3 Day Travel Itinerary: Old Quebec City in the Winter
This 3 day travel itinerary of Quebec’s Old City highlights things to do during a cold weather visit. (Click on our Old Quebec: WJT 3 Day Summer Itinerary for ideas of things to do in the warmer months.) This trip planner focuses on the blocks between Rue St. Jean and St. Louis in Upper Town, and the Quartier Petit-Champlain and Place-Royale in Lower Town. We suggest you book lodging within this area. It is cold in Quebec in the winter! A hotel close to the action will minimize walking, and give you more time to enjoy this vacation destination.
Although frosty, Old Quebec is a warm and inviting winter destination. The neighborhood is rich in history and romance. When the snow falls, it feels even more festive. Sparkling lights adorn the streets. Shop windows are decorated. Residents bundle up, and spill out onto the cobblestones to enjoy the many outdoor activities.
Old Quebec is over 400 years old. It is the original neighborhood and ‘heart’ of Quebec City, Canada. The UNESCO World Heritage site consists of two parts: Upper Town (Haute Ville), and Lower Town (Basse Ville).
For more information on traveling to Canada read our posts on:
Joe and I recommend timing your winter visit between mid – November and January when the German Christmas Market comes to life. The charm of this family-friendly Upper Town event, combined with the wonder of Lower Town decorated for the holidays, makes for a magical get-away. The streets will be full of food trucks, free performances, and unique shopping opportunities. It all makes for an unforgettable experience.
TRAVEL TIP: If the holidays are not a good time for you to travel, try Bonhomme Carnaval (winter carnival). The event features many outdoor activities such as ice races and games, parades, snow sculptures, and concerts. The carnival occurs over three weekends in Jan-Feb.
PACKING TIP: Pack for warmth. You will want boots with good tread (cobblestones get slick with any moisture), a long coat, hat and mittens. If you take lots of pictures, wear thin gloves with no fingertips under your mittens. Layer clothing and be prepared for wind, rain, snow, and sub-zero weather.
Day 1: Basilique Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Quebec and Hotel Frontenac
Check in, unpack, and make a reservation at the Hotel Frontenac’s Champlain Restaurant for a mid-afternoon lunch (ask for a window seat). About 90 minutes before your reservation make your way to the Notre-Dame Cathedral. Spend some time exploring the cathedral. It is graced with an intricately painted ceiling and lovely stained glass.
Exiting the cathedral, follow rue de Tresor to the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac (Hotel Frontenac) next door. The brick and copper castle, with its towers and turrets, has been accommodating travelers since colonial times. Take your time exploring the hotel’s lobby and public spaces. They are beautifully decorated for the holidays.
When it is time for lunch, pass the promenade of Christmas trees by the boutiques and find the Champlain Restaurant. The elegant dining room overlooks the St. Laurence River with breathtaking views. In mid-afternoon, you can enjoy a gourmet lunch at a bargain price (and beat the dinner crowd). This is a lovely spot to linger over a bottle of wine and reconnect with your traveling companions.
After lunch, head back to your room to rest and ready for the evening ahead. When the sun goes down make your way to rue Sainte-Anne and the German Christmas Market. Admission is free and you can enter from many points in the historic district.
Designed to recreate the atmosphere of a European Christmas market, the fair is full of stunning decorations, charming nooks to warm in, authentic German food, and local wares for sale (knit and woven textiles, jewelry, candles, glass works, and food). There are outdoor performances and kid-friendly zones.
As you leave the market, stroll the surrounding streets – all decorated for the season. When your toes grow numb, find a restaurant or pub to warm up. Joe and I always enjoy D’Orsay Restaurant & Pub (Corner of Rue de Buade and Jardin). Get a table that overlooks the Christmas market and watch the world go by.
Day 2: Dufferin Terrace, Tobogganing, and Lower Town
Sleep in and enjoy a lazy morning. When you get hungry, venture out for breakfast. If you don’t have a place in mind, try a scenic breakfast at the Hotel Frontenac’s Place Dufferin. The restaurant’s windows face directly onto the Dufferin Terrace (make a reservation if you want a window seat).
After breakfast, walk outside to the Dufferin Terrace. This 420-meter boardwalk runs behind the Hotel Frontenac. Morning is a great time to get some photos of Lower Town, the hotel, and the St. Laurence River.
If you are feeling adventurous, find the kiosk at the end of the boardwalk that sells tickets for the Toboggan Run. For a small fee you can pull a toboggan up the side of a (stepped) hill and fly back down again. Reportedly, the sleds reach up to 70 km per hour and you can see for miles.
Let the views continue as you make your walking tour up the Governor’s Promenade. The walkway connects the Dufferin Terrace to the Plains of Abraham by 310 steps. The steps are broken up by landings that offer spectacular vistas of the river and the cliffs that separate Upper Town from Lower. Be forewarned, the stairs can be icy in the winter. There is, however, a sturdy rail to hang onto.
At the top of the Promenade, the star-shaped Citadelle will be behind you and the Plains of Abraham in front of you. The Citadelle is an active British fortress that has safeguarded the city’s port since 1693. The Plains are part of Battlefield Park; the site of many historic battles and happenings over the years (many Winter Carnival events take place here).
