Did you know that there are 832 UNESCO cultural heritage sites in the world? These sites have been designated by UNESCO based on their cultural significance. I was lucky enough to visit several of these sites in my youth, but sadly was too young to really appreciate the significance (and grandeur) of these fascinating destinations. The good news for us U.S. based travelers is that Canada has eight cultural heritage sites. The Historic District of Old Quebec is one of them.
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Walking around Old Quebec was like being in Europe once again. We started to get a feel for Quebec as we drove through old cobblestone streets in the center of town looking for a parking lot. We started our adventure where it should rightfully begin, the Chateau Frontenac. This hotel built in the late 1800’s is located near the historical site of the Citadelle, placed in the perfect location to ward off attacks on New France back in the 1600s. The Fairmont Hotel currently occupies the site and the foot traffic through the lobby shows that it is an ideal destination for those who want to be immersed in the old historic district.
As soon as we exited the hotel lobby, we found ourselves in a beautiful open space featuring statues of discoverers of the time. A juggler was performing and drew quite a crowd. I love the bilingual attitude of French Canada – with the performer addressing the crowd in both English and French. We bypassed this entertainment and looked over the fortress walls to the town below.
While ultra-touristy, we rode the Funiculaire down from the top to the bottom street. This glass-enclosed elevator costs $2 per person. You can also walk down, either through the streets or a set of stairs, but you can’t beat the views of riding down the Funiculaire. A word of warning – the ride is super short, so if you have a large group, the $2 is likely not worth it.
What is there to see? A lot of old buildings and historic sites. There were plenty of restaurants along the way – and it seems that ice cream is hugely popular! We walked down to the waterfront and followed the river. A Canadian coast guard station is located there and features a poster that offers an interesting explanation of buoys in the St. Lawrence and how the colors explain the direction for sailors.
There is a lot of construction going on in historic Quebec, replacing or updating the ramparts and all the cannons that kept this city safe for so long. For me, this reminded me of walking through some older French towns. I’m not sure how child friendly this tour would be though, unless you’re really into history! We did see a pirate – surely a tour guide of some kind. And if we had been touring with children, we would have taken a guided tour with some type of theme. Since we’re adults, we just walked around enjoying it all and taking it in.
Like in so many Canadian cities, when the weather is beautiful, the people are outside enjoying the sun and warmth. A plaza outside the city hall had one of those water fountains that shoots up from the ground. Children (and a dog!) ran through the fountain while parents sat on picnic blankets. At that same location, there is a fascinating clock called the Clock from Jura. It was a gift from Switzerland and the Canton of Jura in celebration of Quebec City’s 400th anniversary. The clock features a weight that takes 24 hours to go down and starts going up again at 12:59 a.m. Jura time. It has an electromagnetic system that accounts for leap years in the perpetual calendar. You can find out more about it here.
One of the things that did intrigue me was that at one point we looked for a restaurant to sit and enjoy a cold beer on such a warm and sunny day. We ended up going in through the back of a restaurant featuring Quebecois cuisine. We decided not to stay but heard the chef explaining about different culinary treats. Outside the store, one of the staff was creating maple lollipops (I don’t know what else to call them!). During the maple collecting season, taps are placed into the maple trees so that the syrup runs out. The syrup is cooled on snow and children place a popsicle stick and roll it so that it forms a pure maple lollipop. This lovely lady was creating them for $2 each. We did not try them, unfortunately, although I’m sure I would have been in sugar shock if I had!
After walking around for about 2 hours, we found a pretty spot on the main plaza to enjoy a beer. The good news is that Quebec microbreweries abound and are on trend. I enjoyed a delicious local wheat beer while Allan drank a milk stout, both from the Charlevoix microbrewery located in nearby Baie-Saint-Paul.
If you want to see a historic place without going to Europe, old Historic Quebec is certainly a place to add to your list!
Annick, The Common Traveler