This year, the world celebrates Canada’s 150th anniversary as a Confederation. As festivities across the great northern nation draw travelers in, global cultural centers like Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver will see an uptick in tourist activity. There’s more to Canada, however—quite a lot more. And one of our favorites happens to be the Francophone gem Québec City. Well over 400 years old, the city substantially predates the establishment of the country it falls within. As we noted on our last visit, this history is evident in every step—it permeates the atmosphere and touches the senses. Positioned along the banks of the Saint Lawrence River, it’s also a place of exceptional beauty. Centuries-old stone structures meet rolling, green fields. The museums are top quality and the food, and the buildings housing it, also impress. This walled city isn’t just a testament to the past. Rather, it’s a destination for the modern traveler. And with a cultural anchor event like this summer’s Le Festival d’été de Québec, now’s a good time to plan.
Le Festival d’Été de Québec takes over downtown Québec City for 11 days every July—and this year will be its 50th anniversary. Known as the Québec City Summer Festival, the event features everything from North America’s largest stage (set in the beautiful rolling fields of the historic Plains of Abraham) to several simultaneous outdoor venues. Everything is in walking distance. Over 100,000 passes are sold and more than a million-and-a-half people pass through the events annually. Because of the spaciousness and layout of the activities, it doesn’t feel congested, but the festive mood permeates the city. The diversity of programming happens to be its most alluring attribute. Headlining acts in the last few years have ranged from the Rolling Stones to the Arcade Fire, Snoop Dogg, Elton John, Tiesto and more. Among the smaller stages, everything from world music to jazz and indie acts get their time.
This festival’s line-up is certainly one of the biggest in its 50-year history. Their 2011 headliner Metallica will return, but so will this year’s hip-hop torchbearer Kendrick Lamar. The Who will perform, as will Gorillaz and Flume. For those with pop-leaning sensibilities, P!nk and Nick Jonas will take the stage, as will the Backstreet Boys. Of course, these are just some of the biggest names. Some CH favorites like Amadou and Mariam, Death from Above 1979, Fetty Wap and Phantogram carry plenty of clout and will be there too. Dozens more will provide a sense of discovery and joy. Two weekends fall within the itinerary, though not with duplicate performances like at Indio’s desert festival.
Both the festival and the city’s downtown can be easily explored on foot. The area surrounding the iconic Fairmont Le Château Frontenac hotel makes for a worthy destination. Shops and a landmark bar can be found inside. Outside, there’s a vantage point of the river and what lies below (and outside the walls). Some of Québec City’s best restaurants can be found here. Two kilometers away, Avenue Cartier makes for a lovely stroll, and presents many more fine dining options—including Café Krieghoff. Between the two, Rue Saint-Jean hosts everything from world-class cafes to low-key pubs and a library. Québec City lets visitors experience structures from the 1600s, but that doesn’t mean it’s a museum city. There’s enough to do to keep every sort of traveler engaged.
Le Festival d’Été de Québec runs 6-16 July. Plenty of programming is free and open to the public. Passes for ticketed events cost $95 if purchased before 5 June.
Images courtesy of Le Festival d’Été de Québec