The World’s Largest Winter Carnival
If you are going to live in a place that is covered in snow and ice for most of the year, why not just embrace it. The Quebec Winter Carnival (Carnaval de Quebec) is the worlds biggest winter carnival with over one million people attending every year!
It’s the ultimate winter celebration that every year gives the Quebecois people a reason to stop hibernating, get outside and have some fun! It runs for 17 days from the end of January until mid-February.
Massive ice sculptures, a giant snowman mascot and crazy Canadian activities are just some of the things that Quebec Winter Carnival is famous for.
History of the Quebec Winter Carnival
The Quebec Winter Carnival began as a pre-Lenten carnival back when the early European inhabitants of New France, which is now called Quebec, held rowdy celebrations before the onset of Lent. The celebrations saw lots of eating, drinking, partying and merrymaking.
The Quebec Winter Carnival first began in 1894. The residents decided to embrace the harsh winters and create fun celebrations to warm their hearts in the winter. Today, the Quebec Winter Carnival has evolved into a family friendly event full of fun winter activities.
Where is the Quebec Winter Carnival?
Most of the Quebec Winter Carnival events take place outside the Parliament building but there are events all over Quebec City to get all the communities involved.
The main Quebec Winter Carnival events occur in the fairgrounds on the Historic Plains of Abraham just a quick walk from the streets of Old town Quebec. The fairgrounds essentially transform in to a winter amusement park full of activities.
What to do at the Quebec Winter Carnival?
There is so much that you can do at Quebec Winter Carnival even those who hate the cold weather will find something fun to do during carnival. There’s lots of winter activities you can do like go ice skating or dog sledding, and so many Canadian things that you must see and do!
Bonhomme is the official mascot of the Quebec Winter Carnival. He is a giant seven-foot-tall white jolly snowman who wears a red hat and a red sash across him. Every year he is given a key to the city and officially reigns over the carnival.
To the locals Bonhomme is more than a mascot, he is as real as you and me! For many, the highlight of carnival is if you’re lucky enough to have an encounter with Bonhomme. In the eyes of some Quebec youngsters Bonhomme is adored more than Santa Clause!
The ultimate accessory at Quebec Winter Carnival is to wear the arrow sash that Bonhomme wears which can be purchased in many shops around Quebec City. It makes Bonhomme very proud.
Bonhomme’s Ice Palace
Bonhomme is a snowman with expensive taste! Bonhomme lives a life of luxury because every year he gets a brand new, architecturally designed ice palace to live in! It is essential when attending Quebec Winter Carnival to visit Bonhomme’s Ice Palace!
The Ice Palace is magical at night time when its all lit up with bright LED lights. Night time is also when the palace transforms into a dance club. DJs spin some beats and revellers dancing the night away all while enjoying the strong alcoholic drinks served from the nearby huts.
Tour the Ice Palace
The Bonhomme Ice Palace is opposite Quebec Parliament Building just a few steps from the fairgrounds. Bonhomme also lets you tour his palace and all the walls and furniture is made of ice.
Bonhomme has a reputation of being a bad host but sometimes he may show up to his own house party so keep an eye out for him!
The Annual Ice-Canoe Race
The annual ice-canoe race takes place on St. Lawrence River. This is one crazy Canadian event! The race sees multiple boats, each with five rowers, struggle with the intense challenge of rowing through a lake full of frozen chunks of ice.
It’s not an easy thing to do and the race can last up to three hours. Sometimes the rowers must literally get out of the canoe and stick their feet into the cold water and skate the canoe along the ice.
You can also try the human foosball setup which sees you being strapped to a pole while you and your teammates attempt to score the most goals without hands. The game is played with 18 people, nine on each team and you are attached to poles in groups of three and you all must work together to hit the ball. The game is loads of fun.
Why not wrap up all warm and cosy under blankets and hop on a dog sled or in a horse drawn carriage that parades people around the Plains of Abraham. It’s a magical experience and a little bit romantic!
Toboggan Ice Slide
This is one of the most popular and fun events at Winter Carnival! Four people can hop on a toboggan and slide downhill towards the Château Frontenac. If you’re a speed junky then this is the thing for you, because the sleds can reach speeds of up to 70 km/hour.
What’s a winter carnival without some ice-skating? Coming to Quebec during winter and not putting on some ice-skates would be a tragedy. There is nice outdoor ice-rink that is put up at D’Youville. It’s a beautiful place to skate as your surrounded by historic old buildings.
Become a Giant Human Bowling Ball
You can do crazy fun things like see what its like to be a human bowling ball at Quebec Winter Carnival. Sometimes doing silly things are the most fun you have. You literally hop into a giant inflatable ball, run downhill while attempting to stay on your feet and knock over as many giant inflatable pins as you can.
