Head out of town to Old Quebec for a traditional holiday adventure.
Shake an old-fashioned snow globe and a flurry of flakes drifts down onto a lovely miniaturized scene. If you long for an idyllic “snow globe Christmas,” a short flight will land you in a similarly charming holiday scene in Old Quebec, one of Canada’s most beautiful cities. A UNESCO World Heritage City, Old Quebec is the birthplace of French civilization in North America, a place where the British, French, and First Nations people congregated in the early 17th century when it was the only walled city north of Mexico.
See a concert or shop.
The historic charm continues today, especially at the holidays: Stroll through cozy neighborhoods of multistoried stone houses with charming dormer windows, gabled roofs, and piping chimneys. Listen to the sounds of laughing children at the beautiful outdoor skating rink in the public square called Place D’Youville, see a concert at the Théâtre Capitole or the Palais Montcalm concert hall, and walk through history at the Saint-Jean Gate. Or do some shopping at the Place de l’Hôtel-de-Ville, where the German Christmas Market features loads of German crafts as well as handmade Canadian holiday items, gingerbread, and other tasty holiday edibles. Or go to the Old Port Christmas Market at the Old Port of Quebec, where you can find more than 1,000 local agri-food products and handicrafts.
Take a history tour.
If you love history, sign up with Cicerone Tours, whose “New France” guide, dressed in character, will lead a two-hour tour describing Old Quebec Christmas traditions, including the origin of the holiday and its meaning for the early French and British.
Catch a glimpse of Santa.
Evenings bring a special glow to the historic district of Petit Champlain and Place Royale, site of the first French settlement in North America. Shop windows are swathed in greenery, and festive Christmas trees frame the doorways of bistros and cafes. Be on the lookout for Jolly Old St. Nick, as he frequents the area during December. Complete the evening with a visit to Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, the oldest stone church in North America, built in 1688.
Stay in a historic hotel.
Settle in to the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, on a hilltop overlooking the Saint Lawrence River only a short distance from Petit Champlain. The exquisite hotel, built in 1893 by the Canadian Pacific Railway, resembles a French medieval chateau, and its status as the grand dame of Quebec remains intact (December 2018 rates start at $189 during the week). On Christmas morning, Santa arrives by horse carriage at the entrance to deliver gifts for children staying at the hotel (given to the staff the prior day by parents).
And make sure to head next door to Au 1884 Dufferin Terrace Slides, a locals’ favorite that has endured for 100 years, where you can hop on a wooden toboggan and zip down the ice at 70 km per hour. Three aisles of ice will be available from mid-December until mid-March.
It will be hard to leave after the holidays, but you can return quickly to the feeling of Old Quebec throughout the year: A souvenir “Joyeux Noël” Quebec snow globe will bring you back in an instant.