Feather & Flint

Why Visiting Quebec City for the Carnaval de Québec is Worth Braving the Cold

February 3, 2018 20 Comments 56 Photos

Quebec City is my favorite city in Canada, and it might just be one of my favorite cities on the entire continent. It was founded in 1608, and parts of the original city are still standing today. Its centuries-old stone buildings, charming streets, and abundance of French speakers make la Ville de Québec feel more like a quaint French village than a North American metropolis.

Visiting Quebec for Carnaval: Winter Travel Tips | Feather & Flint

Visiting Quebec City in Winter for the Carnaval de Québec

Visiting Quebec City in the winter is enchanting enough on its own; but you won’t regret timing your trip to coincide with the Carnaval de Québec. The Carnaval de Québec (pronounced car-na-vall deuh kay-beck) has been held nearly every winter since 1894. It runs from the end of January to mid-February, and it attracts almost a million visitors to the city each winter. The city is at its finest when it’s decorated for the Carnaval de Québec, putting everyone in a festive mood–residents and visitors alike.

I first visited Quebec City in February 2011. Alex and I had just started dating, and we decided to go on a weekend trip to Quebec together. We rented a room at the Hôtel Clarendon. The weather was frigid, as is the norm in Québécois winters; so we would explore the city when we could, and dash back to our hotel room to warm up when the weather took a turn for the worse. I always smile when I remember this trip because I had no idea that traveling was about to become a huge part of my life–and so would Alex.

Visiting Quebec for Carnaval: Winter Travel Tips | Feather & Flint

Alex & I on our first trip to Quebec City in early 2011

The only thing that we regretted about our trip was that we missed the Carnaval de Québec by a week. We had made the trip on a whim, so we hadn’t done any research into what to do once we got there–or when the best time was to visit. Everyone that we met in the city told us how sad they were for us that we’d missed the festivities. Some seemed to think that we shouldn’t have bothered showing up in the winter at all if we weren’t going to be there for the Carnaval de Québec. We didn’t mind–we were young and in love and exploring a beautiful new city–but we did make a mental note to return for the Carnaval de Québec one day.

That day came six years later, when we drove up to Quebec City during the last week of the celebration in 2017. We brought my little sister with us–partially to see the Carnaval de Québec, but also so that she could try poutine for the first time, a staple food in the province of Québec. (Don’t worry–I’ll tell you all about poutine in a bit!) The cold was just as bone-chilling as I remembered, and the snow fell for the better part of the weekend; but we had an amazing time. We stayed in a stunning Airbnb that was the perfect combination of modern and historical, with stone walls that had to be at least three centuries old. We explored the winding streets of Vieux-Québec, then paused to let our cold feet thaw in quaint restaurants and shops. We marveled at the snow-covered beauty of Quebec with mugs of Caribou warming our hands. It was perfect.

I hope that you get the chance to visit Quebec City someday. It’s just three hours north of the U.S. border, and it’s worth every mile. If you do decide to make the trek–and if you’re willing to brave the cold to see the Carnaval de Québec in all its glory–here are my recommendations to make the most of your trip. Otherwise, I hope you can live vicariously through my photos (hopefully from someplace warm)!

What to See in Vieux-Québec

La Rue Sous le Fort

The neighborhood of Quebec City that we’ll be touring is Vieux-Québec (Old Quebec, pronounced vee-euh kay-beck).

Quebec City is one of only two fortified cities that remain in North America (the other is San Francisco de Campeche in Mexico). What this means is that the stone walls and gates that were built to protect the city in the early 1600s are still standing, and you’ll encounter them often as you’re wandering through Vieux-Québec.

There are two parts of Vieux-Québec: Haute-Ville (upper town) and Basse-Ville (lower town). You’ll understand how these sections got their names as soon as you’re in Quebec: Haute-Ville is a massive, sloping hill that forms a cliff overlooking Basse-Ville. In the winter, the climb up l’Espalier Casse-Cou (Breakneck Stairs) can be treacherously icy; so to get from Basse-Ville to Haute-Ville, you can catch a ride on the Funiculaire, which is conveniently located in the center of the Carnaval de Québec festivities in each neighborhood. There are events, restaurants, and shops in both Haute-Ville and Basse-Ville.

Basse-Ville

A view of the Parc de la Cetière in Basse-Ville, as seen from Haute-Ville

The most beautiful part of Basse-Ville is le Quartier Petit Champlain. This small district feels like the heart of Vieux-Québec. It’s characterized by charming stone buildings that house the neighborhood’s restaurants and shops. Located here is the most beautiful street in Quebec, la Rue du Petit Champlain. If you get the chance, it’s worth braving the cold to photograph la Rue du Petit Champlain in the snow–particularly when it’s adorned with decorations for the Carnaval de Québec!

