On a bit of a whim, Hamilton and I recently booked a trip to Quebec City during Air Canada’s flight sale. It was just for the weekend (flying out Saturday morning and leaving Sunday evening) and we were super excited for the trip to get us into the festive mood. It’s an absolutely stunning place with a lot of history, making it a perfect weekend break.
I had been once before, in late April (a few years back), at which point it was still -1, yep -1 in April. I’m also pretty sure it snowed. This should have got me thinking about the fact that in December, it was definitely going to be somewhat colder than -1.
Nevertheless, ever the optimists, we discussed our plans of meandering around the city, exploring the beautiful European style streets in Old Quebec City and then slipping into some of their fantastic restaurants/bars when our feet got tired.
… While we were there, it was (real feel) -24 degrees. I’m not exaggerating. As I’m sure many people are thinking “this is winter in Canada, what were you expecting, you nincompoop?” (or probably similar words to that same effect) Well, in all honesty, not -24. It had been around -2 in Toronto and at times, around -8. I’m aware it gets much colder in January/February but come on, it’s only just December. Thankfully, many people confirmed with us in Quebec that this was an unusually cold weekend and it didn’t normally get that cold at that time. So basically, we weren’t complete idiots, we were just unlucky.
I’m prefacing this post with that information mostly, in all honesty, in the hope that you will respect all of the exploring that Hamilton and I did actually manage despite the conditions. Perhaps, you’ll even commend us with some kind of brave travellers award. I’ll wait. Plus, a warning in case you are intending on visiting Quebec City during this time – it is possible and it is enjoyable but my goodness, it is cold.
Anyway, I’ll get on with the post now.
I would first like to say that regardless of what I wrote above, we had a great time in QC.
As well as the quaint streets it is known for, there are lots of churches and beautiful buildings to see in the area which we did wander past but didn’t go inside, plus a Museum of Civilisation but in general, it is just a lovely place to walk around even though it is absolutely freezing. I don’t think there’s enough to do for a week long trip unless you start looking at things outside of the city but for a weekend there is the perfect amount to do and at this time of year, there are plenty of decorations up, music playing, ice skating, santa’s grottos and even some carol singers, which I think makes it a great alternative to a Christmas Market, if you’re looking for one.
We arrived mid morning on Saturday and got dropped off just outside the Fairmont. From there we trudged through the snow, down to the Citadelle and across the Plains of Abraham, where you can get a great view of the St Lawrence River (which I was surprised to see wasn’t frozen, by the way).
After being outside in the wind for about 30 minutes, we on the other hand, were freezing cold so we rushed down the road and into Le Cafe de Paris. It’s a really sweet little cafe that does bites of food, as well as hot drinks and alcohol. We skipped the food and went straight for Baileys Hot Chocolate. It’s something we always used to have when skiing because it really warms the cockles and having alcohol with a hot chocolate makes drinking at 11am feel a little bit more acceptable.
Once we were back up to normal human temperature, we headed back out into the freezer and up to the Observatory which I really recommend. A) It’s inside and B) It has great views of the city. What I found strange though, was that even on a day like that, it was completely empty. Most of the time, we were the only people up there. All the staff were super friendly, I think because they were glad to have someone to talk to, but it was nice and made for a very inviting atmosphere at what we thought was going to be a big, busy tourist attraction. It only costs $14.75 to go up and you can use that ticket as many times as you want in one day, so you could go up at lunchtime and then return to see the sunset if you wanted.
One thing though – the lift is absolutely terrifying. I’m not scared of heights or anything, it’s just the fastest lift I’ve ever been in. Hamilton and I both genuinely nearly fell down when it started moving. Thankfully we were the only ones in there and no one else saw this happen but good god, there should be a warning.
After that, we braved the cold once more (I think we were getting acclimatised to at this point because it didn’t seem too bad) and walked towards the old town. The day was getting on by this point, so we also stopped for a bite at a snack bar, which I can’t remember the name of but it was cheap as anything and they had huge portions. I mean, it felt like a waste in all honesty because I could barely eat it but that’s hardly something to moan about.
