For the French’s sake, I’ll say the Canadian French are unquestionably their own kind of French and for the Canadian French’s sake, I will say they do a good job separating themselves from the rest of Canada when it comes to culture. So far in my North American travels, I will say this is probably the closest European experience you can get without leaving North America.
Sleeping quarters for the 96 hours I was there was a lovely bottom floor Airbnb apartment right on St-Jean, just a few blocks outside of the walls of Old Quebec City. With a full kitchen at our dispense choosing to get a few meals from the grocery store worked out well as far as saving a few bucks and getting to have a nice evening in after the sun went down. Which brings me to an important warning: After the sun goes down (and you’re visiting in the winter) it is WAY too cold to just be wandering around. Almost every evening was spent streaming some good movies and just hanging out in the much appreciated warm apartment.
Morning one started with a quick breakfast picked up from La Maison, the local grocery shop on our street, which also became the place to grab the perfect evening movie snacks.
The morning also started with ducking into a few cathedrals to warm up when deciding how the day might go. The cathedral in the image above is the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Québec. I suggest it as a stop even if you’re not just trying to duck in out of the cold — it holds the status for a lot of firsts in the Americas (north of Florida and New Mexico) and its gold hues are gorgeous.
The next stop on my list was Le Château Frontenac. Granted, it’s a plush hotel but the architecture is not to be denied as a “must-see” in the old city. A drink in the 1608 Wine & Cheese Bar inside the hotel might be worth it if you fancy a nice view of the river (and don’t mind the slight priciness of the drinks). The interior is equally as worth seeing as the exterior.
The walkway in front of Le Chateau offers a beautiful view of the city and if you walk to the edge and look down you get an aerial view of the Petit-Champlain District — A district you will want to visit in both the daytime and the evening.
More fun than admiring the view in front of the chateau was this joyfully fun toboggan experience set up on the boardwalk. You can walk into the small coffee and souvenir shop, 1884, also located on the boardwalk to purchase your tickets (If you’re like me then you might want to purchase more than one). You can stop by the same shop when you’re done for a brief warm-up and a tasty cup of coffee. The view from the top of the toboggan experience is worth the ticket price.
Next up is the infamous Petit-Champlain District, a place for good eats and cute shops. Also home to Rue du Petit Champlain, the main street of the district, apparently voted the ‘Most Beautiful Street’ in Canada. I’ll say it is the most beautiful street I’ve ever seen in the country. The second I came upon the street I got the instant feeling of being a kid waking up on Christmas morning.
Of course, that feeling might’ve been thrown into motion more because not only was there snow and lights everywhere but the city was preparing for the Winter Carnival, which was to begin a few days after my departure. Planning to visit during the carnival is something you might want to keep in mind. The nice part about visiting the city at the time I did, though, was that I still enjoyed the visuals of the Winter Carnival such as the ice sculptures, the winter carnival man, and the pop-up ice castle but without the crowds. I also feel there was a buzz about the shops preparing for the influx of visitors.
On a side note, I did have a favorite shop in the Petit-Champlain district: Flamand Sculpteur. This guy had the most unique wooden “Santa Clauses”, as he described them, I’d ever seen. Everything was handmade in the shop and…just unique. There were beautiful wooden hanging scenes of the chateau, wooden hair clips, ornaments, and more. The sun was disappearing, the air a little more cutting, and that was the cue to head back to the apartment, get warm and watch a few movies.
The nice thing about Quebec is there is plenty to see and do, but there is no pressure to see and do anything specific. I’d have to say just walking around all the streets is doing enough.
Day two started off with continuing the movie theme and catching an early movie at a nearby theater because it was snow-raining outside. It also started with finding the best coffee to-go on the street St. Jean. The little bakery offering croissants and other treats was called Panetier Baluchon.
Luckily, the snow turned to a good solid snow when we got out of the movie and a magical walk was in order. Past the parliament building, through the old town, towards the beautiful Petit-Champlain then a turn towards the Old Port. The Old Port is apparently the best place to see the moving chunks of ice floating down the St. Laurent River. Though you can catch a view of these chunks from all over the town, up close is a little surreal. This little walk included finding an authentic antique shop offering wooden crates and old license plates across from the Marché du Vieux-Port (a great stop to sample foods from local, independent vendors) and finding my new favorite place for brunch. The two times I went to Buffet de L’Antiquaire I ordered brunch, though they offer more. Brunch was tasty enough for a second visit to the place.
The town was so beautiful with the snow, a backtrack past the Petit-Champlain district, past Le Château Frontenac, through town, braving the cold of the evening was well worth seeing everything lit up.
The final day was spent driving through town and down Boulevard Champlain, but ultimately ending up over towards the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec and the Plains of Abraham. It was nice to drive over to avoid a walk that would seem longer than it was because of the cold, and there was plenty of room to park by the museum. You could even pull over to an overlook type area to catch another beautiful view of the St. Laurent. The inside and outside of the museum were classy, yet modern and it housed an abundance of art. If your guess is ‘watching another movie’ for how the day will end then you are more than correct.
All in all, Quebec is a beautiful city that I’d like the chance to enjoy in the warmer weather as well. Just walk around and explore. The biggest worry you’ll have is taking in all the views and aesthetics of town and wondering if this is what Europe is like. A nice twist to a typical North American vacation.
Favorite Sights/Activities: Riding toboggans in front of Le Château Frontenac and stopping at the overlook near the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec.
Favorite Food/Drinks: Panetier Baluchon, Buffet de L’Antiquaire
Transportation: Walking and car.
Secret Suggestions: If you’re not into spending money on a full sit-down meal the grocery store, La Maison, is a great alternative. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for really cool antique shops.
Travel Tips: Download a lot of movies to watch for the bitterly cold evenings (or remember to bring a deck of cards).