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World Travel Guide > Guides > North America > Canada > Quebec > Quebec City

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Quebec City History

Quebec City’s ramparts, bastions and cobblestone streets are a testament to the city’s dramatic history.

Aboriginal hunters had lived in the area for thousands of years before Europeans set foot here.

When explorer Jacques Cartier sailed up the St Lawrence River in 1535, he encountered Stadacona, home to 1,000 or so Huron Indians. This would later become the site of Quebec City.

It wasn’t until 1608 that Samuel de Champlain established the first permanent settlement here – a flourishing fur-trading post. By this time, the Stadaconans had disappeared.

The Brits fancied a slice of the lucrative fur-trading pie however and repeatedly tried to capture the town, which had become the capital of New France.

The future of North America turned on one historic battle that took place just outside Quebec's walls in 1759. British forces overcame a French defence on the Plains of Abraham, which eventually led to the fall of New France and the transfer of most of its land to British control.

A second Battle of Quebec during the American Revolution in 1775 saw the British successfully battling off American forces.

To prevent a similar future attack, the British constructed the Citadel, an enormous star-shaped fortress and one of Quebec City's most popular attractions.

When Canada became an independent country in 1867, Quebec City became the capital of the province of Quebec. By this time, Montreal had taken over as the province’s commercial hub.

Today, the provincial government is a major employer. The port remains important too, handling bulk goods, but also welcoming thousands of tourists each year to its cruise ship terminal.

Did you know?
• Quebec City is the only fortified city north of Mexico.
• JA Moisan opened in 1871 and claims to be the oldest grocery store in North America.
• You can experience a taste of 17th- and 18th-century life in Quebec City at the New France Festival, held here each August.

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Le Clos Saint-Louis

The lavish attention to detail in these joined mid-19th-century townhouses makes staying here a treat. Gorgeous antiques feature in the elegant parlour and dining room (where a free continental breakfast is served in low season), and they make an appearance in the 18 bedrooms as well, where area rugs soften the hardwood floors, and televisions are hidden away in armoires to preserve the romantic Victorian atmosphere. This hotel is a gem! But don't just take our word for it: thousands of travellers on the Tripadvisor website once voted it Best Hidden Gem in Canada.

Fairmont Le Château Frontenac

The grandest of Quebec City's hotels is the city's chief landmark, a red-brick, mock-medieval tower topped by a steep copper roof and perched on the edge of the cliff overlooking the St Lawrence. Its 611 rooms have benefited from a multimillion dollar refurbishment project; each stately and grand in appearance if occasionally a bit small, but that's made up for by the prime location, with its gastronomic Le Champlain restaurant and Le Café de la Terrasse overlooking the scenic Dufferin Terrace promenade.

Le Manoir des Ramparts

This hotel, located in the heart of Old Québec, might not win any prizes for design, but it offers very reasonable accommodation at a very decent price, and some rooms have an exceptional view of the St Lawrence River and Laurentian Mountains. Most of the 34 bedrooms have a private bathroom, television and telephone, but eight budget rooms have shared shower and toilet facilities. Continental breakfast is included in the price.

Hotel Le Cavalier du Moulin

This 19th century property in Old Québec is blessed with historic character and charm. Located just a stone's throw from many of the city's most iconic sights, some of the rooms come preserved with their original stone walls and fireplaces, and all are equipped with air-conditioning and free Wi-Fi.

Hôtel Le Germain-Dominion

The 60 loft-like rooms in this warmly minimalist boutique hotel are full of nice touches like blown-glass basins lit from beneath, chunky wooden blinds (revealing terrific views over the St Lawrence River from the upper floors) and home comforts like down duvets and bathrobes. Breakfast (included in the price) is served at large communal tables, a reception area and two meeting rooms cater to business needs and there's a complimentary cappuccino/espresso bar. The staff provide discreet, impeccable service.

Hôtel Manoir Victoria

This comfortable 4-star hotel, just up the hill from the train station, is tucked discreetly behind the main shopping street in the Old Town and is handy for exploring the sights. Low-key lighting and thick carpets give a hushed feel and the 156 well-appointed rooms and suites, done up in earth tones, are a good size. For relaxing there is a pool, sauna, fitness room and spa treatments.