Family Winter Fun in the Fairy Tale City of Quebec

Discover Quebec City's winter magic with family-friendly adventures like the Winter Carnival, Pee Wee Hockey Tournament and more.

My son and I arrived by train at Gare de Palais in Quebec City at the beginning of February, just in time to catch the tail end of Winter Carnival and the onset of the 64th International Pee Wee Hockey Tournament, the most epic hockey tournament for 11-12-year-olds worldwide.

Hockey thrills, carnival cheers and frosty fun

Quebec City Carnavale
Photo credit: Jocelyn Boissonneault

In February, Quebec City is transformed. While still donning Christmas decorations (traditionally kept up until the end of the winter carnival), a larger-than-life snowman by the name of Bonhomme Carnavale appears.

Bonhomme is a 7-foot-tall, 400-pound character dressed in a red tuque, a Canadian tight-fitting knit cap, and an arrow sash wrapped around his jolly belly. This festive fellow can be found around almost every corner, keeping an eye on visitors to ensure everyone is having fun.

Family fun is a guarantee at the winter carnival in Quebec City.

With the purchase of “the effigy,” a rubber tag that attaches to a coat’s zipper, you gain access to entertainment throughout the city.

Tour Bonhomme’s enchanting ice palace. He is sure to be hanging out there if you haven’t met him yet.

Dive into a winter adventure with ice fishing, scaling an icy polar bear, and enjoying a snowy concert. Experience the thrill of an ice canoe race, take a daring polar plunge, and marvel at stunning ice sculptures. Test your bravery with snow tobogganing and savor treats from a Sugar Shack Stand for a memorable icy journey.

Attend a truly magical winter-themed parade. Just follow the massive crowds pouring into the heart of the city, and be sure to grab a hot cocoa and a Beaver’s Tail (similar to our state fair staple, the Elephant Ear).

While suitcases are sure to be fuller, with all the layers of clothing needed to stay warm this time of year, it is truly a shining moment to visit the city, especially if you have a child who loves hockey.

In addition to the festivities that the winter carnival brings, international Pee Wee hockey teams take over the city, transforming the place into a youthful winter-themed party.

Troops of young hockey players in matching uniforms traipse through the streets, laughing and filling the cold air with the harmonious song of their individual languages- Chinese, Hungarian, Japanese, and Polish (just to name a few).

Visiting the city’s Videotron Centre, a state-of-the-art multi-purpose arena, will leave guests in awe as they watch these otherwise typical 12-year-olds play truly beautiful hockey. (Wayne Gretzky famously played this tournament when he was a kid.)

At any one of the games, you will catch school groups of children cheering their teams on in French, bien sur.

“Allez!”

“Marquez un but!”

“Pour la victoire!”

The excitement continues in the lobby of the Videotron. There, guests will find citizens of all ages trading hockey pins of the tournament’s current and past teams—fair warning: trading pins is addictive and relatively competitive.

Wendake, honoring the First Peoples

Quebec City First Peoples
Photo credit: Steffy Mccourt

To appreciate this city, one must understand its history, and its history is complicated, to say the least. For many years, the First Peoples of Kanata, which means “village” or “settlement,” and yes, it is, of course, from where we borrowed the name Canada, lived peacefully on the land.

The First Peoples’ culture is a part of Quebec City’s culture today.

The colorful woven sash draped across Bonhomme’s waist, as well as so many winter carnival visitors’ waists and necks, is a metaphor for the intricately woven connections between the First Peoples and early French explorers. The sash won the attention of the First Peoples during fur trading, and while brought from the French explorers who would wear the sashes to keep their coats closed (buttons were a British thing, and zippers didn’t exist), they are said to have been influenced by the First Peoples. Delicate finger-woven sashes in colorful patterns became a product of their collaboration.

In Old Quebec, one can find art galleries and restaurants honoring the First Peoples.

Galerie d’art Inuit Brousseau et Brousseau, an art gallery on Rue Saint-Louis, has sold Inuit, a Nation whose common ethnic origins are embedded in Northern Canada’s territories, art and sculptures for over 40 years.

Sagamite, a restaurant in Old Quebec on Rue Saint-Louis, has been serving up dishes that honor the gastronomy of the First Nations for the last five years. When dining there, guests not only experience an incredible meal but are also gifted a unique cultural experience. Little ones will enjoy the experience as well and are sure to find the Papooses’ menu selection pleasing to their palate.

To learn more about the First Peoples, my son and I traveled to Wendake, the urban reserve of the Huron-Wendat Nation.

There, we enjoyed a guided tour of the Traditional Huron Site Onhoua Chetek8e.

We took shelter in the Yänonhchia’, a traditional long house, where we learned how the Wendats lived. Through the living history site, we learned about their sweathouses, spiritual masks, and medicine wheels. (We even made our own medicine wheel to take home.)

We finished the tour with a traditional snowshoe stroll through the woods. Our walk was quiet except for a wayward bird or a busy squirrel. The snow muffled most of the noise. The sun shone brightly on us as our appreciation for the beautiful winter landscape grew.

Snowshoeing is quite a workout — especially when your snowshoes are gigantic, wooden ones, requiring an exaggerated style of walking. By the end of our snowshoe walk through the woods, we had worked up an appetite and were ready for lunch.

Lucky for us, Pascale Boivin, Quebec City’s USA, and Luxury Travel Director, treated us to a lunch at La Traite, also in Wendake.

Boivin is a wonderful host to the city. She embodies it with her joie de vivre, thoughtful hospitality, and willingness to join any activity, whether finding a hamburger for my picky eater or entertaining visiting business leaders by jumping into a rollicking ice canoe.

