The Quebec Winter Carnival, or rather the Carnaval de Québec, is held annually in Québec City, Québec, Canada. At one time, it was the largest winter festival in the world. It’s been held annually since 1955 and intermittently before that since its birth in 1894. It boasts of events like street parades, ice palaces, snow sculptures, food and bars, ice skating, sledding, and unique activities like ice canoe races and ax-throwing. The Carnaval’s famous mascot is Bonhomme (who we were lucky enough to get a photo with our first night!), and he also shows up on the Carnaval’s effigy, which is a pass to get into many of the events.
Courtesy of Quebec Winter Carnival website
The 2020 dates were Friday, February 7, until Sunday, February 16. We went from Tuesday the 11th until Friday the 14th. I went with two of my college friends, and we started the drive up from southern Maine around 1 AM Tuesday.
Day 1 – Tuesday
We were driving through most of the night, covering about 300 miles (approximately 482 km) over about six hours. We arrived in Quebec City around 8 AM and went downtown and immediately saw familiar sites like the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac and the shops along Quartier Petit Champlain.
We couldn’t check into our Air BNB until noon, so we decided to find a small breakfast place. We landed on Creperie & Cie 5.0 right on Rue de Petit Champlain.
After a quick trip to Walmart for some groceries, we checked into our Air BNB and went right to sleep! We woke up around dinnertime and were shortly out the door to head downtown near the Plains of Abraham area to begin exploring the Carnaval. To be more specific about location, here is the description according to the website: “The sites are located in the heart of Old Quebec. The main sites are the Parc de la Francophonie, Place Assemblée-Nationale and Place George-V, but some activities take place elsewhere.”
During the weekdays, most of the Carnaval is only open until 9 PM, so we were only there a couple of hours. We also had missed some of the events, like the opening parade and ice canoe races and wouldn’t be there for the closing parade. But, there were still plenty of festivities going on!
We started at an area referred to as “Jos’ Camp Presented by Videotron” which has some virtual reality games, outdoor bars and food stands, ax-throwing, and the Christie North Slope. As we were walking around, we spotted Bonhomme!
We listened to some of the bands, took a snow tube down the Christie North Slope, and a few minutes before close, decided to get in line and try our hand at the ax-throwing!
Day 2 – Wednesday
Day 2 was our spa day. My last trip in Quebec City (which was with two of my friends, one of them being an attendee on this trip, too), we had gone to the Strøm Spa Nordique, which was heavenly. So, we decided it was a must-do on this trip, too! We got there right after opening around 10 AM and stayed until around 6 PM.
The spa is a mix of indoor and outdoor pools, hot tubs, saunas, cafes, and resting areas, with options to add on massages, body treatments, facials, and hand/feet treatments. All of us did the traditional thermal experience (pools, hot tubs, rest areas, etc) and two of us (myself included) added on body treatments. I did a volcanic body scrub, which was fantastic. The three of us also added on the Laga flotation bath, which is a large salt water pool with a density that matches the Dead Sea, so you float effortlessly.
After a relaxing day, we were off to the Air BNB to have dinner and prep to go back out to visit some other Carnaval sites, but of course, we had to make our first Tim Horton’s stop of the trip first!
Next, we headed back downtown. This time, a few blocks over and in front of the Parliament Building at Place de l’Assemblée National. This is the location of Zone Loto-Québec, which is home to Bonhomme’s ice palace, the ice slide, the PIXEL experience, another SAQ Bistro, and a common place to have a Bonhomme sighting!
Entrance and beginning to the Ice Palace and Loto-Zone
Checking out the ice and snow sculptures
Taking a trip down the ice slide
Drinks and hot chocolate from the SAQ Bistro
After 9 PM, we headed back to our Air BNB after a long day!
Day 3 – Thursday
We woke up bright and early and headed to Restaurant L’omelette for breakfast!
Our Thursday destination was the Hôtel de Glace (Ice Hotel), another iconic site about 40 minutes outside of Quebec City in Saint-Gabriel-de-Valcartier. This annual site is a large “hotel” consisting of dozens and dozens of intricate ice sculptures and actual hotel rooms that can be rented – completely made out of ice.
After our trek back, I decided to stay in and take a nap while the other two hunted (unsuccessfully) for a sugar shack a few towns out. After dinnertime, two of us went back out to the main Carnaval area, but after a little while there and it being 12* F (about -11* C), we decided to call it a night and went back to the Air BNB and defrosted for the night.
Day 4 – Friday
Our last morning, we headed back to the Quartier Petit Champlain and explored some of the shops along that street and surrounding ones.
After sufficiently stocking up on maple-flavored, -themed, and -scented items, along with additional souvenirs, we made our way back to the car. This is when we discovered – *gasp* – a parking ticket, which we probably very much deserved as we had been parking pretty riskily the entire trip. Ah, when in Canada!
After one last Tim Horton’s stop, we were on our way back to Maine!
Sad you missed it? Mark your calendars for February 5 to 14, 2021!