When most people book their vacation to Canada, they have Toronto, Vancouver or the rockies on their minds. And it makes total sense, those are the most popular places and amazing in their own right. But did you know Canada has it’s own little slice of Europe? Quebec is Canada’s only predominantly French speaking Province, it has a culture that’s 100% Canadian but with a French flare. Quebec city has been on my Canadian bucket list ever since I first set eyes on the Chateau Frontenac, I only had time for one day in Quebec City in December.
I think visiting Quebec City in winter is the perfect time to come! Everything feels so festive, with the picturesque cobble stones covered in a light dusting of snow. It would be the perfect place to celebrate Christmas. The city is beyond beautiful. It’s no wonder Old Quebec City is a UNESCO World Heritage site!
Continue reading below to find out the best things to do in Quebec City in winter!
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History Of Quebec City
I remember the first time I ever saw photos of Quebec City, the majestic Chateau Frontenac sitting high above the town. I remember thinking “Wow! I wonder where in Europe that is?” Only to discover upon further research that it was in fact in North America. My brain could not work out why this quaint little french town existed in Canada.
Quebec City is actually a very important part of Canadian history, and there are several reasons “this quaint European town exists in Canada”
Here is a shortended history for you…
Quebec City was first established in 1608 as a fortified fur-trading post by the French. In 1629 it was captured by the British, until 1632 when the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye restored it to France. In 1759 the Battle of Quebec occurred on the Plains Of Abraham in which the French were defeated by the British. Most of the French held territory in North America was then ceded to Great Britain by the Treaty of Paris in 1763.
Here some some quick facts you may not know about Quebec City
– Old Quebec City became an UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985
– Montmorency Falls is 30 metres higher than Niagara Falls
– When it comes to things that are quintessentially Canadian, most people will think of maple syrup but did you know that around 70% of the world’s maple syrup comes from the province of Quebec?
– The Old Quebec City is the only walled city north of Mexico!
– The First European to set foot in the area was French Explorer Jacques Cartier, who arrived in 1535.
– Samuel de Champlain installed the first permanent base in Quebec City in 1608, which grew as a fortified fur-trading post.
– In 2008 Quebec City celebrated it’s 400th anniversary
What If I Don’t Speak French?
French Canadians are very proud of their culture, and rightly so. If you do happen to know French, give it a go they will love you for it. While a lot of people will speak English in the tourist areas, a little effort goes a long way!
But aren’t French Canadians like, super rude? I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard this misconception, but I did before I arrived in Canada, and even now I still do. There is a running joke on the West Coast that French Canadians are not so happy. But I’ve never met a French Canadian I didn’t like, both in Quebec and on the West Coast! In fact they’ve been some of the nicest Canadians I’ve met.
How To Get To Quebec City
Quebec City may be the capital of Quebec but that doesn’t mean it is the easiest to get to. There are several ways you can get to Quebec City, some are easier than others.
Fly – Quebec City Jean Lesage International Airport is the main airport in Quebec City. However, international and direct flights are few and far between. Unless you are already in Canada, you will probably have to catch a connecting flight. Alternatively you may want to fly into Montreal-Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport and rent a car or catch the bus to Quebec City. Better yet, you can explore Montreal and then move onto Quebec City!
Car – Depending on where you are coming from you may want to drive. There is little parking in Old Quebec City and the streets are so narrow that this might not be the best option. However staying outside the Old City with a car would be more beneficial.
Bus – If you are coming from Montreal and staying for a few days, the bus may be the best option. The bus is pretty expensive at around $120 return but you won’t need to think about parking and no one has to drive!
Train – The train is equally as expensive as the bus and peak times are more so. The trains also have a less frequent service.
How To Get Around Quebec City
The best way to get around Quebec City is to walk. Many of it’s narrow streets and squares are pedestrian only so you will only be able to get to them on foot. Roads in the old city are narrow and parking is limited.
If you decide to stay outside the old city and are exploring further afield hiring a car or taxi a local taxi is recommended. Alternatively you can book day trips for visiting Montmorency Falls or taking an Ice Wine tasting tour.
Where To Stay In Quebec City
Although this is a one-day itinerary in Quebec City, if you can you should consider staying longer. If you are extending your trip over a few days there are plenty of great places to stay in Quebec City.
Here a few recommendations to get you started:
The Fairmont Chateau Frontenac – If your budget can stretch, a stay at the Frontenac is a dream come true!
