Let’s face it, winter is our time to book trips to the tropics. We like to escape the cold and sit on the beach with a nice tropical cocktail and soak up the sun. However, sometimes the cold can be worth the layers of clothes you’ll have to wear.
Canada is one place that’s worth the cold. First of all, it’s just beautiful in the snow.
In a place that faces long and often tough winters, Canada knows how to keep things lively. There are plenty of activities to take part in out in nature such as hiking or skiing in the parks. You can hike to the Chalet on the top of Mount Royal for views out over the city and a warm space inside to grab a drink after climbing the stairs (I bought a really cool hat here too!) Besides the activities in the parks though, there is plenty to do and see in the cities as well that make braving the cold worth it.
In Montreal, the old port is the best place to spend your time. Not only is it festive and extremely beautiful in the snow, but there are also tons of shops, restaurants, and activities. You can take in panoramic views of the city from the Grand Roue or grab a hot drink and wander the streets. Some of the coolest museums I’ve ever seen were in this area as well. During the day, ice skating is available right in front of the Grand Roue and right on the river.
Quebec City is absolutely adorable in the snow. The city leaves up all of the Christmas decorations well past the new year (luckily for us) and the whole city looks like it could be the set of some Hallmark Christmas movie. There are even stores that specifically sell Christmas merchandise. We wandered around the streets for hours just looking at all of the little shops and enjoying the atmosphere. It’s easy enough to stay warm by popping in and out of the stores but there are also strategically placed warming stations all over the city with chairs, outdoor space heaters, and fire pits.
There is a very Canadian treat that is only served at this time of year called tire d’érable. If you visit a local sugar shack like La Petite Cabane à Sucre, it gets made right in front of you. We had a great conversation with the woman working when we came in. She described how the treat was made. In front of the shop, there was a trough of snow. She picked up the jug of warm maple sap and poured it over the snow. She used a wooden popsicle stick to mix it up a little bit and you could see the liquid thicken up as it got colder. By the time she served it to us, it had the consistency of thick caramel or taffy. It was really neat to experience such a traditionally Canadian candy in such a personal way.
On the Terrasse Dufferin, there’s a giant three lane toboggan chute called Au 1884. It costs only $3 CAD for a ride. The sleds reach up to about 40 miles per hour. The ride was over pretty quickly but it was worth it to feel like a kid again! At the base of the chutes, there is a little kiosk (the same place you would buy the ticket) where you can get snacks and warm drinks.
Just outside of the old ramparts, there is a small ice skating rink at Place d’Youville where you can skate in view of one of the old gates. Skate rental is available inside unless you’ve brought your own. Though the rink is quite small, the experience is fun! Classical and baroque music float out through the speakers while you look up at the old ramparts and buildings around you. Right next to the rink, there is a warming station that sells hot drinks. This was my first time skating outdoors and it was so relaxing and I stayed surprisingly warm the entire time.
If you wander outside the old city, especially down Grande Allée, there are a ton of bars and restaurants. Many of them have ice sculptures in front or arching over the entrance. Many have igloos set up outside, though we never did find out what purpose they served. This area is really lively at night and the bars are hopping! We visited one called L’Atelier which served really creative cocktails and had an energetic vibe. While we were enjoying our drinks the tables were moved and the area next to us was transformed into a dance floor.
Unfortunately, we missed Igloofest and Carnaval by only about two weeks. It was kind of nice because we caught the city between the busy Christmas season and the flood of tourists that come along with the festivals. It would have been really cool to see Bonhomme (the giant snowman mascot of Carnaval) though. Both festivals looked like a lot of fun but we chose to come a little bit early to avoid the massive crowds.
Originally I was looking forward to trying to book something warm for the winter but I loved Quebec so much! The coziness of the cities was worth the layering up we did to stay warm!