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Steeped in Canadian history and French culture: Quebec City as a port destination

Quebec City

Few cities in the world can compete with the beauty, history, and sheer impressiveness of Quebec City.

By Amy Hogue

If you are looking for an interesting destination for a weekend trip or longer, Quebec City will deliver. Located on the shores of the St. Lawrence River, this Francophone city is a prime boating destination with unique boating conditions, a vibrant waterfront scene, and excellent food, drink and culture.

This is a spot that’s ideal for someone who is into Canadian history or who loves European architecture. Quebec City is home to the most intact fortified city north of Mexico and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Historic District of Old Quebec is complete with quaint cobblestone streets and boutique shops.

This sprawling historic city dates back to the early 1600s and as one might expect with a 400-year-old city located on an important transportation and shipping route, Quebec played a key role in Canadian history as a highly coveted defensible position.

Naturally, the St. Lawrence River had a constant tactical influence as the city grew from a small settlement carved from the woods to the site of the famous Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759, and guarded by the Citadelle de Quebec, the oldest military building in Canada. Something you don’t see every day are the walls that completely encircle the historic district of Old Quebec, some of which are visible from the water.

Saint-Pierre-de-L'ile-d'Orleans-BridgeA view overlooking the Saint-Pierre-de-l’Ile-d’Orleans Bridge that leads to l’Ile d’Orleans. The Montmorency Waterfall is located just east of the bridge. The tidal current can make it challenging to navigate beneath the bridge, depending on the size of your boat.

Above the city, the famous Le Chateau Frontenac towers over the winding streets of Old Quebec, and has its own stories to tell of Princesses, Canadian musical icons, and historic meetings between world leaders. The hotel is a pleasant place to work off your “sea legs” and sleep in luxury in the heart of Old Quebec.

Quebec City may have once been a city of great military relevance, but today it is a vibrant waterfront community bustling with culture and entertainment, layered with history and architecture. Boaters should plan on spending at least a few days here to see the sights and get a true sense of the Quebec culture. Note, if you don’t speak French, don’t worry, most locations are bilingual.

Tidal currents make for interesting boating

The St. Lawrence River is well known for the unique boating conditions it offers at varying points of the waterway. Northeast of Quebec City at Tadoussac is where the salt-waters of the Gulf of the St. Lawrence mingle with the fresh river water to create brackish water and rapidly changing weather conditions.

St. Lawrence RiverThe St. Lawrence River at Quebec City is a playground for every type of boat, from shipping freighters to sea-doos, there is plenty of traffic here.

Tidal currents on the St. Lawrence extend from Tadoussac all the way to the city of Quebec, where the strong ebb and flood currents make boating interesting, to say the least.

At Quebec City, the St. Lawrence splits around the large island, l’Ile d’Orleans (which also makes for a pleasant destination). On the north side of the island, the Chenal de l’Ile d’Orleans runs north-east for roughly 30-kilometres, while the St. Lawrence itself continues south-east of the island. Pay attention to the buoyed channel in this area where the river splits.

In and around Quebec City, there are fairly rapid tidal currents of up to seven knots. This can cause problems for sailboats and smaller watercraft who must time their travels carefully to coincide with tide levels.

When sailing or cruising these waters, be prepared to share the water with a multitude of sailboats, motorboats, and freighters. Don’t be tempted to deviate from the shipping lane – the river may be roughly half-a-mile wide here, but without closely watching your charts you could find yourself in trouble.

In particular, it’s recommended to be careful when navigating beneath the three bridges that cross the St. Lawrence at Quebec City. North-east of the city is Saint-Pierre-de-l’Ile-d’Orleans, (spanning between the mainland and the l’Ile d’Orleans), which is known for creating challenging currents and cross-currents. 

Exploring Old Quebec (tip: bring your walking shoes)

Old QuebecSo many great spots for photos in Old Quebec! This view is one of the most photographed of this area.

When visiting Quebec by boat, you will appreciate having two marinas within walking or cycling distance of the city, where you can pop out to explore at your leisure. You’ll want to bring some comfortable footwear because if there’s one thing you’ll do a lot of in Quebec, it’s walking! As with most harbour towns, the city is almost all uphill from the water, which gives your legs a nice chance for a workout after being confined to your boat. 

