SUMMER TRAVEL 2022 – The capital of the province of Quebec is known by many superlatives: a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the only walled city in the Americas north of Mexico, the closest experience to Europe on this continent.
It’s also only a six-hour drive from the Capital Region, about the same as Baltimore or Washington, and the U.S. dollar is trading with the Canadian dollar at one of the most favorable exchange rates in the past 16 years.
Quebec City was the last road trip my wife and I took before our son was born, which colors my impression of it.
With pregnancy slowing our progress, we didn’t see as much of the city as we might have. But our slower pace allowed the atmosphere to sink in a little more.
I was enthralled with the Old City, a few pieces of which date to the 1600s. It’s one of those walkable places that just pleases the eye and captures the imagination.
Outside, a passing storm had left the autumn air crystal clear and chilly with the promise of winter. The shops were warm and the restaurants were great.
It can be crowded with tourists, and driving is a challenge on some streets. So park the car and don’t be in a rush.
I never felt any language barrier; most people speak some English. In my experience, the farther away from the cities you travel, the fewer English speakers you’ll find.
But even there, communication is possible, especially with courtesy and patience. Nobody likes the Ugly American, not even their fellow Americans.
The city of more than 500,000 people is rated as a safe, low-crime place.
THINGS TO DO
You can spend your entire visit in the Old City, as I did, or branch out a bit. Here are some ideas:
Old Quebec: The old portion of the city is dotted with narrow cobblestone streets, some of which are closed to vehicles in the summer. The old buildings date to various eras but collectively preserve history well enough to have earned a World Heritage Site designation.
Churches: Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica-Cathedral (1674) is the oldest church in Canada and was the first Catholic parish north of Mexico. The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity was the first Anglican cathedral built outside the British Isles. Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré is a basilica standing on the oldest pilgrimage site in North America, just east of Quebec City.
Food: Quebec City is a gastronome’s delight, and not just for the traditional Quebecois specialties.
Flowers: The city will host a mosaiculture exhibition for the first time this summer: More than 6 million plants formed into 200 sculptures in 20 larger-than-life scenes will fill Parc du Bois-de-Coulonge from June 24 to Oct. 10.
First nations: When we speak of the rich history of Quebec City, it’s generally in the context of Europeans and their descendants. There is of course an aboriginal culture that far predates the arrival of Europeans. The history and heritage of the Wendat people are preserved at the Huron-Wendat Museum. Craft workshops and restaurants are nearby.
Mobility: The public bike-share fleet is scheduled to be expanded in 2022 with installation of 400 e-bikes at 40 stations.
Water: Montmorency Falls is 272 feet high, nearly 100 feet taller than Niagara Falls. It’s heavily outfitted for visitors, with features ranging from sedate (boardwalk) to adrenalizing (zip line). A new semi-submerged walkway floating across the foot of the waterfall is scheduled to open this year.
Marine life: The Aquarium du Quebec has a new immersive experience feature this year, putting visitors at eye level with some of the marine creatures on display there.
Wartime history: The Plains of Abraham is a large park on the site of the 1759 Battle of Quebec, in which the French lost the city to the British. The British subsequently built the Citadelle de Quebec nearby, their largest fortress in North America. It’s now a museum and heritage site.
Rural charm: Just east of Quebec City is Ile d’Orléans, a 75-square-mile island in the St. Lawrence River. It’s an agricultural zone dotted with artisans and purveyors of local foodstuffs. A handful of pretty villages stand along the two-lane road that rings the island.
Whale watching: The St. Lawrence River is famous as a summer feeding ground for up to 13 species of whale, including the largest of all, the blue whale. They congregate farther downstream from Quebec City, though. The best bet for seeing them is a 120-mile side trip to Tadoussac. A whale-watching fleet is centered there, near the mouth of the Saguenay Fjord.
COVID AND GAS
As this story was written, COVID was a factor in any travel plans involving Quebec. Whether it’s a significant factor depends on a traveler’s health and mindset.
The details as of mid-May:
The rate of new infections per-capita in Quebec is less than in upstate New York, but the U.S. still designates Canada as a high-incidence nation.
To enter Canada from the United States, travelers must be fully vaccinated, have proof of vaccination and submit that proof (and their travel plans) through the ArriveCAN portal online, either on the web or through the digital app.
Unvaccinated children are allowed to accompany parents but must test negative.
If all this seems too tentative, wait a month or two to see how the situation stabilizes.
Everything written here will still be valid then. Perhaps fuel will be cheaper, too.
As of mid-May, gasoline costs an arm and a leg in Quebec, roughly 45% more than the record-high prices in New York, but Quebec City is close enough to the border that you can fill up before crossing and not need a refill before returning.