Why visit Québec City in the depths of winter you might ask? The city receives up to 400 cms (13 feet) of snow per year and the average daily high in December, January and February is only -5.9°C (21°F).
Yet the city has an infectious joie de vivre and there’s plenty to do. Late last winter I had a chance to return to Quebec City, after a hiatus of some 30 years. Although John and I only had a short time in the city itself, we managed to squeeze in a lot.
Here are 5 ideas of what you can (should) do if you have a few days in the Quebec City area?
Wander the historic district of old Québec – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As the only city in North America to have preserved its ramparts, Québec is in the enviable position of showing today’s visitors what a fortified city looked like several centuries ago. The Upper Town sits on a cliff with terrific views of the Saint-Lawrence River. It’s still a religious and administrative center – as you’ll soon see when you walk around. Look for convents, churches and monuments. Walk the cobblestones streets, stop in a cafe and take a horse-drawn carriage ride. You’ll feel like you’ve been transported to a European city.
Ski or skate on the Plains of Abraham
The Plains of Abraham was the site of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. With some of the finest views of the city overlooking the Saint-Lawrence River, the area is now a giant park offering super accessible skiing, snowshoeing and skating near Old Québec.
In total there are 12.6 kilometers of ski trails, a 3.8 kilometer out and back snowshoe trail and 5.6 kilometers of walking trails. Throw in a fantastic skating rink that’s open from 10 AM until 10 PM, and you have a veritable winter wonderland. The rink is also the site of a Winter Pentathlon. John declared his night-time skating experience sheer magic.
Take a tour of the Hôtel du Glace.
Just 10 minutes from downtown Quebec City, sits the Hôtel du Glace (or Ice Hotel). You don’t have to stay overnight to have a tour and trust me; it’s a very interesting place to see. Since it opened in 2001, it has hosted approximately 43,000 overnight visitors. And yes it’s chilly inside. Fortunately for guests you can spend some time in a hot tub before dashing to your room and slipping under thick, warm covers.
Take the ferry between the historical centers of Québec City and Lévis.
If you’re just looking for photos of the Québec City skyline or you just want to get a taste of the St. Lawrence River than you can do a quick turnaround trip in about 40 minutes via the ferry. You could also hop off in Lévis and walk a section of Le Parcours des Anses if it was a nice day and not too cold. The ferry runs from 6 AM until 2:20 AM.
Attend the Carnaval de Québec (Quebec Winter Carnival)
In 2015, the winter carnival kicks off on January 30th and lasts until February 15th. What you’ll find is sleigh races, canoe races, snow sculptures, nightlife, fireworks and loads of family activities. I have yet to go but would love to one year. Go meet Bonhomme Carnaval, a 400 pound, 7 foot tall giant snowman – the official mascot of the carnaval and holder of the keys to the city.
Keen skiers should also know that Mont. Ste. Anne is only 40 minutes away. Look for superb downhill skiing with stupendous views and some of the best cross-country skiing in Canada. On the way to the hill and just 20 minutes from downtown, you’ll drive past 83 meter high Montmorency Falls – a particularly beautiful site at night. If you choose to stop, you can explore the area around the falls via a cable car – and it’s also possible to climb stairs to the top of the falls.
Have you had the pleasure of visiting Quebec City in winter?
Thank you to Québec City Tourism for showing John and I your beautiful city. All thoughts and opinions as usual are my own.