Lonely Planet Writer

Perfect day: Québec City

photo by David Paul Ohmer

Why Go to Québec City? This Canadian city of half a million people is stunningly gorgeous, more manageable by foot than Montreal’s comparative sprawl 150 miles west, and decidedly Old World, with a new ‘I can’t believe this is North America’ moment around every cobblestone corner of its 402-year-old walled historic center. And the food's not bad either.

Here's one possible plan:


Croissant or crepe? Take your pick. There are many sidewalk cafes to choose from. The ever-popular Chez Temporel (25 rue Couillard) is a no-frills spot with fresh croissants and excellent coffee that attracts mostly locals (and lots of write-ups). Another Old Town classic is setting yourself at the counter at the tiny Casse-Crêpe Breton (1136 rue St-Jean) and watch the chef create your breakfast crepes for about C$5.


One of the Old Town’s top attractions is this massive star-shaped Citadelle, which was begun by the French in the 1750s and finished by American-fearing Brits in 1820. Summer visitors time a visit for the 10am changing of the guard, but the main reason is the fascinating one-hour guided tour and a glimpse of some of the 200 members of the Royal 22nd Regiment living here (they’re reportedly the most ‘badass’ of the Canadian Forces).


Towering over Old Town, the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac – reached via rue St-Louis from the Citadelle -- is the world’s most photographed hotel and the city’s best-known landmark – with its turreted, castle-like rooftop that became a rare non-blonde to appear prominently in an Alfred Hitchcock film (it’s the opening shot of 1953’s I Confess). If you’re not shelling out a couple hundred dollars for a (standard) room, take a C$8.50 tour to see rooms of the 1893 hotel, or just take in the hotel bistro or stunning lobby. Don’t worry. Most of those snapping photos aren’t guests either.


Across from the Frontenac entrance is a C$1.50 funicular which clanks, steeply!, down into the labyrinth of bistro-dotted alleys of Lower Old Town – a fun area by the St Lawrence River to explore after a bistro lunch. Rue du Petit-Champlain is North America’s narrowest street, while the Musee de la Civilisation (with great First Nations and ‘Then/Now’ exhibits) is one of the city’s best museums.


Explore the narrow, fascinating rue Sous-la-Cap, which loops north of the Upper Old Town, and time your stroll for a dinner at Laurie Rahaël, a classy Quebecois restaurant with plenty of hearty dishes like lamb with mint and anise or a surprise ‘chef’s menu’ (C$60 -- deal: it's C$26 at lunch).


Other than tears for the loss of the city hockey team – the Nordiques – in 1996, the city’s great unifier is the love of boîte a chansons (cozy folk-music clubs mixing American music styles with Quebecois French). Two memorable options include Chez Son Pere (24 rue St-Stanislas), in Upper Old Town, or Les Voûtes de Napoléon (680A Grande-Allée) – outside the city walls in the flourishing, artsy St-Jean-Baptiste neighborhood.



See Lonely Planet's new Montreal & Québec City Encounter guide for more information.