Old Quebec Walk (Self Guided), Quebec City

If you have a desire for European ambiance, Canadian or French culture, New World history and great food, Old Town Québec City has them all. The Upper Town, built on the cliff, has remained the religious and administrative center, and the Lower Town complements it to form one of the best examples of a fortified colonial city. From the cobblestone streets and venerable greystone churches to the quaint shops and restaurants, you'll be transported to another time. Spend a day or two exploring all this World Heritage Site has to offer and be prepared to do quite a bit of walking, including up and down stairs. Among the points of interest that make up our self-guided walk are Château Frontenac, the Québec City Mural and the Old Québec Furnicular, Rue du Trésor and the famous "Breakneck Steps".
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Old Quebec Walk Map

Guide Name: Old Quebec Walk
Guide Location: Canada » Quebec City (See other walking tours in Quebec City)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 18
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles
Author: susan
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Museum of Civilization (Musee de la Civilisation)
  • Quebec City Mural (La Fresque des Quebecois)
  • Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church
  • Chevalier House (Maison Chevalier)
  • Rue du Petit-Champlain
  • Louis Jolliet House (Maison Louis Jolliet)
  • Old Quebec Funicular (Funiculaire du Vieux-Quebec)
  • Breakneck Steps (L'Escalier Casse-Cou)
  • Terrasse Dufferin
  • Chateau Frontenac
  • Rue du Trésor
  • Notre-Dame de Québec
  • City Hall of Quebec City (Hotel de Ville)
  • Musee des Augustines de l'Hôtel-Dieu de Québec
  • Morrin Centre
  • Jesuit Chapel (Chapelle des Jesuites)
  • Place d'Youville
  • Artillery Park Heritage Site
Museum of Civilization (Musee de la Civilisation)

1) Museum of Civilization (Musee de la Civilisation) (must see)

In the heart of the port district, not far from the shores of the St. Lawrence River and surrounded by historical buildings, the modern facade of the Museum of Civilization strikes out against its surroundings, but the structure as a whole is in line with the traditional style of Québec City – including the roof, windows and belltower. Designed by Moshe Safdie, the architect behind Montréal's revolutionary Habitat 67, the front of the museum is built into an incline, tucking the building away and adding a touch of nature, with a glass roof and greenery sprouting from along the sides. Inaugurated in 1988, the museum is dedicated to the history, present, and future of Québec civilization, as well as that of cultures from around the world, with themes such as humour, circus and song, for example, making for very lively displays.

Inside, the harmony with the surroundings continues with a large open lobby, full of glass and light, which provides a charming view of Maison Estèbe and features Astri Reusch's sculpture, "La débâcle", inspired by the springtime accumulation of ice in the St. Lawrence. The three-story building accommodates ten different exhibits simultaneously, three of which are permanent and rooted in the region's history. It's a very large expansive area, capable of holding hundreds and hundreds of people so you'll never feel cramped. Moreover, the on-site Creaform Lab is fabulous for the kids, who could spend hours learning robotics, basic programming, and electrical circuits.

Why You Should Visit:
There's something for everyone, regardless of age and specific interests. Many exhibits offer a "hands-on" experience.
Although you can take both English and French tours, you can also just walk through and visit on your own.
To find lovely streets with good shopping, it's as simple as exiting out the back.

If you arrive at 4pm for the last hour, you can get in at HALF the price – but do note that to see the core exhibits you should give yourself at least 3 hours.
Alternatively, you can get a discount if you go to this museum and the Musée National des Beaux-Arts on the same day.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 10am-5pm
Quebec City Mural (La Fresque des Quebecois)

2) Quebec City Mural (La Fresque des Quebecois)

Reaching nearly three stories tall and at a size of 4,520 sq ft (420 sq m), La Fresque des Québécois is the city's largest and most historical trompe l'oeil. Unveiled in 1999, it took twelve artists from France and Canada to complete the immense mural that cleverly shows the city's four-century history and its important figures. The site was perfectly chosen, as there is no adjoining building to hide the colorful work, and one could easily spend an hour just capturing all the details.

Sixteen prominent Québécois are featured in the painting, including historical figures like Jacques Cartier, Samuel de Champlain, and Lord Dufferin, as well as cultural icons like singer/songwriter Félix Leclerc and leading politician Louis-Joseph Papineau. Also shown in the mural are typical Québécois buildings through whose windows the important figures peek. One of the gates figures prominently, as do the famous L'Escalier Casse-Cou (Breakneck Stairs) and the province's four seasons.

