Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- Meet Bonhomme at Quebec Winter Carnival
- Book a Stay at the Ice Hotel
- Have a Drink at the Château Frontenac
- Whee! Try the Toboggan Run
- Stroll the Streets of Old Quebec
- Try Snowshoeing
- Shop the Boutiques of Petit-Champlain
- Take a Dip at a Nordic Spa
- A German Christmas Market…in French Canada?
- Practice Your Ice Skating Moves
- Ready. Set. Dogsled!
- Maple Syrup – It’s Not Just for Pancakes!
- Poutine for Dinner; BeaverTails for Dessert
- Love the Nightlife? Find it on the Grande Allée
- Sip an Ice Wine
- Where to Stay in Quebec City
- Getting to Quebec City
Up for something really wild this winter? Head to Quebec City, the capital of Canada’s mostly French-speaking Quebec province. You can spend the night in North America’s only ice hotel. Take the plunge in a Nordic thermal pool. Or immerse yourself in First Nations culture with fireside stories in a longhouse and an illuminated night forest walk.
Quebec City has a European feel with cobblestone streets, beckoning bistros and delightful shops. The two-tiered Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, the only walled city north of Mexico. Venture beyond downtown to the snow-covered forested mountains for outdoor activities like snow tubing, cross-country skiing and dog sledding.
To help you plan your winter trip, we’ve rounded up the top things to do in Quebec City in winter. And, because poor wardrobe choices can ruin a vacay, we’ve included tips on what to wear in Quebec City to stay cozy because warm and dry is always better than cold and wet.
Meet Bonhomme at Quebec Winter Carnival
The grand seasonal event in Quebec City in winter is the multi-week Carnaval de Quebec. It’s one of the world’s largest and features tons of activities for all ages, including sparkling night parades, skating, ice canoe races on the St. Lawrence River and snow sculptures.
Your host for the celebration is the cuddly Canadian snowman, Bonhomme Carnaval. Each year, a new Ice Palace is constructed for him. Be sure to tour his residence, featuring intricately carved details made out of ice.
Events are held throughout Quebec City. Check the website for program details. 2023 dates are February 3-12.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Whether you’re watching an event or waiting in line to enter the Ice Palace, you’ll want to keep your fingers and toes warm. Small, disposable heating elements are the best way we’ve found to keep your digits toasty.
Book a Stay at the Ice Hotel
There are two really famous hotels in Quebec. One’s the most photographed in the world…more on that later. The other’s cold. Really cold. But it’s considered a bucket list adventure…a stay at the Hôtel de Glace.
Located about a half hour’s drive northwest of Quebec City, the Hôtel de Glace hosts brave guests during the winter months in themed rooms crafted out of ice. You’ll hunker down in arctic sleeping bags after enjoying the Nordic saunas and hot tubs.
Not interested in going in for the full experience? You can tour the Valcartier ice hotel but stay at the resort’s traditional inn. If you don’t have a car, book a bus tour that includes a skip-the-line entrance ticket.
SheBuysTravel Tip: A hat is NOT optional during Canadian winters. There are so many cute styles available you’re sure to find one that you’ll be happy with in photos. This slouchy cashmere beanie comes in a rainbow of colors.
Learn About the First Nations in Wendake
Located just outside of Quebec City is Wendake, home to the Huron-Wendat, one of Canada’s First Nations.
A trip here is a truly unique experience. Have a middle schooler in the family learning about Native American cultures? A trip to Wendake is an opportunity for them to learn about history and culture both pre- and post-contact with European settlers through immersive experiences, including an enchanting illuminated forest walk.
Hotel-Musee Premieres Nations
Your home base for exploring Wendake is the Hotel-Musee Premieres Nations.
The boutique hotel is designed to echo the traditional longhouse layout; huge guest rooms are laid out along a central hall that traces the bends of the Akiawenrakh’ River. Rooms have either a river or forest view, with furnished balconies.
A new 24-room wing opened in the spring of 2023. The guest rooms feature a modern, elegant design that retains the spirit of place that resonates throughout the property. A key feature of the new wing is accessibility for guests with reduced mobility. Renovations of the lobby, restaurant and meeting rooms will be completed by the end of June 2023.
