Quebec is one of the most beautiful cities in North America. Founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain, this fortified city has a rich history, architecture and culture, which can be discovered and enjoyed on foot.
Old Quebec The Old City is one of the most popular areas for both tourists and locals, not only because of its charm but also because of its many restaurants, pubs, hotels and boutiques. St-Jean Street is the main entrance to the Old City. This street is at the heart of the social and cultural life of the city, with Place d'Youville and the Palais Montcalm Theatre on the south side and
A little further down is the historic St-Jean Gate, where one can find many small shops, boutiques, pubs and restaurants. The Magasin Général L.P. Blouin, an old-time general store specializing in souvenirs and collectibles, is a popular stop. Restaurants and pubs abound, but the
City Hall is on Côte-de-la-Fabrique, where the strip of restaurants and boutiques continues. This street leads to the Place de l'Hôtel-de-Ville, the Petit Séminaire de Québec and the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-Québec. The Rue du Trésor, where local artists show and sell their works, is a few steps away and leads to the
Place Royale and Vieux-Port The Terrace ends with long stairs on both sides: one set goes down to the Vieux-Port and
Plains of Abraham The other set of stairs goes up to the
On the east end of the Plains, the
St-Louis Street and the Grande Allée St-Louis Street runs parallel to St-Jean Street and is equally filled with restaurants and boutiques.
Further west is the entrance to the
St-Louis Street becomes the Grande-Allée west of the Parliament Buildings. The Grande-Allée is synonymous with entertainment. This is where most of the clubs in the city are located, and there are also plenty of restaurants. In summer, the establishments open their terraces and people go from one club to the other, dancing the night away.
René-Lévesque Boulevard and Cartier Street Parallel to the Grande-Allée but further south is René-Lévesque Boulevard. This is where Québec's Grand Théâtre and Music Conservatory are located. A few blocks West is Cartier Street, another popular entertainment and dining district. With restaurants like
Suburbs There are many suburbs around Quebec, and most of them are much more than bedroom communities. In the West end, Sainte-Foy has several great restaurants like
On the St Lawrence River, Beauport's picturesque Royale Avenue leads to the
Quebec may be a small city but there's always plenty to do, even during the cold winter months. Its rich history and culture are effervescent, making residents and visitors want to enjoy their city even more.
Music and theater Culture is behind each and every stone wall in Quebec City. There are plenty of theaters, presenting a wide variety of shows. The Grand Théâtre is at the heart of the city's entertainment life. It's home to the Music Conservatory, the Quebec Symphony Orchestra, the Opéra de Québec and the Trident Theatre, which features plays throughout the year.
The Périscope and Bordée theatres, though of smaller stature, are also much appreciated and often present alternative plays. The Palais Montcalm is one of the most beautiful theatres in the city, standing atop Place d'Youville and featuring a wide range of events from classical music to humour. Le Capitole, also located near Place d'Youville, is a richly decorated theater offering musicals like "The Elvis Story." Le Capitole also has its own hotel and cabaret, for more intimate entertainment.
Quebec City's beautiful churches are well-known, in part for the wonderful concerts hosted. The Violons du Roy, a famous string orchestra, performs regularly in local churches. The Salle Albert-Rousseau, located in Sainte-Foy, is the choice of many artists who wish to perform in a smaller state-of-the-art theater. Pop artists who attract large crowds usually head for the Colisée de Québec, a large arena where the NHL Nordiques hockey team used to play. Finally, artists who wish to perform under the stars can do so at the Agora du Vieux-Port, a popular outdoor theatre.
Festivals and carnivals During the summer, Quebec City becomes one giant theater. Artists perform in the streets, in parks, and pretty much everywhere a crowd can gather. In June, hundreds of children from several countries come to the Montmorency Historic Site, near the famous Montmorency Falls, to share their cultures through dance and music. In July, the Summer Festival brings local and international artists to town. For 10 days, stages spring up everywhere in the city: Place d'Youville becomes its own performance space, a large stage is put together in front of the Parliament Buildings and most city parks are turned into small theaters where jazz, folk, pop, rock, opera and every other imaginable genre resonates. For less than CAD10, you can purchase a pin that gives access to all shows during the festival.