A popular tourist sight, it kicked off a trompe l'oeil craze around the city, and many buildings are now covered in historically clever murals.
Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church

3) Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church

The oldest stone church in Québec, Église Notre-Dame-des-Victoires (originally named l'Enfant Jesus) was built on Place Royale in 1688, on the site of l'Abitation, Québec's first building. While the structure seems to get an updating/face-lift every century or two, there remain some original parts dating back to the 1600s. In the basement, for instance, you can still see one of the original walls, and archaeological digs have uncovered one of the building's original turrets in the facade.

Once you are in Basse-Ville (the lower Quebec City), you'll probably walk right by the front of this church. There is no charge for going in and it will only take moments of your time, but will leave you with lasting memories. Although rather austere, the interior takes visitors back to another time, featuring several paintings from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Unique to Québec, the frescoes on either side of the main altar retrace the history of the church and city, and were done by local painter and decorator Jean-M. Tardivel. The most striking accent, however, is the single ex-voto, a model of a vessel that arrived in 1664, which hangs suspended over the pews.

Opening Hours:
Wed-Sat: 12am–4pm; Sun: 9:30am–4:30pm
[Masses] Sun: 10:30am / 12pm
Chevalier House (Maison Chevalier)

4) Chevalier House (Maison Chevalier)

The mid-18th-century classical French Maison Chevalier is another fine example of urban architecture in New France. A former hotel, it was the first building in the Place-Royale area to be restored in the 1950s. The current structure is really three separate houses from three distinctive periods: Maison de l'Armateur Chevalier (home of a former shipowner), built in a square in the 1750s; Maison Frérot, with a mansard roof (1683); and Maison Chesnay, dating from 1660.

All three houses were repaired or partially rebuilt following the British Conquest. As a group, they were rescued from deterioration by Gérard Morisset, the influential director of an art works inventory, who suggested that they be purchased and restored by Québec's government, which in turn has prevented the demolition of the Royal Square itself.

With the iconic Château Frontenac visible in the background, this is an excellent place to walk around while soaking in the area's beauty and history. During the Quebec Carnival in February, it's also a great place for traditional music evenings.
Rue du Petit-Champlain

5) Rue du Petit-Champlain (must see)

Named after Samuel de Champlain, who founded Québec City in 1608, Petit-Champlain is the oldest commercial district in North America and a wonderful place to pick up hand-made local items or enjoy a nice meal. In this unofficial "quartier" (neighborhood), boutique shops and cozy cafes spill out of restored houses, adding to the amazing smells from the many restaurants. You may pose at one of the cute windows or doors, or find benches in many locations if looking to rest for a bit.

The tiny neighborhood is centered on Rue du Petit-Champlain – a quaint narrow street at the foot of Cap Diamant. As you stroll through, don't miss the Fresque du Petit-Champlain, a large mural covering the side of a 3-story building near the street's southern end, at No. 102. Measuring 100 sq-m (900 sg-ft), it highlights the history of the district, including the 1759 bombardments, the landslides, and the many fires that occurred over the years. At the other end, you will find the famous Escalier Casse-Cou (or "Breakneck Staircase", because of its steepness). Be sure to get a picture of the Rue de Petit-Champlain from above, as the view is very iconic.
Louis Jolliet House (Maison Louis Jolliet)

6) Louis Jolliet House (Maison Louis Jolliet)

One of the earliest dwellings in Old Québec (1683), this house was built after the great fire of 1682, which almost completely razed Basse-Ville. It was this tragedy that prompted authorities to require all buildings to be made of stone and equipped with firewalls. Among other things, the decision resulted in the spread of first suburbs outside city walls, since poorer settlers could not meet the costly new requirements and were forced to move out of town.

Now containing the lower platform of the Old Funicular and selling various trinkets, the house is named after Quebec-born explorer Louis Jolliet (1645-1700) who achieved international fame in his lifetime as the first non-Aboriginal person, together with Jacques Marquette, to travel and map the Mississippi River. The first person of European parentage to accomlish such feat, he taught hydrography at the Séminaire de Québec during the last years of his life. A document dating from 1720 also recognizes the fact that "he played the organ and had taught several people from the seminary to play."
Old Quebec Funicular (Funiculaire du Vieux-Quebec)

7) Old Quebec Funicular (Funiculaire du Vieux-Quebec) (must see)

A quick, convenient and scenic way to get to and from Old Québec, the "Funiculaire" is also a little piece of history, first opened in 1879 in order to link the lower and upper towns. That's right, eighteen seventy-nine! Before being converted to electricity in 1906, water was transferred from one reservoir to another to make it function.

