Quebec City, Quebec – Canada
I was set on traveling to the European Christmas Markets in December 2021 but with Europe’s reactive closings due to the new omicron variant, we decided to chose another winter destination. After looking for winter festivals closer to home, I could not believe we did not consider Canada before. In searching, I found that Quebec City has a winter carnival – Carnaval de Quebec – for two weeks each February and that seemed to fit the bill for a winter wonderland.
Entry requirements included full vaccination and pre-entry COVID testing. Right before the start of the carnival, Quebec province reopening indoor activities like dining but with reduced capacity and the requirement for vaccination to participate. Canada also has a portal where this information and health attestations are completed – ArriveCAN – which generates a QR code for entry.
It always sounds like a good idea booking a 6AM flight weeks in advance but when the morning calls for a 3AM wake up time, I very much missed those red-eye flights. It did give us the change to have all day to explore which was the idea. There were no direct flights so we have a layover in Toronto. The trip there was so stinking easy – we definitely had future Canadian weekends in our future. Our plane was half empty as well – I am going to miss all these empty international flights once everyone starts traveling again! At Toronto we had our COVID entry requirement check as well as the luck of being randomly selected for an arrival COVID test. Since we were flying directly from the US with no other countries visited in the previous 14 days, we did not have to quarantine waiting for these results – which would have honestly been the entire length of this weekend trip. With a tight connection, it did not take long from the team to get us registered, tested, and on our way to the next flight to Quebec City.
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Greeted by the Bonhomme himself, we arrive around 10AM and immediately grabbed a ride share to take us downtown to our Airbnb. Fortunately, our Airbnb host allowed us to check in early as there was no one staying in the place leading up to our trip. The Airbnb was perfect – just enough room for the two of us and super cozy. Most importantly, it ended up being perfectly located with easy access to the Old Quebec City, the Carnaval activities and the most amazing dining.
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After winterizing ourselves, we went out to explore Quebec City! We started by walked towards entry gates of the Old City, admiring the buildings which we were happily surprised still had their holiday decorations. As if out of a painting, an ice rink was being tended too for the activity surely anticipated soon.
I was happy to have identified a lunch spot a few days prior, snagging reservations for a spot no too far away. I wanted something more traditional where I knew we would have no problem getting one of our favorite French specialties – foie gras – and Chez Temporel was just the place.
The neighborhood bistro welcomed us inside – always remember a strong “Bonjour!” when you enter an establishment – and our vaccination cards were checked before being seated. A french only menu was presented and our lovely server took time to explain the dishes in English for us. We were still amazed just how French it was here – it was like being transported in France and we were not complaining.
For lunch we started with wine and a cheese plate followed by duck confit salad and foie gras over cauliflower and potatoes with bread.
Everything was amazing and we talked about smearing the foie gras over that bread the rest of the trip (we were so tempted to come back here before we left and now that we are home, I very much wished we did!).
Continuing our walking tour of Old City, we ventured to the St Lawrence River covered in a sheet of ice. Down below, a ferry was fighting against the current to dock while the iconic Fairmont Le Château Frontenac loomed above. Did you know, this is the building featured in the EPCOT Canada pavilion is Walt Disney World? I did not until putting these two together! And everywhere we turned, the face of Bonhomme was there – Carnaval was in full swing!
Within a few minutes we both spotted the toboggan slide and with no line and no plans, we grabbed tickets at the kiosk across the way and grabbed a sled. We walked our sled up the hill – in which you are instructed to put the rope around your waist to walk it up. The view from the top was amazing and as we climbed, it was even more fun watching people fly by us.
Our turn to toboggan! Since we rode together, I sat in front then Kevin sat behind me but he had to get his feet on top of my legs which was a bit more difficult with all the winter layers.O Once we were in position, the gate lifted and off we went! Since it was a bit wet and there were two of us, we flew way faster than we expected and made it all the way to the end of the track! This was super fun and highly recommend for any age.
We took the opportunity to bounce in to the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac to see what all the fuss. And upon walking in it was clear why it is so famous – the place is floor to ceiling decorated with intricate details. Staying here must be a real treat! There are also opportunities to dine inside, as well as have afternoon tea for those that are interested.
There are layers to Quebec City – be prepared to climb – and we ventured down the stairs into ta post card. With decorations strung across the street, sidewalks lined with ice sculptures, and even a even a Christmas tree, this part was so stinking quaint and adorable.
We decided the save this rest of the area for later and wanted to check out the Carnaval de Quebec.
Read about Carnaval de Quebec here!
Rather soaked, we headed back to the Airbnb in an attempt to dry off before dinner. We took time to settle in to the place and relax before heading back into the winter night for our first dinner in Quebec City – Bourdain blessed L’affaire est Ketchup.
Read the full dining review for L’affaire est Ketchup here!
What a long and exciting day! We were exhausted and ready for a full day tomorrow.
There is so much to do outside the city and since we only had three days, we decided to squeeze a few of the activities into one day. There is so much to do outside of the city and I wanted to make sure we had some time to explore it. In planning, I had a few options in mind and since we were here for such a short amount of time, it made sense to try and squeeze it all into one day. On today’s aggressive agenda:
I was able to find a great car on Turo – I figured a compact car would not be ideal in the winter weather so we got a SUV with big winter tires so we were happy with that decision given all the snow.
