If you live on the East Coast and are looking for a quick getaway, look no further than Quebec City. While Canada sometimes seems like the girl next door you might overlook, you definitely should give her a chance. Full of history, great food, adventure and relaxation, there's something for everyone in this city on a river. Plus, crêpes and croissants... isn't that enough to book a ticket today?
I would recommend spending a few extra days in this francophile town, but if you only have 48-hrs in this beautiful city, here are a few must-see places I wouldn't want to miss.
Where to Stay
Where to Eat
What to Do
There are so many different ways to travel - immerse yourself in culture with a home stay, go off the grid to camp in the countryside, or live the life of luxury at a resort... I'm up for any kind of travel. But that kind of travel usually takes time. What if you only have a few days in a city or country? Or better yet, what if you have a half-day layover, what do you do?
I'm going to start posting "speed-travel" recommendations. People who are either passing through or just want to hit the highlights, these are for you!
Where to Stay
Where to Eat
What to Do
Everyone goes somewhere warm for Spring Break. By the time February and March roll around we're all desperately craving Vitamin D, looking to escape SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder - such a depressing acronym.)
So when I said I was going to Canada for my (adult) Spring Break, people looked at me like I was crazy. I wasn't even skiing... why would I go somewhere below freezing when I should be getting my tan on...? Because visiting the Quebec region of Canada is magical and so much better in the Winter than in the Summer, in my humble opinion.
Ok, I totally get the love-hate relationship with snow. If it's not quite cold enough it turns slushy and a few days after it's been sitting on the ground it can turn brown, or worse it ends up as ice. However there's no denying that when it's snowing, it's like you're in your own personal snow globe, and for 2-3 months out of the year Quebec is in a permanent state of beauty.
Most cities are walkable or have good public transportation, but if you're in the outer cities be sure to have snow tires and AAA on call if you need a tow. In Montreal you can enjoy the perks of snow fall without the hassle of snow on the ground. They snow plow everywhere so it always looks clean and it's easy to get around. If you're up for more adventurous travel, farther north in Quebec City you can enjoy the snow by show shoe or cross country skiing. Looking for trails to explore? Quebec City has a great website to help you find the best places in the area. Click here.
2. The Ice Hotel
This one is a bucket list item. There are only a few ice hotels, or even ice bars, in the world. One of them in located 30 minutes outside of Quebec City in the town of Valcartier. Open from January through the end of March, the Hôtel de Glace is rebuilt every year with a different theme. This year it was a circus theme, so every room was sculpted with some sort of extravagant scene of clowns, trapeze artists, strong men, etc.
You can stay in one of the rooms, but be prepared to wrap up tight. While you're given a nordic sleeping bag, you may want to hit the bar for a liquid blanket before spending the night. If sleeping on ice isn't your thing (is it really anyone's thing?) you can still tour the hotel during the day. Book a tour to learn the ins and outs about how the place was made or find out how to book a wedding - yes, you can even have your special day there! If you want even more information you can take a behind the scenes tour and make your own ice glass or if tours are too organized for you then you can wander around the many halls on your own. Just be careful, it's easy to get lost! Wrap up the day with a cocktail in the world's tallest shot glass and head back to town to warm up with a basket of poutine fries!
Want to book a night at Hôtel de Glace? Click here.
3. Winter Sales
Spring Break is that awkward time where it's still cold in Quebec, but retail shops are switching over to the Spring lines. So if you're looking to stock up on winter gear, be prepared to shop till you drop in Montreal. The Golden Mile is great for boutique or splurge shopping or Old Montreal has specialty shops for fur or local artists. Everywhere is walkable if you're willing to get your steps in, and there are some good sight-seeing opportunities along the way like the Notre-Dame Basilica or the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
4. Maple Syrup Sugar Shacks
Maple Syrup in Canada? So cliché, right? Usually maple syrup is the sidekick to buttermilk pancakes or Belgian waffles. Rarely does it get to be the star of the show. However in March and April in Canada, maple syrup has a moment.
Though it's hard to pinpoint when harvest season will start throughout the Quebec, Ontario, and Nova Scotia regions, starting in March you can indulge in a sugar high at a number of maple syrup festivals, or take a trip to one of the infamous Sugar Shacks.
If you want a full educational experience, check out Morgan Arboretum in Montreal. You can take a 2-hour tour of their forest reserve, ending with a maple taffy tasting on the snow banks.
What do you call a frozen dog? A pupsicle! Except in this case, the sled dogs in Quebec live for the cold. If you have a chance to get out of the city, dogsledding is a must-do activity.
I had been dog-sledding on dry land in Alaska a few years back so I thought I knew what to expect, but riding fast through snowbank trails with my team of four malamutes was even more of an adrenaline rush! You pair up as sled "rider and driver" and a team of 4-5 dogs. When you get there the dogs will be itching to run, so as soon as the instructor teaches you how to drive and control the sled, get ready to go because those pups don't want to wait around. Once you've been trained and your team is ready, unleash your team and get ready to fly! Honestly, because the trails are well trodden, you don't have to worry too much about where you're going, but you do have to help steer and slow them down when necessary or your sled basket may topple over. Our team - Sugar, Crack, Usher, and Friendly - did a great job of keeping us safe and at the end were ready for a nap. If only it was colder year round in Virginia, I would have brought one home with me!
There are lots of different companies you can book with, but after a fair amount of research (and a great experience!) I would recommend Adventure Inukshuk. The staff is friendly, the groups are intimate, and the dogs are well taken care of. Book in advance because they tend to fill up quickly. To book, click here.
6. Nordic Spa
So I have a confession, the first time I had heard of a nordic spa was on The Bachelor. It was Nick Viall's season and he went with Vanessa to a nordic spa experience in Finland. But you don't have to be in Finland to enjoy this truly unique idea of "relaxation."
Throughout Quebec, take time to relax at one of these unique locations. While they are open year-round, the best experience is in the winter - because sitting in a hot tub when it's snowing just feels better than when it's sweltering outside. First you start in a hot thermal pool, letting your pores open up and your blood to circulate. Then, hop out and take a dip in the cold ice pool, submerging your head under the waterfall to help restore elasticity and firmness to the skin. Depending on your tolerance level, after a few minutes head into one of the relaxation huts to warm back up in a hammock, allowing yourself to destress and clear your thoughts. Repeat for an hour or two until you're ready to retire to the café for a hot drink or book a massage to finish on a truly relaxing note.
There are a few different locations you can try. In Montreal, head to Scandinave Spa or Bota Bota for a great date spot. In Quebec City I highly recommend Siberia Station Spa. Don't forget to book in advance - and know that families are welcome in the mornings, but in the afternoon/evenings it's adults only.
So have I convinced you to book your next Spring Break trip to Quebec? Honestly, you'll enjoy any time of year in Canada - I mean the nicest people on the planet live here and the scenery is spectacular - but there is just something truly special about enjoying the winter festivities that are unique to this corner of the world.
If you're interested in learning more or want help planning a trip. Let's chat!