The Old World charm and historically French culture of Quebec City have long captivated visitors.
During the Christmas season, it feels even more special. That’s because the picturesque snow-covered streetscape creates a magical atmosphere reminiscent of something from a storybook.
That was certainly my experience when I visited at the end of November as the German Christmas Market opened at three locations within the centuries-old fortified city walls and one just beyond the gates of Old Quebec, as the UNESCO World Heritage-listed old town is called. Just being there and seeing other people out and about made me think of happier times at Christmases past.
The 14th annual market has authentically replicated the traditional Christmas markets of Austria, Germany, and Alsace in France. Think over 90 wooden stalls with mulled wine, bratwurst sausages, and artisans and crafters selling their wares. Other programming includes a chalet with guest chefs, alphorn performances, strolling carolers, puppet shows, elves, and Santa Claus. As expected, everything to do and see is family friendly.
“We started in the basement of a hall,” organizer Britta Kröger told me as we drank mulled wine and walked between stalls. “A German market in French Quebec may seem strange, but it works and this year, we are back after a more modest edition in 2020.”
Of course, there is more in Quebec City for visitors over the holidays than just the market.
Founded in 1608 by the French explorer Samuel de Champlain, this is one of North America’s oldest European settlements. It served as the capital of colonial New France until the British under Gen. James Wolfe captured the city in 1759 during a seminal battle that led to France’s eventual loss in the Seven Years’ War and the Anglo-American dominance of North America.
Some of the oldest sights are found in the Lower Town beneath a promontory where the Upper Town is located. Reachable by a steep walk or a ride on the funicular railway, the buildings in the Petit Champlain Quarter—some dating to the earliest years of New France—today house shops, galleries, and other boutiques. Back in the Upper Town, parts of which overlook the St. Lawrence River, the most visible reminders of Quebec City’s complicated past are the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre Dame of Quebec (Roman Catholic) and the smaller Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (Anglican).
All this history explains the distinctively European feel even as occasional Ford pickup trucks blasting French Canadian country music drive down its narrow streets.
When You Go
As of writing, Canada is fully open for vaccinated Americans, although the Omicron variant threatens to change entry restrictions. Foreign visitors must register with the Canadian government ahead of arrival by downloading a mobile phone application and providing proof of a negative coronavirus test. Additionally, Quebec’s provincial government requires a vaccine passport—Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cards are accepted—for numerous indoor activities, including dining in restaurants.
Flying to Quebec City requires a connection at the larger airports in Montreal or Toronto on Air Canada or WestJet as there are no year-round nonstop flights to and from the United States. By car, the drive from New York City takes 8 hours.
The German Christmas Market (NoelAllemandQuebec.com) is open from 11 a.m. every Thursday through Sunday until Dec. 19, with additional weekday hours from Dec. 20 to Dec. 23. The four locations are the square between City Hall and the Roman Catholic cathedral, Rue Sainte-Anne, Place d’Armes, and Place D’Youville.
Beyond Christmas, the winter months are a great time to visit even if visitors need an extra layer or two because of snow and frigid weather. Quebec City’s annual Winter Carnival (Carnaval.qc.ca) is scheduled for Feb. 4 to Feb. 13, 2022.
I wouldn’t stay again at the Quebec City Marriott Downtown (Marriott.com) as many of the amenities and services that make a four-star hotel a four-star hotel have been suspended. This resulted in an experience more like a no-frills Airbnb rental. Instead, book either the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac (Fairmont.com), a throwback to the grand hotels from the turn of the last century, or the 108-room Le Capitole Hôtel (LeCapitole.com) just outside the ramparts of the city walls at Place D’Youville.
Eat dinner at Chez Jules (ChezJules.ca). The restaurant, a mix of Quebecois cuisine with the best of a Parisian brasserie, is located on the cobblestone Rue Sainte-Anne. Also recommended are Ophelia (RestaurantOphelia.com) and Alphonse (Alphonse.ca). Reservations are suggested for dinners. For breakfast, try Cafe-Boulangerie Paillard (Paillard.ca).
The author’s visit was partially hosted by the Quebec Tourism Industry Alliance and Destination Quebec City.