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Quebec Winter Carnival: Top Things to Know Before Visiting


Quebec Winter Carnival Travel Guide

The Quebec Winter Carnival (AKA Carnaval de Québec) is a vibrant celebration of Québécois (pronounced Keh-beh-kwa) culture and the joys of winter. Held annually in Quebec City, Canada, it is one of the world's largest winter festivals, drawing visitors from around the world to take part in its festivities. Visitors immerse themselves in the lively atmosphere, enjoying activities like ice skating, toboggan slides, and carnival games while savoring delicious Québécois cuisine like Beaver Tails and Maple Taffy, and warming up with hot beverages like Hot Chocolate and Caribou. With its colorful parades, live music performances, and enchanting snow-covered landscapes, the Quebec Winter Carnival truly embodies the spirit of Quebec and winter celebration!


We had the pleasure of visiting the Quebec Winter Carnival for the first time in 2024 and want to share some of the top things you should know before visiting to make the most of your Quebec Winter Carnival experience!



⬇️ Watch our Winter Carnival travel vlog for a closer look at our experience! ⬇️


 

History:

Dating back to 1894, the Quebec Winter Carival’s origins lie in an effort to brighten the spirits of residents during the long, harsh winter months, but due to economic downturns and wars, it wasn’t until 1955 that the celebration became an annual tradition! Since then the festival has grown into the largest winter festival in the Western Hemisphere and stands as a testament to Quebec's rich heritage and resilient spirit.


Bonhomme's Ice Palace in Quebec City, Canada and the Quebec Winter Carnival


When is the Quebec Winter Carnival:

The dates for Quebec Winter Carnival change from year to year but the festival typically runs from the end of January into the beginning of February and lasts for around 2 weeks. And I say “around 2 weeks”, because depending on which website you’re getting your information from, the festivities can last for anywhere from 10 to 18 days. However, we recommend getting the festival dates from the official Carnaval de Québec website to ensure that you’re booking your trip around the correct schedule. At the time of writing this, the 2025 Quebec Winter Carnival is scheduled for February 7th to the 16th.


Scenes from Quebec City during the Quebec Winter Carnival


Tickets:

Every event held at official Quebec Winter Carnival sites requires a ticket called an Effigy, which is essentially a little rubber keychain medallion that you attach to your jacket... Kind of like a lift ticket at a ski resort. We recommend purchasing your Effigy in advance on the official Carnaval de Québec website but Effigies are available for in-person purchase at participating Couche-Tard franchises in the Québec region, the Carnival reception desk (205 Cèdres Blvd.), and various area hotels and businesses. If you choose to purchase online before the early bird cutoff date (which varies year to year), you’ll receive a discounted price of $20 as opposed to the $30 regular price. Also, it’s worth noting that children under the age of 12 do not need an Effigy.




Who/What is Bonhomme:

Bonhomme, which means "good man" or "gentleman" in French, is also the name given to the popular mascot of the Quebec Winter Carnival. Bonhomme is a He’s seven feet tall, 400lbs snowman-like figure with a red cap (or tuque as they call it) and a traditional Québécois arrow sash. And while he is the mascot, he’s more like Quebec Winter Carnival Royalty! So much so that every mayor of Québec City has handed him a key to the city during the opening ceremonies of the Carnival since his first appearance in 1955!




What to Wear:

To ensure that your time at Quebec Winter Carnival is truly enjoyable, it is essential to dress appropriately for the cold weather that is typical of Quebec during the winter season. We’ve put an entire Amazon List together for what we recommend, and you can check that out HERE, but below are some suggestions for what to wear:


Warm Coat: Choose a heavy, insulated coat that is windproof and waterproof to keep you warm and dry in the snow and cold temperatures.


Layered Clothing: Layering is key to staying warm in cold weather. Wear thermal underwear or base layers (merino wool if possible), followed by sweaters or fleece tops, and then your coat.


Winter Accessories: Don't forget essential winter accessories such as a hat or beanie, gloves or mittens, a scarf, and warm socks. Make sure these items are made of materials like wool or synthetic fibers that provide warmth even when wet.


Waterproof Boots: Invest in a pair of waterproof and insulated winter boots with good traction to prevent slipping on icy surfaces.


Snow Pants: Wearing snow pants isn’t necessary, but we highly recommend it! They’ll keep your legs warm and dry!


Hand and Feet Warmers: In extremely cold weather, consider bringing hand and foot warmers to keep your extremities warm, especially if you plan to spend extended periods outdoors.


Sunglasses: While it may be counterintuitive, sunglasses are essential during snowy conditions to protect your eyes from the glare of the sun reflecting off the snow.


Comfortable Clothing: This may seem like a given, but wearing comfortable clothing that allows you to move freely is ideal, especially if you plan to participate in outdoor activities like toboggan riding or ice skating.


Remember to check the weather forecast for Quebec City during the Winter Carnival and adjust your clothing accordingly. It's better to be slightly overdressed and warm than underdressed and uncomfortable in the cold weather. And remember to check out our Amazon List for our personal recommendations!


Couple walking on the Dufferin Terrace in Quebec City with the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac in the background


What to Do:

There is no shortage of activities and attractions at Winter Carnival! Some of the highlights include:


Parades: The carnival features colorful parades with floats, performers, and musicians marching through the streets of Quebec City. The most famous parade is the Night Parade, where participants wear illuminated costumes and put on a dazzling show. Check the parade schedule HERE.


Ice Sculptures: Throughout the carnival grounds, you'll find intricate ice sculptures created by talented artists. These sculptures often depict various themes and can be admired both during the day and illuminated at night.


