Breakneck Stairs in Petit-Champlain, Quebec City

Climb the Escalier Casse-cou (Breakneck Steps)

Last Updated on April 12, 2024 by Pamela MacNaughtan

One of the most photographed staircases in Quebec City, Escalier Casse-Cou (Breakneck Steps) is also one of the oldest!

After the colony of New France was established in what is now known as Lower Town (Place-Royale, and Petit-Champlain), Samuel de Champlain decided he wanted to build a fortified residence on the top of Cap Diamant, where Château Frontenac and Upper Town now stand.

Chosen for its strategic positioning, Upper Town would, over the years, become to the heart of Quebec City, with fortified walls and cannons, a fort, churches, and more. Travelling from the port of Quebec in Lower Town to the fort and residences in Upper Town was made easier by the building of a steep pathway in 1670.

Ten years later, in 1680, steps/landings were installed along the pathway to make it a little easier to navigate. They were, however, still quite step. Named after Champlain, the staircase took on the nickname “beggar’s stairs”, and by the 1880s had become so dangerous that they were often referred to as the “breakneck stairs”.

It wasn’t until 1893 that the stairs were replaced with a three-ramp iron structure designed by Charles Baillairgé, a Quebec City architect and civil engineer who also built Eglise Saint-Jean-Baptiste, the central pavilion of Laval University, among others.

Escalier Casse-Cou was hugged on either side with shops and tenements, an important pathway from Lower Town to Upper Town.

Photograph | Breakneck Steps, Quebec City, QC, about 1870 | MP-0000.307.2
Photograph | Breakneck Steps, Quebec City, QC, about 1870 | MP-0000.307.2

By the 1950s, the area of Place-Royale and Petit-Champlain was used as a warehouse district, however, when the city decided to rejuvenate the area in the 1960s, Escalier Casse-Cou received a facelift as well.

Today, Escalier Casse-Cou (Breakneck Steps) is lined with shops and features restaurants and a pub, all three of which have patio space that overlooks the stairs and views of Petit-Champlain. Definitely an attraction to see during your visit in summer, winter, or any time of year!

Thinking of visiting Escalier Casse-Cou? Taking photos on the breakneck steps are totally okay, but remember there are people walking up and down the stairs, so be courteous. If there is a group of you, stick to one side of the stairs, don’t take up the entire space.

where: petit-champlain & côte de la montagne • open: 24/7 • cost: Free

photo gallery

View of Petit-Champlain from the Breakneck Steps.
Escalier Casse-Cou, the Breakneck Steps in Old Quebec City
Escalier Casse-Cou in Old Quebec City