How to Spend a Winter Weekend in Québec City
Québec City is like nowhere else in North America. For starters, the buildings look downright European and the lingua franca is French—two signs of the over 400-year-old town’s colonial history, the latter a marker of its enduring and modern Québecois culture. Another unique Québec attribute: the place comes fully alive in winter, with 120 inches of annual snowfall and hardy locals who embrace the season wholeheartedly. From backcountry skiing and ice climbing to fat biking and a via ferrata, Québec City offers enough adventure to keep you occupied for eternity. But if you only have three days, here’s how to spend them right.
[Eat Locally] If you’re like us, you’ve got one thing on your mind when you arrive somewhere new: food. Snag a table at La Buche, an eclectic French-Canadian eatery in Old Québec, and order the poutine maison, a heaping plate of crispy French fries smothered in rich gravy and cheese curds. Now you’ve truly arrived.
[Chill for the Night] With your belly full, bed down at Hôtel de Glace—literally, the Ice Hotel—at the base of the Laurentian Mountains just north of the city. The only one of its kind in North America, Hôtel de Glace is erected every December by a team of 50 architects and builders. Be sure to explore your frozen home before bed: grab a drink served in a (you guessed it) glass made of ice before lapping the frozen waterslide down the hall. When you’re ready to retire, a sleeping bag rated to 20 below will keep you toasty for the night.
[Wake Up and Smell the Café au Lait] Head back into the city and fuel up with a cappuccino or espresso and a chocolatine at La Maison Smith, a cozy café on Québec City’s beautiful and popular Place Royale. Love the brew? The café masterfully roasts all six varieties you see on the menu in its intimate bean-roasting facility, which you can tour on Île d’Orléans, just 15 minutes from downtown, along the St. Lawrence River.
[Hit Québec's First Via Feratta] Just 30 minutes northeast of Québec City is Canyon Sainte-Anne, a spectacular river gorge featuring a 243-foot-tall waterfall (frozen in winter) and the province’s first-ever via ferrata. The guides at Project Vertical will lead you through this winter labyrinth. Harness up and clip into the securely anchored iron cables before making your way along the dizzyingly exposed cliffside. It goes quickly once you get the rhythm, it’s thrilling, and the snowy scene is perfectly pristine.
[Explore the Petit Champlain District] With your feet back on solid ground, spend the afternoon exploring Québec City’s famous pedestrian zone. For lunch, stop into Cochon Dingue Champlain, a Québecois affair with Parisian flair, for a plate of the locally sourced linguini with shrimp and lobster.
[Get a Room with a View] Stay the night at Fairmont le Château Frontenac, Old Québec’s castle-like hotel perched on a bluff above the St. Lawrence River. It’s loaded with history, boasts the best views in town…and it’s got a 150-year-old ice toboggan out back. Blast a few laps on your plaid-coated sled (how Canadian!) before heading out for the evening.
[Eat Even More Locally] Inspired by Norse culture, Québec’s latest culinary trend is all about embracing the region’s boreal-forest bounty. Plates of wapiti (elk) and arctic char are garnished with elderflowers and mushrooms; cranberry-seed and hempseed oils and cider vinegar. No restaurant combines these in more tasteful arrangements than Chez Boulay.
[Go for a Late-Night Skate] Not quite ready to turn in for the evening? Head to Palais Montcalm, an outdoor ice-skating rink where the hip kids ice dance to glam-rock hits in flowery spandex leggings and leather jackets. Join them. Flowery spandex optional.
[Breakfast Like a Champion] Another bonus of your accommodations at Fairmont le Château Frontenac (besides the on-site ice toboggan) is its impeccable breakfast buffet. Mosey down to the Place Dufferin, where an elaborate spread awaits: smoked salmon and an assortment of cheeses; fresh fruits and fresh-baked pastries; eggs Benedict and Belgian waffles; an assortment of parfaits. The only thing better than the food? The views of the St. Lawrence River from your table.
[Climb a Frozen Waterfall] It takes only 15 minutes to drive from Château Fairmont to Parc de la Chute-Montmorency, home of 276-foot-tall Montmorency Falls, which freeze solid in winter. “It’s an ice-climbing paradise,” says local guide François-Guy Thivierge, who’s been guiding and climbing at the falls for 35 years. “The climbing here is varied and excellent. The short drive from the city and the even shorter approach make this a great day out for anybody.”
[E-Fat Bike in Jacques-Cartier National Park] If you prefer slightly less vertical ice and snow, head to Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier, a dramatic, glacially sculpted landscape pockmarked with lakes and folded into U-shaped valleys. The best way to explore the expansive park quickly is aboard a pedal-assisted fat bike. Grab a quick lunch at the visitor center’s café while you go over your plan for the day with a guide.
[Stay in a Modern Cabin] Your abode for the night is a very small house, but that’s where the cabin comparison ends. Nestled into the woods right inside the park, your Chalet EXP (for “experience”) is one of several well-appointed, modern abodes in wild places across Canada whose Swedish design—floor-to-ceiling windows, exposed wooden beams—embraces the surrounding landscape. Play some music, cook some food, and cozy up to the outdoor fire pit while you watch the Milky Way drift across the sky above.
[Earn Some Backcountry Turns] Mornings in the Chalet EXP are heavenly. But a day of ski touring in the national park should be enough to coax you outside. “Winter here is really long, and we get plenty of snow,” says local guide René-Martin Trudel. “But the best part is that it’s not crowded.” That ample amount of below-treeline snow means that you’re sure to carve plenty of fresh tracks. Could there be a more perfect way to wrap up your weekend?
With its deep-seated French-Canadian culture, opportunities for amazing outdoor adventures—multipitch climbing on a famous frozen waterfall just 15 minutes from downtown, international-level sporting events, and so much more—plus a disruptive culinary scene that showcases seasonal ingredients from the local boreal forests, Québec City is a place that, once you visit, you’ll always want to return to. It’s a city at once unique and unpretentious, surrounded by mountains, rivers, and forests. Together, they create the perfect romantic, relaxing getaway or winter adventure holiday. But don’t take our word for it—come check it out yourself!