Over a sparkling, blueberry-infused cocktail, I asked her to tell me the best part of her job, and her eyes twinkled.

“What gives me the greatest pleasure is to be able to showcase the beauty of our natural landscapes and, above all, our cultural and culinary wealth. To see my guests marvel and leave enchanted- their hearts filled with the warm welcome of Quebecers. And their bellies filled with so many culinary discoveries! Above all, to show them how it feels to be a little in Europe while being so close to the United States… and that it is worth the trip to come back and discover a new season,” Boivin said.

La Traite is a vast restaurant full of equal measures of light and warmth. The natural decor embodies the Wendake’s relationship with nature. It is decorated with polished hanging antlers, beautifully arranged rocks, and thoughtful stacks of wood. The windows provide uninterrupted views of the beautiful woodsy setting.

The menu is directly inspired by the First Nations.

The dishes are served like a treasure, and indeed, they are just that as they unlock a door to the past. A meal shared here is a celebration of the First Peoples. It is a mandatory stop on any trip to Quebec.

Discovering Old Quebec with my little guy

Quebec City
Photo credit: Francis Gagnon, Destination Québec cité

The smell of caramel popcorn and baking bread melts into the melody of French and the swish of cars as one makes their way down Rue Saint-Jean.

This bustling road in what is lovingly referred to as Old Quebec was established in the early 17th century; it connected a country estate to the city. And before that, this area was a popular meeting place for the First Peoples.

Today, it is packed to the brim with bakeries, boutique shops, hotels, bars, restaurants, eclectic souvenir shops and more.

Every glowing window beckons passers-by to pause ever so briefly and imagine the story of those lucky inhabitants within. In this fairy tale setting where a steaming cup of coffee and perfectly constructed chocolate croissant are as accessible as a warm smile from a thoughtful shop owner, visitors will surely feel lucky, too.

Hospitality is the norm here.

To illustrate, my son and I enjoyed our cozy boutique hotel stay at Hotel Champlain on Rue Saint-Anne. The hotel is in a central location, within walking distance to absolutely anything in Old Quebec. However, the best part of the hotel, by far, is the charming receptionists. They went far beyond their job description. We truly felt like we were at their home and that we were cherished guests.

There is an assortment of room options that are well-suited to a family. My son and I shared a spacious room with two queen beds, a sitting area, a refrigerator, and a cozy fireplace.

Our windows overlooked L’Ecole des Ursulines, a co-ed private school founded in 1639. It was a joy to watch the school children run outside for recess in their winter attire, playing in carefully constructed snow forts.

A buffet breakfast is available daily, along with unlimited access to an espresso bar. In addition, one can purchase a wine card from the front desk. An assortment of wine is offered and ranges in price from $4 to $7.

There is a fire in the foyer, along with comfortable seating, reading materials, and games. Pets are allowed at this hotel, and we enjoyed meeting quite a few as they politely made their way through the foyer for a potty break. For my son, who missed his dog very much, this was a highlight.

Parc National De La Jacques-Cartier, a masterpiece

Quebec City National Park
Photo credit: Francis Gagnon, Destination Québec cité

This national park was supposed to be about 30 minutes outside of town.

We, however, got lost.

Then our cell phones wouldn’t work.

Thank goodness Canadians LOVE to explore the outdoors, no matter the weather.

Somehow, through the help of several hikers who only spoke French, I, who had received a gracious C- in my high school French class, and my son, whose vocabulary included “Bonjour,” “Poutine,” and “C’est Bonne,” made it to the national park’s headquarters. Only two hours late for our three-hour guided tour.

Our guide, Max, who looked like he could traverse this wilderness with nothing more than the North Star and his hiking boots, was baffled by our tardy appearance.

Though incredibly kind, he was clearly disappointed that our three-hour tour had become a one-hour tour, less than that, as we still had to don our winter apparel.

He pulled out a map to show us the park in its entirety, which I assured him we had probably already seen as we navigated it with the help of our hiker friends along the way… all pointing us here with plenty of exaggerated hand gestures and lots of strange Frenglish mixed in.

“Good,” he laughed, “because we only have time to see this section.”

He pointed to the half-inch area surrounding the headquarters.

That tiny section was enough.

Enveloped by the Laurentian Mountains, this valley carved through by the Rivere Jacques-Cartier, stood my son and me in awe.

With every turn, we witnessed a new pictorial view, one unique to that time and place. Absent of any sound except for the rhythmic drip-drop of snow melting from towering conifers, we quietly treaded behind Max deeper into the forest.

Before leaving us at a sculpted sledding hill replete with giant sleds, free to borrow, Max, like a forest poet, shared visions of the park through the seasons.

He told us when the bears would wake up.

He shared when the moose would return.

His words melted the frozen river, conjuring dreams of canoeing through the vast valley.

After he left us, my son looked at me with shining eyes and glowing pink cheeks, “We have to come back here.”

Yes, son, we absolutely do.

Quebec City is a dreamy destination that we were so grateful to meet in her sparkling winter season, but it is clear that this city is remarkable no matter the time of year. Families will enjoy the food, history, museums, outdoor activities, and shopping. It provides a taste of Europe without the hefty cost of getting to Europe.


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Steffy McCourt
Steffy McCourt
Steffy McCourt brings over 15 years of experience in education, parenting, and travel writing for esteemed publications like We Are Teachers and LA Family Travel. Recognized for her commitment to advancing literacy and writing skills, Steffy is honored to be a Fellow of the National Writing Project. She collaborates with educators nationwide to enhance teaching practices and empower student writers.

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