Our first destination: Québec City, an enchanting 400-year old city with strong ties to its French heritage. It’s like traveling to Europe, without having to endure a transatlantic flight.
First Impressions Of Québec City
We stayed across the river and took the ferry from Lévis, crossing the St. Lawrence every morning to explore the historic section of Québec City. We love visiting cities by ferry (we’ve done the same in New Orleans and San Francisco). No traffic, no parking hassles, and arriving by water offers a panoramic introduction to the city.
Leaving the ferry landing and walking into Old Québec City reminded me of many European villages I’ve visited. Cobblestone streets. Historic architecture. Charming cafés. We loved it.
A Three Sentence History Of Québec City
Québec City was established as “New France” in 1608 by French explorer Samuel de Champlain. One hundred and fifty years later, the British gained control and British Canada was born. And then in 1867, Canada said “Enough!” and declared itself a self-governing country.
Throughout the centuries, Québec City and the province of Québec has held fast to its French roots, no matter who was in power. However, a VERY important distinction is that they consider themselves Québécois, not French. That means they are a unique mix of European and American cultures, and they do not want to lose their identity and be absorbed by the English-speaking majority of Canada.
From what we saw in Québec City, they’ve done a good job of maintaining their cultural uniqueness.
French is the mother tongue of eighty-percent of the population of Québec, it’s the first language people greet you with, and all signage is in French, often without English translations. As you can imagine, it can be a bit confusing. I tried to brush up on my college French before our trip.
I thought I was doing pretty well. But every time I would greet someone with “Bonjour! Comment ça va?” they would launch into a full-blown conversation way beyond my skill level, and I would suddenly be struck mute. At which point they would kindly say, “Ah, madame…do you prefer English?”
Any stories you may have heard about the rudeness of French native speakers to those of us who do not speak French…well, they’re not true. Everyone we met was friendly and seemed to appreciate our efforts to speak their language.
If you’re interacting with anyone in government or tourist industries, they transition easily between French and English. However, many other people (such as your neighbors at the campground) may only speak French. At that point, whatever French you can muster and Charades skills come in handy.
Québec, Québec, Québec?
Québec is a province in Canada, Québec City is the capital of Québec, and Old Québec is the historic part of the city. See? Easy. :-)
Old Québec is one of the oldest European cities in North America and is the only walled city north of Mexico. For these reasons, it’s been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We spent three days wandering the cobblestone streets, exploring the historic sites, and enjoying the cafés and restaurants. It’s a city made for walking.
You really can’t go wrong here. There’s something interesting to see around every corner.
Delving A Bit Deeper Into Québec History
To learn a bit more about Old Québec, we took part in several short tours offered by Parcs Canada (the Grand Tour Package). For a very reasonable $15 American, we learned more about the history of Québec City, including enjoying a proper afternoon tea with a British officer’s wife, just as it would have occurred during the British occupation of the city.
As we delved deeper into the history of Québec City, we learned how the French were able to retain their language, religion, and customs during the British reign. When Britain began having problems with the colonies in New England (which of course, became the United States), the government wanted to avoid a ripple effect farther north. The Québec Act in 1774 reinstated the peoples’ rights to French civil law, and they were allowed to freely practice Catholicism and to speak their language. The culture and language of Québec have evolved with the many influences they’ve been exposed to. Hence, they are uniquely Québécois (and very proud of it).
The park interpreters are engaging and knowledgeable, and if they’re playing the role of a historical figure, they don’t break character.
The Parliament Building
We made a brief visit to the Parliament Building, the seat of government for the province of Québec. I wish we had taken the time for a guided tour because although we were allowed to wander at will (after going through a security check), we would have gotten more out of our visit with some explanation of what we were seeing.
The bronze sculptures on the facade of the building have a lot of personality for statues. They’re all notable figures in Québec’s history—I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such expressive historic figures.
Click on any photo for a larger image
The Museum of Civilization
Along with meandering the streets of the city, we spent a half-day visiting the Musée de la Civilisation. This unusual museum is not a stuffy stuck-in-the-past collection, but instead explores a variety of cultural topics and contemporary issues. There’s a large exhibit on First Nation’s peoples called ‘This Is Our Story.’ Sadly, Canada was equally as bad as the U.S. in the treatment of the indigenous peoples. To their credit, they don’t shy away from the truth.