Hotel Maison du Général – This hotel is located in the Old Town and is quintessentially French, includes breakfast!
Hotel Acadia – I love that the rooms in this hotel feature naked stone feature walls!
Book Your Stay In Quebec City Today!
What To Wear In Quebec City In December?
It’s really important to remember what to wear in Canada in winter as the weather can change rapidly and you want to be prepared! Temperatures do get cold in Quebec City in December. During my time here it was around -10 but colder with wind chill. I made sure to wear my thermals which are super important! I also recommend anything with merino wool. Icebreaker is a really good brand, although on the pricey side the products are fantastic and not only will it keep you warm but it dries super fast too!
How To Book Your One Day In Quebec City Day Trip
My choice of Tour Operator is usually Grey Line – I’ve now used them in Quebec City, New Orleans and in Munich.
Booking is super easy and can be done online or over the phone. Online is much easier and faster and tours can be booked right up until the day before. I actually booked this tour the day before. If the tour is a popular one they will have multiple buses and tours operating on the same day. I have always had incredibly knowledgable guides with this company and great customer service.
As a history nerd I’d already researched a bunch of Canadian and Quebec history, but there was still so much I didn’t know. Our tour guide Rogier dug deep into the history of Quebec City and did so in such an engaging way.
Should I Book A Tour Or Do A Self-Guided Tour?
If you only have time for one day I would recommend booking a day trip. However if you do have more time there is so many things to see in Quebec City that you’ll need more than a day. If you do decide to spend a few days here, consider taking a walking tour of Quebec City instead to get your bearings.
One Day In Quebec City Itinerary
Place Royale is by far my favourite section of Quebec City. Romantically European cobblestone streets make up what is known as Quartier Petit Champlain, the lower section of Quebec City. Place Royale is the oldest part of the city and was where Samuel du Champlain founded the city of Quebec in 1608.
Place Royale is full of independent shops and eateries. It is mostly made up of narrow streets that are pedestrian only so perfect for wandering in and out of stores. There are many coffee shops in the area if you need something to warm up!
Make sure you take a stroll along Rue du Cul-de-Sac as this is the perfect photo op with the Chateau Frontenac towering above you.
Mural of Quebec / Fresque des Quebecois
The Mural of Quebec (Fresque des Quebecois) illustrates the history of Quebec City and some of it’s most historical figures. This large mural was painted by 12 French and Quebec artists over a 9-week period. Historical figures you can find in this fresco include Jacques Cartier, Samuel du Champlain and Louis Jolliet (Quebec native who mapped the Mississippi river).
There is a similar painting at the very end of Rue de Petit Champlain – Fresque des Petit Champlain
Notre Dame des Victoires Church
Built in 1688, the Notre-Dame Des Victoires is the oldest stone church in North America and was built on the ruins of Samuel du Champlain’s first home.
After wandering through Place Royale and learning about the beginnings of Quebec, your tour will take you for a quick visit to Montmorency Falls. On the day I was visiting the wind chill temperatures were reaching between -15 and -20 and it was COLD! A Quick snap of the falls and I was back in the warmth of the tour bus.
During my very short visit here the Falls were not quite frozen and you could hear them from miles away. Did you know that Montmorency Falls is actually taller than Niagara Falls?
If you are visiting on days where the weather is milder and can actually hang around to appreciate the falls, there is a suspension bridge and biplane.
Plains Of Abraham
The Plains of Abraham are another important landmark in Quebec City. The Plains of Abraham may look peaceful now but this is the location of the battle of Quebec in 1759 in which the British defeated the French. Our tour guide gave a short overview of it’s history and a quick drive by.
Fairmont Chateau Frontenac
The Chateau Frontenac is the most photographed hotel in the world and should be on your list of things to do in Quebec City in winter!
This beautiful hotel is one of the original Canadian Pacific Railway Hotels, along with The Empress, Banff Springs and Chateau Lake Louise. You’ll often see this hotel referred to as the “Castle on the hill” because it literally looks like a castle on a hill!
During the winter in Quebec City the Chateau Frontenac looks like something from a Disney fairytale, dusted in snow and standing tall above the city. The hotel is free to wander through, I took shelter from the cold in here upon arriving in Quebec City. Or you can opt to take a tour and learn about it’s history
In December, you’ll find their Christmas tree display, where all the local businesses put together their very own Christmas tree and showcase it in the lobby. There are also bars and restaurants inside as well as several shops.
