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For many, winter means travelling to warmer destinations and escaping the cold, but what if we told you there was a place you could go that would make you fall in love with the season, snow and all? That may be hard to believe for some but it’s exactly what happened to us when we visited Quebec City in the winter. We fell in love with pretty much everything about it and it has become one of our favourite destinations, no matter the season. It’s a place that has something to do throughout the year and with so much to offer when the temperatures drop and the snow starts to fall, Quebec City in the winter is an experience you’ll definitely want to have.
Top Things To Do When You Visit Quebec City In The Winter
If you do get a chance to explore Quebec City in the winter months, we’ve put together a list of some of the best things to do while there that will have you experiencing the city indoors and out!
Spend The Night In An Ice Hotel
Perhaps one of the most unique things to do in Quebec City involves ice… and a lot of it. The Ice Hotel, or Hotel de Glace, is the only ice hotel in North America and one of the most unique experiences we’ve ever had. The hotel is located on the property of the Village Vacances Valcartier and is made of solid ice, sculpted each year to fit a different theme with multiple rooms and suites, a bar area and an ice slide. Guests can choose to stay in a regular room, a themed suite or one of the fireplace suites as well. They’ll provide everything you need, and walk you through the process, to stay warm and comfortable through the night. You’ll also get a room at the Hotel Valcartier on the grounds to keep your luggage, charge your phones, shower or use after you wake up in the ice hotel or if you should choose to leave your ice room earlier in the morning.
It really is a once in a lifetime experience and we were surprised at how warm we were the whole evening! We also loved that the ice hotel is located on the same property as one great resort and winter playground, which is a whole other experience to have while in Quebec City in the winter!
Embrace The Season At Village Vacances Valcartier
As we had mentioned, the Ice Hotel is located at the Village Vacances Valcartier, a resort that includes the Hotel Valcartier, restaurants and an indoor waterpark. Whether you spend the night at the Ice Hotel or not, this is definitely a place to check out as you can enjoy the entire property AND visit the Ice Hotel for a tour to see the amazing sculptures and works of art throughout.
Since the outdoor waterpark is obviously not functional in the winter time, the grounds become a winter playground which is, according to them, the largest winter playground in North America. Here you’ll find 35 snow slides, a skateway that is illuminated in the evening, a snow fort and mini-slides for younger kids.
Tip: Village Vacances Valcartier is located a bit outside old Quebec. If you’re not planning on spending the evening at either the Ice Hotel or the Hotel Valcartier, we would recommend you get there earlier in the day in order to experience as much of the grounds, including touring the Ice Hotel, as you can.
The first major winter carnival took place in 1894 and though it was interrupted for a period of time, it was brought back and has evolved into the huge winter celebration it has become today. If you are able to travel to Quebec City during Carnaval de Quebec (typically the end of January into the beginning of February) we would highly recommend taking time to explore the various activities throughout the city. From a parade, to an ice castle, outdoor games, drinks and food and even an ice canoe race, the Winter Carnival in the city highlights the camaraderie of the people, the fun of the culture and the joy that can be found even in the dead of winter. They’ll have a full schedule of events online and be sure to see if you can track down Bonhomme! He’s a national celebrity!
Tip: Though it is cold out during this time, there are many ways to keep warm that will allow you to stay out for longer periods of time. Layers of breathable material, winter jacket, hat, globes scarf, snow pants and warm boots. Our MUST HAVE for winter excursions are the warm packs (like HotHands) for feet and hands. Just bring a bunch with you, take them out of the package when you are ready to head out and slip one in each of your boots and gloves (bring extra just in case). They’ll keep warm for hours and really make a difference.
Warm Up While Enjoying Amazing Cuisine
There is no shortage of good food to be found in Quebec City and stepping indoors to grab a tasty meal makes for the perfect excuse for escaping the cold.
