I went to French immersion school in Toronto and every year we got to celebrate the wonderful Quebecois traditional of Carnaval! One of our teachers always dressed up as Bonhomme, the carnival’s snowman mascot, and we played games and did lots of activities.
It’s not until looking back on it today that I realized they were teaching us a very important lesson: the best way to learn about a place is to get involved in cultural activities. Yes, we learned French in a classroom but the way to truly connect with a place when you’re an étranger is by getting to know more about what those people hold dear.
Unlike the celebrations at my school, Québec Winter Carnival lasts for two fun-filled weeks from January 30th to February 15th, 2015 (the day before my birthday!) and I was excited the first time I got to go in 2005 – a decade ago! This special festival celebrates all the things to do with winter and snow – which we of course love in Canada. You can enjoy exciting events like snow sculptures, snow slides, special shows, ice skating, and sleigh rides at one of the largest winter festivals and coolest francophone cities in the world.
Where to Stay
Québec City is old world charm in a thriving city. That means you’ll find plenty of hotels in Quebec City and hostels with exposed brick and tattered wood dating back a couple hundred years.
These are great places to stay while enjoying the fun of Winter Carnival, especially if you’re intrepid enough to stay somewhere like St-Roch which is ‘up-and-coming’ (which we all know means: once dodgy, now has gastropubs, right?!). Book early, because people come from all around the world to see the unique Canadian festival!
Wining and Dining
I don’t know if you know this about me, but I love wine – and with Québec being heavily influenced by French culture, the province and I share the same appreciation for fine wine. You’ll find well priced wine just about anywhere, but you’ll also have special winter treats like mulled wine being sold from various stalls around the city.
Québec city is really into the locavore movement right now though they’ve been eating fresh food from market stalls before we named it that! Restaurants take pride in serving local produce and artisanal foods like cheese. A great way to save some money is to make some of your own meals at your accommodation, starting with a visit to the Vieux-Port farmer’s market!
Getting the Most out of the Experience
Because there are so many things to see and do at the Winter Carnival, you should definitely make a rough plan in advance – especially when deciding what parts you want to see! This is one of the biggest events in the city and you can expect that it will take a lot longer to do things than you’re used to. Have a list of your top picks of activities and choose your route carefully.
Be aware that a lot of the most famous tourist attractions will also be packed, so this is really the best time to immerse yourself in the carnival or explore lesser-known parts of Quebec City.
What to Pack
It’s no secret: Québec city is cold. It’s even colder than Toronto so make sure you’ve packed thick gloves, a scarf, a hat, and a very warm jacket. Dress in layers – especially if you decide to go ice skating (do choose the ice rink at La Place d’Youville – it’s in the centre of Vieux-Québec!). You’ll be cold when you start, warm up quickly, and just as quickly start freezing when you’re sweaty from all the activity!
A nice, thick pair of socks and a comfortable pair of shoes will keep your toes from getting too cold – but you can always buy a Beaver Tail and a hot chocolate to warm up!