Eat Delicious Canadian Treats
Ever heard of “Beaver Tails”?
Well they are one of the favourite treats at carnival. They are essentially just a flat donut in the shape of a beaver’s tail, but they go so well with a nice cup of hot chocolate. Or you can also roast some marshmallows around crackling fires to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Have you tried maple taffy?
Another Canadian favourite is maple taffy. This is an incredible tasty treat made from boiled maple syrup that is then drizzled over snow and when cooled turns into a delicious soft candy eaten on a stick! It’s a must try, I mean what’s more Canadian then maple syrup?
For some more savoury Canadian treats try some poutine, it’s like the most Canadian dish ever. It’s French fries covered in gravy (more like swimming in gravy) and topped with cheese. Or try tourtiere a traditional French-Canadian dish. It is a meat pie that’s only served in the winter months.
What is a Caribou? Anyone who lives in Quebec will tell you that a caribou is pretty much the greatest drink ever created. Caribou is similar to a mulled wine and for the most part contains red wine, brandy, cinnamon sticks and of course maple syrup. It is served everywhere at carnival, hot and cold. Caribou is guaranteed to ward of those winter by warming you up from inside out.
Activities for the Kids
There is a lot for the little ones with a huge play area, a game zone, petting zoos, wall climbing, ziplines and giant puppets. Quebec Winter Carnival is a family friendly event and trust us the kids will be entertained for hours.
Amusement Park Rides
There are lots of fun festival rides like the 27-meter Super Shot that shoots you in the air. Or for a less intensive ride you can hop on the giant Ferris wheel which offers amazing birds eye views of the whole Quebec Winter Carnival.
Put on your swimmers and jump in a Snow Bath!
This is not for the faint of heart! Its only for the brave and maybe the most insane who have the guts to go out in sub-zero temperatures and literally take a bath in the snow. Its very fun to watch and if you have the balls, why not try it yourself.
Carnival is basically a bucket list of all the wonderful Canadian things you can do there is also ice curling, ice fishing and axe-throwing. You can watch some very Canadian competitions like the lumber jack competition or the competition to find Canada’s strongest Viking.
…and there’s more! Dances, Parties & Balls
There are so many other events that occur during carnival like organised dances and parties that are thrown in honor of Winter Carnival all throughout Quebec City. Of course, the Outdoor Dance Party outside Bonhomme’s Ice Palace is a must.
There is also the fancy Masquerade Ball held at the Chateau Frontenac every year that attracts hundreds of fancy-dressed individuals.
Let’s talk about the weather!
It can’t be hidden that Quebec City Winter Carnival can be absolutely freezing cold! During the winter temperatures can drop as low as -20 Celsius. No, we are not kidding! That is so cold that even a couple glasses of Caribou won’t stop you from feeling the cold.
So, what to wear to the Quebec Winter Carnival should be several layers of clothing! As well as a scarf, gloves, beanie, parka and some warm winter boots. Snow pants are a good option and it doesn’t hurt to bring along a few packs of hand and toe warmers.
Where to stay during the Quebec Winter Carnival?
There are so many excellent hotels in Quebec City. Quebec Winter Carnival is located outside the walls surrounding the historic centre. This means that any accommodation in the Vieux-Quebec is a good option because then you can easily walk from the hotel to the carnival.
Hotels close to the activities and events include Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac, Hotel Chateau Laurier Québec and Hilton Quebec. These hotels are pricey though. But before you book a room further away, check for some package deals they offer which may make your vacation worthwhile.
The Hilton Quebec is a great option because the hotel sits right across the street from the carnival grounds and offers spectacular views of the Ice Palace which particularly at night looks amazing all lit up, and it is better to watch it from the comfort of your warm room!
For a really unique winter carnival experience, you can stay at the Ice Hotel known as Hotel de Glace. This place is, we kid you not a whole hotel made from ice! Even if you’re not interested in staying inside it you can always just take a tour.
Check out some great Quebec accommodation deals here.
Take a Tour!
We actually noticed on Tour Radar that there were several tours for Quebec Winter Carnival that may be worth checking out if you want to have a fun, festive and exciting Canadian Winter Adventure without worrying about the details.
Also if you come to Quebec for Carnival, then carnival is just the icing on the cake because Quebec is an incredibly culturally and historically rich city! Check out Viator which has loads of different tours, sightseeing trips and activities including some Winter Carnival tours.
How much is entry to the Quebec Winter Carnival?
Entry to Quebec Winter Carnival requires guests aged 8 and over to wear a Bonhomme themed Effigy to gain you entry. This costs about $15. Quebec Winter Carnival Packages can be pre-brought which include the Effigy a glass of Caribou and stick of maple taffy.
Quebec Winter Carnival has a huge amount of activities for all age groups and most of them are included in the cost of admission.
Before you go!
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