Year-round, it's nearly impossible to miss a celebration of some sort in Montréal and Québec City. For an exhaustive list of events beyond those listed here, check http://events.frommers.com, where you'll find a searchable, up-to-the-minute roster of what's happening in cities all over the world.
Carnaval de Québec, Québec City. Never mind that temperatures in Québec regularly plummet in winter to well below freezing. Québecers are extraordinarily good-natured about the cold and happily pack the family up to come out and play. A snowman called Bonhomme (Good Fellow) shuffles into town to preside over the merriment, and revelers descend upon the city to eddy around a monumental ice palace erected in front of the Parliament Building, to watch a dog-sledding race on Old Town's narrow streets, to play foosball on a human-size scale, to fly over crowds on a zip line, to ride down snowy hills in rubber tubes, and (not least of all) to dance at outdoor concerts.
The party is family-friendly, even considering the wide availability of plastic trumpets and canes filled with a concoction called caribou, the principal ingredients of which are cheap liquor and sweet red wine. Try not to miss the canoe race that has teams rowing, dragging, and stumbling with canoes across the St. Lawrence's treacherous ice floes. It's homage to how the city used to break up the ice to keep a path open to Lévis, the town across the river.
A C$12 pass provides access to most activities over the 17 days. Hotel reservations must be made well in advance. Call tel. 866/422-7628 or 418/621-5555, or visit www.carnaval.qc.ca for details. January 27 to February 12, 2012.
Jean-Baptiste Day. Honoring St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of French-Canadians, this day is marked by far more festivities and enthusiasm throughout Québec than is Canada Day on July 1. It's Québec's own fête nationale with fireworks, bonfires, music in parks, and parades. Call tel. 514/527-9891 or visit www.fetenationale.qc.ca for details. June 24.
Canada Day. On July 1, 1867, three British colonies joined together to form the federation of Canada, with further independence from Britain coming in stages in the 1880s. Celebrations of Canada's birthday are biggest in Ottawa, though there are concerts, flag raisings, and family festivities in Montréal and Québec City. July 1.
Festival d'Eté (Summer Festival), Québec City. The world's largest Francophone music festival happens in the heart of Vieux-Québec and, since 2007, in the St-Roch neighborhood. More than 400 performances of rock, jazz, reggae, and classical take place at both indoor and outdoor venues. Elton John and Metallica graced the stage in 2011 -- although not at the same time. Call tel. 888/992-5200 or 418/523-4540, or check www.infofestival.com. Held July 5 to 15, 2012.
Les Grands Feux Loto-Québec, Québec City. Overlapping with Montréal's fireworks competition , Québec's event uses the highly scenic Montmorency Falls 15 minutes north of the city center as its setting. Pyrotechnical teams are invited from countries around the world. Tickets get you admission to the base of the falls: There are 5,500 reserved bleacher seats and 30,000 general-admission tickets. Call tel. 888/523-3389 or 418/523-3389, or go to www.quebecfireworks.com, for details. Wednesdays and Saturdays, late July to mid-August. Check for 2012 dates.
La Fête des Vendanges. This event gives attendees a chance to discover the scenic wine country and charming streets of Magog and Orford in the Eastern Townships. During the grape harvest season, visitors can partake in dinner cruises along Lac Memphrémagog, street festivals, and restaurant events that bring together chefs and wine producers for special dinner collaborations. Last year's dates were September 3, 4, 5, 10, and 11. Visit www.fetedesvendanges.com for updates.
Fall Foliage. Starting midmonth, the maple trees blaze with color, and a walk in the parks of Montréal and Québec City is a refreshing tonic. It's also a perfect time to drive to the Laurentians or Cantons-de-L'Est (both near Montréal) or Île d'Orléans or Charlevoix (both easy drives from Québec City).
Christmas through New Year's, Québec City. Celebrating the holidays a la française is a particular treat here, where the streets are almost certainly banked with snow and nearly every ancient building sports wreaths, decorated fir trees, and glittery white lights.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.