With the holiday season in full swing it’s time to celebrate. And what better way to get in the festive spirit than with a mini break in Canada’s most European city; Québec. With its cobblestone streets all dressed up for the season, fresh snow on the ground, plenty of cafes and boutiques for Christmas shopping, and German-inspired Christmas markets; Québec is the perfect place to go with a couple of your best girls during the holiday season.
Québec City is incredibly accessible. Located about 5 hours from Ottawa (3 hours from Montreal, and 8 hours from Toronto) many people choose to drive. The city also has an airport (Jean Lesage International airport), located only 20 minutes or so from the old city, as well as a train station which is situated in old town. Québec is also a port city, one of few where you literally arrive in the old town without having to worry about another journey to venture into the city. And, of course, there are always bus options.
Given the winter weather we chose to take the train rather than worry about the possibility of getting caught in a snow storm. Québec City, especially the old section, is very walkable so we didn’t find we needed a car (bonus since parking spaces can be pricey and difficult to find).
Where to Stay
Visitors to Québec City will, without a doubt, want to stay in Old Town. Filled with cafes, restaurants, and shops, its windy streets are very reminiscent of Europe and incredibly beautiful and easy to get around. Old Town is divided into two areas; the lower town by the river and port, or the area located on the hill but still within the walled section. Both areas are easily accessible from each other and each offer a variety of things to see and do with plenty of restaurants and shops. However, having stayed in each area I tend to prefer the lower section; though still a popular and touristic area I don’t find it quite as busy and there isn’t as much vehicle traffic.
If you are looking for a hotel suggestion I highly recommend the Auberge Saint-Antoine. At the time of this article it is the top rated hotel in Québec City- and for very good reason. Pairing luxury with the warmth and kindness of Canadian hospitality this unique property is the place to stay. To learn more about the Auberge Saint-Antoine, be sure to read my review.
What’s a festive mini-break without some holiday shopping? Québec City offers a variety of options for ever the most difficult to shop for on your list.
For fashion lovers, be sure to check out some of Québec City’s designers and boutiques. There is a variety located throughout the city but the most popular shopping spot is Simons, a Québec City staple. Opened in 1840 Simons has spread across the country, though the flagship store can still be found in Old Town Québec City. This department store carries everything from lounge wear to glitzy party dresses, sportswear to accessories, and has options for both men and women as well products for the home. Designer brands to be found here include Diane Von Furstenberg , Jean Paul Gaulteir , and McQ- Alexander McQueen.
For something different, stroll through the boutiques in Petit Champlain; one of the prettiest streets you will ever see. Here you will find an assortment of shops catering to all types of interests. For art lovers check out Les Trois Corbeaux; a glass studio where you can not only purchase beautiful pieces but also watch the artists at work. For bath and beauty products head to Shamâne cosmetics, a small boutique selling a variety of soaps and bath products made from super-moisturizing donkey milk. And if you are shopping for some bling be sure to look at the work in Le Forgeron d’Or for beautiful gold, silver, and platinum pieces (they also specialize in Canadian diamonds if you are looking for something extra special).
For foodies your best bet is the Old Port market; a local farmers market filled with stall after stall of goods. Here you can find French pastries, honey, fruits and vegetables, meats and fresh pasta and maybe best of all; a seemingly endless assortment of local wines and liquors that, yes, you can sample. My favourites included ice cider wines and black current liquor.
The best part about visiting during the holiday season is that Québec City also hosts a German Christmas Market. Originally it started out in a basement but has grown so much in popularity that is can now be found at the Place de l’Hotel-de- Ville. A variety of vendors set up here offering everything from Québec wines to traditional German Christmas decorations. Be sure to join the fun here and grab a cup of Glühwein as you shop.
Where to Eat
Aside from the markets, Québec City has a multitude of places to grab a bite to eat or a gourmet meal.
For a coffee and pastry break Paillard is a favourite amongst locals and tourists, and is known for its delicious croissants and French macarons. If you are in lower town I recommend La Maison Smith in Place Royal; a cozy café great for escaping the winter cold. Try a chocolate twist (even better heated up), you won’t regret it!
For something a little more special why not make reservations for afternoon tea at the majestic Chateau Frontenac. Spend an hour or two overlooking the Saint Lawrence River as you snack on dainty sandwiches, traditional scones, and of course delicious pastries. It’s the perfect way to relax after a busy day of shopping and sightseeing. *Recommendation: book ahead of time and ask for a table by the window; we were lucky enough to get a beautiful sunset during our visit*
The restaurant scene in Québec is incredibly diverse with lots of choices for different budgets and tastes. Lapin Saute, Bistro Su le Fort, Le Cochon Dingue, and Panache all come highly recommended by locals. I can also recommend Aux Anciens Canadiens for some great French Canadian meals, and SSS Bistro for something a little lighter. If you are visiting on the weekend be sure to make reservations in advance as places fill up quickly. Do not get tricked by people trying to coax you into their establishments- its not busy for a reason so stay away (trust me).
Girls’ Night Out
Québec City may be small, but it’s still lively. If you’re looking for a good time at night you have a few options.
If you came to dance you won’t be disappointed. Québec is full of bars and clubs that cater to all sorts of styles. Small intimate venues offer low-key jazz nights, while multi-level clubs host DJs that spin the latest dance and electronic beats to keep you on your feet all night long. Bars and clubs can be found throughout the city, though the Nuovo Saint-Roch district is the up-and-coming area for the club scene.
For something a little more special why not check out a show? Québec has a cute little theatre district just outside the old city walls. A variety of shows are available throughout the year in both the English and French Language at Le Capitole. Another popular spot to see a concert is the Grand Théâtre de Québec, which is home to the city’s main symphony orchestra and the Opera de Québec.
If you are looking for a quiet evening to unwind after a busy day, I suggest the Café Bar Artefact at Auberge Sainte Antoine hotel. With comfortable seating and a couple of nooks with fireplaces, this bar is a great place to relax and have a drink. On top of one of the best cocktail menus in the city, the bar offers live jazz duets Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings.
Aside from the great food, cute shops, and exciting night life, Québec has a lot to offer its visitors. History buffs will love the Citadelle; Québec‘s old fortress, while art lovers will flock to Musée National des beaux-arts du Québec. The Plains of Abraham is always a good place to go for a walk and enjoy a view of the Saint Lawrence, although for the best view in town you’ll have to visit the observatory to see the city from above. Don’t forget to stop by the Chateau Frontenac; the most photographed hotel in the world, and if the winter weather is co-operating be sure to try the famous ice slide. And if you did bring a car; head 20 minutes or so outside of town for the gorgeous Montmorency falls.
Though no doubt a beautiful city year round, there’s something magical about Québec during the holiday season.
To plan your own Québec City mini-break visit http://www.quebecregion.com/en/