In the lobby of the hotel you’ll find the entrance to the circular Musee Huron-Wendat. Exhibits feature artifacts including tools used for cultivation, traditional clothing items like intricately decorated moccasins and treaties crafted from wampum shells.
The striking exhibit in the entrance is a powerful reminder that the people of the First Nations still face challenges. Red dresses are suspended from the ceiling, a symbol of the hundreds of missing and presumed murdered women of the First Nations.
Traditional Craft Workshop
Follow up your museum visit by making your own talking stick. When groups of Huron-Wendat gathered, only the person holding the talking stick could speak. My Italian family over talks one another constantly, so I was glad I was able to bring one home.
It’s a family-friendly activity, conducted each day in the hotel’s lower level. The friendly instructor guides you through the assembly while explaining the symbolism of the materials. For example, an important component are three beads, representing the Three Sisters, the nickname given to corn, bean and squash, the Huron-Wendat’s primary crops.
Next, head to the woods. Onhwa’ Lumina is a forest illumination produced by the Moment Factory, that presents the story of the Huron-Wendat Nation in brilliant images projected onto towering pines. The soundtrack features traditional music sung by the daughter of the Grand Chief of the nation.
I attended a Harry Potter illumination in the States this year. It was lame compared to the quality of the Onhwa’ Lumina experience.
Myths and Legends Storytelling
It’ll be hard, but tear yourself away from your La Traite table (read about the restaurant below in the “Where to Eat” section), and walk over to the recreated longhouse. Gather ’round a fire pit for an engaging storytelling performance.
During my visit, teen Diego Gros-Louis charmed us with the Huron-Wendat Creation Myth.
The Wendake experience is unique because it layers the same information in different ways. For example, you’re introduced to a small longhouse model in the museum and then you actually get to visit one for the storytelling. You learn about the importance of the Three Sisters in the talking stick workshop and those images are one of the gorgeous projections at Onhwa’ Lumina.
This type of immersive experience stays with you far longer than a static museum display.
Have a Drink at the Château Frontenac
The easiest way to navigate Quebec City is by refering to the towering hotel on the hill – the uber luxurious Le Château Frontenac. Like Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, it dominates the landscape.
Part of the Fairmont hotel chain, it’s self-billed as the most photographed hotel in the world. While others might argue for that distinction like The Plaza in New York, Atlantis in the Bahamas and California’s Hotel del Coronado, you’ll definitely want to snap at least one shot of this Canadian beauty.
Want to stay the night? It’ll cost you. A lot.
If you have the budget, go ahead and splurge. I don’t, but I make it a point to visit on every trip and have a cocktail in the hotel’s oval-shaped 1608 Bar. Named for the year Quebec City was founded, the drink menu features craft cocktails like the Bella Vita and Operation Neptune. Linger over drinks and soak up the stunning St. Lawrence River views.
The bar gets crowded. Time your visit close to the 4 pm opening hour.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Rather than wearing a neck gaiter, choose a warm winter scarf to complement your coat. It’s so much easier to take off when you go from outdoors to inside.
Whee! Try the Toboggan Run
Think you’ve gone sledding? Think again. The toboggan run in Quebec City will take you from amateur to pro. One of the oldest attractions in town, the Au 1884 slide is located on Dufferin Terrace outside the Frontenac.
You can fit up to four passengers on an individual toboggan. Whiz down at the peak speed of 70 kmph! The slide opens during December and runs as long as weather permits.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Have a friend hang back to video your “as close as you’re going to get” Olympic moment. Your videographer will want to keep their hands covered, so gift them tech-friendly gloves.
Stroll the Streets of Old Quebec
An iconic activity during a Quebec City winter is walking the charming streets of Old Quebec.
Start your day in the Lower Town in Place Royale, where Samuel Champlain founded the city in 1608. Pop into the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church, the oldest stone church in North America.
After exploring Lower Town, you’ll want to check out Upper Town. You can work your hammies by climbing some of the 30(!) staircases scattered throughout the city. Alternatively, take the coward’s route – the funiculaire!
Upper Town, anchored by the Château Frontenac, has many of the city’s major attractions, including Dufferin Terrace, the Plains of Abraham, cannons and a statue of the aforementioned Samuel Champlain.
Want to know more about this very special city? Book a walking tour with a local guide. HQ Services Touristiques offers a variety of group and private tours with English-speaking guides who layer historical information with personal anecdotes.
