I knew we were in for a winter wonderland in Québec City. That’s why I chose January for our trip! I wanted snow, snow, and more snow. I wanted to bundle up and stroll the charming streets, ducking into cafes and boutiques when our faces felt like icicles, and spending a magical winter weekend at the Château Frontenac.
Well, we got that. And a blizzard. I expected temperatures to hover around 0°. I did not expect a massive snowstorm to drop the thermometer to -20° and to end up snowed in in Québec City. One that made it nearly impossible to even walk outside. Luckily, we were safe and sound and warm inside our castle of a hotel, the famed Château Frontenac.
EXPLORING QUÉBEC CITY DURING THE WINTER
Despite the blizzard we encountered and the fact that I’m sure Canada is beautiful in the warmer months, exploring Québec City during the winter is an experience that everyone should have at least once. Québec City transports you to a quaint European town where Christmas isn’t just a holiday, but an entire winter state-of-mind.
There’s nothing better than walking through the decorated, snowy streets giddy from the absurdity of the cold weather and the falling flakes, and then finding a cozy restaurant to warm up and enjoy a plate of poutine. The frigid temperatures don’t deter the locals, everyone is out and about filling the streets with lively energy. If you’re someone who loves winter, you’ll be delighted. If you’re someone who hates winter, you may become a cold-weather convert.
HOW TO GET TO AND AROUND QUÉBEC CITY
Despite feeling a world away, Québec City is super easy to get to from the East Coast. From DC, you’ll often find flights that have one stop in Montréal or the New York area. From New York, you can easily find nonstop flights. We actually flew in and out of Montréal. We had an easy 40-minute flight to LaGuardia and then a quick 55-minute flight to Montréal. The initial plan was to fly into Montréal Friday morning, rent a car, drive 3 hours to Québec City, then drive back to Montréal on Sunday morning and explore the city for a day before flying out Monday afternoon. Well, the blizzard derailed the second half of the trip, but I would still recommend going that route if you want to see both cities.
Once you’re in Québec City, you don’t need a car as ubers are readily available, however, we did benefit from having one. We drove to a few sights outside the city that we might have passed on had we needed to take a lengthy uber ride. Do be mindful that parking doesn’t come cheap in Québec City.
You can also easily catch a train from Montréal to Québec City if you’re choosing to forgo a car for the trip.
A WINTER WEEKEND AT THE CHÂTEAU FRONTENAC
When it came to finding a hotel in Québec City, Adam was 100% set on us staying at the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. His brother and wife stayed there last year and said it was wonderful, and Adam was all about the castle exterior. And, apparently it’s happy husband, happy life, so that’s what we did.
The historic hotel overlooks the Saint Lawrence River, appearing as a castle over the landscape of the entire city. With 611 guest rooms, the hotel blends its classic, ornate design with an updated, modern feel, definitely a result of its recent multi-million dollar renovation.
We stayed in one of the Deluxe City View rooms, though we had a view of the icy St. Lawrence River from all windows. The Deluxe rooms are furnished in a more contemporary style, while the Fairmont rooms retain the historic decor that defined the hotel throughout its first century. Personally, I loved staying in a modern room to contrast the timeless luxury of the rest of the property.
Since we spent an entire day totally snowed in, we had time to wander around the halls of the hotel far more than if we’d been out and about. We found little nooks hidden on the third and fourth floors and took in the history that’s hiding around every corner.
THE HISTORY OF THE CHÂTEAU FRONTENAC
The Château Frontenac was built in 1892 as one of the grand railway hotels that dotted the route of the Canadian Pacific Railway. It appealed to Canadian travelers looking for a few days spent relaxing in luxury, but it also was home to the First and Second Québec Conferences, the meeting of the Allies during World War II.
Throughout its storied history, the Château Frontenac has hosted everyone from Princess Grace of Monaco to Queen Elizabeth to Winston Churchill to Franklin Roosevelt to Alfred Hitchcock, who filmed a movie on-site at the hotel.
And, of course, the question always is when staying a historic hotel, is it haunted? While I tried to do some googling to confirm, nothing definite came up…so the jury is still out.
EXPLORING QUÉBEC CITY
I have an entire travel guide to a winter weekend in Québec City planned for next week that will include everything we did, everywhere we ate, and all details around planning a winter weekend itinerary. So, for now, I will just say that there’s fabulous shopping, intriguing museums, and you should plan to eat rich, warm, delicious food all weekend, and plan to walk a lot. It all evens out, right?
Once my travel guide post is live, I’ll link it here!
DO YOU NEED TO SPEAK FRENCH?
Absolutely not! While I liked to try, or at least start, every conversation with a “Bonjour!” or “Bon soir!”, it’s certainly not necessary. Almost everyone speaks both French and English, so while you’ll hear the locals conversing with each other in French, they’re ready to chat with you in English.
SPENDING A WEEKEND SNOWED IN
As I mentioned earlier, we did not plan to spend an extra day at the Château Frontenac, particularly one where we couldn’t safely leave the property. I actually did try to go out and take photos during the blizzard (a handful of these are from that excursion). I lasted about 10 minutes until my hood blew off, which blew off my hat underneath (a white fur hat…I thought that was a goner in the snow until I found it about a block away), and I could barely walk against the wind gusts. Getting disoriented in a blizzard is no joke.
Fortunately, the Château Frontenac was a lovely and warm place to hide from the elements. We spent a leisurely breakfast watching the blizzard from the large terrace windows, wandered around the hotel admiring the decor, planted ourselves at the bar, and spent time relaxing in our comfy room. While we typically like to be on the go, perhaps it was a blessing to have a day to truly embrace hygge in the winter.
DINING AT THE CHÂTEAU FRONTENAC
During my travels, I prefer not to dine at the hotel unless it’s been lauded as a destination within said city. Place Dufferin at the Château Frontenac is one of those places. Everything you’ll ready about Québec City will tell you to partake in the breakfast buffet even if you’re not staying at the hotel, and they’re not lying. The buffet is extensive, with both North American and European traditional breakfast options. We stuffed ourselves silly each day, going back for seconds, even when we said we wouldn’t. All that walking is so necessary, I’m telling you.
Our snowed-in afternoon was spent at 1608 Wine and Cheese Bar, a swanky, circular bar with cozy fireplaces and stiff drinks.
A FEW LAST THOUGHTS…AND LOOK OUT FOR MY QUÉBEC CITY TRAVEL GUIDE!
I’m so excited to write my Québec City travel guide for y’all, but I have already had a few people ask specifically about my weekend at Château Frontenac, which is why I wanted to have this go live for you first. And, yes, I would absolutely recommend staying here for its history, its ornate decor, and its convenient and walkable location to everything in Québec City that you could possibly want to see.