With its beautiful architecture, European vibe and rich history, Quebec City is a fabulous choice for a family vacation. Being only 20 miles from the U.S.A., it’s a lot easier than crossing the Atlantic Ocean for a European trip! Although Quebec City’s beautiful throughout the year, it becomes an enormous outdoor playground each February with its Winter Carnaval– two weeks of games and gatherings for locals and visitors alike. Here’s what you need to know to enjoy Canada’s French-speaking walled city. No parle Francais? No problem! Most Quebecois speak some English as well!
It’s no surprise that it’s cold in Canada in the winter. Instead of hibernating, Quebecois (natives of Quebec) embrace the cold with a two week long outdoor party. With more than 200 events spread throughout this charming walled city, everyone in the family will find something to keep them entertained. There’s live music, parades, games, ice skating, petting zoos, an ice castle and a whole lot more. They’re all included in the $15 admission effigy, as the Canadians call it. It’s an attachable token of Bonhomme, the snowman who serves as King of Quebec’s Winter Carnaval. Attach him to your jacket and you’re ready to party! Buy the effigy by January 1st on-line, and it’s only $10.
One not-t0-be-missed Winter Carnaval activity is the tobagan ride that lands you at the steps of Quebec’s iconic hotel, the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac.
After your ride, grab some hot chocolate and some maple taffy. Made right before your eyes, it’s a traditional Canadian treat. Then step inside Chateau Frontenac’s elegant lobby to warm up and admire this historic grand dame overlooking the St. Lawrence River.
A half hour outside of Quebec City is the enormous Valcartier Vacation Village. A brand new 102,000 square foot water park, massive snow tubing hills, skating paths and family-friendly restaurants make a couple nights at this sprawling resort a must. Make sure to take a tour of the incredible 44 rooms Ice Hotel ($10, $7 for kids under 12). It takes 6,000 tons of ice, 30,000 tons of snow, $1,000,000 and 55 days to build this architectural marvel. All that work, and then the Hotel De Glace has to be rebuilt again next winter!
Be sure to order a traditional Caribou, Quebec’s version of mulled wine, at the hotel’s Ice Bar.
You can choose to spend the night here, but I’d only recommend it for the most easy going and adventurous kids. First off, it’s expensive, rates start at $538/night. More importantly, you get zipped up tight into a sleeping bag. You are sleeping on top of a cozy fur lined mattress. But what happens if your little one has to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night? I wouldn’t want to find out!
Gearing Up for the Cold
Having the right gear and clothes for a winter trip to Quebec is a must. I brought along Columbia’s waterproof boots and gloves, thermal underwear, down coat and their adorable trapper hat that keeps you stylish and warm at the same time. I particularly love the waterproof down skirt that feels like a blanket wrapped around my rear!
When you’ve had your fill of waterparks and sledding, head to Old Quebec. As the birthplace of French Canada, Quebec City has a European vibe that makes it especially charming. Quebecois don’t let winter keep them from enjoying the charming cobblestone streets of Old Quebec or the beautiful parks. For $2.50 you can take the funicular from the iconic Fairmont Chateau Frontenac right into the heart of Old Quebec, where French cafes and patisseries will leave you feeling like you’ve been transported to Paris.
Quebec is the only North American walled city outside of Mexico. To see it up close, consider taking a carriage ride with your kids through the cobblestone streets. Admire the picturesque window boxes that decorate the 17th and 18th century buildings.
A great start to a Quebec City visit is a tour of the Quebec Parliament, just a 5 minute walk from Old Quebec. Not only is the historic building of interest, but the free guided tour in English will give your family a much better understanding of Canadian politics and history. Ask your concierge for tour times.
Quebec City’s French-inspired cuisine is world class. A good choice for foodies and families is the farm-to-table restaurant, Le Tournebroche Bistro. The restaurant makes honey from their own rooftop bee hives. Kids will be wildly entertained by the hive on display in the restaurant. Bon appetit!