With a history spanning more than 400 years, Québec City is one of the oldest settlements in North America. And it has the cobblestones to prove it!
Nestled against the banks of the St. Lawrence River, the eponymous capital of the province of Québec is famous for being the most European city in North America. Here are some hidden gems you might want to check out while you’re in town.
Wolfe’s Cove Tunnel
Canada was once a destination of the underground railroad, which smuggled slaves from the Antebellum South to freedom in the north. But there’s a literal underground railroad running about three hundred feet beneath the streets of Québec City.
Wolfe’s Cove Tunnel is an 1,800-foot underground passage first excavated by Canadian Pacific Railways in 1930. Built to shuttle raw materials from inland to ships on the St. Lawrence seaway, the tunnel runs between Belvedere Avenue and the historic Plains of Abraham on the coast.
You could explore this catacomb by foot, but should you?
Probably not. Although the majority of shipping moved down the coast to Montréal back in the 50s, three or four trains still pass through Wolfe’s Cove every week — and you don’t want to be in the tunnel when that happens!
The Murals of Québec City
In recent years, a number of giant murals have sprouted up across Québec City, paying tribute to the city’s history and heroes. Since 1999, about 20 such works have appeared, becoming an integral part of the city they were designed to celebrate.
Each mural focuses on a different aspect of Québec’s history, done up in trompe-l’oeil style guaranteed to catch your attention from blocks away. (I guess this is as good a time as any to brush up on some French: trompe-l’oeil means “deceive the eye.”)
The Morrin Centre
Obviously, the odd French phase won’t go amiss in Québec City. But there’s English-speaking heritage here as well.
The Morrin Centre began its life in 1712 as an army barracks. A century later, it was repurposed into the city’s only jail, overcrowded and inhumane even by lax 19th century standards. In 1868, it was re-repurposed as an English-language college.
Today, the Morrin Centre pays homage to its past as Québec City’s only English library, housing a collection of stories about former inmates and over 25,000 other books.
The Centre’s violent history is perhaps fitting, considering the acrimony that has too often blackened relations between Canada’s English and French-speaking populations.
Visit North America’s Oldest Grocery Store
J.A. Moisan Épicerie is North America’s oldest grocery store, opening its doors in 1871. It’s still open for business today, bursting with rare and artisanal items. From the locally-produced mustards and jams to the playlist — straight out of the 1920s and 30s — Moisan is a delicious blast from the past.
Old Québec Funicular
A funicular is a rail car that carries passengers up (and down) a hill using a pulley system. And Québec City puts the fun in funicular.
The Old City is split in two by an escarpment: Haute-Ville (“Upper Town”) on top of the hill, and Basse-Ville (“Lower Town”) below. In older days, the steep incline in the land made it an ordeal to travel between the two sides of town. Hence the funicular.
Although it was built way back in 1879, don’t be alarmed: its mechanisms have been modernized. The funicular may be an old-timey mode of transportation with a funny name, but it’s safe. And it still offers passengers a commanding view of the Basse-Ville and the St. Lawrence, wending its way inexorably to the sea.
Take a Walk Down Quartier Petit Champlain
Although it may be more on the touristy side, the Quartier Petit Champlain is a perfect embodiment of Québec City, and it should definitely be on your list — especially if you’re a first-time visitor.
This cute village at the foot of the Château Frontenac is like the backdrop of a fairytale. The immaculately preserved buildings and cobblestone streets evoke the city’s Old World roots, while the theatres, boutiques, and bistros provide the finest quality the 21st century has to offer.
Wherever you go, whatever you choose to explore in Québec City, you certainly can’t go wrong with a trip to the oldest commercial district in North America.
Looking for more fun things to do while you’re in town? We’ve got more for you. Check out Châteaus & Igloos: 7 Unique Things To Do In Québec City. P.S. Many of you can already check #1 off your list…find out why!
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