Things to Do

Nonstop From Washington: Quebec

Rooms with a view, free Cirque du Soleil, and tasty fromage.

Quebec's Chateau Frontenac hotel, on a hill in the Old City, offers vistas of the Saint Lawrence River.

Quebec is both historic and modern—a city where 400-year-old cobblestone streets are now lined with artisanal bakeries and cheese markets. Don’t worry about language barriers; though French is the official language, English is widely understood and friendly natives will happily lend a hand.

July is a month of near-constant celebration in Quebec, beginning with Canada Day on the 1st and the anniversary of the founding of the city—Fête de la Ville de Québec—on the 3rd. During the Festival d’Été de Québec (July 8 through 18), more than 300 musical performers take to the clubs and streets. This year’s lineup includes the Black Eyed Peas, heavy-metal Brits Iron Maiden, techno-pop darlings Passion Pit, Canadian indie rockers the Arcade Fire, and the legendary Carlos Santana.

Built on cliffs overlooking the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Old City is divided into Haute-Ville (Upper Town) and Basse-Ville (Lower Town), with the upper sections cordoned off by a rock wall. More than 25 staircases connect Haute-Ville, with its panoramic views, to the waterfront Basse-Ville. Brave the stairways, ride the funicular, or navigate Côte de la Montagne, a steep, winding street, to traverse the two. Head to Observatoire de la Capitale (daily 10 to 5; 418-644-9841; adults $5) or Dufferin Terrace for the best views of the Citadel, the Parliament, and the Plains of Abraham, an 18th-centurybattleground where British and French troops fought during the French and Indian War.

Quebec summers are temperate, and the city’s compact layout makes walking and biking preferable. Urban bike paths are open April through October, and local favorites are the paths of the Promenade Samuel-de-Champlain and the St. Charles River Linear Park. For a dose of history and a workout, bike to Cartier-Brébeuf Park in the district of Limoilou, where the first French explorers wintered nearly five centuries ago. While there, fuel up at one of the cafes along Third Avenue, where the food rivals the city center’s at a fraction of the price.

Originally settled by the French as a trading post, Quebec is still famous for many of its original exports, such as furs and leather goods. Explore Petit Champlain, North America’s oldest shopping district, and its more than 50 boutiques. Comb the streets of Saint-Jean, Saint-Louis, Saint-Pierre, and De Buade in the Latin Quarter of the Old City for art, sculpture, and jewelry. Along Rue du Trésor, you’ll find an open-air art gallery worth exploring.

In summer, Cirque du Soleil pays homage to its roots with free open-air performances. This summer’s show, Les Chemins Invisibles, is performed five nights a week at sunset through September 5. For details, visit and search for “Cirque du Soleil.”

Quebec is a cheese lover’s heaven, with hundreds of varieties produced in the province. You can savor unpasteurized, or lait cru, cheeses—which are hard to find in the United States—at Aux Petits Délices (1191 Ave. Cartier; 418-522-5154), a gourmet shop in Les Halles du Petit Quartier market.

For a taste of Quebec’s signature fresh bread, try La Boîte à Pain (289 Rue Saint-Joseph Est; 418-647-3666) or nearby La Croquembouche (235 Rue Saint-Joseph Est; 418-523-9009) in Saint Roch. Épicerie J.A. Moisan (699 Rue Saint-Jean; 418-522-0685), established in 1871, is North America’s oldest grocer. It’s worth browsing the shelves for domestic cheeses, house-made sushi and curries, and French soaps.

One of the city’s finest restaurants is Panache (8 Rue Saint-Antoine; 418-692-1022), a romantic cavern tucked inside the hotel Auberge Saint-Antoine. The restaurant offers a seven-course tasting menu, and specialties include foie gras, sweetbreads, and locally raised game and seafood. Le Patriarche (17 Rue Saint-Stanislas; 418-692-5488) in the Old City features roasted rack of caribou, seared-pheasant crépinette, and wild-boar osso buco.

Chocoholics should head to Choco-Musée Érico (634 Rue Saint-Jean; 418-524-2122), a charming chocolatier and museum, and peek in on the chocolate-making process through the kitchen window.

Feel like royalty at the Fairmont le Château Frontenac (1 Rue des Carrières; 866-540-4460; July rates start at $245), one of the world’s most photographed hotels. On a hilltop in the old city, it features castle-like turrets offering majestic views of the Saint Lawrence River. Book a room or just take in the luxurious surroundings with one of the craft martinis named after Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt, who met here for two wartime summits.

If you’d prefer a boutique hotel close to the restaurant and shopping districts, try Auberge Saint-Antoine (8 Rue Saint-Antoine; 888-692-2211; rates from $197) in Old Quebec, a block from the Old Port. If you crave a dose of Québecois hospitality with your breakfast, try the charming Auberge Le Vincent (295 Rue Saint-Vallier Est; 418-523-5000; rates from $188), a 20th-century newspaper office turned cozy B&B located near the Old City and Saint-Roch areas.

This article first appeared in the July 2010 issue of The Washingtonian. 

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