Quebec City Winter Carnival and Ice Festival, Quebec City, Canada

Carnaval is a wintry, family-friendly wonderland that comes alive when the temperatures drop in the heart of the “world’s snow capital.” Quebec City in Quebec province, eastern Canada is also North America’s only fortified city. Picture the crenellated walls and castle-like structures of the Old Town as your stunning backdrop to the snow-dusted family fun.

Bonhomme is the mascot of the annual Quebec Winter Festival
Bonhomme is the mascot of the annual Quebec Winter Festival, photo c. Carnaval de Quebec

Spanning 10 days, Quebec hosts its annual carnival or Carnaval de Quebec, from February 3-12, 2023. Be part of a tradition that dates back to 1894 and you’ll see why it’s one of our favorite winter family vacations.

Quebec Carnval is set up on vast fields above the St. Lawrence River shoreline. Pursue and observe a variety of winter activities on the main grounds as well as many public squares and venues around Quebec City.

Families are sure to keep themselves occupied for days. Try cross-country skiing along the city’s park trails or sample toddler rides at the outdoor amusement park. This is a chance to ride in a horse-drawn sleigh or go dog sledding across the park grounds. And since the one-time entry badge can be used on all days, Quebec Carnval is great value, too.

Dance in Bonhomme’s Illuminated Ice Palace

Each day promises special events. On opening night Le Bonhomme, the iconic snowman ambassador for the winter festival, welcomes guests to his Ice Palace and kicks off the pre-Lenten celebration with a magical show. The Ice Palace, made of stacked and carved ice blocks, is at place de l’Assemblée-Nationale and it’s one of the festival’s most spectacular sights. Transparent ice bricks shipped in from Montreal (where all the oxygen has been removed prior to manufacture) are arranged according to a different architectural plan each year.

Illuminated by an array of colorful lights, the Ice Palace reverberates fun. Over at parc de la Francophonie, the evening also heats up at Videotron Bonhomme’s Campground. Enjoy dance music, beer and sausage pairings — plus try out winter camping to evoke the old Canada of logger days. Teens will love the Videotron Kart Adventure, 30-foot ice mountain and a ball-pit swimming pool in a giant igloo. Other than some evening events and the liberal serving of Caribou, a tasty, alcohol and brandy concoction spiced with cinnamon that’s Quebec’s equivalent of gluhwein served at European Christmas Markets, Carnival is a very child-oriented affair.

Cold-weather games & rides along the Esplanade

Things cool off pretty quickly at Quebec Carnaval as families make their way to Bonhomme’s World for activities set up just for them, including ice skating and gentle hockey. Don’t miss a chance to sample chilly treats from snow. D’erable sur la neige (also called tire sur la neige) is a participatory taffy created by rolling a popsicle stick through fresh maple syrup drizzled on a snow-topped table, scooping and rolling as it hardens with the cold. When you realize that Quebec province produces more than 70% of all maple syrup in the world, you can imagine how selective they are about the ingredients being used.

Related activities around town abound, from dog sledding, sleigh rides, skating with Bonhomme, and snow-tubing to curling and ice sculpture workshops. Take a look at this fun video!

Compete in extreme sports, snow sculpting & Quebec Carnaval events

Professional snow sculptors work their magic in a major international contest toward the end of Carnival’s run. Families can both appreciate art and participate by touring the sculptures dotted throughout the icy grounds.

A gamut of sporting competitions is scheduled throughout Carnival but beware, spectators watch from the chilly sidelines. Throughout the festivities you can observe (or participate in) extreme ice canoe races on the St. Lawrence River, giant ski races, winter yoga, and more. Be sure to check out the size of your fellow players before encouraging younger kids to participate in some of the contact sports.

Back after a Covid hiatus, don’t miss the popular and dazzling Night Parades. Expect the full regalia — floats, lights, dance troupes, music and Bonhomme leading the way. Families will love the talented, Cirque du Soleil-like acrobatics taking place on many floats.

With a constant program of shows, competitions, races, games, and tasty international food, Quebec Carnaval keeps every member of the family entertained. Hotels fill up fast so be sure to book in advance.

Planning Quebec City & Ice Hotel Stays, Carnaval Details

Rue du Petit Champlain, Quebec City
Quebec’s winter carnival spills over to all the old town streets. Photo c. Ville de Quebec

Make advance reservations during Quebec Carnaval for tours and many of the popular ice and snow attractions. Many families enjoy an overnight in the magically white and frosty Ice Hotel — picture a fancy igloo with rooms — which is erected each winter. The temporary Ice Hotel outside Quebec is made of 400 tons of ice and 12,000 tons of snow and, unsurprisingly, is not heated. Appropriate outerwear is included in rates.

If you prefer the cold of the great outdoors, try your hand at weekend winter camping around Bonhomme’s Palace. For more traditional housing, look for family package deals at Hôtel Château Laurier Québec, or check out our guide to many other fantastic fantastic family hotels in Quebec City.

A Carnival “effigy” pass, which lets you in to all attractions (but not necessarily the VIP heated venues), costs only CAD$15 in advance or CAD$25 on arrival (though admission to many activities is free). Be sure to check out our suggestions for other fun activities for all ages in Quebec City.

Dress accordingly. Don’t forget, in Quebec City temperatures get to a minimum of -3º F and don’t generally get higher than 19º F. You can always go into one of the heated, sponsor tents to warm up or have a cocoa. Parents appreciate dropping into the Discovery Pavilion to visit the multimedia Odysee exhibit about Canada’s history, open all year.

To research warmer locales for Carnival fun, check out FTF’s roundup of Carnival and Mardi Gras celebrations worldwide.

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1 Reply to “Quebec Carnaval Celebrates Family Fun In Snow And Ice”

  • Nicaraguan

    Have you ever dreamed of creating your own ice sculpture? The Quebec Winter Carnival has just what you’re looking for! Bring your group to our Ice Sculpture Workshops under the guidance of a team led by none other than Marc Lepire, chief sculptor of Bonhomme’s Ice Palace! During this one-hour event, you will learn the workflow of master sculptors and enjoy the unique experience of carving your own solid ice block with your group of 2 to 4 people. Free all-you-can-drink hot chocolate will keep you warm throughout the frosty fun.

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