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Greetings from a chilly Quebec City, Canada! It has been on my bucket list to visit Quebec City during winter for the Christmas Markets for YEARS now and I am so glad I finally made it happen this holiday season. Since Old Quebec feels like a European city AND it’s drivable from the northeast of the US, it absolutely deserves a spot at the top of your bucket list. This post is going to cover all essential information you need about getting to Quebec, staying in the city, and things to do in Quebec City in the winter.
Disclaimer: This blog post is written in partnership with the Manoir D’Auteuil boutique hotel in Old Quebec City and the Quebec Cite tourism board (https://www.quebec-cite.com/). Both hosted me and my family during our recent visit, although every opinion written below is my own.
Background On Historic Old Quebec
This could really be its own blog post, so I’m going to keep this section brief so we can hop into the Quebec winter attractions recommendations. But, I do feel it’s important to have a basic understanding of the history of the city so you appreciate your visit even more!
Quebec City has been home to native locals for thousands of years before the French “discovered” it in 1608. French explorer Samuel de Champlain truly put Quebec City on the map thanks to his detailed accounts of the St. Lawrence River. Quebec City was the capital of New France for decades until the river was extended, providing direct access to Montreal — which eventually became Canada’s economic hub.
Quebec City was besieged 5x in its history, and was finally conquered by the British in 1759. It became the capital of British North America and played a role in the American Revolution when the US tried to take control. They failed, and it remained in Europe’s hands until Canada gained its own independence. In 1985, the city’s historic district became the first urban ensemble in North America to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Today, Quebec is the heart of French culture on this continent, and influences from both the French and the British can be seen throughout the city today.
How To Get To Quebec City
Quebec City is located in the Canadian province of Quebec, in the northeast region of Canada — the second largest country in the world! The city was founded in 1608 by the French and has lasted the test of time thanks to its prime location on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. The river narrows here to a width of just over 1km, which inspired the city’s name — “Quebec” is derived from the Algonquian word meaning “narrowing of the river”.
Quebec City is a popular tourist destination for visitors from all around the world, but especially the United States due to its close proximity. From the Boston area, Quebec City is about 6.5 hours away. If you’re up for a road trip, it is totally accessible by car. Plus, you can break up the drive by stopping for a weekend in Montreal, or as part of a New England fall road trip.
If you’re coming from overseas, you can fly into the Quebec City Jean Lesage International Airport, which is located 10 miles from downtown Quebec City. Direct flights to Quebec City are offered from several cities in the Quebec province, along with the US and Europe.
If you’re coming from another eastern Canadian city or from not too far away in the US, taking the train to Quebec City is also an option. You can take the VIA Rail Canada daily service between Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City. Alternatively, Amtrak services Quebec City. The main train station in Quebec City is the Gare du Palais (Central Station).
Where To Stay In Quebec City During Winter
Quebec City is one of the most charming cities in North America. It really does resemble Europe, yet is much more affordable and accessible. Since Quebec City is the capital of the Quebec province, it is a sprawling city. It’s much larger than I remembered!
If you’re looking to explore the history of the city, you’ll definitely want to stay in Old Quebec. Plus, most of the Quebec winter attractions will be walkable from your accomodation in the Old City.
Since Quebec is so historic, you should absolutely stay in a historic property! This is the best way to soak up all of Quebec City during winter. My family and I stayed at Manoir D’Auteuil and I couldn’t recommend it more!
About Manoir D’Auteuil
This private home was converted into a hotel in 1953. The boutique hotel is conveniently located on the edge of Esplanade Park, across from the city’s stunning Parliament building. Although breakfast isn’t included, the property has a fantastic breakfast menu offered each morning. For about $15 CAD, you can choose from a croissant breakfast sandwich with fresh fruit, yogurt and granola, etc. Plus, there is complimentary tea, coffee, and hot cocoa in the hotel lobby bar where guests can help themselves 24/7. This same bar offers cocktails, wine, and beer — an added bonus upon arrival!
The rooms here are elegant, yet comfortable and spacious. The smaller European rooms are best for couples or solo travelers looking for a more affordable option. There are mid-size rooms with king beds and additional twin-size and queen-size murphy beds that can accommodate families. The Murphy beds are extremely comfortable with high quality mattresses! There are also luxury suites!
Although the rooms here are lovely, the real selling factor of this boutique hotel is the customer service. The staff here are SO helpful and attentive! We got the best recommendations for dinner, and even had help securing reservations. Even the owner of the hotel greeted each guest herself! Staying at the Manoir D’Auteuil is one of the top things to do in Quebec City in the winter.
