Carnaval de Quebec: Attending Quebec City’s Biggest Winter Party!

This past weekend Sam and I took a little trip to Quebec City to take part in Carnaval de Quebec – the biggest winter festival in Canada! This is an event that I’ve wanted to attend for years, so I was thrilled to finally have the chance to do so.

What I loved about this celebration is that people came out by thousands in spite of the cold! There were groups of friends, couples, and even families with their toddlers in tow. There is a lot of fun to be had in Quebec City in winter – the key is to bundle up!

We wanted to give you a taste of what Carnaval de Quebec is all about, so here are some highlights of the various events and activities we took part in!

Highlights from Carnaval de Quebec

Quebec City and Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac

Dog sledding for the first time

When Sam and I spotted dog sledding inside the winter carnival grounds, we made a beeline for it. We had both always wanted to try dog sledding, but we’d never had the opportunity. Well, today was the day! When we arrived we were met by a team of ecstatic pups who just wanted to run. I had barely gotten a tutorial on stopping and steering when I lifted my foot off the brake and off we went. The loop was short, but it was a fun introduction to dog sledding and I definitely want to try it again next time I find myself in a winter destination.

Dog sledding at the Carnaval de Quebec

Ice canoeing on the frozen Saint Lawrence

There are some badass Canadians out there! Yes, those are the frozen waters of the Saint Lawrence River, and yes, those are teams pushing their canoes through the ice to compete in the ice canoe races. Can you believe this is a sport?! I got to try ice canoeing as well (that’s another story for another post!) and man, do I ever have some newfound respect for what these people do. Being out there is not easy, but you sure do get an adrenaline rush out of it!

Ice canoe races on the frozen waters of the Saint Lawrence River

Ice fishing with a guaranteed catch

I’ve never gone fishing before, let alone ice fishing, so I decided to give it a go. Well, they must’ve had the tank beneath us really well-stocked because Sam and I were there less than 2 minutes before a fish ate the bait and swam away, and then another few minutes before we actually caught one. Fastest catch ever! We then took our fish to the grill and they cooked it on site.

Ice fishing at Carnaval de Quebec

A ride on a horse-drawn sleigh

“Dashing through the snow
On a one-horse open sleigh,
Over the fields we go,
Laughing all the way.”

Horse drawn sleighs at Carnaval de Quebec

I feel like this was a weekend of firsts. Yet again, I got to do something I never had before by riding a horse-drawn sleigh. We were given blankets to help us stay warm, and then off we went for a leisurely ride around the Plains of Abraham. I was humming Jingle Bells in my head because the lyrics couldn’t be any more fitting.

Beavertails and hot chocolate

I still remember the first time I heard about beavertails years ago. A look of horror briefly passed through my face as I envisioned these crazy Canadians catching beavers and deep-frying their tails as a snack; thankfully I was pretty off pointing with this one. Beavertails are actually fried dough pastries that can be topped with all kinds of sweet condiments. I treated myself to a Triple Trio which had Nutella, peanut butter, and Reese’s pieces chocolate on top. Pair that with a cup of hot chocolate and you have the perfect mid-afternoon pick me up.

Beavertails and hot chocolate

Meeting Bonhomme, the face of Carnaval de Quebec

Oh, Bonhomme! What can I say about this guy? To me, he’s half snowman and half Pillsbury doughboy. He’s got a sharp sense of humour, a giant smile, and a kick that cracks me up every single time. We got to tour his ice palace and he had everyone laughing the whole time. My favourite lost in translation moment was when he welcomed us into his living room, “This is my restroom. Can you say that? My room where I rest.”

Hugs with Bonhomme de Neige

Inside Bonhomme's Ice Palace

Incredible ice sculptures

We saw some very talented artists at work during the Carnaval de Quebec. There were teams at work with all manner of tools and instruments ranging from saws to sandpaper. The photo above shows one of my favourite sculptures. The artists wasn’t around so I couldn’t ask what his vision was, but I like to think there’s a connection to Canada’s marine wildlife in there.

Ice Sculptures at Carnaval de Quebec

Activities at Carnaval de Quebec:

And that is just a little taste of some of the things I got to try in one day. Of course, there are plenty more activities to choose from including:

  • Dog sledding
  • Snowboarding
  • Tubing
  • Sleigh rides
  • Ice fishing
  • Hot tubs
  • Life-sized foosball
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Ice bumper cars
  • Snow sculptures
  • Dancing (because you’ve gotta find a way to stay warm!)
  • and more!

