Are you interested in learning more about the Carnaval de Quebec?
We first visited the world’s largest winter festival in 2020 and were so excited to return in 2024 for the 70th anniversary of Carnaval. When we visited in 2020 my daughter was overwhelmed and pointing to all of the sights and sounds, because until this moment, Bonhomme and the famous winter festival had only been something she learned about in social studies in school.
“Mom, look!” she would yell and point, and then I followed my daughter’s outstretched hand as we raced up to the icy peaks of Bonhomme’s frozen castle.
As someone who has visited Carnaval twice now, I can say that it is a classic Canadian experience that I highly recommend for both locals and visitors alike. We have put together this all-encompassing guide to help you plan your trip to Carnaval de Quebec and give you a behind-the-scenes look at what to expect, what to be sure not to miss (hint: it involves a toboggan) as well as our favourite places to stay and dine!
What is Carnaval de Quebec?
Are you wondering how the biggest winter festival in the world got its roots? Let’s dig into the past to share with you how the festival has grown to its size today.
History Of Carnaval de Quebec
Carnaval de Quebec was founded in 1954 to get people outside of their warm and cozy houses in the middle of winter and promote the economic development of the Old Capital. Winter celebrations have been around since 1894 but with interruptions that included two world wars and the Great Depression of 1929, the celebrations were sporadic.
In 1954 a group of business people formally launched the winter festivities and chose Bonhomme as the event’s official representative. The first edition of the Québec Winter Carnival took place in 1955 and became a must-attend event for the people of Quebec City and the impetus behind the city’s winter tourist activities. Today, the Québec Winter Carnival is the world’s largest winter festival and a cornerstone of Quebec’s winter life. The festival will welcome 500,000 people to the streets of Quebec over the 10 days.
Where is Carnaval De Quebec?
Carnaval De Quebec takes place in the heart of downtown Quebec City, with most festivities taking place within walking distance from the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac. 38 different activities happen around town.
Where Does Carnaval de Quebec Take Place?
If you’re wondering where Carnaval is, I have broken down the main areas where attractions take place around the city into these six regions:
Loto-Quebec Zone Featuring Bonhomme’s Ice Palace
This is the center of the action and also the main attraction, where Bonhomme himself has set up a beautiful ice castle and has it on proud display for guests to visit, play, and be sure to pose for a photo with him!
This area is bustling with lots to do including:
- Bonhomme’s Ice Castle
- Ungavea Spirits Ice Bar
- SAQ Bistro
- Comfort Stations
- Bicycle Parking
- Indigenous Tourism Quebec interactive map and sculptures
Le Camping de Bonhomme on Rue D’Artigny and Grande Allee
This area has an outdoor camp feel and a lot of great hands-on activities for the whole family.
- Entrance to Videotron Bonhomme’s Campground
- Videotron Stage
- La Source Cottage
- SAQ Ice Bar
- Kart Aventure Videotron
- Benjo Family Space
- Ice Slides
Jardin des Sculptures
- Ice sculptures
- Ice Bar
- La Buche Sugar Shack
- Giant Ice Dome
Gougoune & Doudoune
- Ice-climbing bear and via ferrata
- Electric three-ski trail
- Ginormous BBQ
- Blizz Slide
- Ball-Pit Pool
- Tiki Bar
- At the Citadel de Quebec
- Canoe Race
- Quebec-Levis Ferry
- Ginormous Bonhomme
- Snow Bath
- Bonhomme’s Masked Ball
When is Carnaval de Quebec?
Carnival takes place between the end of January and mid-February, traditionally over a ten-day period. In 2024 Carnaval de Quebec celebrated its 70th anniversary and extended the celebration to a full 18 days, adding new attractions and events for people to celebrate the winter season.
One thing I love about Carnaval is that on their website they post a daily schedule so that you can plan accordingly. If you are planning a trip to Quebec City specifically for Carnaval I would recommend that you plan it over the first Saturday of the festival when they have their world-class parade on Saturday night. Later in the article, I’ll dig more into the parade and what to expect but it is one of the top three things not to be missed at Carnaval! (Be sure to confirm the schedule before you book!)
Who is Bonhomme?
