I open my eyes sleepily, I slip into some cozy socks and a robe, I shuffle to the window, it’s frosted, snow and ice peeking through the glass as I use my finger to write the words “Merry Christmas”. It’s a white Christmas in Old Quebec, Canada. I have a twig of pine I collected the day before from our dog sledding adventure leaned up against the window acting as our makeshift Christmas tree. The window is slowly defrosting and I look out to see the river, frozen over, reminding me of why my ankles are sore from ice skating yesterday. I look to the left to see the beautiful Chateau, Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, glistening in the snow as I recall the German Christmas markets we visited all week. Oh, Old Quebec City, Canada, you have my Christmas heart.
My husband and I had the most wonderful time (of the year!) while visiting Old Quebec, Canada in 2018 from December 21 to December 26. The area is a European/French inspired town with cobblestone streets, beautiful churches and plenty of winter activities. They speak and sing carols in Canadian French and you will truly feel like you are in another world as you get swept away by their Christmas trees and décor covering every corner. Here are some of my favorite activities we did during our time in Quebec during Christmas.
Old Quebec during Christmas
Quebec City Itinerary
Walk around the Town
We arrived late at night, it was rainy and the streets were empty. This was clearly not a town that likes to go out during the cold rain, however we don’t let a little rain stop us from enjoying the evening, so we go for a walk around the town. We start by seeing the Frontenac lit up with lights and continue onward to pass an empty German Christmas market, with stalls looking like it was out of a movie. We continue forward through many cobblestone streets, eyes gaping at all the Christmas lights and Christmas window displays. Then we see some warm bright lights coming from a road ahead, we approach it and turn the corner. My heart stopped for a moment. Garland and snowflake lights weaved its way back and forth through the small street, store signs hung like they were calling you deeper in, Christmas trees lined each store front, snow whispered along the edges, and the lights reflected a warm glow off the cobblestone street below it. I hear a noise, its familiar, its carolers singing a hauntingly beautiful “Silent Night” in French. The rain begins turning into snow. I think to myself “either I’m dead or I officially made it in a Hallmark movie”. This is what taking a stroll in Old Quebec during Christmas is like. Make sure to check out the street Rue du Petit-Champlain and all the other Prettiest Streets in Old Quebec.
Stroll through the German Christmas Market
The first night we arrived, the Christmas market was empty, not a crowd who liked the rain clearly. But the second night?! Oh my, was it a scene to be seen! The smell of cinnamon churros and spiced mulled wine filled the air as we all gathered around the fire pits. Fresh breads and cheeses and wooden Christmas ornaments could be bought from the many quintessential German Christmas market stands. The air was crisp and the Christmas music lifted everyone’s hearts and spirits as we strolled through the streets. The German Christmas market in Old Quebec should not be missed, but make sure to note that it closes a couple days before Christmas.
Take a Toboggan Run
I had just gulped down a cup of hot cocoa from a nearby café and rushed to the toboggan run in front of the Frontenac. We galloped into the Kiosk to get a one ride ticket, the last tickets sold of the day. We grabbed our red toboggan (more like, my husband grabbed it) and dragged it up the big hill. The view from the top was more beautiful than we expected, the sun was setting and reflecting a soft pink and orange glow across the sky and snow lined streets, the air was getting colder, and our hearts were racing as we waited our turns to slide down (also probably racing because of the uphill climb). Some moments seem to stop time, this was one of them. As we saddled into the sleigh, the sun was setting on Christmas day on the chateau in front of us and they released the lever. I feel like I am in a winter wonderland dream with the carnival lights flickering above me, the wind blowing, and the people giggling as they watch us hoot and shout flying down the hill. We felt like kids again. It was magical. Make sure to get a ride down the Quebec City Toboggan Ride on your next visit to Quebec to feel like a kid on Christmas day.
Build a Snowman in the Plains of Abraham
The Plains of Abraham is a beautiful park, but especially during winter. The park was covered in a layer of snow and filled with families sledding. Naturally, we started to build a snowman, had a snowball fight and made snow angels. There is something so magical about snow, plus there are some beautiful views of the city from the park.
Visit the iconic Fairmont Le Château Frontenac
The Château Frontenac stands triumphantly in the skyline of Old Quebec City. Walking by the historic and picturesque castle has you feeling like you’re waltzing into a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale. The building acts as a conveniently situated hotel in the heart of Old Quebec along the riverfront. We stayed at the Hotel Château Bellevue right next door, where I may prefer because we got to look outside our hotel room with a view of the beautiful castle every morning. Tours of the inside of the Chateau are also available.
