Quebec Winter Carnival, or Carnaval de Quebec, is one of the world’s largest winter celebrations. It makes sense: if you’re going to live in a place that’s gets a lot of snow every winter, why not embrace it?
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From participating in fun activities to marveling at the beautiful ice sculptures, there are many reasons to travel to Quebec City in the winter. If you’ve decided to visit Canada this time of year, checking out the Quebec Winter Carnival is the one thing you must do.
From the end of January until mid-February, the festivities are in full force. Images of Bonhomme, the iconic snowman ambassador of Carnaval, are plastered all over town. Pack your mittens, your arrow sash, and your stash of Caribou – the alcoholic drink of choice during Carnaval. Here’s your ultimate guide to enjoying the Quebec Winter Carnival!
Carnaval de Quebec Activities
Participating in fun winter activities is one of the main reasons to attend the Quebec Winter Carnival. These attractions in Quebec City are unlike any that I’ve seen anywhere else in the world. Here are the most unique things to do at the Quebec City Winter Carnival.
Human Foosball Table
The one thing you must do at Quebec Winter Carnival is participate in the giant human foosball table. Become one of the players inside the game. Try your best to work with your fellow teammates to score a goal.
Justin and I had an absolute riot kicking the soccer ball around, strapped into the game. With a little coordination and some luck, you’ll win the game. Regardless, you’ll most likely end up killing yourself laughing, just like we did.
Historic Quebec City Toboggan
If you’re a thrill-seeker, take a ride down the toboggan slide. It’s an annual tradition, dating back to 1884. You’ll find it at the Dufferin Terrace, near the famous Chateau Frontenac hotel. There are three toboggan runs, and each toboggan can seat up to four people.
You’ll fly down the hill, racing up to 70km/hour! We found that we went the fastest when there were four of us occupying the sled, as opposed to just one at a time.
One ride costs $3.00, and there are package deals. The slide is open from mid-December to mid-March, weather permitting. Check out all the details at the official website. Check out this awesome video to see us riding this lightning fast toboggan.
Ice Skating in Old Quebec City
A trip to the Quebec Winter Carnival wouldn’t be complete without strapping on a pair of ice skates. At the Plains of Abraham, you can go ice skating, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing. However, right in the middle of town and near the Quebec Winter Carnival festivities, there’s a public skating rink at Place d’Youville.
Justin and I rented ice skates at Place d’Youville and glided around the rink together. I’m not the best ice skater in the world, but I managed not to slip and fall! At this skating rink, we enjoyed views of the fortifications of Quebec amidst the charming atmosphere of Old Quebec. For a full listing of the skating rinks in Quebec City, please visit the Quebec City Tourism website.
Things to Do at Quebec Winter Carnival for Kids
For the young ones, Bonhomme’s World has activities for kids of all ages. From puzzle games, play areas and floor hockey, the Quebec Winter Carnival is a fun-filled family event.
There are so many fun things for kids to do at the Quebec City Winter Carnival. It’s all about bundling up, getting outdoors, and playing lots of fun games with other kids.
Bonhomme: The Mascot of Quebec Winter Carnival
Bonhomme is the King of the Quebec Winter Carnival and represents the entire event. He’s a seven-foot tall snowman, made out of 400 pounds of compacted snow. He can do high kicks like nobody’s business. Did you know that his biggest dream is to reverse global warming? You and me both, Bonhomme.
While it’s a rare treat to encounter Bonhomme, we’ve had the pleasure of meeting him twice! Last year, we met him at his workshop when we went behind the scenes of Carnaval. This year, we met Bonhomme after breakfast at our hotel, along with a small group of travel bloggers and media.
This year, we had the pleasure of meeting Bonhomme once again. When Bonhomme strolled into the room, everyone was so giddy with excitement. I think we all felt like kids again at that point, and we couldn’t resist taking another selfie with the celebrity himself.
Hopefully you will have the opportunity to meet Bonhomme at the Quebec Winter Carnival. There are meet and greet sessions with Bonhomme during the festival. You’ll have to get a selfie with Bonhomme, too!
A World of Ice and Snow
As it’s winter in Quebec City, there’s naturally a lot of ice and snow. There are lots of unique winter experiences during the Carnaval de Quebec that turn the notion of winter into something completely magical.
Quebec City Ice Palace
You must take a tour of Bonhomme’s dazzling Ice Palace. It’s across the street from Quebec’s Parliament Building. The Quebec Winter Carnival Ice Palace is a magnificent structure made entirely of ice. It’s beautiful and worth exploring during the day and night.
