Are you looking for a winter honeymoon or vacation destination? Planning to visit for three or four days? Then put Quebec City on your list. Read on to find out why…
Some Background on Quebec City
Quebec City, founded in 1608, is one of the oldest cities in North America. It was founded by the French explorer Samuel de Champlain, for whom many city elements are named. Situated on a bank of the St. Lawrence river, it’s a fort city, with touristy parts both inside and outside the walls.
It’s a hilly town, so it’s no surprise that there’s a good old-fashioned funicular (and stairs) connecting the upper and lower sections. Near the top of the funicular, inside the city walls, you’ll find the trademark hotel of the Quebec City – the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. With its history and prominent location it is more than just a hotel – it’s a city landmark. As you approach you get the feeling you’re taking a step back in time to an era of castles.
Sitting at 47° N latitude, roughly the same as Bismarck, North Dakota, Quebec City is cold in the winter. On the night we arrived the temperature dropped to -9° F. Ice floes covered the surface of the St. Lawrence.
The figurative warmth of Quebec City offset the physical chill. The snow that came with the cold front painted the town white, combining with the replete Christmas decorations for a beautiful storybook scene. The cute shop-lined streets and the French conversations flowing around us had us oft forgetting we were in Canada and not Paris or Nice. Though eight other Canadian cities have larger populations it’s hard to imagine any with greater wintertime charm.
Getting to Quebec City
Tourists usually arrive into Quebec City via one of three methods: airplane into Quebec City airport (YQB), a train (often departing from Montreal), or via car.
We flew into the airport on a nonstop flight from Newark, New Jersey (EWR). After we collected our bag we hailed an Uber. Given the airport’s small size it was an absolute breeze to meet up with the Uber driver. The ride to the hotel took almost exactly 30 minutes and cost $32 CAD (about $24 USD).
A train ride from Montreal takes about 3 to 4 hours, with fares ranging from as low as $60 USD for a restricted economy fare up to about $250 USD for a fully exchangeable business class ticket.
The Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac Dominates the Skyline
There are many cities for which there is no one hotel which reigns supreme. Quebec City is different. If you asked visitors or locals to name one hotel they associate with the city you’d almost certainly get the same answer from all of them: The Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac.
The Chateau Frontenac is a special property that transports you to a bygone era. Construction was started in the late 1800s by a railroad magnate by the name of William Van Horne. Throughout the years the hotel was expanded and renovated. It’s now an excellent example of effective marriage of old charm with modern luxury. There are elegant furnishings but there is also a Starbucks on the ground floor.
If you’re visiting Quebec City for your honeymoon this should be the clear-cut favorite for your lodging! I’ll likely post a full review of the hotel soon (if you’d be interested in that, leave me a note in the comments below).
Stroll, Stroll, Stroll the City
The greatest element of our trip to Quebec City was the simplest element: strolling through town. The shop-lined streets were decorated beautifully for the Christmas season. Wreaths adorned exteriors, lights glowed in the chilly night air and the sweet smells of local cuisine and crafts filled the air.
There were many shops selling cute wares and souvenirs as well as countless cozy restaurants perfect for a warm-you-up meal. In addition to the seasonal decorations there were various murals around town as well. One word of caution: It is a hilly city so you do need to be a bit cautious to ensure you don’t lose your footing, especially on steeper grades.
Many of the shops, and our hotel, had magnificent Christmas ornaments. To see 10 of the best, check out the photo series I did on Instagram: The Christmas Ornaments of Quebec!
You Can Complement the City Strolls With A Few Local Activities
Walking the streets of Quebec City is a pleasure but it’s a small city so two to three or so days of strolling will do. We partook in a couple “activities” in the city during our visit: a toboggan ride and a visit to the Musee de la Civilisation. We also stopped by an outdoor ice skating rink but didn’t don the skates ourselves and wandered through a local market.
The toboggan ride was quick but fun. For $3CAD/person you can rent a toboggan for a single downhill journey. After you pay to rent it you’ll pull it behind you up the ramp to the top of the track. You spend about five minutes walking your toboggan to the top of the track and then about 30 seconds sliding down. The toboggans can fit a few people at a time. Descent speeds vary depending on the number of people on the toboggan but they generally hit around 35mph. We enjoyed the ride and also liked the view we got from atop the track.
We had pulled up a discount coupon on our phone but the desk agent insisted she couldn’t take it becuase it wasn’t printed. However, she mentioned that there is a discount for AAA members. Patty pulled up her AAA info on her smartphone, saving us a few dollars.
The Musee de la Civilisation hosts several unique exhibits. We checked out the Uprising x 25, Like Cats And Dogs, Observe. More Than Meets the Eye and The Library at Night exhibits.
The Like Cats and Dogs exhibit had a bevy of fact-based displays and interactive games. The “slalom course” is something you don’t see every day. It was fun to run through it and then see the performance stats for dogs (spoiler: they’re way faster than humans).
The Uprising x 25 exhibit is a series of video stations highlighting revolutionary and protest movements around the globe since the Berlin Wall fell. It was pretty well done and given some of the subject matter it’s sure to have some highs and lows for people of every political persuasion.
The main attraction at the museum is The Library At Night exhibit. It’s a 4D virtual reality experience which highlights some of the greatest libraries in the world. It’s interactive – you get to choose which libraries you experience. There are ten famous libraries represented, from the Library of Congress in Washington, DC to the Library of Alexandria in Egypt.