My tour guide, Jocelyne, shared that she has more than 30 of the King’s Daughters in her family tree. These were young ladies sent to New France as a colonization effort by King Louis XIV. Nearly 800 arrived between 1663 and 1673 with monarch-supplied dowries and trousseaus.
Think of it as a colonial version of “The Bachelor.” The ladies had the right to refuse marriage proposals in search of their soulmates. If you’re lucky, a light snow will dust this postcard-pretty city during your tour.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Waterproof boots with good traction are essential for getting around Quebec City on foot. Leave the heels at home.
Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier is a great spot to go snowshoeing. A shuttle service runs from Old Quebec to the recreation area during winter, so it’s easy to access. Note: Canada has daily visitor limits for its national parks. The daily access fee is NOT included in the shuttle price. Be sure to purchase in advance to ensure entry.
I think snowshoeing is one of the easier winter sports to learn. I was able to feel competent after one lesson at my local REI. While rentals are available at the park in both adult’ and children sizes, you may feel more comfortable taking a guided tour.
SheBuysTravel Tip: You may end up in a snow bank during your snowshoeing adventure. Waterproof mittens are essential to keep your hands dry and comfortable.
Shop the Boutiques of Petit-Champlain
Petit-Champlain is the primary shopping area in Quebec’s Lower Town. The cobblestone streets are lined with shops. Dart in and out. Ooh and aah. And keep in mind the favorable exchange rate for the US dollar means everything’s on sale!
Some of my favorite shops include:
- Boutique Martino – Handmade moccasins in over 20 colors.
- T-Dingue – Want a traditional toque (hat) with a recycled fur pompom? You’ll find one here.
- Brin de Folie – You’ll find appealing children’s items featuring beloved French comic characters Tintin and Asterix.
- La Pomme – One of a kind women’s clothing items.
- Looking for a one of a kind treasure to bring home? Check out one of the Beauchamp art galleries in town.
SheBuysTravel Tip: You will shop. You will buy. Pack a foldable tote to transport your treasures back home.
Take a Dip at a Nordic Spa
It might seem crazy to jump into a body of water when the outside temperature is below freezing. It is, a little bit. But it’s also one of the most rejuvenating things you can do. A Nordic thermal spa experience is one of those things (like sleeping in an ice hotel) that you just have to try for the helluva it.
And, after you do it once, you’ll start planning your next visit.
Plan a day or an afternoon to visit the Strøm Nordic Spa in Old Quebec. It’s located on the bank of the Saint Lawrence River, so expect winter wonderland views.
Bring your bathing suit and flip flops. Check in at the front desk for a robe and towels. Once you’ve changed in the locker area, take a tour of the pools, saunas, lounge areas and fire pits. Make a plan of attack and dive in. My favorite pool? The one with the fireplace in it.
There’s a restaurant onsite and spa services are available.
One thing to keep in mind. You can take as many towels as you need throughout your visit, but you only get one robe. Dry off as best you can with towels before putting your robe back on. Otherwise you’ll grow increasingly soggy and sad.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Hotel slippers are not practical footwear for a pool-based spa experience. Ask my daughter. Remember to pack your flip flops.
A German Christmas Market…in French Canada?
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, a traditional German Christmas market is set up in front of Le Château Frontenac on Dufferin Terrace. Pinch yourself. Although your ears will hear French, your eyes will be sending images of Bavaria.
Food stalls feature the expected German specialties like bratwurst, gingerbread and mulled wine. Local French-Canadian products are offered for sale and the decorations, particularly in a light snowfall, are delightful.
If you want the feel of a European holiday market, but can’t get there, go north of the border instead.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Tired of wearing your toque all day? Switch it up for your trip to the market with a pair of ear muffs.
Practice Your Ice Skating Moves
Ice skating requires a bit more skill than snow tubing, but it’s one of those Quebec City moments you’ll definitely want to experience. An outdoor rink is set up in winter on the Place d’Youville, near the Quebec City Marriott on Rue Saint-Jean. There is no admission fee and skate rentals are available.
Even if you’re not interested in skating, take some time to visit this area. The rink is set up against Porte Saint-Jean, one of the three surviving gates in the city’s famous ramparts. Old Quebec earned its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site as the only walled city north of Mexico.
