If you’ve ever wanted to go to Europe for Christmas without actually going to Europe for Christmas, I absolutely recommend Québec City. This French-Canadian hybrid is quite possibly the most unique city I’ve ever been to, with a perfect blend of old-world charm meets new-world functionality. If you’re looking to spend 2 days in Québec City in the winter, the holidays are the most perfect time to come check out this destination that many say is “stuck in time” (in a good way!).
- Historical fun fact: Québec City is the only fortified city in North America that is north of Mexico, and its historic, medieval-like buildings blend perfectly with the modern-day architecture sprinkled throughout the city. No wonder it was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1985!
Winter in Québec City is one of the best times to visit, because it’s when the city’s European roots really get brought to life. The authentic Christmas markets, decorated buildings and storefronts, and Rue de Petit Champlain all come together to make Québec City a bucket list destination for the holidays.
Speaking of European, I was warned that some of the locals may be a little reluctant to speak English when I arrived there. French is, after all, the native language of Québec City, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that people were incredibly polite and welcoming to me as an English speaker. Even if they said “Bonjour!” to me and I replied back with the same greeting, most people instantly started talking to me in English afterwards. In other words, don’t panic if you don’t know French.
- A traveling tip that I have picked up throughout my journeys into non-English speaking countries is that people who primarily speak a different language appreciate a solid attempt or interest in their native language from tourists. In other words, even if you use a language app and learn the basics, it goes a long way (plus, it can only help you!).
- If you desire to start learning a new language before you go to another country, Duolingo is an app that I have personally used and recommend. Bonus: they have a free version!
- There were many times in Québec City where I asked people how to say words or phrases in French. Some people even wrote the phrases down for me! When locals know you have an appreciation or interest in their culture, they are almost always more inclined to help you.
You may be wondering – “is 2 days in Quebec City enough?” In my honest opinion: No; but that’s the amount of time I was able to spend there, so that’s the amount of time that will be the basis for this post.
If you have more time than just 2 days or you want some other options, this website lists some other things to check out in Old Québec, plus gives some insight to the history of the city. And if you’re a foodie? Click here for the 7 best foodie experiences in the city.
2 Days in Québec City – A Winter Guide
Table of Contents
Website Disclaimer: I visited Québec City during the 2022 holiday season. Although everything is accurate as of the publication of this post, it is important to keep in mind that prices, attractions, and other things may change with time.
Getting There/Getting Around
You have a few different options here, depending on time and cost:
Option 1: Fly from Montreal International Airport into Québec City
Québec City is relatively small, which means the airport there is also relatively small. One option is to fly into Montreal and then take a smaller plane from Montreal into Québec City. At present time, cost of doing this is $200-300, JUST for that flight alone. It’s also important to note that if you go on Google flights and type in your closest airport and then select Québec City as your destination, the website will have you flying into Montreal as your final destination stop. So, you would have to book your ticket from Montreal to Québec City separately.
- The flight from Montreal to Québec City takes roughly an hour, so this will likely be your quickest option.
Option 2: Fly into Montreal and Take the Train
Another option – and what I did – is to fly into Montreal and take the train. VIA Rail Canada is the train system that runs from the airport to Québec City (and many other places in Canada). You are able to book your tickets online (click the VIA Rail link in the previous sentence to book). They have options from basic economy all the way to business class.
After you fly into Montreal, there is a shuttle that will pick you up on the first floor level for Departures at Door 8 and take you to the VIA Rail station to wait for the train. The shuttle runs every half hour and is free. (It also has a big “VIA Rail” sign on it, so you can’t miss it.) Some important things to note about the train:
- When booking train or bus tickets, if you are flying into Montreal, it is important to remember to select the Dorval VIA Rail Station/YUL Airport in Montreal as your departing destination and not other stations. Montreal has multiple train stops, and this is the one closest to the airport.
- Likewise, when you come back, this is the one you want to select as your arrival destination. When I was on the train coming back, it made a separate stop in another part of Montreal FIRST, and then went to the Dorval station. If you wanted to go to the airport, you would want to make sure you did not get off at this stop.
- The trains have WiFi and serve snacks and drinks for purchase
- When booking your flights, I would look at the train schedule first before booking your plane tickets. You want to make sure you factor in enough time to get from the train station to the airport to catch your flight.
