A huge thank you to Quebec Cite for hosting my stay. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
If I asked you to name the most festive place in the world to spend the holidays, what would come to mind? New York? Germany? Solvang?
I have always been in love with the idea of experiencing a traditional European Christmas market. Places like France, Germany, and the Czech Republic immediately come to mind and I conjure up images of brisk weather, festive lights dancing around the dark sky, piping hot mulled wine, and stalls upon stalls of delicious food and one-of-a kind gifts.
But here’s what I didn’t realize. You don’t need to go all the way to Europe to find magical, winter wonderland charm. But since you’re reading this post – I’m guessing you already knew that 🙂 I visited Quebec City over a 3-day weekend in December, and in that amount of time I was able to experience the most charming cobblestone streets, sidewalks lined with talented Christmas carolers, savory poutine and buttery pastries, a lively European Christmas market (YAY), picture-perfect snowfall, monasteries, castles, and citadels – all within the centuries-old fortifications of Quebec City.
It’s no question that the warmer months are easier for traveling, especially when you’re not used to colder temperatures. And Canada in the summer and fall is – I’ve heard – absolutely spectacular. But, I think winter is the most unique and idyllic time to visit Quebec City, precisely because there’s honestly nothing else quite like it in all of North America. I found myself so enamored by the snow-covered sidewalks and historic sites that I didn’t even mind the cold. But, in case you have doubts, I’ve got some packing tips to keep you cozy:
RELATED: Packing for Quebec in the Winter
With 3 days to spare and so, so much to see, here’s my ultimate, jam-packed 3-day guide to visiting Quebec City in the winter!
The Ultimate 3-Day Guide to December in Quebec City
Day 1: Sight-Seeing and Exploring the Upper Town on Foot (Plus, a Mini History Lesson)
Day one of being in Quebec City is a lot to take in, especially in the winter. Odds are, you – like me – have never seen a fortified city (that could double as the ultimate holiday snowglobe) before in your life! So ease in slowly, get your bearings, and take it all in. After landing at 9 am, I checked into my hotel, Monsieur Jean, and started my first day strolling down Rue Saint Jean to grab coffee and a sandwich at a nearby incredibly cute cafe called Paillard. It was at this exact moment that I realized how badly I needed a refresher on my high school and college French, but rest assured – smiles, eager nodding, and frantic gestures will take you far (kidding! It was actually super easy to communicate in English the entire time I was in Quebec City during those all-too-frequent moments where I’d panic and forget every single word past bonjour and un croissant, s’il vous plait).
After you’ve settled in and caffeinated, spend the rest of your day exploring the city. Old Quebec is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its historic relevance and well-preserved fortifications. Truthfully, while I had always known that Quebec was a French-speaking province, I knew painfully little about how that actually came to be. Turns out, Canada’s French roots date back almost 500 years ago, with the arrival of French voyagers Jacques Cartier in the 1500s and Samuel de Champlain in the early 1600s. Throughout the 1700s, British war and eventual rule prompted the arrival of widespread English-speaking prevalence, and ultimately birthed the English- and French-speaking regions of greater Canada. Today, English and French are official languages of Canada, but Quebec has the highest concentration of francophone influence, with over 90% of residents claiming French as a first language. In fact, if you have French parents and you’re born in Quebec, odds are you’re required to attend French language school growing up. The more you know!
So, why does all of this matter? Even if you didn’t come to Quebec City in search of a history lesson, you’ll find one. The entire city is filled with nods to its origins, from the cobblestoned squares, to the names of the streets, to the immaculately preserved fortifications and citadel (which is still active!) that continue to encapsulate the city to this day.
With all this said, there’s honestly no better way to get acquainted with Old Quebec than on foot. Spend the afternoon exploring as many of these landmarks and sights as you can!
The UNESCO World Heritage Site and historic landmark surrounding the city is impressive in its casual magnitude – you know that it’s descended from another lifetime, but the way that it’s been absorbed into 21st century Quebec is as staggering as it is just plain cool. For instance, the gates leading in to the Upper Town were both refitted to allow two-way traffic to pass through!
