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Holiday Guides for North America - Canada

North America with the history

Currently celebrating its 400th anniversary, Quebec City has it all, including a rich history, says James Stone

For Europeans who like a bit of history when they go on holiday, the entire continent of North America can often seem off-limits.

Sure, there are some great places to go for shopaholics, nature lovers or contemporary culture vultures.

However, the local library in most English cities probably has more history than the vast majority of American cities, as proven when US tourists coming over to Europe express astonishment at anything over a couple of hundred years old.

One notable exception, however, is Quebec City, which offers the visitor the best of all possible world, including a fascinating history.

Notably, with the Canadian city celebrating its 400th anniversary in 2008, any visitor heading there this year is in for a special treat, with £45 million to be spent on a wide variety of celebrations across the next 12 months.

One other thing that sets Quebec City apart from so many of its North American counterparts is that walking, rather than car or public transport, is the best way to explore, with most of the top sites enclosed within the city walls – this is the only city north of Mexico to be fortified – with the charming Old Town now a long-established UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The ideal way to get your bearings is to start, like the first settlers of New France did four centuries ago, down by the old port district in the Lower Town.

From here, all of the wining roads and alleyways lead up to the world-famous Chateau Frontenac, which towers above the city perched on top of Cape Diamond.

While street names such as Breakneck Stairway and Mountain Road do accurately portray the steepness of the ascent, it is nevertheless a thoroughly pleasant way to while away the afternoon, particularly since the lanes are packed full of historic buildings and bustling boutiques selling locally-produced crafts.

However, it is the view from the top, with the nearby Montmorency Falls, the St Lawrence River and the Battlefield Park where the locals flock anytime there's even a hint of sunshine, all visible, while the surrounding hills and woodland are easily accessible by hired bike via an excellent network of cycle routes.

Though the city has been attracting visitors for many decades, it is only recently that contemporary chic hotels and bars have sprung up to complement the history and, with cheap flights easily available from the UK and the pound enjoying a healthy rate against the Canadian dollar, it is likely that visitor numbers will soar this coming year.

The trick, therefore, is to brush up on your basic French, sort out the travel insurance and go and enjoy the year-long party before the rest of the world catches on.