La Place Royal is essentially the town square of le Quartier Petit Champlain. It was the first part of the city to be built back in 1608; and in fact, it’s where the city’s first residents once lived.

During the Carnaval de Québec, different festivities are happening at all hours of the day in la Place Royale, as well as in le Parc de la Cetière and le Parc Félix-Leclerc. You can see live performances, play games, drink Caribou (the traditional drink of the Carnaval de Québec), and visit the shops and restaurants. It’s just a fun, beautiful place to spend time.

La Place Royale in Basse-Ville, Vieux-Québec

Looking down on la Rue du Petit Champlain from atop l’Espalier Casse-Cou

La Rue du Petit Champlain

La Rue Sous le Fort

La Rue Sous le Fort

La Rue du Petit Champlain

Rue Saint-Pierre

La Rue du Petit Champlain

Visiting Quebec for Carnaval: Winter Travel Tips | Feather & Flint

Bolduc Antiquités

Haute-Ville

While Basse-Ville was where la Ville de Québec’s first residents lived, Haute-Ville had strategic importance due to its elevation. Built in 1673, the star-shaped Citadelle de Québec is a still-functioning fort that offers beautiful views of the city from atop its stone ramparts.

Right in front of le Château Frontenac, la Terrasse Dufferin offers another breathtaking view from the edge of a precipice. You can see Basse-Ville from above, and the St. Lawrence River beyond. During the Carnaval de Québec, if you’re looking for outdoor activities like sledding, snowshoeing, and hockey, this is the place to be. When you need to warm up, you can pop into the lobby of the stunning Château Frontenac.

If you’re looking for restaurants and shops, you’ll find them in clusters on Rue Saint-Jean and Côte de la Fabrique. It’s swarming with tourists shopping for souvenirs, but there’s good food to be had along the way! For Instagrammable architecture, I recommend wandering down la Rue Couillard and la Rue de l’Auteuil.

La Terrasse Dufferin

Le Château Frontenac

La Rue Couillard

La Rue Couillard

La Rue Sous le Fort in Basse-Ville, as seen from la Terrasse Dufferin

La Rue Saint Louis

Les Jardins de Parlement on la Rue d’Auteuil

La Rue Couillard

Le Château Frontenac

Visiting Quebec for Carnaval: Winter Travel Tips | Feather & Flint

View of le Château Frontenac from la Citadelle de Québec

Les Jardins de Parlement, at the corner of La Rue d’Auteuil & La Rue Saint Louis

 —

Where to Eat in Quebec City (and What to Eat)

If you want to try a true Québécois tradition while you’re in Canada (besides attending the Carnaval de Québec), there’s one dish and one drink that you should taste.

During the Carnaval de Québec, as I mentioned earlier, many restaurants serve Caribou, which is a traditional drink that can be served in a number of ways. I tried it twice while I was in Quebec–once served cold in a martini glass at Chez Boulay Bistro Boreal, and once served hot in a less elegant cup in la Place Royale. It’s generally 3 parts red wine, 1 part whiskey, and a dash of maple syrup; and when it’s served hot, it’s often mulled with orange and cinnamon sticks.

As for food–if you’re in Quebec, you have to try poutine. Poutine is a quintessential Québécois dish that consists of French fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. It might sound odd, but it’s the ultimate comfort food–particularly on a cold day. Multiple restaurants claim to have invented the dish, which was first served in “greasy spoon” joints and hockey arenas in the 1950s. Canadians once considered poutine an embarrassing junk food, but it’s now a cultural point of pride. My favorite version that I’ve tried so far swapped out French fries for sweet potato fries, and added sautéed mushrooms–a dish that we’ve tried to recreate at home, but it never tastes as good as it did in Quebec.

For better or for worse, we also fell in love with maple whiskey while we were in Canada. Here’s the story: It was the last night of our trip, and we had stopped for a nightcap at a bar after dinner. The Super Bowl was on, but the Patriots had been lagging behind throughout the first half of the game, so Alex had pretty much accepted defeat. The snow was piling up outside, so once we’d finished our drinks, we decided to head home–but just around the corner from our Airbnb, Alex peeked into the window of a bar to check the score. That’s when we found out that in the time it had taken us to walk home, the entire course of the game had shifted! We ran inside, grabbed the last three open seats at the bar, and took shot after shot of maple whiskey with the bartender as we watched the rest of the game. It was the first time in my life that I’d ever enjoyed football or whiskey–and you can bet that we’ll continue the tradition tomorrow night with the maple whiskey we brought back with us!

Here’s where I recommend eating while you’re in Quebec–for brunch, lunch, dinner, poutine, and everything in between.

