After visiting, and loving, Montreal, we wanted to check out its equally French sister, Quebec City. Emily ended up finding flights on a three-day weekend for 12,500 Delta miles roundtrip, as in 25,000 total for both of us, so we took it as a sign to check Quebec City off our travel list. We anticipated another charming Canadian city that made us feel as though we had traveled across the Atlantic, this time in a wintery setting, and we were not disappointed. While smaller than Montreal, it offered the same great hospitality, quaint areas and restaurants, and a French flair unique in North America.
Friday January 15th
With a flight time of less than an hour and a half we were able to book an evening flight out of JFK and avoid taking any time off work Friday. The Quebec City airport is located just outside of the city, and this being Quebec, French is the primary language for all signs and initial communication. After a quick stop at customs we hopped in a taxi (flat rate to/from the airport) and headed straight for our lodging, the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac.
Fairmont Le Château Frontenac both literally and figuratively towers over this city. Built in the late 1800s as a stopover for those traveling by train, it saw numerous expansions in the 1900s, along with countless famous guests through the years. With its location right in the middle of “Old Quebec”, almost everything was walkable so we did not bother with a rental car.
Saturday January 16th
Rue du Petit Champlain
Our exploration began with descending Casse-Cou (“Breakneck Stairs”), steep stairs that led to a small street close by Le Château, Rue du Petit Champlain. This narrow street is the anchor of an area full of shops and restaurants along cobblestone streets.
We enjoyed a late breakfast at one of the cafes, and topped it off with frozen maple syrup on a stick for dessert (yes, dessert for breakfast, we are on vacation). Frozen maple syrup is quite possibly the most delicious thing Emily has ever tasted! Unfortunately, when we stopped by the next day to get our second round of dessert, the man was no longer making the maple sticks and would not return until the following Saturday. Quite possibly the biggest, and only, disappointment during our trip.
Rue Saint Jean
Next we trekked across the downtown area to get to Rue Saint Jean. This area also has numerous shops and restaurants, but we were specifically on the hunt for North America’s oldest grocery store, Épicerie J A Moisan. We explored the charming store and purchased a few snacks to eat in the bakery area. The small tables next to the storefront window were perfect for sipping afternoon tea and watching pedestrians make their way through the falling snow.
Dinner consisted of traditional Quebec food at Pain Béni.. We enjoyd a meal of smoked mackerel deviled egg, braised pork spaghetti à la crème, and dark chocolate cake to top it off. Not only was the food delish but also the wait staff were as friendly as they come!
We ended our first full day in Quebec City with drinks at the hotel bar, which had large windows allowing for an uninterrupted view of the Saint Lawrence River. We lucked out with quite the romantic setting as fresh snow blanketed the city throughout the night.
Sunday January 17th
Several inches of fresh powder greeted us outside our hotel and we decided to start the day off with a toboggan ride on the hotel’s boardwalk. For just $2 USD/person we threw caution to the wind (make that heavy winds) and embarked on a higher-speed-than-anticipated ride down the toboggan. Turns out top speeds can reach an excruciating 40+ mph!!
To satisfy Garret’s historical need we toured La Citadel, which was a 15 minute walk from the hotel. The walk provided yet another glimpse the heavy European influence upon this city’s buildings and restaurants.
La Citadel is a great place to take in all of the historical significance of Quebec City. It was here France lost all colonial claims in North America, it was here the Americans tried to take the province of Quebec during the Revolutionary War, and it is here the famed “Van Doos” are headquartered. An hourlong tour of the citadelle, including the prison, gave us greater insight into the tough task of manning this fort and an even greater appreciation of being alive in today’s society (their prison in winter sounded about as bad as it could get).
Rue Saint Paul
Following the tour we made our way to Rue Saint Paul, stopping at some of the many antique shops that can be found on that street. This street eventually led us back to our hotel’s neighborhood, and we were looking for a place to stop and warm up for a bit in the afternoon.
Based on a friend’s recommendation we stopped at L’Oncle Antoine to warm up. This quaint and cozy bar, complete with fireplace, ended up being our primary afternoon stop. We spent a good few hours playing numerous board/card games while keeping warm by the fire, and definitely recommend stopping for at least a pint when you visit.
For dinner we had reservations at Le Lapin Sauté, which was recommended by that same friend (thanks Sarah!) for their delicious rabbit dishes. This restaurant was in the middle of Rue deu Petit Champlain, so it was enjoyable to go back to the quaint road beneath our hotel one last time. The waitress guided us through two of their best appetizers, a main course, and a maple creme brûlée, all washed down with a peppery red wine.
Monday January 18th
We had a relaxing Monday getting up and around before a taxi back to the airport. No troubles with our midday flight, and we were back in the middle of Manhattan by late afternoon. Another solid weekend trip in the books!
(De)parting words of advice:
- Flights for a cheap amount of miles are out there, you just have to find them.
- Bring the heavy coat if visiting in the winter, and look for great mild weather if in the summer.
- One place we did not get to but was on our list – the Ice Hotel. Looked to be worth the taxi to/from for a drink at the bar.
- If your primary card is American Express, bring the Visa backup.