Bonhomme's Ice Palace: Bonhomme, the official mascot of the Quebec Winter Carnival, resides in his own ice palace during the festival. Visitors can explore the palace, interact with Bonhomme, and take photos with him.


Outdoor Activities: The carnival offers a wide range of outdoor activities, including ice skating, dog sledding, ice slides (the Au 1884 Toboggan slide is a must), zip lining, ice climbing, and more! There are designated areas where visitors can participate in these activities, so be sure to check the official Carnaval de Québec website for more info


Games: Visitors can enjoy classic carnival games like ball toss and corn hole as well as other, more unique games like snowman-building contests, human foosball, and snow volleyball!


Music and Entertainment: Throughout the festival, there are various music performances, concerts, and entertainment shows featuring local and international artists. Visitors can enjoy live music ranging from traditional Quebecois folk songs to contemporary performances.


Nightlife: In the evenings, the carnival atmosphere continues with lively nightlife options including themed parties, outdoor concerts, and special events held in venues throughout Quebec City.


Overall, the Quebec Winter Carnival offers a magical winter experience filled with festivities, culture, and outdoor fun, just make sure to check the official schedule on the Carnaval de Québec website before your visit. And be sure to make some time to explore Quebec City outside of the Winter Carnival events because it is a beautifully charming city that's worth experiencing!


Quebec Winter Carnival Activities: Toboggan Slide, Ice Climbing, Ice Slid, and Snow Trike


What to Eat & Drink:

To be honest… We were a little surprised at the limited food offerings at the official Quebec Winter Carnival sites, but that's not to say that there aren’t some quintessential Québécois items that you must try when visiting! And if you want a proper sit-down meal with Québécois cuisine, we 100% recommend trying La Buche. The food, the atmosphere, the people… So good! But here’s a list of must-try Winter Carnival items:


Maple Taffy: Also known as "maple toffee" or "tire d'érable" in French, is a traditional Canadian confection made from boiling maple sap to a high temperature and then pouring it onto clean snow or ice to cool and thicken. As it cools, the maple syrup forms a sticky, chewy taffy-like consistency that is then rolled onto a popsicle stick. It is as quintessential Canadian as it gets and is a must-try!


BeaverTail: A type of pastry or dessert that is made from stretched dough that is fried and then topped with various sweet toppings. The traditional way to eat them also known as ‘La Classique’ is simply with cinnamon and sugar, but you can add all sorts of toppings including chocolate, caramel, fruit, or even your favorite cookies or candies like Oreos and Reese’s Pieces! The shape of the pastry, which is flattened and elongated, resembles the tail of a beaver, hence the name "BeaverTail." The kind lady helping us recommended that we try the ‘Killaloe Sunrise’ which is ‘La Classique’ with an added squeeze of lemon over top, and it was SO good!


Poutine: A popular Canadian dish that originated in the province of Quebec. It typically consists of french fries that are topped with cheese curds and smothered in gravy. The dish is known for its rich and savory flavors, with the gravy melting the cheese curds and soaking into the fries. Poutine has become a beloved comfort food in Canada and has also gained popularity in other parts of the world. Variations of poutine can include additional toppings such as pulled pork, bacon, mushrooms, or even lobster, depending on the chef's creativity. Some of the best poutine I’ve ever had was the General Tao Poutine at Frite Alors in Quebec City! I know, I know… It’s far from the traditional gravy and cheese curds, but it was delicious!


Caribou: A traditional Québécois alcoholic beverage that blends red wine, whiskey, maple syrup, and a touch of cinnamon. We kept reading and hearing about Caribou during our research of the Quebec Winter Carnival and how it was the official drink of the carnival, so we were quite confused and surprised when we never saw it on any of the bar menus. I’m not sure why this is, but just know if you would like to try it – which we highly recommend because it’s delicious – you have to ask if it’s offered as an off-menu item… Which is what we did. Unfortunately, the bar that we finally found it at didn’t offer it warm, which is the traditional way to drink it. It was still tasty, but having it warm would be better.


Quebec Winter Carnival Food: Chic Choc Spiced Rum, Dirty Chai and Croissant, BeaverTail, and Poutine


Where to Stay:

The area that you stay in during your visit to the Quebec Winter Carnival is just as important as the property you stay at, and there are several great options for both depending on your preferences and budget. Here are some choices that we recommend:


Old Quebec City (where we stayed): Staying in the historic district of Old Quebec City allows you to be close to many of the carnival events as well as many of the other attractions throughout the city. Plus, it puts you within walking distance of endless amounts of shops, restaurants, and bars.

Hôtel Manoir Vieux-Québec (where we stayed on our most recent trip)

Hotel Clarendon (where we stayed in 2018)


Downtown Quebec City: If you prefer a more modern atmosphere, downtown Quebec City offers a variety of hotels, ranging from budget to luxury options. You'll still be within easy reach of the carnival activities via public transportation or a short drive.


Near Carnival Venues: Look for hotels or accommodations located near the main carnival venues, such as the Plains of Abraham or Bonhomme's Ice Palace. Staying nearby can provide convenient access to the festivities and events.


Winter Resorts: Consider staying at one of the nearby winter resorts, such as Mont-Sainte-Anne, Stoneham Mountain Resort or Hôtel Valcartier where you can stay in an ICE HOTEL! While these options may require a short drive to reach the carnival events, they offer additional amenities such as skiing, snowboarding, and spa facilities.


Quebec City Hotels


 

We hope that this guide has helped you make the most of your Quebec Winter Carnival vacation, and if it has, we hope you’ll consider following us on Instagram and subscribing to our YouTube Channel for more travel content!



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