Twenty reasons to visit Quebec City
The world's most photographed hotel ... Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac.
1 Snap Le Chateau
Paris might have the Eiffel Tower but Quebec City has its own postcard icon in Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac. Known as "the world's most photographed hotel", the multi-turreted sentinel looms over North America's only walled city. Drop in to its Bar St-Laurent for a signature martini (the Winston Churchill is gin with a splash of Scotch), then flop into a window seat to enjoy your cocktail along with mesmerising views over the St Lawrence River. fairmont.com/Frontenac.
2 Ride the river ferry
Cheap adventure ... the St Lawrence River ferry. Photo: Getty Images
Where's the best place to photograph that famous hotel? The answer is from the St Lawrence itself. The commuter ferry traversing the kilometre-wide expanse is one of the cheapest adventures you can have, a one-way ride costing $C3.10 ($3). Go at dusk to catch the hotel in the soft light of sunset; return as the lights come on and sparkle off the water. traversiers.gouv.qc.ca.
3 Feast on French fare
When Paul McCartney played Quebec City in 2008, he and his band headed to Restaurant le Saint-Amour for dinner. The best tables are in the atrium decorated with mirrors, red velvet chairs, painted woodwork and miniature lamps. Start with the signature foie gras (as a terrine, seared or served five artisan ways), move on to red deer, sea scallops or confit squab legs stuffed with foie gras, and finish with a flourish - as in pistachio and wild blueberry brulee with marshmallow flambe. saint-amour.com.
The Quebec Winter Carnival dog sled race. Photo: Reuters
4 Sledding for big kids
Ride the epic 82-metre-high ice slide - Les Glissades de la Terrasse - built 200 metres from Le Chateau Frontenac each winter. Cart a rope-handled wooden toboggan from the bottom and then scream towards the gravel pit that acts as a brake (toboggans can reach speeds of 90km/h). Want to up the rush? Join G-forces with a couple of strangers (three can fit on a sled in a pinch) to go faster. Even though the slide is positioned next to the St Lawrence, don't expect much time to admire the view on the way down.
5 Take your leave on VIA Rail
Chilly ... the Hotel de Glace (Ice Hotel). Photo: Canadian Tourism Commission
When you leave, chug out of Quebec City to Montreal in high style. VIA Rail's first-class carriage serves a tasty breakfast (ham skillet or the healthier half-grapefruit with yoghurt and low-fat cranberry granola) and there's a drinks service when the hour is appropriate. Peer into suburban backyards and bucolic open fields between checking emails - there's also excellent wi-fi on board. viarail.ca.
6 Ice Hotel
From early January to late March, tour the Hotel de Glace (Ice Hotel), built afresh each year about 10 minutes' drive from downtown. There are regular daily tours through the complex's individually themed suites - it will give you a taste of what it's like to spend the night in one. There's also an ice slide on the grounds - wear your waterproof long pants if you'd like to ride it. Stop by the bar to sip ice cider, maple cider or apple cream from a tumbler carved from, you guessed it, ice. hoteldeglace-canada.com.
Parliament Building at dusk, Quebec City. Photo: Getty Images
7 Celebrate the big freeze
Rule one for attending Carnaval de Quebec: dress warmly. Temperatures during the winter festival, which runs from late January to mid-February, can plunge into the minus 20 degrees range. Rule two: get ready to have the time of your life. The Plains of Abraham become a gigantic winter playground where you whoosh down the slopes on inflatable tubes and full-size rafts, mush a team of huskies around a circuit or strip down to your cossie - while keeping the beanie on - to soak in an outdoor hot tub. carnaval.qc.ca; latulippe.com for winter gear.
8 Hop the gourmet train
Looking north on Rue Sous-le-Fort toward the Funiculaire du Vieux-Quebec. Photo: Getty Images
Cirque du Soleil co-founder Daniel Gauthier is the brains behind Le Massif de Charlevoix's train. The gourmet train travels 140 kilometres from Quebec City's outskirts along the St Lawrence's banks to the Charlevoix - a region famed for food, geology (it sprawls over an ancient meteor crater) and the best skiing in eastern Canada. The winter train travels between February and April; the summer train from May to October. If Le Massif's slopes don't appeal, head to Baie-Saint-Paul's Restaurant le Saint-Pub - a microbrewery serving up the world's tastiest mussels. Or visit the Famille Migneron fromagerie for Le Secret de Maurice - a sheep's milk cheese whose centre remains miraculously runny no matter what the temperature. lemassif.com.
9 Get arty
The Musee National des Beaux-Arts du Quebec occupies an enviable location, with views over the St Lawrence and the surrounding Plains of Abraham. Its architecture is also alluringly off-beat: until 1991 the gallery was confined to the neoclassical Gerard-Morisset building but expanded, via a glass-walled Grand Hall link, into the neighbouring building - formerly the Quebec City prison. A new pavilion, designed by Pritzker prize-winning architect Rem Koolhaas, is scheduled to be unveiled next year. mnba.qc.ca.
