Postcards from Old Quebec
Protected by its original fortifications, Old Quebec has survived the centuries in a state of picture-perfect preservation. In 1985, UNESCO declared the entire historic district to be a World Heritage Site. This section of town is the main reason Quebec is able to lure so many visitors, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint.
Old Quebec is split between the Upper Town, which sits atop Cape Diamond, and the Lower Town, whose narrow alleys run between the rock and the Saint Lawrence River. Both sides are equally picturesque.
Because our hotel was located there, we started our exploration in the Lower Town. In the past, this was the realm of the city’s French merchants and artisans, and today its cobblestone streets are home to galleries and souvenir shops. Lower Town is at its most lively in the Quartier Petit Champlain, at the foot of the promontory. Bistros and boutique shops compete for the attention of thousands of tourists, who are an almost overwhelming presence during the summer months.
Moving between Lower and Upper Town isn’t something you’ll want to do frequently, so time your transition wisely. Over thirty sets of staircases connect the two halves of Old Quebec, including one so steep that it’s become known as the “Breakneck Steps.” If you’re feeling lazy, you can skip the workout entirely; a funicular will whisk you up to the Dufferin Terrace, just in front of the Château Frontenac.
Once standing atop Cape Diamond, we discarded our erstwhile plans to visit the various museums of Upper Town, such as the Musée du Fort, the Ursulines Museum, the Musée de l’Amérique Francophone. These are probably worthwhile, but we were busy with another type of museum: the streets of Old Quebec. Without any sort of itinerary, we wandered around aimlessly, allowing ourselves to be enchanted by the city’s ancient charms.
With its churches, cobblestone streets, and chateau-style stone buildings, Old Quebec feels trapped in the past, almost as though it had fallen victim to some sorceress’s spell of eternal sleep. Well, here’s hoping that this beauty is never kissed awake. Progress is normally a good thing, but would be a shame if Old Quebec ever changed. Even a little.