Exit the park onto Rue St. Louis. Follow the avenue down under the Porte Saint-Louis Gate. Browse the shops and restaurant menus as you make your way back to your hotel. With a toboggan ride, photos, and browsing, plan for a 2-hour walk.
WALKING TIP: Note that the loop can be completed in either direction. As written, you will be walking up the 310 stairs of the Governor’s Promenade. If you reverse the route, you will be walking down the 310 stairs.
ALTERNATIVE ITINERARY IDEAS: If you do not enjoy walking in the cold, after breakfast exit the Hotel Frontenac onto rue de Fort and find a horse and carriage to rent. There are various routes through Upper Town from which to choose.
If you would prefer an inside activity, find the Ursuline Monastery located a short distance from the back of the hotel. The nuns of Ursuline have worked out of this convent since the 1600s. Over the years, there have been orphanages and schools onsite. You can view the chapel and a small museum. Next door, there is a cemetery with the graves of soldiers from the colonial era.
After warming up for a few hours back at your hotel, ready for an afternoon and evening out.
Stroll back to Dufferin Terrace and locate the Breakneck Stairs. The stairs connect Upper to Lower Town. On this outing we will explore Lower Town. Bring a map, but don’t be tied to it. The area is small. As you wander, you are not likely to get too lost.
TIP: The Breakneck Stairs are fun to walk along. They are wide, windy, and lined with interesting shops. However, if the weather is bad, the streets are slick, or anyone in your party has mobility issues, take the Funicular rail car from Upper to Lower Town.
Lower Town is full of French inspired architecture, high quality boutiques, and inviting restaurants. In the winter, its cobblestone streets and narrow lanes are bright with lights and lined with boughs of evergreen. The area encourages visitors to linger with fur-lined benches and open fires to warm your fingers.
At the bottom of Breakneck Stairs, follow the road down to Rue de Petit Champlain. This narrow pedestrian lane is one of the oldest streets in the city. Once home to wealthy traders and merchants, today it is lined with shops full of paintings, textiles, Inuit carvings, fashions, and religious idolatry. The decorations here are exquisite.
At the end of the lane, make a “U” turn onto Boulevard Champlain. Window-shop along the street. At the end, let yourself meander. You will find historic houses, little galleries, museums and churches. Eventually, you will likely wind up in the “heart” of Old Quebec, Place Royale.
Place Royale’s cobblestone square is the site of the city’s original settlement and market. You are in the heart of Old Quebec's historic district. A monument of King Louis XIV, the Museum of Place Royale, cafes and shops line the square. There is also the Notre-Dome Des Victories Church. This beautiful stone church is one of the oldest in North America.
When your belly rumbles, walk back through Place Royale and the pedestrian streets of Lower Town until you find a restaurant you fancy. At the end of the evening, take the Funicular rail care up the cliff to Upper Town.
Day 3: Rue Saint-Jean, Ice Skating, and the Museum of Civilization
Bundle up, and set out on foot to find Rue St. Jean. The street, another of the city’s oldest, is lined with restaurants, boutiques, churches. There are chocolate and tea shops, and bakeries galore. Stop for breakfast at one of the boulevard’s many eateries.
When you are finished eating (and shopping), continue on foot until you come to the Porte Saint- Jean Gate. Explore the gate’s 17th century stairways, stone turrets, and arches. The gate is a remnant of the protective rampart that once surrounded the city.
Behind Porte Saint-Jean, you will find Place D’Youville, a public square that separates Quebec’s Parliament Hill with the Old City. In the winter, part of the park is flooded and the area is transformed into a skating rink. Rent some skates, or find a bench and watch the fun.
If you have time later in the day, or if the weather is bad and you are looking for an inside activity, check out Lower Town’s Museum of Civilization. The main museum explores the cultural and ethnic history or the Quebec territory. The nearby Place-Royal Museum and the historic Chevalier House are also part of the complex.
Dining Tips: Here are a few of Joe and I’s favorite restaurants:
Aux Anciens Canadiens (Rue St. Louis) – Famous for Quebecoise cooking with French meat pies and blue and white décor. The white building with red roof is one of the oldest homes in the city.
D’Orsay Restaurant & Pub (Corner of Rue de Buade and Jardin) – Upscale pub food and drink. Crowded, but comfortable and intimate. Stained glass bar.
Champlain Restaurant (Hotel Frontenac) – Gourmet. Expensive. Elegant décor. Spectacular views of St. Laurence River and beyond. Great food. Reserve a table by the windows for a late lunch. It is much the same menu as dinner, but at less cost.
Place Dufferin (Hotel Frontenac) – Serves breakfast and afternoon tea. Expensive, but good food and cozy. Great views of Dufferin Terrace and river.
Restaurant Parmesan (Rue St. Louis) – Good Italian food. Loud. Crowded. Lively. Occasional live music and waiters who break into song.
Au revoir (goodbye)! Laura and Randy
For more information on traveling to Canada read our posts on: