Did you know that the Quebec City wall is the only fortified city in Canada? It’s also the first fortified city in North America, and the only city north of Mexico to have old ramparts, a citadel, and other defensive structures. When Justin and I visited Old Quebec, we walked along Canada’s “Great Wall”. The entire wall spans 4.6km, and we discovered a good portion of it. Come along with us as we explore the ramparts of Quebec City.
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The History of the Quebec City Fortifications
Quebec City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it’s one of the first European settlements in the Americas. When Champlain arrived in 1608, he chose this region for his trading post because it was naturally protected by the massive rocky escarpment of Cape Diamond. The ramparts of Old Quebec were built on the west side of the city, the only space not protected by the cliffs.
This fortified colonial town is incredibly well maintained, and many of its original structures still exist. The fortifications of Quebec were built between 1608 and 1871 and erected under both French and British regimes. In 1759, the English took command of Quebec City from the French following the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. They worked to fortify the existing walls.
At the heart of the Quebec City wall lies the Citadel, the largest British fortress in North America. The Citadel is a star-shaped fort on Quebec City’s highest point, Cape Diamond. The British constructed the Citadel after narrowly defeating the American invasion of Canada during the War of 1812. Dubbed the “Gibraltar of America”, it’s the largest British fortress in North America.
Although it was originally occupied by British troops, the Citadel is an active garrison today. It is home to the Royal 22nd Regiment of the Canadian Forces, the only sole French language regular force infantry regiment. If you’re really into military history, you can take a tour of the Citadel and its museum.
Walking Tour of the Quebec City Wall
The best way to experience the ramparts of Quebec City is to walk around them and explore on foot. You’ll see several old city gates naturally as you walk the streets of Old Quebec. There are staircases that lead up to the top of the walls from the gates. From there, walk on top of the Quebec City wall for views of Old Quebec from above.
Map of the Quebec City Ramparts
We’ve highlighted the fortification walls for you in purple, and you can see the Citadel in the bottom left of the map. The walls completely surround what we now call the Upper Town of Old Quebec (Vieux-Quebec), built fully around the city to the edge of the hill.
Porte Saint-Jean (Rampart Gate)
We started our journey at Porte Saint-Jean, one of the rampart gates. Porte Saint-Jean was built back in 1694 and demolished in 1791 due to its poor condition. The gate was rebuilt on a couple of occasions, and the present day gate was reconstructed in 1939.
If you’re looking to see the most memorable parts of the Quebec City wall, start at Porte Saint-Jean. That’s precisely where we began our trip. We climbed the stairs to the top of the gate at Porte Saint-Jean and began walking south towards the Citadel. Even if you’d like to traverse all of the ramparts of Quebec City, this is still an excellent starting point.
The views from the top of the fortifications are amazing. You can look over the wall or through the strategic spaces in the walls to admire the city from above. We could truly sense the military’s dominating presence during war times and the defensive measures taken to protect the city.
Next, we reached Porte Kent, another historic gate of the fortifications of Quebec. Porte Kent was erected in 1879 and named in honor of Queen Victoria’s father, the Duke of Kent.
We continued our walk along the walls, taking in the city views. Some of the grassy paths on top of the walls are quite wide. It shows that the walls were built to be very sturdy, thick, and protective of the city. However, the wall was even wider back in the day. Originally, the defensive structure was over 75 meters wide and they included ditches, covered paths and gentle slopes that concealed the presence of the wall from enemies.
Porte Saint-Louis was the third gate we encountered, built over Rue Saint-Louis. Just like Porte Saint-Jean, it dates back to at least 1694 and was demolished in 1791. After being rebuilt and reconstructed over the years, the present gate was established by Lord Dufferin in 1880. There are pedestrian tunnels on either side of the road, and one central tunnel over the street.
The Citadel of the Quebec City Wall
From there, we continued our walk along the Quebec City wall down towards the Citadel. You can walk into the Citadel’s main front gate and along the fortress walls without paying any sort of admission. There are also two guards at the front gate of the Citadel in their regimental dress.
