Saturday, August 3, 2013

Travel // Quebec with Kids

The hubs and I love to travel. We traveled when we were single, we traveled as a newly married couple, and now, as a family of four, we travel together. Obviously some things have changed-- It'll be a few more years before the kids are really interested in historical monuments or spending quality time at a fine art museum. That said, they do absorb quite a bit and seem to enjoy the new experiences that each destination has to offer. When they were really little (ages 1 - 4), we stayed stateside, did a lot of road trips and tried to limit the air travel to 5 hours max. Anything beyond that and we knew that we'd be asking for trouble.  It was also a challenge traveling with strollers, car seats, luggage-hogging diapers, and all of the other necessities that come along with small children. And I won't even bother mentioning the difficulties of maintaining a nap schedule, changing diapers in sketchy public restrooms, overtired kids, feeding baby on the go, carrying snacks, etc.

Now that our kids are a little older, a manageable 5 and 7, we are able venture out a little farther and stretch our wings so-to-speak. I don't think we're quite ready for Europe (11+ hour trip) or Asia (14+ hours), but a trip to Quebec was perfect. It hit all of our criteria--

1. Somewhere we've never been
2. Easy to navigate with children
3. Unique enough to feel like we've "left" our everyday lives behind
4. Culture

When to visit Quebec City
Quebec City is a tourist destination, and we happened to be there during one of the busiest times. However, while the town was bustling with activity, it never felt overrun with tourists. If anything, it  has an international flair as many visitors are from Europe. Quebec City is popular during the summer for the Summer Festival, during autumn for the fall colors, and during winter for the Winter Carnival as well as the nearby Ice Hotel.

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We unknowingly planned our trip during Quebec City's 11 day Summer Festival which runs the first two weeks of July.  Aside from the usual tourist attractions, there were a lot of other things to see and do-- from street performances, to concerts on 12 indoor and outdoor stages and even free Cirque du Soleil performances. We even got our Fireworks fix on July 3rd (Quebec's anniversary), which we adopted as our own since we missed out on the Independence Day festivities in the States.

We didn't go to any of the concerts, but we did catch a free Cirque du Soleil performance one evening. Although it was free, they did not skimp and it was a full length performance complete with the usual acrobatics, dramatic music and entertaining "clowns". The kids had their first exposure to Cirque du Soleil and were absolutely mesmerized. We arrived 15 minutes before show time and secured decent seats. 

City Tour
I recommend doing a city tour to get a lay of the land. Quebec is a very pedestrian friendly town, but it's also informative to hear the history and visit the points around the city that may otherwise be missed. The tour we went on visited the lower town, upper town, and outside the city walls to La Citadelle, Plains of Abraham, Parliament building, and Grande Allee, which is a lively street and houses most of Quebec City's more commercial restaurants and bars.

Getting around
You don't need a car in Quebec City. We arranged for transportation from the airport to our hotel and, during our stay, we either walked or hopped on a bus.

Old Quebec City is divided into 2 sections-- upper town and lower town. To get from one section to the next, you can either ride the Funiculaire (entrance in upper town is in front of Chateau Frontenac) or walk L'Escalier Casse-Cou, aka "break neck" stairs. We did both. Walking down was a piece of cake. Walking up was a workout, but my kids made it up without too many complaints.

Things to do in Lower Town...
Visit Place Royale and enjoy the picturesque, European-feeling square. Many consider Place Royale to be the birthplace of French America. The buildings have been refurbished and although it once was the original town center, it is now filled with tourist shops.

Find the mural on the side of one of the buildings and take a family photo. Touristy thing to do, but fun.

Walk through Quartier du Petit-Champlain and visit some of the shops.

Enjoy the beautiful architecture and historic streets. We peeked into a few stores and galleries but basically we enjoyed a leisurely stroll, with a stop or two for ice cream and cold drinks.

At night, view the Robert Lepage Image Mill and "Aurora Borealis" light show. We didn't quite make it there, but we stayed at the Hotel Frontenac and had a decent view from our room as well as the Dufferin Terrace (the boardwalk in front of the Frontenac).

Things to do in Upper Town...
Find the cannon ball in the tree on Rue St. Louis.

Walk to the city walls, they are shorter than they used to be (shortened many years ago as a compromise between those who wanted to keep the walls and those who wanted them removed). But nevertheless, they are still impressive.

Walk Rue St. Louis and enjoy the scene-- horse drawn carriages, beautiful architecture, lots of people and restaurants.

Go window shopping and visit a cafe or two along Rue Saint-Jean. The macarons and croissants at Paillards were delish!

At night, walk Rue Saint-Jean which turns into a pedestrian-only thoroughfare at 4 PM during the summer season.

If your kids have energy, walk outside the walls into Grand Allee. There are more restaurants and shops, many of which you won't find inside the city walls.

Visit Place d'Armes and find the diamond-shaped Unesco monument which is located in the square next to Chateau Frontenac. This designates Quebec City as a World Heritage site and is a rare honor. Also in the plaza is a statue of  Samuel de Champlain, who founded Quebec in 1608.

Watch street performances, which is a favorite of my kids. While we were there, there seemed to be street performances at every park and square at all hours of the day. 

Montmorency Falls 
Montmorency Falls is billed as "higher than Niagara" and is about a 20 minute drive from Quebec City.  We tacked this on to our City Tour which basically paid for our bus ride to and from the falls.

Riding the aerial tram up to the top of the falls is an additional fee. But when in Rome... er, Quebec...

The kids really enjoyed the gondola ride up. We had lunch at Manoir Montmorency, then walked over the suspension bridge that passes over the crest of the falls. There is also a way to walk down but since it was hot and humid, and knowing the kids limits, we decided to ride back down in the gondola.

Children and restaurants in Quebec City
Quebec has a lot of nice restaurants. And, of course, a lot of French restaurants. I'm always uncomfortable bringing my two little rascals into a "fancy" restaurant. They're usually well behaved, but hey, they're kids and after a long day of touring and walking, all deals are off! So although Quebec's many restaurants are on the fancier side and may not look very kid-friendly, we did find a few good restaurants that are, if not exactly kid-friendly, then at least kid-welcoming. My definition of kid-welcoming? The place has a kid's menu or I see other families with young children dining there. My kids don't always eat off the kids menu, but if a restaurant has one, I take it as an unofficial "welcome" sign. Oh, and if you're dining at a proper restaurant during peak hours, always try to make reservations or you'll have to wait... And they're not afraid to tell you "come back in an hour and a half".

Here are a few restaurants/cafes that we enjoyed--
Le Cafe du Monde, adjacent to the cruise terminal with views of the St. Lawrence River
Casse Crepe Breton, crepe restaurant on Rue Saint-Jean
Bello Ristorante, Italian restaurant on Rue Saint-Louis
Paillards, casual. Sandwich, soups, bakery on Rue Saint-Jean