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(This arti­cle may or may not con­tain affil­i­ate links. What does that mean?)

While brows­ing through the end­less stream of trav­el pho­tos float­ing through the inter­net one Octo­ber, some­thing amaz­ing made me pause. Enor­mous snow sculp­tures, stun­ning in detail, made me want to know where I could find them.

Intrigue turned to joy when I real­ized they were in Que­bec City, part of its annu­al Win­ter Car­naval, held at the begin­ning of Feb­ru­ary, and just a 6‑hour dri­ve from my house in Mass­a­chu­setts. When I saw every­thing else the city had to offer, I knew my hus­band and I were head­ing for a week­end road trip. 

A snow sculpture at the Quebec City Carnival

Just one of the many snow sculp­tures to greet us when we arrived at the Carnaval.

More research told me to be pre­pared for the weath­er. It is win­ter in Octo­ber in Que­bec, which means lay­ers of warm clothes, snow pants, boots, hats, mit­tens, and what­ev­er else you think might keep you warm. Tem­per­a­tures can drop below zero at night, but with the fes­tive par­ty atmos­phere and the right cloth­ing, you’ll be set. Don’t wor­ry about being under­dressed; guests wear­ing snow pants and boots while eat­ing in restau­rants is a com­mon sight in Que­bec City dur­ing win­ter months.

Dress warm in Quebec

 Head­ing out to vis­it the activ­i­ties at night at the Carnaval.

 

Winter Carnaval

With the pur­chase of an Effi­gy Pass for under $9, this 9‑day cel­e­bra­tion will keep you enter­tained from morn­ing to night. The Effi­gy Pass will give you access to most attrac­tions and events. 

Make sure to admire the ice sculp­tures scat­tered through­out the venue and vis­it the Car­naval mas­cot Bon­hom­me’s ice palace. You’ll find ice chairs to lounge in, an ice track to sled down, games and more. Parades on Sat­ur­day nights (Feb. 8 and 15 in 2020) rival those seen at Dis­ney­land and Dis­ney World with cir­cus acts, lights, music, and roam­ing per­form­ers. Stand on a fer­ry and watch the canoe races on the par­tial­ly frozen St. Lawrence Riv­er as the ath­letes maneu­ver their canoes through water, slush, and some­times land where water is too frozen. Or try your hand at bad­minton or mini-golf. Take in a con­cert or two and join in the danc­ing fun. 

Gamer of Thrones in Ice

 Many ice sculp­tures are themed like this crowd-pleas­ing Game of Thrones chair from 2015.

Tobogganing in Quebec

 Tobog­gan­ing down an ice shoot is both exhil­a­rat­ing and ter­ri­fy­ing at the same time!

When you’ve had your fill of Car­naval, there’s still plen­ty to do to fill your days (that also gets you out of the cold for min­i­mal or no cost!). You could spend more than a week in the city and not run out of things to do! Here are a few of the best activ­i­ties with­in walk­ing dis­tance of the Car­naval, so you don’t even need to rent a car.

Erico Chocolaterie

Who does­n’t love a good cup of hot choco­late on a cold win­ter day, espe­cial­ly one of the ten vari­eties served at Eri­co Choco­la­terie which can include every­thing from a pinch of hot pep­per, to hon­ey and oth­er spices. For the can­dy-lov­ing child, and adult, the store’s lit­tle muse­um with choco­late cre­ations and the his­to­ry of choco­late, begin­ning with the Mayan civ­i­liza­tion, is an added bonus. You might also be able to get a peek at the choco­late-mak­ing process in the store.  

 

Erico Chocolaterie made of Chocolate

One of the choco­late sculp­tures on dis­play at Erico.

Parliament Building

If you’ve trav­eled to the Lou­vre in Paris, or seen pho­tos of it, you might see a resem­blance to Que­bec’s Par­lia­ment Build­ing since the Lou­vre expan­sion inspired it. Rec­og­nized as a Que­bec Nation­al His­toric Mon­u­ment in 1985, the build­ing is archi­tec­tural­ly beau­ti­ful, inside and out. The build­ing, includ­ing the library, is open sev­en days a week and vis­i­tors are free to explore on a self-guid­ed tour at their own pace. For more in-depth infor­ma­tion and his­to­ry, guid­ed tours of the build­ing and library are also  free, but reser­va­tions are required.

Don’t for­get to look for Que­bec’s mot­to, “Je me sou­viens” (I remem­ber), engraved above the main entrance. 

Quebec Parliament Building

 One of the rooms in the Par­lia­ment Build­ing where Que­bec’s leg­is­la­tors meet.

Musee de la Civilisation (Museum of Civilization)

Exhibits rotate, but there are also some per­ma­nent or ref­er­ence exhibits as well. “Que­bec Then and Now” show­cas­es 375 fun and inter­est­ing arti­facts and doc­u­ments from the begin­ning of Que­bec’s his­to­ry to the present. “Observe — More than Meets the Eye” chal­lenges vis­i­tors to make it through the entire exhib­it with­out miss­ing any­thing. At the same time, “This is Our Sto­ry” high­lights the Abo­rig­i­nal cul­ture and includes 450 pieces of con­tem­po­rary Abo­rig­i­nal art. There is a nom­i­nal fee to enter the muse­um ($29 USD for a fam­i­ly of five with three chil­dren ages 12–17 or $13 for adults over 31 and $8.50 for ages 18–30 online; add $2 to buy onsite). 

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 One dis­play at the Muse­um of Civ­i­liza­tion explains the phrase “False as a Cana­di­an dia­mond” gets its ori­gin from Jacques Carti­er bring­ing back to France what he thought was gold and dia­monds. Sad­ly for him, it was just iron pyrite and quartz crystals.

Look for the Murals

Look for three eye-catch­ing, life-like murals as you walk toward Old Town depict­ing life in Que­bec. These murals, begun in 1999 to cel­e­brate 400 years of Que­bec life and his­to­ry, are so life-like you will do a dou­ble-take when you come upon one. 

400 years of Quebec life and history

 La Fresque des Québé­cois was the first mur­al to be com­plet­ed in 1999 and is locat­ed near Place Royale, on the wall of Soumande House on Notre-Dame Street with 15 his­tor­i­cal fig­ures and over a dozen famous Que­bec artists and writ­ers includ­ed in the design.

Sample the food

Most places have unique foods spe­cif­ic to their locale, and Que­bec is no dif­fer­ent. Yes, there are crepes and meat pies (tour­tière) and drinks, but there are also some fun, fam­i­ly-friend­ly food items that every­one should try at least once, and maybe more than once. Let’s start with pou­tine, a strange name for a delec­table dish. While there is some dis­pute about where it was cre­at­ed, Que­bec claims the title of first serv­ing the com­bi­na­tion of French fries, cheese curds, and gravy. It may sound odd, but it tastes fan­tas­tic, and there are so many vari­eties (includ­ing veg­e­tar­i­an options) that you’re bound to find some­thing to please every palate.

Anoth­er must-try is beaver tails. It’s not what you think. In the mid-west­ern Unit­ed States, it’s called ele­phant ears, while in New Eng­land, it’s called fried dough, which is the best descrip­tion. If you head to the Win­ter Car­naval, you can pur­chase a large piece cov­ered in any num­ber of top­pings, includ­ing cin­na­mon and apples or Nutel­la and Reece’s Pieces. 

Last­ly, maple taffy can be found at the Car­ni­val or any restau­rant or café you hap­pen to see with a stand set up on the side­walk. It’s made by pour­ing warm maple syrup on snow, which might sound a lit­tle strange, but with a pop­si­cle stick in hand, you can roll your own maple taffy lollipop.

Beaver Tail Eating

Beaver tails were one of my favorites in Que­bec City, par­tic­u­lar­ly at the Carnaval.

How to get there

Get­ting to Que­bec City is as sim­ple as board­ing a plane in LAX. Though some­times that’s not easy with free­way traf­fic. Most flights have one stopover, but typ­i­cal­ly with­in 8–9 hours, you’ll be on the ground at the air­port in Que­bec City (YQB). While there are bus­es that could take you from the air­port to the city, they take way too long, over 90 min­utes for what should be a 25 min ride in a car. Uber is now avail­able in Que­bec (down­load the free app on your phone), or you could also take a taxi.

Where to stay

If you are look­ing to stay close to the Car­naval grounds, the Hotel Chateau Lau­ri­er can’t be beat­en for the loca­tion; how­ev­er, dur­ing Car­naval time, the rooms sell out quick­ly. Two oth­er hotels close to the Car­naval and oth­er sites men­tioned in this arti­cle are Le Con­corde Que­bec and Hotel Chateau Bellvue. 

Rental Car

Who needs one? If you are just explor­ing Que­bec City and the Win­ter Car­ni­val for the week­end, save your mon­ey by choos­ing a cen­tral­ly locat­ed hotel and walk­ing everywhere.

Paula Vogler is a writer and reporter for many local papers in Mass­a­chu­setts where she calls home. She is an avid trav­el­er who has been to all 50 US states (many more than once), 20 coun­tries, and 5 con­ti­nents and is always ready with one foot out the door to set off on a new adven­ture. As one philoso­pher said, “The world is a book and those who do not trav­el read only one page.”