In August, Quebec City goes back in time with the Fêtes de la Nouvelle-France, which celebrates the 150 years of French Regime in the 17th and 18th centuries. Peasants and seigneurs gather at Place Royale for five days of celebration. During the last week of the summer, Quebec City has its annual fair with all the rides, animals, clowns and cotton candy one would expect.
During the winter, Québécois find a way to entertain themselves despite the cold with their famous Winter Carnival. For more than 47 years, they have enjoyed many sporting, artistic and cultural activities during this magical carnival, which allows them to rediscover each year the wonders of winter. An international ice sculpture contest, a parade, an ice castle and a canoe race on the icy St. Lawrence River are some of the activities that take place during these 17 days and nights of sheer fun. Ice rinks also spring up everywhere—at Place d'Youville, for instance, people of all ages skate to classical music.
Museums and galleries Although Quebec City offers tons of outdoors activities, those who prefer to stay inside won't be disappointed. There are plenty of museums, malls and movie theaters. The Museum of Civilization is a must: it features many exhibitions on topics as varied as the beginnings of civilization, the history of clothes, naval history and humour. There are two permanent exhibitions: "Nous les Premières Nations," which presents the history and culture of the Native peoples of Canada, and "Mémoires," which relates the history of the first European settlers. The Musée du Québec, meanwhile, is a treasure of fine art. It has held exhibitions with some of Canada's most famous artists, including Krieghoff and Dallaire, as well as world-renowned artists like Rodin and Tissot.
Those interested in Quebec's history will enjoy the Musée des Augustines de l'Hôtel-Dieu de Québec, which relates the history of the sisters who founded the first hospital in North America, as well as the Musée de l'Amérique française and the Musée du Fort, which focus more on military history. The Battlefields National Park has an interesting interpretation centre, with a multimedia show on the battle of the Plains of Abraham.
Malls The Old City is filled with shops and boutiques, but there are many great malls in the Greater Quebec City area. Les Galeries de la Capitale is often the favourite because of its indoor entertainment park with rides, an ice rink and movie and IMAX theatres. Place Laurier is the largest mall with 350 stores, while Place Sainte-Foy has many upscale stores and designer boutiques.
Sports Many visitors take at least a day to swoop down the slopes or hit the links at Mont Saint-Anne or Stoneham, both just minutes east of the city. For those who prefer to watch their sports, the area's several hockey teams are not to be missed. The Remparts play in the Quebec junior league, while the Citadelles are the Montreal Canadiens' minor league affiliate in the American Hockey League. Both offer outstanding value and fast-paced entertainment.
Nightlife At night, the Grande-Allée is the place to be. This is Quebec City's busiest street, filled with restaurants, cigar rooms, cafés, pubs and nightclubs. Chez Maurice is one of the most popular clubs in the city, along with Chez Dagobert, and Le Vogue. As a general rule there are no cover charges to get into nightclubs, which means that people can go from one to the other all night long.
In the end, a walk in the Old City, especially on the Dufferin Terrace, is for some the best entertainment available in Quebec City. The view is absolutely gorgeous. Wander through the streets, watch a clown draw a smile on people's faces, enjoy the afternoon in a nice café or dance the night away.
Quebec (keh-BEHK) is Canada's oldest city, founded by Samuel de Champlain in 1608. Its name was an adaptation of the Algonquian word meaning "the river narrows here"—Champlain chose this spot for the settlement because the high cliffs and narrowing of the St. Lawrence River offered excellent natural and strategic defenses.
While regarded as the center of New France, the growing North American empire of the French, the colony struggled. The harsh climate combined with the rough terrain failed to attract great numbers of French families to the New World. Further, many of the colony's few settlers were migrants—Couriers de bois—who would come in from the wilderness with furs they had gotten in barter with Native Americans. These men had no interest in taking up permanent residence in Quebec, and often ended up marrying Iroquois or Huron women.
At one point, King Louis XIV had French women sent to New France as wives for the men who inhabited the fledging settlement. These filles de roi exemplified the state of the colony in its early days. In 1666, 58 years after its founding, the population was only 547. Only with increased incentives and persuasion was France able to increase the number of permanent residents to 1,500 by the end of 1690, and to 34,000 by 1730—120 years after the creation of New France.
