Things to Do in Quebec
Vieux Québec is the crown jewel of French Canada and if you're coming for the first time, look out - there's simply no other place like it in North America. Narrow cobbled streets are lined with 17th- and 18th-century houses and almost every step will bring you to another historical plaque, a leafy park with a battery of 18th-century canons, a grand 17th-century plaza, and other historical sites. In fact, wandering around Vieux Québec is like exploring an old European city.
Vieux Quebec is compact and easily walkable. On a daytime stroll, you can browse the shops along Rue Ste-Jean, wander among the grassy knolls in the Plains of Abraham, climb to the top of the Citadel, walk the Fortifications, then follow the river boardwalk (the Promenade des Gouverneurs) down to the Victorian waterfront. From there you get the classic view of Quebec City’s most famous building, the Chateau Frontenac.
The epicenter of the city’s sea trade back in the 17th-century, Montreal’s Old Port lost its role as a trading post in the 1970s, falling temporarily into ruin until a major renovation transformed it into one of the city’s most important entertainment centers in the 1990s. Today, the vibrant waterfront district is home to an IMAX cinema, the acclaimed Montréal Science Centre and a landmark Clock Tower, as well a large outdoor skating rink in winter and an urban beach in summer. The scenic Old Port makes an atmospheric spot for walking, cycling and Segway tours, but other popular pastimes for visitors include river cruises, renting a paddleboat (pedalo) to paddle around the calm waters of Bonsecours Basin Park or soaring overhead in a seaplane for a unique bird’s eye view of the historic waterfront.
Locals bestow Place-Royale as the spiritual and historical heart of Vieux Quebec, for this spot is not only the birthplace of French Civilization in North America but also one of the continent’s oldest settlements. And that history resonates, as the site has the largest surviving ensemble of 17th and 18th century buildings in North America.
One of the highlights here is the Centre d’Interpretation de Place-Royal, an interpretive center with illuminating exhibits on the individual people, houses, and challenges of setting up a town the shores of the St. Lawrence River. Walk past the center to see a trompe-l’oeil mural of people from the early city. Dominating the plaza is the oldest church in Quebec, Notre-Dame-des-Victoires. It’s worth taking a peek inside at the paintings, altar, and the large boat suspended from the ceiling. When not soaking up the history, duck in and out of the boutiques and restaurants that are sprinkled throughout the Place-Royal.
The mountain is the site of Mount Royal Park, the work of New York Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted. It's a sprawling, leafy playground that's perfect for cycling, jogging, horseback riding, picnicking; in winter, miles of paths and trails draw cross-country skiers and snowshoers.
On clear days, you can enjoy panoramic views from the Kondiaronk lookout near Chalet du Mont Royal, a grand old white villa that hosts big-band concerts in summer; or from the Observatoire de l'Est, a favorite rendezvous spot for lovebirds. En route you'll spot the landmark Cross of Montréal, which is illuminated at night.
Other features of the park include Lac des Castors (Beaver Lake), a sculpture garden, a lush forest, with numerous sets of stairs, and two cemeteries.
One of Montreal's most enduring symbols, the Notre Dame Basilica occupies a site rich with three centuries of history, with its most recent claim to fame being the baptism of Céline Dion's son.
Inside, one of the highlights is the altar, which displays 32 bronze panels representing birth, life, and death. The west tower houses one massive bell, which when rung, vibrates right up through your feet. The Chapelle du Sacré Coeur (Sacred Heart Chapel) located behind the main hall is nicknamed the Wedding Chapel and is so popular that there is a two years wait to tie the knot.
Tuesday through Saturday, an evening sound and light display called "Et la lumière fut" ("And then there was light") uses cutting-edge technology to tell the story of the church and the city.
At the foot of Cap Diamant in the historic Lower Town (Basse-Ville) of Quebec City, the Petit-Champlain quartier is one of the oldest spots in the city and said to be home to the oldest commercial street in North America; Rue du Petit-Champlain.
