Quebec Winter Carnival

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Every year, thousands of visitors flock to the Québec Winter Carnival to enjoy a host of activities for all ages. Those brave enough to sign up for the Quebec Winter Carnival snow bath run onto the snow, laughing and screaming. The group of semi-naked men and women are wearing bikinis, straw skirts or bathing suits. The only items of clothing that might keep them warm are their winter boots, hats and gloves.

This madcap scene at the Quebec Winter Carnival snow bath, along with a host of other winter carnival activities makes visiting the Quebec Winter Carnival one of the top things to do in Canada in winter. 

During the Quebec Winter Carnival, Quebec City is easily one of the best party city in Canada

Quebec Winter Carnival

Snow Bath

snow bath quebec winter carnival
The Quebec Winter Carnival Snow Bath is a fun event each year.

Snowballs fly and there are cheers and howls of encouragement from the crowd.

The giant chubby Michelin-man-like snowman and ambassador of the Quebec Winter Carnival, Bonhomme, rocks happily from side to side as he frolics with the bathers.

carnival bath
Anyone is welcome to have a bath in the snow at the Quebec Winter Carnival.

Some of are doing a jig to keep warm while a few hardy souls throw themselves on the ground, making angels in the snow.

I’ve been freezing in the cold for about half an hour.

The temperature is around -6C and my fingers and toes feel like they have turned blue.

My nose is numb and although I’m dressed in layers (two layers of thermal underwear, a fleece jacket, a winter ski shell, ski pants, hat and gloves), my teeth are chattering.

But I’m glad to be here as it’s the wildest, wackiest spectacle I’ve ever seen.

carnaval de quebec
The snow bathers at the at the carnaval de quebec are so pumped some don’t even feel the cold.

The Snow Bath is an event you shouldn’t miss at the Quebec Winter Carnival, which is held in Quebec City each year and is one of the world’s largest winter festivals.

I grew up near the Equator and have lived in tropical and semi-tropical regions most of my life.

Prancing in the snow with next to nothing on is not an activity I had considered for my bucket list.

winter carnival of quebec
Participating in the Quebec Winter Carnival Snow Bath is a memory that lasts forever.

After 10 minutes of freezing frivolity, the scantily clad bathers are ushered back into the warm-up area and another group marches forward onto the stage.

The night before, Jenn, Molly and Kathleen had tried to persuade me to join them. They were in the third group.

It has been a dream of mine to attend the Quebec Winter Carnival.

I’m looking forward to going again.

Watch this video to see what they did to prepare for the snow bath.

After watching the video, you’ll understand why the snow bathers don’t feel the cold. 

Quebec Winter Carnival Activities

Winter in Quebec is a realm of white magic, ice chapels, frozen lakes, snowmen and dog sleds.

Quebec City’s Old Town is transformed into a picturesque winter wonderland straight out of a storybook. 

One of the best ways to experience winter is to join in the fun at the Quebec Winter Carnival, where winter is celebrated with a host of events.

The festival is in February each year and is one of the best winter festivals to visit in eastern Canada. 

The programme offers entertainment for all ages, including shows, sleigh rides, ice fishing, dog sledding, snow slides and skating.

The main highlights of the carnival each year are: 

1- The Quebec Winter Carnival Mascot

quebec winter carnival mascot
The jolly snowman, Bonhomme, is the Quebec winter carnival mascot.

As you wander around the Quebec City winter carnival grounds, you’re likely to bump into Bonhomme. 

The Quebec Winter Carnival mascot is a happy soul who is there to brighten up your day. So, go up and give him a big hug. 

2- Bonhomme’s Ice Palace


The centrepiece of the festival is Bonhomme’s Ice Palace, which is a fairy tale construction made with 300 tons of ice.

Bonhomme is the Quebec Winter Carnival’s mascot and each year, an Ice Palace is built for him as the centre of winter activities.

3- Quebec Winter Carnival Parades 

quebec carnival
There are two parades at the Quebec winter festival.

There are two glittering night parades featuring circus performers, multimedia light shows, pyrotechnics and music. 

The parades are quite spectacular and even though it can get a little cold waiting on the street, they are worth rugging up for. 

The parade travels along Grande Allée to place George V, with various stops along the way where the performers get into the groove to entertain the excited crowd.

In between skits, roving entertainers, including fun characters in animal costumes jump in to keep the narrative moving before the next group of performers arrives. 

4- Ice Sculptures

There’s always an impressive snow sculpture exhibition.

The stunning ice sculptures are created by teams of professionals and if you’d like to be part of the creativity, you can join an ice sculpture workshop at Bonhomme’s Ice Palace. 

Even if you don’t think you have the talent to become a Michaelangelo of ice sculpting, taking part in the workshop will give you an appreciation of the skill involved in carving ice. 

5- Cosy indoor bars and eateries 

winter carnaval quebec
The winter carnival in Quebec has plenty of places to get out of the cold.

Although the sub-zero temperatures are a shock, the winter carnival in Quebec has plenty of indoor cafes and restaurants to warm up in while sipping on a cup of soup, a glass of wine or a mug of hot chocolate.

quebec winter festival drinks
Keep warm at the Quebec winter festival with a hot chocolate. Photo: Lauren Bath.

Yes, it’s time for a hot chocolate to warm up before watching the crazy canoes battling the ice. 

6- Canoe Races

quebec winter carnaval

The canoe races are part of the fun Quebec carnival activities. Text for canoe races by Maria Visconti.This image is not of a rescue, nor is it an emergency.

Nobody has fallen into the frozen river by accident or is about to perish.

But February is the month that marks the beginning of the annual Quebec City Winter Carnival when some Québécoise go, well… mad.

Maybe they’ve had enough of the cold (the highest average winter temperature in Quebec in February is about -6C) so some go canoeing in the semi-frozen waters of the St Lawrence River.

Racing, to be exact.

Across floating ice that keeps moving, cracking, crashing and crushing against the canoes and their paddlers.

If they cannot find a way around a big ice floe, well they mount it (what else?), drag the canoe across it and plunge into the waters at the other side.

They train long and hard for this competition and the teams are quite secretive about their techniques and strategies.

It all started when there were no bridges across the river and ferrymen rowed or paddled the insane from one shore to another even in winter.

One afternoon, the ferrymen got into an argument about who could paddle faster.

To settle the dispute, they jumped into their boats and rowed like mad across the semi-frozen river.

If you’ve never seen a winter canoe race then make sure to put this on your itinerary. It’s amazing to watch the teams race over the frozen St. Lawrence River. 

7- Visit the Quebec Ice Hotel

Although it’s not officially part of the Quebec Winter Carnival, if you’re visiting during this time of the year make sure you take a look at the ice chapel. 

The ice chapel is part of Quebec’s Hotel de Glace (Ice Hotel), built only in winter for three months.

Yes, the hotel melts and gets rebuilt every winter, 5km north of the city.

It takes about six weeks for 50 workers to complete the buildings each year.


Where to stay during the Quebec Winter Carnival 

Hilton Quebec City

quebec winter carnival
The view from the Hilton Quebec City.

Hilton Quebec is a five-star hotel conveniently located within walking distance of the carnival grounds and offers fabulous bird-eye views.

Check the latest prices for Hilton Quebec here

Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac

Experience a Canadian castle in this charming historic hotel. 

See more details about the Fairmont in Quebec City here

Quebec Winter Carnival Snow Bath

Quebec Winter Carnival Snow Bath 2

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Christina Pfeiffer
Christina Pfeiffer is a writer, photographer and video blogger based in Queensland, Australia. She has lived in three continents and her career as a travel journalist has taken her to all seven continents. Since 2003, she has contributed travel stories and photographs to mainstream media in Australia and around the world such as the Sydney Morning Herald, CNN Traveller, The Australian and the South China Morning Post. She has won many travel writing awards and is a full member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers.