Great stone walls that fortify the historical centre. A parliament building modelled after the famous Louvre Museum in Paris. The sound of French chatter floating above the cobblestone streets, as church bells clang in the distance. Walking through Quebec City, it’s easy to forget you’re in Canada, instead of the Europe of centuries past.
Perhaps it’s that allure that draws visitors in droves, who are charmed by the untouched centre (Vieux-Quebec), the speciality boutiques that line districts like Petit-Champlain, and the enchanting Chateau Frontenac which just so happens to be the most photographed hotel in the world. No matter what time of the year one arrives there is plenty to explore, but Quebec City is one of those places that actually comes alive during the cold season. Here are 10 unforgettable winter activities to enjoy in Quebec City.
1) Hurtle down a toboggan slide
Easily one of the city’s most unique attractions, Quebec City boasts something you won’t find anywhere else: a toboggan slide right in the centre of town. Au 1884 has sat on Dufferin Terrace since 1884—even longer than its neighbour the Chateau Frontenac has been around!
After buying a ticket, visitors pull an old school wooden sled up the ramp, then settle onto it in groups of up to four people. When the operator releases the latch, the sled hurtles down the icy track, reaching speeds of up to 70 kilometres an hour.
Rides cost $3 or four for $10, and there are also combo packages which include taffy and hot chocolate. Everything can be purchased at a kiosk next to the end of the slide.
2) Check out an ice hotel
Quebec City is home to one of the only ice hotels in the entire world, so it goes without saying that visiting the Hotel de Glace is a must.
Just 10 minutes outside the city, the hotel is completely rebuilt every year with a different theme. The massive structure boasts 44 rooms, including suites featuring intricate ice carvings and cool neon lights that give the whole place a luxe vibe.
Since it’s a hotel, the best way to experience it is with an overnight stay. And yes, it’s cold out, but that’s what makes it memorable! Staff conduct an orientation each night to fully explain what guests can expect and how to best ward off the chill, such as the proper way to secure the mummy sleeping bag so less skin is exposed, and why you don’t want to leave your glasses or iPhone on the ice block that doubles as a night stand.
However, you don’t have to reserve a room to check out Hotel de Glace, and highlights for day visitors include walking through each of the rooms, checking out the chapel (which conducts actual wedding ceremonies) and making a pit stop at the ice slide near the entrance.
No matter how long you plan on staying, don’t skip the ice bar which serves up delicious cocktails served in—what else—glasses fashioned out of ice.
3) Celebrate the Quebec Winter Carnival
No trip to Quebec City during winter is complete without celebrating the Winter Carnival (Carnaval de Quebec). The annual event features massive snow sculptures, family-friendly rides and activities, street parties and of course the world’s most famous seven-foot snowman, Bonhomme.
Most of the fun happens on the Plains of Abraham near the parliament building, where Bonhomme’s Ice Palace is front and centre. Visitors can tour the palace (and hopefully get a meet and greet with the jolly fellow), then head into the fair grounds to hop on the ferris wheel, go dog sledding, enjoy a horse-drawn sleigh ride, make their own maple taffy, or even slide into a zorb to become a human bowling ball.
Events away from the grounds include a fun night parade, taking a snow bath, and a canoe race through the frozen ice chunks that float down the Saint Lawrence River. The Winter Carnival runs every year from the end of January to mid-February.
4) Eat sweet maple taffy
Sugary-sweet maple taffy is the quintessential Quebec treat, so don’t leave town without tracking some down. While eating it is obviously the end game, making your syrup lollipop is half the fun. Maple syrup is drizzled over a blanket of fresh snow, which begins to harden after about 30 seconds. That’s the perfect time to dip the edge of a popsicle stick onto the taffy and roll it up—creating a masterpiece that’s sure to satisfy even the most discerning sweet tooth.
You can find maple taffy all around town, including at the Winter Carnival and at one of the many Maple Sugar Shacks that pop up in March and April when sap begins to flow from the trees.
