Québec City is the quintessential winter destination, offering beautiful snowscapes, quaint architecture, and cold-weather activities. Whether you’re visiting for a day or longer, here are some festive things to do, traditional foods to eat, and places to stay.
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Things to Do in Québec City
Note: travel is currently uncertain due to the pandemic. Please check travel restrictions, follow local health guidelines, and refrain from doing anything risky (which could include traveling to Québec City in the first place; I visited in February 2020 and want to get this post up before I forget everything!).
1. Visit the Ice Hotel
The Hôtel de Glace is made entirely of ice and snow, making it an ethereal winter experience. To visit the hotel, you’ll have to venture about 30 minutes outside Québec City to the Valcartier Vacation Village, located in a more remote part of the region.
Each year, there are around 40 rooms in the Ice Hotel, with around 20 having a specially-sculpted design based on the annual theme. The 2021 theme is “Québec tales and legends.” In 2020, each room represented a previous year’s theme, and some of the standouts were the Jurassic Park, carnival, and jazz themed rooms.
While staying in the Ice Hotel will set you back 400+ CAD, you can visit for much cheaper; day passes are 23 CAD. If you’ll need transportation to the hotel, you can book a $55 tour from Québec City, which will pick you up in the old town. The “tour” is really just a bus ride there, and you can explore on your own (tickets to the Ice Hotel are included in the tour).
See my guide to visiting the Hôtel de Glace for more info.
2. Take a ride down the giant toboggan slide
The toboggan slide offers a stunning winter view of the famous Château Frontenac hotel, Dufferin Terrace, and St. Lawrence River.
The slide reaches speeds of up to 70km/hour (43mi/hour), making it exhilarating but not too intimidating. I personally didn’t experience that “stomach drop” that you’d typically feel during a roller coaster, so I found it more of a mild/moderate ride. Many kids and families were enjoying the ride as well.
Open from mid-December to mid-March, the toboggan costs around 4 CAD per person, with a pack of four tickets saving you a few bucks. You can have up to 4 people per toboggan, or go down solo.
3. Walk through Old Québec (Vieux-Québec)
Old Québec is split into two parts: the Upper Town (Haute-Ville) and Lower Town (Basse-Ville). The Upper Town is a bit more modern, but still incredibly quaint. It’s where you’ll find the Château Frontenac, Dufferin Terrace, old city walls, and colorful residences. There are many gift shops and both modern and traditional restaurants.
You can take the iconic Breakneck Stairs (Escalier Casse-Cou) down to the Lower Town, or take the funicular, which costs 3 CAD. Stroll through the Quartier Petit-Champlain, known for its local boutiques and particular-picturesque buildings. At the Place Royale, there’s a large Christmas tree and the oldest stone church in North American, Notre-Dame-de-Victoire.
Just a couple blocks away is the Instagram-famous Umbrella Alley (Rue de Cul-de-Sac). You’ll find more traditional restaurants and local shops nearby.
Château Frontenac in the snow
Breakneck Stairs (they’re not as bad as they sound!)
4. Go ice skating right by the old city walls
There’s nothing more festive and wintery than skating at an outdoor rink with a beautiful backdrop. In the Upper Town at Place D’Youville, you’ll find just that. Go skating during the day in the winter sun, or at night under the twinkling holiday lights. Make sure to reserve your one-hour slot online. Once you’re there, you can rent skates for 10 CAD.
5. Try traditional Québécois food
If you like sweets, you’ll love maple taffy (tire sur la neige), which is frozen maple syrup wrapped around a stick. They make the taffy right in front of you on beds of snow!
Another classic is maple sugar pie (tarte au sucre), but it’s unfortunately not vegan, though it is vegetarian. It’s kind of like a pecan pie without the pecans.
My personal favorite are maple cream cookies (surprisingly vegan!), which are two maple leaf-shaped cookies with maple cream sandwiched in-between.
For savory foods, poutine is probably the best-known dish. The fries drizzled with gravy and topped with cheese curds are sure to keep you warm and fill your stomach in the winter. I tried the vegan poutine at Le Chic Shack, and it wasn’t great, but there is also vegan poutine at Poutineville, so I’d recommend giving that a try instead.
6. Go snowshoeing or skiing
You can go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing right in the city at the Plains of Abraham (Plaines d’Abraham). Entry to the park is free, but if you need to rent equipment, go to the skaters’ chalet. If you’d rather just walk in the snow, that’s also a possibility.
For a change of scenery, you can go to Jacques Cartier National Park for your wintertime activities. The park is 30 minutes from the city and features beautiful snow-capped mountains and evergreen trees. If you need transportation and equipment, consider booking an all-inclusive tour for $70, which is led by an experienced guide.
7. Visit the Montmorency Falls
Just 15 minutes from Québec City, the Montmorency Falls are even taller than Niagara Falls. In the surrounding park, you can go ziplining, go hiking, or do via ferrata. There’s a suspension bridge at the top of the falls, letting you see the power of the water up-close. You can also take a cable car ride. Entry to the park is a few dollars for parking, around $5 per adult.
To get to the park via public transport, take the 800 bus towards Beauport, and get off at Brideau. You will need to have cash if you want to buy the fare on the bus, or you can purchase tickets in advance at any point of sale in the city.
8. Experience the Winter Carnival
The Winter Carnival happens yearly in the first week of February. There are all kinds of activities, from axe throwing to tubing to music performances. Go to admire the ice castle, snow sculptures, and parades. Tickets cost 15 CAD during pre-sale and 25 CAD afterwards.
Where to Stay in Quebec City
If you’re looking to rent an apartment, check out these well-rated options:
- Condo in the Upper Town that sleeps up to 4 people
- Condo in Old Québec with parking, sleeps up to 6 people
For hotels, here are some popular options:
- Fancy: Fairmont le Château Frontenac (the famous castle-like hotel)
- Moderate: L’Adresse sur Grande-Allée Lofts (modern lofts near the Plains of Abraham)
- Moderate/budget: Au Petit Hôtel (the cutest exterior, located in the Upper Town)
- Budget: Hôtel du Nord (a bit further beyond Old Québec)
What to Pack or Bring
It’s extremely cold and snowy in the winter in Québec City—January’s average temperatures are a high of 18°F (-8°C) and a low of 3 °F (-16°C).
You’ll basically need all your typical warm-weather things. Warm, waterproof boots are especially a must with the thick snow. I just used my hiking boots, which worked well enough, though they weren’t as tall as I would’ve liked.
If you’re coming from a different country, it’s helpful to have a travel credit card that waives foreign transaction fees. If you need cash, I recommend the Wise free borderless account. It allows you to hold 50+ currencies and withdraw the equivalent of 100 USD from ATMs for free each month. If you don’t have the local currency in your account, they’ll draw from the currency that’s the cheapest for you and use the real exchange rate.
Depending on your current cell service provider, you’ll also likely need a Canadian prepaid SIM card if you want to use mobile data.
After you go, let me know what you think of the city! If you’ve been, feel free to suggest anything I missed in the comments. If you’re also planning to stop by Montreal, check out my other itinerary.