The museum also incorporates unique art in its offerings. We browsed a fascinating exhibit called ‘Self Shells,’ where the artist wrapped people in every item of clothing they own and photographed them as living sculptures. Her intention was to explore the identity we create through our clothing, as well as the issue of overconsumption (her subjects were ‘buried under their wardrobes’).
It made me think about all of the clothing we haul with us in our RV. It’s not much compared to what we had when we were living in our home, but still, it’s a lot. My justification is that we have to carry a four-season wardrobe, with clothing for all occasions. Here’s a tip: Roll your clothes. You can fit a lot more on the shelves in your rig, LOL.
Anyway, among hundreds of other items related to Québec culture at the Museum of Civilization, there’s a bronze of Queen Victoria’s head that was blown off of a statue by Québec separatists 40 years ago. Although it appears unlikely that Québec will ever secede from Canada, they don’t align themselves with the British monarchy, and they don’t consider themselves French. Another reminder that they are fiercely Québécois.
The Cuisine Of Québec
As intrigued as we were by the Québécois culture, we were not enthusiastic about poutine, which is one of their best-known traditional dishes. Basically, it’s french fries covered in cheese curds and gravy. Maybe it tastes okay, but it looks awful. Call me shallow, but I like pretty food.
Fortunately for us, we found many restaurants that emphasize ‘Boreal Cuisine.’ That’s the Québec approach to eating local, with chefs creating dishes from seafood and wild game, greens, berries, cheeses, buckwheat, and unusual ingredients like fir tips, sea buckthorn, and wild herbs. Three restaurants in three days, and three fantastic PRETTY lunches: Chez Boulay, Bistro L’Orygine, and Chez Rioux & Pettigrew.
About the RV Park
We stayed at the Québec City KOA, and we were happy with our choice. The staff was friendly, and we liked our site down the hill, away from the busyness of the front entrance. Full hookups, of course, and all of the amenities that you would expect from a KOA (but which we never partake of, except the laundry and internet).
There’s a shuttle from the campground into Québec City, but on the advice of the KOA staff, we drove into Lévi (6 miles) and took the ferry across the St. Lawrence. It was a GREAT way to visit the city…we did it three days in a row.
C’est enchanteur. Je veux y aller. It’s enchanting, and I want to go there. Thank you for the inspiration.
You’ll be glad to know that there’s now a food truck on Lopez featuring poutine. It’s called Poutine Your Mouth. I haven’t tried it, and have no intention on doing so, because the idea of the combination of the ingredients is repellant.
Sheila, it is enchanting! Je veux y aller avec toi! (I want to go with you!) I think you would really enjoy a trip to Quebec City.
Poutine on Lopez?! That is just wrong, wrong, wrong. I’m with you, it’s a terrible combination. Not pretty, and unhealthy to boot.
OH! I definitely want to be sure that we venture to Quebec City when we make our way to the far northeastern part of the US. We had hoped to do the Maritimes as well, but that may be a trip we have to do without the MoHo, since being away from home that long during the summer isn’t a good plan for us. This post about Quebec City really did pique my interest, though. Loved it!
Thanks, Sue! I think you and Mo would love visiting Québec City. It’s not anywhere near as far as heading way up into the Maritimes. We’re actually thinking of returning this fall if we’re in Vermont. :-) And I hope you’ll get to the Maritimes even if you don’t take your RV, because I know you’ll love it.
My husband hates to fly and has no desire to visit France, so going to Quebec City sounds like the perfect solution. I was born in Ottawa and my father was in the Canadian Army (Blackwatch Regiment), so I have several reasons for visiting Canada. I only took two years of French (in high school), but I am constantly amazed that I can still read quite a bit (I discovered this while reading Louise Penny’s Three Pines books). However, I would be hard pressed to ask for direction or the time of day. Having lived in San Diego for 20 years, my verbal skills lean more toward Spanish.
I love the idea of taking a ferry into the city rather than battle the traffic and parking! Brilliant! Love the umbrellas hanging above the road. I saw that in Passau, Germany and thought it was such a lovely sight!