In the 18th century, the city of Quebec finally began to grow. With a larger population, industry and trade flourished. Couriers de bois continued to bring pelts and furs into the marketplace to trade for other goods, which they could take back into the wilderness. Stores and workshops were built on the river's edge in the Lower Town.
This market area was Place Royale, still one of the Lower Town's most popular landmarks, along with the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church. The latter is noted for having its altar shaped as a fort. It was completed in 1688 and stands on the site of Champlain's very first settlement. Meanwhile, the Upper Town gradually began to take its current shape. Houses and schools sprang up within the city's walls as French citizens began to put down roots in Canada. Today, the Upper Town is full of gourmet restaurants, fine hotels like the Château Frontenac, and numerous shops and boutiques. You will also find the Quebec National Assembly here.
As the city grew in size, so did its economic and military importance. The French knew they needed to create a strong system of defenses to protect the capital of New France from the enemy British, ensconsed to the south in the American colonies. What they constructed was the Citadel. Perhaps the most famous of Quebec City's landmarks, it stands 106 metres above the city on Cap Diamant. It was assumed that an attack would come from the river, the city's most vulnerable point, and that is where the cannons were aimed.
Unfortunately for the French, the British surprised the French. General James Wolfe and 4,500 British soldiers scaled the steep cliffs leading to the Plains of Abraham, under cover of darkness from September 12-13, 1759. The French commander, Lieutenant-General Louis de Montcalm, ordered his “army” (a combination of French regulars and poorly-trained militiamen) to meet the enemy. In a battle that lasted 15 minutes, the British routed the defenders. They battered the city with cannon fire until the French army retreated to Montreal, where they would be defeated a year later and New France would fall to the British.
The surrender of Quebec was followed by a period of military occupation and martial law until 1763, when a peace treaty was signed in Paris. With New France now secured as British North America, immigrants arrived to occupy existing cities and to build new ones. The large influx of British, Scottish and Irish immigrants into Quebec City created considerable tension, but it also fostered the international flavor the city still retains. A mingling of cultures over time has resulted in a unique lifestyle and atmosphere.
With the British came order and wealth, and the city grew in leaps and bounds. New sectors of the city were built with their own architecture and character. Agriculture flourished and trade routes extended deeper into the heart of the continent and into the American colonies. But beneath all the British influence remained the "French identity." Citizens refused to give up their language or their culture to the English speaking authorities.
This patriotic fervor has only increased over time. In 1774, the British passed the Quebec Act, which allowed the French citizens to practice Roman Catholicism and to use French civil law. Still, French-speaking citizens struggled to preserve their culture. During the debates on Confederation in 1867, Quebec representatives refused to join unless guarantees were made to protect the identity of French-speaking people in the newly formed Dominion of Canada.
Quebec City has continued as a hotbed of political activity for those who feel that the French influence in Canada is not strong enough, or that the French are poorly represented and inadequately supported by their government. But despite its strong French identity, Quebec remains a city rich in diverse cultural flavors, styles and history. It is a city of passion. Its residents are not only passionate about their politics, but about their desire to enjoy life to its fullest.
One of the beauties of a Quebec City vacation is that the city's compact nature allows you to stay in any number of architecturally and atmospherically distinct regions while remaining steps away from all major attractions and restaurants. As such, the best way to experience the old-world charm of the city is undoubtedly on foot.
A typical walking tour might begin and end at the Dufferin Terrace, overlooking Place Royale and the St. Lawrence River, with the Château Frontenac hotel looming in the background. From here you have easy access to the three main areas awaiting exploration in Quebec City: the lower town, comprising the Vieux-Port and Place Royale; Vieux-Québec, or the area inside the fortifications; and the Upper Town, especially the area stretching along the Grande-Allée.
Place Royale and Vieux-Port There are two ways down from the Dufferin Terrace—the stairs and the Funicular. Each has its obvious advantages and disadvantages, and the latter is understandably most popular for the return trip! Each brings you out in the heart of Place Royale, near the Batterie Royale and the charming Rue du Petit Champlain.