The downside of taking the train is that getting from Montreal to Québec City this way takes roughly 4 hours. I overlooked this when I went, so I essentially lost an entire day due to travel time. Plus, my train broke down, getting me there even later on Sunday night than I was originally expecting, so I unfortunately wasn’t able to see the Christmas markets that I was so excited about (more on that later…)
Option 3: Fly into Montreal and Take the Bus
Another option is to take the bus. The bus still takes roughly 4 hours, but it can be cheaper than the train (especially if you don’t book the train ticket in advance). This link takes you to the website to book a bus from the Montreal-Trudeau airport. Since I took the train instead, I can’t speak to the experience of being on the bus, but I had multiple people in the city tell me they have taken it and did not have any issues.
Option 4: Fly into Montreal and Rent a Car
I’m mainly including this option because it takes roughly 3 hours to drive into Québec City as opposed to roughly 4 hours on the train or bus. A lot of the attractions in Québec City that I’m going to talk about are completely walkable if you are staying in the city, so you would essentially need a car just to get to and from Montreal. Depending on the price and weather, this potentially wouldn’t be a terrible option (and you could stop and check out cool places along the way!)
- In hindsight, if I had to do my trip again, this is most likely the option I would have chosen if everything made sense with time and cost.
Québec City is very walkable in terms of checking out its popular Christmas attractions. If you are staying near Old Town, you should be able to walk to everywhere that I talk about in the upcoming sections of this post. The only place you could potentially have to Uber would be if you decide to go to Strom Nordic Spa. I was even able to walk from my hotel to the train station.
Québec City has a lot of hills and cobblestone streets, so make sure to bring good shoes, especially if you’re going in winter.
Where to Stay in Québec City
This probably comes as no surprise, but staying in the heart of Old Town is ideal. I stayed at the Hôtel des Coutellier on Rue Saint-Paul and loved it, although I did have to walk up a couple hills to get to where I wanted to go each day. Having said that, the hotel, which is a boutique-style, has gorgeous rooms and a wonderful staff. The young girl at the front desk was SO helpful to me from the time I got there until I checked out (and I’ll admit, I was pretty needy this trip 😬).
If you are looking to stay more along the main streets of Old Town, Auberge du Trésor is another highly rated hotel directly across from the Château Frontenac. The bar inside was adorned with red lights and Christmas decorations. I would have loved to check it out if I had more time.
Winter in Québec City: Must-See Attractions
The German Christmas Markets in Old Town
As much as it kills me to say this, I actually did NOT get to see the Christmas markets for myself when I visited…but everyone I ran into told me they are fabulous (and hundreds of Québec City citizens can’t be wrong, right?). The German Christmas markets mimic traditional European Christmas markets, from stands selling handmade gifts all the way down to the mulled wine and Bavarian pretzels.
The Christmas markets in Québec City have the following open times and hours:
- November 24 – December 23, 2022
- CLOSED on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday
- Exception: Open 11am – 9pm on Wednesday, December 21
- Open from 11am – 9pm on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday
- Exception: Closes at 8pm on Friday, December 23
- Open from 11am – 6pm on Sunday
- CLOSED Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
Since my train broke down, I didn’t get there until 9:40pm Sunday night, so I was unable to witness the magic for myself. You can rest assured that 1. I won’t make the same mistake next year, and 2. You will get an updated blog post in 2023.
For more information, including why there is a German Christmas market in a French-speaking province, check out the Québec City Christmas Market website here.
Visit Château Frontenac
Originally built for the Canadian Pacific Railway company, the Château Frontenac is an absolutely stunning hotel located right in the heart of Old Town. Boasting 262 feet tall with a grand total of 18 floors, it sits atop a 54 m elevation, which only adds to its magnificence. Now managed by Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, it is the most photographed hotel in the world and has been declared a National Historic Site of Canada.*
Get Your Guide has a guided tour of Château Frontenac that you can book. If you are not overly interested in the history but still want to stand in awe of its interior beauty, you can go inside and walk around the main floor. There are shops, restaurants, a spa, fitness center, and a pool, not to mention the Christmas decor is absolutely beautiful. You can also see 400 year old artifacts that have been preserved in glass cases.