There are several marinas in and around Quebec City, any of which would make for a great place to serve as your home base while you explore the area. Lying at the foot of the fortified area, the Old Port (Vieux Port) is a boater’s dream location to moor for the night or longer. 

Quebec Yacht ClubThe Quebec Yacht Club is located just west of the city but is easily accessible by bike or even on foot.

This area is home to a marina with more than 400 slips, a cruise ship terminal, and numerous shops and restaurants, all within walking distance of the water. If you love being in the thick of it all, this is the perfect place to moor and explore the region. 

The Quebec Yacht Club lies about four kilometres south-west of Old Quebec with full facilities, including fuel. Don’t be dissuaded by the distance from the city, that just means you may be more assured of a restful night’s sleep.  

No matter where you tie up for the night, you’ll want to take your time visiting Old Quebec and wandering its cobblestone streets lined with European-esque boutique shops and cozy cafes and pubs. Here you’ll find a culture that loves good food and drink, and the ‘joie de vivre’ Quebecers are known for. The walls that encircle this fortified area aren’t always obvious, but make sure you visit each of the gates that form the points of entry here. 

Getting around in town is easy if you carry your own bicycle on board, but you can also rent one from numerous shops in and around the city. The Promenade de Champlain is a lengthy cycling path that runs parallel to the water and makes for a pleasant bike ride for leisure, or to reach various shoreline points of interest.  

Exploring Quebec City

Louise TaverneThe patio at Louise Taverne is always bustling – the prime location near the Old Port area and waterfront pairs well with Francophone cuisine.

1. Dine at Louise Taverne & Bar a Vin

Named for Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter, Princess Louise, this chic restaurant is only feet away from the Old Port and marina and is the perfect spot for an impromptu lunch or dinner after a day exploring the city. The restaurant offers hearty dishes inspired by French cuisine with a unique Quebecois twist that mirrors the warmth and energy of the restaurant’s namesake. Their menu changes frequently based on what’s in season, but is always delicious. 

The Battlements

 

From the battlement is phenomenal and worth the trip.

2. Visit the Citadelle du Quebec

Home to the Governor General’s residence, the Citadelle is the largest British fortress in North America. Even if you have visited similar military forts in the past, this one is worth a visit. The view from the battlement is phenomenal and worth the trip.

3. Tour the Terrasse Dufferin

Old Quebec

 

 

Art and artisans are everywhere in Old Quebec. Bring your pocketbook with you.

The Dufferin Terrace is essentially a long boardwalk that borders the south side of Le Chateau Frontenac with a fantastic view of the St. Lawrence. This walkway is more than what it seems – three glass domes found along the walkway overlook an underground kitchen that once belonged to the original Governor General’s residence that was located here for over 200 years. This museum is worth a tour to get a different perspective of what life was like 400 years ago.

 

 

4. View Montmorency Falls

If you think you’ve seen some awesome waterfalls, prepare to be surprised by Montmorency Falls. The falls can easily be seen from the water, but care should be taken in and around the bridge due to changes in currents. These falls are 150-feet taller than Niagara Falls! 

5. Take the Funiculaire 

If your legs aren’t feeling like a workout, but you still want to explore Quebec City from every vantage point, take the Funiculaire, a local attraction that’s fun, too. This vertical lift takes you up the cliff face at a 45-degree angle and straight to the Terrasse Dufferin and the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac. Then you can explore downhill rather than uphill. Your legs will thank you.

6. Stay at the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac

Fairmont Le Château FrontenacThe Fairmont Le Château Frontenac is an imposing sight at night in Old Quebec.

This historic “chateau” is over 100 years old and was once the highest spot in Quebec, and still towers over the historic city to this day. Having gone through many renovations and additions over the years, the hotel remains true to its heritage and historical roots. It has been beautifully maintained and is worth a visit if only to stroll through the period rooms and specifically beneath the 400-kilogram sculpture of the St. Lawrence River that hangs on the lobby floor.

While you’re here, take the chance to dine at the famous Champlain Restaurant for fine dining, or in a more relaxed atmosphere at Le Sam Bistro.   

 

7. Take a guided tour (double decker)

Nothing will give you better insight into Old Quebec than a guided tour with Old Quebec Tours on the top level of a double-decker bus. At one hour, these tours are short but sweet. 

A view of Bassin Louise and the marina located here in the Old Port area. This is a great place to
moor your boat since it’s just a short walk to the heart of Old Quebec.

Bassin Louise

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