Fun activities at Carnaval de Quebec

People enjoying winter at Carnival de Quebec

A beautiful sunset over Quebec City

Winter travel tips for Carnaval de Quebec

  • Bundle up and bundle up some more! The key to enjoying Carnaval de Quebec is to stay warm; if you start to get cold you’ll be miserable! Heat packs were a lifesaver for me. I had never used them before, but they are the only thing that got me through the cold! You give them a good shake, slip a pack into each of your mittens, and you are set for the day. I also wished I had brought snow pants and proper winter boots (my UGG look-alikes are warm but they aren’t waterproof and they were usually wet by the end of the day).
  • Choose a hotel that’s within walking distance of the activities. You don’t want to spend a lot of time getting from point A to point B, when the temperatures are hovering between -25C and -35C (sometimes colder!) I stayed at the Hilton Quebec which was a short 5-minute walk from the grounds, but there are also lots of smaller, independently run hostels and guesthouses to choose from if you’re looking for something that’s a bit more budget-friendly.
  • Plan your visit with the carnival schedule in hand. Carnaval de Quebec lasts 16 days and there are all kinds of events scheduled over that period of time – many of which don’t repeat themselves. If you’re set on watching the ice canoe races or dancing the night away on DJ night, make sure you time your visit to coincide with those events.

Here’s a video we filmed during the Carnaval de Quebec to give you a feel of the event:

 

Have you been to Quebec City in the winter?
Did you get to experience Carnaval de Quebec?

Join the Conversation

34 Comments

    1. says: Audrey

      I was also there in the summer, and it almost felt like a different city coming back in the winter. Surprisingly enough, I actually feel like I did more during my winter visit despite the cold!

  1. says: Renuka

    This is simply incredible! Quebec City is one of the most gorgeous places on earth, and discovering its winter side is just a huge topping of icing on the cake! You seem to have a lot of fun! Lovely snaps! And yes, the sculptures look so cute.

    1. says: Audrey

      It’s a beautiful city and it has a very European feel. Actually, their new motto is “So Europe. So close.” Quite fitting. 😉

  2. says: Justine

    This looks like the most amazing festival! After spending so many months in Jakarta, I can’t even imagine how nice it would be to be in the snow again! It looks lovely there. Plus, I’ve always wanted to try dog sledding…so count me in!

  3. says: Ryan

    So very cool Audrey. I was only in Quebec City a night and it was super rainy so I didn’t get to explore much. It looks so beautiful covered in snow! Thanks for sharing!

  4. says: Miquel

    I am not the biggest fan of winter but this looks like SO much fun! I loved your video. And those Beavertails look amaaaaaazing!!!!

  5. says: Charlie

    Looks like you had more fun at Carnaval than me. I thought I was wrapped up well enough, how wrong I was when temperatures plummeted to -30 when I was there. Should have known better really since living in MTL, but I wasn’t dressed right for that level of cold, my feet were freezing! But still, Carnaval is a lot of fun. I loved the ice sculptures, so impressive, and we learnt that trying to drink beer at -30 ain’t gonna happen!

  6. says: Heather

    I haven’t been to Quebec, but this looks like the perfect time to go! I recently tried dog sledding in Latvia and it was so much fun! I’ve been enjoying winter much more now that I’m in a place that actually celebrates it 🙂

  7. Bahaha, the half Pillsbury dough-boy description is right on! What a fantastic looking festival. The activities like dog sledding, ice fishing and the sleigh ride… is there a cost to those? Is it pricey? I’m assuming the others are free. Not sure how this festival works cost-wise.

  8. says: Heather

    Usually I plan a cute outfit for outdoor fairs like this…. I would have to trade cute for warm! I’ve never used the hand warmers, and I will definitely use them if I make it out to a winter Carnival next year!

  9. says: Christian

    Dog sledding in Quebec and those incredible ice sculptures looks really awesome!

    Thank you for sharing your experiences in Quebec Audrey!

  10. says: Luana

    Wonderful article! We were in Quebec in January of this year and in August, and the difference was remarkable! I much prefer travelling in the fall and winter!

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