Meet Bonhomme. Born in Quebec City in 1954, he is 400 lbs. of pure packed snow, spreading his joie de vivre—or zest for life—throughout the Quebec Winter Carnival since its official debut in 1955. He is the master of celebrations and the king of festivities. A truly magical and iconic being who epitomizes the spirit of Carnaval.
Fun facts about Bonhomme:
- He talks!
- He was born from a snowflake
- He loves winter, parties, and his ice castle
- He’s the official representative of Carnaval
- He is 7 feet tall and weighs 400 pounds
I have had the chance to meet Bonhomme twice, the second time at a private meeting at his castle as a media member. I loved being able to converse with him, as Bonhomme talks (which is unlike other characters/mascots) proving he is a magical being.
Traveler Tip: Don’t miss your chance for a photo with Bonhomme in his castle located in the Loto-Quebec Zone of the carnival.
Why does Bonhomme wear a sash?
Bonhomme’s red cap, black buttons, and ceinture fechee (sash) are inspired by his French-Canadian roots and metis style of clothing.
Fun fact: Every year the sash design changes and is unique to the year. There is a standard one that Bonhomme is known for but if you look at the signs and designs around town you’ll see that they differ every year.
Quebec Winter Carnaval Tickets – What Does It Cost To Go To Carnaval?
To access Carnaval de Quebec, there is one important thing you need: The Bonhomme effigy. I’m not going to lie to you, I had to look up the definition of their all-important access pass.
Effigy (noun): A sculpture or model of a person
The Bonhomme effigy for the Quebec Winter Festival is of course modeled after the one and only: Bonhomme. Once you purchase one you can wear it around your neck as your ticket and all-access pass to the activities within Le Camping de Bonhomme, Loto-Quebec Zone, Gougoune & Doudoune as well as other sites around town. The effigy is required for those older than 12 years, it will also grant you access to many partner events in the city.
Purchase your Effigy online or at the entrances to the carnival for $20.
Fun fact: Did you know that when you buy an effigy you are entered to win a stay package in the La Jacques-Cartier region? To enter check out the discount booklet that comes with your effigy.
Traveler Tip: Buy your Effigy during their pre-sale for $20 otherwise it is $30 at the ticket booths upon entry.
Full Carnaval Pass
If you want to get the full Caraval experience you can purchase a Full Carnaval Pass which includes one Effigy, one Carnaval beanie, one Carnival Hot Toddy (traditional drink with alcohol, or you can be like me and order the mocktail version), and one hot beverage.
Pre-sale $55 Regular price: $60
Carnaval de Quebec Activities
With almost 40 official activities happening throughout the festival and 10+ coordinated events happening each day, there are endless Carnaval activities to choose from. I’m going to start by listing my top three “must-do” attractions followed up by festival favourites worth checking out.
What is the most popular activity at the Carnaval de Quebec?
Here are my top three “non-negotiables” when planning out a visit to Carnaval:
1. ❄️ Visit Bonhomme’s Ice Palace
Bonhomme’s Ice Palace is truly the center of the action and one of the biggest must-see attractions of the festival. Cars driving by slow down to take pictures, so many doing so that there is full-time traffic control in front of the castle to help keep the vehicles moving!
The castle itself is made out of 3100 blocks of ice, each weighing in at 300 pounds. Every year the designers change the design of the castle. This year’s castle design features 6 towers all with interactive displays and a second-story level (so if you’ve visited one year you’re welcome to go back and have a whole different experience).
The castle is welcoming and open to guests (not just something that you look at) and includes hands-on activities, lookouts, and of course a photo station with Bonhomme himself!
Fun fact: The ice for Bonhomme’s castle is custom-made by a local company, and if you look closely you’ll notice there are no air bubbles in the ice making it crystal clear.
2. ❄️ Go Tobogganing Down the Track that Has Been There Since 1884
Quebecers of all ages have been tobogganing down the grand slides located next to the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac since 1884. For only $3.48 CAD you can grab a toboggan and hike up to the top of the shute, and get ready to hit speeds of 70km an hour as you slide back down into the bottom (and if you’re like me, you will be ready to do it all over again). This was a highlight for me as I didn’t get to do it in 2020 and finally got to go for the ride in 2024.
