A horse-drawn carriage clip-clopping past an old stone building with a red-gabled roof. The spires of the Château Frontenac rising in the evening sky. The narrow, cobblestoned streets of Lower Town and stunning views of the mighty St. Lawrence River. Toss in centuries-old protective walls and a fascinating 400-year history and you’ve got one of the most distinctive destinations on the continent. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Québec City’s Old Town (split between Upper Town and Lower Town) is one of the oldest and most beautiful settlements in North America.

Timing matters: A summer night here is very special, thanks to the dozens of sidewalk cafés and that famous French-Canadian style on full display. But watching the sunrise over the St. Lawrence from a room at the Château Frontenac hotel is also an experience you won’t forget.

Best photo op: Get a classic shot from Dufferin Terrace, the boardwalk that stretches above the St. Lawrence in front of the Château Frontenac. You can also try snapping a sunrise photo from the ferry that comes over from nearby Lévis when the city is bathed in glorious light. (The first ferries usually depart around 6 a.m.) Another favourite shot is from the top of what are called the breakneck stairs, at the north end of rue du Petit-Champlain.

Savvy Touring: Try a guided bike tour with Vélo Passe-Sport Plein Air. There are more than 400 kilometres of bike paths in the city, taking you from lovely Place-Royale to the Samuel de Champlain Promenade and beyond. Or embrace the city’s eerie history on a ghost tour of the Old Town. 

Price alert: Most hotels in Québec City offer packages including discounts on admission to museums or excursions to nearby attractions.

Talking point: Old Québec is the only fortified North American city north of Mexico. The walls are 4.6 km (2.9 miles) long.