Quebec Travel Guide
Quebec Travel Guide
Imagine a fairytale city with cobblestone streets covered in fresh snow. Picture a dreamy castle like building overlooking the city, which is now the most photographed hotel in the world. Now visualise an icy river with floating blocks of ice crossing the waters. Well, this actually exists and you can find it all in Quebec, a lovely city in Canada which is a magical destination in Winter. Let me share with you my Quebec Travel Guide in Winter Time.
I had Canada in my bucket list for many years. But where to go in Canada? Canada is a huge country, in fact it’s the second largest country in the world. And there are so many diverse places to see in the country, from vibrant cities like Toronto and Vancouver to stunning natural parks like Banff or Niagara Falls. So it’s almost impossible to see everything Canada has to offer in one trip.
In December 2022 I finally traveled to this beautiful American country. I only had one week, which is not too much time to go to Canada. And I wanted to combine city with nature. So after some research I decided to go to Quebec, the oldest city in the country. And it immediately became one of my favourite Winter destinations ever.
Quebec City is located in a province with the same name, at the eastern side of the country. This province is the largest one of Canada, and it constitutes nearly one sixth of the country’s total land area.
Quebec is easily connected with other Canadian cities by plane. I flew from Lisbon to Toronto, and then I took a second flight to Quebec. This was a great opportunity to make a long stopover in Toronto and to spend some time exploring the city. If you have enough time, I recommend you to do the same and to combine Quebec with some other(s) place(s) in Canada.
Where to stay in Quebec? That’s not an easy question to answer because Quebec has different areas that are equally interesting. But to be closer to the main attractions in the city, I recommend you to stay in Old Quebec, either in the Upper Town near Chateau Fontenac (if you want to spoil yourself you can even stay in this luxury hotel which is the one of the main landmarks of Quebec) or in the Lower Town near Petit-Champlain area.
It’s quite easy to walk around Old Quebec, the centre of the city comprising Upper Town and Lower Town. This area has some of the oldest streets in North America, with more than 400 years of history. It has also been considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There is a funicular connecting Lower Town and Upper Town, which is a nice ride. But you can also walk or take some stairs that connect both areas. As I’ve said most of the main sights of the city are located in Old Quebec, so you can easily spend a couple of days exploring it.
You can also do some day trips from Quebec to explore the surrounding area, visiting other interesting cities or natural sites. There are so many options available, you just have to choose whatever fits your interests and time available.
I will share with you my Quebec Travel Guide in Winter time, based in my own experience.
Walk around Place Royale and Quartier Petit-Champlain
My favourite part of Quebec is probably the Lower Town area around Place Royale and Quartier Petit-Champlain. Walking around, especially on Winter time when everything is covered in fresh snow, will make you feel like living a fairytale.
You can start your visit to Quebec in Place Royale, one of the most important historical sites in the city. This is where Quebec was founded in 1608. This cobblestone square has an architecture combining both French and British influences. It also hosts Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church, the oldest stone church in North America built in 1688.
Near Place Royale, don’t miss Fresque des Quebecois, a mural recounting the story of the city and showcasing dozens of historical personalities connected with Quebec.
Not far away from Place Royale, you will find Petit-Champlain District. This is a commercial area of the city, but it’s much more than that. Petit-Champlain Street is probably one of the most famous and oldest streets in North America. With cobblestone houses and French architecture, the ambiance in this area is magical.
In Petit-Champlain there are many shops, most of them selling local products, handcrafted items and local delicacies like maple syrup sweets. There are also plenty of restaurant and cafe options.
Petit-Champlain also connects the Lower and Upper parts of Quebec by the funicular or Escalier Casse-Cou steps.
Admire the views to Chateau Frontenac from Dufferin Terrace
Did you know that the one of the most famous landmarks in Quebec is Chateau Frontenac? And that it is considered the most photographed hotel in the world? Designed by the American architect Bruce Price, this hotel in a chateau style was built by the Canadian Pacific Railroad Company in 1893.
When researching for this blog post, I found that at that time railway companies used to build hotels to encourage tourists to travel in the railways. And Chateau Frontenac is probably the most known of them all. It has been designated in 1981 as a National Historic Site. The building is beautiful and it definitely stands out in Quebec’s skyline.
