The Quebecois know how to throw a party, and they get plenty of practice. Every winter they welcome the world to a two-week block party that engulfs the entire city in a joyous celebration of all thing snow and ice. In 2018, Carnaval de Quebec runs Jan. 26–Feb. 11.
Carnaval is for all ages, but it’s a wonderland for kids, with an ice castle and towers to climb on, giant snow sculptures, dogsled and toboggan rides, parades and a big lovable snowman named Bonhomme that pops up everywhere. All this happens with the historic walled city of Quebec as a backdrop, its narrow, stone-paved streets lined with centuries-old stone and brick buildings. Strolling its streets is like stepping back into the 1700s.
The entire city rings with good fun. Much of it centers on the Plains of Abraham, a vast park that crowns the bluffs high above the St Lawrence River. Approach this snow-swept landscape through a boulevard lined by world-class snow sculptures — literally, since this is the International Snow Sculpture Competition.
The park turns into a winter playground, with skating, dogsled and sleigh rides, snow slides, snowboarding, outdoor games, igloos, outdoor movies and live entertainment. Snow tubing is a family sport here, with individual tubes and giant ones that hold the whole family. There’s terrain for snowboarding, and children ages 5 to 8 can learn to ski on free rental equipment. Everyone can try their hand at curling, a favorite Canadian ice sport.
While on the Plains of Abraham, try Beaver Tails — fried dough sprinkled with cinnamon sugar — or syrup-on-snow at the sugar shack, both sure to please kids. Parents can warm up with a Caribou — warm port wine, rum and maple syrup — as the kids sit around a campfire listening to a storyteller.
A highlight for spectators is the Snow Bath, where competing teams clad in bathing suits roll in the snow — and actually appear to enjoy it. Not far away, steam rises from a spa in the midst of this, where carnival-goers relax and warm up — in bathing suits — immersed in a big hot tub.
Not everything is on the Plains of Abraham. Beside the river, crowds cheer canoe race teams as they alternately paddle through the water and carry the huge canoes over the tilting and moving ice flows across the St. Lawrence. A snow slide stands beside the Chateau Frontenac and a giant ice palace with towers to climb is constructed at Place Loto-Québec. Kids can try ice fishing, either outdoors or inside a heated inflatable igloo.
There’s entertainment throughout the city, but two evenings — this year Feb. 3 in the lower town and Feb. 10 in the upper town — spectacular parades seem more like moving stage shows, with floats, costumed characters, music, performers and bands.
It’s easy to see why the carnival’s mascot, the plump red-belted snowman named Bonhomme, is always smiling.
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