Read Caption
The ferry to Lévis departs from Old Quebec regularly and affords fantastic views of Quebec City during the short ride across the St. Lawrence River. (Photograph by Susan Seubert)

Why Locals Love Quebec City

At Les Trois Colombes, loud-patterned dresses hang next to tables piled with scarves and kitschy hats. Every inch of the space, from the walls and carpet to the tiny dressing room, is steeped in color, and almost every item for sale is Québécois-designed.

“In Quebec City, it’s an ambiance—it is cool, quiet, peaceful,” the shopkeeper, Claude, told me in a thick French accent as she was ringing me up. “You can speak to anyone on the street. Everyone is so open.”

Unlike many destinations, there’s little disconnect here between local favorites and major tourist draws. But there are plenty of city secrets residents are just waiting to reveal, if asked.

From hiking in the Laurentian Mountains and biking along the Saint Lawrence to being front row, center, at their city’s huge summer festivals, here’s what locals love about Quebec City: 

> A River Runs Through It: 

For Corinne Blanchet, an international relations major at Laval University, long summer days offer a chance to explore Quebec City’s natural assets, most of which can best be seen on a peaceful ferry ride across the St. Lawrence to twin-city Lévis. Says Blanchet, “Looking at the sailing ships and the magnificent Château Frontenac reminds me of Quebec City’s distinctive history—a mix between the Old and New Worlds.”

As the owner of local favorite Café Saint-Malo, Georges-Antoine Pelletier LeBlanc is no stranger to Quebec City’s busy summer season. For an escape, he grabs a seat in the outdoor terrace at Le Corsaire, a Lévis pub owned by a friend. “You have the best view of Quebec City by going to the other side of the river,” he says.

> Fabulous Festivals: 

Sommelier and avid traveler Marie-Eve Levesque, a Québécoise by birth, loves that she lives in a “foodie town,” a place where you can try a new restaurant, from low-key bistros to authentic sushi bars, each night. But in the summer, she says, it’s all about the festivals.

View Images
At Quebec City’s annual Summer Festival, hundreds of bands perform on multiple outdoor stages, including the main stage on the Plains of Abraham, the city’s biggest urban park. (Photograph by Mathieu Belanger, Reuters)

July’s Festival d’été de Québec is the big one (this year’s Summer Festival lineup includes the Rolling Stones, Keith Urban, and the homegrown talents of Patrick Watson). “People come from France, America, Australia, and beyond to attend,” she says, “and [when you’re paying less than] $80 for 11 days of music, it’s so worth it!” But the wine lover in Marie-Eve favors the Bordeaux fête le vin (August 27-30 this year), an open-air event that pairs wines of Bordeaux with some of the region’s most inventive gastronomic delights.

> The Great Outdoors:

The St. Lawrence River is visible from much of Old Quebec. For local Vincent Carrier, it’s what he enjoys most about living in the city. “It’s a unique location for sea kayaking and sailing, with challenging conditions,” he says.

When Benoit Simard’s not on the clock at J.A. Moisan, the oldest grocery store in North America, he relaxes by cycling from downtown to Montmorency Falls. “This is a great ride, with exceptional views to the river and the Île d’Orléans,” he says. Plus, “the falls are fabulous.” Visitors can climb 500 wooden steps to see the thunderous cascade from the top or take the cable car.

In the summer, Le Chic Shack server Jean-Sebastian Hebert loves interacting with people who’ve come from all over the world to explore Old Quebec, but when it comes to his time off, he’s all about the outdoors. Follow his lead and head to Baie de Beauport, Quebec City’s own small beach, to get some sun, or into the nearby Laurentian Mountains for a hike.

> Beloved Mainstays:

Esther Patenaude, who works in guest services at Le German Hotel Quebec, lives in buzzing Saint-Roch, walking distance from other up-and-coming neighborhoods like Saint-Jean Baptiste and Limoilou. Despite being based in one of Quebec City’s hippest districts, where new shops and restaurants seem to pop up weekly, this self-proclaimed “old soul” prefers those spots that have stood the test of time.

Favorites include Café Kriegoff (a “pure infusion of what the Latin Quarter lifestyle used to be, when nightlife was all about going to the cinema and ending up in one of these cafes to talk about it,” she says), Le Café du Temps Perdu for its “mind-blowing” selection of local and international beers, and Les Salons d’Edgar, where she says “neo-baroque decor meets the most motley crowd [imaginable].”

Annie Fitzsimmons is Nat Geo Travel’s Urban Insider, exploring the cities of the world with style. Follow her adventures on Twitter @anniefitz and on Instagram @anniefitzsimmons.