Can’t make it to France? Then visit Quebec City, one of the oldest cities in North America — rich with history, adventure opportunities and culinary delights aplenty. Though it’s an all-season destination, peak travel times are May to September and December through February, due to the many festivals and events the city hosts every year. Yes, the Quebecois speak French. But they’re quick to switch to English as needed with a smile. Check out these top 10 reasons to visit!
1. Old Town: Accessible from the bustling Upper City from a funicular — a staircase-like railway — this historic, riverfront part of town is home to the Church Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, one of the oldest stone churches in Canada, built directly on the spot where Quebec began in 1608. A massive mural nearby (a UNESCO World Heritage site) depicts Old Quebec and many of the province’s famous writers and artists. Ferries can take you across the St. Lawrence River to the city of Levis, affording high and wide views of the city, including the iconic, castle-like, utterly photogenic Chateau Frontenac grand hotel.
2. Hop-on, hop-off tours: First-time visitors should consider these London-style double-decker buses that visit all the important sites in the city — with 12 stops in all. If you have time, take one tour around town to enjoy the informative commentary. Then decide which places you’d like to visit the most.
3. Savory dishes: Poutine may be all the rage in comfort-food restaurants across the U.S. these days, but it’s Quebec’s longtime signature dish — French fries and cheese curds, topped with gravy. Tourtiere, meanwhile, is a Quebecois meat pie that can include minced pork, beef or wild game.
4. Sweets: If you’re going to save money by visiting poor-man’s Paris, then don’t skimp when it comes to pastries. Bakers here peddle not just gorgeous baguettes and other breads, but also authentic croissants made rich with sweet almond paste and, of course, pounds of butter. Made without preservatives, they don’t travel well, however: When shopping for gifts for friends, be on the lookout for little bottles of Canadian maple syrup.
5. Museum of Civilization: Dive into the anthropology, art and culture of Quebec, including native peoples, as well as traveling exhibits about biology, zoology, religion and more, complete with topical guided tours and activities for children, too.
6. La Citadelle: Perched high above the St. Lawrence River, this former fortress (dating back to the 1750s) is an active military installation and the official Quebec City, Canada residence of both the Canadian monarch and the Governor General of Canada. Green and parklike — and surrounded by sandstone curtain walls — it features changing-of-the-guard ceremonies daily at 10 a.m. in summer as well as retreat drumming every Friday at 7 p.m. Guided tours feature highlights of the citadel’s 24 buildings and 300 years of history.
7. Plains of Abraham: This is where the fight for supremacy between the French and British empires occurred — and the scene of the 1759 Conquest, which changed the fate of North America. With more than 250 acres of meadow and grassy knolls, Battlefields Park is the Central Park of Quebec.
8. Museum of Fine Arts: This stunning gem holds art from around the world with a special focus on Quebec artists. During summer, walk through the gardens to view some 25 sculptures and monumental installations in beautiful outdoor spaces.
9. Parliament: The 19th-century house of government is fronted by gorgeous gardens and statues of people and events important in Quebec history. There’s a free tour of the building and it’s possible to make prior arrangements for a reserved seat to observe the National Assembly.
10. Excursions: Montmorency Falls, which is higher than Niagara Falls, is often included in a Quebec City tour. It’s a 20-minute drive northeast from the city center and pours grandly into the St. Lawrence. You can take a cable car ride to the top to view the falls from a special platform. Another 30 minutes’ drive up the river sits the utterly amazing, bucket-list worthy gothic architecture of the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre, credited with many miracles, including the curing of ills and disabilities.
Sandra Scott is a longtime freelance travel writer based in Mexico, N.Y. Learn more at sanscott.com.