Wander through the charming shops and restaurants of the Quartier du Petit Champlain, along Notre-Dame, Champlain or Petit-Champlain Streets, towards Place Royale itself. This square, bounded by St-Pierre to the west, Dalhousie to the east and de la Barricade to the north, is where explorer Samuel de Champlain set up a fledgling settlement in 1608. Drop in at the Place Royale Information Center to find historic and practical details on attractions in the immediate area: the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires church and the Museum of Civilization, for instance.
If you wish to return to Vieux-Québec at this point, simply loop back around to the stairs or Funicular back to the Dufferin Terrace. Alternately, you can continue north and west into the Vieux-Port, stopping at the Old Port of Quebec Interpretation Centre, which documents the city's industrial and commercial history, while offering a pleasant environment for many summer activities.
From here you can continue west up St-Paul or de la Canoterie Streets, switching back up and through the fortifications into Vieux-Québec, in close proximity to many key attractions, including the Museum of French America and the Hôtel-Dieu Augustines Museum.
From the latter, you can wind your way along Côte-du-Palais, jog left on St-Jean Street and then right on Côte-de-la-Fabrique, which takes you past City Hall. Hang right on the famous Rue du Trésor and enjoy the diverse, high-quality artwork for sale along this intriguing, narrow alleyway. You will emerge on St-Louis Street, on the other side of the Château Frontenac from where you started on the Dufferin Terrace.
Alternately, from the Hôtel-Dieu Augustines Museum, you can walk west along the fortifications themselves. The Rue des Remparts will eventually take you to the Artillery Park National Historic Site, and then to Place d'Youville and the St-Jean Gate, which links the Upper Town to Vieux-Québec. Place d'Youville is a perfect spot to stop off and enjoy street musicians in the summer, or to make a couple of laps around the skating rink in the winter.
Continuing south along Rue d'Auteuil and then St-Denis Avenue, you will emerge at The Citadel, the linchpin of Quebec City's fortifications, which offers an incredible view over the river and various exhibits chronicling the city's history. From here it is an easy walk back to the Dufferin Terrace and the Château Frontenac.
Upper Town and the Grande-Allée The most spectacular and interesting route from the Dufferin Terrace to the Upper Town is undoubtedly along the Promenade des Gouverneurs, the precipitous boardwalk running under The Citadel and linking the Dufferin Terrace with the National Battlefields Park. Wander around this enormous park, have a picnic and visit the Quebec Museum and attached National Battlefields Park Interpretation Center. Plaques throughout the park detail its tumultuous and fascinating history.
Eventually you will make your way away from the cliffs and arrive at the decidedly urban action of the Grande-Allée. This magnificent boulevard is full of shops, restaurants and boutiques. In the summer, you could while away an entire afternoon over a cocktail at a sidewalk café, but there are many other sights to see in the Upper Town.
Head up Rue de la Chevrotière or any other side street towards the Rue St-Amable and the Marie-Guyart Building, located at the intersection of de la Chevrotière and René-Lévesque Boulevard. For a panoramic overview of your marathon walking tour, ride up 725 feet to the Observatoire de la Capitole. After descending, continue back towards Vieux-Québec along René-Lévesque or St-Amable and you will encounter the ornate Parliament Buildings—or National Assembly, in local parlance. Tours are available every day in French and English. Continue along the Grande-Allée, through the St-Louis Gate, and soon you will be once again faced with the grandeur of the Château Frontenac.
If you have somehow managed to complete this tour in one day, you now owe yourself dinner at one of dozens of area restaurants. In the summer, you could relax among buskers and concession stands as the sun goes down over the Dufferin Terrace; in the winter, you might choose to get your adrenaline going with an ice toboggan ride before warming up with a hot chocolate. Obviously, a day is precious little time to really savor what Quebec has to offer—no matter the duration of your stay. However, it is a pleasure to know that you can ditch the car and explore on foot.
Guided Tours Check out Classic Journey's Quebec & Charlevoix Walking Tour, a six-day exclusive guided trip throughout these breathtaking areas.