I got a glass of wine and charcuterie plate at their 1608 Wine Bar, and it has one of the most gorgeous interiors I’ve ever seen (in addition to great wine and cheese!).
For more information, including booking a room, amenities, and additional info about this and other Fairmont hotels, click this link.
*Source – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Château_Frontenac
Relax at Strøm Nordic Spa
Another mistake I made on this trip was not bringing a bathing suit to Québec City (after all, it’s 20 degrees out) – but rest assured, you need one. (Thankfully I was able to find one at La Maison Simons, and it was relatively inexpensive!)
I’m now convinced that a Nordic spa is something everyone should experience in their lifetime. The idea centers around the belief that taking your body from extremely hot to cold temperatures can help boost your immune system, relieve body aches and pains, and promote overall wellbeing. The Strøm Nordic spa has various aesthetically beautiful hot tubs (including an infinity pool!), and a couple of smaller cold plunges. The idea is to go to the hot tub first, then the cold plunge, then relax somewhere warm while your body returns to its regular temperature. You can repeat the cycle all day long, as often as you like. For more information, check out their website here.
- Another fun fact I learned from a friend I made in Québec City is that forcing your body to get comfortable going into cold water better prepares your fight or flight response, so you are better equipped to handle stressful situations when your body recognizes them!
If you’re thinking to yourself, “that sounds miserable” – it isn’t. I promise. Well, maybe the cold plunge. But being outside in the cold temperatures submerged in 104 degree water is FABULOUS. I will never get over sitting in the hot water of the infinity pool, staring out into the St. Lawrence River and watching boats go by as the city lights appeared after dusk. It’s something I’ll remember forever.
Strøm Nordic Spa: Things to Remember
- I walked here from my hotel in Old Town, and although it IS walkable, it is also confusing. The path to get here isn’t always on the main road, so Google Maps literally took me through fields and on dirt paths. To ensure you don’t get lost, I would advise Ubering here instead.
- If you get a massage, the outside pools are also included in your reservation but NOT INCLUDED in the massage price.
- You are able to do JUST the pools (without a massage) if you wish.
- On their website, it says you can’t book a reservation within the next 48 hours, but I called and they were able to get me in. Always call 😉
- In addition to everything mentioned above, they also have a restaurant, sauna, and multiple relaxation rooms. (IMO, food at the restaurant is “meh” compared to the rest of the food I had in Québec City)
- Nordic spas are best experienced in cold climates, so take advantage of this if you come to Québec.
Winter in Québec City – The Famous Streets
Rue de Petit-Champlain and Place Royale
If you have ever seen a photo of Québec City at Christmastime, it was likely taken on this street. Rue de Petit-Champlain is lined with cobblestones and old buildings, and is the street that you will hear say looks like it’s taken right out of a Christmas card. It sounds cliché to say that it’s magical, but I truly don’t know how else to describe it.
The restaurants and shops on each side of the street are decorated for Christmas and have that French old-world feel that you can’t find anywhere else in North America. In addition, Place Royale – where the city of Québec was founded in 1608 – is located along this street. Here, you can soak up some history and see the Notre Dame des Victoires church – the oldest stone church in North America.
Rue Saint-Jean and Place D’Youville
Rue Saint-Jean is the main shopping street and one of the oldest streets in Québec City. In addition to shops, it also has plenty of restaurants, pubs, cafes, bookstores, and entertainment venues. This is a very lively street that I walked down multiple times, and one you don’t want to miss.
Place D’Youville, a public square with an ice skating rink that’s open from mid-November to March, sits on this street. You can see more information, including skating rules, opening times, and cost to rent by clicking this link. The Théâtre Capitole is a stunning building that sits across the street from the skating rink where performers put on live indoor shows. You can see the schedule and purchase tickets using this link.
Right next to the Théâtre Capitole is the Saint-Jean gate, a medieval times-looking structure and one of 4 gates providing access to Old Québec’s Upper Town. Finally, Palais Montcalm – a music concert hall – is a more modern-looking building that overlooks the skating rink and provides live music shows (see their schedule of events here!)