In the beginning of Quebec’s history, Petit-Champlain was little more than portside village made up of just a few homes and fur trading posts. Today, after a huge urban restoration project, the quartier is bursting with sidewalk cafes, galleries, restaurants, and boutiques hidden down narrow cobblestone streets. The area is also well-known as an artists’ enclave, and nearly fifty of its stores are run by a local artists’ co-op. On the side of 102 Rue du Petit-Champlain, look out for a huge trompe-l'œil. Designed by Murale Création, the famous mural shows different stages of Quebec’s history, from the bombardments to the landslides to the people who set down their roots here by the shores of St Lawrence.
More Things to Do in Quebec
Site of the 1976 Olympic Games, Olympic Park is now a family-friendly destination packed with sites and activities. The four attractions are the Olympic Stadium (State Olympique), the Montreal Biodome (Biodôme de Montréal), the Botanical Garden (Jardin Botanique), and the Montreal Insectarium (Insectarium de Montreal). Plus, they are all within walking distance of each other.
Olympic Stadium is mainly used for baseball, festivals, fairs, and shows. It’s one of the most visited stadiums in the world. A platform at the top affords panoramic views of Montreal and its surroundings. At the Montreal Biodome, you can an amble through a rainforest, the Arctic Circle, rolling woodlands, or along the raw Atlantic oceanfront - all without ever leaving the building.
Inside the Botanical Gardens you can wander around 10 large, fragrant conservatory greenhouses, each with a theme, from orchids and begonias to ferns and rainforest flora.
At the base of the Château Frontenac, Quebec City’s Terrasse Dufferin promenade looks out across the St Lawrence River from its clifftop perch atop Cap Diamant. Named after Lord Dufferin, who was Canada’s governor between 1872 and 1878, come in summertime when green and white-topped gazebos fill the 425-meter-long boardwalk and street performers entertain. Time your visit for the early evening, and you’ll also get to see the sun set over the Laurentian Mountains to the north. In winter, Dufferin Terrasse is especially popular for its Les Glissades de la Terrasse toboggan run, which wooshes people up to 60 mph down an 82-meter slide.
Just underneath Terrasse Dufferin, by the statue of Samuel de Champlain, you can visit the archaeological site of Champlain’s second fort which dates back to 1620.
The oldest Christian parish north of Mexico, the Basilique-Cathédrale Notre-Dame-De-Québec has suffered everything from fires to battle damage to reconstruction and restoration. The opulent cathedral you see today is richly decorated with impressive works of art including stained glass windows.
Most of the Neo-classic facade of the Basilique-Cathédrale Notre-Dame-De-Québec is from the reconstruction completed in 1771, though parts of the basilica date from the original construction, including the bell tower and portions of the wall. The neo-baroque interior is appropriately grandiose with neo-baroque, filled with ecclesiastical treasures, paintings, and a chancel lamp (a gift of Louis XIV), illuminated by the flickering light of votive candles. Below is a crypt, where some 900 people are buried including governors of New France, archbishops and cardinals.
As one of the longest and most historic rivers in the world – penetrating 3,058 kilometers into North America- the St Lawrence River is omnipresent everywhere visitors look. Stretching from the mighty Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes of Ontario, the land on either side of it has been occupied by Native tribes for almost 10,000 years. And although many studies suggest Vikings were the first European explorers to navigate its waters, the river was only officially discovered by Jacques Cartier in the 16th century – which turned out to be one of the most important turning points in North American history. Indeed, the Saint Lawrence River served as the main route for European exploration of the North American interior in order to establish a lucrative colonial empire resulting from the trade with the Montagnais, the Etchemin and the Algonquin people.
Just 18 miles (30 km) outside of Quebec City stands one of the most important pilgrimage sites of Canada and the Catholic word: the Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Basilica. This Catholic sanctuary receives more than half a million visitors every year, which represents quite a lot of people for this modest village.
The reason why this basilica is so famous—even more so than its Montreal counterpart—is because it is credited with many miracles, especially when it comes to curing the sick and disabled. Initially built as a shrine to Sainte-Anne, the basilica, whose history goes all the way back to 1658, got its healing reputation when Louis Guimont, a local carpenter suffering from rheumatism, came to help with the construction of the first chapel and was miraculously healed after its completion. Even nowadays, the pillars in the front entrance of the basilica are covered in crutches from people who are said by the parishioners to have been miraculously cured by Sainte-Anne.
