In the past couple of years, I’ve been lucky enough to visit Quebec City several times, both with and without kids, in the heat, rain, slush and snow. No matter what the season, how long the trip, or how much planning I’ve done, it’s always a great success.
Book a hotel within walking distance to the Old Town, and you can leave your car in the parking lot for most of the weekend. You’ll find more than enough to see and do as you meander through the twisting cobblestone streets of the Old Town, take in the vista from the Plains of Abraham, or browse the boutiques on Cartier Ave. down to St. Jean St.
Of course, if you want a surefire guarantee there will be lots to do with the family, you can’t go wrong visiting in early February, when the city hosts its famous Winter Carnival.
The Quebec Winter Carnival, which runs from the end of January until Feb. 11, draws tourists from around the world to see snow sculptures and the Bonhomme’s iconic ice castle, watch the night parades and ice canoe races, go ice skating and enjoy activities from axe-throwing to snowmobiling — even winter yoga. Many activities are free, but some require visitors 8 and up to wear an effigy necklace, which acts as an activity passport during the festival. The effigy costs $15 and can be bought online or at Couche-Tard locations in the Quebec City area.
But even if you don’t go for the carnival, there’s a lot of fun to be had in Quebec City in winter. Kids can slide down the 134-year-old Dufferin Terrace toboggan slide next to the Château Frontenac, skate outside on the free refrigerated rink at the foot of the walled city at the Place d’Youville, and cross-country ski or snowshoe on the Plains of Abraham.
When it’s time to warm-up, duck into one of the many little cafés around town for a hot chocolate, or visit one of the city’s excellent museums.
The Museum of Civilization, in the Old Town is particularly good for younger kids. The bilingual exhibitions are known for being hands-on as well as informative, plus there is a special fairytale-themed play area for kids complete with costumes and props. Kids can become Red Riding Hood or the Wolf, a witch, a princess, a fairy, Jack looking for his beanstalk, or make up their own story. The Once Upon A Time costume play zone is free with museum admission, and is a must for kids who enjoy playing dress-up.
Although you might not expect it, the Museum of Fine Arts also has a lot to offer children. On some weekends and holidays, the museum offers art workshops and activities for children in a warren of gorgeous old brick rooms reminiscent of a castle vault. Workshops are delivered in French only, but the interpretive text within the museum is displayed in English.
In November, the art museum also opened a colourful new Family Gallery with playful, playable sculptures made from recycled objects that kids can climb on. The location near the skating rink at the Plains of Abraham, and near the Cartier Ave. boutiques also makes the art gallery a convenient stop to warm up with some indoor play. If you go, don’t miss seeing the Inuit gallery on the top floor, which has some truly stunning examples of modern soapstone and mixed-media sculpture by aboriginal artists.
The beauty of a weekend trip to Quebec City is that once you’ve booked a hotel, you don’t have to spend a lot of time planning in order to enjoy your getaway. Quebec City is a place that rewards you just for turning up. It is a place made for wandering and discovering new places that will soon become old favourites.