Discovering culture and art in Quebec City
Quebec City teems with history and culture. No surprise: It's a 17th century walled city on the Saint Lawrence River with cobblestone streets, elegant architecture, famous battle sites, and 400 years of history behind it. Charming and lively, Quebec's capital is also its French-Canadian soul.
But the sheer number of sites and attractions can make it daunting for visitors who want to see it all. Not to worry, we've detailed the city's best places to take in culture and see art, plus how to get into the signature joie de vivre that permeates every aspect of life, work, and play here. There's a bonus: It's easy and fun to explore this compact, picturesque city on foot.
Soak in the vibe
Start in the oldest neighborhood of North America's oldest city: Petit Champlain, or Old Quebec, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With its vintage stone buildings, handsome Old World homes, ornate street lamps, and narrow cobblestone streets, this riverside village feels like a quaint hamlet in France. From the city's hilltop ride the funiculaire down and take your time wandering the streets, browsing artist ateliers, craft studios, and one-off boutiques in immaculately restored former 17th century merchant homes. Enjoy a leisurely meal at a bistro or grab picnic ingredients and find a nice bench for people watching. Old Quebec is just as delightful in summer as it is dusted in snow and lit up for the holidays.
Spend an afternoon looking at fine art at the modern, chic Musee national des beaux-arts du Quebec near the Plains of Abraham. This sleek museum houses nearly 40,000 works with a focus on Quebec's top artists, and its collections span four centuries. Near Old Quebec, the Musee de la civilisation is the city's most popular culture center. The artifacts and visitor-oriented interactive exhibitions here detail the human experience, including Quebec history and architecture. If you have time, take the museum's excellent guided tour. You're sure to be left inspired, so breathe in the cultured air and be sure to peruse the many galleries and art studios, plus traditional craft studios where masters create original works -- from furniture to housewares in wood, stone, glass, and metal.
Stay in a landmark
The city's icon is the fairy tale Fairmont Le Ch?teau Frontenac on Cap Diamant overlooking both the mighty St. Lawrence and pitched, slate roofs of Old Quebec. Stay in one of the 1893 landmark's glamorously appointed rooms overlooking the turrets and spires. Then set off along the Terrase Dufferin boardwalk on a cycling tour of the other architectural highlights: the 1688 Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church in Place-Royal, the oldest in North America; Chevalier House, once an 18th century inn; magnificent neo-classical Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Quebec, completed in 1647; and Gare du Palais, a chateau-like 1915 Canadian Pacific Railway building today housing the city's train and bus station.
Feel the history
Vieux-Quebec is the walled colonial core constructed back in 1608, making Quebec City one of North America's oldest and the only fortified city north of Mexico. Sign up for a guided walking tour or set out on your own, by foot, bike, or moped. Here are the top sights:
- The 1800s Citadelle of Quebec at Place-Royale, a New France settlement forged by French explorers called "le Canada" and the site of several French-English battles.
- The European-style plaza called Place-Royal, the city's original core, and its fresque des Quebecois mural illustrating four centuries of history.
- The Citadelle of Quebec, a star-shaped citadel, which is part of the city ramparts, and active garrison. Be sure to watch the changing of the guard.
- In grassy Battlefields Park, the Plains of Abraham where the 1759 Conquest unfolded, deciding North America's fate. Another must is the three-mile-long defensive wall network, detailed at the Fortifications of Quebec National Historic Site.
Celebrate at a festival
Raucous gatherings are a Quebecois specialty -- especially when the snowflakes start falling. Check the city's busy festival, concert, and events calendar to see what's on while you're in town. The New Year's Eve celebration in the city is spectacular with fireworks lighting up the Old Port and happy crowds counting down to midnight in the chilly night air. Then there's the summer music extravaganza Le Festival d'ete de Quebec featuring global headliners. The very best, though, is Carnaval du Quebec, the world's largest winter festival that takes over the entire city with parades, galas, balls, outdoor fetes and banquets, and zany competitions involving lots of snow and ice.
Get to know the Indigenous heritage
On the Akiawenrahk River at the city's edge, four-star Hotel-Musee Premieres Nations showcases Huron-Wendat culture -- an original, eclectic experience. Overnight in the stylish hotel and tour the museum. You can also hike the property's trails, unwind at the spa with First Nations treatments, massage, and Nordic-style baths, and dine on Aboriginal-inspired cuisine, including smoked fish and game. The contemporary design mirrors a traditional longhouse and features accents like animal skin stools and peeled tree trunk posts. Join the daily Labrador tea ceremony beside the central circular fireplace.
See it all
In addition to Old Quebec, you'll want to shop, stroll, take 10 at a patio caf?, and dine in Marche Bonsecours. This place is celebrated for its beautiful 1847 heritage buildings and high-end boutiques with locally made originals -- in furniture, jewelry, crafts, and designer fashion. Another must is the Old Port neighborhood for antiques, galleries, restaurants, and the al fresco caf? culture on busy rue Saint-Paul.
Perhaps just as noteworthy as its art and culture is Quebec City's internationally acclaimed, envelope-pushing dining scene, including food trucks and bakeries to rival Paris' best. Be sure to take full advantage while you see all the sights.
Prepare to eat, drink, and be merry at the Quebec City website.