Honestly, there’s no city in North America that takes Christmas more seriously than Quebec City. Go ahead and prove me wrong, I even met the real Santa Clause (even my Jewish friend became a believer!) Moving on…although it’s a solid 8.5-hour drive from NYC, between the Christmas market, the decked out Fairmont hotel, and doing maple syrup whiskey shots in a Christmas themed village is well worth the torturous drive. (Depending of course on who is driving my friends, I reckon you pull straws and pray you’re not the loser).
The second you arrive in Quebec City, you are transformed to another place and it’s quite spectacular to say the least. Many people state that Quebec City is the closest to a European city you can find on the East Coast of North America and I can see why. French is obviously their first language, as evident by the fact that all the street signs are in French, everyone speaks French and it’s a very pedestrian/food friendly city like many parts of Europe. Furthermore, the French also have a huge influence in their dining scene. Duck meat is front and center on every menu, and foie gras, pâté, and croissants are as ubiquitous as they are in Paris.
The city itself isn’t that expansive but staying in the old town is a must do. A quick TripAdvisor search took us to the Hotel Palace Royal, which I highly recommend. The hotel itself was very close to a variety of restaurants and shops, as well as a quick five-minute walk to a grocery store, and liquor store. The concierge was very friendly and happy to research some restaurants, as well as make recommendations for us. Furthermore, the rooms were of a nice size, and the indoor pool and jacuzzi is the perfect family friendly activity.
When you’re finally done bundling up for the tundra, be sure to check out the Fairmont hotel before anything else. The hotel is decorated so well for Christmas, it would put Saks Fifth Ave in midtown Manhattan, to shame. Immediately upon entering the hotel you’ll notice the massive amount of Christmas trees that have taken over the reception area. Part creepy and part fantastic and magical, the trees will make your face light up as bright as Rudolph’s nose.
Although the reception alone could keep you entertained for hours, make sure you hit up 1608 Wine and Cheese before you leave. The bar itself is a nice mix of an old-fashioned gentleman’s bar, complete with rich hardwood floors, floor to ceiling bookshelves, leather couches and fireplaces in every corner, and a trendy wine bar feel, with glistening lights from up above, comfortable purple bar chairs, and an immense collection of wines surrounding the central circular bar. The menu serves cheeses, and little bits and offers a wide array of cocktails. One should note, that while the drink menu provides some excellent recommendations, the bartenders are incredibly talented and can whip you up a cocktail like nothing you have ever had before. (Inquire about their chocolate martini and/or their espresso martini).
For brunch the next day we were directed by the Fairmont bartender to Chez Boulay Bistro which was absolutely incredible. (Their signature brunch is served Sat and Sun only from 10am to 2pm). The ambiance itself is trendy, contemporary, modern and chic and assuming you go in December time, very festive. The restaurant prides itself on serving Nordic cuisine, which I assure you, is nothing like you’ve ever had before. In any case, immediately upon seating they greeted us, took our drink order and came back with complimentary homemade banana bread squares, which were excellent. For cocktail options our adorable, hospitable waitress suggested we try the Canadian take on a mimosa, which in this situation meant it was made with cranberry juice. It was delightful! She also recommended we try the “Le Petit Bonheur” which was a hearty vegetarian option including a giant, freshly baked croissant jam packed with mushroom pâté, local cheese, a poached egg, mayo, and sunflower sprouts next to a large bed of lettuce. The dish was excellent, and very filling. Since a girlfriend of mine didn’t believe that vegetarian food could be filling, she went ahead and ordered the Le Bûcheron (a fancy way of saying steak and eggs with a side of poutine). Being a self-proclaimed foodie myself, I am embarrassed to say, I have never had Canadian poutine before, but it was excellent. In this case, they made the poutine was baked potatoes, and a ton of melted cheese on top. Heaven! While poutine is a Quebec specialty, I bet you haven’t seen seal meat on too many menus lately. Well, Boulay Bistro had a seal meatloaf on their menu and you bet your a$$, we had to try it. Although I only had a small piece, it was admittedly pretty gosh darn good, especially paired with the beet puree on the side. (Bottom right).
After brunch, you’ll probably want to work off those calories by walking about, checking out the city and all its wonderful holiday decorations, and do a little holiday shopping. ! As an American, I was very excited by everything ‘Canadian’ from maple syrup everything to warm hats and scarves, to stuffed Canadian moose…you get the idea.
Oh yes, don’t forget the Christmas market! It’s an adorable market where vendors come and sell mainly local items like cheese, hot chocolate, maple syrup, and Christmas trinkets.
After a fair amount of time walking around, you’ll start losing feeling in your fingers and toes and as you start praying hypothermia doesn’t take your pinky toe as you can’t fathom the thought of having nine toes (odd thought)…stop by Pub des Borgia for a warm cocktail. The bar itself has that warm, cozy, ski lodge like feeling with exposed stone walls, a cozy fireplace and wooden tables and chairs. As for drinks, the caribou, served hot, is a nice mix of red wine, whiskey, and maple syrup and is delightful. Also try the Canadian maple syrup whiskey. Although it’s served as a shot, it’s best sipped slowly, trust me. You can’t go wrong with a large bowl of French onion soup either!
For dinner, Le Feu Sacré, a cozy steakhouse a five-minute walk from the hotel was suggested, and after dining here, I would suggest it as well. They recommend their tasting menu which is $45, but they also offer a la carte options. Bottles of wine are very reasonable at $40-$50. The foie gras duo is flavorful and delicious as is the gnocchi duck Bolognese. Canadians really love their meat, so there’s no shortage of meat on this menu here, or anywhere else in Quebec.
For late night cocktails and dancing, check out L’Atelier. The place really gets going around 10 pm and stays open until 3 am playing a solid mix of EDM and hip-hop. Note: that street itself (Grande Allee Est) is great for late night bars and eats too, there are tons of restaurants and bars and for those US citizen, you know it’s 19 to drink in Canada!) …Anyway, the restaurant itself is very trendy, sexy, and sophisticated. If you’re a millennial, you’ll love it. The bartenders are gorgeous and let me tell you, they know how to make fabulous cocktails. In addition to that, they are also super friendly and very hospitable! (If I were you, I would drink a bunch of cocktails before leaving this place in the winter as even stepping foot outside in the Canadian winter can cut you like a knife, it is brutal folks!)
Other notable places meant to be checked out, but sadly there’s only so much that can be done in a day and a half (and sans a reservation the Saturday before Christmas):
Please let me know if you have been to any of these!
Other Quebec City Christmas pics: