I rented an apartment in the Old Town of Quebec, a World Heritage Site with cultural importance to both Canadian and United States history. Choosing April to travel I wasn't sure what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised to find it was uncrowded, most of the tourists leaving after the winter festivals and the warm weather tourists not arriving yet. There's something to be said for traveling during shoulder season. I was able to leisurely stroll uncrowded cobblestone streets and capture pictures that might otherwise be filled with tourists. What can I say? I love Quebec!
From just about anywhere in the Old City, the Chateau Frontenac is everywhere. Its spires reminding you again and again you are someplace unique and special in the world; a little slice of French speaking Europe in North America, perfect for the traveler who just can't afford the steep prices demanded by a trip to the old continent. Quebec is not a poor substitute if it is unique architecture, winding and quiet cobbled streets, great bakeries, historic and art museums, commanding natural views of the Saint Lawrence River and church bells at noon and 6:00 p.m. each day are what you are after.
If there was a downside to visiting in April (there is no downside in my view) it could be that the streets are still covered with rock salt and some snow, creating a unkempt appearance. For me, it only added to Quebec's charm. A small price to pay for having beautiful streets like this all to myself.
I rented an apartment on the top floor of the green/yellow building in the picture above, on the Rue de Jardins, just a block in either direction from busy streets lined with restaurants and small businesses and old and historic churches. Renting an apartment may be slightly more expensive than one of the hotels, but using a local grocery store/ market helped keep the expenses under control as well as place me in the very heart of the Old City. It's the way to go!
A small grocery market on the Rue de Jardins, just outside of my apartment.
A couple relaxing near the gate to the Old Town and Rue de St Jean.
Twilight in Old Town Quebec is especially magical if you are a photographer; that golden hour when the light is perfect for great photography.
If you don't want to walk down the hundreds of steps to Lower Quebec, you can take the Funicular (above) which will transport you to the street below (below) in less than a minute for $2.50 CAD.
Practical Considerations Traveling from the United States
1. You will need a valid passport or pass card to cross the border into Canada. At this writing, no visa is required for United States citizens.
2. If you are driving, check with your insurance company to see if your vehicle is covered under your plan, or if you need to buy additional coverage for driving in Canada. You can drive in Canada with a valid United States state drivers licence and the experience is very similar to driving in the United States. All the roads I used in Canada were well maintained and well patrolled by Canadian law enforcement.
3. Calling/ Data and text messages are EXPENSIVE in Canada using your phone plan from the United States. For $30 USD I hopped on a international calling plan with Verizon which afforded me 250 megabytes of data usage (used primarily for navigation with Google Maps), 250 outgoing text messages (unlimited incoming text messages), and 250 minutes of calling. If you are logged into a wi-fi network, non of the data usage applies as you are connected to a Wi-Fi network. Quebec has a extensive ZAP network you can use FREE while walking around the city. It is a good connection and easy to use.
4. In Quebec the people speak French. "Bonjour" (hello) and "merci" (thank you) said with a genuine smile go a very long way. I never encountered anyone who did not speak at least a little English. I was fortunate to have my teenage son with me as he speaks pretty good French, but it really wasn't necessary.
5. Quebec is a safe city and you get that sense after walking in the old town, maybe even a little sleepy at times; slow paced and relaxed. The people were very friendly, even in the stores clearly designed for tourists, and it was not a fake or pasted on smile I encountered, but a genuine greeting when entering a store and friendly service.
6. If you are planning a trip and want to spread the expense over several months, exchange United States currency for Canadian currency before you go. Any major bank should be able to exchange the currency within a week or so for a nominal fee. At this writing the United States dollar to Canadian dollar exchange rate is $1.00 USD will get you $1.25 CAD. Not bad, and it fluctuates daily.