10 Ways to Enjoy the Cold at the Quebec Winter Carnival

For nearly 70 years, the Quebec Winter Carnival has been giving Quebecois families a reason to get outside, celebrate winter, and have fun. Even though during cold winters you will typically find us hibernating in front of a fire, the Quebec Winter Carnival is hands down the most fun I’ve ever had in the cold and one of our favorite family trips. With so many things to do, the Quebec Winter Carnival will have you embracing the cold and reconsidering cold-weather winter vacations.

Quebec Winter Carnival Facts

The carnival (or carnaval) first made its debut in Quebec City, the world’s “Snow Capital”, in 1894 as a winter festival designed to fight off the winter doldrums. It wasn’t until 1955 that the Quebec Winter Carnival was reintroduced, along with Bonhomme, the mascot of the winter carnival, and it has since become a must-attend event for the people of Quebec and the driving force behind the winter tourism in the city.

Pre-pandemic, the Carnival ran for 17 days from the end of January to mid-February. This year, the Carnival has a shorter run in early February (February 3-12, 2023), but many of the beloved events will make a comeback. What started off as a rowdy, pre-Lenten celebration has evolved into a true family event and the largest winter carnival in the world.

10 Reasons you should take your family to the Quebec Winter Carnival -- and one of them is NOT to take a snow bath (but you can do that too)!

As the largest festival in Quebec City, it draws in some 500,000 visitors each year, 47 percent of which are tourists from outside of Quebec City. Many of these visitors are from New England and Ontario, in fact, waiting in line to go dog sledding we met someone that literally lives around the corner from us in Rhode Island. However, we also met visitors from as far away as France, Texas, and Illinois.

Weather at the Quebec Winter Carnival

When I saw the weather forecast for our weekend in Quebec, I started to get second thoughts. In February, the temperature in Quebec City tends to range from 2 to 20° Fahrenheit (-16 to -6° Celsius), before the wind chill. For our visit, the forecast called for -25 degree Fahrenheit lows and highs for the weekend peaking out at 7 degrees and I wondered what I was getting our family into.

As we drove through Eastern Quebec on our journey to Quebec City, our car thermometer registered -20, and that was without the wind chill. But while our toes and fingertips got pretty numb after five hours outside, it was really, really fun — and a perfect winter vacation for families.

10 Things to do at the Quebec Winter Carnival

Note: We attended the Quebec Winter Carnival as part of a press trip and we were provided with complimentary lodging and activities. All opinions are my own.

The Quebec Winter Carnival is a great way to sample all the joys of winter and outdoor sports — from ice fishing and sledding to watching canoe races through the ice chunks of the St. Lawrence River. From human foosball games to warming tents serving spiked drinks, there is something for everyone.

Throughout the festival, we saw families with babies, toddlers, and young kids — many of which were being pulled through the area on sleds (I guess that’s the Quebec version of a winter stroller.) And unlike those carnivals in Rio or New Orleans — this one isn’t crowded at all. I guess not too many people are brave enough to face the cold. If you are a family that sleds, skis, or ice skates, you are going to love the Quebec Winter Carnival!

1. See Bonhomme

Bonhomme Carnaval waving at the ice palace

Since 1955, the towering Bonhomme has been the master of celebrations and king of the festivities at the Quebec Winter Carnival, making this giant snowman a favorite among the children and as popular as Santa Claus. Bonhomme makes appearances throughout the Carnival, including at both night parades, but you are most likely to find him welcoming you at his Ice Palace.

Bonhomme Carnaval stands seven feet tall and weighs 400 lbs. of packed snow. Dressed in his iconic red tuque and colorful arrow sash, Bonhomme brightens winter and brings joy to festival-goers young and old.

2. Ice Palace

10 Reasons you should take your family to the Quebec Winter Carnival -- #2 Visit with Bonhomme in his Ice Palace!

Any Frozen fan will be fascinated by a real-life ice palace located just across from the Parliament building. Your Effigy pass to Carnival gets you into all the activities for the full length of the festival and lets you explore the Palace and possibly meet Bonhomme.

Each year the castle is constructed differently, using 300 lb. ice blocks brought in from Montreal. When we visited, the Palace featured six rooms, spread out in the shape of a snowflake, which included a spa area, Bonhomme’s office, a reception room, a museum room with artifacts from previous carnivals, a children’s playroom, and a gym.

3. Eat Maple Taffy

10 Reasons you should take your family to the Quebec Winter Carnival -- #3 Enjoy the sticky, sugary sweetness of maple taffy made by pouring boiling hot maple syrup on freshly packed snow.

