photographs
Worst Times: None
The Upper Town (Haute-Ville) of Old Québec (Vieux-Québec) is surrounded by fortress walls. This section of the city overlooks the St. Lawrence River and includes much of what makes Québec so beloved. Buildings and compounds along this tour have been carefully preserved, and most are at least a century old. Start: At the grand Château Frontenac, the visual heart of the city.
1 Château Frontenac
Reportedly the most photographed hotel in the world, and it’s not hard to see why. A copper roof only needs replacing every 100 years, and, it seems, the time is now for Québec City’s “castle.” A major, multimillion-dollar renovation project is presently underway. This means that over 36 tonnes (about 80,000 lbs.) of new chocolate-brown metal will dominate the skyline—that is, until it oxidizes into its eventual green patina. The original section of the famous edifice that defines the Québec City skyline was built as a hotel from 1892 to 1893 by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. Known locally as “the Château,” the hotel today has 618 rooms.
Walk around to the river side of the Château, where there is a grand boardwalk called:
2 Terrasse Dufferin
With its green-and-white-topped gazebos in warm months, this boardwalk promenade looks much as it did 100 years ago, when ladies with parasols and gentlemen with top hats strolled along it on sunny afternoons. It offers vistas of river, watercraft, and distant mountains, and is particularly romantic at sunset.
Walk south on Terrasse Dufferin, past the Château. If you’re in the mood for some exercise, go to the end of the boardwalk and continue up the stairs—there are 310 of them—walking south along the:
3 Promenade des Gouverneurs
This path was renovated in 2007 and skirts the sheer cliff wall, climbing up and up past Québec’s military Citadelle, a fort built by the British army between 1820 and 1850 that remains an active military garrison. The promenade/staircase ends at the grassy Parc des Champs-de-Bataille,about 15 minutes away. If you go to the end, return back to Terrasse Dufferin to continue the stroll.
Walk back on the terrace as far as the battery of old (but not original) cannons on the left, which are set up as they were in the old days. Climb the stairs toward the obelisk into the:
4 Parc des Gouverneurs
Just southwest of the Château Frontenac, this park stands on the site of the mansion built to house the French governors of Québec. The mansion burned in 1834, and the ruins lie buried under the great bulk of the Château. B&Bs and small hotels now border the park on two sides.
The obelisk monument is dedicated to both generals in the momentous battle of September 13, 1759, when Britain’s General James Wolfe and France’s Louis-Joseph, marquis de Montcalm, fought for what would be the ultimate destiny of Québec (and, quite possibly, all of North America). The French were defeated, and both generals died. Wolfe, wounded in the fighting, lived only long enough to hear of England’s victory. Montcalm died a few hours after Wolfe. Told that he was mortally wounded, Montcalm replied, “All the better. I will not see the English in Québec.”
Walk up rue Mont-Carmel, which runs between the park and Château Frontenac. Turn right onto rue Haldimand. At the next corner, rue St-Louis, stands a white house with blue trim. This is:
5 Maison Kent
Built in 1648, this might be Québec’s oldest building. It’s most famous for being the building in which France signed the capitulation to the British forces. Its name comes from the duke of Kent, Queen Victoria’s father. He lived here for a few years at the end of the 18th century, just before he married Victoria’s mother in an arranged liaison. His true love, it is said, was with him in Maison Kent. Today, the building houses France’s consulate general.
To the left and diagonally across from Maison Kent, at rue St-Louis and rue des Jardins, is:
6 Maison Jacquet
This small, white dwelling with crimson roof and trim dates from 1677 and now houses a popular restaurant called Aux Anciens Canadiens. Among the oldest houses in the province, it has sheltered some prominent Québécois, including Philippe Aubert de Gaspé, the author of Aux Anciens Canadiens, which recounts Québec’s history and folklore. He lived here from 1815 to 1824.
7 Aux Anciens Canadiens
Try Québécois home cooking right here at the restaurant named for de Gaspé’s book, “Aux Anciens Canadiens,” 34 rue St-Louis. Consider caribou in blueberry-wine sauce or Québec meat pie, and don’t pass up the maple sugar pie with cream.
Leaving the restaurant, turn back toward Maison Kent (toward the river) and walk along rue St-Louis to no. 17:
8 Maison Maillou
This house’s foundations date from 1736, but the house was enlarged in 1799 and restored in 1959. It’s best seen from the opposite side of the street. Maison Maillou was built as an elegant luxury home and later served as headquarters of militias and armies. Note the metal shutters used to thwart weather and unfriendly fire.
Continue on rue St-Louis to arrive at the central plaza called:
9 Place d’Armes
This plaza was once the military parade ground outside the governors’ mansion (which no longer exists). In the small park at the center is the fountain Monument to the Faith, which recalls the arrival of the Recollet monks from France in 1615. France’s king granted them a large plot of land in 1681 on which to build their church and monastery.
