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Quebec Comes Alive in Winter

Quebec City, drinks in ice tumblers


Some bars in Quebec serve drinks in ice tumblers.

En español | Somewhere between sipping creamy Amarula liqueur from a carved-ice tumbler and rocketing down the Terrasse Dufferin boardwalk in a toboggan, I decided it hadn't been foolish after all to visit the Great White North in February.

I had visited Canada's Quebec City the previous summer to enjoy its Old World atmosphere, fascinating museums and delectable French food.

So why return in the dead of winter? Everyone I met insisted that Quebec is at its best during the two-week Winter Carnival that starts in late January, when master sculptors carve megalithic snow monuments, pop-up ice bars hand out shots and every incline beACcomes a sledding hill. The main carnival fairgrounds lie just outside the city walls on the Plains of Abraham — the same spot where in 1759 British troops launched a surprise attack, seizing Québec City and spelling the end of New France

During the festivities, the site is alive with ice bumper cars and outdoor hot tubs, curling sheets, sleigh races and epic snowball fights. And these aren't just kids playing in the snow; young and old alike join in the fun.

Nibbling on a queue de castor — a massive "beaver-tail" slab of fried dough glittering with cinnamon sugar — I squeezed through the crowd to watch a human foosball game. The players, strapped to oversize rods, kicked the soccer ball while their giggling friends pushed and pulled them wildly around the snowy arena.

You’ll want to explore the city proper, of course. Along the Grande Allée, Québec City’s main boulevard, you might pop into one of the avenue’s many bistros for a warm-up break and a bowl of poutine (fries slathered in gravy and cheese curds). You’ll need such respites from the cold: I underestimated the Canadian winter and ended up purchasing mittens and a big faux-fur hat. It was here that I snuggled into a fur-draped easy chair and dug into a bowl of poutine (fries slathered in gravy and cheese curds). You'll need such respites from the cold: I admit I underestimated the Canadian winter and ended up purchasing mittens and a big faux-fur hat.

On my final evening, after watching dancers and Mardi Gras–quality floats along the Grande Allée, I clambered up onto the snowy city ramparts overlooking a three-story ice castle glowing with lights. A band in the park below launched into what must be the Quebecois equivalent of "Sweet Caroline," the audience passionately singing along in French. I did my best to belt it out with my neighbors, our breath frosting the February air.

Insider Tip:

Quebec is a bilingual city, but it's "French first." Quebecois are encouraging when visitors try to use even rusty high school French.

Don't Miss: 

  • Snow carving: Serious artistry is a highlight at the festivities.
  • Pop-up ice bars: Stop for a shot of something (very) cold.
  • Human foosball: It's one of the quirky sports you'll find here.

Reid Bramblett, a Philadelphia-based travel writer and expert, is the founder of  

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