There are ice sculptures inside this frozen castle, and there’s even special graffiti paintings created by local artists adorning the walls. At night, the Ice Palace is brightly lit in a dizzying array of colors.
Visiting Old Quebec in Winter
Beyond Bonhomme’s Ice Palace, there are spectacular winter scenes all over the city. Head down to Lower Town for the prettiest views of all. There are Christmas lights and snowflakes decorating Quartier Petit Champlain and Place Royale throughout the winter, as these are a celebration of the winter season.
Nearly every small business and corner has its own ice sculpture, created by professional ice artists. On your way down to Lower Town, carefully navigate the Breakneck Stairs. On your way back up to Upper Town, be sure to ride the Funicular for pretty views of Old Quebec from above.
Experience Carnaval de Quebec Like a Local
You’ve got to look the part if you want to experience Quebec Winter Carnival like a local. To make the most of this Quebec City winter festival, you should attend the carnival as the locals do! From what to wear and what to eat/drink, we’ve got you covered.
Wear an Arrow Sash
Purchase an arrow sash from many local shops throughout the festival and wear it with pride. The arrow sash is a long scarf that’s an honored Quebec tradition. In the 19th century, it was worn around the waist to fasten clothing, carry items, and support the back. Wear your arrow sash in a traditional fashion, like Bonhomme. You can also wear it around your neck as a scarf.
Also, if you’re going to visit Quebec City in the winter, you need to bundle up in layers. Bring a warm winter coat, mittens, a hat, a scarf, winter boots, and snowpants are a plus. I highly recommend bringing hand warmers and toe warmers for your mittens and boots. These are total lifesavers. The pair of hand warmers that I stuffed inside my mittens kept my hands toasty warm for nearly twelve hours.
Drink Caribou, the Official Drink of Carnaval
Next, you must try the official drink of Quebec Winter Carnival, Caribou. It’s made from red wine, brandy, maple syrup, and spices. Caribou reminds me a bit of mulled wine that you’d try at traditional Christmas markets.
In addition, red, plastic canes are sold on site with Bonhomme’s head on the top. These are meant to transport Caribou around from place to place. While drinking in public isn’t exactly legal, a blind eye is turned during Carnival if you’re walking around with a red cane. After all, the alcohol will keep you warm even on the chilliest of days.
Food and Treats at Winter Carnival
Other traditional treats that you must try are maple taffy (hot maple syrup rolled in the snow onto a stick) and Beavertails (a pastry sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar – hold the butter topping and they’re vegan!).
You haven’t truly experienced winter until you roll some maple syrup in the snow, right? This is something that we also sampled at Village Vacances Valcartier, an epic snow tubing park that’s connected to the Hotel de Glace, Quebec’s Ice Hotel.
Fun Events Throughout the Festival
With one trip to Quebec Winter Carnival, we weren’t able to experience every event or activity. This means that we’ll have to return to Quebec City in the future. It’s one of our favorite cities in Canada, so that won’t be a problem.
We missed the Ice Canoe Race, though we were fortunate to watch some practice sessions on the St. Lawrence River. Rowers must blast their canoes through massive chunks of ice, which sounds quite intense.
We also missed the night parade, with colorful floats and an appearance by Bonhomme. We’d also love to try the human bowling ball activity, where you roll in a zorb down the street in an attempt to knock over giant bowling pins.
I don’t think that I’m daring enough to try the snow bath. Participants strip down to their bathing suits in the frigid weather to roll around in the snow. I think I’ll pass!
Plan Your Visit to the Quebec Ice Carnival
- To gain access to most Carnaval sites, you’ll need to wear the Effigy. It’s a collectable plastic charm with Bonhomme’s face on it. Wear it on your coat. The Effigy costs $15 (or $10 in advance), or there are several package deals. You can purchase it at most Carnaval sites or online in advance.
- You can easily walk all over Quebec City between Carnaval sites, Upper and Lower town, to the Toboggan Slide, and the skating rinks. Quebec City is a very walkable place.
- If you’re planning to visit for a few days and looking for more things to do, be sure to check out our 3 day Quebec City itinerary.
- The best accommodation to stay at for Quebec Winter Carnival is the Hilton Quebec. It’s the official hotel of Carnaval and it’s near every Carnaval location. As a bonus, you can enjoy stunning views of Quebec City from your hotel room.
Where to Stay in Quebec City
Here are all of the hotels and Airbnb stays pictured together on one map! You can compare prices and easily book from the map below.