Heeelllooooo at long last!
It is good to be back and felt so glad to take a much-needed break. How are you!? How was your holiday!? I will admit it’s taken longer than I anticipated to get back into the swing of things–I literally didn’t even leave the house once this weekend. The bad weather came at a good time––I focused on cleaning out everything in our condo, purging, organizing, and making plans to FINALLY finish decorating our place. (Yes, we’ve lived here for going on like, four years now, and it’s still nowhere close to being “finished”–but I’m hoping that will happen in 2020!)
Quebec City Guide
Anyway, because I received so many requests for this post, I thought my first post of the year should definitely be my Quebec City Guide! Honestly I don’t think I’ve ever had more requests for a travel guide (even ITALY!) which is hilarious! Apparently Quebec City is the NEW place of interest! And for good reason, it should be. If it’s not on your list yet, I personally think that a visit should be your Christmas present next holiday season! (And why not start planning early?)
Neal and I have always wanted to visit this charming little place––known as “a little slice of Europe in North America” and because we both don’t need any “things”–we decided that our Quebec City trip would be our Christmas present to one another!
Did the reputation hold up? Absolutely! You don’t JUST feel like you’re in France, you feel like you’re in Beauty and the Beast! I cannot imagine that there’s a more charming place to visit around the holidays.
About Old Quebec City:
For the purposes of this post (and our vacation) we mainly focused on exploring the Old Quebec area–which is where the original port was founded by the French in 1608, and eventually became the capital of New France–thus, why everyone speaks French there! It was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the 1980’s and according to UNESCO, it is the only North American city to have preserved its surrounding protective wall and ramparts–”a well-preserved integrated urban ensemble, the historic district is a remarkable example of a fortified colonial town”. So, it’s not just charming, it has massive historical significance as well!
For geographical reference (and to give you an idea of how cold it really gets) Quebec City is about 160 miles northeast of Montreal–above the Maine border. It’s located on the St. Lawrence River and the old town is divided into two parts–the upper part (where the famed Chateau Frontenac castle–AKA the Fairmont) is located on the cliff, and the lower part, which is down the stairs from the Frontenac or you can also use several streets to walk down. Both have a wide variety of shops, cute things to see, and restaurants and bars. The whole area is very small and walkable–you’d cover all of it in a day.
Where to stay? Fairmont Frontenac:
First thing’s first–where to stay? We opted to stay at the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac, which, yes, is the historic castle known as Chateau Frontenac which dates back to 1893! Believe it or not–was originally built to be a massive grand hotel–the first of the Grand Railway hotels, to be exact! I was shocked at how affordable it was (you know, Fairmonts are super nice hotels and can be $$$)–but it wasn’t at all! The fact that it’s a Fairmont also makes it easy to use points. ????
As for our stay, we LOVED the beauty and history of the hotel! The rooms aren’t big or anything crazy fancy–but the one we were in was recently renovated, sparkling clean and cozy, and the hotel staff were nothing but lovely. We adored it and will absolutely be staying there next time as well. Can’t recommend it enough!
Do you need to stay there to enjoy and admire the hotel?
Absolutely not! It’s definitely worth a visit and a walk through–they have a huge long hallway lined with beautiful Christmas trees. It leads up to the bar, which is cool and swanky and perfect for a pre or post-dinner drink! We actually didn’t make it there during the day but many of you told me it has fantastic views and is also great for lunch!
Other places to stay?
I can’t comment on any hotels, but I definitely recommend staying in the old town quarter or as close to it as you can, because that’s where you’ll probably want to spend the most time!
Where to eat in Quebec City:
L’Affaire est Ketchup:
HA. Okay, I know this looks like a TOTAL hole from the outside, but I promise, it’s a LOT of fun and you definitely won’t want to miss it!! This place came highly recommended in my research and is definitely a “Jess and Neal” spot. It’s quirky, cozy, and it feels like you’re at a friend’s house for dinner. The menu is admittedly…adventurous. But good! But you go for the whole experience.
