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Quebec City: Exploring the vital neighborhoods beyond the old town

Colorful street art under an elevated road in the Saint-Roch district of Quebec City, Canada. / AP/Cal Woodward

What is inside the historic wall of Quebec City makes people want to visit. What's outside makes them want to stay.

The capital of New France until its conquest by the British in 1759, Old Quebec is recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site. It encompasses the walled Upper Town, overlooked by the commanding Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac Hotel, and Lower Town, where explorer Samuel de Champlain put ashore with a few dozen men in 1608. 

There's plenty to absorb in Old Quebec, but there are also inviting places beyond. "If you're staying for three days, basically you would have gone through Old Quebec and its next neighborhoods, like Lower Town and the Old Port," says Paule Bergeron, an executive with Quebec City and region tourism. "Then you have the chance to go visit other neighborhoods." Here's a sampling of what you'll find there.



This beehive of outdoor activity gets the adrenaline going. Try the zigzag staircase with 487 steps up the cliff, or take the cable car. Montmorency offers a suspension footbridge over the falls, via feratta climbing and a dual zip line that is riveting to watch and another level of excitement to do. The zip line comes with a bonus: Download a free app on the site and you'll come away with a panoramic and close-up video mashup of you sweeping in front of the crest of the falls.

GETTING THERE A bicycle ride of a little more than eight miles, almost all on dedicated bike paths; 20 minutes by car; or by bus.

WHEN Park is accessible year-round. Cable car is year-round except Jan. 7-25 and March 9-April 14. The zip line for this season ends Oct. 8, reopens in spring.


International art is the draw at Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec in this high-elevation neighborhood, named for the French general whose forces were overcome by British invaders on the Plains of Abraham. On the plains, free and ticketed concerts roll through the summer, including an 11-day festival in July that is one of Canada's largest outdoor music events. It's a neighborhood distinguished by galleries, bookstores and urban terraces for pub-crawling.

GETTING THERE A 20-minute walk from Chateau Frontenac, the towering landmark of the walled city.


WHEN Year-round, with the concert season geared to summer.


The promenade is a river-front section of a bicycle and walking path that extends nearly 30 miles or 50 km from the Quebec City Bridges on the west to Montmorency Falls. It takes in stunning views of the waterfront and cliffs, the sprawling Old Port farmers market, and grain silos that are transformed at night into light sculptures with colors of the aurora borealis.

GETTING THERE Right outside Lower Town.

WHEN Year-round, bicycling as deep into winter as you can stand the cold. The Old Port market is open each day year-round but expected to close in the spring to make way for a new market in the Limoilou district. A smaller farmers market will take its place near Place Royale.


The Old Port's loss will be Limoilou's gain when the city's premier farmers market opens under a glass roof next year. Limoilou has the undercurrent of a rising neighborhood, with cafes, restaurants and shops moving in; a major concert venue (featuring Paul McCartney on Sept. 17); and an old church that has been converted into a school for acrobatics and the circus — a tradition in the province, which is the birthplace of Cirque du Soleil.


GETTING THERE A half-hour walk from the center of Old Quebec or 10-minute bike ride.

WHEN Year-round.


Entering the Saint-Roch district from the Old Port, the visitor comes across concrete highway pillars turned over to street artists, a project designed to beautify a utilitarian stretch of the city and give graffiti artists an outlet for their creations. The results, at their best, rival the masterpiece frescoes and murals of Lower Town. Staying in Saint-Roch, a hub of nightlife, means a short but steep walk up a snaking stairway in the cliff to bustling Rue St-Paul and Upper Town. Alternatively, the Faubourg elevator adjacent to the stairs, nestled in the corner of a tiny cafe selling pecan tarts and coffee, offers a free ride to the heights.

GETTING THERE A 10- to 20-minute walk, aerobic even with the elevator. Buses serve the neighborhood and cyclists can cruise down to the waterfront to get to Lower Town or suck it up on the hill.

WHEN Year-round.