Located in the Upper part of the city, you can get there taking a funicular ride from Petit-Champlain, walking from the Lower Town or taking Casse-Cou steps. Once you get there, spend some time in the Dufferin Terrace admiring the views to the lower part of Quebec, to St. Lawrence River and to Levis, the city at the other side of the river.
In Winter time, if you are brave enough, you can take a toboggan ride. Built in 1884, the wooden slide toboggan is probably the oldest attraction in the city. Running down the hill at a speed up to 70km per hour, this is not for the fainted of the heart. But it’s definitely a great plan for lots of fun.
Wander Around Quebec Upper Town
Another beautiful part of Old Quebec to explore is the Upper Town, which is not short on landmarks and historical sites to visit.
You can start your walk around Upper Town by Chateau Frontenac and Dufferin Terrace. In the surrounding area there are many restaurants, coffees and shops where you can taste local food and buy typical souvenirs from the region.
From there, head to the Parliament Building, one of the most important historical sites in the city. There are some free guided tours, if you want to learn more about the parliamentary institutions and the history of Quebec. At night it gets particularly beautiful with the lighting.
Another place not to miss in this area is the Citadelle, which is the biggest Britain fortress in North America. The Citadelle has been home since 1920 to the Royal 22e Regiment and it’s a good place to know more about Quebec’s military history.
Don’t miss Plains of Abraham, the site of a battle that took place in 1759 and led to the British control of Canada. In the site there is an exhibit where you can learn more about the circumstances and the consequences of this battle. Nowadays this area is used in Winter for competitive events, and in Summer for Quebec City Summer Festival.
Walk around Quebec City Walls. Maybe you don’t know but Quebec is the only walled city in North America. The walls were built to protect the colony of New France in the 17th century. Today the ramparts are a live testimony of the history of Quebec.
Last but not least, visit Notre-Dame de Quebec Basilica-Cathedral, the first Catholic parish built at north of Mexico. Built in 1647 with a neoclassical facade, this is also the first and only Holy Door outside Europe.
Go to the Old Port and be Amazed by the Icy River
Another must visit place in the city is the Old Port, located in the Lower Town near Petit-Champlain area.
At the banks of St. Lawrence River, it has a marina and a cruise ship terminal from where you can take the ferry to Levis, a city located at the other side of the river. In the nearby streets, you will find plenty of options of restaurants and shops.
And in Winter time, the landscape around the Old Port is quite impressive. In the coldest months of the year, St. Lawrence River freezes partially from Quebec to Montreal. So you can see chunks of ice floating and crashing against each other.
The views from the Old Port are amazing, not only for the Upper Town and Chateau Frontenac, but also for Levis at the other side of the river.
Take the Ferry to Levis
In fact, one of things you shouldn’t miss while in Quebec is to take the ferry to Levis. This is a great and very fun day trip plan, allowing you not only to have the best views to Quebec from the river, but also to explore Levis. There are ferries connecting both cities every 20 minutes and the ferry drive takes less than 10 minutes.
If you take the ferry to cross St. Lawrence River, you will also have the great experience of navigating through the ice and to hear the sound of river ice scrapping against the ship’s hull. From the ferry you have beautiful views for both Quebec and Levis.
Once you arrive at the other side of the river, take some time to explore Levis. It is a more quiet and residential city, but it has great places to visit.
From the ferry terminal to Levi, located at the top of a hill, you need to take one of the staircases available. Facing the hill, head to left side, walk a few hundred meters and you will find the Red Stairs which is is my opinion the best way to get to Levis. The stairs are quite scenic and at the top the views to Quebec City are simply amazing.
Around Levis there are some beautiful and interesting buildings and murals. Don’t miss one of the biggest attractions in town, Chevalier-de-Levis Terrace. Built in 1939, this park and observation terrace overlooking St. Lawrence river has some of the best views to Quebec City and Laurentian mountaintops.
Be amazed by Quebec Christmas Decorations
I’ve visited many Christmas destinations throughout the years, and Quebec easily became one of my favourite cities to visit at this time of the year. The streets and squares of Quebec get incredibly magical with beautiful Christmas decorations, covered by a white blanket of snow.
If you are in Quebec during the Holiday season, take some time to embrace the Christmas vibes as the city light up to celebrate the season. I assure you that Quebec is the perfect getaway at Christmas time.
One of the most magical and famous areas to wander around and see the Christmas decorations is Petit-Champlain Street and Place Royale, with a big Christmas tree at the middle of the square.
