Last Updated on December 21, 2023 by Pamela MacNaughtan
Why visit Quebec City? Honestly, once you’ve visited, the question itself feels rather silly. The question should be, who would not want to visit Quebec City?!
It’s a large city, with a small-town vibe, a laidback oasis. Quite different from Montreal, which is known for its cosmopolitan vibrance.
Perhaps you’re nervous about the language? Travelling in a French province may feel intimidating, but it doesn’t need to be! Making an effort, saying Bonjour, Merci, and smiling can go a long way. Honestly, within the Historic District of Old Quebec, many locals speak a bit of English, and are generally happy to help.
Founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain, the city we know today started as the colony of New France, with a trading post where Notre-Dame des victoiries in Place-Royale now stands.
Champlain, along with Pierre Dugua des Mons, was sponsored by King Henry IV of France. The second colony to be established by France (the first was short-lived, established by Jacques Cartier around 1542, commissioned by King François I), New France began with 28 men, along with Champlain and Dugua des Mons.
Champlain’s trading post was located in the spot when Notre Dame des victoiries now stands.
In its 410+ year history, Quebec City has experienced its share of battles and attempted invasions (Indigenous and First nations peoples, British, and American). Corrupt officials taking advantage of their privilege. Difficult farming conditions, and even more difficult winters. The establishment of hospitals (many of which are still in operation) and healthcare in Quebec, as well as education. Beautiful chapels and cathedrals.
To visit Quebec City is to experience living history.
experience quebec culture
There have long been rumours that one needs to speak French to visit Quebec City, which can make some nervous.
The good news is that you don’t have to speak French fluently to visit Quebec City. Speaking a handful of words is a good start, being open to learning and experiencing the French-Canadian language is another. It is, after all, a major part of Quebec’s cultural identity.
Folklore, music, theatre, art, cinema, dance, humour, literature… Quebec City is brimming with cultural experiences.
Take a deep dive into Quebec’s music scene at local bars, and venues such as Palais de Montcalm and Théâtre Petit-Champlain in Old Quebec City. Attend a performance by the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec or Opéra de Québec at the Grand Théâtre de Québec in Montcalm. The Grand Théâtre is also a good place for comedic performances and plays.
French-language literary reads take place at Maison de la littérature, an important library for preserving the French language in Quebec.
Le Diamant is a new venue located across the street from Palais de Montcalm, features performances in everything from puppetry, cinema and digital arts to circus, music, cabaret, and theatre.
Le DRAGUE Cabaret Club is an anchor for Quebec City’s LGBTQIA2S+ community and a welcoming place for everyone to enjoy local music, as well as drag shows and cabaret.
Let’s not forget the various festivals which take place, such as Festival d’été de Québec (FEQ), Carnaval de Québec, ComediHA!, Les Fêtes de la Nouvelle France (New France Festival), and Festival de Cinéma de la Ville de Québec (Quebec City Film Festival).
Food plays an important part in Quebec’s culture, and is one of the top reasons why people visit Quebec City. Sure, poutine was invented in Quebec and is a part of the city’s pop culture (and by extension, Canada’s), but there is so much more to Quebec cuisine than crispy fries and squeaky cheese curds covered in hot gravy.
Heavily influenced by French cuisine (after all, the colonist came from France), Quebec cuisine has also been influenced by Indigenous and First Nations, British, Irish, Scottish, and American cultures.
In the early days, Quebec’s cuisine was centred around wild game and fish, root vegetables, berries, grains such as wheat and buckwheat, and spices and herbs grown in Quebec’s boreal forest, as well as those brought over from France.
Used in Boreal and Nordic cuisines, these ingredients are also an integral part of traditional indigenous and First Nations cuisine.
Chez Boulay in Old Quebec is known for its boreal cuisine and sells ready-made meals that can be cooked a home through its tiny café, comptoir boréal (LGBTQIA2S+ safe space). Sagamité (Indigenous-owned), also in Old Quebec, is the best restaurant in Quebec City for enjoying indigenous cuisine. If you have time, dine at La Traite (Indigenous-owned) in Wendake as well.
Feast on traditional Québécois dishes such as tourtière, soupe aux pois (pea soup), oreilles de crisse (deep-fried salted pork), baked beans, and maple syrup at a Sugar Shack, or restaurants such as La Bûche (LGBTQIA2S+ safe space) and Aux Anciens Canadiens (LGBTQIA2S+ safe space) in Old Quebec City, and Buffet de l’Antiquaire in Old Port.
