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The annual Quebec Winter Carnival (Carnaval du Quebec) is where winter gets festive.

Smacked in the middle of the daunting Canadian winter, it’s quite the magical escape for those looking to embrace the cold.

Throw in some serious snow and a curve-ball surprise and you have quite the adventure.

quebec city ice castle

Sit Back and Relax

The fluster from mixing in with the Montreal morning crowd and shuffling to the VIA Rail station at Bonaventure drifted away as we got settled into our seats.

We booked our train tickets a month in advance this time, since VIA Rail offers Travel Tuesday discounts, and the train offers some comforts worth paying the extra couple dollars for.

While road tripping with Kangaride isn’t uncommon with us, sometimes you just need some time to unwind – especially if the price is right!

With breakfast and snacks in tow, we cozied up in our seats and let the conductor do their thing. It was nice not being the driver for once.

via rail luggage

Quebec Winter Carnival and La Ville Quebec

Three hours flew on the smooth train ride, and we arrived in Quebec City around noon.

Having only been once before, Quebec quickly reminded me of the temperature changes this side of the province brought. It was definitely time to bundle up.

Quebec City in itself is whimsical. Steep hills will lead you to charming small roads with cozy restaurants and shops to dip into.

Winter’s charm lends a hand in livening up streets in the downtown and Old Quebec core. Decorated pine trees and lights carry the festive magic from Christmastime well into the year.

We spotted signs for the Quebec Winter Carnival seconds into our walk of the city. Images of the iconic snowman were displayed in shops around town, building excitement.

Exploring further would reveal ice sculptures around the city, carved to display Canadian tokens and artwork.

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Child-like Winter Wonder

We visited during the week. Cheaper transportation and accommodation options awaited, but this meant we’d miss the big parade and some events would be limited. But when did limitations ever stop us?

After navigating through the small festive area of town, we spotted some signs for Carnival. Cue more excitement.

Like most Canadian children, we learn about the Quebec Winter Carnival in school. Apparently, Josh’s elementary school really played it up as a child – he’d been dreaming of going ever since. Now, the time had come!

After warming up with a quick Timmy’s, we kept our eyes on the towering ice sculptures as we made our way over to the main carnival section.

quebec city attractions

We bought our passes (effigies for $30 CAD) on-site, where the clerk warned about the ‘storm of the century’. Luckily, we were in the perfect place for a winter storm.

Passes in hand, we immediately made our way through the ice castle, awed by artist’s creations. Ice castles led us to ice sculptures, and ice sculptures led us to more winter art.

The carnival grounds were far from a museum exhibit. You really have the chance to tap into your inner five-year old and play amongst the snow for a bit – except with really cool displays around you.

We spent more time roaming around features like Bonhomme’s dream world before checking out the maple scene.

Soon, we burnt up enough energy running around and taking silly pictures in the snow and ice. Best to save the rest of the festivities for day number two.

carnaval du quebec ice sculpture

Fitting Accommodations

In the spirit of budget travel, we booked an Airbnb just below the Plains of Abraham.

Always after the budget option, Airbnbs in Quebec are often cheap in the off-season, so we chose one close to attractions.

What we didn’t plan was the gorgeous view of the St. Lawrence right across the street from our apartment!

After dinner we snuggled up to our electric fireplace and listened to the wind and patter of the weather outside. Sounds like mother nature is whipping up that storm.

Choose Your Own Adventure

The next morning we woke up feeling a bit more refreshed, having some hours of sleep behind us.

quebec snow sculpture

Speaking of fresh, that snowstorm did come through, bringing about thirty centimetres of fresh white powder with it. But this is Quebec! Once we plan a route, we should be fine.

With a shower and breakfast out of the way, we were ready to take on the snow.

We were a short five-minute walk from the Cap-Blanc stairs and the enchanting view at the top seemed much more inviting than fighting the wind the opposite way.

The streets were barely plowed but walkable, and we could see someone on the steps as we made our way closer. I looked up at the 398 step staircase when we arrived at the bottom, then back to Josh – this should be fun.

The Iron Man Challenge

cap blanc stairs

By the time we got to the top of the staircase, an older gentleman had already run up and down ten times. Believe me, we asked.

What we didn’t expect at the top was an untouched mountain of snow to climb over.

Josh stepped one of his rugged snowboots into the pristine snow, which buried his legs to his knees.

Did we turn back? Nope.

After our cardio training of climbing the steps and over snow mountain, we were faced with a complete white-out.