One of our favourite sit-down restaurants, offering traditional Quebecois cuisine is La Buche in Old Quebec. It is in a perfect location if you’re exploring the city and we always make a point of visiting when we can. Their food is ridiculously good and offers locally inspired dishes like foie gras, poutine, rabbit wings, meat pies and smoked salmon. We haven’t been disappointed with any dish we’ve tried and we are always impressed with the overall experience.
Tip: Check out their bathroom. It’s pretty much an art installation.
If you’re not looking to stop for long because, and trust us, the streets of Quebec even in the winter will have you enthralled, we’d recommend making a quick stop at one of the locations of the chain restaurant Chez AshTon. We hear it’s a late-night stop for many locals but we found it enjoyable no matter the time of day. Though their poutine is the main attraction, their burgers, hotdogs and sandwiches are quite good as well.
Tip: We loved La Galvaude poutine – with fries, chicken, green peas and gravy – though if you want to make it a real poutine, you’ll need to ask them to add cheese curds to your order!
Take Part in Unique Experiences on The River
One of the coolest (excuse the pun) areas of Quebec City for winter fun is the St. Lawrence River. In fact, there are some incredibly unique activities that happen pretty much ON the river. At the Village Nordik du port de Quebec you’ll find another kind of winter playground. Here you can participate in ice fishing, whether in an igloo or open air, and even purchase a package which includes a chef preparing food for you after your ice fishing experience OR preparing your catch as a meal if you do end up catching something. They also have an outdoor skating area if you’re looking to spend more active time on the river and because the Village Nordik is located at the Market Old Port of Quebec (or the Marche du Vieux-Port de Quebec, you’ll also be able to head inside to warm up with some shopping, food and hot beverages.
Another neat winter activity in Quebec City that happens on the river is the Quebec City-Levis Ferry. The ferry operates year round and offers stunning views of Quebec City from the water and from the Levis side of the river. You’ll also get the opportunity to see the ice breaking as the ferry moves through the water which is a unique experience in itself.
Tip: While on the Levis side, you should take the opportunity to explore a bit and grab a bite to eat or a hot beverage before heading back across.
Participate in Incredible Winter Outdoor Activities With A View
Just taking a walk around the city will have you running into some stunning views and cool city sights no matter what time of the year you visit Quebec City but there are a few outdoor activities you can participate in, that we haven’t already mentioned, that will offer a special view in the winter.
One of our favourite streets to walk is Rue Saint-Jean and in the winter time, Place D’Youville located on it, has an outdoor skating rink (with skate rentals) open both in the day and night that will have you gliding in the midst of a winter wonderland. It’s a beautiful location to be outdoors and skating around and we particularly enjoy it at night when the street is lit up.
If you visit Quebec City you’ll definitely be seeing the iconic Chateau Frontenac and the Plains of Abraham and in the winter these two areas become host to gorgeous views. The plains of Abraham are a perfect spot for snowshoeing (we often see rentals in the area but it would be a good idea to plan ahead) and the views are amazing especially if you can make your way to Terrasse Pierre-Dugua-de Mons and look out over the St. Lawrence river and the Chateau Frontenac. At the Dufferin Terrace by the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac, you’ll find a toboggan slide that was built in 1884. Of course there’s no better time to toboggan then in the winter and the views going down are great, that is if you can keep your eyes open while reaching speeds of up to 70km/hr!
You’ll also find you’ll run into some unique treasures in the winter by just taking a walk outdoors around Quebec City. Throughout Carnaval, ice sculptures are placed across the city and statues of Bonhomme are scattered around.
While not technically outdoors, we absolutely love going to the Observatoire de la Capitale, an observatory that allows you near panoramic views of the city. In the winter, when the white snow coats the city and the winter weather makes it seem almost still and silent, it’s an extra beautiful view.
Tip: The last time we went to the observatory we got there before sunset and before it closed and were able to catch the city in the daylight and watch as night fell and the lights of the city turned on.