3. ❄️ Night Parade – A Big Party in the Streets!
The night parade Carnaval de Quebec was one of our favourite family memories (which was saying a lot as it was -30 when we went in 2020!). The use of imaginative displays, dancers, music, and interactive entertainers was overwhelming. You can expect to see music, fire acrobatics and more And I loved that the parade was at night, bringing a whole new level of life to the streets.
We were fortunate to be attending as VIPs and we enjoyed and recommend the experience if you want an elevated experience. In 2024, the VIP tickets were $79 each which included a VIP place in the stands, a Carnaval fleece blanket, and a free beverage.
Mom Tip: Bundle yourself and your kids up warmer than you think you need to as you’ll be sitting still while watching the parade. This will allow you to focus on the parade and not your frozen fingers.
17 Other Activities In Carnaval de Quebec
❄️ Go ice sliding, ziplining, and play fairground games at Bonhomme’s campground
Le Camping de Bonhomme is kid-central and I was impressed with all of the creative activities that they had set up for kids to entertain and engage them. For example, they had set up real golf carts with big movie screens for the kids to take part in “driving” games. Kids can work up a sweat running up and down the ice slides, checking out the zip line, and playing fairground games. When they are ready to slow down for a few minutes there are sweets to be had and kids can have some child-friendly beverages around a warm fire.
❄️ Visit the ice sculpture gardens and giant ice dome
Across from Le Camping De Bonhomme is the Jardin des Sculptures, which is a showcase of incredible talent on display in the form of carved ice. While you’re there check out the giant ice dome and be sure to stop by the boutique to pick up your Carnaval souvenirs.
❄️ Take in a Show
Carnaval has a robust lineup and shows that take place for the duration of the festival on the Loto-Quebec Stage. You can get general entrance tickets or you can purchase VIP entrance for $85 which includes the best viewing, two drinks, and a VIP entrance.
❄️ Take A Snow Bath
For adventure seekers and adrenaline chasers, you can take part in one of the most popular events at Quebec’s Winter Carnaval, which is the snow bath! Gear down to your bathing suit and get ready to go for a snow swim! (No I haven’t done this, don’t think I’ll do it, but am yet still oddly intrigued and ready to be talked into taking the plunge).
❄️ Skate with Bonhomme
Join Bonhomme on skates while you glide around what I think is one of the most scenic skating rinks in the world! This is offered many times throughout the schedule so be sure to add it to your itinerary.
❄️ Get a drink at the ice bar
Around the different sites, you’ll find larger-than-life ice bars (be sure to look up as many have decor that soar high above the bars). There you can enjoy drinking a fun beverage from a glass made of ice!
❄️ Visit sugar shacks for sweet treats
There are a variety of sweet treats around town and a trip to Carnaval isn’t complete without stopping at least once! Whether you opt for a rolled maple syrup taffy stick or dig into a customized beaver tail, there’s something extra delicious about eating sweets in the cool winter air.
❄️ Bal de Bonhomme
This indoor soiree invites guests to put on their masks and head to the one and only Fairmont Chateau Frontenac for a formal masked ball gala. You’ll enjoy “a wild ride of circus performances sent in a unique and eccentric winter universe.” Tickets include appetizers and two drinks.
❄️ Virtual Scavenger Hunt
Grab your phone and wander through the streets taking place in a virtual scavenger hunt while you seek out 70 Carnaval Effigies. The best part, is there are prizes to be won!
❄️ Pose with a giant Bonhomme
New in 2024 there’s a giant 40-foot Bonhomme statue that stands tall in front of parliament.
❄️ Play Laser Tag at the Citadelle de Quebec
Now this is something that I think would be a lot of fun for the whole family, and while I haven’t done it yet it has quickly made it to the top of my “next time” Carnaval bucket list. Imagine racing through the Citadelle de Quebec playing a laser tag game!
☃️ Meet Bonhomme himself
Bonhomme does love the camera and posing with his fans is one of his favourite things to do. This is such a popular thing to do at Winter Carnaval that you can check out his schedule online and plan your route on where is best to snap the candid photo with the star of the show.
