Mary works on international development projects and writes about the interesting attractions in countries where work has brought her.
Québec City never fails to fascinate visitors with its unique culture, European feel in the Old District, beautiful location on the St. Lawrence River, entrancing festivals and—most of all—its joie de vivre. It is unlike any other city in Canada. I have visited several times, and each time it fully engages me in ways that other cities don't.
Not many places in the world offer the chance to immediately have a jolly and informative conversation with the owner or the artist in the galleries you peruse. They seem to be full of life and they want to share this with you. The same is true when you go to the quaint boutiques and restaurants.
On my last visit, I brought along a friend visiting from the U.S., and we left with colourful experiences that we will always cherish.
1. Ride the Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus
Why is this mundane tourist experience different here than in any other city I've visited? Hop-on, hop-off buses are in almost every city in the world, but they are so much more enjoyable in Québec City. Here's why.
The city is small, but it is packed with so many captivating things to see. The sights are varied, so they engage practically every kind of tourist. There are quirky public art installations and huge murals, historic landmarks and vibrant streets that invite you to stop by and partake of whatever they offer.
2. Have Your Portrait Done by a Québec Artist
The last time I was in Québec City, my husband had a caricature of himself made. The Chair of the Board of the organization he worked with at that time wanted to highlight some of the facets of his personality, and the artist did a remarkable interpretation.
Impressed by my husband's caricature, I vowed to have one made of myself the next time I found myself in Québec City. This year, I happened to be there with a friend visiting from the U.S., and I kept my eyes peeled for an artist doing portraits as we explored the streets.
When I found one, I was delighted to see the portrait he was doing. We immediately booked him for an hour each. Looking at the results, my friend and I agreed that he truly captured our spirit in the portraits.
We had so much fun sitting for these portraits. People passing by encouraged us with their smiles and their thumbs up. As we could not see the drawing, we were delighted at their feedback.
3. Give Time to the Street Artists
Québec City has many talented street artists and performers, and they are all worth your time. Besides, you're on holiday, so take 10 minutes of your time to encourage them. That was what my friend did when we were in the city. She took time to listen or watch the performers, gave them tips and when possible, engaged them in a conversation about their art.
The picture shows my friend engaging with a musician. Because my friend showed interest in his music, he spontaneously composed a song based on her name, Violet.
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4. Take the Funicular and Enjoy the River View
The best place to take in the river view of Québec City is by taking the old Funicular Railway starting from the Terrasse Dufferin down to the Lower Town. Just outside of the Chateau Frontenac, the Terrasse Dufferin is easy to find. The Funicular costs $3 Canadian.
If you're not interested in taking the Funicular Railway, the Terrasse Dufferin also offers a breathtaking view of the St. Lawrence River. A promenade in this area is not only relaxing but also captivating. It is a terrific place to watch people or to listen to musicians.
5. Spend a Day in Le Petit Champlain
The Quartier du Petit Champlain is an old and vibrant quarter in Québec City. As the oldest commercial street in North America, it is still alive with commerce and tourism. For serious shoppers, this is the place to go; the tiny boutiques are full of items you can't find in the other stores in the city.
Its cobbled streets, huge murals, sidewalk cafes, art galleries, street performers, quaint boutiques, and old historic landmarks give visitors a European feel.
Must-See Sites in Le Petit Champlain
Le Petit Champlain has the oldest standing stone building in Canada, the Notre Dame des Victoires. Established in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain, the Church is small but full of charm.
This area is also home to the city’s oldest staircase, the Breakneck Steps (L'Escalier Casse-Cou), which leads from this quarter to the Côte de la Montagne.
6. Stroll Through the Bohemian Rue du Trésor
Québec City is full of quirky art spread throughout the city. One of my favourites is the work of Michel Goulet in Place de la Gare. In 40 chairs set out meaningfully on the sidewalk, Dreaming the New World portrays where Québec has been, who the Québécois are as a people and the joy of being together. Inscribed on each chair are passages from poems by 40 Québec artists from different time-periods.
