Built into the 90-metre Cap Diamant cliff where the St. Charles and St. Lawrence rivers meet, Québec City spans about 93 square km and is essentially divided into two parts: Haute-Ville (Upper Town) and Basse-Ville (Lower Town). Getting your bearings isn’t rocket science; Lower Town is nestled at the base of the cliffs, while Upper Town is upon them. The districts are connected via staircases and a funicular railway that's been whisking folks up and down since 1879. Try a walking tour of the old part of the city and its five-km fortification to quite literally walk through history, as you discover that many significant structures and attractions are still alive within the centuries-old urban landscape of Québec City neighbourhoods. No wonder the entire Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Equally key to the city’s shape are the ancient city walls that once served as fortress to protect the settlement from attackers. In both Haute-Ville and Basse-Ville, the part of the city that remains within these walls is generally the neighbourhood known as Vieux-Québec (Old Québec), while what lies outside the walls is more recent. Venture outside the walls and you’ll find wonderful, character-filled city neighbourhoods like the hip and trendy St.-Roch (a former industrial zone), and just outside the city walls, Parliament Hill.
Haute-Ville (Upper Town)
Upper Town's main square is Place d'Armes, where the castle-like hotel Fairmont Le Château Frontenac (opened in 1893) holds court adjacent to public walkway Terasse Dufferin and bustling street rue St.-Jean. Explore the twisting, narrow streets and you’ll find majestic 17th-century buildings and delightful plethora of shops and cafés—Québec City, renowned for its food, is packed with world-class restaurants: chic French bistros, fine fusion cuisine and pâtisseries (bakeries).
Basse-Ville (Lower Town)
From Upper Town, the aptly-named Escalier Casse-Cou (Breakneck Staircase) brings you down to Petit-Champlain. This street and district (both with the same name) feature unique shops, cozy bistros and charming art galleries, with architecture dating to the 17th century. Nearby is the main square in Basse-Ville, called Place Royale, which is often full of street performers and a festive ambiance and great shopping year-round. (It’s also the heart of festivities during the New France Festival, which takes place at the beginning of July.)
Encompassing the famous Battlefields Park (Plains of Abraham), as well as the Montcalm and Saint-Jean-Baptiste districts, this neighbourhood is a great place to walk around. If you’re into bicycling or in-line skating, the park is made for you, and the surrounding streets Grande-Allée, René-Lévesque Boulevard and Cartier Street are also pedestrian- and shopper-friendly.
About a decade ago, something exciting happened to Québec City's commercial slums. Young artists, creative restaurateurs, gallery owners and shopkeepers transformed the Saint-Roch neighbourhood into a hotbed of hip, creative energy. Today, Saint-Roch remains a trendy district of chic restaurants, hip bars, cutting-edge galleries and shops. Rue St. Joseph is the quartier's main drag, while local attractions include the Imperial Theatre and Saint-Roch public garden.