Visit St Louis Gate (Porte St Louis) and St Jean Gate (Porte St Jean) to see this for yourself. You can even climb up the stairs at St Louis Gate to check out the view of the city and the fortification walls from the top!
ADDRESS: 2 Rue d’Auteuil, Quebec, QC
HOURS: 24 hours
COST: It’s free to just walk up to the walls and check them out!
The Citadelle is an active military fort that preserves over 300 years of history from French, to British, to Canadian rule. You can take a guided tour of the site and the adjoining Musée Royal 22e Regiment year-round. The only things you can’t do in the winter, unfortunately, are take a night tour or watch the Changing of the Guard, which only happens in the summer and early fall.
ADDRESS: 1 Côte de la Citadelle, Québec, QC
HOURS: 10 am – 4 pm in the winter, 9 am – 5 pm from spring to fall
COST: $16 CAD
Situated on Battlefields Park – Canada’s First National Historic Park – the Plains of Abraham was the site of the Battle of Quebec in 1759. In the winter, the Plains of Abraham is a gathering spot for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, skating, and epic snowball fights.
ADDRESS: The Battlefields Park, Quebec, QC
HOURS: 24 hours
COST: Free to enter
The Parliament building is just outside the Upper Town fortifications, and I’ve been told it’s one of the only places in the city with free admission. It’s worth it too – the building is over 100 years old and architecturally inspired by the expansion of the Louvre in Paris. On the exterior of the building, you can see 22 highly detailed statues on its facade, dedicated to individuals who have impacted Quebec’s history.
ADDRESS: 1045 Rue des Parlementaires, Québec, QC
HOURS: Varies, but generally 8:30 am – 4:30 pm on weekends, 8 am – 5 pm on weekdays
COST: Free to enter
The Observatoire de la Capitale offers the highest panoramic view of Quebec City, and is honestly one of the best ways to see the ramparts. In addition to 360-degree views, there are touchscreen tablets enabling you to click on city landmarks and historic buildings to read more about how each structure came to be. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Île d’Orléans!
ADDRESS: 1037 Rue de la Chevrotière, Québec, QC
HOURS: 10 am – 5 pm, closed Mondays
COST: $14.75 CAD
Immersion Quebec is a virtual reality experience that puts you right in the middle of Quebec history and the events that carved it into the city that it is today. Plus, since it’s an indoor immersive experience, it’s also a unique way to take a break from the chilly temperatures outside!
ADDRESS: 1191 Rue Saint-Jean, Québec, QC
HOURS: 10 am – 6 pm
COST: $17 – $22 CAD
Back in the 19th century, the Grande Allée was a gathering spot for some of the city’s wealthiest residents to come and live, and the Victorian houses that were erected during this time period are still on display today. Now, the Grande Allée is a popular nightlife destination in Quebec City. There are several bars, cafes, and restaurants to explore, making this the perfect place for a nightcap on day one! I didn’t get to spend much time in the Grande Allée, but I was told that L’Atelier is one of the best spots in the area to grab cocktails.
ADDRESS: Grande Allée, Québec, QC
HOURS: Varies based on the restaurants and bars you plan to visit
COST: Free to enter
Day Two: Montmorency Falls, Grand Marché, The Christmas Market, and a Castle Visit
On day two, start off by venturing a bit further outside the city walls because there is a ton to see! You can take public transportation, rent a bike, or rent a car for the morning (details at the bottom of this post). Then, after a bit of exploration, come back for a full-on dose of holiday cheer. I promise, it’s the BEST and most unique part about a December visit to Quebec (and I’m biased, obviously, because today involves the Christmas Market – duh!).
Located just 15 minutes outside of Old Quebec, Montmorency Falls is a 272-foot waterfall (nearly 100 feet taller than Niagara!) that you can drive right up to and visit. In the summer, Montmorency Falls is a mighty and breathtaking force. But in the winter, the falls are iced over and flanked by snow, which in my opinion is a really unique phenomenon to witness up close. You can visit the falls at the bottom or drive on up to the top, where you can walk above the water on a suspended bridge. During specific times of year, you can take a cable car, go ziplining, and maneuver up or down a 487-step staircase that takes you along the side of the cliff for an even closer view of the water. Unfortunately, the zip line isn’t open in December (it’s open from mid-May to mid-October). But if you plan your trip just right, you can snag a cable car ride (they close from November to December 25, and reopen on December 26!). Otherwise, a visit to the falls and a stroll over the suspension bridge – which is open year-round – is fantastic on its own, too.
ADDRESS: 5300 Boulevard Sainte-Anne, Québec, QC
HOURS: Varies depending on the season
COST: $3 – $10 CAD
Located in the Loumilou neighborhood – just outside of Old Quebec – the Grand Marché is essentially an indoor farmers market that fuses together an explosion of cuisines, delicacies, and produce. You can find everything from your standard meat and cheese stands to artisan pastry chefs and ice wine producers, and everything is as local and fresh as it gets. In addition to this place just being flat-out delicious, it’s incredibly festive come holiday time, and you can learn a lot about Quebec’s culinary scene (and snag some tasty samples) as long as you just walk up and ask! And, if you want an actual sit-down meal, Les Arrivages is the Grand Marché’s resident eatery, inspired by seasonal products and produce sourced from the market’s vendors.
My visit to the Grand Marché happened to be where I had my very first poutine in Canada (at Les Arrivages), and my very first introduction to fois gras, ice wine, and ice cider. While I’m still unsure whether or not I can bring myself to appreciate fois gras, the ice cider from Cidrerie Verger Bilodeau was so delicious I ended up bringing home 4 bottles as Christmas gifts.
ADDRESS: 250 section M, Boulevard Wilfrid-Hamel, Québec, QC
HOURS: 9 am to 5 or 6 pm
COST: Free to enter
Dun dun dun dunnn. The reason I was drawn to Quebec City in the winter in the first place – the Christmas Market! Quebec’s German Christmas Market is open from the end of November to the weekend before Christmas (typically), and literally takes over the center of Old Quebec. Each week from Thursday to Sunday, the heart of the Upper Town lights up with European meals, gluhwein (hot wine), Canadian treats (like the must-try, do-not-leave-Canada-before-eating-this maple pie), vendors, live music, performances, and more! It’s magical no matter how old you are. We’re all kids at heart when there’s pie and presents and snow and gluhwein involved, am I right?
Make sure to bring some Canadian currency with you when visiting the Christmas Market, as most vendors and food stalls I encountered while I was there were cash-only. If you’re in a pinch, there’s a Desjardins (a Canadian bank) ATM at 19 Rue des Jardins, right by where the Christmas Market takes place.
ADDRESS: Place et Jardins de l’Hôtel-de-Ville, Québec, QC
HOURS: Thursday 11 am – 8 pm, Friday & Saturday 11 am – 9 pm, Sunday 11 am – 6 pm from late November till the weekend before Christmas
COST: Free to enter
Last but definitely not least, why not end your day off strong with a visit to a castle? The Château Frontenac is without question an icon of Old Quebec. It’s a historic hotel that’s been part of the city’s footprint since 1893, and was originally fashioned as one of Canada’s first grand railway hotels. Basically, what this means is that the hotel was originally conceived to not only be landmark in the city, but to also house the patrons of the country’s expanding rail system, which back in the day was a very fashionable and posh affair if you were a passenger (so, naturally you needed an accommodation to match). The Château Frontenac was designed in a ‘chateauesque’ style, borrowing elements from medieval chateaus, European fortresses, and Gothic towers to create the towering structure you see today. Since being built, this hotel has been frequented by people from all over the world, including celebrities and figureheads, from Celine Dion and Steven Spielberg to Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
If you didn’t get enough to eat at the Christmas Market, head straight to Le Sam, a cozy bistro with tasty cocktails and incredible poutine (could I not?). Or, if you’re in search of cocktails and ambiance, check out 1608, a stunning, elegant cocktail bar that overlooks the St. Lawrence River.