What to expect at L’Affaire est Ketchup:
So, first off–they only offer two seating times. I think 6pm and 8:30? You definitely need a reservation and I’d get one as far ahead as you can just to be safe! They have 7 or 8 tables total in the whole tiny place. The best part is that it’s literally a converted apartment and the kitchen solely consists of an island and two old cooktop stoves set up next to each other. It looks like the Lincoln Park frat hole I lived in when I was 23. They cook high end, fancy food on two old stoves. ????
When you arrive, you’ll be sat and asked what you like to drink. There is no drink menu.
You can say, “I like light, fruity red wine” and they will bring you the bottle they have open–let you taste it, and if you don’t like it, they’ll bring you something else. I love stuff like this. ????(But I know many people don’t and are very particular about their wine, so, just saying.) The wine was good–fine–basically like what you’d get at your friend’s house, but nothing to write home about. But it wasn’t expensive either! Neal had a Negroni and said it was excellent.
Then, once all the 7 tables are seated, the server will ask who speaks English and who speaks French (there are a couple employees who speak English and those are designated to the English tables–not everyone speaks good English). All the tables that were there when we were said English was fine so he took the chalkboard menu and walked everyone in the restaurant through it at once. I ordered the vegetarian appetizer (which was burrata crostini) because the other starters were too weird for me. (But it was like, foodie weird–IDK–like stuff with liver and duck hearts and several fish options, etc. Totally Neal’s jam, not mine.) Neal was obsessed with his duck heart salad. The burrata crostini was honestly the worst I’d ever had and I LOVE burrata, so that’s the only thing I’d skip.
That’s okay though, because I was all into the experience.
We ordered mains and Neal got the Bison and I got the Pork Loin–both of which were excellent. Very well prepared, rustic, homey, just what you want on a cold night!
After dinner our server brought a bottle of whiskey around to all the tables and was pouring shots just like your one wild friend who ends up doing the same thing at every party. ????
For dessert, which I would HIGHLY recommend ordering–we got this berry pound cake that does not sound remotely interesting and Neal and I both agreed it was maybe the best dessert we’ve ever had. It was so simple but so perfect I can’t even describe it. I have no idea how they made it so incredible!
All in all, we loved it, would definitely recommend it to anyone who likes a fun, non-traditional experience!
Aux Anciens Canadiennes:
I fully assume that this spot is a tourist trap, but that’s okay because it came highly recommended as one of the best restaurants for traditional French Canadian food in QC (google it, you’ll see too!) It’s in the oldest house in Quebec City and seriously the cutest, coziest, most charming restaurant I’ve ever had the pleasure of dining in. Of course, it was fully decked out in Christmas attire. I never wanted to leave. The food was also really good–they have a pre-fixe meal that includes soup, salad, main, dessert and a glass of wine for I think $50? I got something called “Grandma’s Special” which had mincemeat pie, meatballs, and a bunch of other stuff that I would literally never order but it was delicious and a very fun experience. You MUST get the maple pie for dessert!!
By our third and final night there, we were pretty sick of heavy French Canadian food so we decided to check out Chez Tao and we were soooo happy we did! It’s a tiny place that was packed with people (a lot of locals too). It’s not in the Old Town, so it’s more of a local spot, and came recommended to us by our server at our favorite pub (scroll down for that!)
Their spicy fried chicken and fried rice were to die for and the vibe was so much fun. Can’t recommend it enough–go go go!
OMMGGGG how I miss this place!!!
First of all, the window display alone is what will draw you in. Second, for a split second, you WILL be a little taken aback because it’s really big and actually kind of gives you French Panera vibes. But don’t let that fool you–the pastries are THE. BEST. Talking–better than any pastry I’ve even had in Europe good. And, if you snag the seats by the window–they’re still quite charming and away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the restaurant.
You MUST order the bacon and cheese (pictured on the right) and whatever you do DO NOT miss the mixed fruit pastry (on the left). Seriously. If you take anything away from this guide. GO GET THAT PASTRY. That’s how good it is.
Also, worth noting: I also read to go The Smith–apparently the rival bakery. We did, and it did NOT have good pastries. It was cuter, yes, and had hipster coffee instead of regular coffee, but IMO there was no contest. ???? We were pissed we wasted an opportunity to go back to Paillard, and that’s where we went on our last morning as well before heading to the airport!