Adding this post to my list to reference for future travels.
De rien! I’m so happy you enjoyed the post, Les. I agree with your husband—I don’t enjoy flying at all. So it’s fun that we were able to visit a very “European” city in our RV. And even better is that we could take the ferry into the city. You must go since you were born in Canada!
I’ve also found that I can read French much better than I can speak it. It must be because when I’m reading I can understand the context, even if I don’t understand all of the words. When someone starts speaking to me in French—unless they speak slowly and use simple words—I quickly get lost.
I really love the idea of taking a ferry into the city. We always find it a hassle to locate appropriate parking for our big truck in cities, and presumably that would be even harder in a historic city like Quebec.
I am impressed at your efforts to brush up on your French. I have to admit that we would rely completely on the fact that most people there are bilingual, since the only French we can read is names of different wines and cheeses (priorities, right?). But in addition to attempting to speak French I liked that you really delved into the regional history. I personally know very little about Canadian history even though it overlaps quite a bit with American history, and I am sure the explanation for the ongoing strength of the French community and culture after the British took over Canada is a fascinating story. Someday we will get there to check it out ourselves!
Shannon, taking the ferry into the city was fabulous! As you said, it’s such a pain to find parking in cities with a big truck, and it’s also often expensive. We have the added problem of our bikes and kayak on top of our truck, which means we can’t fit into parking garages.
Your question about the history of Québec is a good one. I’m never sure how much to include in my posts, because I think most people go to sleep during the history lesson, LOL. Anyway, it’s fascinating that Québec has been able to maintain ties to its French heritage. From what I understand, when Britain began having problems with the colonies in New England (which of course, became the United States), the government wanted to avoid a ripple effect farther north. The Québec Act in 1774 reinstated their rights to French civil law, and they were allowed to freely practice Catholicism and speak their language. The culture and language of Québec have evolved with the many influences they’ve been exposed to. (As a result of your question, I edited my post to include this info. :-))
Thanks for this lovely post about a lovely city. We were there in the fall, and even though the weather was cold and damp, we still had a great time. Your photos make me want to go back in summer!
Thank you, Janie! Your photos of Québec City in the fall are beautiful. We’re actually thinking of revisiting this fall if we stay on the east coast for another year. Your post gave me some good ideas for places to go when we return. Hope you and Russ are enjoying the holidays!
Ah, mon petit chou. The architecture of historic Quebec looks beautiful, and I would happily explore that with you, but if you’re not going to look at my poutine, I ain’t looking at that fishy buckwheat tower! Haha, I said “look at my poutine,” that sounds tres naughty.
The clothing exhibit reminds me of the Friends episode in which Joey puts on all of Chandler’s clothes. Mes amis vetements!
I always like your method of staying a bit further outside a city and using trains or ferries etc. to access them. It adds another dimension to your adventures, and I know it makes the overall experience much less stressful.
Bonsoir, mon cheri!
Mon Dieu! I had no idea that you are so skilled in French!! Can we entice you guys into visiting Québec City with us? You would enjoy all of the city hiking. It’s a great workout up and down the steep hills, and the scenery is beautiful. And we could pop into a café for a lovely meal. But a big ‘no’ to the poutine. (And yes, that did sound trés naughty, LOL.)
We love our city adventures, and staying outside of the city and visiting by ferry or train is perfect for us. One of these days, Joodie, we will lure you into a city…and you will have FUN, mon cher ami! :-)
What beautiful architecture. Looks like a lovely city.
Ingrid, it is a gorgeous city—you would love being there with your camera!
I love the idea of visiting a European style city without the transatlantic fight! Looks like an awesome visit.
Lisa, we had such a great time in Québec City—it truly does feel like many European villages I’ve visited. I would like to return to Europe, but I’m not enthusiastic about flying. I’m thinking of taking the Queen Mary, LOL. Meanwhile, this gave us a great taste of Europe in the comfort of our RV!
We first visited the city in 2006 and then again in 2014 and again in 2017 always
a beautiful and fascinating city. We have always found something new to see each
time. So happy you were able to visit there and enjoyed it too.
