- When: 13 February – 17 February, 2020
- Where (accommodations): AirBnb on 90 Rue de Maisonneuve
- Transportation: 7 hour drive from Boston. Avis rental car, 4WD
- Sights/attractions: Strom Spa Nordique, Ice Hotel “Hotel de Glace”, Winter Carnival, Les Galeries de la Capitale mall, Zone Maison home goods store, Les Glissades de la Terrace, Mont Sainte- Anne ski resort
- Food/drinks: Bistro B, Cafe Les Cousins, Bugel Fabrique de Bagels Enr, Cafe Castelo, Cafe au Bonnet d’Ane, L’Atelier, Metropolitain Eddie Sushi Bar
It’s been awhile since my last Quebec post, but that does not mean we stopped visiting our favorite neighboring country. This trip marked our 8th time there (in the almost 5 years that we are together!), but the big difference is that this was our very first time in winter. We’ve driven to Quebec in May, July and September- all good weather months. However, several people mentioned how fun it is in this city during Winter Carnaval, so we decided to brace the elements and take the plunge- we are visiting Canada in winter!
To be safe, we rented a vehicle with a 4 wheel drive- it was a life saver- our little car without snow tires would not have made the trip for sure. Even though Boston and Quebec are only around 400 miles apart, the temperature and the weather were dramatically different. We have barely had a dusting of snow in Boston this year, while Quebec had piles of it everywhere. While in Boston we were in 40+F (+4C) most of this winter, Quebec greeted us with high of 2F (-16C) and as low as -22F (-30C). Now you see why we never tried this trip in the cold season before 🙂 ?
Well, once the initial shock wore off, we started planning our activities. We did not come all this way to sit inside and hide from the weather. With this post I will share nine fun ways to enjoy Quebec even during the coldest time of the year.
1. RELAX AT THE NORDIC SPA
What is a better way to soothe the sore muscles after the drive and to start a long weekend refreshed and relaxed than a visit to a spa? We used to always go to Siberia Spa, located about 15 min drive away from Quebec City and still have very fond memories of that little oasis. However, this summer we discovered a newly built, modern and absolutely amazing Strom.
It is pricier than Siberia, but it is walking distance from the city center and the facilities are state of the art. Multiple hot and cold pools, including infinity pool overlooking the Saint Lawrence River, wet and dry saunas and even Epsom salt floatation pool- this is now our new favorite spot to relax in Quebec. We loved it in summer, but were curious how we’ll manage to enjoy it in such cold weather (the day we went was -2F/-19C). Shockingly it was AMAZING. There were more people in February than in September!
We booked couples massages in advance (highly recommend it) with the package that also included meals – it was Valentine’s Day, so you have to check what specials they run during other times. Once you arrive, you are provided with the robe and the lock for the locker to store the belongings.
Travel tip: bring your own flip flops, they are not included in the package. You can buy them there, but it’s around 13CAD per pair and they are not the kind that you would want to wear again anywhere else. I’d also recommend bringing your own water bottle, which you can refill- you have to stay well hydrated going in and out of saunas and hot pools. Once you arrive, reserve a time for your meal- cafe serves amazing food as well as drinks, but you cannot simply walk in. You have to reserve the available time at the front desk.
If you are going there in winter- bring a hat. The water was very hot, so we never felt cold (you hang the robes on the hooks nearby, so it’s only a few seconds that you are exposed to the cold air), but if we did not have the hats, the head would’ve been very uncomfortable.
We relaxed at the infinity pool, went around a few times in the ‘lazy river’, sweated toxins out in the saunas and jumped into a cold water pool, which compared to the air temperature did not even feel that cold!
The afternoon of self care continued with massages, floating at the Epsom salt pool, followed by a delicious meal at the caffe. The floatation pool cost a little bit extra, but it’s well worth it. This pool is inside, downstairs and the room is warm and dimmed.
