The birthplace of Québec City, Vieux-Québec’s Basse-Ville (Lower Town) is an exceedingly charming area, a warren of cobbled streets lined with historic houses whose appearances have changed little since the city was founded.

The funicular

Basse-Ville can be reached from Terrasse Dufferin either by the steep L’Escalier Casse-Cou (Breakneck Stairs) or by the funicular alongside. The Basse-Ville station of the funicular is the 1683 Maison Louis-Jolliet, 16 rue du Petit-Champlain, built for the retired discoverer of the Mississippi, Louis Jolliet; it now houses a second-rate souvenir shop.

Quartier du Petit-Champlain

Dating back to 1685, the narrow, cobbled rue du Petit-Champlain is the city’s oldest street, and the surrounding area – known as Quartier du Petit-Champlain – is the oldest shopping area in North America. The quaint seventeenth- and eighteenth-century houses now hold boutiques and galleries selling excellent crafts, from Inuit carvings to the products of the glass-blowing workshop and studio, Verrerie La Mailloche (July–Oct daily 9am–10pm; Nov–June Mon–Wed, Sat & Sun 9.30am–5pm, Thurs & Fri 9.30am–9pm; t 418 694 0445), at the base of L’Escalier Casse-Cou at 58 rue Sous-le-Fort.

Maison Chevalier

You can get an absorbing glimpse of the quarter’s past life in the 1752 Maison Chevalier, on the corner of rue du Marché-Champlain and rue Notre-Dame, a grand town house and one-time London Coffee House where merchants would meet throughout the nineteenth century. Its rooms strongly evoke how interiors would have looked, with period furniture, costumes and domestic objects. Take a peek, too, into the vaulted cellars, where local artisans sell traditional works.

Place Royale

Champlain built New France’s first permanent settlement in 1608 in place Royale, in order to begin trading fur with the Aboriginal peoples. Known as place du Marché until the bust of Louis XIV was erected here in 1686, the square remained the focal point of Canadian commerce until 1759, and after the fall of Québec the British continued using the area as a lumber market. After 1860 place Royale was left to fall into disrepair, but in the 1970s it was renovated. Its pristine stone houses, most of which date from around 1685, are undeniably photogenic, with their steep metal roofs, numerous chimneys and pastel-coloured shutters, but it’s a Legoland townscape, devoid of the scars of history. Happily, the atmosphere is enlivened in summer by entertainment from classical orchestras to juggling clowns, and by the Fêtes de la Nouvelle-France, when everyone dresses in period costume and it once again becomes a chaotic marketplace.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Canada features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Road trip Canada: 5 of the best routes

Road trip Canada: 5 of the best routes

Rugged and vast, Canada has much to explore and enjoy. Driving gives you freedom to travel at your own pace, allowing you to pull over and appreciate scenery al…

05 Dec 2016 • Stuart Forster insert_drive_file Article
15 awesome images of Canada

15 awesome images of Canada

Canada is has vast and varied landscape, from beautiful beaches to glassy mountain lakes. It's difficult to capture the country's real beauty in a photograph, b…

09 Sep 2016 • Rough Guides Editors insert_drive_file Article
8 reasons Vancouver is cooler than you think

8 reasons Vancouver is cooler than you think

Vancouver sometimes gets knocked for being a bit dull – and while it’s true that its residents can be earlier to bed than in the rest of North America, thi…

05 Sep 2016 • Rachel Mills insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month