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  • Dave Philbrick


Quebec City is one of our family’s favorite cities. We rarely repeat a vacation, and we have been to QC 5 times, 4 times to Winter Carnival. The city is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and extremely photogenic and beautiful. It’s dubbed ‘the poor man’s Paris’ and is still a very French city with more charm than Montreal. Its Winter Carnival is truly fabulous, and it’s not only the oldest and largest in the world, it competes with China’s as the best.

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For the Winter Carnival it is a must to have a hotel near the activities, which means inside or near the walls. You will need to warm up and take breaks during the day, and if you don’t have a convenient hotel you will suffer or lose too much time in transit. Even better is to stay at a hotel along the parade route!

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The Carnivale lasts two weeks with the last week having more of the exciting activities.


MONDAY Upon arrival, drop off your bags at your hotel and bundle up! The average temperature will be below freezing all week, and you will want to be outside as much as possible. Using your Bonhomme ticket or effigy which you bought online before arrival to access the Carnivale events, head to the 2-story Ice Palace which is lit up with colored lights in the evening and features an ice slide. Near it but on the outside of the St. Louis Gate is where the main stages of activities are on the Plains of Abraham. There you’ll find zip lining, luges on ice slides, human foosball, a “snowball” battle between teams behind wooden castle facades, mini knee-hockey rink, American Gladiator-style staff fighting, 10-person snow tubing down a ski slope, human bowling ball, and other kinds of multi-person tubing. Enjoy a Canadian treat on the carnival grounds of a “Bear Claw” of fried dough with different toppings. It’s appropriate any time as you won’t ruin your appetite - you’ll be burning calories just being out in the cold! For lunch we recommend another only-in-Canada meal, the conveniently located Rotisserie St.-Hubert in the (hotel) next to the (Musee du Civilisation). A iconic Canadian franchise like Tim Horton’s, it’s great for kids and adults alike. The food is good and the price is reasonable, so you’ll see a lot of local families there.For your first dinner in this unique city head to Les Anciens Canadien in the oldest building in Quebec where the waitstaff wear traditional folk dress. After much dedicated research, we can vouch for it having the best poutine in Quebec, and highly recommend the superb 3 grill dinner of filet mignon of elk, venison, and bison.


Take more time to explore the city today. A good place for breakfast is Rue Saint-Jean (St. Jean Street) which has both Paillard, a café and bakery that fills early because of its excellent breakfast sandwiches and hot drinks, and nearby Chez Temporel on rue Couillard with great croissants which has been a Quebec writers handout since 1974. You’ll notice people carrying plastic Bonhomme canes or flasks and see them stopping by one of the outdoor ice bars to fill it up with Caribou, a hot mulled wine. You can’t leave the city without trying it! Another must-do and the perfect start is to attend the show at the Musee du Fort which runs every hour. It’s entertaining and informative, and you will have a knowledgeable appreciation for what you will be seeing in the city. Walk across the small plaza to the Chateau Frontenac and admire the view across the St. Lawrence River to Levi. Walk down the Casse-Cous (‘break-neck’) staircase to “the most beautiful street in Canada”, Rue du Petit-Champlain. Walk around the Lower Town (Basse-Ville) and its Royal Plaza (Place Royale) which has many original buildings from 1608. For teens, there are multiple wings to take photos in front of.

A notable restaurant for photographs and menu is the Le Lapin Saute, specializing in rabbit. For shopping, look for the Boutique de Noel, a Christmas boutique to get an ornament souvenir for your tree, or perhaps the Coeur de Loup (Heart of the Wolf) for locally designed clothing. Walk to the river and take the inexpensive ferry to Levis and experience the thrill of crashing through the icebergs that threaten to freeze over the mighty St. Lawrence! The view of the Chateau Frontenac from the ferry is one of the most photographed in the world. lf you’re tired on the way back, take the funicular up the cliff to Chateau Frontenac and save yourself many, many steps!

Lapin Saute Restaurant


Montmorency Falls

Rent a car and drive to the spectacular Montmorency Falls just 15 minutes outside the city. You can park beside the cable car which is a great (and easier) way to the top of the falls. There are well-marked paths to the top of the falls and the walkway across. Walking down is easy and gives you a chance to enjoy different view perspectives as you make your way down. Ile d’Orleans is only a 10 minute drive away and the island is peaceful with charming farmhouses. They offer snowmobiling, dog sledding, and snowshoe activities on the island in winter. Back in the car head toward the Basilica of Ste-Anne-de-Beaupre, only another 15 minutes away. A pilgrimage destination for many Catholics, the beloved saint has performed many miraculous healings and the stacks of crutches and canes left here as thanks have to be regularly cleaned out. The church is extensive and its many niches on two floors are worth exploring, including the touching tributes to the religious of First Nations.