Go Dog Sledding
My nose and cheeks are getting pinker by the minute as we dash through the trees, my husband mushing behind me, and a pack of pups leading the sled. The trail is tree lined, the sky is a steel blue gray, the snow fresh, and the huskies anxious to keep moving. Its been an hour on the sled and my toes and hands are officially feeling the bitter cold wind. It was then our guide led us to pull over to a Teepee in the woods that had a large stack of firewood leaning against it. We stepped into the tent to be welcomed by a brewing cup of hot cocoa and a warm fire. Here we were, in the middle of the Canadian woods, in a warm tent, with beautiful blue eyed huskies slumbering in the snow outside and an experience we would never forget. We toured through Chenil La Poursuite, got to meet their puppies in training, and also did some snowshoeing. Notes: be prepared that the dogs will fight occasionally on the tour and can be scary for young kids, this is because the dogs sometimes get tangled up and have a lot of energy they need to release through running. We had no sense that the dogs were malnourished or mistreated (huskies can live and sleep in freezing temperatures, but it can be uncomfortable to see if you aren’t used to that). Always do your research when selecting a tour.
Experience Snow Tubing at Valcartier
It was Christmas Eve day, we got a Taxi ride to Village Vacances Valcartier, about a 40 minute drive from the hotel. We arrived at North America’s largest winter playground. We got our tubes and stood on a little escalator up the hill. My husband and I stood at the top, with eyes widened. This hill looks much steeper from up here, like black diamond steep, but it was ranked a green. “You first!” we teased nervously at each other. A little boy came up behind us “uhh, go right ahead”, we said, as we watched him get a running start to go flying down the hill. My husband followed and then me. I start screaming like a kid on a roller coaster as I start to spin backwards with adrenaline pumping through my veins. “That was awesome!!” we both exclaimed as we reunited at the bottom. Each hill was different, some were steep, some were long, and some were large tube group rides (with lots of spinning!). We had an absolute blast, adults need to feel like kids again more often! We even enjoyed their ice skating trail (yes, trail… not rink!) and saw the construction of their Ice Hotel. I highly recommend spending a winter day at Village Valcartier during your Christmas in Quebec vacation.
Other Must Do’s during Christmas
Sit in on a breathtaking Christmas Eve Service (all in French) at the Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica-Cathedral in the city center. Make sure to get there an hour early to get a seat!
Eat a frozen maple candy on the main strip for a delicious and unforgettable experience.
Stay at Hotel Château Bellevue right next door to the Château Frontenac. Breakfast and unlimited hot cocoa included!
Stop and enjoy all the immaculate Christmas window displays.
Go Ice Skating! Make sure to check out the rink called Patinoire de la place D’Youville to get a view of the castle walls surrounding the city.
Watch the many Christmas Carolers around the city, but especially the ones on Rue du Petit-Champlain. You will recognize the tunes, however they may be in another language (Canadian French).
Visit the Ice Hotel at Valcartier Village, Hotel de Glace. It was too early in the season to be open when we visited (it was a “warmer” start to the winter), so it was still under construction. Check their site for opening dates.
Check out this hidden gem of a pub/restaurant called Pub L’Oncle Antoine, the ambiance is the coziest!
Indulge in a delicious multi-course Canadian Christmas Dinner at Aux Anciens Canadiens. I mean, have you really been to Canada if you haven’t eaten poutine?
Other Travel Tips
When traveling during Christmas, always make sure to check restaurants hours and tours before your arrival and plan your trip around those times. ALWAYS make Christmas Eve and Christmas Dinner reservations well in advance. Some places also celebrate Boxing Day (the day after Christmas), so plan ahead. In general, plan Christmas day well in advance as many places will be closed and you don’t want to be starving or bored on your day. Christmas is a great day to do walks in some parks.
When we go back, we will rent a car next time. We were originally worried about the road conditions during the winter, but the roads were incredibly well maintained. We would have rented a car to save taxi money and be able to visit a few other places outside the city center, like Mont-Sainte-Anne for some skiing.
Special note for Quebec City is that they ONLY speak French. I honestly had more trouble with a language barrier in Quebec City than I did in Paris, France. Get your Google Translate out. Many do know English, but they will not speak it. Remember that you are stepping into their home, so you need to try your best to fit into their culture. Everyone was very kind and welcoming, but they will expect you to speak French.
There is so much more to do in Quebec City that we didn’t even get a chance to do. I can’t wait to come back for their Winter Festival sometime and maybe even see their city in the warm glow of spring. If you have any questions about your upcoming trip, don’t hesitate to reach out. Have a Merry Christmas or should I say Joyeux Noël!
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