If you’ve ever been or heard of floating in the Dead Sea- this is the same principal. You lay down and essentially feel weightless. There are even little neck pillows for the extra comfort! By the end of the night we were super relaxed, happy and both came to a conclusion that this has been the best Valentine’s Day thus far.
2. ADMIRE THE EXQUISITE HÔTEL DE GLACE
No, that is not a glass hotel, for the fellow non French speakers. La Glace means ‘ice’ in French. Yes, it IS a hotel made of ice. A mere 30 minutes drive from Quebec City center, in the municipality of Valcartier, Hotel de Glace is a magical place to visit.
This year it’s celebrating 20th year anniversary and the designs are extra spectacular. There is an ice chapel where you can book a wedding ceremony (feeling like Elsa from ‘Frozen’ yet?), ice bar with the drinks served in the ice glasses (made in a certain way that ice does not stick to the lips) and of course the rooms for guests with the carvings one more elaborate than the next.
We considered staying there, but after seeing the cost, quickly changed our mind and decided to do a tour instead 🙂 . The ticket is around 24 CAD for adults (18 USD), and if you want to have a cocktail package, which is the ticket plus the drink served in an ice glass, it’s 29 CAD (22 USD)- very much worth the experience.
Check the schedule online to make sure there is no weddings planned that day if you want to see the chapel and note that after 8pm only the overnight guests are allowed into the rooms. We went during the day and checking out the suites was my favorite part.
To think that all of this melts in the spring, and then is being built and carved from scratch year after year every winter is incredible. Besides the hotel there are plenty of activities in Valcartier- we saw snow tubing, skating and a lot of kids and families running around- we only went to the hotel, so did not stick around to check out the other parts. It could easily be a day trip or at least a long afternoon of activities.
3. PARTICIPATE IN THE WINTER CARNAVAL
The Ice Hotel and the Winter Carnaval were the two main reasons why we came to Quebec this time. The dates for the festivities change slightly each year, but typically it’s held at end of January/early to mid February. This year it was happening from the 7th of February until the 16th of February and conveniently coincided with Valentine’s day on a Friday and a President’s Day holiday on Monday for us coming from the USA.
If you have an opportunity to visit Quebec during Carnaval- take the chance. It is SO much fun. The city is full of people, there are multiple activities in various locations- concerts, ice sculpture carving, photos with Bonhomme- the snowman looking character (the symbol of the Winter Carnaval), slides, axe throwing contest and of course the parade!
To enter Carnaval locations you need to purchase a ticket and wear the effigy– a cute trinket that you hang on the coat zipper and there is no need to show any tickets for the rest of the Carnaval. Admission is $20, but my recommendation (and this is what we did) is to buy a Carnaval Pass for $45. It comes with the Carnaval hat (toque), which is stylish and warm, an alcoholic drink (try the famous Caribou!), hot chocolate or hot coffee, maple taffy (you get to make one yourself on the snow!) and various coupons that we did not even use. You are given the schedule for the festivities for the different days, so it’s easy to pick and choose where to go.
Our favorite was the L’electro frette– electronic music rave with all female DJs. What made it so special was that it was held outside, in the -23F (-30C)! We bundled up and did not even feel that cold dancing in a crowd of the like minded EDM lovers.
We were in Quebec over the weekend, so we lucked out to see the Hydro-Quebec Parade on the Grande Allee. During the festival there is a parade every Saturday night. And what a fun spectacle that was!
It’s free, so even if you don’t have an effigy, you can still stand by and enjoy. Music, excotic floats and even circus looking show- what a great way to end Carnaval!
4. STROLL AROUND OLD QUEBEC
The Old Town of Quebec is lovely any time of the year, but with the fresh snow it’s simply magical. Even in February there were festive decorations everywhere and a huge Christmas tree in the Place Royal!
There were beautiful ice sculptures scattered on every corner and Petit Champlain district lined with stores and restaurants looked like a little winter wonderland.
