Last Minute Adventure
So what’s the fun of moving to a new place that is full of exciting things to do if you don’t go explore them? A few amazing pics on Instagram of hanging out with a giant snowman while zipping down toboggan slides in front of a château was all it took to convince me that I absolutely must to go to Quebec City’s annual Bonhomme Winter Carnival. Like now. After all, it is one of the world’s most visited winter carnivals and i live practically next door. However, since it was last minute, I figured that a hotel room was going to require us to start renting out the cat for hourly pet sessions over the next 6 months. I hopped on my favorite hotel booking site booking.com and, peeking out from between fingers, was pleasantly surprised to find super affordable options, including one at Hotel 71 where we have previously stayed and loved. So while hugging a giant snowman and sipping hot chocolate in front of fires did not have my hubby jumping up and down, the fact that we would be a hop, skip, and a jump away from one of his favorite cross-country ski areas did. So after some very fast and poor packing (I should have followed my own packing tips) I was on my way to start stalking a giant, walking, talking snowman.
Why Quebec City is Super Cool
So if you didn’t know, Quebec City is a UNESCO world heritage site and is like a little piece of Europe in North America. The fact that is it French-speaking only adds to that charm and the feeling of being on another continent. Founded over 400 years ago, in the 17th century, it was the capital of New France and later the British colony. It is one of the only fortified cities in North America (you have to go to Mexico to find the others), which means you have to enter and exit the city through the amazing gates.
Day 1: Carnival Fun
One of the first things to do when arriving is purchase in Effigy, which is the pass that will give you access to all the carnival events. It is affordable (it was $15 for 2018) and can be found almost anywhere including hotels, restaurants, and shops. We purchased ours at the hotel front desk before heading out.
Ok, first things first…find that slide! Located in front of the Chateau Frontenac and overlooking the Saint Lawrence River it’s only $3 per person to slide down and it was every bit as fun as I thought it would be. We even went back to slide down at night.
After warming up with some French Onion Soup we set off to explore the rest of the events and hunt down the Bonhomme (name of the legendary snowman). We did find him and while I was on a mission for a selfie with him it would have required that I throw some elbows with 3-year-olds and that just didn’t seem like the best choice, so I had to settle for cozying up to the statue version.
We toured the International Snow Sculpture exhibit where there were teams from all over the world still working on their pieces. It was really cool to see these teams creating these amazing pieces of art (even if only temporary) from lumps of snow.
Throughout Petit Champlain, there were ice sculptures to enjoy and they even made a throne to welcome me to the carnival!
And I even tried to morph into a snowman (didn’t work).
We took an evening tour of the Ice Palace that included an awesome light show and fun music as we bee-bopped our way through:
And at the end of the night, we warmed up with wine at the super cool 1608 bar in the Chateau Frontenac. With a fabulous panoramic view of the Saint Lawrence River, it’s the perfect place for a pre-dinner drink.
Note: We did miss out on the night parade which is supposed to be spectacular so I don’t recommend missing it. But after our warm-up pre-dinner drinks and with a 10-minute drive, we decided it would give us a good reason to return next year.
Day 2: Mont Sainte Anne and Parc de la Montmorency
One day was plenty of time to get the full carnival experience (although I did kind of want to do the toboggan sled just one more time). The second day we opted to go a little north-east of the city to go skiing in Mont Sainte Anne, which is one of the well-known ski areas in Quebec. We opted for cross-country skiing (classic for me, skate ski for Philippe) but there is also great downhill skiing. I have yet to master the skill of hurtling downhill at 50+ mph with 2 sticks strapped to my feet.
It only takes 45 minutes to get there from Quebec City so it is very easy to do as a day trip if you are staying in Quebec City for more than a weekend.
On our way home we stopped at Parc de la Montmorency which has the highest waterfall in Quebec (even higher than Niagara Falls). We rode the gondola to the top where we took a short hike to the suspension bridge that goes over the top of the falls. We didn’t get to spend much time there since the park was closing, but we will definitely be back in the summer to spend more time hiking and exploring the area, which was once an economic center of Quebec.
Due to the condensation, the sides of the waterfall become massive frozen sheets of ice and it is a very popular place for ice climbing. However, this is a sport that I am happier to observe with my feet planted firmly on the ground!
So there you have it, a winter weekend in Quebec City!
Planning & Packing Tips
Where to Stay: I definitely recommend staying in Old Quebec City. This is the area with all the charm and character from the long history of the city. Staying in the old town will allow you to walk everywhere, avoid paying to park each time you want to come back into town, and battling for parking spaces.
Food: Quebec City is full of good restaurants and while there is a heavy lean toward French cuisine you can find many options. Very few restaurants require reservations so if they have availability you will get right in. Some of the local Quebec cuisines include poutine, pate chinois, and you can’t miss sampling the maple products. And of course, due to the French influence, the pastries there are really, really good so I definitely recommend finding a boulangerie and grabbing some fresh croissants in the morning!
Language: Quebec City is strongly French (one of the reasons I love it) and while many people in the tourist parts do speak some English, do not automatically assume that everyone speaks English. However, communication is not a problem and even if you only can say “Merci” and “Bonjour” you will be just fine.
Currency: The currency is the Canadian Dollar which is not the same as the US Dollar. However, many places will accept US dollars if that is all you have. However, I recommend getting Canadian Dollars or using your credit cards because the exchange rate is not 1/1 and you cannot expect your server or cashier to do the conversion for you.
Cell Plans: Most major US carriers either include Canada in their plans or have a package you can add-on to include Canada. Check with your provider before leaving. Wifi is also available in most places, so connectivity should be pretty easy.
What to pack: The winter carnival is in the dead of winter so it is very likely to be very cold. Since it is on the Saint Lawrence River it can also be windy so you definitely want to pack warmly. This earlier post is full of packing tips, but in addition, you will want to make sure you pack appropriate cold weather gear:
- Winter Jacket
- Lined Hat
- Warm Gloves
- Winter Boots with Grip Soles
- Base Layers
- Wool socks
- Warm Sweaters
- Hotshot warmers for your hands and feet
I wish you a warm, cozy, and adventure-filled stay in Quebec City! It is truly a charming one-of-a-kind experience in North America. If you have any questions about planning a trip to Quebec, let me know and I will be happy to do all I can to help out!