It’s the ultimate winter celebration!
Quebec Winter Carnival is one of the world’s largest winter celebrations. After all, if you’re going to live in a place that’s buried beneath snow and ice for part of the year, why not embrace it? Between participating in fun activities to marveling at the beautiful ice sculptures and picturesque snowy scenes, 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 (Carnaval de Québec) 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!
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THE BEST WINTER ACTIVITIES
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.
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.
Here’s a video right from the seat of the toboggan itself:
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.
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.
BONHOMME BRINGS JOY TO ALL
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. 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 – check out the official website for all the details.
THE BEST WINTER SIGHTS
Naturally, there’s a whole lot of snow and ice. You must take a tour of Bonhomme’s dazzling Ice Palace. It’s across the street from Quebec’s Parliament Building. Bonhomme’s 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.
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 LIKE A LOCAL
You’ve got to look the part if you want to experience Quebec Winter Carnival like a local. 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.
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.
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!).
And most importantly, 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.
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!
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
- 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.
- 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.
- For more information, please visit the official website of Quebec Winter Carnival.
Check out our entire Quebec City travel photo album when we visited for Quebec Winter Carnival, the Ice Hotel, and more! You can even buy prints, canvas photos, housewares, and more from our photos
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Disclaimer: We were guests of Quebec Tourism. Our opinions, as always, are entirely our own. We highly recommend that you visit Quebec City in the winter to experience Carnaval de Quebec.