Things To Do In Quebec City In The Winter
Now that you know how to get to Quebec City, where to stay in Quebec City during winter, and have some background on the city’s history, let’s dive into the top things to do in Quebec City in the winter! These Quebec winter attractions are mostly located within the old walls of the city and are walkable from one another.
Sled down the Au 1884
This toboggan ride has this name for a reason! It’s been a crowd pleaser on the Dufferin Terrace in upper Old Quebec City since 1884, making it one of the oldest Quebec winter attractions.
Purchase your $4 CAD ticket in the nearby kiosk (near the Frontenac hotel), and wait in line for your sled. Up to 4 people can ride at once, or you can race a loved one side-by-side. There are 3 icy tracks at the Au 1884. Heads up: you’ll catch speeds of up to 70 km/hr (about 45 mph!!!), so hold on tight!
The slide is open from mid-December to mid-March, weather depending.
Browse the Christmas Markets in December
If you’re visiting Quebec before Christmas Eve, browsing the Christmas Markets is a top thing to do in Quebec City in the winter. There are five main markets in the upper part of the Old City, stretching from Place D’Youville to the Place d’Armes. The main markets surround the I’Hôtel-de-Ville (City Hall).
Pro-tip: Admission is free to explore, although you’ll want some cash or a credit card to purchase a hot drink and locally-made gift.
Ride the funicular
Riding the funicular may not be as thrilling as a ride down Au 1884, but it is definitely a top thing to do in Quebec City in the winter. Quebec can get quite cold, so this is an efficient and easy way to travel between the upper city and lower town.
The funicular provides a direct link between the Dufferin Terrace near the Frontenac and the Quartier Petit-Champlain and Old Port in the lower town. Plus, the views are fantastic!
Pro-tip: The main entrance of the funicular is in the lower town at the Louis Jolliet House, located at 16 rue Petit-Champlain. It runs from 9 am – 9 pm everyday and costs $5 CAD per rider… CASH ONLY!
Wander through the Lower City
Somehow, the lower city is even more charming than Quebec’s upper town. There are a few key sights to see in the lower city, like the Royal Place (covered below), but I recommend allowing yourself to get a little lost here.
The Old Port is worth the walk. Plus, the quaint streets are speckled with local shops and cafes to enjoy. You can’t go too far here, so I would set aside a few hours to enjoy it.
Visit the Museum of Civilization
While you’re in the lower city, head to the Museum of Civilization (The Musée de la civilisation). The museum is open from 10 am – 5 pm every day except for Mondays when it is closed. The exhibits on the lower level rotate, although there are permanent historic exhibits located on the upper level. This museum isn’t too large, but is a great Quebec City winter activity for a few hours.
Pro-tip: Tickets are around $20 per adult, although you can save if you book online and in advance!
Spend time in the Frontenac Hotel
Located in the most pristine location along the banks of the St. Lawrence River, spending time at the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac is a top thing to do in Quebec City during the winter.
You don’t have to stay at the Frontenac to enjoy their luxury hotel amenities. I recommend strolling through the lobby to stay warm and grabbing a craft cocktail at the 1608 Bar.
Crepes at Le Billig
This place was a local recommendation and is located just past D’Youville Place outside of the walls of the old city. Le Billig is a charming neighorhood eatery specializing in sweet and savory crepes, coffee, and wine.
The waitstaff here were SO fun and the cappuccino here was probably the best I’ve had on this continent. Oh, and their French onion soup is famous! Don’t miss it in Quebec City during winter.
Pro-tip: Quebec City has high taxes! Including local taxes, most meals are taxed around 17%. Since this is higher than normal, it is appropriate to tip 15% on a bill.
Ice skate at D’Youville Place
D’Youville Place is a public square in Quebec City. It is situated on Rue Saint-Jean, one of the oldest roads in Quebec City. It marks the boundary between Quebec’s Parliament Hill and Old Quebec.
From mid-November to mid-March, there is an outdoor skating rink located here. The best part about this rink is there is NO admission fee! You can rent skates and sharpen them on-site.
Stroll through Place Royale in the Lower City
Place Royale is where Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec in 1608. This city square is a true representation of the history of Quebec as its buildings combine French and British influences.
The square is home to one of the largest Christmas trees in the city during the month of December. Other Quebec winter attractions located within this square include the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church, which is the oldest stone church in North America. The restored houses that surround the square sell souvenirs and crafts and are the perfect places to stay warm during the cold winter months.