As small and limited as a funicular may seem, it's an amazing way to "see things". If going uphill, you'll enter at the Louis Jolliet House and, after getting a ticket (which takes about 10 minutes on a summer afternoon), you'll click and clack the 64 meters (210 feet) up on a 45-degree angle... to arrive at a beautiful view of the lower city, the St Lawrence River, and the city's most iconic building, Château Frontenac. It's a one-of-a-kind experience that you won't get in many other places on this planet.

While all too brief, Québec's little piece of history puts the "fun" in Funiculaire! It also features a gift shop and a café.
Breakneck Steps (L'Escalier Casse-Cou)

8) Breakneck Steps (L'Escalier Casse-Cou) (must see)

Linking Côte de la Montagne and Quartier Petit-Champlain, the legendary "Breakneck Steps" (Québec City's oldest stairway) dates back to around 1635 – but rest assured, you will not break your neck. The name dates back centuries to when the staircase was a narrower, steeper, wooden staircase that was eventually replaced with iron in the late 1800s (and actually designed by an engineer, which always helps!), only to be given another huge overhaul in the 1960s.

While not Québec City's longest staircase (Cap Blanc has about six times as many stairs), Escalier Casse-Cou is probably the city's most useful, having helped Québécois and tourist alike make their way back and forth between Haute-Ville (Upper Town) and Basse-ville (Lower Town) for centuries.

At the bottom, you'll find several boutiques, restaurants, the famed La Fudgerie, and, if your feet are tired or want an epic view, Funiculaire du Vieux-Québec can take you to Haute-Ville. On your way up or down, you'll find several boutiques and bistros, while at the top you will be amongst some of the city's greatest pieces of history: Le Château Frontenac, Place d'Arms, Montmorency Park National Historic Site, and Terrasse Dufferin (to name just a few).
Terrasse Dufferin

9) Terrasse Dufferin (must see)

Along the front of Château Frontenac is the wide boardwalk of Terrasse Dufferin, conceived in 1879 by the governor general of Canada, Lord Dufferin, as a place for residents and visitors to take their daily stroll. The use of wooden planks gives the whole thing an air of summer, even in the middle of winter, when a huge slide is added.

When you go to places for a view, it is usually one way – but not so at this place! Looking east, you'll have a panoramic photographer's dream come true of a large expanse of the St. Lawrence River, Île d'Orléans (Orleans Island), as well as the city of Lévis across the water.

To your north, Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica-Cathedral and the beautiful (now-oxidized) green dome of the old post office. To your south, about a kilometre and a half is a wide, wooden boardwalk along the river known as the Promenade des Gouverneurs, which will take you to Q-City's famed 300+ stairs and The Battlefields Park.

Even looking down is a treat. First, you can peer down the hill at Lower Town (Basse-Ville). And, below your feet, there are peek-a-boo windows and encasings where you can catch glimpses of the Saint-Louis Fort and Château – the official residence and seat of power for governors from 1620 to 1834, when it was destroyed by fire. Only a few steps down and you’re face-to-face with the foundations of the original building and some of the artifacts they uncovered there. A hidden jewel! 

The best may be behind you (West): An up-close-and-personal view of Château Frontenac, the gigantic hotel whose iconic and grandiose look is Québec City's most iconic and enduring symbol.

Simply put, Terrasse Dufferin showcases the best of a beautiful city.
Chateau Frontenac

10) Chateau Frontenac

Proudly holding the title of "most photographed hotel in the world", Château Frontenac, operated now as the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, is one of the most astonishing buildings in Québec. The fortress-like architecture and its location on top of the Cap Diamant ridge give it an especially majestic feel.

Built in 1893, it is part of a chain of "château-style" hotels that were constructed across the country by the Canadian Pacific Railway. Since Québec was one of the North American ports before the long trip across the Atlantic, the hotel was designed to rival any European counterpart and grab the attention of travelers. American architect Bruce Price drew from both the Middle Ages and Renaissance, using elements like the turrets found on Scottish castles and the bastion towers of French châteaus.