I’m not sure how I made it into my 40s before trying maple taffy, especially after years of vacationing in Vermont with a grandmother that did her own sugaring; but now that I’ve been turned onto this sticky, sugary goodness it won’t be the last time.

Also called “sugar on snow”, maple taffy is made by heating maple syrup to a blistering 234 degrees and then pouring it in thin strips on freshly packed snow, it is as fun to watch them make as it is to eat. After letting it cool for 20 to 30 seconds, you press a flat popsicle stick onto one end and slowly roll it up to create a taffy pop. Kids and grown-ups alike will love this tasty treat — we were mighty glad that our little one got her braces on after the trip so she could enjoy it too without requiring a visit to the orthodontist after.

4. Ride the Ice Slides & Snow Tubes

snow tubes being pulled up the hill

Your Effigy pass gets you full access to Le Monde de Bonhomme, with all of its many delights for families, including the ice slide and multiple snow tubing and tobogganing runs. The lines at these attractions might be a bit longer than some other attractions, but nothing was too long.

If you enjoy snow tubing, add some time to your winter trip to Quebec City to spend a day at Village Vacances Valcartier, home to a winter playground with 35 snow slides from family-friendly to thrill-seeking.

5. Try Ice Fishing

10 Reasons to visit the Quebec Winter Carnival --#4 Ice fishing (trust me, it is easy!)

Your kids can also experience a true winter activity that you can’t do just anywhere — ice fishing! Within the main carnival area, they have set up a small, stocked trout pond with circles cut into the ice. The size pretty much ensures your success.

No long hours camped out on the ice, they hand you a baited rod, you pick a hole, and viola. I barely had time to take out my camera before my daughter hooked a fish. Once caught, you have a choice of donating it or having them cook it for you to eat directly.

6. Go Dog Sledding

10 Reasons to visit the Quebec Winter Carnival --#5 Dog sledding!

Another activity that is worth the additional fee of is dog sledding. While you only get to mush one time around the track, it was still a dream come true for our family and it gave us an appetite for more. We ended up booking a longer time dog sledding on a subsequent trip to Iceland.

7.  Take a Sleigh Ride

10 Reasons to visit the Quebec Winter Carnival --#7 Go for an old fashioned sleigh ride!

Another relaxing way to experience the fairgrounds at the Quebec Winter Carnival are the sleigh rides. More of a sleigh tram, they employ giant draft horses to pull a trio of sleighs linked together. Bundled up under warm blankets, we enjoyed this 10 – 15 minute excursion across the Plains of Abraham. This is one of the few additional activities that costs extra.

8. Walk Among the Snow Sculptures

10 Reasons to visit the Quebec Winter Carnival --#8 Super cool snow sculptures

One thing that fascinated my whole family was the field of snow sculptures. These finely-chiseled works of art varied from soldier tributes to fantasy creatures and all kinds of things in between.

Whether you get to see them being built or just experience the end result, you can’t help but be impressed. If you didn’t get a close look at Bonhomme’s castle, there was also an ice pagoda that will drop your jaw.

9.  Enjoy Outdoor Games

10 Reasons to visit the Quebec Winter Carnival --#9 Carnival games and rides like bumper boats on ice and a human foosball game!

The carnival is truly geared for family fun. Some of the other activities included in admission include carnival games for the little ones, bumper cars on ice, floor hockey, and a human foosball game.

10.  Attend a Night Parades

10 Reasons to visit the Quebec Winter Carnival --#10 The fun night parades!

The Winter Carnival stretches out over multiple weekends and each weekend features a night parade. The parade itself passes by in about 30 minutes, featuring an array of floats with singers, jugglers, and marching bands before closing out with Bonhomme himself. The last few floats highlighted some of the local wildlife including owls, wolves, and narwhals.

If you want to attend the parade, you can also purchase tickets for the VIP section which includes access to the VIP stands, a Carnival fleece blanket, and access to a free bar service with alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks.

Each year the Quebec Winter Carnival features different special activities, so you’ll want to check the current schedule before you go. Some of these special events include ice canoe races, ice skating with Bonhomme, snowshoeing championships, sleigh races, and the famous “Snow Bath” with Bonhomme.

10 Reasons to visit the Quebec Winter Carnival -- Ok, maybe not taking a snow bath with Bonhomme, but it is fun to watch.

