French-speaking Quebec City, perched on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, feels like a slice of Europe in North America. This historic capital of the eponymous province ranks among North America’s oldest settlements, complete with a UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old Town, 17th and 18th century architecture and a fierce sense of identity.
Come along as we explore Quebec City through photos.
In a city well-known for its European-style architecture, no building is quite as iconic as the Château Frontenac. This grand structure, perched on Cape Diamond overlooking the St. Lawrence River, has served as a luxury hotel since 1893, hosting the likes of Queen Elizabeth II, Celine Dion, Charlie Chaplin and Paul McCartney.
You don’t have to be a guest to step inside the lobby or take a guided tour.
Some 30 sets of stairs link the Upper and Lower Towns of Quebec, and the Breakneck Stairs are the oldest. This set of 59 steps linking côte de la Montagne with rue du Petit-Champlain were completed in 1635; they get their name from the steep incline.
Fontaine de Tourny
This monumental fountain was gifted to the City of Quebec in 2007 to celebrate the city’s 400th anniversary. While new to Quebec, the fountain has a much longer history. It was one of six designed by French sculptor Mathurin Moreau in 1853,
It was previously installed in the French port city of Bordeaux before being taken down to make way for a parking lot. Peter Simons, a Quebec businessman, purchased the fountain and had it restored before donating it to the city. From April to October, water spouts from 43 jets. Come at night to see the fountain illuminated.
Rue du Petit-Champlain
The Petit-Champlain in Old Quebec dates back more than 400 years, home to cobbled streets permeated with a rich sense of history. This former harbor village, once home to the city’s wealthy merchants, now houses cafes, art galleries and boutiques.
More than four million people visit the Plains of Abraham each year. This sprawling park is more than a green space; it’s a part of Quebec’s history – the site of a battle between the French and British in 1759. The Canadian national anthem, “O Canada,” was sung here for the first time on June 24, 1880.
Parc de la Chute-Montmorency
Parc de la Chute-Montmorency, located 15 minutes outside of Quebec City, is best known for its 272-foot-tall Montmorency Falls. Ride a cable car to the top of the falls for a breathtaking view, or take the more adventurous route to the top on one of three via ferrata routes. During the cold winter months, the falls freeze and attract ice climbers.
La Fresque des Québécois
In 1998, a group of artists from Quebec and Lyon, France, got together to paint a multi-story mural depicting notable landmarks and figures from Quebec’s history. While there are 20 such trompe-l’œil-style murals throughout the region, Fresque des Québécois (Mural of Quebecers) is the first and arguably most famous.
Rue du Trésor
Rue du Trésor in Old Quebec doubles as an outdoor art gallery, where local artists sell their paintings, engravings and other works. The street gets its name from the royal treasury once located here. It began attracting artists in the 1960s, and today, the non-profit Association des Artistes de la Rue du Trésor regulates the market to ensure quality. It’s one of the best spots in the city to pick up a gift or souvenir.
The Citadel of Quebec sits on Cap Diamant overlooking Old Quebec; it’s the largest British-built fortress in North America. While the structure originally housed British troops, it now serves as the home of the Canadian Armed Forces’ only Francophone infantry contingent. An onsite museum displays artifacts from Canada’s military history, and soldiers of the Royal 22e Régiment offer guided tours.
Porte Saint-Jean serves as one of four remaining entry points through the fortified walls surrounding Old Quebec. Climb the steps to the top of the gate for views of rue Saint-Jean below, or in the winter, lace up some skates to glide on the illuminated rink in front of the gate in Place d’Youville.
Quebecers know how to embrace the winter weather, and snow sledding has been one of the region’s most popular pastimes since the mid-nineteenth century. The Dufferin Terrace, overlooking the St. Lawrence River, features a seasonal toboggan slide with three lanes that can reach speeds of up to 44 miles per hour.
Île d’Orléans, just 15 minutes by car from Old Quebec, offers a glimpse at rural life in the province. The island is home to six small villages, each with its own identity. Visitors can go wine tasting, pick fresh summer strawberries, attend a culinary workshop or tour ancestral homes dating back to the 1700s.
Vignoble de l’Isle de Bacchus
Île-d’Orléans has long been known for its wild grapes, and these days, it’s still known for its wineries. The island is home to more than 70 winemakers. Vignoble de l’Isle de Bacchus (pictured) has been making wine (red, white, rosé and ice wine) for more than 25 years.
Foodies shouldn’t leave Quebec without sampling the region’s most famous dish, poutine. Chefs around town have put many spins on this comfort food, traditionally made with fries, fresh cheese curds and brown gravy, and some restaurants have entire menus dedicated to the high-calorie indulgence.
There are brunch and dessert versions, as well as high-end toppings, like lobster, foie gras or truffled cheese.
If you think you can only canoe the St. Lawrence River in summer, you’re wrong. During the annual Winter Carnival, the world’s largest winter festival, ice canoe teams with spiked paddles and shoes outfitted with inch-long screws paddle, push, “scooter” and pull their boats across the frozen expanse.
What was once a necessary way to transport goods across the river in winter has become a popular (and challenging) winter sport.
Hôtel de Glace
If you want to spend the night in an ice hotel without leaving North America, you’ll have to visit Quebec. The Hôtel de Glace, open from January to March, is made entirely of snow and ice. Visitors can sip cocktails (from glasses made of ice) at the Ice Bar, zoom down an ice slide, visit the Grand Hall or chapel, or spend the night in a room or suite made of ice.
Come winter, ice skating rinks begin popping up in plazas, parks, back lanes and forest trails throughout Quebec City. While many of the more popular rinks are for leisure skaters, others cater to another wildly popular Canadian sport, ice hockey.
Festival d’été de Québec
Each summer, Quebec City hosts Canada’s largest outdoor music event, the Festival d’été de Québec. For 11 days, nearly a dozen venues around town host performances, including headliners at the Plains of Abraham. More than 80,000 spectators gather to see some of the 250 shows.
Les Fêtes de la Nouvelle-France
Visitors with an interest in Quebec’s French heritage won’t want to miss the annual Les Fêtes de la Nouvelle-France (New France Festival) in August. This festival features reenactments from the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as lectures, food tastings, parades and live performances.
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