ADDRESS: 1 Rue des Carrières, Québec, QC
HOURS: 24 hours, but note that Le Sam and 1608 have different operating hours if you’re planning to visit for food or drinks
COST: Free to enter
Day Three: Toboggan Rides, Exploring Lower Town, Eating at a Monastery, and Ice Skating at Night
After spending two days exploring Upper Town and beyond, the third and final day is all about squeezing in as much as possible before leaving (so sad, I know). Start out back at the Château Frontenac with a toboggan ride, then head down to Old Quebec’s Lower Town for an afternoon of exploring some of the city’s most picturesque streets.
Behind the Château Frontenac on the Dufferin Terrace, you’ll find Quebec City’s famous toboggan rides. For just a couple bucks, you can speed down one of the 3 icy runs. I didn’t think it would be as fun as it was, but it was awesome and the view of the Chateau from the top was breathtaking. I would have stayed to ride again and again if there wasn’t such a long wait (it’s a pretty popular attraction).
ADDRESS: 1 Rue des Carrières (derrière), Dufferin Terrace, Québec, QC
HOURS: Daily from 10 am – 10 pm (but can vary depending on the weather) from mid-December to mid-March
COST: $3 CAD for 1 slide, $7 CAD for 1 slide plus hot chocolate, $10 CAD for 4 slides
For another fun – albeit short – ride, you can take a funicular car ride from Dufferin Terrace down to Lower Town. You can take a set of stairs all the way down to the bottom as well, but this funicular ride shouldn’t be missed. It’s been in operation since 1879!
ADDRESS: 16 Rue du Petit Champlain, Québec, QC
HOURS: 7:30 am – 11 pm
COST: $3 CAD
At a first glance, the Place Royale may just look like a charming, yet simple town square. But if you look closer you’ll see the surrounding 17th and 19th century restored restaurants and flats, the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires (built in 1688!), and a bust dedicated to Samuel de Champlain. This square is, in fact, where Quebec City was founded, and where French Canada was born. In the winter, this square is adorned with a giant Christmas tree and often frequented by carolers. It’s a great place to get some photos and take in the scenery!
ADDRESS: 2-4 Rue des Pains Bénits, Ville de Québec, QC
HOURS: 24 hours
COST: Free to enter
Around the corner, the Quartier Petit Champlain is home to what many call ‘postcard-perfect streets.’ The Rue du Petit Champlain is one of the oldest commercial streets in North America and one of the most charmingly festive spots in all of Quebec City. Here, you’ll find unique boutiques, the occasional maple taffy stand (a must-try), and holiday decor that stays up all winter long. Definitely plan to spend some time window shopping here – it’s even more gorgeous than any pictures can do justice!
ADDRESS: 61 Rue du Petit Champlain, Québec, QC
HOURS: 24 hours
COST: Free to enter
Back in Upper Town, pay a visit to the Monastere des Augustines – a monastery and hospital that has recently rebranded itself into a wellness retreat. What used to be a place of solitude for cloistered Augustinian nuns is now a boutique hotel, a museum, a yoga studio, and a restaurant, which was a project initiated by the nuns themselves! Come visit the museum or ask to go on a tour of the hotel. You’ll find touches of original architecture from the building’s humble beginnings, mixed with renovations to transform the space into what it is today.
But, the reason I recommend paying this monastery a visit at the end of the day is because of their onsite restaurant. You won’t find posh decor or a loud dining room, but the ambiance of the restaurant is one that is simple and equally inviting for groups and solo eaters alike. Devoted to wellness, slow dining, and the simple celebration of food, a dinner at the monastery is an experience in itself if you’re passionate about food, and one that is unlike anything you’ve probably ever encountered before. You can have multiple courses centered around a main dish of fish, meat, or vegetarian, or you can even request vegan or any other dietary choices you might have, and the chefs are incredibly accommodating. I hate olives with the fiercest passion (second only to mushrooms), but this meal at the monastery was the ONLY place in my entire life where I not only took one bite of the olives on my place… I ate every last one. Pair your dinner with a bottle of wine and wrap things up with one of the monastery’s own tea blends. Because of the slow, multi-course dinner selections, plan to spend around 2 hours here. A bit of a pricier meal, but definitely a memorable one.