Named after twice governor of New France, Louis de Buade de Frontenac, the hotel sits on the site of what was once Château Saint-Louis, the official residence of the governor of New France and later home of the British governors. The ruins of the many incarnations of the residence lie just in front of the hotel.

It has been the temporary residence of everyone from Queen Elizabeth II to Charles Lindbergh, as well as the setting for Alfred Hitchcock's 1953 drama "I Confess", but the hotel's most memorable moment took place in 1943. It was the site of the Québec Conference of World War II, where U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt, British prime minister Winston Churchill, and Canadian prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King discussed the eventual invasion of France via Normandy.

If you book a room, ask for a high floor – city view – the 18th floor is amazing!
A hotel tour runs each day and there are some good anecdotes and stories about events in its history.
Rue du Trésor

11) Rue du Trésor

This year-round open-air gallery is one of Québec City's most famous, displaying plenty of artists and artwork – from picturesque watercolors of local scenes to abstract etchings of something completely indefinable. The artists will talk to you all day long, but there is no pressure to buy – but since prices are good, you can actually take a little something back home. The gallery was created in the 1960s by a group of art students to exhibit their work, and some of those original students are still here.

Rue du Trésor is one of the oldest streets in the city and has been around for three centuries. At the time of the French regime it was along this street that the colonists would pass in order to reach the Royal Treasury, where they paid their taxes – just another example of how QC's street names have remained unchanged for centuries.

Why You Should Visit:
This quaint little street packed with artists is one of the more atmospheric in Quebec City. The art can be hit-or-miss but the street itself is worth seeking out.

Do not take photos of artwork as the artists are very protective of their work being copied, and rightfully so. Note, also, that not all vendors take credit cards.
Notre-Dame de Québec

12) Notre-Dame de Québec (must see)

Dating back to the mid-17th century, this was the first parish church in North America and the first in the country to be elevated to the rank of minor basilica, by Pope Pius IX in 1874. It has been restored several times over the years in order to maintain the marvelous architecture still admired to this day. The inside chancel lamp was donated by Louis XIV and completing the church's impressive adornments are stained glass windows, paintings of the Virgin Mary that date back to the French regime, the bishop's original throne, and a stunning gold-plated baldaquin canopy suspended above the altar.

Between 1654 and 1898, over 900 people were buried in the crypt below the church, including twenty bishops and four governors. It's also rumored that Samuel de Champlain himself is buried nearby; archaeologists have been searching for the grave for over 50 years. In 2014, when the church celebrated its 350th anniversary, a holy door was installed (the only one of its kind in North America, and one of eight across the world), which will be open on Jubilee years.

Why You Should Visit:
Breathtaking at every turn and filled with quaint charm, gorgeous stained glass – a photographer's paradise.

See the basilica during the day, but consider the laser light show in the evening. The line to get in is very long, so buy your tickets online and pick them up at the office the night of the performance. Not the cheapest 30 minutes, but worth it if you want to see a magnificent building shine in a whole new way.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 7am–4pm; Sat: 7am–6pm; Sun: 8am–5pm (winter); Mon-Sat: 7am–7pm; Sun: 8am–7pm (summer)
Entry is free for self-guided visits; it is also possible to visit the crypt with guided tours for a charge
City Hall of Quebec City (Hotel de Ville)

13) City Hall of Quebec City (Hotel de Ville)

The American Romanesque Revival influence seen in the Hôtel de Ville stands out in a city where French and British traditions have always dominated the construction of public buildings. Situated in the heart of Old Quebec, it was completed in 1895 following disagreements among the mayor and the city councilors as to a building plan. Apparently, a Jesuit college dating from 1666 was demolished to make room for this City Hall. Listed as a World Heritage Site in 1985, it is complete with an interactive water fountain, sculptures and a small park where popular events are held in the summer. The whole area has tons of atmosphere and is very beautiful in the evening.
Musee des Augustines de l'Hôtel-Dieu de Québec

14) Musee des Augustines de l'Hôtel-Dieu de Québec

The Monastère des Augustines Museum is located in a renovated 17th-century building that perfectly blends historical Québec gray stone with bright contemporary glass and steel features. The Augustinian Sisters first arrived in Québec in 1639. Practicing nurses, they opened hospitals to heal the sick and encourage First Nations peoples to convert to Christianity. Cloistered until the 20th century, these sisters' numbers have dwindled since their heyday—though several nuns still live on-site at the monastère. The museum shows select objects from the order's 40,000 artifacts, including a full historical nun's habit as well as centuries-old medical devices, to delve into their complex history in Québec. Hour-long guided tours take place at 2pm, from Tuesday to Sunday, and cost an extra $5.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am–5pm (Jan 6–Jun 19)
Morrin Centre

