The Québec Winter Carnival is a family event in the provincial capital, Québec City, that celebrates winter to the fullest. In fact, it's the world's biggest winter carnival. The locals simply call it Carnaval, in both French and English. Everyone is welcome, and don't worry if you don't speak French: People working in tourism or the restaurant sector will happily speak English.
Québec's Winter Carnival takes place over 17 days in late January and early February with big events such as parades and outdoor concerts scheduled on the three weekends. Visiting families can have fun at the Carnival and also take the opportunity to explore historic Old Québec, which feels like a mini-trip to Europe.
The 2021 Québec Winter Carnival has been scaled back, taking place on a shorter timeframe than usual from February 5–14. Many of the classic events have been canceled, as well, since the 2021 festival has been decentralized and capacity limits have been reduced. Be sure to confirm details for specific events before you attend, and read up on new guidelines.
Watch Snow and Ice Sculptures Being Carved
The Québec Winter Carnival showcases amazing snow sculptures and visitors have several opportunities to see the sculptures being carved. During the Carnival's opening weekend, sculptors are hard at work on their creations. In 2021, visitors can see over 100 different sculptures around the city along a designated route, including the Petit Champlain district and the Old Port. Download the Winter Carnival app to play a game and log as many sculptures as you can find. The colder the temperature outside when you log them, the more points you get, as a bonus for participants who can truly brave the cold.
Ice Skate at Place D'Youville
At the Place D'Youville in the center of Old Québec, the outdoor skating rink is a popular activity not just for the Winter Carnival, but throughout the entire season. If you can withstand the cold of being outside, moving around on skates while bundled up is a great way to stay warm, ideally followed by a cup of hot chocolate, tea, or a Winter Carnival Caribou—a hot drink of wine, brandy, and maple syrup.
Apart from the Carnival, the Place D'Youville ice rink opens daily from November 21, 2020, until March 8, 2021.
Explore Historic Québec City
Families visiting Québec City during Carnival have a wonderful opportunity to explore the charming streets. Visiting Québec City is like a mini-trip to Europe, with architecture dating back centuries and having one of the few walled cities in North America. Québec City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was the center of New France, a vast area that once extended to Louisiana. One of the decisive battles between Britain and France took place here in 1759, on the Plains of Abraham where the Winter Carnival usually takes place.
See Bonhomme and the Opening Night Ceremonies
The opening night ceremonies are canceled for the 2021 Winter Carnival.
Bonhomme (full name, Bonhomme Carnaval) is the Carnival's official ambassador. Bonhomme's image is everywhere and, most notably, every year a new small figurine of Bonhomme is created, and this "effigy" is worn by all Carnival visitors for admission to the fairgrounds and other venues.
However, there is only one life-sized Bonhomme figure, and whenever he makes an appearance, families embrace him for photo ops.
In recent years, the Carnival's first night has featured opening ceremonies followed by an outdoor concert and fireworks. The ceremonies may not be the best experiences for English-speaking visitors, but families can roam the amusements at the fairgrounds while waiting for the fireworks.
Tour the Ice Palace
At the 2021 Winter Carnival, the Ice Palace has been split up into seven different ice "towers," spread out across Québec City. Each will have a special exhibition, but no other group activities are planned.
The Ice Palace has been Bonhomme's official residence since the first Québec Carnival in 1955. Each year, its appearance is a little different. The location is just a few steps from the Carnival grounds and opposite the impressive Parliament Building of Québec.
During the day, Bonhomme often makes appearances at the Ice Palace for photo ops. The Ice Palace becomes an entertainment venue at night during the weekends of the Québec Carnival. Day or night, visitors can tour inside.
Reach New Heights on the Ferris Wheel
The Winter Carnival fairgrounds will not be open in 2021.
The main venue for the Québec Carnival is the fairgrounds on the historic Plains of Abraham. The fairgrounds are just a short walk from the streets of Old Québec.
The fairgrounds for the Québec Carnival are like a winter amusement park, with lots of fun things for kids to do. Popular attractions have included an ice castle complete with an ice slide, as well as standard fun like a Ferris Wheel and bouncy houses.
Snow rafting on the slopes has been a perennial favorite at the Québec Winter Carnival. Visitors do need to pay a small fee for this and a few other premium rides. Little kids, meanwhile, have their own place to slide down the snow, on a tube run in the play zone.
Become a Human Foosball Player
Interactive games have been canceled for the 2021 Winter Carnival.
The fairgrounds have a bunch of fun things for little kids to do: a mini-slide, play structures for tots, and an indoor game zone. The attractions may change year-to-year, but families are sure to find plenty to amuse kids of all ages, including a foosball game with real people.
Take a Sleigh Ride Through the City
Sleigh rides are not operating for the 2021 Winter Carnival.
Horses await the start of a short jaunt through the snow. The maple sugar shack is a family favorite, where a dollop of liquid maple sugar is poured onto snow and it instantly hardens into a treat.
Eat Beaver Tails
Carnival dining options are not available for the 2021 Winter Carnival.
A trip to Winter Carnival is the perfect chance to taste "Beaver Tails," aka Queues de Castor, a delicious sort of donut that's flat and shaped like, you guessed it, a beaver's tail.
Families can find a classier place to get these classic confections in the lower town of Old Québec, next to the restaurant "Cochon Dingue," which is a well-known place to enjoy a meal or hot chocolate. The carnival fairgrounds, meanwhile, typically offer several options, including a BBQ shack and a place to eat indoors.
Watch the Races and Parades
The race events are canceled for the 2021 Winter Carnival.
The dog sled race, held on the first weekend of the Québec Winter Carnival, is one of several events that take place outside the Carnival fairgrounds. This race begins and ends in the streets of Old Québec near the landmark Chateau Frontenac, just a short walk from the festival grounds.
Spectators can also watch the finalists in an annual Canoe Race across the icy St. Laurence River. The location is the Bassin Louise in the Port of Québec.
Another fun thing for families to do while visiting Québec City is to take an inexpensive ferry ride across the St. Laurence River to the town of Levi and back. The ferry runs frequently, and the boarding place is very near to the lower town of Old Québec. In winter, the short ride is a dramatic one, with the river full of ice.
Some years the Québec Winter Carnival has offered night parades in two locations. You may also find a daytime parade with giant inflatable characters.