Pub L’Oncle Antoine: (cellar bar)
Our FAVORITE bar! It’s an old cellar that is two little cozy rooms. It was busy both times we went but we didn’t have to wait more than a few minutes for a table. The staff here were SO NICE and so great. (The same owners also own the bar Le Repaire and the staff switch back and forth. And they totally remembered us from both places, remembered our names, and welcomed us back. It was like having old friends you just met!)
This was the only bar we ended up going back to twice–it was just so perfect we couldn’t stay away. A couple things not to miss here: The Maple Whiskey which you can get in drinks or as shots. (I never take shots but these were delicious–I sipped on it!) I got a hot chocolate with maple whiskey as well! The beer (they brew their own!), the hot spiced wine (so good!) and finally–the French Onion soup. It was SO GOOD. (And under a pile of bubbling cheese.) The perfect spot to warm up and have an afternoon snack.
Same owners as the above–definitely not as cool or charming, but still cute–and does deserve a place on the list solely due to geography. It’s right by the base of the steps when you’re going to and from the lower to upper part of Old Quebec! This little stretch gets particularly brutal if it’s cold and windy so if you need a warm place to duck into, this is a great spot, haha! The menu is also the same as l’Oncle, so you can get all the same delicious drinks!
1608 Bar in the Fairmont:
The bar at the Frontenac–it’s a gorgeous, swanky cocktail bar! A perfect place for a pre or post dinner drink, and several of you told me it has gorgeous views during the day as well–making it a great spot for lunch! (It’s definitely not cheap though!)
Pub St. Alexandre + Murphy’s Irish Pub:
Two cute Irish pubs right next to one another–we went to both and loved both, but had the most fun at Murphy’s!! Both have live music and great atmosphere–pop your head into both and see what music you like more! ????
Of course, you can’t not experience the adorable German markets while in Quebec City! There are a couple of them (you’ll easily run into them when you’re walking all over town!) Order a hot spiced wine and peruse the wares all the different sellers have displayed.
Other things to do:
This was admittedly a little dry for me, but Neal loved it. The exhibit about Quebec City history was cool but after that I got bored. I would save this for after you’ve checked everything else off your list, or if it’s just too freezing to be outside!
THIS was super cool–sadly the weather was too bad for them to provide the tours of the Citadel like they typically do, which was a huge bummer, because even walking up to it you can tell how cool it is! (It’s an active military site so you can’t just walk around it without a guide!) However, the museum was open, which was kind of kitschy but also really interesting. It doesn’t take too long and is a short walk from wherever you’d be staying in the old town. Go! (Your husband will especially love it ????).
Other things we didn’t get to:
EVERYONE told us to go here. It’s about 20 mins outside the city and we weren’t sure how much exploring we were going to want to do, so we didn’t make a reso in advance, and by the time I convinced Neal to go they were all booked. ????I’m not normally a “spa” girl but they have tons of pools, saunas, etc–you know, the traditional experience. A reader gave me a great tip: Get there right when they open, relax for a couple hours, and you’ll still have the whole afternoon to explore when you get back to the city!
Another thing that came highly recommended! (Don’t worry, I researched many of the companies and they take impeccable care of their dogs!) We were on the fence because it’s a half-day commitment (they offer hour tours but all the reviews of that said it wasn’t enough time to get the full experience). We definitely would’ve dedicated time on the third day to either the spa experience OR dog sledding, but it was so bitter cold and raining that there was no way we would’ve wanted to do that! Your hotel can likely set up dog sledding for you. Or, a quick google search will lead you to the best companies!
Ice luge at the Frontenac:
We also left this to the last day sadly and it was such bad weather that we didn’t want to do it! But there’s a fun ice luge you can do next to the Frontenac! Everyone says it’s so much fun! If you have good weather one day, GO, because the weather can change quickly from one day to the next!
What to pack:
Warm, weatherproof boots:
I packed both these Cole Haan boots (which are waterproof–I know you’re worried about the light color but don’t be–they wipe right off! They come in black & mauve too!) and my Blondo boots–but I ended up wearing the Cole Haan boots the whole time! It’s just so cold there and you want to be wearing cozy stuff the whole time. The entire city is very casual–everyone is in warm boots and parkas! Next time, I’ll just bring these boots!
Old Navy Warm Jeans:
THESE JEANS. I wrote about them in this post but they are so warm and cozy and wonderful that I overnighted another pair with me to take on our trip! They’re fleece lined and basically like wearing long underwear with your jeans but without the bulk! They’re only $39 too–they are amazing! They come in lots of colors and sizes and cuts! (Just don’t get the “jeggings”–those look like maternity pants and I returned them!) They run true to size! I found the size 0 fit me best.
The warmest, most weatherproof parka you have:
I have both a Canada Goose Shelburne Parka and a Lole Marybeth Parka. I brought the Canada Goose because it’s more “air tight”–meaning it’s cut in a way that zero air gets in around your neck–whereas I LOVE the Marybeth coat (and it’s less than half the price) that is the only area it lacks in. HOWEVER–I was appalled to discover (amidst a downpour) that my stupid expensive Canada Goose coat actually isn’t *waterproof*–whereas Neal’s Lole coat was. UGH. It was fine, because it wasn’t torrential down-pouring, but still!
So yeah, whatever, moral of the story–bring your warmest parka that you own and make sure it’s waterproof!
Uniqlo Heattech under layers:
I only wore my heattech one day (because I wore Dudley Stephens the other days and didn’t need it) BUT definitely deserved a noteworthy mention here–because these are great toasty under-layers to have, plus, they’re insanely affordable! (Make sure to get the ones with the highest heat rating–they have several types!)
J.Crew tissue turtlenecks:
It’s no secret that I love these layering turtlenecks and they worked perfectly to layer over my Uniqlo Heattech shirt! (Which, while warm, isn’t super fashionable, so you’ll want a cuter layer on top).
Dudley Stephens Fleeces:
The star of the freezing weather show, again, as always–was the Dudley Stephens fleece. I brought both the Park Slope and Cobble Hill and wore both, day and night! They are so warm and the chicest fleece you’ll ever wear. (Seriously, it’s like a Patagonia fleece but 200x cuter!)
Pack a travel umbrella with you just in case! The hotel gives out umbrellas but they’re the giant bulky ones, and we wished we’d packed a travel umbrella to walk around with on the third day.
Hat, scarf, mittens:
I will start out by saying, I am not one that typically carries gloves/mittens around with me every where I go. I hate them and they’re annoying and I generally just keep my hands in my pockets so I don’t have to worry about them––but here, you NEED THEM. And also a hat. A Hat is non negotiable. Even at night out to dinner I wore a beanie. (Unless you are just taking an Uber and not walking.) And of course, pack your scarves!
Do you need snow pants?
The answer is: it depends on the time of year.
I posted this on IG stories to you guys because EVERYTHING I read said you need snow pants, and several of you responded and said HAHA! NO!! (You can sled/ski nearby, but that’s the only reason you’d need ski gear at that time of year.)
Neal and I were laughing when we got there about how ridiculous and stupid we would’ve felt. Nobody was wearing snow pants. It was cold, but it wasn’t Siberia level or anything.
**One caveat** We visited in December, but January-March is when it can get REALLY cold and snow A LOT and therefore, I am told, bring snow pants because if it a blizzard hits, you’ll want them. (Shout out to local reader, Erin, for this intel!)
When in doubt, call your hotel before you leave and ask them the current weather situation and how much snow is on the ground.
Any language barrier issues?
Not at all. It seemed like for the most part, English is definitely everyone’s second language, but you will find that there is someone everywhere who speaks English. Maybe not *every* employee at the restaurant, but most of them. The only time we encountered a major language barrier was with a couple of our Uber drivers–which isn’t really an issue.
How walkable is it?
SO walkable. You will walk everywhere! The old town is very small–you can probably walk all of it in an hour if you wanted to, but there are a lot of restaurants and plenty to do. However, I will say that there are parts that get VERY steep/uneven. But there are easy Ubers and there is also a cable car that will take you from the top to the bottom as well if you’re traveling with anyone who might have a hard time with uneven/steep ground.
WHEW! That was a long one! I hope you loved re-living our trip with us as much as we loved it in person! I hope this encourages you to put Quebec City on your list! It really is every bit as charming as it sounds!