15) Morrin Centre (must see)

One of the most famous cultural landmarks in Quebec City, the Morrin Centre is dedicated to showcasing the history of English speaking Quebec and all of the hardships that came along with speaking English during the old days. In this centre, you will find a rich English language library, with over 20,000 books, a small collection of archives, manuscripts, films and videos, electronic records, nearly 800 artifacts, plus the Stephens collection of decorative items and teaware related to the English families of Quebec City.

Visitors to the Morrin Centre can take a guided tour of the building (in either English or French) to learn about its heritage and importance within the city. The building was home to Quebec City's first jail, and on the tour, one may see the dark dank cells where prisoners spent their sentences for crimes ranging from drunkenness to murder to stealing tea! There is also an original darkroom that may be the world's oldest in existence.

Why You Should Visit:
Any place that can boast having been a prison, a college, and a library, is worth the time.
Staff is really friendly and helpful, and the library a very nice place to relax – with free Wi-Fi.
The place is really interesting and the guided tour is worthy; you can learn about jails and a little bit about the history of Quebec.

Opening Hours:
[Administration] Mon-Fri: 9am-5pm
[Library] Tue: 12-8pm; Wed-Fri, Sun: 12-4pm; Sat: 10am-4pm
Jesuit Chapel (Chapelle des Jesuites)

16) Jesuit Chapel (Chapelle des Jesuites)

After having been banished by the British and then, in 1774, by the Pope himself, the Jesuit community was revived in 1814 and returned to Québec City in 1840. Since its college and church on Place de l'Hôtel-de-Ville were no longer available, they were welcomed by the Congregationists, a brotherhood founded by the Jesuit Ponert in 1657 with a view to propagating the cult of the Virgin. This group built the Chapelle des Jésuites.

François Baillairgé designed the plans for the church, which was completed in 1818 (though the facade was redone more than a century later). The decoration of the interior began with the construction of the counterfeit vaulting. Its centerpiece is wood-carver Pierre-Noël Levasseur's altar (1770), but features other points of interest such as the original stained glass windows, along with sculptures, paintings, and regular photo exhibitions.
Place d'Youville

17) Place d'Youville

Located in one of the city's busiest junctions, Place D’Youville – formerly an important market square – is now a bustling crossroads and cultural forum that marks the boundary between Old Quebec and the Quebec Parliament Hill. Redevelopment has given the square a large promenade area with several trees and benches, while a large kiosk hosts small shows and serves as a meeting spot. The counterscarp wall, part of the fortifications that were removed in the 19th century, has been highlighted by the use of black granite blocks. Starting in October, part of the square is covered in ice, much to the delight of skaters.

At the western end of the Place D’Youville stands Les Muses, a majestic bronze sculpture by Alfred Laliberté (1878-1953). The six muses represent music, oratory, poetry, architecture, sculpture and painting.
Artillery Park Heritage Site

18) Artillery Park Heritage Site

The position of the Parc de l'Artillerie, looking out over the west of the city and across the St. Charles River, has made it a strategic military site since the late 17th century. Four vastly different buildings trace the city's history from the French regime right up to the 1940s. Of the four buildings that make up the site, the Dauphine Redoubt is the most striking, with massive white supports that plunge down the side of a hill.

Built in 1712 and completed in 1748, it was army barracks both before and after the British conquest and eventually became the home of the superintendent. During the summer, characters in period costume bring the barracks to life with demonstrations and tours through the rooms, which have been decorated to reflect various periods in the building's evolution. On display is also a fascinating model of Québec City, built between 1795 and 1810 by military engineer Jean-Baptiste Duberger for strategic planning, making for an unparalleled source of information on the layout of the city in the years following the British conquest.

Why You Should Visit:
While walking around the park is itself an enjoyable activity, the museum is charming and well-presented.
With lots of billboards and displays, it is easy to understand and appreciate the history of the area.

Get the self-guided audio tour. It takes about 2 hrs to go through the entire complex, and you can pace yourself.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5pm (May 18-Nov 3)

Walking Tours in Quebec City, Quebec

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