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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
• For brunch •
1136 Rue Saint-Jean, Quebec City, QC G1R 1S4, Canada | Yelp
• For lunch or drinks–or poutine! •
300 Rue Saint-Paul, Quebec City, QC G1K, Canada | Yelp
Le Lapin Sauté
• For lunch or dinner •
52 Rue du Petit-Champlain, Quebec City, QC G1K 4H4, Canada | Yelp
• For dinner or drinks •
255 Rue Saint-Paul, Quebec City, QC G1K 3W5, Canada | Yelp
• For dinner •
73 Rue Saint-Louis, Quebec City, QC g1R 3Z3 | Yelp
• For brunch, lunch, or dinner •
16 Rue Sainte-Anne, Quebec City, QC G1R 3X2, Canada | Yelp
Baguette & Chocolat
• For coffee, pastries, or a quick breakfast •
36 Côte de la Fabrique, Quebec City, QC G1R 3V3, Canada | Yelp
What to Pack for a Trip to Quebec in the Winter
- 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.
- 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.
- Pack handwarmers for your pockets and your feet.
- 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.
- 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?!
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!Discover why it's worth braving the cold to visit beautiful Quebec City in the winter on Feather & Flint! Click To Tweet
Are you following Feather & Flint on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Bloglovin’, Twitter, Google+, and Spotify? Subscribe to each channel to make sure you don’t miss a single post, whether it’s on visiting Quebec City for the Carnaval de Québec or finding inspiration with winter quotes & photos.