Another place not to miss at this time of the year is the German Christmas Market, near Notre-Dame de Quebec Basilica-Cathedral and the City Hall. Nearby in Place D’Youville you will find an ice skating ring.
Explore Montmorency Falls Natural Park
When in Quebec, don’t miss a day trip to Montmorency Falls Natural Park (Parc de la Chute-Montmorency). This was one of my favourite experiences in Canada and the perfect day trip from Quebec.
With 83m high (30m taller than the famous Niagara Falls), Montmorency Falls are one of the most amazing natural places I’ve ever seen. At Winter time they get partially or totally frozen, which makes it even more spectacular. St. Lawrence River stretches out near the cliffs and the views from the Falls are breathtaking, as far as the eye can see. You will see the surrounding nature of the park, and in clear days Quebec City at distance.
Conveniently located outside Quebec, it’s very easy to get there. There are tours leaving from the city or you can rent a car if you want to combine it with other places outside Quebec. But the easiest and cheapest way to go, is to take a bus from the city centre that will take you to the natural park in 30m. When I visited it was bus 800, but please check it when you go.
If you decide to go by bus like I did, at the bus stop there are paths taking you to different entrances of the park. Take the one at the right leading to the main entrance and after less than 10m walk you will arrive to the entrance to the park, where you pay a fee of around 8 Canadian dollars.
There are many things that you can do in the area. In the interpretation centre near the entrance, you have the chance to learn more about the history of this site. Not for the fainted of the heart, you can experience a 300m zipline over the plunge pool, or take one of the ferrata routes up to the cliff. You can also take a cable car to the bottom of the falls to have a different perspective of the falls. And of course, one of the main attractions is to cross the suspended bridge to the belvedere.
Please note that some of the attractions are closed on Winter time, I believe for safety reasons. So when I visited the zipline, the ferrata routes and the cable car were closed. But still, the experience was amazing.
At the interpretation centre, take the path along the cliff leading to the suspended bridge. There is a viewpoint just before the bridge, from where you have great views to the falls. Then cross the suspended bridge and you will feel the strength of the water roaring under your feet.
Now I will tell you an almost secret spot to see the best views from the falls. When you arrive at the other side of the bridge, continue walking around 10 minutes towards a viewpoint located near the beginning of a staircase taking to the bottom of the falls. The staircase is closed because it’s completely icy and slippery at this time of the year. But from the viewpoint at the top you will be rewarded by the most amazing views to Montmorency Falls and Quebec City.
Take a Day Trip from Quebec
Quebec is an amazing city and you can easily spend several days visiting it, but its surrounding region is also worth to explore.
I already shared some great day trips from Quebec, like Montmorency Falls (this is a must do while in the area) or Levi . But there are many other day trips available, depending on your interests and how much time you have available.
If you love spas, don’t miss the opportunity to relax and unwind in one of the great Nordic Spas in Quebec. Soak up all the goodness of a thermal experience and leave your stress and worries behind. There are several options in the city centre, like like Sky Spa or Strom Nordic Spa. But also in the outskirts of Quebec area closer to the forest, like Nordic Spa Stoneham
or Spa des Neiges. If you decide to go outside of Quebec, you can do some outdoor activities near those places like downhill skiing on Winter or hiking trails during Summer.
Located in St. Lawrence River only 5km from Quebec City, Île d’Orléans is a perfect day trip especially on Summer time. You can admire the countryside and ancestral examples of French heritage and architecture from the 17th century. It is also known as a hub to local artists.
Another great place to visit is Baie-Saint-Paul in Charlevoix region, located 100km from Quebec. Known for its art galleries, the Summer art festival and gourmet food venues, it is a picturesque city to visit. The globally famous Cirque du Soleil was founded there in the 1980s. From June to October, it’s possible to take the scenic Train de Charlevoix from Quebec City to Baie-Saint-Paul with beautiful St. Lawrence River views.
Have you ever been to an Ice Hotel? If you dare to have the ultimate Winter experience of sleeping in the ice, you can also find it near Quebec. Hotel de Glace in Saint-Gabriel-de-Valcartier is the only hotel of its kind in North America.
Last but not least if you have enough time, another option is to do a day trip to Montreal, one of the largest cities in Canada. You can get there by train or by car and it will take you around 3 hours