Wow, Penny—I didn’t realize that you and Tom have been to Québec City three times! I need to talk with you to find out what your favorite things were there. We would love to return. It really does feel like a European village, doesn’t it? I’m happy to hear from you. :-)
Oh Laurel each visit was different. All of our visits were off of cruises, the first a
Holland America, where we just walked the city on our own. The second was a Regency our 50th Anniversary and we were not in the city much but took a
Bus to a famous canyon on the outskirts of the city, now can’t remember the
name and then went through a couple of wineries. The last time on a Viking
Cruise from Bergen, Norway and we basically took a city bus tour. But it has
always been one of our favorite cities. We have never been great at taking pictures
and I think the 2006 cruise had the most pictures which of course we no longer
have. Just glad you really enjoyed your visit there. A very interesting city.
Penny, I would love to return to Québec City! It’s very cool that you’ve been three times. We might be returning this fall. Come meet us there! :-)
Wow! Your pictures make me want to head there right this minute (even though it’s probably freezing cold)! What a lovely city – pedestrian friendly, stunningly beautiful, and full of character. The one thing I’d always been concerned about was the rumor about locals being unfriendly toward those who do not speak French. I am very happy to hear that those rumors are untrue. Your photos remind me of our visits to other old European cities where we’d just wander the neighborhoods, getting lost, and seeing what was there. How incredibly appealing!
And thanks for the tip on the ferry and campground. Both sound like a great way to visit for us RVers.
Finally, I am with you on the poutine not looking like much, however, I must say: that stuff is delicious!! I usually don’t even like dishes like that, but hell if it isn’t tasty! LOL! You should at least try it… that’s all I’m saying!! :)
Laura, if you enjoy wandering in European villages, you will love wandering in Québec City. That’s our favorite way to explore a city—we have some things that we want to see, and then we just take off with no agenda.
We encountered nothing but friendly locals, including fellow French-speaking travelers. I think it helped that we made an attempt to speak French—I mean, after all, we’re in a French-speaking province, why should we expect them to speak English, right? Even simple greetings and saying ‘Merci’ goes a long way toward establishing a friendly exchange.
We loved taking the ferry into the city. Not only is it a beautiful way to approach the city, but it’s so easy! Oh, and as much as I trust your excellent culinary recommendations, you can have my share of poutine, haha!
Thanks for a tour of a city I know we will never visit. Good to know the people have changed some. Thirty five years ago we camped in Montreal with the kids. Needless to say, we left after just s couple days. The people were very rude and had no desire to understand us. It was basically French or leave. Staying on one side of the St. Lawrence and taking the ferry sounds like the way to go. Looks like you didn’t take your bikes, though. We love having our bikes in a city. I love the street with all the umbrellas.
Pam, I’m so sorry you had a bad experience in Montreal. Perhaps things have changed in the last 35 years? We had only positive encounters in Québec City. And we’re planning to visit Montreal (hopefully this fall) so we’ll have more to report after that.
We love biking, but it depends on where we are. Québec City was much better for walking than biking—there are some seriously steep hills! Eric biked on a trail outside of the city for a couple of hours one day while I walked around and explored, but he said I wouldn’t have liked it because it was just riding along a busy road (even though there was a bike path).
We do often bike in cities when there is a dedicated bike path—Eugene, Boise, Austin, or Madison come to mind. And we love that!
Hmm, did you know that there is a big hole in our map? And that is Quebec that we missed! but will never be missed. So glad you toured it for us and so glad you found them friendly. We did not have a good experience with any of them! So you may have your Quebec friends. It seems to me too that they are not well-liked by their fellow Canadians :)
And I thought you guys had been just about everywhere, Mona Liza! I’m so sorry that you have had negative experiences with people from Québec. I wonder how much of it might be misunderstandings because of language, or just cultural differences? Still, I’m sorry if you were treated unkindly.
From what I’ve read and heard, there has been some tension at times between the English and French Canadians, perhaps because in the past there was talk of Québec seceding from Canada. I think the people want to hold on to their French/Québécois culture and language, and really do not want to be absorbed by the much larger English speaking population.
Anyway, our experience was wonderful, and we want to return!
Another great post! Thank you so much for writing it. We have studied it and have marked it as a ‘go to’ place when we are east of the Mississippi again. Happy Trails!
