As an expat in Quebec, we don’t count the years here, but we count the number of winters in Canada. Why? Because this season can be harsh! In fact, many French people who return to live in France cite the climate as the main reason for their return to the Hexagon. But whether you’ve been living here for several years or are just passing through for a vacation, I find that winter in Canada is quite magical if you know how to enjoy it!
Discover my selection of the best things to do in winter in Quebec and my advice on choosing the best time to enjoy them!
What’s winter like in Canada?
When I say that I’m settled in Quebec, the first question I’m often asked is, “Isn’t it too cold in the winter?” So let’s not beat around the bush: yes, it’s cold. But what may seem surprising is that I feel much colder in France with temperatures of 0°C or -1°C than in Quebec when it’s -15°C.
First, because we are much better equipped here. We never go out without a heavy coat, big boots, a hat, a scarf, and gloves. But mostly because it’s a different kind of cold. In Quebec, it’s much drier than in France.
Nevertheless, I assure you that I always check the outdoor temperature before going out in the winter, and I think twice when it’s too cold. And even more now that I have a baby of a few months!
Because yes, I made the mistake of taking off my gloves to take a photo, and I felt the cold gradually attacking, finger by finger!
But apart from the cold, winter in Canada is also about breathtaking white landscapes. It’s an opportunity to try many activities that are little-known or uncommon in France.
And it’s a good excuse to watch (again) the Harry Potter movies under a warm blanket with a hot chocolate!
12 things to do in winter in Quebec
Winter in Canada offers the opportunity to try many new winter activities. Some are very traditional, but most are quite unique.
Dog sledding is probably my favorite winter activity in Quebec.
I had the opportunity to do it on a sunny day, which probably made the ride even more enjoyable, and I have memorable memories of it. You can spend time with the dogs, which are very happy to stretch their legs.
Depending on the package you choose, the ride can be longer or shorter, and you can probably even drive the sled yourself. A memorable experience!
Cross-country skiing is very popular in Quebec. You can practice it in national parks as soon as the snow settles in for the season.
But there are also trails in the cities, in the largest parks. For example, in Montreal, it’s very easy to find a spot near your home.
During the heaviest snowstorms, it’s not uncommon to see people skiing through the streets.
Whether you’re a fan of motorized vehicles or not, snowmobiling is really worth it.
When I first tried snowmobiling, it was a beautiful day, which made the ride even more enjoyable. Rest assured, we are very well equipped, and the handlebars of the machine are often heated, so I didn’t feel cold at all.
Again, the options differ. You can take a ride with a guide or go solo. With my parents, we chose the solo ride with two snowmobiles: my father on one and my mother and me on the other!
It was a fun one-hour ride!
As a little anecdote, my father wanted to see if the snowmobile worked well in the deep snow, so he swerved a bit. It was just one of those “little” detours. And I assure you that it was anything but trivial! We ended up stuck – fortunately not too far from the trail – and we had to ask for help from the guide!
Go to the Spa
While it’s possible to go to the spa all year round, believe me, it’s much more enjoyable to be in an outdoor hot tub with water heated to 39 degrees when it’s -20 degrees outside!
Every winter, my boyfriend and I try to have a little spa night, and we love it! However, be cautious – if you leave your bathrobe outside for too long, it might become stiff!
Having Fun with Snow Tubing
In Quebec, we call it tubing slides, but I find it more expressive to say snow tubing!
You’ve got the idea; the principle is simple – you take a big tube and slide down specially prepared slopes!
The most serious ones go solo, while the more daring form a chain of several tubes. Having tried it several times, I can assure you it’s a really fun winter activity!
There are two main spots in Quebec (Saint-Sauveur and Saint-Jean-de-Matha) that also offer downhill sledding or even larger tubes. Lots of laughter guaranteed!
My advice? If you can't leave Montreal, know that small tubing tracks are set up every winter at Lac-aux-Castors.
So, I’ll be honest; I’ve never tried this activity myself, but if you’re patient, it seems really enjoyable.
Naturally, you have to wait for the ice to be thick enough to set up without the risk of it breaking. Once in place, you just need to dig a sufficiently large hole to catch a fish and wait for a nibble!
And that’s where patience and proper equipment come in handy because temperatures often hover around -20 degrees!
Skiing by Day… or by Night
Quebec isn’t known for the height of its mountains, so you’ll have to head west to compete with the Alps.
Nevertheless, you can easily find plenty of fun in our beautiful Quebec province. The biggest mountains are found in the Quebec City area, like Mont Sainte-Anne, for example.
But near Montreal, there are Saint-Sauveur and Bromont, which you can reach in a little over an hour by car. The real peculiarity of most Quebec ski resorts is the opportunity to ski at night!
Fortunately, because in the dead of winter, it’s pitch dark by 4 PM. Then, the big spots light up, allowing us to ski until 10 PM! I’ve tried skiing during the day and at night in Quebec, and I can assure you the experiences are very different.
I really enjoyed discovering night skiing. However, I didn’t appreciate the sub-zero temperatures as much. Being stuck on a chairlift at -25°C isn’t pleasant!
Ice Skating on a Frozen Lake
In Canada, during the winter, it gets so cold that lakes freeze enough to allow ice skating. In the city, almost all bodies of water are accessible to skaters during the winter. Actually, in Montreal, a skate rental service is available at La Fontaine Park.
But if you’re a real ice skating enthusiast, I recommend trying skating in the forest. Near Montreal, a company offers skating on a small path that meanders through the trees. A super enjoyable experience.
Maybe you’re more of the hot tub team, and I understand (I’m 100% part of that team). Yet, I’ve loved my few experiences of hiking in the snow.
With the layers of snow, all sounds are somewhat muffled, and you get an even stronger sense of calm and serenity while walking. Plus, the landscapes are often quite stunning.
To add a bit more fun to the story, you can choose the option of snowshoeing. First, because it’s much more practical to walk in the snow with snowshoes, but also because it’s a lot of fun!
Visit the Ice Hotel
The Ice Hotel is located near Quebec City, so it’s a bit of a drive if you’re in Montreal (or elsewhere!), but it’s such an impressive winter activity that I recommend it to everyone!
Every winter, an ice structure is built, and there are many things you can do there! Of course, since it’s a hotel, you can stay there (and if you’re wondering, yes, the beds are made of ice), but you can also have a drink at the bar or even get married in the chapel!
Another winter activity in Canada that I’ve never tried and doesn’t really tempt me, but is quite trendy! It’s practiced on the St. Lawrence River in canoes with a crew of 5 people. Sometimes, you paddle when the water is melted. And make sure to have cleated shoes to grip the ice well when you need to push the boat.
What Is the Best Time to Enjoy Winter in Canada and Its Winter Activities?
Winter in Canada lasts a very long time. In November, it starts to get cold. I’ve even seen the first snowfalls on Halloween! And we always have one last big snowstorm in April.
Yes, you read that right, for 6 months, which is 50% of the year, it’s winter. But after experiencing many winters here, I know that there are different periods during a winter.
November and December
Temperatures start to drop but rarely go below -5°C or -10°C. There may be some snowfall, but it becomes less frequent during this period. However, from early November, you can enjoy the Christmas decorations that light up the city.
January and February
Clearly the best time to experience a true Canadian winter. It’s VERY cold: temperatures can easily reach -30°C. There’s A LOT of snow: snowstorms are frequent, and the centimeters pile up quickly. It’s the peak season for all the previously mentioned activities!
You can feel the thaw approaching slowly. No need to panic, the snow is still around, but it’s generally a bit less cold. As a result, some activities are sometimes less feasible, such as ice skating or ice fishing.
Spring is coming! Temperatures rise, and you might think the end is near. BUT, be aware that there’s still at least one snowstorm in April. However, the snow doesn’t stick around as much, so you mainly see sloche (slushy melted snow) everywhere. Clearly, it’s my least favorite month because everything looks gray and sad. The advantage is that airfare is really cheap!
But let’s be honest, it’s not the right time to enjoy winter activities in Quebec.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little glimpse of winter in Canada. I’ve tried many typically Quebecois winter activities, but if you have other suggestions, feel free to share them in the comments!