❄️ Visit Old Town Quebec
While not an official event, if you’re visiting Carnaval you absolutely must take the funicular (be sure to have cash, they don’t take cards), or walk down, to Old Town Quebec. The whole neighbourhood is decked out with decor and every window display proudly shows celebratory signs of Carnaval. There are a lot of great eateries, art shops, and places for brunch (if you want to start your day down there).
Traveler tip: I like to head into town at night when all of the crowds are gone. You get to have the streets to yourself and take beautiful photos without interruptions.
❄️ Take in Indigenous experiences
At the Indigenous Tourism Quebec center, they have an interactive map and sculptures to check out.
❄️ Carnaval de Quebec Ice Sculptures
One of the things I loved the most was that around town there was an abundance of ice sculptures on display. I had the fortune of meeting with one of the sculpturists while she was busy carving away with her chainsaw. In between her work, she took the time to explain the theme for the year (winter sports) and showed us some of the techniques that she used to make her special carvings. If you’re around town be sure to be on the lookout for all sorts of ice sculptures and for fun, see if you can count them all!
❄️ Climb The Polar Bear Ice Climb
Located in the Gougoune & Doudoune area is an art deco-style polar bear that stands two stories tall. The front of the bear is a full-on ice wall, inviting kids to climb up his chest. Ice climbing is an interesting sport and if you’ve never done it before this is a great place to try! Also in the area, you’ll find a via ferrata, electric three-ski trail, blizz slide, and ball pit pool!
❄️ Watch the Canoe Races
If you thought paddling was hard, how about paddling through the icy waters of the St. Lawrence River? Watch dozens of teams cut through the water to take first place in their class. If you’re like me you’ll just be crossing your fingers that nobody falls in!
To escape the frigid temperature outside, check out the VIP experience and watch the race on board the Quebec City ferry. With a DJ, free bar service, and—most importantly—a heated area inside, it is the best way to watch this feat of athleticism.
Where To Eat & Drink at Carnaval
Loto Quebec Zone
- SAQ Bistro
- Ungava Spirits Ice Bar
- Beaver Tails Food Truck
- Lefoodruck.ca Food Truck
- Bar near the dome
Camping de Bonhomme Videotron
- SAQ Ice Bar
- La Souche Cottage
Gougoune et Doudoune M Christie
- Tiki Bar
- Le Braiser Ginormouse BBQ
Cite de Glisse
- Camions de rue
Interestie Grande Allee
- Camion de rue Kraft Heinz
Where to warm up at Carnaval
With so many activities going on you probably won’t need to warm up, but if you happen to venture to Carnaval when it’s really cold (like we did in 2020) you’ll be happy to know that there are warming huts throughout the festival. They are places where you can buy a warm drink, take off a few layers, grab a meal and a treat, and warm up inside before you head outside for more winter festival fun.
Sustainable Initiatives at Carnaval De Quebec
While the festival has enjoyed 70 wonderful years, coordinators have shared their concern for the climate and our future generations and have implemented Enegir. This initiative helps Carnaval reduce its environmental footprint. Some of the initiatives they have implemented include:
- Effigy is made out of recycled tubing that is used in maple sugar collection.
- Food waste recycling
- Bottle deposits
- Use of local products
- Green awareness squad
- Winter bicycle parking
- And more!
My Personal Dream: All of the souvenirs would be made in Quebec by local artisans from upcycled or natural resources and the whole festival be carbon neutral. I look forward to reporting that story update to you someday soon!
Accessibility at the Winter Carnaval – Benjo Family Area
The Benjo Family Area gives families with young children a warm place to nurse, change babies, and warm up. This includes on-site games and a palace to watch the night parades and shows.
FAQs about Quebec Carnaval
How To Prepare For Carnaval
If you are interested in attending Carnaval there are a few things you can do to help make the most out of your experience:
- Research the schedule for the year and pick out the top activities that you want to take part in.
- Book your accommodations (we highly recommend the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac if you want to be the center of all the action)
- Pick up your effigy – They are available at pick-up spots all around town.
- Dress warm
- Head out to the festival and celebrate!
