My family and I have always wanted to explore Quebec City for a taste of European charm without having to cross the Atlantic. We finally got the chance to visit, and at just the right time of year, during the annual Winter Carnival, one of the world’s largest such events.
The Quebec Winter Carnival stands out because of its authenticity; the activities truly reflect the past and present lives of the Quebecois. Sugar shacks, canoe races, ice fishing, and other activities convey the city’s rich history. Best of all, the whole experience feels like being encased in a beautiful snow globe.
Bonhomme, a 7-foot snowman, is more than just the mascot seen everywhere during the carnival — he is the ambassador to Quebec City during the celebration. Every year he kicks off the carnival at an elaborate ice palace built just for him. Kids love having their picture taken with Bonhomme as much as with Santa or Mickey Mouse.
This is Quebec City’s version of Central Park and the heart of the festivities. Visitors can purchase a Carnival Effigy outside the entrance to the park. The effigy is a miniature pendant of Bonhomme that serves as a ticket to all the events at the main festival site; it’s required for visitors age 8 and up.
The carnival offers an activity for everyone, from human foosball games to ice fishing. The phenomenal snow and ice sculptures are required viewing. Every year, sculptors from across Canada and around the world compete to create works of art from giant blocks of snow. These sculptures transform the Plains of Abraham into a wonderful outdoor museum.
Dress warmly to enjoy the night parades, which take place on the second and third weekends of the festival. On the flip side, anyone daring enough to don a bathing suit in 10-degree weather can participate in the annual Snow Bath. If you’d rather stay toasty, just watch and cheer them on, like we did.
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The Old City neighborhood has a wealth of quaint architecture, setting the perfect atmosphere for this winter wonderland. An amazing toboggan run sits next to the landmark hotel Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac. At $2 CAD, it’s a bargain and kids love the ride. There’s also a funiculaire that connects the upper and lower sections of the Old City.
Be sure to pack a pair of warm, comfortable boots, as the Old City is geared toward walking and is very hilly. Families will love exploring; there are lots of shops and restaurants in which to take a break from the cold.
Poutine just might be Quebec’s signature food. This messy pile of fries, gravy and cheese curds is a child-pleaser. Our favorite was the gourmet version at the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac.
Making maple taffy, which involves rolling up a ball of a maple syrup that’s been poured onto the snow, is another quintessential Quebec food experience. Parents must try Caribou — not the reindeer, but the hot alcoholic beverage that’s traditional to drink at Winter Carnival.
Just 35 minutes outside the city is Valcartier Village Vacances, the largest tubing park my family has ever experienced. It has something for everyone. Thrill-seekers who don’t mind going 80 kilometers an hour will love the Everest slide. Snow rafting (think whitewater rafting down a ski hill) is a hit for families as well.
Pick up some hot cocoa at Le Petit Cochon Dingue (The Crazy Little Pig), then take the ferry across the St. Lawrence River to Levi. The ice flows on the river in winter are awesome to watch. Mont Saint Anne is a ski resort in the Laurentian mountains, about 40 kilometers outside Quebec City and an easy day trip to get in some skiing.
For more information and dates for next year, visit the Carnaval de Quebec page.
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Editor’s Note: Sandy’s trip was hosted by the Quebec City Tourism Board. As always, our opinions are our own. Photos by Sandy Pappas.
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