The Quebec Carnival, aka Carnaval de Québec, is a family event that celebrates winter to the fullest. In fact, it's the world's biggest winter carnival.
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.
Quebec'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 Quebec, which feels like a mini-trip to Europe.
Families who want the most convenient access to the Carnival may want to stay at the Hilton Quebec which is just a five-minute walk from the fairgrounds, along a pretty route past the Ice Palace. The Hilton Quebec is used to families checking in with not only luggage but also toboggans to cart small kids around the Carnival.
See Bonhomme, and the Opening Night Ceremonies
Bonhomme (full name, Bonhomme Carnaval) is the Carnival's official ambassador. Bonhomme's image is everywhere: 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.
Fairgrounds and Ferris Wheel
The main venue for the Quebec Carnival is the fairgrounds on the historic Plains of Abraham (three words learned by every Canadian school-child.) The fairgrounds are just a short walk from the streets of Old Quebec.
The fairgrounds for the Quebec Carnival are like a winter amusement park, with lots of fun things for kids to do. In previous years, popular attractions have included an ice castle complete with ice slide, a Ferris Wheel, and bouncy houses.
Snow rafting on the slopes has been a perennial favorite at the Quebec Winter Carnival. Visitors do need to pay a small charge 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.
Always check the Quebec Carnival website, to see what will be created this year!
Games - Including Human Foosball
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.
Watch Snow and Ice Sculptures Being Carved
The Quebec 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 at their creations. By morning, a parade of snow sculptures will line the promenade into the fairgrounds. Meanwhile, in another area, huge blocks of snow await the arrival of teams for the International Snow Sculpture event. Visitors have more than one opportunity at the Carnival to watch snow artists at work.
Very different from snow sculptures, ice sculptures are ethereally beautiful.
Horses await the start of a short jaunt through the snow. In the background is the maple sugar shack, a family favorite: a dollop of liquid maple sugar is poured onto snow, where it instantly hardens into a treat.
Eat Beaver Tails
Kids love any opportunity to eat "Beaver Tails", aka Queues de Castor, a delicious sort of donut that's flat and shaped like, you guessed it, a beaver tail.
Families can find a classier place to get Beaver Tails in the lower town of Old Quebec, next to the restaurant "Cochon Dingue" which is a well-known place to enjoy a meal or hot chocolate.
Speaking of food and drink...the carnival fairgrounds typically offers several options, including a BBQ shack and a place to eat indoors.
Another venue for Quebec Winter Carnival fun is Place D'Youville, which has an outdoor skating rink. The location is approximately a ten-minute walk from the main Carnival grounds.
Tour the Ice Palace
The Ice Palace has been Bonhomme's official residence since the first Quebec 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 Quebec.
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 three weekends of the Quebec Carnival. Day or night, visitors can tour inside.
Watch the Races and Parades
The dog sled race, held on the first weekend of the Quebec Winter Carnival, is one of several events that take place outside the Carnival fairgrounds. This race begins and ends in the streets of Old Quebec 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 Quebec. In winter, the short ride is a dramatic one, with the river full of ice.
Families love parades, and for several years the Quebec Winter Carnival has offered night parades in two locations. You may also find a daytime parade with giant inflatable characters.
Explore Historic Québec City
Finally, families visiting Quebec City during Carnival have a wonderful opportunity to explore the charming streets of Québec City.
Visiting Québec City is like a mini-trip to Europe: the architecture dates back centuries, and Québec's old town is 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 extended to Louisiana. One of the decisive battles between Britain and France took place here in 1759, on the Plains of Abraham that are the present-day venue for the Carnival.
Wander by day or night. Crime is no problem in Quebec City, and during Carnival, you'll have the company of other families enjoying themselves and tooting the red plastic trumpets that signify Carnival.
See more about sightseeing in Québec City, You can also combine your visit with a day of skiing at Mont-Sainte-Anne.