Inspiring Quebec City

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Inspiring Quebec City
The eminently walkable Old Quebec is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the city's cultural abundance is underscored by its rich history. Wander past beautiful churches, pop into one of the history museums, and check out the unique local art scene.
By Flash Parker, AFAR Ambassador
Photo courtesy of Benoit Cecile/Tourisme Québec
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    The Wild Winter Carnival
    The famed Quebec Winter Carnival is a scene lifted straight from a storybook. The world's largest winter carnival (late January through mid-February) attracts tens of thousands of visitors to the city each year. The Ice Palace opens and closes the festivities; enduring icon Bonhomme Carnaval—the biggest, happiest snowman you'll ever see—leads the parade; Château Frontenac (Quebec's most important building) hosts the masquerade ball; and revelers flock to the international snow sculpture competition, dog-sledding tracks, ice canoe races, and the always-icy snow bath (for the warm-blooded only).
    Photo courtesy of Benoit Cecile/Tourisme Québec
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    Visiting the Museums
    Most of Quebec City's museum collections are educational, enlightening, family-friendly, and frequently housed in buildings every bit as awe-inspiring as the exhibits and artifacts they contain. The Museum of French America is a great place to get acquainted with provincial history, while Musée de la Civilisation is renowned for engaging, evocative exhibitions that spirit visitors through Canadian history—don't miss the exhibit dedicated to the first French–North American colony. The Musée des Ursulines pays homage to the work of the Ursuline nuns; this unique museum is dedicated to the tenets of humanism and feminism, and chronicles the history of women in Quebec.
    Photo courtesy of Jacques Bourdeau/Tourisme Québec
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    See the Sights on Foot
    The best way to get a feel for Quebec City is on foot. The Old Town is infinitely walkable, and holds plenty of secrets for those willing to put a few kilometers on their sneakers. Tours Voir Quebec pairs standard heritage tours with unique expeditions such as Bury Your Dead (based on Louise Penny's eponymous crime novel) and the Zodiac riverboat cruise along the St. Lawrence River. Glimpse the city's darker side on Les Promenades Fantomes, the original ghost walking tour, on which you'll explore beliefs and superstitions from the New France period, colonial myths and legends, and modern murders, mysteries, and other macabre morsels.
    Photo courtesy of Finn O'Hara/Canadian Tourism Commission
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    Scenes of Celebration
    From summer spectacles to winter wonders, Quebec City's cultural calendar is packed with celebration. One of Canada's most important military towns, Quebec City hosts the International Festival of Military Bands, a showcase of music performed by service members. The New France Festival in August features a five-day program that celebrates the arrival of the first Europeans to North American soil with parades, period costume plays, feasts, and more. Nearly as popular as the Winter Carnival, the Summer Festival draws over a million visitors with 11 days of music at over a dozen different venues, including the Plains of Abraham, where fresh Canadian bands share the stage with some of the biggest acts in the world.
    Photo courtesy of Benoit Cecile/Tourisme Québec
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    Living History
    The Old Town itself is a living, breathing museum, and offers transitory glimpses of provincial history for all those who wander its cobbled streets. The Fortifications of Quebec National Historic Site contains Canada's only walled city, as well as dozens of military forts, weapons, and other structures. The Morrin Centre was built as the city's first prison more than 200 years ago, and is now home to one of the most gorgeous libraries on earth. Some collections are housed in old cells, which may make your new crime novel too spooky to pick up (or put down). For an elevated view of the city, climb to the top of the Observatoire de la Capitale, one of Quebec's tallest buildings and home of an excellent history exhibition.
    Photo by David Chapman/age fotostock
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    Discovering First Nations
    The history of First Nations people in Quebec is at once heartbreaking and spellbinding, and an integral part of the Canadian cultural fabric. The Huron-Wendat Reserve, located in the Quebec City neighborhood of La Haute-Saint-Charles and now known as Wendake, is home to over 1,500 First Nations people. Here you'll find the Huron-Wendat Museum, dedicated to the preservation of Wendat traditions; the Onhoüa Chetek8e Huron Site, which examines the history and culture of the first Canadian people through numerous interactive exhibitions (dances, snowshoeing, and rabaska canoe rides are particularly popular); and the La Traite Restaurant, renowned for its spectacular First Nations cuisine.
    Photo by Flash Parker
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    Grand Churches
    Quebec City's magnificent religious attractions make grand architectural statements that lure millions of visitors each year. Restored numerous times since the 17th century, the Basilica-Cathedral of Notre-Dame is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Quebec, and one of the most remarkable buildings in the country. The shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré has been regarded as a site of miracles for more than 350 years, while the interior of the neo-Roman basilica features a beautiful nave, original art, and stained-glass windows. The immaculately preserved stone church known as Eglise Notre-Dame-des-Victoires dates to 1687, and was built on space once occupied by Samuel de Champlain, the “Father of New France.”
    Photo courtesy of Benoit Cecile/Tourisme Québec
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    Market Matters
    Thanks to the city's strategic position on the St. Lawrence River and its history as a major trading post, you'll find impressive markets overflowing with local produce, exotic fruits, fresh fish, and more. The massive Marché du Vieux-Port features a dizzying array of meat, cheese, produce, and seafood stalls, and is a fabulous place to stock up on goodies for a spring or summer picnic—the market is close to many of the city's iconic sights. Île d'Orléans, a 20-minute drive from the city center, is notable for its beautiful roadside stalls stocked high with fruits and vegetables, as well as for the numerous sugar shacks—known locally as cabanes à sucre—that sell everything maple syrup–related in summer.
    Photo courtesy of Christian Savard/Tourisme Québec
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    Discovering Old Quebec
    The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site packed with interesting historical buildings, footnotes you won't read about in any guidebook, and locals with a passion for their city's remarkable history. The Old Town is largely free of motorized traffic, which gives you plenty of space to appreciate the 17th-century manors, historic Fairmont Le Château Frontenac hotel, Côte de la Citadelle, and countless shops that have changed little in 300 years or more. Often overlooked but every bit as impressive as the Old Town, Île d'Orléans was an important colonial French outpost and is often considered the birthplace of North American francophones; many French Canadians are descendants of early Île d'Orléans settlers.
    Photo courtesy of Claude Bouchard/Tourisme Québec
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    An Eclectic Art Scene
    One of the first things many visitors notice about Quebec City is the wonderfully eclectic art and design scene; what you'll see here in galleries, boutiques, and shops varies greatly from what you'll find in other cities. Pop into Machin Chouette—French for "cute machine"—for a look at reclaimed and salvaged masterpieces, such as a lamp made from old tricycle parts. The art collective at La Chambre Blanche has been featuring local and international artists since 1978, while the Three Crow Glass Studio is the place to go if you're keen on experiencing one of the city's oldest artistic traditions. Bring your visit full circle at the Musée National des Beaux-Arts, and experience some of the finest art Quebec natives have ever produced.
    Photo courtesy of Jean-François Hamelin/Tourisme Québec