What You Need To Know
Perched on bluff Cap Diamant (Diamond Cape) overlooking the St-Lawrence River, the century-old Le Fairmont Château Frontenac marks a dramatic peak in Québec City’s skyline. Here, the continent’s oldest surviving walled city embraces Canada’s first European settlement, christened La Nouvelle France in the 16th century. Over 4 centuries later, the city clings to her French-speaking heritage and Gallic traditions. Steeped in bloody battles and cultured by the fascinating growing pains of the New World, Québec City steps swiftly into the 21st century with one foot rooted proudly in the past.
- Canadian and American dollars are not at par. American currency is accepted in most establishments at variable exchange rates.
Legal tender is the Canadian dollar, which divides into 100 cents. Bills come in the following denominations: 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 dollars. The coins in use are of the following denominations: 5, 10 and 25 cents, as well as one and two dollars.
On arrival, visitors should obtain Canadian currency at the official exchange rate in order to avoid problems.
There are also currency exchange bureaus in Old Québec.
- Normal banking hours are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, with extended hours on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at some locations. Traveler’s cheques, ideally in Canadian funds, are the safest way to carry money and are accepted by banks and major commercial establishments. There are different Canadian chartered banks with branches throughout the area along with over 100 Caisses populaires Desjardins (credit union) branches.
- Major credit cards such as American Express, MasterCard and Visa are accepted almost everywhere.
With the advent of automated teller machines, visitors can do banking through network systems like “Plus”, “Circus”, “Interac”, etc. and enjoy excellent rates of exchange.
There’s no denying it: Winters in Québec City are cold. Average high temperatures in December and January struggle to breach 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and snowfall is common. However, don’t let the cold weather get you down; the Québecois sure don’t! Residents deck the halls for the holidays and then spend their January and February weekends enjoying Carnaval celebrations.
The best times to visit Québec City are June through September and December through February. During the summer and winter months, the city’s social calendar is booked solid with festivals. Summertime is the most popular time to visit due to the warmer weather, but the Québecois relish winter’s icy winds, protecting themselves from the cold weather with hefty parkas and plenty of Tim Hortons coffee. The spring and fall shoulder seasons see fewer tourists because of the lack of special events, but that means travelers can take advantage of low rates as well as seasonal perks: Springtime is maple syrup season, while autumn dazzles with colorful foliage.
French is the official language of Québec but English is widely spoken in tourist areas (attractions, hotels, restaurants and boutiques in tourist areas).
Health and security
- Canada has a state-run health system, and Québec hospitals are modern and decently equipped, with well-trained staffs. You are unlikely to get sick from Canada’s food or water.
In general, Canadians who reside outside the province of Québec are covered by an interprovincial agreement, which allows them to present their own province’s health card (e.g., OHIP card in Ontario) and have their health services covered by direct billing. In some cases, however, services must be paid for upfront and patients must seek reimbursement from their home province.
Medical treatment in Canada isn’t free for foreigners, and doctors and hospitals will make you pay at the time of service.
Familiar over-the-counter medicines are widely available in Canada. If there is a possibility that you will run out of prescribed medicines during your visit, take along a prescription from your doctor.
- Quebec City has one of the lowest crime rates in Canada. There were only two murders reported in Quebec City in 2015.
Random violence is an unusual and is often associated with street gang activity and other forms of organized crime. Canada took measures to ensure public safety related to gangs. Bill C-394 made gang recruitment a federal crime, and conviction results in a minimum sentence of six months in prison with a maximum sentence of five years.
Québec is one of Canada’s more liberal provinces. Mass demonstrations are rare and political violence is unusual. Tolerance of others is a Canadian characteristic, and it’s highly unlikely that visitors of ethnic, religious, or racial minorities will encounter even mild forms of discrimination. That applies to sexual orientation, as well, especially in Montréal, which has one of the largest and most visible gay communities in North America.
- The Tobacco Law forbids smoking in all public buildings, including bars and restaurants.
- The city does an excellent job clearing streets after snowstorms, but drivers can expect parking restrictions on nights that plowing will be conducted. Extra caution is needed while driving during the winter. Even in good weather, black ice and sudden blizzards can occur.
- Wandering the streets of Vieux-Québec is a singular pleasure, comparable to exploring a provincial capital in Europe. You might happen upon an ancient convent, gabled houses with steeply pitched roofs, a battery of 18th-century cannons in a leafy park, or a bistro with a blazing fireplace on a wintry day.
- Most of the historic sights are within the city walls of Vieux-Québec’s Haute-Ville (Upper Town) and Basse-Ville (Lower Town). While Upper Town is hilly, with sloping streets, it’s nothing like, say, San Francisco, and only people with physical limitations are likely to experience difficulty. Other sights are outside Upper Town’s walls, along or just off the boulevard called Grande-Allée. If rain or ice discourages exploration on foot, tour buses and horse-drawn calashes are options.