Lastly, one of my favorite things to do in Quebec City in the winter is grab a hot, cozy latte at a local cafe. Maison Smith is a fantastic cafe located in Place Royale. Pull up a chair and soak up the square’s charm and history.
Eat at La Bûche
La Bûche is a classic French Canadian restaurant located within the walls of Old Quebec City. The rustic space is a sugar shack. It serves yummy comfort food like pea soup, poutine, and even offers a “hunt of the day”. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Eat at Don Vegan
Another restaurant recommendation on this list of things to do in Quebec City in the winter! Located in the Lower Town, Don Vegan is a MUST try and was highly recommended to me by several people, including the tourism board.
Don’t knock vegan cuisine until you try it! This place offered dishes inspired by all corners of the world. I recommend ordering the pad thai or mushroom risotto!
Try maple syrup taffy
It doesn’t get much more Canadian than this! La Bûche offers maple syrup taffy on ice in their restaurant. We also ran into this outside of the Frontenac in Quebec City during winter. For a few dollars, you can roll your own maple syrup on ice and create taffy.
Spa day at Strøm Spa
Spending a day at Strøm Spa has to be the top thing to do in Quebec City in the winter. This Nordic spa chain has locations throughout Canada, but one is conveniently located in Old Quebec City, a short drive from the main Quebec winter attractions.
This Scandinanvian-inspired spa and wellness center offers tranquil experiences like no other. The thermal experience day pass will give you access to outdoor whirlpools, hot and cold baths, an infinity swimming pool, steam rooms with essential oils, Finnish saunas, and so much more.
The thermal pools are located both indoors and outdoors right on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. This place is a DREAM!
Pro-tip: You’ll definitely need to secure a reservation online and in advance for this one! When we showed up at 9 am, there was already a waitlist for the day. Tickets are around 70$ CAD during the week per person, and increase to around 100$ CAD on weekends and peak days.
Eat at Anciens Canadiens Restaurant
This French Canadian restaurant was highly recommended by the staff at Manoir D’Auteuil. Located centrally on Rue Saint-Louis, one of the main streets in Old Quebec City, this place is a MUST for dinner!
The menu here offers classic local cuisine and the service was impeccable. Plus, the restaurant is located in one of the oldest houses in the city! It has a few authentic fireplaces throughout, making eating here a super cozy Quebec City winter activity to enjoy.
Coffee at Cafe Castelo
Cafe Castelo is a local coffee chain in the Quebec City area known for their coffee beans and craft lattes. This family-run business is a must for a warm cup of coffee before your Quebec City winter activities. Plus, their roasts come from countries all around the world — you can bring some home with you!
Bonus Quebec Winter Activity: Ice skate at Domaine Enchanteur
This recommandation is not necessarily a top thing to do IN Quebec City in the winter, but it is located within the Quebec province, about 1.5 hours away from Old Quebec City. This magical place is called the Enchanted Forest or Domaine Enchanteur. It is EXACTLY what it sounds like.
Situated in between Montreal and Quebec City, Domaine Enchanteur is located in the famous forêt perdue of Notre-Dame-du-Mont-Carmel, in the heart of the Mauricie region, 20 minutes from Trois-Rivières and Shawinigan. This place is a must-do Quebec winter attraction.
During the winter months, Domaine Enchanteur has 15 km of icy trails through the forest for guests to ice skate on! You heard that right — miles and miles of ice-covered paths for ice skating through a Canadian pine forest.
While ice skating your way under the peaceful snow covered trees on the slick trails, you can also stop to feed wildlife. There are elk, reindeer, alpacas, and more throughout the forest. Talk about a true winter wonderland!
You can visit Domaine Enchanteur in the summer months as well for beekeeping and a ropes course, but this place really comes to life during the winter months.
Domaine Enchanteur Admission
For less than $20 per person, your ticket will give you access to the ice skating trails, lodges, animals, and even local product tasting! We were able to bring home some local honey and maple syrup after our visit. Although this place is a bit of a drive from the Old City, ice skating at Domaine Enchanteur has to be the #1 top thing to do in Quebec City during the winter.
That brings us to the end of this Quebec City winter guide. If you live in the northeast of the US, this trip is essentially a must since it’s drivable and will feel just like Europe. If you’re traveling from farther away, I would still recommend it for the European charm without the costs of traveling overseas! Thank you again to the Quebec Cite tourism board and the Manoir D’Auteuil for partnering with me on this trip!
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