How to dress for Quebec Winter Carnaval
Be sure to track the weather when you’re planning your time at Winter Carnaval, and dress warmer than you think you should (specifically in layers). Some of your time may be stopping to watch pop-up entertainment or take in unexpected displays, and you tend to get colder when not moving. Here’s what I wore to Carnaval that kept me warm:
- Base layer (no cotton)
- Mid layer (fleece, and warm)
- External layer (outerwear that was designed for playing in)
- Gloves, 2 layers of socks, boots, toque, scarf
- Backpack – for stashing away extra layers, water bottle, and snacks!
What does Carnaval de Quebec celebrate?
Carnaval de Quebec celebrates all the wonderful things that winter brings. From dancing in the streets (literally, we saw a dance group come out and do a pop-up dance in the streets) to outdoor seasonal activities like ice climbing, sliding, tobogganing, skating, hockey, and more, to large festival celebrations including the parade and concerts, the festival is truly a coming together of people and a celebration of the winter season, the rich Quebec culture, and of course the king of the festival, Bonhomme himself.
How long does the Quebec Carnival last?
Carnival is typically a ten-day celebration but in recognition of its 70th year, it was extended to be 18 days long. Each day approximately 10 different activities are happening around town in alignment with all of the ongoing festivities as well as private functions that happen.
How many people work at Carnaval?
Planning of the event happens year round, with 40 full-time staff working on the festival and during the festival, there are over 120 staff on site to support the event.
Is Carnaval de Quebec one of the largest winter carnivals in the world?
It is THE largest winter Carnaval in the world! (I learned this fun fact when I got to meet Bonhomme at his beautiful Ice Castle!)
What does Carnaval de Quebec celebrate?
Carnaval celebrities the magic of the winter season, and as the folklore goes, it was all started by a snowflake that transformed into a magical, party-going snowman named Bonhomme!
Do you want to extend your stay in Quebec?
Not ready for your Quebec Carnaval experience to be over? Extend your stay by exploring Quebec City and all it has to offer. Here are some of our favourite things that we suggest:
1. Take a Fat E-Bike Tour Around Town
Whenever I am first exploring a new city one of the things I like to do is get a tour of the town to orient myself and find out from a local guide the history of the place that I’m visiting. I was SO excited to be able to explore the streets of Old Quebec with Tuque & Bicycle, where we were geared up and fitted with fat e-bikes, and then sent out with an amazing guide to explore the city. Locally owned and female operated AND eco-friendly, this truly is one of the best ways to explore Quebec City and I can’t recommend it enough.
2. Sleep in North America’s Only Ice Hotel – Hotel De Glace
Why not take a winter bucket list item off your list and sleep overnight in Canada’s only ice hotel? Just a short 20-minute drive from downtown Quebec City is the Hotel de Glace. Each year the hotel designers come up with a different theme and in 2024 it was “Time”. The hotel has 30 rooms, an ice bar, a dance floor, and a playroom (including a huge slide!). One of the newest editions was the neon LED lights which had us dancing as soon as we walked in (and a group of senior ladies dancing as they made their way out!).
Whether you choose just to head out for the day to see the Hotel De Glace or bundle up and stay the night, it is worth the drive to experience this unique hotel in person. For a full and very detailed description and photos from our trip to the ice hotel check out this article.
3. Explore Hotel Musee Premier Nations – Quebec City’s Indigenous Hotel
Extend your trip with one more stay, and we recommend visiting Hotel Premier Nations. A luxury 4-star stay awaits you at Hotel Musee Premier Nations. A modern mix of design and innovation combined with the traditions of the Huron-Wendat people have fused into a world-class indigenous experience just a 15-minute drive from downtown Quebec City.
Celebrating 70 Years Of Memories
What started as a way for people to come together and embrace the winter season has evolved into a beautiful celebration of community and culture. I hope everyone, at least once in their life, can experience the joie-de-vivre that was abundant in the air at Carnaval de Québec. I have been twice now and am already planning my next trip back.
Happy 70th Anniversary Carnaval!
Is this a sponsored post?: Yes, while we were graciously sponsored to attend the Carnaval de Quebec, all of our thoughts and views are our own.