Thank you, Susan. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and have it on your list for a future adventure. I think you will find a lot to enjoy in Québec City!
We enjoyed our brief visit to Quebec years ago. You’ve done it justice with this post. We never really had any difficulty with the French being surly (even in France!) Most often, it’s a case of culture clash not language. We had our son with us and he spoke high school french. The people we encountered couldn’t have been nicer with his struggles to communicate!
I loved your photos, the suspended umbrellas, the fabulous mural, the food, etc. We probably won’t be back there again, so this post gives us another little taste!
I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, Sue. And I’m glad to hear that you also had a good experience with the locals in Québec! Like you, I also had a wonderful experience in France.
I agree with you that when there are perceived problems, it’s probably a case of culture clash and not the fact that we are not fluent in French. I love knowing that the locals encouraged Jesse in his efforts to speak their language. They did the same for me. :-))
Thanks for your appreciation of our photos. We had a fabulous time…I can’t wait to return!
We found both France and Quebec welcoming when we visited. But most of the time we are clueless with our heads in the clouds. Such a pretty place. We have tried to get to Quebec City twice and got sick twice and had to cancel. Maybe 3rd time will be the charm.
Haha, well, maybe clueless is good, Deb! Although honestly, we experienced nothing but kindness from everyone we met in Québec City. They definitely wanted us to know that they are proud to be Québécois, but they never made us feel bad for not speaking fluent French. When you guys try again (and I’m sure you will) I bet you will love it there.
Love your header picture. What a beauty! Ferry over sounds wonderful. Love the walled city. It really does seem so European. Why did we never do something so cool over here? As you know, I’m not much of a city person but Quebec looks amazing from your fantastic pictures. No picture of the not so appealing sounding poutine? But I guess you didn’t try it just based on its look. Too bad you didn’t have David with you. He for sure would have given it a try and rendered a first hand verdict and the possibility of a picture. Perhaps I just need to go sightseeing with you to convert me to visiting cities. You seem to find great things everywhere you go.
Sherry, I know you’re not much for cities, but we did have fun with you in St. Augustine! (Not a big city, granted…but still!) You’re right, David would have been the perfect person to try out the poutine and report back. I hope we get to see more of you in Florida. :-)
We were there as part of a trip to New England, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec. Loved everything about it, even crazy big Montreal. We also took the ferry to Quebec City….definitely the best way to go. We found that if we started conversations with locals with “we’re sorry, but we don’t speak French”, that they were very friendly and appreciated that we knew that they did! Love reading about your travels.
Thank you, Joan! Your trip sounds fabulous…and very much like our travels this summer and fall. Quebec City was our first stop in Canada as we headed to the Maritimes. Montreal is still on our list of places to visit! I’m glad to hear that you also had a good experience with the friendly French-speaking locals.
Ah it looks so very quaint and charming! We have been to Montreal, which we both loved but not yet Quebec city. I guess that as long as one does not go in the Winter, which I believe is pretty intense.
Ah the French. Even in France I found almost everyone I encountered on all the trips I have taken to be very friendly and helpful. And yes, always appreciative of any effort to speak their language.
As far as poutine, I agree, “yuck”! The other cuisine you found, now that sounds really good. I also agree that food starts with the visuals. Taste is important, but so is the look of the food, the colors, it has to entice me to take a bite via the visuals.
Love your photos and enjoyed having a little taste of Quebec City via your blog!
Peta, we loved Québec City! I’m so glad you enjoyed the blog…you’ve traveled so extensively that it’s fun for me to take you somewhere you haven’t yet been.
We would love to return, and we’re also looking forward to visiting Montreal. I’m going to continue practicing my French, in hopes that I’ll do better next time around. I need to live in a French-speaking country to ever really get good at the language, though. Or I need a French-speaking husband, LOL!
Great post!! Thanks for all the wonderful pics and historic tidbits about our unique northern neighbors. Love the quaint little streets and shops – and definitely would love that museum. Bill’s family is French and we’d both love to venture into Quebec someday.
Jodee, I didn’t realize that Bill’s family is French! You really must visit Québec City, then. It’s a fascinating and beautiful little city. And yes, you would enjoy the museum.