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.
Vieux-Québec (or the Old City) is so compact that it’s hardly necessary to plan precise sightseeing itineraries. Most of the historic sights are within the city walls of Haute-Ville (Upper Town) and Basse-Ville (Lower Town). Start at Terrasse Dufferin alongside the Château Frontenac and go off on a whim, down L’Escalier du Casse-Cou (Breakneck Stairs) 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.
A few winding, somewhat steep roads (or the Breakneck Stairs or funiculaire) connect Upper and Lower Town. Upper Town can also be hilly, with sloping streets, but 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 calèches are options as well as an electric city bus that loops by most major sights.
Shopping in Lower Town
At the bottom of the Breakneck stairs and the funiculaire is the quaint Quartier de Petit-Champlain, an area of petit (small) winding cobblestone streets. The curved rue du Petit-Champlain is pedestrian-only and the main point of interest. Restored houses in the quartier have been turned into clothing boutiques, specialty shops, and galleries, some of which feature locally made products—but you’ll find a substantial number of trinkets and T-shirts sold here, too. Petit-Champlain attracts more visiting shoppers than locals, tilting the products toward Québec-centric items.
About a half-dozen antiques shops line rue St-Paul near the waterfront on the opposite end of Lower Town. They’re filled with knickknacks, Québec country furniture, candlesticks, old clocks, Victoriana, Art Deco and Art Moderne objects, and the increasingly sought-after kitsch and housewares of the early post–World War II period. Machin Chouette, 225 rue St-Paul (www.machinchouette.com; tel 418/525-9898), hand selects antiques for homes with a modern flair and also makes custom storage units out of album covers, vinyl records, and wood butter boxes. At Les Antiquités Bolduc, 89 rue St-Paul (www.lesantiquitesbolduc.com; tel 418/694-9558), brother-and-sister duo Stéphanie and Frédéric Bolduc sell vintage knickknacks, such as antique sconces and grandfather clocks.
Shopping in Upper Town
Upper Town shops cater to all ends of the spectrum, from high-end collectors of Inuit art to packs of teenagers on school vacations looking for T-shirts with crude jokes. As with Lower Town, Upper Town is small enough that you can wander at leisure without the risk of getting lost.
Want to know where the cool kids live? Or at least where smart Québécois buy croissants? Nouvo Saint-Roch is a long walk from the tourist zone, but well worth checking out. Most of the appeal is along rue St-Joseph. Grab a cup of coffee from Brûlerie St-Roch (375 rue St-Joseph est; www.lesbruleries.com; tel 418/704-4420) the original location of a growing local chain, or a pain au chocolat from Le Croquembouche (225 rue Saint-Joseph est; www.lecroquembouche.com; tel 418/523-9009) and dodge in and out of the high-end fashion retailers on rue St-Joseph’s eastern end to the pawn shops and consignment stores on the western end. If you ask for directions, it’s pronounced “Saint Rock.”
Shopping malls on a grand scale aren’t found anywhere near Old Town. For that, you need to visit the neighboring municipality of Sainte-Foy. Malls here differ little from their cousins throughout North America in terms of layout and available products. With 350 shops, Laurier Québec, 2700 boul. Laurier, in Sainte-Foy (www.laurierquebec.com; tel 800/322-1828), is the biggest, and it claims some 13 million shoppers each year. The bookstore La Maison Anglaise et Internationale (www.lamaisonanglaise.com; tel 418/654-9523) has been one of the region’s leading sources of English and Spanish language books for more than 2 decades. It’s located in Place de la Cité (www.placedelacite.com; tel 418/657-7015), which is within walking distance of Laurier. From mid-May through mid-October, buses shuttle shoppers between Laurier and several hotel stops in Québec City for C$5; call tel 418/664-0460 for schedules. If you’ve got your own wheels, it’s a 10-minute drive northwest of Vieux-Québec to Galeries de la Capitale (www.galeriesdelacapitale.com; tel 418/627-5800), located at 5401 boul. des Galeries. It has an indoor amusement park, ice rink, and IMAX movie theater alongside its 280 shops.
Shopping Avenue Cartier
When you exit the Old City on Grande-Allée est, you’ll find hotels, restaurants, and clubs, but shopping doesn’t kick in until Grande-Allée meets av. Cartier, a street with gourmet foods, boutique clothing, and few tourists—part of a neighborhood called Montcalm, just beyond Parliament Hill. There’s nothing like a lazy afternoon here. You can feel as much like a city-dweller as possible by ordering a latte bowl at Café Krieghoff, then pop in and out of shops like Zone (999 av. Cartier at the corner of boul. René-Lévesque; www.zonemaison.com; tel 418/522-7373) for mod housewares or Boutique Ketto (951 av. Cartier at Crémazie; www.kettodesign.com; tel 418/522-3337) for impish pottery, ceramic jewelry, and stationery made in Québec. There’s a fantastic bakery (or two—or is it three?) on this street and unique clothing stores for women young and less young. If you’re exploring by car, take Grande-Allée further west (away from the Old City) until it turns into Boulevard Laurier. Turn left on the even less touristy Avenue Maguire. There you’ll find ethnic restaurants, a bagel shop, and Le Canard Goulu (1281 av. Maguire; www.canardgoulu.com; tel 418/687-5116), a boutique with artisanal foie gras products.
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.