Not all artists can have their works displayed prominently around the city, so many struggling artists who try to earn a living from their art have taken to a tiny street, Rue du Trésor, to display their works. Take a stroll along the street and meet these artists.
If you are patient enough to explore through their works and engage with some of them, you will be rewarded with a few pieces as souvenirs of your trip.
7. Eat at Aux Anciens Canadiens
Each time I visit Québec, I never fail to go to this old stone-house restaurant for one dinner. Being here transports me to the times in the cold of winter when one needs food to keep the body warm. Today, in this restaurant, they make an art of serving these Canadian comfort foods. It is like being in an old house with your grandmother in the kitchen whipping up some hot food from the local produce.
I was pleasantly surprised when I saw Beef Wellington on the menu. One can rarely find this on restaurant menus. In Toronto, our grandson who wanted to taste this old delicacy had difficulty finding a restaurant that served this dish. So, of course, nothing else on the menu enticed me. I thoroughly enjoyed the meal. My friend had lamb and was very satisfied with her choice.
8. Enjoy Artisanal Chocolate in Québec
My friend has a strong taste for chocolates, the real ones. She found herself inundated with choices. First, we went to La Fudgerie and tried some of the sausage-like chocolate, which truly delighted us.
Still not satisfied, we checked out another chocolate place, Erico. She went wild over their products and came out in fear of the weight of her suitcase.
9. Take a Walk in Québec's Old Quarter
Old Québec is one compelling place to explore. With its rich history, there are many engaging buildings and historic landmarks, especially inside the walls. What's more, Old Québec has some of the best restaurants in the city. To have a taste for what is Québécois, take the food tour and sample some of the local culinary delights.
Things to Do in Old Québec
Visit some of the museums in this area. The most interesting one is the Ursuline Museum, with paintings from the 1820s. This Museum is the oldest learning institution for women in North America. Here you will find out what life was like in boarding school during the 17th century.
To further illustrate the role the Church had in ancient Québec, take a peek at the Augustinian Sisters Monastery, which displays objects from the first hospitals in the area. The Monastery is now a hotel, so you can even book a room there.
You can also watch the changing of the guards at The Citadel, and you must walk the Plains of Abraham.
Most of all, you must eat in one of the restaurants.
10. Stay at the Château Frontenac
Some hotels are experiences by themselves, and the Château Frontenac is one of them. Situated centrally, restaurants, boutiques, Old Québec and Le Petit Champlain are all within easy walking distance from the hotel.
It is also very much part of Québec's history, which you can feel at every turn in the hotel. There are pictures and displays throughout to enhance this experience. The building in itself is iconic. There is a terrasse just outside where you can take leisurely walks or relax on one of the benches and watch the tourists posing for the usual selfies.
You feel you are in an enormous, important place, and it is the perfect spot to view the city as it awakens and sleeps, all from the comfort of your room.
(Bonus) 11: Listen to Natalie at the Samuel de Champlain Statue
When we had our portrait done, Natalie, a soprano came to visit Andre, our portrait artist. That day, she could not sing in her usual place because of the wind. She entertained us as we sat for our portrait.
As we got talking, she invited us to be at the Samuel de Champlain statue the next day, as that was where she sang. We were intrigued to listen to her, so, after breakfast, we took a trip to the statue. She was already singing in her soprano voice, 'C'est la Rose de L'importance'. Since we know the song, we joined in. There were other spectators there, and they joined in too. Before we knew it, couples started dancing as well.
Memories of Québec
My friend and I heartily enjoyed Québec City. We met interesting people like Andre and Natalie and the other artists in Rue du Trésor. We tasted the unique produce of Québec and brought home memories we will always treasure.
Québec City will always be in our hearts as we look at our portraits or listen to Natalie's CD. Places become much more entrancing when we associate them with the memories we made there.
© 2019 Mary Norton