Visiting Quebec City in winter sounds a little bit intimidating, doesn’t it? Up until last year my previous visits had taken place during the summer months, however, there was one event that I really wanted to attend which would require braving the cold: Carnaval de Quebec.
In case you’ve never heard of it, Carnaval de Quebec is a winter extravaganza where people gather to celebrate the frosty season…outdoors! The event is over 3 weeks long and it has an action packed schedule featuring street parades, canoe races, ice sculpture competitions, dance parties, snow baths (that’s exactly what it sounds like) and more.
I braved the cold for a long weekend, and aside from joining in on the carnival fun, I also ended up discovering that Quebec City is a magical destination in the wintertime. Carnaval de Quebec may be the main event of the season, but there’s still quite a bit of fun to be had around town the rest of winter. Here are just a few ideas for anyone brave enough to plan a trip:
Join the carnival winter madness
If you can time your visit to coincide with Carnaval de Quebec, you should definitely do so! This festival is all about embracing winter to the fullest and enjoying all the fun that comes with the cold temperatures, ice, and snow. Carnaval de Quebec sets up on the Plains of Abraham and you can enjoy everything from dog sledding and sleigh rides, to ice fishing and tubing. It’s fun for all ages. You can even visit the carnival’s mascot, Bonhomme, who lives in the Ice Palace for the duration of the Carnaval. He’s a jolly one!
Have afternoon tea at Chateau Frontenac
Chateau Frontenac oozes luxury. Not only does it dominate Quebec City’s skyline, but it is also the most photographed hotel in the entire world! I was lucky enough to visit back in 2010 when the hotel still offered guided tours which took you behind the scenes, however, they have since discontinued those. That being said, the hotel is still worth a visit. You can walk right in and browse around the lobby, or if you really want to soak in the ambience, they serve afternoon tea on Saturdays. (Reservations must be made in advance.)
Ride the slides on Dufferin Terrace
Dufferin Terrace is a boardwalk that sits right in front of the Chateau Frontenac and offers spectacular views of the Saint Lawrence and Lévis just on the other side of the river. During the summer months, you’ll catch people out for a leisurely stroll, however, during the winter months this is the setting of a toboggan run. The toboggan is one of the oldest attractions in town and it has been in operation since 1884. It has 3 icy runs and once you’re on the toboggan you can reach speeds of up to 70 kilometres per hour!
Eat a beaver tail
Fear not! The name ‘beaver tail’ is a bit of a misnomer so you’re not actually eating a beaver’s tail. A beaver tail is really a pastry made with fried dough and then topped with sweet condiments that include nutella (my favourite!), whipped cream, banana slices, crumbled Oreos, Reese’s pieces and more. It’s the perfect sweet treat after a long day of sightseeing.
Spend the night inside an Ice Hotel
If you want to snag a room at Quebec City’s Hôtel de Glace, you’re going to have to book well in advance! Spending the night in a room with sub-zero temperatures may not seem like the most inviting proposition, but when this room is in Quebec City’s Ice Hotel, the rooms are in high demand. Fortunately, the hotel is open to both day visitors and overnight guests. I went as a day visitor where I got to tour the hotel, sit in the chapel, and then visit the bar where they were serving drinks in ice glasses and a dance party was raging midday.
Walk along Quartier Petit Champlain
Quartier Petit Champlain is my favourite neighbourhood in Quebec City, especially when the Christmas lights are up and the path is covered in snow. Here you’ll find bistros, souvenir shops, art galleries, and boutiques. This little corner is far from a secret, but when we visited early on a Sunday morning we had the place to ourselves. We walked around, snapped pictures of the colourful storefronts, and then once we couldn’t take the cold, we popped into a little cafe for a hot drink and a Bohomme gingerbread cookie.
Go ice skating
Lace up those skates! You have a few different options when it comes to ice skating in Quebec City: there’s Place D’Youville in the heart of Old Quebec, you have another skating rink in the Plains of Abraham, or you can go to Pointe-aux-Lièvres where they have a 1.5 kilometre illuminated skating path.
Try ice canoeing on the Saint Lawrence
I know this sounds insane – who could possible want to get close to the icy waters of the Saint Lawrence River in winter? – but as crazy as it sounds, it’s one of the coolest experiences out there! Ice canoeing is a serious sport around these parts and it takes some guts. You basically haul a canoe down to the shores of the river, slide it across the ice, and then climb in once you reach sections of open river where slabs of ice are floating towards you. I tried this with the guys from Quebec Ice Canoeing and it was a blast! They are professionals who compete in this sport, and they were really good about teaching us the proper techniques and keeping us safe on the water.
Escape the cold at a Nordic Spa
If you’re in need of a little pampering, Quebec City is not a bad place to be. They have numerous Nordic Spas like SKYSPA and Sibéria Station Spa in the city, as well as a few others a short drive away. You can relax with saunas, steam baths, nordic waterfalls, and massages.
Warm up with hot chocolate
Last but not least, remember to take plenty of breaks and pop into coffee shops for a hot drink when the cold starts getting to you. Winter in Quebec City can sometimes be a challenge, but it’s also magical so if you can find a way to push through the cold, it’s worth it. Hot cocoa breaks are fun, plus you may also notice that some of the squares have outdoor fireplaces where you can thaw out your fingers and toes. That, and maybe throw in a few hot packs inside your mittens – they made the world of a difference for me!
Have you visited Quebec City in winter?
What’s your favourite winter destination?