Quebec City has quite the backdrop during the winter months. A gorgeous snowcapped castle overlooking the icy Saint Lawrence River and snow-dusted cobblestone streets make this charming French Canadian city look like something out of a fairy tale. But it isn’t just looks; Quebec City has some of the yummiest food and most fun shopping in all of Canada. Plus, there are dozens of things to see and do.
If you enjoy wintery weather, Quebec City is the perfect place to visit. If you’re not a cold-weather fan, you will still love it. Winters in Quebec City are cold, but you will be so enchanted that you won’t even notice the cold weather as long as you dress appropriately.
Here are our top suggestions for the mature traveler visiting Quebec City during the winter.
1. Explore Old Quebec City
Old Quebec City is one of the most picturesque locations in all of North America. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it looks more like a city you might find in Europe than in North America. The streets are well lit, and if you are there during the holidays or carnival when extra decorations are everywhere, you will be spellbound by this charming city.
The best way to explore is on foot, so you can hop in and out of the local stores. You might also consider a horse-drawn carriage to explore the town or a hop-on, hop-off bus tour with stops at all the important sites.
2. Take A Walking Tour
The best way to explore the heart of Quebec City is on foot. Consider taking a walking tour. Sign up for a tour of the city with a guide or do a self-guided walking route. I’ve done both and enjoyed the self-guided one the most because I wanted to stop, peruse things, and take pictures.
Be sure to spend some time in what is considered the oldest commercial street in North America. Petit-Champlain is picturesque with its narrow, winding cobblestone streets. This is where you will find local shops, restaurants, and cafes. Located on the lower level of the town, if you don’t want to walk the icy or snowy streets to the other areas, you can always take the funicular to the top. It is a quick ride.
You will also want to visit Place Royale, where historic buildings such as the towering Notre Dame Des Victories cathedral frame this gorgeous little plaza.
3. Ride The Funiculaire
The Funiculaire transports you from the picturesque Lower Town up to the steep terrace upon which Chateau Frontenac perches overlooking the entire city. It is a quick 3-minute ride and provides a great view.
The funicular was put into service in 1879 and still continues to transport visitors up and down the terrace.
Fascinated by funiculars? See our picks for the 11 best funiculars in the world.
4. Walk The Dufferin Terrace
Stroll along Dufferin Terrace for a spectacular view of the Saint Lawrence River and Chateau Frontenac, as well as a toboggan run in the winter. The terrace is like a very wide boardwalk at the beach. I highly recommend taking the time to visit the remains of the Saint-Louis Forts and Chateaux, which lie beneath this iconic promenade. Note that there are steps down, and the pathway beneath the terrace is not always flat.
5. Take In The View
Historic buildings surrounding the towering Chateau Frontenac give Quebec City a stunning skyline. Along with its charming European vibe, you can enjoy breathtaking views of Quebec City, the Saint Lawrence River with floating ice, and more from the terrace behind the Chateau Frontenac and the Governor’s Promenade during the winter.
6. Visit The Le Chateau Frontenac
Perched high on a hill overlooking the Saint Lawrence River is a giant Fairmont hotel, The Chateau Frontenac.It is the most iconic building in the cityand is considered the most photographed hotel in the world.
When I first visited, I viewed it from the outside and promised myself I would stay there in the future. My promise came to fruition the following year, and I can attest it felt like being in an actual castle!
I highly recommend touring the hotel even if you can’t stay there. During the holiday season, Chateau Frontenac is decorated beautifully.
7. Enjoy Some Outdoor Fun
If you are into outdoor sports, Quebec City is the place to be. Be aware all these activities require you to be in good physical shape, and there is a danger of falling on the ice.
One of the unique and exhilarating attractions right outside the Chateau Frontenac is the toboggan slide, Glissade de la Terrasse.
One of the oldest attractions in the city, this one-of-a-kind slide has been located on Dufferin Terrace since 1884.
You are provided with an old wooden sled to tug up the ramp, and then groups of up to four can pile on the toboggan. When the operator releases the latch, the sled hurls down an icy track. Those who ride it claim they feel like a kid again!
A few other sports to easily enjoy include ice skating, skiing, snow tubing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and snow rafting.
The Patinoire de la Place d’Youville is one of the most scenic ice skating rinks in Quebec City. Located on Rue Saint-Jean, the open-air rink is open from mid-October to mid-March.
Skating at night with Old Town as a backdrop is a delightful experience.
Valcartier Vacation Village is located just 20 minutes north of Quebec City and offers over 35 snow-covered slopes, illuminated skating paths, and more.
Mont-Saint-Anne offers skiing, snowboarding, and other outdoor activities.