And one cannot forget the glories of French Onion soup (Onion soup is more traditional in Quebec, but it doesn’t have bread and cheese). Fondue Parmesan, and Pouding Chômeur are also recommended.
Quebec City is filled with interesting museums which highlight the history and culture of the city, the Province of Quebec, and Canada. They are also a good place to avoid bad weather! Here is a couple to consider.
Musée National des beaux-arts du Québec (MBANQ) is Quebec City’s premier art museum, and a must-see when visiting the city. The museum features works by Quebec artists, as well as special exhibitions of Canadian and International artists.
Musée de la Civilisation in Quebec City’s Old Port features an exhibit on the past and present of the People of Quebec, as well as special exhibits throughout the year that focus on science, agriculture, and history. A fun outing for children and adults alike.
Musée de l’Amérique Francophone is perched across from Notre Dame de Québec Basilica-Cathedral, and is quite possibly the best museum in the city for understanding the history of the French peoples in Quebec. It should be noted that the museum is currently under renovation and expected to reopen in 2023.
Musée du Fort is a tiny museum atop Le Chic Shack near Château Frontenac. This museum is known for its 30-minute sound and light show about the six sieges of Quebec, including the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759.
historic sites, national sites, and more!
In a city that is over 410 years old, there are bound to be a few historic sites everyone should visit. These historic sites, along with museums and archives create a living history of Quebec City.
One of the more famous National Historic Sites (which are run by Parks Canada, and an LGBTQIA2S+ safe space) is the Fortifications of Quebec. Dating back to the 17th century, the fortification walls and ramparts stretch over 4.6 km, making Quebec City the only fortified city north of Mexico. Walk along the top of the walls at Gates Saint-Louis, Kent, and Saint-Jean, and visit Artillery Park.
Saint-Louis Forts and Châteaux National Historic Site (LGBTQIA2S+ safe space), located under Dufferin Terrace, was the official residence of the colony’s governors for a little over 200 years (1620–1834), and a fort keeping watch for enemy ships sailing down the Saint-Lawrence River. Today, you can take a guided tour and learn about the site’s role in protecting the city.
If you’re a lover of military history, then a visit to La Citadelle de Québec should be at the top of your list. Located in Old Quebec, La Citadelle is an active military base. Take a guided tour and visit the museum. When you’re done, head over to Musée du Fort.
As military history is integral to telling the stories of Quebec, so too are many of the religious sites within the city and province. Whether you’re religious or not, there are beautiful religious sites located throughout Quebec which are worth a visit.
The Jesuits arrived in New France in 1611, establishing the Séminaire de Québec in 1663, which stands today next to Notre Dame de Québec Basilica-Cathedral. In 1639, the Ursuline and Augustinian sisters arrived.
The Ursuline sisters established schools, teaching indigenous peoples as well as the children of the colony. The Augustinian sisters were charged with looking after the medical needs of the colony.
Over the years they established several hospitals, grew medicinal herbs in the monastery’s gardens, and worked as nurses until the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s.
Today, the role of the Augustinian sisters is to look after patient’s spiritual needs, and the monastery (Monastère des Augustines) has been transformed into a health and wellness retreat, complete with a hotel, museum, archive, chapel, and restaurant.
Holy Trinity Cathedral, a short walk from the basilica, is the first Anglican church built outside the British Isles. It’s small, with stunning stained-glass windows, and occasional concert series – which are generally free of charge.
In lower town, Notre-Dame des victoiries is thought to be the oldest stone church in Canada which retains its original walls. Impressive considering it was completed in 1723.
The locals in Quebec City, and throughout the province, are the heart of this city. It’s the people who have made this city into one of the most well-known cities in Canada. The people of Quebec are some of the strongest and most intense people I’ve met. They are also incredibly kind, funny, and passionate.
Quebecers are the reason why this city, the national capital of Quebec, feels like a small village. They are immensely proud of their city, and province and they want visitors to love it as much as they do.
Quebecers are a big part of why I decided to move to Quebec City, making it my home base.
Why visit Quebec City? For all of the reasons, I’ve listed above! Visit Quebec City because you want to experience its beauty first-hand. Visit because you want to experience French-Canadian culture.
Visit Quebec City because you want to understand the history of Canada. This country would not be the same without the Province of Quebec, it was here first. And Quebec would not be what it is today without the Indigenous and First Nations peoples who were here long before the arrival of Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain.