Three Reasons to Visit Quebec City Right Now
Story & photos by Melissa Coleman
Long the neglected next-door neighbor in the minds of American travelers, Canada has been experiencing an it-moment of late with the November instatement of 44 year-old Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and first lady Sophie Grégoire—a couple whose Kennedy appeal has since been all over the news, not to mention in Vogue.
On top of that, the American dollar has trumped the Canadian loonie for a while now, currently averaging at a 30-percent discount for American visitors.
Should you find yourself seized by a sudden impulse to head for the Great White North? Three reasons why I’d recommend making a beeline for Quebec City, in specific, tout de suite:
1) Old World Charm Without the Jet Lag
Quebec City was founded by the French in 1608, ceded to the British in 1763, and confederated into Canada in 1867. This means a majority French-speaking city with a classic blend of French and British architecture and culture, and a Canadian trapper/pioneer twist.
All just north of the border. From anywhere in the US, Quebec City is generally a shorter and less expensive flight than Paris. Furthermore, from New England it’s an easy drive, and gas is cheap right now. Boston to Quebec (approx 6.5 hours) is near the same driving distance as Boston to Baltimore, or London to France, and likely faster to drive than fly, when layovers are involved.
2) Quebec Winter Carnival
Winter Carnival brings revelry to even the coldest and bitterest winters, or in the case of milder years like this one, it’s the place to go to find you some winter. Traditionally a time of gathering and feasting before Lent (from the end of January to mid February), Carnaval de Québec was instituted as an annual event in 1955 and has grown to average 500,000 visitors, reaching nearly a million in 2006. Highlights include:
- Bonhomme, the much-loved snowman mascot/ambassador, and his impressive Ice Castle.
- Dog sledding, sleigh rides, sledding courses, snow sculptures and numerous family friendly activities at the gated carnival grounds ($15 CAN effigy pass grants access to most activities).
- Native foods including maple taffy (warm maple syrup poured on snow to harden and wrapped around a popsicle stick), Caribou (a traditional drink of boiled wine), and Poutine (French fries topped with gravy and cheese curd).
- The Quebec Hilton, official Carnival lodging, with great views and easy walking distance to town and most activities.
- Snow Jamboree snowboarding competition (February 12-14, 2016).
- Snow bath in bathing suits with Bon Homme (February 13, 2016).
- Upper Town Night Parade along René Lévesque Boulevard and Grand Allée (February 13, 2016)
3) Favorable Exchange Rate
Another bonus about Quebec City is that it hasn’t been overtaken by American food and clothing brands. Many stores and products are unique to Quebec and/or Canada and France. This, along with the exchange rate averaging $1.30, and the ability to visit by car to schlep things home, makes shopping in Quebec City a raison d’être.
One of my favorite places in Quebec, this indoor farmer’s market is a treasure trove of exotic teas, fine cheeses, local meat, fish, and produce, as well as what must certainly be the world’s best maple butter.
Touted as the oldest shopping district in North America, the stroll-able cobblestone streets of the Old Town are full of unique shops with Quebec-made items, try Boutique Amimoc for traditional Native American moccasins crafted in Quebec as they have been for centuries.
North of the walled city, this former working class neighborhood is now the place to find hip second-hand clothing, antiques, and curios shops like Rétro Bordello, recently featured in the New York Times.
Holt Renfrew, the iconic Toronto chain, may have closed its Quebec City store recently, but native Simons dates back to a small family dry goods store opened in 1812, and boasts three stores around the city featuring mens’ and womens’ clothing, and of course, ever-popular Canada Goose jackets.
Melissa Coleman has written for publications including The New York Times, O, The Oprah Magazine, and National Geographic Traveler. She is the author of This Life is In Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres and a Family’s Heartbreak, a New York Times bestselling memoir and finalist for the New England Book Award, about growing up during the 1970s back-to-the-land movement. She lives in Maine and can be found at melissacoleman.com.