SheBuysTravel Tip: I don’t like to have my arms restricted when ice skating because I flail them about to help me keep my balance. A gorgeous insulated vest works better than a coat, especially paired with a pretty Nordic sweater.
Ready. Set. Dogsled!
Need to get something from one place to another over snow covered terrain? Indigenous peoples of the North used sleds pulled by teams of huskies and the practice of mushing was adopted by European settlers.
Today, mushing’s a popular winter sport in Quebec. Tours operate at the following locations: Jacques‑Cartier, Portneuf and Côte‑de‑Beaupré and on Île d’Orléans. Options vary from short rides to longer trips that include kennel visits and meals featuring local specialties.
SheBuysTravel: When it comes to dressing for winter weather, it’s all about the base. The base layer, that is. A soft to the touch wicking fabric is ideal.
Maple Syrup – It’s Not Just for Pancakes!
Last winter, I noticed a bunch of Home Depot paint buckets hanging from my neighbor’s trees. It was odd enough that I quizzed her about it. Apparently her husband decided to tap their maple trees. All of their maple trees. There was so much sap flowing, she thought they’d have to build their own sugar shack to boil it into syrup.
If you want to experience this late winter tradition for yourself, schedule a sugar shack excursion when visiting Quebec City. Watch as the sap is boiled down into syrup, then treat yourself to a maple taffy, formed when the syrup is poured onto snow.
Some of the shacks serve hearty Québécois meals with traditional music performances.
If you’re visiting outside of sap season, check out La Petite cabane à Sucre de Québec on Petit-Champlain in Lower Town. You’ll find a wide assortment of maple products including the made to order taffy.
SheBuysTravel Tip: A plaid shacket feels like the right thing to wear for a sugar shack outing.
Poutine for Dinner; BeaverTails for Dessert
You haven’t really been to Quebec if you haven’t sampled two of the city’s notorious “delicacies.”
Poutine is the ultimate comfort food, consisting of a serving of French fries, drenched in brown gravy and dotted with cheese curds. You’ll find variations on this theme in almost every restaurant. When I’ve asked the locals for a recommendation for the best poutine in town, most have surprisingly raved about the area fast food chain, Chez Ashton.
Don’t try dessert immediately following poutine. You won’t be able to move for days.
BeaverTails sells flat sugary pastries shaped like…well, you guessed it…topped with any number of sweet treats, including apple pie filling, hazelnut spread and maple sugar crunch. The shop’s below Petit-Champlain. Take one of those famous staircases!
SheBuysTravel Tip: When you’ve overindulged, it’s time to swap out the skinny jeans for pants with a little give. A pair of fleece-lined, water resistant joggers are ideal for Quebec City’s winter weather.
Love the Nightlife? Find it on the Grande Allée
By day, gape at the historic buildings that date to the Victorian era along the Grande Allée. At night, it’s the place to be for dining, a 40-year young nightclub and a revolving rooftop restaurant.
In Quebec City for New Year’s? Grande Allée is where the city counts down…for four days. Check out the details here.
SheBuysTravel Tip: If you’re going out and want to sparkle, a knit glitter dress paired with boots gives you just the right amount of glow. Added bonus? Knits are oh so forgiving when it comes to packing wrinkle-free.
Sip an Ice Wine
Want something sweet but don’t think you can handle a beaver tail pastry? Tuck into one of the city’s very European cafés to try a uniquely Canadian adult bevie – ice wine.
White wine grapes are harvested when the temperature dips below minus 8 degrees Celsius. That’s about 17 degrees Fahrenheit. Served cold, it’s best on its own or paired with a not too sweet dessert.
The heart of Quebec City’s ice wine production is on Ile d’Orleans where you’ll find a number of wineries and cideries. In winter, head to Petit Champlain to the Cidrerie Verger Pedneault for free tastings.
SheBuysTravel Tip: You’ll want a pair of cozy jammies for your Quebec City nights. If you’re traveling with your besties on a girlfriend getaway, matching wine-themed pjs are a cute idea.
Need more suggestions for things to do in Quebec City? The Destination Quebec City online guide has tons of information. Already in town? Head to the information center at 12 rue Saint-Anne on the Place d’Armes across from the Frontenac.
Where to Eat in Quebec City
Quebec City is gorgeous to view, but it’s also delicious to eat. I’ve found the meals to be rich and flavorful. Many feature game meats like rabbit.