ADDRESS: 77 Rue des Remparts, Québec, QC
HOURS: Open for breakfast (7 am – 9:30 am), lunch (12 pm – 2 pm), and dinner (6 pm – 8 or 9 pm). Multi-course dinners are available from Tuesday to Saturday, with a buffet option on Sundays and Mondays. Reservations are required before 5 pm (same-day) for dinner.
COST: ~$46 CAD for dinner
To end your 3-day December weekend in Quebec, I couldn’t think of a better way to round things out than with some nighttime skating at Old Quebec’s outdoor skating rink! Situated right next to the St Jean Gate and surrounded by city lights and holiday decor, this ice rink is an ideal setting for taking it all in and savoring your last moments in the city.
ADDRESS: 965 Rue Saint-Jean, Québec, QC
HOURS: Open daily between mid-November and mid-March from 10 am and 12 pm to 10 pm
COST: Free to enter, $8 CAD to rent skates
Other Things To Do If You Have More Time
Of course, if you wind up with more than 3 days to spend in Quebec City, here are some more activities and sights to add to your itinerary!
Cartier Street: A shopping street outside the city walls that’s more local and a bit more upscale than the souvenir shops you’ll find in Old Quebec.
Museums: There are several museums to check out throughout the city! Some that were recommended to me are the Museum of Civilization, the Musee National Des Beaux-Arts du Quebec, the Musee de L’Amerique Francophone, and Morrin Centre.
Old Port: Just beyond Petit Champlain and the Place Royal, the Old Port is another fascinating place to explore. You can also take a ferry near here to cross the St Lawrence River! It takes just 15 minutes to get from one side to the other, and you’re rewarded with the most incredible views of Old Quebec.
Île d’Orleans: Rent a car or book a tour to drive across the bridge to Île D’Orleans, an island focused primarily on agriculture. You can spend an entire day exploring the island, sampling food and ice cider, exploring local villages, and meandering through the island’s countless artisanal shops.
Where to Stay
Monsieur Jean: a brand new boutique hotel in Upper Town
Fairmont Chateau Frontenac: the iconic castle hotel of Old Quebec
Where to Eat and Drink
Tips To Know Before You Go
Currency: Quebec City uses the Canadian Dollar ($1 CAD = $0.77 USD, roughly)
Language: Quebec City is predominantly (over 90%) French-speaking, but a majority of the population also speaks great English, so you’ll have very few – if any – problems getting around.
Transportation: Old Quebec is a walking city! But if you want to get out and explore, you can rent a bike or rent a car. Uber is also available, as well as local taxi services which seemed pretty efficient.
Call a Taxi: Taxi Coop Quebec (+1 418-525-5191)
Take Public Transportation
To get to Montmorency Falls without a car: Take the metro bus (800) and get off at the stop named Brideau.
To get to the Grand Marché without a car: Rent a bike and take one of the many bike routes leading straight there! Or, take the metro bus (801, 802) or city bus (3, 4).
Sunset Time: The sun sets in December around 4 – 4:30 pm. Keep this in mind when planning your schedule!
Weather: Quebec City is usually anywhere from -10º F to 30º F in December. You’ll usually find either crystal-clear skies or overcast days with fresh snowfall, so it’s best to be prepared for anything.
Attire: Bring lots of layers and make sure your outer layers are waterproof in case of snow! For a full packing list, check out my guide to packing for Quebec in the winter here.
After my final evening ice skating, I caught an early-morning flight to Toronto at 5 am to start making my way back home (and straight to work!) on Monday morning. Was I a bit groggy? Sure. But I’ll do anything for an epic long weekend trip.
All that said, Quebec City is a magical long weekend getaway in the winter months. For an incredibly festive destination so beautiful you’d wonder whether you were on the set of a Christmas movie, a visit to Quebec is a definite must.
Ready to Go to Quebec?
Have you ever been to Quebec City, or are you planning to go? What are you most excited to do or experience? Tell me in the comments below!