5) Explore historic Vieux-Quebec
Sure it’s chilly out, but that’s no excuse not to bundle up and hit the streets of Vieux-Quebec. Boasting nearly five kilometres of fortifications, Quebec City is the only walled city in North America north of Mexico, and has also been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Extremely walkable, it’s easy to check out the different districts in and around the old town, including:
Petit-Champlain– One of the most picturesque spots in the city, this area has narrow, winding cobblestone streets and is considered the oldest commercial street in North America. This is where you’ll find restaurants, cafes and stores selling local favourites like syrup, ice wine and cozy toques (that’s a hat, for you non-Canadians). Don’t feel like tackling the stairs to get back up to Dufferin Terrace? Hop on the funicular, which takes about 30 seconds to get to the top.
Place Royale– A gorgeous little plaza, framed by historic buildings including the towering Notre-Dame des Victories cathedral.
Grand Allée– A trendy street near the parliament building with great bars, restaurants and nightlife. Don’t miss Ciel! in Hôtel Le Concorde Québec, which rotates around offering panoramic views of the city.
Rue Saint-Jean– An area frequented by locals, the street is lined with boutiques, cafes and restaurants. It’s also home to quaint J.A. Moisan, which is the oldest grocery store on the continent.
Rue Saint Joseph– On the outskirts of the city centre toward the harbour, this district boasts trendy shopping, including designer boutiques and department stores. As everyone knows, an afternoon spent ducking into shops is the perfect way to stay warm!
6) Hit the slopes
Quebec City has the privilege of being just a short distance away from four different ski resorts, including Le Relais Centre which is just a 15 minute drive from Vieux-Quebec. Other notable resorts include Mont-Saint-Anne which has three hills to choose from, and Stoneham Mountain Resort which holds bragging rights as Canada’s largest night skiing area.
7) Relax at a Scandinavian spa
Rain or shine, snow or sun, Sibéria Station Spa just 20 minutes from downtown Quebec City welcomes visitors year-round to relax in its outdoor Scandinavian-inspired spa. Based on the concept of thermotherapy, guests heat up in sweltering hot saunas and eucalyptus-infused steam rooms before plunging into frigid cold pools, a practice said to increase circulation, eliminate toxins and strengthen the immune system.
Spa-goers can enjoy the infrared sauna which also helps burn calories, luxuriate in the Finnish sauna, or soak in one of the many hot tubs framed by a forest of pine trees. There are also numerous relaxation areas with wood-burning fireplaces, as well as a yurt and “igloo” complete with hammocks that are perfect for lounging in. A day spent at the Sibéria Station Spa is the perfect place to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, while still warding off the winter chill.
8) Get active on the Plains of Abraham
One of the best ways to enjoy winter is to get out and play in the snow, and you don’t have to head out to a ski resort to get in on the action. Just outside the city walls, the Plains of Abraham is a popular place to cross-country ski, skate or snowshoe, and boasts several kilometres of trails. Elm trees surround the historically significant area which is bordered by the gorgeous parliament building, and often hosts huge outdoor concerts.
Don’t have equipment? No problem—rentals are available from a kiosk on site. There are also heated rest areas and a waxing room to get those skis in tip-top shape.
Need a change of scenery? There are several other skating rinks around the city, including Place D’Youville and the Louise Basin inner harbour.
9) Go fishing
The Louise Basin inner harbour is also the site of another only-in-Quebec-City experience: ice fishing downtown! The harbour freezes over in the winter, and is transformed into an outdoor recreation area that includes activities like skating and ice fishing. Igloos are set up on the ice to keep away the cold, or you can simply cast your rod in the middle of Village Nordik. Lucky enough to catch a trout? Head over to the adjoining Le Marché du Vieux-Port, where you can get your fish prepared, along with a side of quinoa, wild rice, veggies or salad. Bon appetit!
10) Channel your inner child at a tube park
Finally, get back to the basics with the ultimate winter experience: hurtling down a toboggan hill without a care in the world. Located about 20 minutes from Quebec City, Villages Vacances Valcartier is known as North America’s largest winter playground, thanks to its numerous sled runs, skating paths and playground, which entertain snow seekers of all ages.
Daredevils head to Villages Vacances Valcartier to take turns whipping down the hill on inflatable snow rafts, some of which hold up to 12 people. Reaching speeds of up to 80 km/h, riders speed down slopes like the so-called Himalaya while enjoying views of the surrounding Jacques-Cartier river valley, and the Tornado which features specially outfitted rafts that spin around as guests fly down the hill.
Have any fun winter activities in or around Quebec City to add to this list? Share them in the comments below!
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Globe Guide explored Quebec City in partnership with Tourism Quebec. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.