High above the river’s edge visitors can stroll the Terrasse Dufferin. This wooden boardwalk runs for nearly 500 feet along a bluff overlooking the St. Lawrence River. From this vantage point, you can see for miles in almost every direction. What many fail to focus on is what lies at the foot of this fascinating structure. Almost 200 feet straight down you will find Rue du Petit Champlain. This is one of the oldest commercial streets in North America. Let’s see why so many flock to this pedestrian road every day of the year.
There are a few staircase choices to reach Rue du Petit Champlain, but none are more famous than the Breakneck Steps. This vertical challenge has gone by various names in the past. Originally they were dubbed Champlain Stairs, after Samuel de Champlain, the founder of Quebec City. They have also worn the monikers of Beggar’s Stairs and Lower Town Stairs. Constructed in 1635, they have obviously been restored on numerous occasions. We took these stairs on multiple visits to Rue du Petit Champlain, and each time we were amazed at the view from the top. Of course, looking up at them you find yourself facing the daunting challenge of the climb.
Once we arrived at the bottom, the beauty of the pedestrian street unfolded in front of us. During the day, the space is packed with shoppers and tourists vying for space. If you are a fan of selfies, this seems to be a haven for this new art form. It’s hard to imagine a place more quaint and intriguing for photography. After the sun sets, the crowds continue until late into the evening. We visited at various hours to see how the atmosphere of the space changed throughout the day. While many of the boutiques run standard hours throughout the week, the weekends bring extended chances to shop. With such an exquisite setting, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to do a little perusing ourselves.
Rue du Petit Champlain Surprises
Like much of the older section of Quebec City, Rue du Petit Champlain is basically wall-to-wall buildings. In a space that was designed nearly 400 years ago, everyone clung together for protection and survival. As we strolled along the street, we found that you have to stay sharp, if you want to pick out all of the details. Blended in with the boutique shops and restaurants are a variety of artist’s galleries. It seems that each business is trying unique ways to attract the attention of those passing by.
We felt like a visit to Rue du Petit Champlain wouldn’t be complete without trying out at least one of the restaurants. While our itinerary was packed full of places throughout Upper and Lower Town, we had left a couple of spaces open for discovery. We spotted this quaint little bistro, near the end of the pedestrian street. Since we noticed an empty table inside, we popped in for a quick lunch. Quebec City is home to a large amount of tourism, and here we discovered just how flexible business owners have to be to serve them all.
The usual welcome was made in French, but the owner quickly changed to English once he heard our response. This we found to be commonplace throughout the city. While we waited for our food, a Chinese couple entered the restaurant. We were amazed to hear the owner quickly switch to speaking their native tongue, as well. It was another example of how welcoming the locals are to visitors and how much they have embraced the influx of tourists.
This was one of our more American-type meals in Quebec City. Crystal went simple with a Grilled Chicken Salad, while I was in the mood for some beef. My Bacon Cheeseburger came with a side order of French Fries, which would end up adding a lot of starch to my meal. An order of poutine was becoming the standard appetizer for us. It can be funny how quickly we embrace the local dishes. Of course, it is easy to do when the food is prepared with a French twist on nearly everything, including some local barbecue. Looks like a few more trips up and down the Breakneck Steps were in my future. Casse Cou loosely translates to The “Breakneck” Restaurant. It is clear that they have embraced their life below the boardwalk.
As if all of that wasn’t enough, next door we discovered La Petite Cabane à Sucre de Québec. This local confectioner offers up all kinds of sweetness. If you like the flavor of maple syrup, then this stop should be high on your list. Candies, cookies, and other treats all come in this basic flavor. It certainly makes sense, as the majority of the maple syrup production for the world comes from Quebec. After watching the creation of maple taffy, we couldn’t hold back any longer. We dove headfirst into a pair of maple-flavored ice cream cones, which even come with a maple-flavored cookie. They were oh so good.
Bypassing the Steps
While exploring Terrasse Dufferin, we noticed the entrance to the Funiculaire du Vieux-Québec. This special railway is designed to handle steep inclines. Handling the 195-foot bluff certainly requires a special piece of equipment. Like the Breakneck Steps, this unique way to scale the height has undergone multiple revisions. We had ridden a similar device that served the community in Dubuque, Iowa. The one in Quebec City does differ from its smaller relative in the Midwest. This funiculair is more of an angled elevator.
Room with a View
Since the elevator sits at a 45-degree angle, it actually travels 210 feet to reach the top of the 195-foot cliff. The ride up costs $3.50 (about $2.75US) and is well worth it when your feet are tired. An added bonus is the glass-enclosed cars, which offer great views of the port area.
Burning Off Lunch
During our Quebec City visit, we made a few visits to Rue du Petit Champlain. Not only were we drawn here for the shopping, we even ended up visiting at the end of our Ghost Walk. Traversing the Breakneck Steps became more of an event as the days passed, and we did choose to use the funiculaire a couple of times. In the end, it probably helped us maintain our weight since we were really enjoying all of the French-based preparation of meals. You may want to take advantage of this no-cost exercise program frequently during your visit, as well.