With its inaugural edition taking place in 1894 and held continuously since 1955, the Quebec Winter Carnival has always been a celebration of all things French-Canadian. Freezing temperatures aren’t enough to scare away the over one million visitors who trek to the charming city every February for what has become one of the largest winter festivals on the planet.
In 2018, the Quebec Carnival (a.k.a. the Carnaval de Québec) runs from January 26th to February 11th.
Visitors from the province and across Canada come for the ice sculptures and slides, the multiple parades and the great programming and sporting events which define Carnival. They stay for the exceptional food, drink and general joie de vivre which make Quebec a one-of-a-kind destination in North America.
In this guide, we cover:
- Quebec Winter Carnival 2018 Activities
- Quebec City Hotels at the heart of the action
- Quebec City Restaurants that celebrate the spirit of the city
- Tips to best cover the Carnaval de Québec
- How to recreate a bit of Carnival at home
The Quebec Winter Carnival is more than just the Bonhomme’s Ice Palace, it’s also about the events taking place during the three weeks of celebrations. Among them are the ice canoe race, where teams attempt to push and paddle their boats across the half-frozen landscape of the St. Lawrence River wearing shoes with spikes to get extra traction on the ice. Tracing its history back to the early days of New France in the 1600s as the only way to cross the Saint Lawrence River, ice canoeing was part of the first ever edition of the Carnival in 1894 and has remained one of its most popular events ever since.
Bonus: if you stay at the Château Frontenac, the city’s emblematic castle-like hotel, the slide will take you right to your front door!
Skating rinks are set up around the city centre, along with other classic winter pastimes such as a two- to four-minute long snow bath. Bistro tents along the way serve the traditional drink of the Quebec Winter Carnival called Caribou. A deadly mixture of red wine, liquor and spices, it’s Quebec’s interpretation of mulled wine and will warm you up on the chilliest of winter nights.
Where to Stay
In order to be close to the action and enabling a pop in to warm up, we recommend staying at one of the many luxurious yet affordable hotels in Old Quebec. Here are our picks for the best accommodations to experience Carnival…
8 rue Sainte-Antoine
Set in three buildings dating back to the 17th century, the Auberge Saint-Antoine recently took home the top prize yet again in the trivago Awards 2018 4-star category and a quick look at its fact sheet explains why. Seamlessly blending refined luxury with French-Canadian rusticity, the Saint-Antoine perfectly embodies the unique character of Quebec City. The stylish boutique hotel is also bathed in history, with artifacts from the city’s earliest days displayed throughout the place, giving it an almost museum-like feel.
Hôtel Le Germain Québec
126 rue Saint-Pierre
At Le Germain Quebec, you’ll be staying in a century-old building in Quebec City’s Old Port where it retains all the cachet and contagious charm of days past. They have preserved the original woodwork and stone to create a mix of classic and contemporary architecture, all while offering luxurious textiles and amenities. You’ll be both impressed and seduced by the warm, luxurious and welcoming atmosphere as well as the unparalleled service of the dedicated staff.
Fairmont Le Château Frontenac
1 rue des Carrières
The one and only: the defining mark of Quebec City’s skyline also happens to hold the title of the most photographed hotel in the world. Originally built in 1893 by the prestigious Canadian Pacific Railway company, the 253-feet high central tower was added in 1924, growing the hotel’s capacity to over 600 rooms. This National Historic Site offers everything you’ve come to expect from the Fairmont brand: impeccable styling and materials, round-the-clock concierge service, amazing dining options ranging from the more laid-back Sam’s Bistro to the highly-rated Champlain Restaurant. Perched atop a 100-foot hill, the Château Frontenac treats its guests to sweeping panoramic views of the St. Lawrence and the city. Even if you end up staying somewhere else, a tour of this iconic institution is a must-do on your visit.
Hôtel Le Concorde
1225 place Montcalm
Hôtel Le Concorde Quebec is a futuristic-looking skyscraper hotel located across from the Plains of Abraham, where many of the carnival’s events are held, meaning you can get there first and skip the lines and you’ll also have a short walk to get back to your room at the end of the day. Most of the other major touristic attractions, such as the Museum of Civilization, the Place d’Youville and Quebec’s parliament building, are also close by. After an unforgettable day discovering Old Quebec, you can take the elevator to the top floor, where the Concorde’s revolving restaurant Le Ciel offers affordable and delectable meals with the best view in Quebec City.
Where to Eat
Quebec has gained a reputation for being a top culinary destination and with good reason. With chefs pushing the boundaries of gastronomy with new restaurants popping up on a monthly basis, time-honoured institutions serving up old-school French cuisine in lavish settings and classic Québécois casse-croûtes (diners) delivering on greasy yet timeless classics, the diversity of cuisines is astounding. The city being surrounded by fertile agricultural areas means chefs in Quebec have an almost endless supply of high-quality local ingredients to work with. Here are some of our suggestions of where to eat in Quebec City:
26 rue Saint-Louis
Le Continental is as classy and timeless as it gets. Virtually unchanged in the past 50 years, this is a dress-up-in-your-Sunday-best kind of restaurant. The waiters are extensively trained which translates to impeccable service for guests and the food is straight out of 1950s Paris establishments. Chef-turned-TV-host Anthony Bourdain visited this Quebec City institution a few years ago on his show Parts Unknown and was thrilled with his experience, as he attests in the clip above.
No trip to Quebec is complete without a stop at a diner for a poutine and a steamé (steamed hot dog) and Chez Ashton is one of the oldest and best in the Quebec City region. The diner’s origins can be traced to a travelling snack cart started by Ashton Leblond in 1969. It was not until 1972, however, that poutine, an artery-clogging combination of french fries, gravy and curd cheese, was first offered.
Chez Ashton is also famous for its winter promotion scheme, wherein the price of poutine drops with the temperature. If the temperature is −30°C, the customer receives a 30% discount on poutine. Legend has it Ashton hooked his first customers by initially giving free samples of his poutine. They kept coming back for more and his eponymous chain of restaurants have now achieved province-wide recognition and are a true Quebec institution.
1027 3e AVENUE
A relative newcomer to the Quebec restaurant scene, La Planque serves modern interpretations of traditional Québécois dishes along with European classics. The restaurant also offers fresh Canadian oysters, which are regarded as some of the finest in the world. It has made a name for itself through its cozy interior, somewhat removed from touristy Old Quebec and its exceptional wine selection and service. Its popularity with the locals means you might have a hard time getting a table so make a reservation.
- Dress warm and wear many layers; the temperatures in Quebec City can go down to -30°C on winter nights!
- Bring hand & feet warmers and don’t be afraid to use them.
- Protect your face from the wind and the cold with lip balm and vaseline.
- Brace for signage and transit announcements only in French. Why not brush up on your grade school French and of course start things with a bonjour and end with a merci, it goes a long way with locals!
Here is a recipe for Caribou, the official drink of the Quebec Winter Carnival. It is sure to warm you up on even the coldest of winter nights!
- 750 ml Red wine
- 250 ml Rum or Canadian Whisky
- 1 tsp ground cloves
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 Star anise
- 1 Cinnamon stick
- 3 tbsp maple syrup
Combine all ingredients in a small pot and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
For more information on all Quebec City has to offer, visit quebecregion.com.
What do you have planned for the Quebec Winter Carnival? Let us know!