Coffee & Shopping At Rue Saint-Jean
If it’s shopping you are looking for, head to Rue Saint-Jean. This is the main shopping street in Old Quebec City and you’ll find not only gift shops but also a few chain stores and coffee shops. This is where I went searching for my Quebec City magnet, a must for any visitor.
This street is lined with French coffee shops and patisseries. I stopped in at Café la Maison Smith and warmed my hands up with a latte and cookie.
Musee Du Fort
Warm up in one of Quebec City’s many museums. The Museé Du Fort is located just opposite the Chateau Frontenac and documents Quebec’s history as a fortified city.
Escalier Casse-Cou (Breakneck Stairs)
The Breakneck stairs are an attraction by themselves in Quebec City. It was built in 1635 with a total of 59 steps. Climbing this staircase will give you amazing views of the Rue du Petit Champlain from above! Since it was winter and the ice was somewhat slippery – I decided to play it safe and take the funicular!
Quebec City Funicular
I’m not so sure about walking down a staircase named “Breakneck Stairs” so I opted instead to take the Quebec City Funicular down. This also saves you time on a day trip to wander the pretty streets instead! The Quebec City Funicular has been in operation since 1879, but don’t worry it’s still very much in working order. The journey down takes approximately 5 minutes and showcases the Lawrence River.
Rue De Petit Champlain
The Funicular drops you at the bottom of the Breakneck Stairs, so you can finish your one day in Quebec City by wandering down Rue de Petit Champlain. This area of lower Quebec City really comes to life at night in December when all the stores are decked out in their holiday best.
I cannot tell you just how beautiful this part of the city is. This narrow shopping street is the oldest commercial area in Quebec and almost all the stores are independently owned selling goods that were made right here in Quebec City. So you know when you shop local, you are supporting local!
In the winter time Rue de Petit Champlain really has that festive feel, dusted in snow with twinkly lights in every direction. There is even a small public garden where you can sit and admire your surroundings. There is a hut in the small square where you can post your letters to “Pere Noel” Unfortunately I forgot mine, but it’s okay because I was good all year! (Well, mostly!)
Where To Eat in Quebec City
Canadian cuisine is amazing, and French Canadian food even more so! The thing I loved about Quebec City is that there were so many Cafés and restaurants to choose from, and they all have a menu that is different from the last. The restaurant prices are also relatively affordable in comparison with other tourist destinations in Canada.
It goes without saying that you NEED to try poutine when visiting Canada. Poutine is a Quebec dish that is popular all over Canada. I must admit when I first saw poutine it wasn’t something I thought I’d like. I was always told “it’s better in Quebec” and “the cheese curds must be fresh”. So I waited 2 years to try it. I tried my very first poutine in Quebec and never looked back. Remember if the cheese curds don’t “squeak” in your mouth they’re not fresh enough! According to my French Canadian friends, the best place to get poutine in Quebec City is Chez Ashton so there you go, you heard it here first!
Apart from poutine which is more of a snack or quick meal, there are plenty of sit down table service restaurants in Quebec City. If you have more than one day in Quebec City you’ll be able to try several. I had lunch in Bistro 1640 and the food was divine. I had the paté to start with a glass of Quebec rosé and the braised beef cheek – so good! I also had this amazing view of the Chateau Frontenac covered in snow.
For anybody that wants to try a beavertail (hint: you need to) they have a store in the Place Royale.
pssst, the maple and pecan beavertail is amaze-balls!
What Souvenirs To Buy In Quebec City In December
In December, Quebec City is filled with festive cheer and there are many stores that specialise in Christmas only! I absolutely love Christmas, it is my all time favourite time of year and wherever I am in the world I always try to bring home a Christmas ornament. You won’t have to look hard to find Christmas decorations here but making a decision on decorations may be difficult!
Since the province of Quebec produces 80% of the world’s maple syrup, bringing home maple goods and candies is always a good idea. Pure maple syrup is just the best, but you can also find maple lollipops, maple cookies (the best highly recommended) and even maple candied salmon (Come on, how Canadian is that?)
Along Rue de Petit Champlain there are many stores that specialise in knitted goods and accessories. Fill up on your plaid shirts, scarves, hats and gloves!
One day in Quebec City really wasn’t enough for me – I’m super eager to get back here in winter! What would you most like to see in Quebec City?
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