Our first stop was the furthest away into the countryside for dog sledding – a completely unique experience that was new for both of us.
Read about our experience dog sledding here!
It was hard to end this part of the morning but we had more to explore. Our second stop took us to Valcartier for the only ice hotel in North America. I wondered how there was thirty dollar ticket charge to visit a hotel but we were about to find out.
Read about our experience at the Hotel de Glace Ice Hotel here!
After being unexpectedly blown away and a bit disappointed we did not have time for all the tubing fun, we moved on to much needed lunch. We moved towards the direction of our final attraction of the day and crossed the St Lawrence River to Ile d’Orleans. I had Cassis Monna as out lunch spot as the menu looking amazing and it is highly rated but unfortunately it was not open. While we were disappointed, we were also starving and drove down the street to Cafe Boutique La Maison Smith for pressed sandwiches. Onto the falls!
Read about Montgomery Falls here!
I have to say, this day was pretty ambitious and for starting at 7AM we made it back to return the car just after 3PM. While I was hoping this would be the timeline of the day, I was nervous it would be to much so I am here to say this is certainly can be reproduced.
We stopped by the Airbnb the freshen up ahead of dinner. One thing that Quebec City has no shortage of is incredible dining options – it was insanely difficult to pick places for this short trip. Tonight’s choice was at Buvette Scott.
Read about our dining review at Buvette Scott here!
Another wonderful dinner after a jam packed day!
We gave ourselves the morning to sleep in and enjoy the Airbnb as well as take care of our return home COVID test. For this trip, entry into the USA required a COVID test within 24 hours of travel. Since we were unable to find a place in Canada that administered COVID tests for travel, we purchased eMed rapid tests that are approved for travel use. While they were a bit expensive – six tests for $150 – it was very easy to use with camera surveillance and were given the paperwork needed to upload to the airline website.
With that complete, it was time for breakfast and I had a craving for crepes. Le Billig was conveniently located down the street was able to seat us. We thoroughly enjoyed these traditional buckwheat crepes – my “la pontivienne” with cheddar, crumbled bacon, onions, sauteed mushrooms, white wine and creme fraiche.
Kevin stopped and grabbed coffee at Cantook Microroaster Cafe – highly recommend. Well caffeinated, we were ready to start exploring.
As we crossed through the gates to the Old City, the smells of the city filled the air – the most intense being the fresh caramel popcorn from Mary’s. We descended down the Escalier Casse-Cou breakneck steps and followed the Rue du Petit Champlain in search for Quebec snacks. We still could not get over how adorable this part of the city was!
Our first stop was for the famous beavertail and while it was a bit tricky to find, Queues de aster Vieux was right off of Rue du Petit Champlain. A bit overwhelmed by the choices, we decided to keep it simple and go with the classic with cinnamon and sugar. It was way larger than we thought but it was so incredibly light and flaky we had no issue finishing it – highly recommend!
We continued down Rue du Petit Champlain to finishing seeing all the shops and I am forever grateful we did. At the very end of the street, a shop called La Petite Cabane a Sucre de Quebec was set up doing something I had only read about up to this point – pouring hot fresh maple over snow to create maple taffy. We ran inside to pay for our taffy sticks and watches the a fresh batch being prepared – so freaking cool! And these were absolutely delicious and very popular!
Our next stop on the Quebec snack journey was so grab some poutine. My original goal was to have poutine at Cassias Monna the day before but since it was closed, today was the day. We swung by Chic Shack and while we expected a quick service stop we were surprised to discover it was a sit down only restaurant. We debated skipping but since they had room for two, we stopped in for a small order of poutine. While we enjoyed it, we have had better and found the potato wedges to be confusing a deviated from the traditional fry and the gravy could have been more flavorful.
Completely stuffed, it was time to hit up the Carnaval de Quebec.
Read about Carnaval de Quebec here!
Kevin grabbed an afternoon cup of coffee from Cantook and we headed back to the Airbnb to warm up. It was also that point in the point in the trip where we had to pack up as we had another 6AM flight ahead of us. But we still had one more meal ahead of us and I was most excited for this one – Restaurant Sinsemilla.
Read our dining review of Restaurant Sinsemilla here!
Once again, could not get over how incredible the food in this city was – we would absolutely bet back!
One thing we learned this morning was that side sharing is not prevalent in Quebec and in our research, a larger Canada problem. We seemed to have gotten lucky when we arrived at the airport that one grabbed us so quickly. This morning was a different story. With a 6AM flight, we needed to be at the airport around 4AM and we were super concerned about reliability of a taxi. Kevin called a company the day before where they simply asked for the address and the time of pickup and shortly after hung up without taking his name, number, or any information. With few options, we hoped the taxi would be on time and had a back up plan to find the nearest hotel to assist us if there was an issue. Miraculously, the taxi driver was outside the Airbnb promptly at 3:30AM, restoring our faith in humanity.
We had no issues on the way home – in fact our flight from Montreal to Newark had six passengers… six! That is as close to a private commercial plane we have every had. I will miss when this international travel bubble pops and everyone crowds the planes again.
And after so much travel restored since March 2020 it finally happened… we came back Sunday morning and Monday night I started having COVID symptoms, then tested positive on a molecular test Tuesday. It was a good run pandemic – now I have super immunity added onto my vaccinated self. Time to travel the rest of the world!