Quebec Ice Festival With Kids

Rear view of people watching fireworks at Fire on Ice Festival, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Preserved Light Photography / Getty Images

Looking for a great winter getaway idea? You'll find one of the season's most popular and festive celebrations of snow and ice at the annual Carnaval de Québec, which draws over a million visitors from all over the world. The atmosphere is joyous and families are everywhere, with many wee kids pulled along on sleds. Many carnival-goers wear a traditional sash, and your kids will definitely want one of the long red plastic carnival trumpets that sound out constantly in the snowy streets.

The Quebec Carnival spans over two weeks, including three weekends, from late January to mid-February.

Typical features of the Quebec Winter Festival include night parades, ice slides, snow tubing and rafting, snow sculptures, snow baths, horse-drawn sleigh rides, and outdoor concerts.

One of the great things about this festival is the modest admission cost. One affordable ticket price buys entry to all the festival venues as often as you like for the duration of the event. Better yet, your ticket is a collectible souvenir, a miniature effigy pendant of the snowman-like mascot Bonhomme that you wear over your outerwear.

The Quebec Carnival, by the way, is a true "carnival," like Mardi Gras: it began as a celebration before the somber time of Lent began in the Catholic religious year. However, the Quebec Carnival is always held late January to mid-February and does not follow the yearly calendar changes as the Mardi Gras dates do.

Visiting Quebec City

"I took my kids to Europe last weekend" That's how it felt when we attended the Quebec Carnival a few years ago. Quebec City, founded in the year 1608, has so many charming historic streets that it's been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Restaurants have French names like Le Cochon Dingue (The Crazy Pig), and French is in the air, but if you don't parlez francais, there's no worry. Everyone in the tourist trade speaks English and you'll have no problem getting around.

Quebec City is a short flight or a three-hour drive or train ride from Montreal. From a number of northeast US cities, you can fly direct. And though the town is delightful in summer, arguably the best time to visit is during the winter weeks of Quebec Carnival.

A Family Event

The Quebec Carnival is all about families, with plenty of amusements for kids. Even the youngest babes and tots attend, and it's fun to see toddlers touring the carnival grounds in style, riding in sleds and toboggans pulled by a parent. 

Some activities that kids will enjoy:

  • snow rafting
  • touring the Ice Palace
  • night parade
  • canoe races (spectator)
  • play zone for little kids
  • outdoor concerts
  • watching snow-carving competitions
  • dogsled rides

Beyond the Carnival

Naturally, visitors will want to explore more of this historic city, whose streets are safe by day and night. Don't be alarmed by frequent sounds like a trumpeting elephant. That's only happy carnival-goers blowing on the red plastic trumpets that are an emblem of the Quebec Winter Festival. Your kids will definitely want one of these horns to blow.

No family should miss the giant ice slide perched above the St. Lawrence River by the Chateau Frontenac, a 10-minute walk from the fairgrounds and the Ice Palace. 

Be sure to also visit the bilingual Museum of Civilization. Each year there is a special exhibit very interactive and designed to keep kids' attention riveted. The entry fee is modest for adults and free for kids under 12, and the museum is located just on the edge of the lower town of Old Quebec, close to top attractions, quaint streets, and restaurants.

Also highly recommended is the inexpensive little ferry across the icy St. Lawrence River. The return trip (to the town of Levis and back) takes about an hour.

Easy Day Trips

  • A ski day at nearby Mont-Sainte-Anne, a half-hour away and you can take a shuttle bus.
  • The Ice Hotel is just 15 minutes from town (and again, there's a shuttle bus).

- Edited by Suzanne Rowan Kelleher

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