Once you are done with the Lower Town (Basse-Ville) take the funicular (Funiculaire du Vieux Québec) to the Upper Town (Haute-Ville).
Since the sidewalks are pretty icy and slippery in winter, taking the funicular up might be the easiest and the safest way to the upper old town.
5. ZOOM DOWN A TOBOGGAN SLIDE
Located on Dufferin Terrace, right near the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac hotel (huge castle you can’t possibly miss in the Old Town), toboggan slide is one of the oldest attractions in Quebec City.
Glissade was constructed in 1884 and the famous hotel was built a few years later. You can enjoy it from December to March weather permitted, typically 9-5, but it stays open longer on the weekends and during Winter Carnaval. The tickets are sold in the booth on the bottom of the hill and are only $3 per person. With the Carnaval effigy it was just $1.50! Up to four people can fit in the sled, Sean and I shared one and after pulling it up the hill, down we went! It’s very fast and SO much fun! It slides at a speed of around 70 km/hr (43 miles/hr), so make sure to hold on to any loose items. Even though it was just slightly scary, I was able to hold my phone and film the ride. And then I wanted to go again 🙂 !
6. SHOP ‘TIL YOU DROP
I bet this was not an activity you would put high on your list for the trip to Quebec? Well, think again. If you are coming from the USA, your dollar is worth more here. So every place you shop, you basically are having a sale! Add the actual sales that are happening for the out of season clothes and you are (I was for sure) in a shoppers heaven. There are many stores that I like in Canada, but my favorite for the past few years have been Simons. I love the style, they have great selection of clothes and even bathing suits, regardless of it being winter outside. There are a few Simons stores in Quebec, so you have your options. One of them is right in the center of Old Town, so if you don’t want to drive to the mall, you can simply get there while strolling around the city. If you DO have a car and want to visit more stores at the same time- go to the Les Galeries de la Capitale mall. It’s not a long drive and this mall is next level. Apart from the stores, it also has a Mega Parc– a fun area for both kids and adults alike. There is a rollercoaster (yes, inside the mall!), merry-go-round carousel and the indoor ice skating rink! If you are bored shopping, but don’t want to freeze outside and still have energy- this is a great place to be. The main reason we went there was because I needed a new warmer jacket and I was in luck! Rudsak, Canadian brand, had an amazing sale for winter coats and I got one that kept me toasty the whole weekend. It was a much better price than what the same coat costs in Boston.
If you are looking for a fun homegoods store- check out Zone on Avenue Cartier. It has super cute accessories and is in the area surrounded by restaurants and cafes.
7. LACE UP YOUR SKATES
We did not do this winter activity in Quebec, but it looked like a lot of fun and only if we had another day, we would’ve definitely gone skating. There are several places for it in and around the city. If you are staying close to the center and don’t want to drive, there is a cute little ice skating rink right near the entrance to the Old Town at the Place D’Youville.
Another, bigger one is at the Plains of Abraham and can accommodate up to 350 people. And the last one that I know of is at the previously mentioned shopping mall Les Galeries de la Capitale, Mega Parc area.
8. WORK UP A SWEAT IN THE NEARBY MOUNTAINS
When planning this getaway we were not sure if we’ll do any winter sports, but just in case we threw in our ski/snowboard gear in the car. I am very glad we did! On Sunday the weather ‘warmed up’- well, it was in the low 30s (just around -2C) and that felt like spring after the arctic cold we had just experienced. It seemed like a great temperature for the mountains, so we spent the whole afternoon enjoying Mont Sainte-Anne ski resort.
There are several ski areas around Quebec, it all depends on how far you want to drive and what level skier/snowboarder you are. We consider ourselves still somewhat beginners, so we needed green and blue trails, which this mountain had plenty. The fact that it was less than 40 min away from the city center helped to decide as well. Surprisingly it was not packed, it had many lifts (gondola, regular chair and even the rope!), so we were able to enjoy the trails without having to wait in long lines or crash into people. We purchased the half day lift ticket (12.30pm – 4pm) for $62CAD (47 USD) and that was more than enough workout for the first time this season.