Toward the end of our visit we hit up a local market. It is a year-round market but not surprisingly it was essentially transformed into a Christmas market during December. Local artisans sold maple syrup, ornaments, soaps and more.
Break the Ice Aboard the Ferry to Levis and Grab a Local Brew
During our first couple days in Quebec City we repeatedly stared out the ice floes dominating the St. Lawrence river. By our third day we decided to check out the scene up close. We bought a ticket for the ferry ride from Quebec City to Levis (and back).
Though we’ve traveled extensively this was the first time we saw icebergs with our own eyes in person. It was captivating to see the sun set over the icy river while our ferry broke through and cast aside ice floes effortlessly.
Once we arrived onshore in Levis we made a quick right down the main drag and headed to Corsaire Pub. There we grabbed a local beer and some tavern fare which was surprisingly tasty.
There isn’t too much else to do in Levis so after an hour or two at the pub we boarded the ferry and returned to Quebec City. As the ferry headed toward the city we were treated to more great views of the city and particularly the Chateau Frontenac high up on the hill.
Dog Sledding and Snowmobiling are Day Trip Options
The quaint beauty of downtown Quebec City is wonderful as I’ve pointed out but it’s a small area so you may yearn for something more after a few days. If that’s the case there are a couple winter adventures waiting for you outside the city: dog sledding and snowmobiling.
Our concierge at the Chateau Frontenac booked us a dog sledding excursion with Expedition Mi Loup on Ile d’Orléans. The island is situated in the St. Lawrence River, with the excursion company’s facility roughly a 30 minute drive from the hotel.
A shuttle was sent by Expedition Mi Loup to our hotel. It was waiting for us at the chosen time and conveniently for us our driver went straight from the hotel to the dog sledding site. There we waited though for an extended period of time while snowmobile riders suited up and departed.
Eventually we headed out of the check-in cabin for a quick intro on mushing. Within a couple minutes our dogs were hooked up to our sled and we were off and sledding. The sled ride took us away from civilization and through the forest. It was surreal and peaceful but quite controlled.
If you’re interested in a full review of Expedition Mi Loup, leave me a note in the comments below.
The US Dollar is Strong, Improving Value
Over the past five years the US dollar has gained about 33% against the Canadian dollar. At the time of our trip in December 2016 we were getting about 1.33 CAD per USD. This of course means strong value for Americans traveling to Canada. We found Quebec City to be reasonably priced in general. Food and drink bills will not leave your jaw dropped, though of course it is more expensive than a rural destination.
Check Your Cell Phone Plan Options Before Your Trip
As always, it’s worthwhile to check your cell phone plan before traveling abroad. If you have an American cell phone plan you may find that you have coverage in Canada included in your plan or for a minor upcharge. I was pleasantly surprised to see that with our Cricket prepaid plans we have voice, text and data coverage in Canada at no additional charge.
Patty and I used hundreds of megabytes (if not gigabytes) of data in Canada and we did that without having a single concern about huge fees piling up. Reception was strong throughout the Quebec City area so we used our smartphones for navigating, research on tourist activities, Uber, etc.
Traveling to/from Quebec City and Staying There Without Breaking the Bank
As we were heading to Quebec City by air from the mid-Atlantic area we headed to Google Flights to see our airfare options. It became clear quickly that the best option for us was to fly nonstop from/to Newark (EWR). The flights we wanted were marketed by United so our first investigation was to see if they were available using United MileagePlus miles. It turned out they were but not at mileage rates that were appealing.
So knowing that I turned to the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. A quick search showed that we could book the flights that we wanted. By making the booking through my Sapphire Reserve Ultimate Rewards account we were able to get 1.5 cents per point of value. I didn’t have quite enough points in the account to cover the flights and lodging (more on that in a moment) but I was able to transfer some points from my Chase Freedom account to get us to the total needed. Because I didn’t use miles or points to book directly with United we actually earned United MileagePlus miles for the flights!
We knew from the moment we decided to go to Quebec City that we were going to stay at the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac. We first considered getting the Chase Fairmont credit card as it comes with free nights as a signup bonus. We decided against that though as we knew that those free night awards would almost certainly get us a standard room, not a Gold floor room. We knew from some research that the Gold floor rooms at this property are really nice and that the amenities – snacks, concierge, etc. – are valuable. So we again headed to the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
We booked our first three nights in a Gold floor room. For the fourth night, the rates skyrocketed. We decided to book a lower-end room for the last night. In similar situations I’ve had the hotel check-in agent kindly upgrade us for the last night so that we could simply stay in the same room.
When we checked in the agent did offer to upgrade us for the last night but the offer she proposed was laughable at something like $500CAD cash. The day before we were to move rooms I stopped by the front desk again. After a bit of haggling we were offered to upgrade the last night and stay in the same room for $100CAD. We jumped on it. It spared us the hassle of packing and unpacking, it kept us in a wonderful room with a stunning view and it meant we got the benefits of the Gold floor for our last night/day.
If you’re looking to do a winter honeymoon and are up for embracing the cold, Quebec City should be on your list of potential destinations. It’s charming, beautiful and serene. It’s perfect for a three- or four-day stay though may get a bit slow for longer visits. It could of course be combined with a visit to nearby Montreal for a longer honeymoon or vacation.
Strolling the streets is truly enjoyable and can be combined with in-town activities such as tobogganing, ice skating and a museum visit. You can head out of the city limits for a memorable dog sledding or snowmobiling adventure as well.
I give Quebec City a Honeymoon Suitability Rating (HSR) of 14 out of 17!
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