If you’re jonesing for a taste of Paris but the long flight and even longer credit card bill are holding you back, Québec City is a slice of the continent that embraces your family while taking it easy on your bank account.
Canada’s oldest city offers the charming cobbles, winding streets, and boutique hotels that you’d expect in Europe, with the extra-added bonus of having lots to do outdoors as well as in. Don’t bother crossing the pond for your hit of French culture, pack up les enfants and head North instead.
1. The small and winding roads
The streets of the old city (Vieux Québec) demand to be explored. Every turn is postcard-perfect with centuries-old stone buildings standing on equally ancient cobblestones.
There’s no shortage of cannons to climb or fountains to wish upon, but when your feet (or your kids) tire of hoofing it, don’t deny yourselves the pleasure of a horse-drawn carriage ride. The horses (and their hooves) are well-looked after, and the hour-long ride subs as a mini-history lesson and is well worth the money.
2. Putting the “fun” in funicular
You can’t tour the globe with your grandparents in it, but for less than $2, this outdoor glass elevator can save you a trip either up or down L’Escalier Casse-Cou (literal translation: Breakneck Stairs) connecting the Upper Town with the Lower Town. Going down is freakier, but the ride up might be necessary if you’ve been wandering around the Vieux Port and Quartier Petit Champlain for a while. Travel strollers welcome if they fold.
3. Learning in disguise
The Musée de la Civilisation de Québec has a good mix of permanent and temporary interactive exhibits that aren’t too big or overwhelming. Dress up in costume and pretend to live in France during the middle ages. Oh, your kids can do that too.
Then, hop over to the Aquarium du Québec. On the banks of the St. Lawrence you can check out fresh- and salt-water fish, reptiles and amphibians, as well as walruses, seals and polar bears. The Harbor seals put on a show, which was a highlight for the little pup with us as well as for the older kids in attendance, but likely for a different reason. Seal in French is phoque, and the trainer says it a lot.
4. Romp and explore outdoors
Québec City is clean and green and with so many outdoor attractions, it would be a shame to stay inside. The Plains of Abraham demand to be frolicked on; pack a pique-nique, rent some bikes (and helmets!) and make an afternoon of exploring the Promenade Samuel de Champlain along the St. Lawrence River; at Parc de la Chute-Montmorency, hike up and then cross the bridge spanning waterfalls that are 30 metres higher than Niagara Falls.
5. Rhymes with cuisine
The French Canadians know their way around comfort food like no other –pea soup, sugar pie, tourtière, Montreal bagels are second to none (sorry New York), but la pièce de résistance has to be poutine. Take French fries, add cheese curds, cover with brown gravy, enjoy. Your arteries may not thank you but if you treat yourselves for lunch one day, your kids certainly will.
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