8. Walk Through Festi Lumiere
Enjoy the winter light fantasyland complete with magnificent evergreens, light projection, and more set to holiday music all winter long. The aquarium gardens are popping with color as 500,000 colorful LED lights turn the pathways into an enchanted forest. The annual light festival held at the Aquarium du Quebec runs till the end of February.
9. Visit An Ice Hotel
You don’t have to stay there if the thought of sleeping in a room surrounded by ice makes you shiver. But make time to tour the Hotel de Glace. A mere 10 minutes outside the city, it is one of only a handful of ice hotels in the world and the only one in North America. Hotel de Glace is completely rebuilt each year with a different theme. The massive ice structure boasts 44 rooms with snow-carved walls, rock-solid ice beds with thermal sleeping bags, and artistic lighting. Imagine an ice suite featuring private spas and romantic fireplaces.
It is a different kind of luxury, and the best way to experience it is an overnight stay. But freezing while you sleep isn’t something most mature travelers look forward to.
The day tour will suffice, and it includes walking through each room, the chapel, and the ice slide (brave souls can give it a slide!). You have the opportunity to take in the ice and snow architecture without sleeping there. I suggest taking the tour and following it with lunch at the hotel’s restaurant or visiting the Ice Workshop to learn how to make an ice glass. Hotel de Glace is right next to Valcartier Vacation Village and is usually open from January 2 to mid-March.
A visit to Hotel de Glace is undoubtedly one of those bucket-list items for the more adventurous traveler.
10. Celebrate The Quebec City Winter Carnival
A winter trip is not complete without attending the Quebec City Winter Carnival (Carnaval de Quebec). Think massive snow sculptures, street parties, family-friendly rides and activities, and the world’s most famous seven-foot snowman, Bonhomme.
One of the world’s most famous winter festivals, the Winter Carnival hosts ice canoeing events and a nighttime parade. Quebec City has welcomed visitors to join the party that runs from the end of January to mid-February.
11. Taste Sweet Maple Taffy
You can’t miss tasting this sugary-sweet maple taffy that is the quintessential Quebec treat. While eating it is delicious, making your syrup lollipop is a fun experience. Maple syrup drizzled over a fresh blanket of snow begins to harden after about 30 seconds. Then you dip the edge of a popsicle stick onto the taffy and roll it up. This treat is sure to satisfy the sweet tooth, and you might even want to create a second one. (Ask me how I know!)
Maple taffy stations are all around town. You will find them during the Winter Carnival, and Maple Sugar Shacks pop up everywhere in March and April when the maple sap begins to flow from the trees.
12. Relax At A Scandinavian Spa
Just 20 minutes from downtown Quebec City, Siberia Spa welcomes visitors year-round to relax in its outdoor Scandinavian-inspired spa. Based on the thermotherapy concept, guests luxuriate in sweltering hot saunas and eucalyptus-infused steam rooms before plunging into frigid cold pools. This practice is said to eliminate toxins, increase circulation, and strengthen the immune system.
They have many other luxury spa treatments and lounges. It is an excellent way to spend a day or even an evening after being out in the cold weather exploring the city.
There are several spas in the town, too.
13. Enjoy the Food
Home of delicious French Canadian food, Quebec City is a foodie’s dream come true. You can find maple everything in Quebec City, plus lots of other food such as poutine and tourtiere.
Poutine is a dish of crispy french fries topped with “squeaky” cheese curds and gravy. Tourtiere is a meat pie. It includes pie crust with minced meat and spices.
If you enjoy food, I suggest taking a food tour. I took one when I visited two years ago, and it was delightfully delicious.
We sampled food, maple candy, chocolates, and some drinks. Food tours are an excellent way to sample various foods, plus enjoy a guided walking tour and learn about local culture and history! My favorite maple food treat on our food tour was the maple smoked salmon!
I could go on forever about specific places to visit. There are museums, historical sites, day trips to Montmorency Falls, Ile d’Orleans, and Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre. There is so much to see and do in Quebec City during every season. I’m positive you will be planning the next trip before you leave. Enjoy your time in this charming French Canadian City.
During the winter months, the temperature is usually in the 20s during the day and drops into the teens or below at night. So pack appropriately and wear lots of layers so you can shed them if you warm up.
Sweaters, wool socks, scarves, gloves, a hat, lined leggings, warm boots, and a winter coat are a must.
While Quebec City is French Canadian, most people speak English as well.
A few shopkeepers only speak French. Be aware that French is the dominant language in Quebec City. So learn a few basic French words before your visit.
If you stay in the heart of Old Town, you will be able to walk to most places, but if you need transportation, taxis are less expensive in Quebec City than Ubers. You will find taxis around the city. Just hail them down when one is needed. Or take a tour bus. Old Quebec Tours offers various routes with hop-on, hop-off capabilities. We used this the last time we visited.
Quebec City uses Canadian Currency. You can use your international credit card if you have one. See all our Quebec City content here.