Visiting Quebec City for the Holidays: 6 Things You Must Do
Quebec City, Canada may not be the first option for most people to travel to in the winter. With cold weather and the possibility of snow storms, it may seem more appealing to just lie on a beach and hibernate. However, with less expensive flights and a flair for the holiday spirit, Quebec City is the perfect winter wonderland escape for your next cold weather vacation.
We made our way to Quebec City after flying into Montreal and spending 24 hours exploring. Driving between the two cities takes roughly 3 hours with pretty consistent scenery of trees and lakes. In fact, we overheard an older man at a bar saying he recently drove from Montreal to Vancouver and he could attest that literally all of Canada is "trees and lakes." Mike and I really couldn't complain since it's a far cry from driving through the cornfields of Illinois.
Much like Montreal, Quebec City is a mix of older and modern architecture but while Montreal is very urban, Quebec City is all about the outdoors and nature. The great part, which you'll see further in my post, is that all of the best outdoor activities are within a 30 minute drive outside of the city so you don't have to travel for hours to experience a Quebecois winter outside. Whether it's dog sledding, hiking or even snow tubing, you can drive to them all easily and even by cab if you don't have a car for a fun day trip.
Dealing With the Cold
Mike and I had the particular luck to be traveling to Canada during one of their coldest weeks in recent years. We're both born and raised in Chicago so we're used to lake effect snow and cold weather but these negative temperatures were a whole different level. There were mornings I would go outside to photograph and I could only stay out for 10 minutes before my hands (with gloves) would be completely numb. My best advice: layer layer and layer. I averaged 3-4 pairs of thermal pants on my legs each day and two pairs of wool socks in my boots. I also purchased a thick wool scarf in Quebec that was perfect for wrapping around my face. To make the best use of your time outside, plan out where you're going ahead so you can focus on seeing the sights around you instead of worrying about directions. Listen to your body. If you have to get inside, do it. After a day and a half we had acclimated well and when we made it back to Chicago where it was 0 degrees F, we were actually warm!
Stay in Castle Accommodations at the Chateau Frontenac
Quebec City is a beautiful area overlooking the St. Lawrence River. Our first stop was our accommodations for the night, the hotel Chateau Frontenac. Located on a hill, this stunning hotel overlooks all of Quebec City and is the most well-known landmark of the town for good reason. Its castle-like architecture towers over the city during the day and is lit up throughout the night.
Explore the Old Port of Quebec City
From the Chateau, you can head down to the Old Port area of the city. This quaint section near the river is made up of winding cobblestone streets with art galleries, antique shops and small, local restaurants. The streets are lined with Christmas decorations and at night the holiday lights illuminate the paths making you feel like you're walking through a festive city in Santa's North Pole. We spent an afternoon wandering and exploring and couldn't get enough of the colorful buildings and brickwork.
Go Dog Sledding Through the Quebec Backcountry
The most anticipated part of our trip was our reservation for dogsledding. This 4 hour trip winded over 6 miles of backcountry and forests just 20 minutes outside of Quebec City. Our pack of six Siberian Huskies, including our two favorites, Mimi and Fromage (French for cheese), pulled Mike and me through high snow drifts and up and down steep hills without ever really needing a break. Learn more about our dog sledding experience here.
Make the Drive to Village Vacances Valcartier and the Hotel de Glace
The Valcartier Vacation Village 30 minutes outside of Quebec is not only the Winter Playground of the area, but the largest in America. People from across Canada come to this resort to slide down their 35 snow tubing runs including the Himalaya which will shoot you down at close to 50 miles per hour. It also features ice skating and an indoor waterpark.
However, the jewel of the Village is the Hotel de Glace, or the Ice Hotel. Redesigned and rebuilt every winter, the Hotel de Glace Quebec is one of the handful of ice hotels in the world and the only one in North America. An architectural wonder, it is completely built from snow and ice, including the hotel rooms, each with a different theme carved into the walls and furniture. It's a unique place to stay from January to March or you can swing by for a tour of the Grand Hall, hotel bar and chapel.
Relax and Rejuvenate at the Siberia Station Spa
Dog Sledding took a lot out of us. As fun as it was, we were sore and our bodies were exhausted so the thought of spending a day at the spa seemed like heaven. The TripAdvisor reviews for Siberia Station Spa were glowing so we made a reservation for a 60 minute massage and use of the spa grounds afterwards. The spa itself is in a gorgeous location surrounded by a tranquil dense forest. It follows the traditions of Nordic spas in that there are three phases you make your way through: Hot, Cold and Rest.
You can achieve these phases by walking the outdoor winding stairways and paths of the spa. They lead to a dry sauna, infrared sauna, multiple outdoor hot tubs among the trees and my favorite, a steam room to sweat out all your toxins as you inhale the strong smell of eucalyptus. Next you spend a short amount of time in the cold phase which means jumping under a freezing waterfall or for the true Canadians (or thrill seekers?), taking a dip in the hole carved out of the frozen river that runs through the property. With temperatures hitting -30 degrees F outside, we figured walking from one phase to the other in just our swimsuits, flip flops, spa robe and winter hats was enough of a cold phase for us. We then continued onto the longest phase: rest. For this there were multiple yurts heated with wood-burning fireplaces that had comfy chairs or hammocks where you could read a book or just relax to the sights for the forest and the sounds of the crackling wood fireplace.
Siberia Station Spa was definitely a relaxing and calming experience despite the cold weather and actually got fairly busy later in the afternoon when the rates decrease. It was also nice to escape from Quebec City and our busy travel schedule for a few hours. The spa is a must-stop if you're in the Quebec City area.
See the Scenic Views of Montmorency Falls
Outside of Quebec City you'll find some of the most scenic views of the St. Lawrence River, the Quebec City skyline and a gorgeous waterfall called Montmorency Falls. These falls are surrounded by multiple hiking paths that lead to suspended bridges, observation decks and high cliffs giving you the perfect photo-op wherever you turn. Despite the cold, the trails were filled with people pulling out their cameras with their bulky winter gloves to capture the moment. The falls themselves are actually 98 ft taller than Niagara Falls and even in the freezing temps, the water was still rushing through them with a yellow tint due to the high iron content found in the water.
With it's European charm and the ability to see so many different things within a 30 minute drive outside of the downtown area, we ended up falling in love with Quebec City. It may be cold in the winter but the people of Quebec still know how to have a good time and use the cold to their advantage (the amount of restaurants we saw with outdoor bars and seating made of ice was staggering). However, I'd still love to go back and experience the city during the summer when the leaves are green and the St. Lawerence River isn't frozen over.