THURSDAY Head toward the Chateau Frontenac where if scheduled you can watch the international ice canoe race from its promenade along the cliff. It’s one of the most amazing sights you will ever see – 6-man canoes that are fighting to cross the fast moving river, including against ice floes. Periodically they will pull up onto the mini icebergs and haul their canoe over the surface and jump back in! Then walk to the start of the Toboggan Slide Au 1884 run and take rides on its steep slope with a water view during the day and is lit up at night! Upon exiting the ride, stay on the lower level and walk to Café du Monde which has excellent views and excellent food, and due to its high ceilings and wall of windows, a great airy ambience.

Toboggan Slide Au 1884

Walk or take a cab to the St. Charles River where you can rent skates and skate for miles along its route through the city, with some stretches playing music from speakers on the side. Look on the Winter Carnival schedule for when the horse racing is on the river, which is an amazing sight. For dinner enjoy the seafood crepes or cherry dessert crepes at Le Casse-Crepe Breton on Rue Saint-Jean. It is a charmingly decorated restaurant with a balcony level, and where the staff wear traditional Breton lace caps and folk costume.

Horse races on the St. Charles River

FRIDAY After breakfast, drive 30 minutes to the Village Vacances Valcartier waterpark which has been converted into the largest winter playground in North America. It has lots of various sledding-type rides and is a lot of fun. They also have an indoor waterpark called the Bora Parc. But you can’t leave until you visit the impressive ice hotel (Hotel du Glace) that is the only one in North America and only a few minutes away. With its 34 artistically carved ice rooms, full scale ice chapel, and indoor ice bar, it is an amazing outdoor complex made completely with ice. The ice bar features animal skins on ice stools, ice glasses, and an ice slide for adults! Head back to Quebec and treat yourself to fine dining in this foodie city. Le Saint- Amour which many consider to be the best is in our opinion overrated. Just two examples: their Belle Epoque room windows are not stained glass but poorly rendered reprinted paintings, and their foie gras is common pate not the actual foie gras. We recommend Restaurant Taniere set in a dramatic high vaulted wine cellar. There are many excellent restaurants along Grand Allee, and the beautiful boulevard is worth walking along for its own sake.

SATURDAY There’s more to explore in this unique and beautiful city. After breakfast walk to the Observatoire de la Capitale on the 31st floor for a bird’s eye view of the city. A short walk will take you to the Museum of the Plains of Abraham which is well done and can be taken in by a quick walk through. Another short walk willtake you to The Citadel (La Citadelle) which is the fort on top of Quebec City. Walking to the lower town, stop in the Basilica Cathedral of Notre Dame which reflects the deeply religious people of this province. Nearby stop at the Musee de la civilisation (Museum of Civilization) with its interesting anthropology exhibits. Then head back up the steps to the main center to warm up at the Chocolato Saint Jean on Rue de St. Jean near its gate for different flavors of chocolate fondue that are delicious and don’t make the mistake of having too much sugar. Their mini chocolate fondue sets with your choice of flavor make a great souvenir or gift. They also have many different flavors of ice cream and pastry desserts. Stop by the nearby Place d’Youville to watch the skaters surrounded by Beaux Arts buildings, and as they rent skates there, feel free to join them! Tonight is the very special and festive Carnival Parade. You’ll want to rest and warm up before, and don’t be put off by the darkness and cold of winter - - bring your Bonhomme cane to warm you up and join the festivities! The parade has many unique French and French Canadian characters and floats and really is a spectacle that is well attended especially by families. If you have more time, a worthwhile stop is the Huron Traditional Site and Huron-Wendat Museum in Wendake, about a 25 minute drive away. It celebrates First Nations culture and has an impressive waterfall named Kabir-Kouba. While there try the Sagamite restaurant which offers native food made with traditional recipes.

SUMMER ITINERARY: TUESDAY Same itinerary, but after arriving in Levis, cross the street to the bike rental shop (reservations aren’t usually necessary) and ride the flat perfectly maintained bike path for an hour or more, turning around when you’ve had enough.

Lower Town of Quebec City
Place Royale

WEDNESDAY Same itinerary, but if you’re feeling adventurous you can even zip line across the falls!

THURSDAY Same itinerary, but the canoe race and toboggan slide are not in season. When at the Café du Monde, directly outside it beside the river is a unique and extremely cool beer garden, La Cour Arriere du Festibiere, that has colorful Adirondack chairs set in various foot pools and low fountains mimicking a river. It is very refreshing to take your shoes or sandals off and enjoy your drink with your feet in the water! Also, instead of skating on the St. Charles River, you can jog or bike along it on a perfectly maintained flat recreation path on either side. The attractive sights along the river will give you ever- changing views along the way.

FRIDAY Same itinerary, but the Village Vacances Valcartier outdoor waterpark and the indoor Bora Parc is fully open to enjoy. Only a 15 minute drive away is the Huron Traditional Site and Huron-Wendat Museum in Wendake, and its Kabir-Koube waterfall. Don’t forget to try the Sagamite restaurant which offers native food made with traditional recipes.

SATURDAY Same itinerary, but instead of the Carnival Parade find other live entertainment such as the many nightclubs – the drinking age here is 18!

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