10 Legislate this
Wander beyond Old Quebec's walls to the Parliament Building - its architecture was inspired by the Louvre in Paris. Embedded within the grand 19th-century facade are 22 bronze statues of key figures from Quebec's history, including city founder Samuel de Champlain. Take a free guided tour or soak up Le Parlementaire Restaurant's ornamental beaux-arts decor while enjoying regional fare such as wild caribou terrine with tundra berry chutney or pork medallion with a maple and hazelnut crust. assnat.qc.ca.
11 Stay somewhere petit
Le Chateau not your cup of tea? Then consider staying in one of the city's boutique hotels. Hotel Le Germain-Dominion, in the Old Port neighbourhood, has 60 rooms in two neighbouring historic buildings (including the old stock exchange), placing you near Rue St-Paul, lined with galleries and antique stores. Auberge Le Vincent, in the hip Saint-Roch district, has just 10 rooms. germaindominion.com; aubergelevincent.com.
12 Ride a particular funicular
When it's all too much to tackle Old Quebec's quaint but steep streets (one historic stairway is known as Breakneck Stairs), zip between Old Upper Town and Old Lower Town via the Funiculaire du Vieux-Quebec. The funicular, which has been around in one form or another since 1879, drops from Dufferin Terrace near Le Chateau to a spot along Rue du Petit-Champlain - one of North America's narrowest and most enchanting streets. funiculaire-quebec.com.
13 Arty alley
Rue du Tresor - or Treasure Street - was once used by colonists to access the Royal Treasury to pay their annual taxes, thus the name. But in the early 1960s, it became known for another kind of treasure when two young artists transformed the pedestrian thoroughfare a stone's throw from Le Chateau into a place where they could sell work directly to passers-by. These days, tourists eager for a one-off souvenir of the city can peruse the works of 36 artists in the quaint open-air gallery. ruedutresor.qc.ca.
14 To market, to market
If you've fallen for Quebec's maple syrup (the province produces 75 per cent of the world supply) or the divine ice cider - made from apples frozen while still hanging from the trees - march yourself straight to the Marche du Vieux-Port with an empty shopping bag and stomach. The waterfront farmers' market does a roaring trade in these local specialties and others such as cheese, snow crabs and the famed foie gras. marchevieuxport.com.
15 Battlefields Park
Battlefields Park is Quebec City's centrepiece green space. As the name suggests, the 103 hectares of meadows and knolls incorporating the Plains of Abraham have a bloodstained history as the site of many battles for supremacy between French and British forces. About 10 public hangings also took place here between 1763 and 1810. Today, residents take scenic strolls overlooking the St Lawrence in warmer months and go cross-country skiing through the park in winter. ccbn-nbc.gc.ca.
16 Walk the wall
Access to Old Quebec's fortifications isn't possible in winter when stairs leading to the top of the wall are snowed under. The rest of the year, you can walk or jog the 4.6-kilometre circuit around the Old Upper Town, gleaning a bird's-eye view of the nooks and crannies that make up this World Heritage-listed charmer. Feel like company? Join a 90-minute walking tour of the wall run by guides from the interpretive centre next to the Porte St Louis.
17 La Citadelle
Marching orders can sound almost charming when shouted in French. Watch the changing of the guard at North America's largest fort at 10am daily during summer. And if you've ever wondered what exactly inspired the phrase "to beat a retreat", find the answer at 7pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays during July and August, when the red-jacketed soldiers bang drums to signal the end of their shift. lacitadelle.qc.ca.
18 Paint the town red (and white)
Le Cercle, in the revitalised Nouveau St-Roch district, is one of the hippest bar-restaurants in town. Dine in the restaurant or rock out to whoever's playing in the bar next door. Or learn more about the national obsession with ice hockey by attending a Remparts game at Colisee Pepsi or calling Laval University to find out whether any games are scheduled at its rink. le-cercle.ca; remparts.ca; peps.ulaval.ca.
19 Duck into Benjo
Travelling with enfants? Promise them a trip to Benjo if they're really, really good. They can run straight into the one-of-a-kind toy store while you'll have to duck to get through the pint-sized front door. The 15 store departments include building sets, stuffed animals, clothing, sweets and - from April to September - an ice-cream parlour. On weekends, travel around the store on a kid-sized electric train. Much of Benjo's stock is made in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada. benjo.ca.
20 Summer festival
The annual Festival d'ete de Quebec (from July 5 to 15 this year) fills the streets with entertainment and sheer joie de vivre. Catch Image Mill, a super-sized projection onto 81 waterfront grain silos by Quebec City's Robert Lepage, over the coming summer. Or rock out to French pop icon Johnny Hallyday on July 10 or '80s hair-metal band Aerosmith on July 12, both performing on the Plains of Abraham. infofestival.com.
The writer was a guest of the Canadian Tourism Commission.