For one weekend afternoon, a bunch of crazy, I mean brave, people don their bathing suits for a chance to frolic in the snow with Bonhomme. We heard from those that took part that it wasn’t too bad since you are heated up before you go. First, they will warm you up with aerobic exercise, then slowly introduce you to the cold in increasing time intervals, working up to ten minutes outside in the snow. Even if it doesn’t sound fun to do, it is fun to watch for a while. If you are interested, you need to apply early to get a spot.

Want to see more?

Where to Stay in Quebec City for Winter Carnival

We stayed at the Quebec Hilton, the official hotel of the winter carnival, a less than five minute walk to the festival site. It was comfortable, convenient to the festival and the parade route, and offered all the amenities you’d want including a pool, fitness room, restaurant and even room service.

If you are up for an adventure, I would also recommend staying overnight at the Ice Hotel and even if you don’t stay overnight, at least visit. The design and rooms change each year and it is quite an experience!

Tips for Visiting the Quebec Winter Carnival

  1. Dress warm! This means lots of layers (base layer, warm clothes, snow pants, boots, ski jackets, warm hats, scarves/neckwarmers/baklavas, and the warmest mittens you have!) Remember that wool or synthetic blends are going to be warmer than cotton. You definitely don’t want to wear jeans as those get very cold.
  2. Bring along hand warmers and feet warmers and use them liberally.
  3. Make sure to bring sunglasses or even snow goggles. If it is windy, you may feel silly wearing goggles around a city but you will also be thankful. Quebec is the only city I’ve been to where I’ve seen people walking around in full ski gear.
  4. Coat your lips and face with protection from the wind and cold with something like Aquaphor, Vaseline, or at least lip balm.
  5. Bring tissues — cold noses get runny.
  6. Stay nearby so you don’t have to walk far to get warm.
  7. Warm up frequently in one of the main warming tents scattered throughout the festival grounds or at the bistro tent for lunch.
  8. Go before you go — port-a-potties aren’t fun when it is zero degrees and you have a million layers on. Another reason to stay nearby!

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10 Things to do at the Quebec Winter Carnival



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Publish Date: November 14, 2022

19 thoughts on “10 Ways to Enjoy the Cold at the Quebec Winter Carnival”

  1. I’ve always wanted to go to this. The closest I’ve been is Quebec City at Christmas which was beautiful.

  2. Annie {Stowed Stuff}

    This looks so fun! I have been trying to embrace the cold this winter and visiting Quebec’s Winter Carnival sure would be a good way to do it! The dog sledding looks so amazing! I haven’t been to Quebec since I was in high school!

  3. Katie @ The World on my Necklace

    I would LOVE to visit the Winter Carnival! Quebec is such an awesome place anyway but I could imagine it would come alive even more during a festival like this

  4. Courtney Buteau

    Mt husband and I were JUST talking about visiting Quebec. This festival looks amazing! I am all about that dog sledding activity. Looks so fun! I’m pinning this for next year.

    1. Great! I would love to visit in the summer too but you have to appreciate how they don’t let the cold slow them down.

  5. I LOVE Quebec City! Thanks for sharing, I have always wondered about their winter carnival. I love how they not only embrace winter there, but they celebrate it! What an awesome place and event!

  6. Looks like a fabulously chilly time! I live in Canada and I’ve only been to Quebec once as a kid. It was during the spring so I was able to experience the Cabane a Sucre at its most festive but this looks like a lot of fun! Count me out of the bathing suit portion lol.

  7. LOVE this! I’ve always wanted to experience the Quebec Winter Carnival and though I really didn’t need any convincing, you’ve only served to motivate me even more 🙂

    1. Great! It can be a hard sell for everyone so sick of winter but it really is a great time.

  8. Krystyn @ Really, Are You Serious?

    Brrrr…I’m cold looking at these. But everything looks super fun. Even the ice fishing!

  9. Kimberly @ Red Shutters

    I have never heard of this festival! It looks so fun (cold notwithstanding) and I have long wanted to go to Quebec… perhaps a 2016 trip for my family. Thanks for the tip!

  10. Lori Popkewitz Alper

    I need to find my way to Quebec. Living in the Boston area- I have no excuse. I can hop in my car and get there in a few hours. This winter carnival looks like a blast. Next year I’m in!

    1. We ended up driving instead of flying from Boston (more on that later) and it took 8 hours in rush hour. Coming home was less than 8 all the way to RI.

  11. Oh my gosh. This post makes the freezing cold look fun! I love the ice palace and ice fishing and I would love to visit Quebec!

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