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Inspiring Québec City

The Wild Winter Carnival
Inspiring Québec City
All of Old Québec, an appealingly walkable area, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the city's long history is reflected in its wealth of cultural sites. 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 Wild Winter Carnival
    The famed Québec 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. An elaborate Ice Palace serves as the center of the festivities while the enduring icon Bonhomme Carnaval—the biggest, happiest snowman you'll ever see—is an ubiquitous figure, leading the celebration. The Château Frontenac hosts the masquerade ball; and revelers flock to the international snow sculpture competition, dogsledding competition, ice canoe races, and the always-icy snow bath for those fearless few who are truly serious about embracing winter's chill.
    Photo courtesy of Benoit Cecile/Tourisme Québec
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    Visiting the Museums
    Visiting the Museums
    Most of Québec 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 Musée de l'Amerique Francophone offers an introduction to the history and culture of the province of Québec, while Musée de la Civilisation is renowned for engaging, evocative exhibitions that spirit visitors through an intriguing variety of topics. The Musée des Ursulines de Québec pays homage to the work of the Ursulines, who devoted their lives to educating the young women of the city and province; the museum provides fascinating insights into the lives of both the nuns and their students.
    Photo by Philippe Renault / age fotostock
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    See the Sights on Foot
    See the Sights on Foot
    The best way to get a feel for Québec City is on foot. The Old Town is decidedly walkable, and it holds plenty of secrets for those willing to put a few kilometers on their sneakers. Tours Voir Québec 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 Fantômes, 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
    Scenes of Celebration
    From summer spectacles to winter wonders, Québec City's cultural calendar is packed with celebration. One of Canada's most important military towns, Québec 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 America 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 a dozen different venues, including the Plains of Abraham at the Battlefields Park, 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
    Living History
    The Old Town itself is a living museum and offers transitory glimpses of provincial history for all those who wander its cobbled streets. The Place Royale was the site of the initial settlement of Québec City and remains the symbolic heart of not just the city but the entire province of Québec. The city walls themselves are of historic significance as the only ones that are still intact on the continent north of Mexico. 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. For an elevated view of the city, ascend to the top of the Observatoire de la Capitale, Québec City's tallest building.
    Photo by Guy Lessard, courtesy of Ville De Quebec
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    Grand Churches
    Grand Churches
    Québec City's magnificent religious attractions make grand architectural statements that lure millions of visitors each year. Restored numerous times since the 17th century, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame is the seat of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Québec, and one of the most remarkable buildings in the country. The city has two cathedrals: the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity is a masterpiece of English Georgian design that wouldn't be out of place in London. 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 Église Notre-Dame-des-Victoires on the Place Royale dates to 1687 and was built on space once occupied by a dwelling of Samuel de Champlain, the “Father of New France.”
    Photo by Jeff Frenette Photography, courtesy of Ville De Quebec
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    Market Matters
    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 markets overflowing with local produce, exotic fruits, fresh fish, and more. The Marché du Vieux-Port features an array of meat, cheese, produce, and seafood stalls and is a fabulous place to stock up on goodies for a picnic—the market is close to many of the city's iconic sights. Île d'Orléans, a 20-minute drive from the city center, has charming villages, each centered around a parish church, and roadside stalls stocked high with fruits and vegetables. You'll also find many sugar shacks—known locally as cabanes à sucre—that sell everything maple syrup–related you could ever want.
    Photo courtesy of Christian Savard/Tourisme Québec
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    Discovering Old Québec
    Discovering Old Québec
    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, the historic Fairmont Le Château Frontenac hotel sitting beside the Terrasse Dufferin, the Citadelle, and centuries-old cobblestoned streets. A visit to the nearby Île d'Orléans provides another perspective on Québec's history. Its charming villages are among the province's oldest European settlements.
    Photo courtesy of Claude Bouchard/Tourisme Québec
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    An Eclectic Art Scene
    An Eclectic Art Scene
    One of the first things many visitors notice about Québec City is the wonderfully eclectic art and design scene. The best place to start with an overview is at the Musée National des Beaux-Arts de Québec, which features exhibitions on leading local and international artists and boasts a recent new addition by starchitect Rem Koolhaas's OMA. At the Boutique Métiers d'Art du Québec you'll find a selection ranging from substantial works of art to local crafts and small gifts. 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.
    Photo courtesy of Jean-François Hamelin/Tourisme Québec