QUEBEC CITY – Along the Eastern coast of Canada lies Québec City, a place rooted in its distinctly rich French-Canadian heritage. Founded by Samuel de Champlain in 1608, Québec City has retained much, if not all, of its French influence.
Walking around the city, surrounded by classical French architecture and people speaking in French, can be a surreal experience as you try to remind yourself you’re in Cananda, not France.
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Besides the beautiful French architecture, historical sites like the ramparts that were erected as a defense mechanism against potential external British incursions continue to stand tall today. These walls make Québec City the only North American city to still have such fortresses.
Québec City embodies a rich European culture and heritage, one that is found outside the European continent. It’s hard-pressed not to feel the weight of history, when it is so distinctly imprinted in the cobblestone streets you walk, and in the walls around you.
Offering a completely different experience to the many cities in North America, Québec City is sure to satisfy. Here are 6 highlights of the city to help you get the most out of your visit.
1. Enjoy Rich French Colonial History
Owing to the significant French presence dating back to the 17th century, the province of Québec has been and is still currently a predominantly French-speaking community, as well with French being the provincial language of the capital city of Québec.
Le Château de Frontenac happens to be not only the poster child of the entire city of Québec, but also of the legacy of French colonial history. Inaugurated in 1893, Château Frontenac majestically sits over old Québec, or Vieux Québec, overlooking the beautiful Saint Lawrence River.
Right in the vicinity of Château Frontenac is Quartier Petit Champlain, the small but oldest commercial zone in all of North America. Located in the charming Vieux Québec, Petit Champlain street is probably one of the most magical and beautiful streets. Come wintertime, when layers of snow sparsely coat the tile roofs and completely cover the streets, Vieux Québec transforms into a winter wonderland.
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2. Marvel at Amazing Architecture
Architecture could very well be the most tangible manifestation of an extension of culture and history. Perhaps out of a desire to imprint their influence on society, or as a way to ground themselves in an otherwise foreign territory, the French were eager to export their architectural wonders to their colonies.
So, it isn’t surprising to see monumental French architecture in Québec City. A national historic site of Canada, the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Québec was built in 1647 and is the most important Catholic church in the Québec province. The oldest church in all Canada, Québec City’s Notre-Dame features an iconic neo classical façade and stained-glass windows that have been signature of Catholic churches around the world.
Located in a sector of historically uniform chain of buildings, the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Québec is the historical and religious heart of Québec City.
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3. Bask in Breath-taking Natural Beauty
While the main city centre offers a host of beautiful architecture (both old and new), the surrounding region of Québec City has some stunning natural landscape for those who get overwhelmed by the immensity of the city.
Montmorency Falls is a stunning waterfall that plunges from even higher than the much more famous Niagara, and being only minutes from downtown Québec City, it’s a can’t-miss scenic spot for any traveller.
The Falls is a historic site that can be experienced in a myriad of ways. Walk across the suspension bridge or go down the 478-step staircase that leads right to a viewing platform at the bottom of the waterfall for a splendid view of the rushing waters.
If you want a more exhilarating ride and a novel way to experience a waterfall, there’s a zipline that stretches right across it. Feel the rush of the wind and drizzle of the waterfall on your face as you zip across the cascade of water, landing near the La Baronne observation deck.
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As Québec City morphs into a winter wonderland, hype drums up with the city expecting the onset of the most important event of every year to Québecers. The Carnaval de Québec, a historic winter carnival with origins that began in 1894, is one of the world’s most famous winter carnivals.
An annual event that takes place during the heart of winter usually from end January to early February, the Carnaval de Québec was created with a heartwarming intention: to warm the hearts of a population that faced the dastardly harsh winters. Spanning over 17 days, the Quebec Winter Carnival has a slew of activities that range from ice sculpture workshops, canoe racing, parades, and even winter wrestling.
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5. Stay in an Ice Hotel
If the Québec Winter Carnival isn’t enough to convince you to visit during winter, this next one just might do the trick. Québec City’s Hôtel de Glace has got to be hands-down one of the coolest experiences you can ever have.
The only ice hotel in North America, the Hôtel de Glace is open from the winter months of January to March and features an exclusive selection of 44 rooms. Built using 500 tons of ice and 40,000 tons of snow, this hotel provides a truly Nordic accommodation experience. Rooms hover around -5°C but there are plenty of amenities to keep you warm and snuggly such as insulating sheets, hot tubs, and saunas under the stars.
Every reservation of the rooms at the ice hotel will come with a reservation at Hôtel Valcartier where you can leave your luggage and take showers. From sipping cocktails in ice glasses to staying in a room crafted entirely by ice and snow, Hôtel de Glace is an accommodation like no other.
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6. Explore World-class Museums and Galleries
Québec City is entrenched with such a rich culture and history spanning over thousands of years that it is only natural the city has excellent and world-class museums and art galleries.
The Musée de la Civilisation is one of Canada’s most visited museums, garnering close to 14 million visitors every year. Stepping inside, it’s easy to see why with its visually impactful interior that will wow you before you even view any of the exhibits. The museum’s permanent exhibitions of “People of Quebec: Then and Now” and “This Is Our Story” focuses on telling an enriching, educational, and sensitively curated story on the Aboriginals. With content and exhibits that discuss contemporary issues, there’s always something fresh to see at the Musée de la Civilisation.
If art is more your style, the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec is the institution you’ll find spending most of your day in. The only art institution that is dedicated to Québec art, it houses over 38,000 works on the history of Québec art ranging from the 17th century to present day. There are four main pavilions that showcase various forms of art like contemporary to modern, and even historical. The Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec is a great way to put your cultural hat on and immerse yourself in the beauty that surrounds you.
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