We should’ve figured heading to the top of a hill would be a disaster during the tail of a blizzard. But did we turn back? Nope.

quebec carnival activities

We huddled for shelter under a nearby park sign while Josh tried to look ahead. He told me to take his hand and we wandered into the snow. I had to trust him, he’s from Newfoundland – he’s use to low visibility.

I still regret wearing my glasses that day. My poor lenses were frosted with snow and ice by the time we found our way out of the park.

We shuffled into the nearby Parliament Building, exasperated, but relieved.

Where’s Bonhomme?

We made it this far so after emptying our boots of snow, and dusting off our jackets, off we went to find the festival!

We would be just in time for the wood carving demonstration – if they hadn’t closed the Carnival for the day!

Josh, myself, and a few tourists from Ohio in full ski gear stood dumbfounded at the security guard who informed us.

“The Quebec winter carnival is closed because of a snow storm?” I asked again, still trying to piece it all together. But the verdict stood.

Since we were only spending two days at the Carnival, it turns out we wouldn’t get to see the mythical Bonhomme, as our train was leaving that evening.

ice sculptures quebec

We wouldn’t get to do much else besides take in the sights so that’s what we did. The city is quite a sight during a big blizzard.

Good-bye Winter

We returned to Gare du Palais before our train arrived, and took a second to reminisce on our mini-trip.

A few hours at the Quebec winter carnival was certainly worth the effort. Even just to experience it for a bit.

Quebec City is always a charming location to visit, especially in the colder months. Our train may have stalled for two hours on the ride home, but towns covered in snow made for art outside the window.

Some adventures may not go as planned, but the mini adventures that arise from it make up for that.

Besides, there’s always something to learn from every trip!

quebec city carnival guide

What to Know Before You Go to Quebec Winter Carnival

Dress Appropriately

Quebec is cold. If you want to make the most of your time at the festival, you’ll want to dress for it.

This is not the time for cute outfits! But, if you want to be both warm and cute in Instagram photos, maybe opt for an old-school snowsuit (idk).

The point is, be sure to bundle up. Don’t forget your scarves, mitts, snow boots and hats. You’ll likely need them – especially if there’s a blizzard.

Stay a While

The Quebec Winter Carnival lasts for two weeks in February and events are spread throughout these dates.

There’s plenty to do, so if you have more time than we did, why not take it in? Besides, you never know what the weather has in store that may limit some activities one day.

quebec winter carnival events

Carnival parades and bigger events usually happen on the weekends. While it’s the best time to take advantage of your effigy, it’s also the busiest and more expensive in terms of accommodations.

If you can though, try to plan out 2-3 days for the Quebec Winter Carnival. That way you’ll be able to take in all the sites, make the most of your pass, and see some of the city too!

Buying Your Effigy

The passes for the Quebec Winter Carnival are available online a couple of months before the event.

In December, you might be able to purchase your effigy online for $15 CAD. After that, they go up to the regular price of $30. Otherwise you can purchase them on-site for the regular price.

The effigy is your pass (a cute little keychain) to everything in the festival. It can also get you some deals and discounts at locations and carnival events around town.

There’s also a $45 effigy that has certain perks like wine and maple syrup on-site.

Pick Reliable Transportation

quebec carnival art show

This is not the time to experiment with the Canadian winter.

If you’re not accustomed to the Quebec winter, or your car isn’t equipped for the winter, it’s best not to risk the drive to Quebec City.

The VIA Train is recommended and offers discounts on Tuesdays, as well as special discounts for those going to the Quebec Winter Carnival. We purchased tickets for $30 CAD each.

They often run through any kind of weather conditions and is much more comfortable and reliable than taking the bus (unless there’s a major blizzard).

Plan Your Accommodations

This is one of those times where it pays to plan ahead.

The Quebec Winter Carnival is incredibly popular so if you want to score cheap accommodations, you’ll want to book early.

If you’re planning on going during the week, hotels often lower their rates during this time. However, you should expect some hotels to be a bit more expensive during Carnaval du Quebec.

Here are some recommendations for hotels in Quebec City.

  • Hotel le Priori – If you can afford it, do it. We splurged here one year for a celebration but it is one of the best stays we’ve had anywhere.
  • Hotel Sainte-Anne – Mix of budget and charm near the old centre without breaking the bank.
  • Hotel Champlain – Highly recommended budget-friendly boutique hotel near the Old Town.
carnival quebec experiences

Airbnb

Booking an Airbnb in Quebec City can give you some pretty great deals on accommodations.

You’ll find really quaint apartments and lofts throughout the city and renting one will give you the full vibe Quebec.

(Who knows, you may even get your own cozy fireplace!)

Check out the listings and click here for some cash towards your booking.

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