I’ve been toiling away at this recap of our wintry Christmas road trip up to Quebec City all week because I have so many fun details to share (and because I got so many questions about it while we were there)! This trip was a bit of a full circle moment for my husband and I, because we had started this tradition of spending a few days in Quebec to take in all the festive holiday decorations back when first were dating. Then 12 years ago on a frigid snowy night a few days before Christmas we got engaged in front of the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec. This was our first trip back since that engagement weekend, and it felt so special to be visiting after all these years and experiencing this magical winter city as a family.Getting to Quebec City. The first question everyone asked me when I said we were going to Quebec was “are you driving?” said with a breathy little gasp. At the time of writing this blog post there were no direct flights from Boston to Quebec, so yes, we drove! And by we drove, I mean my husband drove all 6.5 hours and I was a passenger princess. We left very early, and while the drive is long it is also very scenic (from what I saw in between my car naps). During this trip we were super prepared with snow tires and all the winter gear, only for it to be unseasonably warm and rainy the days leading up to our trip! But I’ll share from our experience doing this ride in previous years to take the winter conditions into account – we did this road trip in the snow before and didn’t have all the right tires and gear and it was a little dicey, so better to be prepared!Ice Skating at Domaine Enchanteur (Domaine de la forêt perdue) We broke the drive up slightly by making a pitstop on our way up at Domaine Enchanteur, a magical ice skating and snow-shoeing trail located about 90 minutes outside of Quebec City. All credit goes to my husband for finding this straight-from-a-fairy tale location! I think it’s picked up some notoriety on TikTok lately, thanks the picturesque labyrinth of wooded trails they maintain by Zambonis that allow you ice skate freely into the forest. Along the trails there are little sculptures and places to stop to feed some animals in a petting-zoo style setting — including reindeer! A true highlight days before Christmas! I’m not much of an ice skater (ok, I’m not much of an any-sports-er), so I was a little nervous about the actual ice skating! But they had some skate-assist bars for little kids and these sleds that you could use to push along on (see them in this video on my instagram page!). As a hold-the-side-of-the-rink skater, I found this to be a huge relief. It was also nice to give Jane a little rest when she got tired of ice skating and push her along the trail. The perks of skating in a much wider-open space like these trails were that I finally got a good rhythm feeling how the ice-skating movement is supposed to work. It’s so hard to achieve that on a crowded ice skating rink! Keeping it real: it wasn’t all picturesque instagram-worthy moments, I did take one bad spill and land splat on my back like a starfish, ha! If you find yourself in this area and can make a visit to ice skate at Domaine Enchanteur, I highly recommend it. A few logistical tips – we did a mix of bringing our own skates and renting skates from them; they mostly spoke French but were able help us just fine in English with the basic instructions we needed to get our tickets; there were some tasty snacks (beignets, grilled cheese) and delicious hot chocolate available for sale at the entrance if you need a bite to warm up with in between laps. The conditions are also weather dependent and they post their conditions on their Facebook page each day, so check there before you go! Our tickets also included an item from their farm stand on the way out, we took home some little bottles of maple syrup as a souvenir before we continued our journey onto Quebec!Where to Stay in Quebec City. We continued our drive to Quebec City and made it to our destination: Le Château Frontenac. During our previous stays in Quebec we had stayed at a few different smaller boutique hotels but they didn’t quite suit our needs this time traveling with a kid. On our last trip to Quebec, during our engagement, we had stayed at Le Château Frontenac and had an awesome experience – it’s sort of “THE” place to stay when you visit and very much so part of the experience of going to Quebec City. The massive historic hotel, built into the hill overlooking the St Lawrence River, feels like you’re staying in a European castle or walking into grand hotel from another era.
We loved our experience staying there as a couple when we visited a decade ago. I have a vivid memory of sitting at the regal 1608 bar, drinking a glass of champagne and calling our parents long distane (eek – this was before Facetime! We’re so old!) to tell them we just got engaged. Coming back now many years later, with a kid in tow, our experience was just as special. We found the Château Frontenac to be incredibly family friendly without sacrificing any of the luxuries of a nice hotel. Upon check-in, one of the concierges gave Jane a princess crown to welcome her to the “castle” and they had a fun welcome packet for kids that included postcards, puzzles, stickers and coloring activities. We tucked this in our bag for some handy fun during meals! There was also a quite comprehensive list of activities that were available to hotel guests, and we took advantage of the kids lobby scavenger hunt, as well as the complimentary tickets for the famous Toboggan ice slide on Dufferin Terrace (more on that below!). I skipped the indoor pool and instead explored the Christmas markets solo for a bit (the best treat, thanks to my kind husband!), but Jane gave it a two-thumbs-up review!I think one of our favorite parts of staying at the Château Frontenac was the amazing breakfast buffet each morning at Place Dufferin. We could have easily skipped lunch each day with the amount of food we ate at this delicious breakfast – the quality and variety was top notch! It was included in the rate of our stay because we booked the room through our American Express, along with some other nice perks like late check out and a food and drink credit. The hotel is a luxury experience, but the price of the hotel felt a bit more manageable when we knew we able to enjoy some of our meals on site included in the stay. (PS: if you’re into travel perks, we love our Amex card and find its totally worth the annual fee if you’re on top of using all the credits they offer like hotel/airfare credits, lounge access, monthly Uber credits, credits for some of our media subscriptions. There are people out there that are hardcore credit card points geeks, and we’re not that intense, but I do get excited about taking advantage of good travel perks! Dropping my referral link if you want more info!).
