Wandering the streets of Vieux-Québec is a singular pleasure, comparable to exploring a provincial capital in Europe. You might happen upon an ancient convent, gabled houses with steeply pitched roofs, a battery of 18th-century cannons in a leafy park, or a bistro with a blazing fireplace on a wintry day.
The Old City, Upper and Lower, is so compact that it's hardly necessary to plan precise sightseeing itineraries. Start at Terrasse Dufferin alongside the Château Frontenac and go off on a whim, down Breakneck Stairs (L'Escalier du Casse-Cou) to the Quartier du Petit-Champlain and Place-Royale, or out of the walls to the military fortress of the Citadelle that overlooks the mighty St. Lawrence River and onto the Plains of Abraham, where generals James Wolfe of Britain and Louis-Joseph, marquis de Montcalm of France, fought to their mutual deaths in a 20-minute battle that changed the continent's destiny.
Most of the historic sights are within the city walls of Vieux-Québec's Haute-Ville (Upper Town) and Basse-Ville (Lower Town). While Upper Town is hilly, with sloping streets, it's nothing like, say, San Francisco, and only people with physical limitations are likely to experience difficulty. Other sights are outside Upper Town's walls, along or just off the boulevard called Grande-Allée. If rain or ice discourages exploration on foot, tour buses and horse-drawn calashes are options.
Romantic Québec City -- Every narrow street, leafy plaza, sidewalk cafe, horse-drawn calèche, pitched roof, and church spire breathes recollections of France's provincial towns. But to get the full Québec City treatment, amble those streets in the evening and find a bench on Terrasse Dufferin, the promenade alongside the Château Frontenac. The river below will be the color of liquid mercury in the moon's glow, and on a clear night, you'll see a sky of stars. Faint music from the boîtes in Lower Town is a possibility. Romance is a certainty.
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