Chez Boulay Bistro Boréal

For dinner •

1110 Rue Saint-Jean, Quebec City, QC G1R 1S4, Canada | Yelp

Sea buckthorn tart at Chez Boulay Bistro Boréal | Visiting Quebec for Carnaval: Winter Travel Tips | Feather & Flint

Sea buckthorn tart at Chez Boulay Bistro Boréal

Visiting Quebec for Carnaval: Winter Travel Tips | Feather & Flint

Chez Boulay Bistro Boréal

Visiting Quebec for Carnaval: Winter Travel Tips | Feather & Flint

Caribou at the Chez Boulay Bistro Boréal

Casse-Crêpe Breton

For brunch •

1136 Rue Saint-Jean, Quebec City, QC G1R 1S4, Canada | Yelp

Visiting Quebec for Carnaval: Winter Travel Tips | Feather & Flint

Casse-Crêpe Breton

Nutella crepe at Casse-Crêpe Breton | Visiting Quebec for Carnaval: Winter Travel Tips | Feather & Flint

Nutella crepe at Casse-Crêpe Breton

Chez Victor

For lunch or drinks–or poutine! •

300 Rue Saint-Paul, Quebec City, QC G1K, Canada | Yelp

Visiting Quebec for Carnaval: Winter Travel Tips | Feather & Flint

Chez Victor

Visiting Quebec for Carnaval: Winter Travel Tips | Feather & Flint

A flight of local beer at Chez Victor

Visiting Quebec for Carnaval: Winter Travel Tips | Feather & Flint

Laurel’s first taste of poutine at Chez Victor

Le Lapin Sauté

For lunch or dinner •

52 Rue du Petit-Champlain, Quebec City, QC G1K 4H4, Canada | Yelp

Le Lapin Sauté

Le Lapin Sauté

Legende

For dinner or drinks •

255 Rue Saint-Paul, Quebec City, QC G1K 3W5, Canada | Yelp

Visiting Quebec for Carnaval: Winter Travel Tips | Feather & Flint

Legende

Visiting Quebec for Carnaval: Winter Travel Tips | Feather & Flint

Legende

Bello Ristorante

For dinner •

73 Rue Saint-Louis, Quebec City, QC g1R 3Z3 | Yelp

Visiting Quebec for Carnaval: Winter Travel Tips | Feather & Flint

1640 Bistro

For brunch, lunch, or dinner •

16 Rue Sainte-Anne, Quebec City, QC G1R 3X2, Canada | Yelp

Visiting Quebec for Carnaval: Winter Travel Tips | Feather & Flint

Smoked salmon Benedict at 1640 Bistro (with a cupcake!)

Visiting Quebec for Carnaval: Winter Travel Tips | Feather & Flint

Oeufs classique at 1640 Bistro

Baguette & Chocolat

For coffee, pastries, or a quick breakfast •

36 Côte de la Fabrique, Quebec City, QC G1R 3V3, Canada | Yelp

Visiting Quebec for Carnaval: Winter Travel Tips | Feather & Flint

Baguette & Chocolat

Visiting Quebec for Carnaval: Winter Travel Tips | Feather & Flint

Baguette & Chocolat

Visiting Quebec for Carnaval: Winter Travel Tips | Feather & Flint

Baguette & Chocolat

What to Pack for a Trip to Quebec in the Winter

  1. Plan to dress in layers–for example, a coat over a knit sweater over a long-sleeved shirt… plus a hat, gloves, scarf, leg warmers, and the warmest socks you own. At the very least, wear thick sweaters.
  2. Wear knit socks. With all of the layers that I was wearing, the only part of my body that got cold was my feet–and it was annoying to have to keep stopping to warm up my feet in the middle of our adventures.
  3. Pack handwarmers for your pockets and your feet.
  4. Bring stylish winter boots with good traction. Quebec City is extremely hilly, so you can very quickly find yourself sliding backwards down a hill if you’re wearing slippery-soled shoes! However, keep in mind that you’ll probably be wearing these boots out to dinner, too–particularly if it’s snowing–so if you have a pair that you’re not embarrassed to wear with a dress, even better.
  5. Buy smartphone-friendly gloves. You won’t want to have to take your gloves off every time you want to take a picture or look up directions!

Where to Stay

Make sure that you’re staying in Vieux-Québec so that you’ll be within walking distance of the Carnaval de Québec festivities and the most beautiful parts of the city. We stayed in the loveliest little Airbnb on the corner of Rue Hamel and Rue Couillard, and I’m so sad to say that it’s no longer available! But don’t despair–I just did a quick search of other Airbnbs in Vieux-Quebec, and it’s clear that ours wasn’t the only home of its kind–there are tons of renovated historical lofts available in Quebec City for less than the cost of hotel room. If you’d rather stay in a hotel, I recommend l’Hôtel Clarendon in the heart of Haute-Ville, which is where Alex and I stayed back in 2011.

