One of our favorite Canadian cities is French-speaking Quebec City. It has a distinctive European flair, founded by the French in 1608, and it’s one of the oldest cities in North America. Located on the shores of the St. Lawrence River, you should have a delightful time enjoying the ambiance and the sheer uniqueness of this North American city.
As part of a road trip, Quebec is roughly 2.5 hours from Montreal, or 6 hours from Boston. The couple of times we’ve gone, we’ve stopped in Montreal along the way, and places like Vermont or Maine on the way back – it’s possible to structure a road trip loop such that you aren’t driving too far on a given day. There are flights as well, but but either way, if you’re in the Northeast (during non-Covid times, as Canada is mostly closed to tourists at time of writing), consider adding this delightful city to your itinerary!
One geographic aspect – the city is built on a steep hill. The hill goes quite nicely with the river views and Old World-style city wall ambiance, but when we were pushing a double stroller a decade ago with our then-little boys, the hill required some effort. You can take the Old Quebec Funicular for $3 per person, but you probably want to consider the geography of the city and the part of town you expect to spend most of your time before you book a hotel.
We chose to spend two nights and base ourselves in the lower town. In retrospect, the upper town probably would have been better since we had small children with us.
French is spoken in the province of Quebec, though in practice you shouldn’t have an issue in the tourist cities using English. That said, once you get into the rural areas along the way, a bit more effort might be needed – we recall stopping for lunch at a town between Montreal and Quebec, and trying to communicate that we needed a napkin (now we will never forget that the French word for napkin is “serviette”).
The Upper Town
If you are looking for a fortified city in either Canada or the United States, Quebec City is your only destination. While the city was settled in 1608, the original city walls were not built until 1690. In 1759, the British took the city from the French. The British knew the weaknesses of the city, but creating a citadel like today’s was simply too expensive, so they built a smaller wooden one to protect themselves from invaders. In 1775, the American’s attacked the city, but the British prevailed. As the British became more worried about the American’s, they eventually decided to shell out the money to build a stronger citadel, which was built from 1820-1850 and is what you see today.
As we explored the fortifications, which are mostly located in the upper town, the boys were particularly thrilled with the cannons!
More of the Upper Town
On our first day, we arrived in the afternoon and did a walk through the upper town, finding the parliament building and fountains to be beautiful.
On our second day, we first visited the citadel, and then the boys also had a lot of fun exploring the pedestrian streets in the upper town. The adults will enjoy the atmosphere of the shops, restaurants, and more!
While we didn’t actually stay there, we loved the look of the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac hotel. Opened in 1893, it is now a National Historic Site of Canada.
The upper town also has great views of the St. Lawrence River!
We thoroughly enjoyed our wander, got some lunch, and then headed back to the lower town to take the boys to our hotel for naps.
The Lower Town
After naps, in the late afternoon and evening, we wandered the lower town. While we didn’t take a lot of pictures, we had a lot of fun simply enjoying the atmosphere. The boys particularly enjoyed ice cream sandwiches on a bench near the train station!
On our first evening, we also spent some time at Battlefields Park. This is the place where the British defeated the French in 1759 and took control of Quebec City. While the British spent three months keeping the city under siege, the Battle of the Plains of Abraham was a decisive one hour battle that meant the beginning of the end of New France.
After cooping the kids up in the car, it is always nice to give them plenty of time to stretch and play! This park has plenty of history for the adults, and plenty of space for the kids.
While you can definitely make plans to do more than just wander the city, the history and the charm of the architecture is really what we find most appealing, so if you don’t have more than a day or two, start with simple enjoyment of the atmosphere and see where it takes you!