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4 Must-See Winter Events in Quebec

Bundle up and enjoy these can't-miss winter spectacles.

U.S. News & World Report

4 Must-See Winter Events in Quebec

From ice palaces to winter cycling and snowboarding, Quebec offers a host of ways to embrace cold-weather splendors.(Getty Images)

Quebecers embrace their winters with a certain "joie de vivre" and there's no better evidence of this than the spectacular winter carnivals that take place each year in Quebec City and Montreal. Quebec City hosts the world's largest winter carnival from the end of January to mid-February and Montréal en Lumière takes place from the end of February to mid-March. Each event and city offers a distinct experience, yet each offers a decidedly French or international flair. Visit one or both of these cities in 2017 to experience a winter wonderland like no other.

Carnaval de Québec
Quebec City

Quebec City offers Old World European charm in their celebration of winter, with the first-known large outdoor carnival dating back to 1894. Originally created as a way for Quebecers to stay warm during the long harsh winters, the carnival of today is a spectacular event with canoe races on the St. Lawrence River, evening parades, ice palaces and the world-famous temporary mayor of the city, Bonhomme. A beloved figure that's been associated with the carnival since 1955, Bonhomme is a snowman come to life that Quebecers fondly remember from their childhood.

Taking place across the city from Jan. 27 to Feb. 12, 2017, there are over 200 activities for all ages, including snow sculpture competitions, sleigh rides, live music and sporting events. Bonhomme's Ice Castle is one of the highlights and is located across from Place de l'Assemblée-Nationale (Quebec's Parliament Building), and just outside the entrance to the main festival site. An Effigy (or passport) with Bonhomme's image is the magical ticket to visit the main site and attend many of the activities and entertainment that take place over the 17 days of the festival. The Effigy comes in the form of a small button that you wear on your jacket or outerwear to show your carnival spirit. Another way to join in the festivities is to don a classic ceinture fléchée (arrowed sash) that's a symbol of 19th-century French-Canadian clothing and is worn by Bonhomme and guests during the festival.

Wander the snow-covered streets of Old Town and listen to live bands and watch performers in traditional costumes and furs as they entertain with log-cutting exhibits and lively French-Canadian songs. Then, wander up to the top of the hill or take the funicular to the Terrasse Dufferin boardwalk next to the iconic Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. Here you will find one of the oldest attractions in the city, the Toboggan Slide Au 1884. Relive your childhood memories as you zoom down the slide while overlooking the icy St. Lawrence River. And don't miss your chance to try a tire d'érabler (a maple syrup taffy and traditional Quebecois-style treat). Made by boiling syrup and cooling it on snow, the taffy is rolled on a stick and eaten while still pleasantly sticky and slightly warm.

For a side trip, head a few miles outside the city to the only Hôtel de Glace (ice hotel) in North America. Wander through the icy hallways to see the impressive snow vaults and crystalline ice sculptures, followed by a cocktail in their bar, served in glasses carved from ice, of course. For the more adventurous, book a room for an evening and learn how to stay warm through the night while sleeping on a bed made of ice in a Nordic sleeping bag.

After a long day of playing in the snow, head indoors by the fire to enjoy a traditional Quebecois beverage, Caribou. A fortified alcohol made of red wine, hard liquor (usually whisky) and maple syrup, the beverage is Quebec's secret weapon for taking off the winter chill.

Montréal en Lumière

Montreal, with its modern and international urban vibe, will host their biggest winter celebration ever in 2017 with Montréal en Lumière as they commemorate the 375th anniversary of the city of Montreal and feature Lyon, France, as their honored city. The Festival is partnering with several other winter events for the big event, such as Les Hivernales and Igloofest, to extend the celebration from early January to mid-March. Offering activities and programs for all ages, with a particular focus on winter sports, the arts, entertainment, technology and dining, there is something for everyone to get excited about in Montreal this winter.

Montréal en Lumière takes place from Feb. 23 to Mar. 11, 2017, and includes a wide variety of live music and theater performances. For the culinary enthusiast, special tastings, lunches and brunches play a major role in the festivities. With Lyon, the gastronomic capital of the world, named as the honored city, diners can delight in an impressive roster of local and international guest chefs participating in the themed events hosted at venues throughout the city.

Illuminart, the city's free outdoor itinerary and part of Montréal en Lumière, will focus on interactive and illuminated avant-garde technological and light projects from around the world, especially those from Montreal and Lyon. One of these exhibits, "L'îlot de Chaleu" (Island of Warmth), is a bonfire created from light bulbs. Expect to be mesmerized as the fire comes to life. As the bonfire reacts to more human body heat, the higher the flames soar, exuding more light and music.

So, don your parka, thermal wear, hand warmers, and fur-lined boots and head north to Quebec City and Montreal to join in the fun this winter.

Les Hivernales

Les Hivernales, one of the landmark events by the Society for the Celebration of Montréal's 375th anniversary, invites Quebecers and visitors to the city to head outdoors to embrace the cold Montreal-style and celebrate their "nordicity." Activities will take place in Old Montreal, downtown's Quartier des spectacles and Parc Jean-Drapeau. With an exhilarating mix of outdoor sports such as winter cycling, snowshoeing, curling and ice hockey, and the opportunity to watch extreme sports, including snowboarding and racing through an obstacle course, there's no better way to stay warm while enjoying this exciting city.


This year's special edition of Igloofest, a spectacular outdoor electronic music festival, is scheduled over a six-week period. Known as one of the hottest events in the city and taking place at the Old Port, crowds dance under the stars to light shows and unique architectural displays with tunes from top local and international DJs.

Where to Stay

The Hilton Quebec is the official hotel for the carnival and overlooks Bonhomme's Ice Palace and the entrance to the main festival site. Meanwhile, the Hyatt Regency Montreal is located across from the festival's plaza, where the majority of the Illuminart exhibit will take place, making it an ideal place to stay.

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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