But non-carnivores will also find tasty vegetable dishes featuring locally sourced components. Even in winter. Root vegetables like beets, in the hands of talented chefs, sparkle with flavor.
Dining out is a popular thing to do in Quebec City so reservations are highly recommended.
Le Buffet de L’Antiquaire
Start your day exploring Quebec City with breakfast at Le Buffet de L’Antiquaire. Find it on rue Saint-Paul in Lower Town.
It’s the French version of your tiny neighborhood diner, with a counter, tightly spaced tables and hearty breakfast options including every Benedict you can imagine. It’s popular, so get here early or expect to wait outside for a table.
Find Chez Boulay in the heart of Quebec City on rue St.-Jean. It’s a chic bistro featuring boreal cuisine, the ingredients found in the forests surrounding Quebec City. A 3-course prix-fixe lunch menu is served Thursday and Friday from 11:30 am – 1:30 pm.
You’ll forget it’s winter outside when you snuggle into this cozy bistro in Lower Town. The menu features quality comfort food.
My fish and chips entree was light as air so I could taste the cod and potatoes, not the oil.
Even if you’re full, order a dessert to share. Try the cherry and Irish whisky crumble with – wait for it – bacon ice cream. Totally worth the calories.
Go to Wendake for the First Nations experiences described above but stay for at least one meal at La Traite, the restaurant at the Hotel-Musee Premieres Nations in Wendake.
Guests are welcomed to the restaurant like cherished friends, surprising since you might expect pretentiousness given Chef Marc de Passorio’s Michelin stars. Chat with him about his sourcing expeditions and his fantastic kitchen staff – more than 80 percent are hired from the Huron-Wendat Nation.
The three daily menus – The Awakening of the Wendat, From Our Mother Earth and The Wolf Hunger – showcase fresh from the forest flavor. Multi-course menus are available at dinner, some with wine pairings.
Go with a group and you can sample most of the entrees, including lobster cooked with wild blueberry gin, smoked venison and mushroom risotto.
Desserts are called Bear Treats. I received what looked like an apple, but it was a chocolate shell holding a rich cherry and cream-filled center.
During warm weather, the restaurant has a magnificent outdoor terrace overlooking the Akiawenrakh’ River.
Where to Stay in Quebec City
We mentioned the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac earlier. It’s the ultimate luxury option when visiting Quebec City.
Marriott Bonvoy members have the following options:
- Quebec City Marriott Downtown – This property’s located in the heart of the action in Upper Town (Haute-Ville).
- The Marriott Delta Hotel is near the Place d’Youville skating rink.
- Hotel PUR – If you’re looking to stay outside of the tourist center, the Hotel PUR, a Marriott Tribute Portfolio property, located in the hip neighborhood of St.-Roch, is about a 15-minute walk away from Lower Town.
Prefer a unique boutique property for your Quebec City stay? Two options provide immersive experiences with onsite museums and unique cuisine.
- Le Monastère des Augustines is a converted cloister. Stay in a contemporary room or in one of the authentic monastic cells. The hotel restaurant, Le Vivoir, serves healthy meals prepared with local ingredients in a manner designed to preserve nutritional values. The morning vitality breakfast is eaten in silence. The museum is a fascinating repository of a fraction of the 50,000 artifacts from the centuries of service to the sick by the Augustinian sisters. Read the complete review of Le Monastere.
- Head 15 minutes from the city center to the Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations. Constructed to resemble an aboriginal longhouse, the 55-room hotel is sited to maximize views of the Akiawenrahk’ River. Tour the Huron-Wendat Museum to learn about the rich culture of the First Nations. Then enjoy a meal inspired by the bounty of the terroir at Restaurant La Traite.
Getting to Quebec City
Quebec City is due north of New Hampshire on the St. Lawrence River. It’s a doable drive from several US cities:
- NYC to Quebec City – 8 1/2 hours
- Boston to Quebec City – 6 1/4 hours
- Burlington VT to Quebec City – 4 hours
The city’s Jean Lesage Airport is about 20 minutes from downtown. Airlines to check for flights include Air Canada, Porter Airlines, United and American.
Want to travel old school? Look into Amtrak train service into Montreal where you can connect VIA Rail Canada to Quebec City.