If you’re interested in a more in-depth tour of the Citadel, I recommend spending about an hour inside the Citadel and its museum. The Changing of the Guard ceremony is included in the cost of a ticket, and it happens daily at 10:00am (during summer months from June 24th to Labour Day). You can take a guided tour in English or French, and there are tour booklets in several other languages.
Every hour on the hour, the two guards at the front gate will march across the wall and back into place. We took our photos from a distance and chose not to disturb them. It was funny to see tourists running up beside the guards to snap selfies, and the guards didn’t even flinch.
Continuing a Walking Tour of Old Quebec
From the Citadel, you’re right beside the Plains of Abraham Park and the Governor’s Promenade boardwalk, which is where you can walk next. This will eventually lead to the Dufferin Terrace, the walkway along Cape Diamond and the one that leads to Chateau Frontenac.
You can choose to explore more historic sites and attractions, like the Quebec Parliament Building, Notre Dame de Quebec, or the jail and library at the Morrin Centre. For incredible city views from high above the city, check out the Observatoire de la Capitale.
Take one of the many staircases of Quebec City to the Lower Town of Old Quebec to visit Place Royale, Quartier Petit Champlain, and the Passages Insolites (Unusual Passages) art festival during the summer months. The ferry to Levis provides stunning views of the Cape Diamond and Old Quebec. You can also rent bikes and go cycling on the river to see more of the city while getting some exercise.
Interested in More Fortified Cities?
We’ve had the pleasure of visiting several other cities around the world with fortification walls. They’re all interesting and unique in their own way, and it provides a little window into the history of a place. Here are a few more cities with ramparts that are lovely spots to visit:
Where to Stay in Old Quebec
Justin and I have stayed at two beautiful properties in Basse-Terre (Lower Town) of Old Quebec. We highly recommend both of these hotels as they’re both lovely in their own way. While the Quebec City wall is located in Upper Town, it’s really easy to walk all over the city from these two Lower Town hotels.
Le Saint Pierre Auberge Distinctive
First, Le Saint Pierre Auberge Distinctive is an enchanting boutique hotel that will make your stay extra special. Located inside a historic building, this property feels like its straight out of Europe. I really loved the exposed brick walls and preserved structure of the room. As this building used to be owned by an old insurance company, our bathroom had an interesting layout. It used to be the room that held the insurance company’s safe. I love little interesting details like that.
Similarly, Hotel 71 is relatively close to Le Saint Pierre Auberge in Lower Town, Old Quebec. Hotel 71 is a slightly more modern hotel in its design and decor. The building itself is an old architectural gem, once home to the National Bank of Canada. We adored the contemporary elegance of our room and the views of the St. Lawrence River from our room. It’s also wonderful to always have access to delicious coffee, both in the room and downstairs in the public seating area.
|Essential Quebec City Travel Guide|
|Getting There: If you’re arriving by air, you’ll fly into the Quebec City Jean Lesage International Airport. From there, it’s about a 20-25 minute taxi ride to Old Quebec. Search for the best rates on flights to Quebec City.|
Getting Around: When you’re in Quebec City, you won’t need a car. Renting a bike is a fun idea to get around the city, but you can walk everywhere. If you’d like to visit nearby attractions outside Quebec City, I suggest renting a car. Compare car rental prices for the best rate.
Fast Facts: Canadian Dollar is the currency. Power voltage is 110-120 V 60 Hz using Power Sockets A and B. You’ll need an adapter if you’re visiting from an international destination outside of North America.
SIM Cards & Mobile: You can rent a portable Wi-Fi device with unlimited data that works in 130+ countries worldwide. We’ve used our portable device all over the world and love how we’re always connected!
Travel Safety: Don’t forget to get travel insurance before your trip. Whether you have an accident, have a flight delay, experience a theft, or need to return home sooner than anticipated, it’s always best to cover your bases. Get a travel insurance quote now for the best rates.
|Browse all of our Quebec photos and read more of our Quebec travel blog posts.|