Facing the square is the monument to Samuel de Champlain, who founded Québec in 1608. Created by French artist Paul Chevré and architect Paul Le Cardonnel, the statue has stood here since 1898. Its pedestal is made from stone that was also used in the Arc de Triomphe and Sacré-Coeur Basilica in Paris.
Near the Champlain statue is the diamond-shaped UNESCO monument designating Québec City as a World Heritage Site, a rare distinction. Installed in 1986, the monument is made of bronze, granite, and glass.
The city’s major tourist information center faces the plaza, at 12 rue Ste-Anne.
10 Le Pain Béni
This part of town is a great place to sit and watch the world go by. Grab a sidewalk table and enjoy something to drink or eat. One option: Le Pain Béni in the first-floor of Auberge Place d’Armes at 24 rue Ste-Anne.
Just adjacent to Le Pain Béni is the narrow pedestrian lane called:
11 Rue du Trésor
Artists (or their representatives) hang their prints and paintings of Québec scenes on both sides of the walkway. In decent weather, it’s busy with browsers and sellers. Most prices are within the means of the average visitor, but don’t be shy about bargaining for a better deal.
Follow rue du Trésor down to rue Buade and turn left. On the right, at the corner of rue Ste-Famille is the:
12 Basilique Notre-Dame
The basilica’s golden interior is ornate and its air rich with the scent of burning candles. Many artworks remain from the time of the French regime. The chancel lamp was a gift from Louis XIV, and the crypt is the final resting place for most of Québec’s bishops. The basilica dates back to 1647 and has suffered a tumultuous history of bombardment and reconstruction.
As you exit the basilica, turn a sharp right to enter the grounds and, a few steps in, the all-white inner courtyard of the historic:
13 Séminaire de Québec
Founded in 1663 by North America’s first bishop, Bishop Laval, this seminary had grown into Laval University by 1852 and priests are still in residence here. During summer, tours given by Musée de l’Amérique Françopphone (based inside the seminary’s grounds), pass by some of the seminary’s buildings, which reveal lavish decorations of stone, tile, and brass. An exhibit of gilt-framed oil paintings collected by the seminary throughout its 350 years will be on display at the Musée through 2015. For museum open hours and information, visit www.mcq.org, call tel 866/710-8031.
Head back to the basilica. Directly across the small park from the church is:
14 Hôtel-de-Ville (City Hall)
The park next to City Hall is often converted into an outdoor event space in summer, especially during the Festival d'Été (Summer Festival)when it is used forconcerts and other staged programs.
As you face City Hall, the tall building to the left is Edifice Price, Old City’s tallest building at 18 stories. It was built in 1929 in Art Deco style with geometric motifs and a steepled copper roof. When it was built, it inadvertently gave a bird’s-eye view into the adjacent Ursuline Convent, and a “view tax” had to be paid to the nuns to appease them. It is dramatically lit at night.
Facing the front of Hôtel-de-Ville, walk left on rue des Jardins toward Édifice Price. On your left, you’ll pass a small statue celebrating the city’s connections to le cirque and its performers. Cross over rue Ste-Anne. On the left are the spires of the:
15 Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity
Modeled after London’s St-Martin-in-the-Fields, this building dates from 1804 and was the first Anglican cathedral to be built outside the British Isles. The interior is simple, but spacious and bright, with pews of solid English oak from the Royal Windsor forest and a latticed ceiling with a gilded-chain motif. Lucky visitors may happen upon an organ recital or choral rehearsal.
One block up rue des Jardins, turn right at the small square (triangle shaped, actually) and go a few more steps to 12 rue Donnacona, the:
16 Chapelle/Musée des Ursulines
Handiwork by Ursuline nuns from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries is on display here, along with Amerindian crafts and a cape that was made for Marie de l’Incarnation, a founder of the convent, when she left for New France in 1639.
Peek into the restored chapel if it’s open. The tomb of Marie de l’Incarnation is here. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980. Two richly decorated altarpieces, created by sculptor Pierre-Noël Levasseur between 1726 and 1736, are also worth a look.
From the museum, turn right on rue Donnacona to walk past the Ursuline Convent, originally built in 1642. The present complex is actually a succession of different buildings added and repaired at various times until 1836, as frequent fires took their toll. A statue of Marie is outside. The convent is now a private girls’ school and not open to the public.
Continue left up the hill along rue du Parloir to rue St-Louis. Turn right. At the next block, rue du Corps-de-Garde, note the tree on the left side of the street with a:
Lodged at the base of the trunk, one story says that the cannonball landed here during the Battle of Québec in 1759 and, over the years, became firmly embraced by the tree. Another story says that it was placed here on purpose to keep the wheels of horse-drawn carriages from bumping the tree when making tight turns.
Continue along rue St-Louis another 2 blocks to rue d’Auteuil. The house on the right corner is:
18 Hôtel d’Esplanade
Notice that many of the windows in the facade facing rue St-Louis are blocked by stone. This is because houses were once taxed by the number of windows they had, and the frugal homeowner who lived here found this way to get around the law—even though it cut down on his view.