The mountain was covered in fresh snow (we even got some as we were skiing), trails were nice and wide, we saw very little ice- it was such a fun afternoon and something we will definitely do again on the next winter trip to Quebec. We enjoyed the bar/tavern type restaurant with a good beer and food options- poutine was exactly what we needed after a hard work on the slopes 🙂 .
While talking to some other skiers on the lifts we learned that Le Massif is another popular mountain around (a bit further away from Quebec City though) and has great views of the river, so we might have to try it another time!
9. LAST BUT NOT LEAST- EAT!
We are foodies. That is a fact. Every place we travel we love trying out different restaurants, caffes, street food, you name it. Because we have been to Quebec so many times, we have some of our favorite places and are looking forward to coming back each time. Our go- to’s for breakfast are Cafe Les Cousins and Bugel Fabrique de Bagels. It depends on what we are craving in the morning- delicious croissants or a tasty bagel.
There is a lot more space in the Cafe Les Cousins and you can get your breakfast much faster. Bugel Fabrique gets quite busy especially on the weekends, but we noticed that if you go before 10am then you can get a table pretty much right away. Since we had four mornings in Quebec this time, we decided to add some new places to our repertoire. One was a caffe with an art studio above- Cafe Castelo located on Avenue Cartier. Quiet and not crowded, specializing in artisanal coffee where you can choose your beans and get them freshly grounded – it’s a place where we felt like we are locals. There are not many food options, but they do have good croissants (is there even a place in Quebec that doesn’t?).
Everyone around spoke French and the cafe itself has a nice artsy vibe. It’s perfect if you don’t have much time and don’t want to wait for a table at one of the touristy restaurants.
Another new place for us was Cafe au Bonnet d’Ane. This is a restaurant with a full on breakfast menu- from various options of eggs, to crepes and sandwiches. We called ahead to reserve a table and I devoured one of the best Salmon Egg Benedicts to date!
I don’t have much advice about lunch, because we usually have breakfast kind of late and we sometimes get an extra almond or ham and cheese croissant to go. On this trip one of the lunches was at the Strom spa and the other one was at the Mont Saint-Anne ski resort. However, on the day that we were exploring the Winter Carnaval activities, which were close to the Grande Allee E street, we had a delicious lunch at L’Atelier. I mentioned about this Tartare and Cocktail Bistro in my other posts about Quebec and it’s still as good as it was years ago.
We’ve had dinner here once before, and other times it was a late lunch/drink kind of stop. Their truffled bacon mac and cheese is Sean’s go to, while I love the yellow beet salad with goat cheese and caramelized walnuts.
Lastly- dinner! Cannot skip this important meal mainly because Quebec City has so many good restaurants to explore. Trip after trip we return to Bistro B. Part of it is because usually our Airbnb is close by and we arrive later in the evening coming from Boston. The most important reason though is their quality of food and a superb service every single time.
Their foie gras is delightful, sweetbreads with gnocchi are amazing and creme brulee is worth every single calorie. We’ve been here at least three times and never had a bad experience.
Because we like this place so much, we listened to their recommendation to try Metropolitain Eddie Sushi Bar. Make reservations, because this place fills up at night and there is a reason for that. Their sushi is AMAZING. I think the only better sushi we had was in San Francisco.
Try their sushi boat- chef decides what to put in it. And don’t skip the dessert. If you drink- warm sake is a perfect choice, especially on a cold winter night.
Our first winter trip to Canada was a huge success. Now this, coming from someone who lives and breaths summer is big. We didn’t just go on a mild winter, we happened to be there on a weekend when it was arctic cold and still had amazing time. That just shows you, that it’s not always the weather that makes or breaks how you feel about a place. It’s the attitude, the person you are with, the warm attire and of course the willingness to get outside and be adventurous! Bring it on, cold 🙂 !