Situated on the banks of the St. Lawrence River about 150 miles northeast of Montréal, Québec City is one of the most unique places to visit on the continent. When visitors first come to the city, they feel as if they have journeyed to a different time and place. The historic town feels as if it might belong in Europe, rather than in modern North America. This sense of heritage is only made deeper by the fortifications that surround the city – it is the only settlement north of the Mexican border to retain its original walls. This, along with the many historic sites in the city, accounts for it becoming a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1980.
When you land at the airport and drive in to the center of the city, the first thing that you become aware of is the imposing building that towers over the town. While this may appear as if it is a castle, it is in fact the Château Frontenac, a world-class hotel that the Canadian Pacific Railway built in the late 19th century. This is one of a number of equally magnificent hotels that were constructed by the railway across Canada – others include the Château Laurier in Ottawa and the Château Lac Louise in Alberta.
The city itself is divided into an Upper Town and Lower Town, which are connected by a funicular railway – an attraction in itself. The Upper Town in many areas is reminiscent of one of the more bohemian neighborhoods of Paris and is home to many fine restaurants and trendy boutiques. However, it still retains a strong sense of its historic roots, with cobbled streets and impressive buildings – including churches such as the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity and the Notre Dame de Québec Basilica. The Basilica is the seat of the oldest Roman Catholic archdiocese in North America outside of Mexico, and the Cathedral – designed as a copy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London – was the first Anglican cathedral in the New World.
The Lower Town stands on the site of the original settlement that Samuel de Champlain founded in 1608 and is still steeped in French colonial history. It has somewhat more subtle charms than the Upper Town, but nonetheless hosts a number of cultural attractions, including theaters, exhibitions and museums. Among these, two places not to miss are the Théâtre Petit Champlain – which dates back to the mid-19th century – and the Naval Museum.
No trip to Québec city is complete without a visit to the Plains of Abraham, the scene of the epic battle that saw the course of history in North America changed forever. This was where British troops under General Wolf clashed with French troops commanded by General Montcalm on September 13, 1759, following a long and bloody siege of Québec City by the British. The British routed the French during the battle, which was the most pivotal North American engagement of the Seven Year War. Although there were further battles – including ones in which the British were defeated – it was the Battle of the Plains of Abraham that ultimately led to the capitulation of the French in September 1760.