And finally, you can’t beat the location of the Château Frontenac – it’s at the nexus of where the old city meets the new, the buzz of the Christmas markets starts right at the doorstep of the hotel, and its iconic architecture dominates your viewpoint from most of the popular tourist spots. Where we ate. Typically, when we travel I spend WEEKS plotting our meals leading up to a trip, and I was so busy with work and holiday-prep before we left that I was rushed with last-minute planning. There were a few restaurants I had on my wishlist to visit from our previous stays, but wasn’t able to snag reservations. Le Lapin Sauté was one of them, it’s a charming little spot with a rabbit-focused menu — add that to your list if you’re able to get a table! I was also determined to return to another favorite spot from our past visits: L’Oncle Antoine. It’s a cozy little pub in a stone cellar that feels like you’re stepping back in time when you walk in; we had enjoyed mulled wine and pints of beer by the fireplace. We couldn’t visit this time because Jane doesn’t quite make the pub entry age yet, but if you’re there kid-free, it’s a very cozy spot to warm up with a drink!
We did have a few tasty dishes at La Bûche for dinner one evening during our stay, and the interior of this restaurant was probably the highlight. Jane loved the grafitti’ed bathroom where thousands of guest names were scrawled over the walls. I think our best meal of the weekend was at Q-de-Sac Resto-Pub. It was a great family-friendly spot with some of the best kid-menu options we found. Jane had enjoyed chicken and fries and my husband had a great burger; I had an outstanding French onion soup with delicious steak tartare. We also watched several wood fired pizzas go by our table that looked appetizing, and the location makes a great spot to capture a picture of Old Quebec underneath the towering gaze of the Chateau Frontenac.What to do in Quebec City with Kids. I mentioned that if you’re staying at the Château Frontenac, you can request complimentary tickets for the famous Toboggan ice slide on Dufferin Terrace from the front desk. Anyone can ride the slide that runs along the side of the hotel, but the free tickets were a nice perk of staying at there. When we first arrived in the late afternoon we walked outside to check out the slide since it was at the top of Jane’s list to do while we were there and the line was incredibly long. Given how cold it was outside, with the wind coming up over the edge of the cliff that looks over the Old City and the St Lawrence River, we watched a few people zoom down on their toboggans and decided to try again first thing in the morning when it opened up. The next day we came back in the morning when they first started to open the slide for runs, and there were minimal lines. We only waited 2-3 minutes for someone to hand off a toboggan for our climb up the steps. I’m notoriously afraid of heights so I really had to put on my bravest face as I made the climb, but I’m so glad that I did because the view from the top is pretty amazing. Once you get to the top, everyone piles on top of the long wooden sled and pretty much just tucks in and holds onto each other before they release a lever and you zoom down an icy shoot to the bottom. It was FAST, and thrilling and scary (you can see the ride in this video on my instagram page!). My legs were like jello and shaking when we got to the bottom from all of the adrenaline. Once down was enough for me, though I’m glad we tried it! Check the dates and weather before you go, it does have to be cold enough for the slide to be fully frozen for it to operate, and it was closed a few days before we arrived and again a few days after during an unseasonable warm and rainy-stretch of weather. The Funicular was another fun, relatively inexpensive little attraction that is totally worth doing if you’re visiting Quebec with kids. It’s an old, inclined cable car that takes you down the steep slope from the terrace area in front of the Chateau Frontenac down to the Old City – essentially a big outdoor elevator! It’s cash only (there’s an ATM inside the little room where you line up to get on), and kids were free to ride. Though entirely by accident, we timed it perfectly on our first afternoon and rode back up to the hotel right at sunset and got a beautiful view (see it in this video) of the Quartier Petit Champlain and river from the cable car as we lifted up and out of the Old City.
Many readers/followers asked if I thought this was a good trip to take with kids, and I think Jane was at a great age for it. She really appreciated all of the magic of the Christmas decorations and the winter wonderland feeling of the city. She was also old enough to walk around the city on her own, and the weather was mild enough that things weren’t too icy or slushy! But I will note that if you’re considering a trip to Quebec with very little kids, it’s not a very stroller-friendly place. Almost every storefront and restaurant has at least a few stairs, and there are a lot of larger staircases and steep sidewalks that you need to take to get to and from the Old City/Old Port area. I can see how they could be a little challenging to traverse with younger kids and wintry conditions! I also got lots of questions about the weather, and if it being so cold was a challenge while exploring with a kid. I think having good winter gear was key, and a general mindset that we had to pop into a lot of gift shops to warm up and indulge in a few more hot cocoas than we’d normally have on a regular day to stay thawed out.Walking around the Quartier Petit Champlain and window shopping at Christmastime is what made me fall in love with Quebec city the first time we visited, and what has kept me wanting to come back again and again. The quaint little gift shops, the over the top holiday decorations that hang from every tree and rooftop, the magical twinkling string lights and snow and fire pits that line the streets – it feels like a winter wonderland fairy tale with every step you take.Jane turned to me and asked “Is this the real Whoville?” and honestly, yes. Yes, it is. That’s exactly how I felt when I was walking around the outdoor German Christmas markets that lined the streets outside our hotel. We ducked into a few of the larger Christmas market squares after dinner on our first night, and they were so lively, with music humming over the speakers and Christmas lights strung overhead. Everyone was walking around with warm cups of mulled wine and checking items off their gift lists as they visited the quaint pop-up vendors. I was very impressed with the production of these markets, each one we walked through had meticulously detailed signage, huge festive art installations and Christmas decorations, and they were spotlessly clean despite the crowds (even the trash and recycling cans were secured in beautifully designed bins that matched the Christmas decorations!).
Every single detail was just positively dripping with Christmas cheer. There is no other word to describe them than festive. And that’s exactly how I felt — the entire trip to Quebec City put me in the most festive holiday spirit! And we can’t wait to go back.