The Quebec Winter Carnival, one of the most historic and unique festivals in Quebec, is a flurry of snowmen, ice sculptures, winter brews, ice canoeing, parades, and other festive winter events. For over a century, the exciting carnival has been welcoming visitors in the months of January and February. If you’re planning a trip, take a look at these travel tips for travelling in Quebec for the Winter Carnival 2020 and advice to make the most of your visit.

Quebec Winter Carnival history and dates

Beginning in 1894, the Quebec Winter Carnival is one of the largest winter festivals in the world and an annual cultural tradition for French Canadians. The widespread belief is that the earliest version of the festival arose from the harsh winters, which inspired residents to come up with fun winter activities and celebrations. It’s been a tradition ever since, bringing locals and travellers from all over the world to enjoy the festivities. This year’s festival takes place from February 7 to 16, 2020.

People ice skating on a frozen canal

Ice skating

Where is the festival?

The Quebec Winter Carnival takes place all over Quebec City. What to know is that most of the events centre around Old Quebec, but you can find performances and events throughout the city. Decorations, such as snowmen, ice sculptures, and lights illuminate the entire city and turn it into a winter wonderland. Close to the event date, you can find a full program of events, demonstrations, performances, brunches, and more, so you can know before you go and plan your itinerary.

What to wear

One of the best travel tips you could get is that Quebec City gets really, really cold in the winter. The temperatures can be as low as -20 °C, so even if you’re used to cold Canadian winters, it’s important to anticipate cold temperatures and pack accordingly. Ideally, you should pack a thermal base layer, a thick sweater, and a warm coat or parka. Gloves or mittens, a tuque, and warm winter boots are also good. If you’re going to spend time with Bonhomme, get in the spirit with an arrow sash tied around your waist.

Where to stay

With the whole of the city consumed by the festival, it’s important to book your accommodation early. If you want to be at the heart of the action, you can book a hotel in Old Quebec. If you prefer to be in a quieter area, any of the hotels outside the historic centre are ideal. Quebec City has many unique hotels that get you in the spirit of the event as well, such as snow and ice hotels with a tour and historic hotels.

What to eat and drink

The Quebec Winter Carnival is a delight for foodies. There are plenty of unique dishes and drinks to try, such as Caribou, a mixed drink with red wine, brandy, anise, cinnamon, cloves, and maple syrup. You should also try maple taffy, a treat with cooked maple syrup drizzled over snow until it hardens, which is then rolled onto a wooden stick to form a lollipop. Beaver Tails, a pastry with sugar and cinnamon, is another must-try treat at the festival.

Two croissant sandwiches on a plate


See the canoe race

One of the festival’s most iconic events is the ice canoe race, which has been around since the start of the festival in 1894. The race pits incredible athletes against each other in canoes on a river filled with giant ice chunks, making for one of the most exciting sporting events to witness. This year, the canoe race will take place on February 9 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on the St Lawrence River. You can find more information about the race here.

Visit Bonhomme’s Ice Palace

Bonhomme’s Ice Palace is the highlight of the festival and a symbol of the joie de vivre of Quebec. Each year, an ice palace is constructed for Bonhomme and serves as a sort of headquarters for festival activities. The stunning ice palace is not only a work of art and must-visit attraction that begs to be photographed, but it’s also the best place to catch a glimpse of the elusive Bonhomme himself, donning his red tuque and arrow sash.

Take a Snow Bath

For the daring, the St-Hubert Snow Bath is a must-see event that invites visitors to take a dip in the freezing waters of the snow baths. Participants don swimsuits and plunge into the cold water, but there are plenty of amenities to help you warm up and enjoy the thrill of the experience afterward. The event is limited to adults 18 years of age and over, and requires pre-registration, but you can always attend as a spectator and see other bold people attempt this extreme event.

Person hiking on snow-covered path in the woods

Hiking in woods

Attend a night parade

The 2020 festival features 2 night parades on February 8 and 15 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Grande Allée. The parades are a sight to behold, featuring illuminated floats, band performances, circus arts, rock shows, and pyrotechnics. This is definitely a highlight of the event and one of the things you’ll wish you knew to attend, so be sure to schedule it on your itinerary and see what all the fuss is about. You can find more information about the parades and featured events here.

Experience the nightlife

The Quebec Winter Carnival is a family-friendly event with a lot of fun for families with kids. When the sun goes down, however, the party turns more adult with live entertainment and rowdy parties. You can listen to live music or DJs at the ice palace or spend your time at the highbrow Bonhomme’s Ball for a more elegant night of ballroom dancing and formalwear. If you want something low key, many restaurants have themed menus and drinks for the occasion.

Ready to plan your trip?

Now that you have all the essential information before visiting the Quebec Winter Carnival 2020, you’re ready to plan your vacation. Visit Expedia to browse Quebec vacations and get great deals on your travel and accommodation.