Nestled in the heart of historic Old-Montreal, Place d’Armes is the second oldest public site in Montreal. The Sulpicians, who played a major role in the founding of the city and built the still-existing Saint-Sulpice Seminary on the southern side of the square, called it Place de la Fabrique as it was used as a hay and wood market. The name was, however, changed to Place d’Armes in 1721 when it became the stage of various military events.
Place d’Armes more or less kept it actual size and allure since the completion of Notre-Dame Basilica in 1830, with the notable exception that it is now flanked by the city’s first high rise buildings -representing major periods of Montreal's development- the New York Life Insurance Building as well as the Art deco gem and Empire State Building lookalike Aldred Building.
When Quebecois want to soak up the sun or enjoy a family picnic, they head to the Plains of Abraham, contained within Battlefields Park. Within the park’s sprawling 267 acres/108 hectares are grassy knolls, fountains, monuments, trees, and lush sunken gardens all for residents and visitors to enjoy.
Like other sites in Vieux Quebec, the Plains of Abraham is a looking glass into the city’s history. But though it was the site of many clashes for supremacy between the French and British Empires, the park you see today is what Central Park and Hyde Park are to New York and London. Spend an afternoon wandering its walking trails, checking out its historical monuments, and marveling at its landscaping. Throughout the year, the Plains of Abraham is the site of many outdoor concerts and events.
The Citadel of Quebec, a massive star-shaped fort, towers above the St Lawrence River on Cape Diamond (Cap Diamant), the rock bluff along the water. Though the Citadel never actually was in a battle, it continues to house about 200 members of the Royal 22e Régiment, the only fully French speaking battalion in the Canadian Forces. Thus, the Citadel is North America's largest fortified group of buildings still occupied by troops.
Upon visiting The Citadel of Quebec, you will get the the low-down on the spectacular architecture as well as see exhibits on military life from colonial times to today. The changing of the guard takes place daily at 10am in summer. The beating of the retreat, with soldiers banging on their drums at shift's end, happens every Friday at 7pm from July 6 until early September.
Stretching from the Rue Notre-Dame in the north to the Old Port in the south, Jacques Cartier Place (Place Jacques Cartier) is the famed cobbled square at the heart of Vieux MontrÃ©al. In this lively carnival, you can watch lively street performers, have your portrait painted, or watch the unfolding pageant of colorful people.
Under Nelsonâs Column, a popular market sells arts, crafts, flowers, and souvenirs. You can see all the action from a table in one of the inviting street cafÃ©s that line the square. Sip a glass of beer or wine and soak up the atmosphere, relax and let the afternoon go by, enjoy people-watching at its best. Afterward, you can stroll down the slope toward the Old Port, while marveling at the opulent 19th century townhouses and mansions.
One of the most charming areas of Quebec City, the Old Port (Vieux-Port) was once a bustling commercial hub for European ships bringing supplies and settlers to the new colony. Today, it’s still bustling, but now the port reverberates with visitors wandering the quays, enjoying picturesque views of the Old City, the St. Lawrence River, and the Laurentian Mountains.
The Quebec City Old Port is also where you’ll find the impressive Musee de la Civilization, spacious and rich with multimedia exhibits on Canadian culture. Also here is the Marché du Vieux-Port (Old-Port Market), where the local farmers and producers come to sell their fresh products. Perhaps the most enchanting of all the city’s many small squares – and a must-see – is the Place Royale, home to the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires church, the oldest church in Quebec, and the Centre d’Interpretation de Place-Royal, which has exhibitions detailing the city’s 400-plus-year history.
Quebec City resonates with history, and nowhere is it most evident than in the beautifully-preserved Fortifications of Quebec. These restored 17th-century walls, built atop of plunging cliff, tower over the St. Lawrence River. As the only remaining walled city in North America, Quebec City is now recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a must-see on a visit to the city.
The Fortifications of Quebec encircle Upper Town, from the Citadel of Quebec through Parc L’Esplanade and Artillery Park National Historic Site, then down toward Quebec City Old Port (Vieux-Port). You can walk the 2.9-mi/4.6-km circuit on top of them, where you can take in sweeping view of the city and St. Lawrence River. The fortifications' Interpretive Centre has a small but interesting exhibit on the history of the walls as well as an old gunpowder building from 1815.
Things to do near Quebec
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