QUARTIER DU PETIT CHAMPLAIN
Until this point we had barely seen any other people walking around the streets and assumed it was because it was so cold, they didn’t want to go outside. As we then got into the quaint streets of the old town we realised it was actually just because they were all there. I guess a lot of people come on day trips, see the famous streets and then leave again.
HOTEL LE SAINT-PAUL
Once we had our fill of pretty streets and cold toes, we checked in to our hotel – Le Saint Paul. It is situated by the old port, which makes it a great location. We really enjoyed our stay there but I must say, it was confusing as hell. The reception area kind of seemed like it was under construction, even though I don’t think it was. From that, we assumed our room was going to be a bit crappy, then we got up there and had our minds blown – we had a suite. And it was massive. It had both the biggest bath and bed we had ever seen, plus a big TV, coffee machine and a great view. It also had a shower, which was surrounded by glass meaning if someone showered, you could just see them. We both agreed that it would be great if you were there on a romantic stay but for us it was just a bit weird. If either of us showered/had a bath, we just stayed facing the other way watching TV for the duration.
Now, Quebec is known for having great food, so we looked into this ahead of time and booked a table at Chez Jules. Our reservation wasn’t until 8pm, so we first got a drink around the corner at D’Orsay, on Rue De Buade. On the same road, is a Christmas shop that I believe is open year round where you can buy a myriad of random Christmas decorations and items (like the Santas below), so even if you aren’t in QC during the holiday season, you can still get festive.
Dinner. Was. Amazing. We got a carafe of wine, main meals and then a dessert, and it honestly didn’t break the bank. Nonetheless, the waiters treat you like royalty and it feels like quite a fancy experience. There are of course, fancy fine dining restaurants in Quebec City where you can have that but if you don’t have the money, Chez Jules is a good alternative.
OLD PORT MARKET
Breakfast was included at the hotel, so we got up at about 9 and went downstairs, then put on basically all of our clothes and walked across the road to the Old Port market. It’s open year round but at this time, it was a festive market so had a mix of food, handmade goods and Christmas gifts/decorations on offer. It felt very local, wasn’t filled with tourists and had a very chill atmosphere. It made me think about how nice it would be to live somewhere like that and wander down there on a Sunday morning to pick up some fresh food for the day.
Sadly we do not live there though and our day continued. We walked back through the Quartier du Petit Champlain and up the steps to the Fairmont. Warning – QC is pretty damn hilly. After living in Toronto, which is exceptionally flat, my legs were likely jelly from walking round Quebec.
FAIRMONT LE CHATEAU FRONTENAC
Right by the Fairmont, is a toboggan run and it is the greatest. It’s only 3 dollars per person per ride, so about £1.80 and is open to adults and children alike. You do have to pull your own toboggan up to the top but that’s part of the fun. The run is actually pretty bloody fast, so we screamed the entire way down and we were absolutely freezing but it is such a great activity, I could not recommend it more.
Plus for the adults, once you’ve done that, you can go into the bistro (Sam) at the Fairmont right next door and treat yourself to a stiff drink in luxury surroundings. Top tip (that we learned the hard way): the view from the balcony of the bar is amazing but you need to book to eat in order to sit there. We sat at the bar because we didn’t book but the waitress said you don’t need to have a full on meal, you can order something small and it’s still ok to sit there.
LE CLOCHER PENCHE
We only had one quick drink at the bar before we had to rush off for our lunch booking at Le Clocher Penche, which was a 30 minute walk (in the snow) away but the food made it worth it. For a set price, you get a hot drink, starter and main, plus great service. We really lucked out with the places we picked for food, I won’t lie; we don’t always book food places but seeing as we were only there for two days, it made sense to pick some nice places to ensure we got to go to them and that we didn’t have to wander the streets figuring out where looks nice.
After this, we had kind of seen everything we wanted to. I think if it was warmer, we would have gone back to the little streets in the old town but we didn’t feel the need to, so instead we crept into a bar and stayed there until it was time to get to the airport for our flight.
What are your favourite things to do around Christmas time?