Here’s the Airbnb where we stayed on our most recent trip. Aren’t those centuries-old stone walls gorgeous?!

Visiting Quebec for Carnaval: Winter Travel Tips | Feather & Flint

Have you ever been to Canada? Which part of Quebec City would you be most excited to see? Would you brave the cold to visit during the Carnaval de Québec? I can’t wait to hear what you think!

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20 Comments

  1. Reply

    amy

    February 6, 2018

    It looks so beautiful! And delicious! This is going on my travel bucket list! 🙂

    • Reply

      Robin

      February 6, 2018

      Thanks so much, Amy!! I really hope you get the chance to visit Quebec someday–what’s on my bucket list is going back when the city isn’t covered in snow. It must be a completely different place–but I bet it’s just as charming 🙂

  2. Reply

    Keri

    February 6, 2018

    Quebec City is beautiful! It looks like you had a lot of fun and some great food!

    • Reply

      Robin

      February 6, 2018

      Thanks, Keri 🙂 We really did–we ate so well and walked it all off on those icy hills! According to my iPhone, we climbed 42 flights in one day, haha!

  3. Reply

    Rebecca Rice

    February 6, 2018

    This looks beautiful! My husband and I are now inspired to plan a trip for next time! Thank you for sharing your experience !

    • Reply

      Robin

      February 6, 2018

      I’m so happy to hear that!! You guys will have an amazing time–Quebec City is one of the most romantic cities in the world, and I loved seeing it decorated for Carnaval 🙂 Have a wonderful time–can’t wait to hear about it!

  4. Reply

    Divya

    February 7, 2018

    My family used to travel a lot when we were younger and we went to Quebec when I was in high school. But your post makes me want to go back as an adult! Especially a french-fry loving adult who would probably LOVE poutine! All your pictures make it look like such a charming place to visit; maybe once Ankur is done with all his rotations we can make a quick getaway!

    • Reply

      Robin

      February 7, 2018

      Omg, you would be ALL OVER the poutine in the best way 🙂 You two should absolutely sneak up there for a long weekend when you get a chance–it’s so romantic!!

  5. Reply

    Natalie

    February 7, 2018

    What a fun trip, and beautiful city!

    • Reply

      Robin

      February 7, 2018

      It truly is–like a piece of Europe here in North America! I loved it 🙂

  6. Reply

    Helen

    February 7, 2018

    These pictures are gorgeous! I’ve never been to Quebec, but now I’m adding it to the bucket list!

    • Reply

      Robin

      February 7, 2018

      Thank you so much, Helen! You absolutely should go if you get a chance–it’s perfect for a long weekend getaway!

  7. Reply

    Liz

    February 7, 2018

    Oh my goodness, Quebec City looks enchanting in winter! I’ve been to Quebec (the province) but not Quebec City, but I’ve heard it’s gorgeous and it certainly lives up to its reputation in your photos! I love your focus on what to do during Carnaval and it looks like you all had a fantastic trip!

    • Reply

      Robin

      February 7, 2018

      Thank you so much, Liz!! I haven’t seen any of Quebec outside of Quebec City and Montreal, but I’m absolutely dying to–such gorgeous lakes and mountain villages! They’re all on my bucket list 🙂

  8. Reply

    Keating

    February 7, 2018

    I love Quebec City so much! I visited ONCE when I was in the 8th grade on a school trip and it was such a gorgeous city. I’d love to go back sometime soon.

    • Reply

      Robin

      February 8, 2018

      You totally should!! I discover something new every time I’m there, even though it’s such a small city. Next, I want to go back during the summer–I bet it’s a completely different place!

  9. Reply

    Yolanda

    February 7, 2018

    I have always wanted to go to the winter carnival in Quebec City – but still haven’t! Been in the summer but need to make the journey for carnival soon. Your photos are just gorgeous. Such a pretty place.

    • Reply

      Robin

      February 8, 2018

      You have to!! If you love it in the summer, Carnaval would take your breath away–especially if the snow happens to be falling 🙂 I can’t wait to visit in the summer one day!

  10. Reply

    Kimber

    February 9, 2018

    Great post! My husband and I have been talking about visiting this coming winter! I’ve only been the Vancouver and the surrounding cities sonim dying to head to a new province!

    • Reply

      Robin

      February 10, 2018

      I’ve only been to Vancouver for less than 24 hours, and it was so beautiful–I’m dying to explore the Pacific Northwest more, so we’re even! 🙂 Hope you make it to Quebec this winter, you’ll love it!

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