Rue de Jardins and Hôtel de Ville de Québec
The Hôtel de Ville de Québec is a massive, gorgeous building that houses Québec City’s City Hall. The architecture is part medieval, part château-esque, and compliments the old-world French aesthetic of the surrounding buildings. This is one that is beautiful to marvel from the outside, and because of its location, you will likely walk by it multiple times.
- To further clarify, in French, a “hôtel de ville” literally translates to “city hall.” It does NOT mean an actual “hotel” the way you would think it meant in English. In other words, you can’t stay here ;).
Known as the street with the most nightlife, Grand Alleé is home to nightclubs, bars/restaurants, and shops. Speaking of restaurants, a few notable ones that I talk about in the My Favorite Restaurants section of this post can be found here. The most unique nightclub in the city – Dagobert – is also on Grand Alleé. It is a multi-level nightclub set in a castle-like building where they have a DJ and various light shows.
Every New Years Eve, Grand Alleé is closed to traffic, allowing thousands to come out to party and ring in the New Year. When warm weather hits, the restaurants and bars open up their outdoor patios so people can enjoy the sunshine and scenic views. During Christmas, there was a house lit up with color changing lights and music playing that you could hear as you were walking down the street. You’re probably thinking, “doesn’t everyone have their house lit up?” – but this house took it to another level and deserves to be mentioned. In other words, this is a must-see street, any time of the year.
My Favorite Restaurants in Québec City
Québec City has a lot of restaurants options, and 90% of the ones I tried were phenomenal. In terms of dining, it is important to note a few things:
- A lot of places are closed the first half of the week and only have a Thursday-Sunday schedule (seriously, coming here from Sunday-Wednesday was the biggest mistake I could have made).
- Other places are closed ONLY on Mondays, and a lot close early on Sunday. I would advise checking the hours online or making a reservation before coming, especially if you are going to a nicer place.
- Tartare is one of the main foods here, and a lot of restaurants offer it. (I tried tartare at L’Atelier and L’Échaudé and can vouch that it was fantastic at both places.)
- A lot of places will serve you hot coffee in glass cups that you would typically be served juice in if you were in the US (this isn’t important, per se, just interesting!)
When going to Québec City, the restaurants that I recommend trying include:
- Paillard on Rue Saint-Jean – Top-rated bakery that is a great breakfast option (their almond chocolate croissant has nutroll filling inside, and I would drive 13 hours from my house just to get another one.)
- L’Atelier on Grand Alleé – Restaurant specializing in drinks and tartare (their kitchen closes at 11pm if you need a late-night meal; this is where I went my first night after my train broke down)
- Ciel! on Grand Alleé – Restaurant with a revolving terrace that gives you 360º views of the city while you eat.
- L’Échaudé on Rue du Sault-au-Matelot – More of a “treat-yo’self” place, this restaurant has amazing foie gras, tartare, and an extensive wine list
- SHAKER Cuisine and Mixology (multiple locations) – Hip restaurant/bar devoted to burgers, tartare, and cocktails
- 1608 Wine Bar at Château Frontenac – I mentioned this wine bar earlier, but wanted to include it again here. They have great ambiance and an even better wine list.
Christmas Shopping in Québec City
Québec City has many different shops, from boutiques to department stores to actual malls. Some notable places include:
- La Boutique de Noël – Store that sells all things Christmas, all year round. The interior is decked out in lights and festive displays, and they sell a TON of ornaments that would make for great souvenir gifts!
- La Maison Simons – This is the department store that I mentioned finding a bathing suit in earlier in this post. Think of it as the Canadian version of Macy’s in the USA.
- Laurier Quebec – I did not go here because I would have had to Uber, but if you are looking for more of a traditional shopping mall, this is a good place to go. They have a lot of the same stores that you can find in malls in the US, so for me, it was worth it to skip this one so I could explore more of the city.
- Pot en Ciel – Boutique on Rue de Petit-Champlain selling cute kitchen accessories
In addition to the places mentioned above, there are numerous stores on Rue de Petit-Champlain and Rue Saint-Jean to check out. If you want a more extensive list of shopping options, check out this website.
I couldn’t end this post without one last photo recap. If nothing I write convinces you to plan a trip to Québec City, surely the photos can say all the things that I can’t.
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