Who knew that there are so many interesting stairs in Quebec City? It’s part of the overall charm of this French Canadian city that makes it feel closer to Europe than the New World. Well, Quebec City is full of staircases, and it’s as much for practical purposes as it is for aesthetics. When we spent three days in Quebec City, Justin and I discovered many interesting staircases that have captivating stories behind them.
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Why Does Quebec City Have So Many Stairsways?
Quebec City was strategically positioned back in the day as the birthplace of French civilization in Canada. The large escarpment, Cap Diamant (Cape Diamond) is a natural defensive barrier. This massive cliff separates two areas of Old Quebec: Lower Town (Basse-Ville) and Upper Town (Haute-Ville).
To travel from Lower Town to Upper Town, you need to venture from the bottom of the escarpment to the top. For the most part, this translates into many Quebec City stairs. As much as you’ll use these staircases to get from point A to point B, they’re all unique and pretty in their own way. I’ll also introduce you to some stairways that transport you from one street to the next within Lower Town itself. And there’s the last option for those who need a bit of a break, the Old Quebec funicular.
Old Quebec Funicular
Let’s start with the historic Quebec City funicular. Obviously, the funicular is not a set of stairs, but its worthy of a mention for allowing you to avoid some staircases. The funicular is a railway located in Quartier Petit Champlain that transports you up and down the escarpment between Lower Town and Upper Town. As you ride the railway, you’ll be treated to fantastic views of Old Quebec and the St. Lawrence River.
The Old Quebec funicular dates back to 1879 when it used an old water ballast propulsion system. In 1907, the funicular converted to use electricity over the old methods. Then, it was destroyed by a major fire in 1945 and rebuilt by 1946. This is the only funicular of its kind in the Americas, and it celebrated its 140th year of operation recently.
The funicular runs all day and night long, from 7:30am to midnight in the summer months. Be prepared to pay cash only for the ride. Prices do change over time, but the last time we looked, it costs $3.75 for one ride. Please check the funicular official website for the latest details regarding the hours of operation and prices.
Justin and I only rode the funicular once from Lower Town to Upper Town. For the rest of our time in Quebec City, we took the stairs. If we hadn’t taken the stairs each time, we might not have discovered so many interesting ones. Definitely take the funicular at least once, but it’s not such a bad thing to walk up and down these Quebec City stairs either.
Breakneck Stairs / Escalier Casse-Cou
The Breakneck Stairs, Breakneck Steps, or Escalier Casse-Cou in French are the oldest Quebec City stairs, dating back to 1635. They were originally called the “Champlain Stairs”, “Beggars’ Stairs”, and “Lower Town Stairs”, but were renamed to Breakneck due to their steepness. There are only 59 steps in total, but they descend down into Lower Town in a drastic manner.
The Breakneck Stairs connect Côte de la Montagne with Rue du Petit-Champlain. These stairs have been renovated several times over the years. They are located directly beside the funicular so you can choose to take the railway or the stairs from this position.
We stumbled upon the Lepine Stairs after taking a look at some graffiti art on our way to a vegan restaurant (that’s sadly closed since our visit). You’ll find the Lepine Stairs on Rue Saint-Vallier Est. Originally, the stairs were constructed from wood in 1857, but replaced with a sturdier iron material in 1883.
The Lepine Stairs are one of the most decorative stairways that we had climbed in the city. The wrought iron arches are decorated with pretty floral designs.
They are named “Lépine” after a nearby funeral home. Urban legend has it that you used to be able to observe something strange while hiking up the stairs…corpses being washed outside at the back of the funeral home! But, who knows if it’s truth or myth. Perhaps this is a haunted staircase? Now, I’m getting carried away!
The Governors’ Promenade doesn’t connect Lower and Upper Towns. However, it unites the Plains of Abraham to the Dufferin Terrace, and it’s full of stairs. The Governors’ Promenade is a boardwalk along the edge of Cap Diamant, the escarpment of Upper Town. You can’t help but climb several staircases along this long wooden pathway.
There are 309 stairs in total here, but they are stretched out along the full length of the boardwalk. Many people enjoy going for a jog here. We went for a leisurely walk and enjoyed the scenic views of the river.
It’s more difficult if you start at Chateau Frontenac and the Dufferin Terrace because it will be mostly uphill on your way to the Plains of Abraham. We started at the Plains of Abraham and walked down to Chateau Frontenac. Justin and I didn’t plan it that way, I swear!
Escalier du Quai-du-roi
Escalier du Quai-du-roi is a quaint set of Quebec City stairs in Quartier Petit Champlain. This stairway connects Boulevard Champlain with Rue du Petit Champlain. You can’t miss it while you’re exploring the Petit Champlain district.
It looks so pretty between the old, stone buildings, decorated with flowers. When it’s not the summertime, expect Escalier du Quai-du-Roi to have Christmas garland draped across it or other delightful decorations I am sure.
Other Notable Quebec City Staircases
Throughout our trips to Quebec City, we still haven’t had a chance to venture up and down all of the staircases. There are 30 staircases that unite various parts of Old Quebec. Here are a couple more to climb if you happen to be in the area.
It’s Quebec City’s longest staircase with 398 steps. It was constructed out of wood in 1868. These steps were originally built for the workers of the Cap-Blanc district, so they could walk up to the Cove Fields munitions factories at the Plains of Abraham.
The Cap-Blanc Stairs have been rebuilt many times over the years. They are attached to the rock wall of the escarpment that has rockslides now and again. Don’t worry, these Quebec City stairs are perfectly safe to use! Many locals run up and down the stairs here for exercise. They connect the Plains of Abraham to Rue Champlain in Lower Town down below.
Faubourg Stairs / Escalier du Faubourg
The Faubourg Stairs are one of the most beautiful Quebec City stairs, comprised of 99 steps. They are also known as the Sainte-Claire or Le Soleil Stairs. It was initially made out of wood in 1858. Then, the mayor at the time decided to rebuild this staircase in a more sturdy iron material in 1889, adding a landing on an upper level so people could stop and enjoy the view.
It is a three-level staircase with graceful wrought iron railings, complete with a view of the Saint-Roch district and the St. Lawrence River from the top. It’s even possible to gaze out to the Laurentian mountain range from here.
Escalier de la Pente-Douce
Escalier de la Pente-Douce has 133 steps and it translates to mean, “the town below” or literally, “at the foot of the gentle slope”. This stairway was named after a novel by a Quebec City author named Roger Lemelin. He published a book called Au pied de la pente douce in 1944 that involved the daily lives of people living in the Saint-Sauveur neighborhood.
Escalier de la Chapelle
Escalier de la Chapelle are neighbors to the Lepine Stairs, and they’re much shorter at only 80 steps. They’re also some of the oldest stairs in Quebec City. Originally, there was a trail carved at this route to connect Upper Town and Lowr Town for workers. In an effort to make the journey safer, the city authorities constructed a wooden staircase. This was destroyed in 1845 and rebuilt shortly thereafter for the workers. This staircase was almost completely abandoned in the 20th century, and completely revitalized in the 1980s.
Quebec City Staircase Challenge
The Quebec City Staircase Challenge is an annual race using all 30 staircases that connect Upper and Lower Towns of Old Quebec. The event happens every June. Participants alternate between climbing up one staircase and climbing down the next one. There are 3000 steps in total. It’s a great way to see the city, feel competitive, and get some exercise.
Quebec City Stairs Map
Want to see the Quebec City stairs that I mentioned above visually represented on a map? Feel free to reference this map on your trip to Quebec City so you can experience this functional architectural works.