Continue straight on rue St-Louis toward the Porte St-Louis, a gate in the walls. Before the gate on the right is the Esplanade powder magazine, part of the old fortifications. Just before the gate is an:
19 Unnamed Monument
This monument commemorates the 1943 meeting in Québec of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. It remains a soft-pedaled reminder to French Québécois that it was the English-speaking nations that rid France of the Nazis.
Just across the street from the monument is a small road, Côte de la Citadelle, that leads to La Citadelle. Walk up that road. On the right are headquarters and barracks of a militia district, arranged around an inner court. Near its entrance is a:
20 Stone Memorial
This marks the resting place of 13 soldiers of General Richard Montgomery’s American army, felled in the unsuccessful assault on Québec in 1775. Obviously, the conflicts that swirled for centuries around who would ultimately rule Québec didn’t end with the British victory after its 1759 battle with French troops.
Continue up the hill to:
21 La Citadelle
The impressive star-shaped fortress just beyond view keeps watch from a commanding position on a grassy plateau 108m (354 ft.) above the banks of the St. Lawrence. It took 30 years to complete, by which time it had become obsolete. Since 1920, the Citadelle has been the home of the French-speaking Royal 22e Régiment, which fought in both world wars and in Korea. A museum dedicated to the regiment’s 100-year history was significantly expanded in 2014. With good timing and weather, it’s possible to watch a Changing of the Guard ceremony, or (as it’s called) “beating the retreat.”
Return to rue St-Louis and turn left to pass through Porte St-Louis, which was built in 1873 on the site of a gate dating from 1692. Here, the street broadens to become Grande-Allée. To the right is a park that runs alongside the city walls.
22 Site of Winter Carnaval
One of the most captivating events on the Canadian calendar, the 17-day Carnaval de Québec happens every February and includes outdoor games, snow tubing, dogsled races, canoe races along the St. Lawrence River, night parades, and more. A palace of snow and ice rises on this spot just outside the city walls, with ice sculptures throughout the field. Colorfully clad Québécois come to admire the palace and dance the nights away at outdoor parties. On the left side of Grande-Allée, a carnival park of games, food, and music is set up on Parc des Champs-de-Bataille. For an instant pick-me-up during the cold winter festival, try to find the Carnaval’s signature drink, the caribou, which is an elixir of sherry, port wine, and hard liquors.
Across the street from the park, on your right, stands the province of Québec’s stately:
23 Hôtel du Parlement
Constructed in 1884, this government building houses what Québécois call their “National Assembly” (note the use of the word “national” and not “provincial”).
The massive fountain in front of the building, La Fontaine de Tourny, was commissioned by the mayor of Bordeaux, France, in 1857. Sculptor Mathurin Moreau created the dreamlike figures on the fountain’s base.
In the sumptuous Parliament chambers, the fleur-de-lis symbol and the initials VR (for Victoria Regina) are reminders of Québec’s dual heritage. If the crown on top is lit, Parliament is in session. Along the exterior facade are 22 bronze statues of prominent figures in Québec’s tumultuous history.
Guided tours are available weekdays year-round from 9am to 4:15pm, plus weekends in summer from 10am to 4:15pm.
24 Le Parlementaire & Café du Parlement
Le Parlementaire restaurant (tel 418/643-6640), in the Hôtel du Parlement at 1045 rue des Parlementaires, is done up in regal Beaux Arts decor and open to the public (as well as parliamentarians and visiting dignitaries) for breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday most of the year. The more casual Café du Parlement (tel 418/643-5529) has eat-in or takeout options in biodegradable containers, and is located on the ground floor. Or mosey on down Grande-Allée to find plenty of other options.
Just past Hôtel du Parlement is a park called Place George-V, and behind the park are the charred remains of the 1885 Armory. A major visual icon and home to the country’s oldest French-Canadian regiment, the Armory was all but destroyed in an April 2008 fire. The stone facade still stands. The destruction was a huge blow to the city, and discussions over what kind of rebuilding to do are still continuing.
To the left of the armory is a building that houses the Discovery Pavilion, where a multimedia exhibit called “Odyssey: A Captivating Virtual Journey Covering 400 Years” is presented.
After the park, the street becomes lined with cafes, restaurants, and bars on both sides. This strip really gets jumping at night, particularly in the complex that includes Maurice Night Club and Charlotte Lounge, at no. 575.
One food possibility is Chez Ashton, at 640 Grande-Allée est. The Québec fast-food restaurant makes what many consider the town’s best poutine—French fries with cheese curds and brown gravy.
The city bus along Grande-Allée can return you to the Old City, or turn left on Place Montcalm and enter the Parc des Champs-de-Bataille (Battlefields Park) at the Joan of Arc Garden. If you turn left in the park and continue along its boulevards and footpaths, you’ll end up at the Citadelle. If you turn right, you’ll reach the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.