In some places, Winter is considered the off season — a time to hibernate indoors and dream of tropical climates. In Canada, the opposite happens: it’s literally known as the home of Winter. It is a much-anticipated time across the country, with festivals and fun experiences for everyone. And when you’re done with your Canadian Winter adventure, you’ll find a fireplace and hot beverage waiting for you wherever you go.
The travel experts at Canadian Train Vacations love helping visitors plan a winter vacation. While many people visit during the warm, summer months, the winter offers some truly iconic experiences. Here is our guide to some of the best ways to enjoy Winter in Canada.
Discover Carnaval de Québec
One of the oldest festivals in Canada — and the largest Winter festival in the world — Carnaval de Québec, draws thousands of people to watch and take part in outdoor activities and Winter sports: ice canoe races, snowshoeing, dog sledding, snow sculptures and night parades. You can skate, see live shows, snap photos of Bonhomme and enjoy the wondrous culinary delights that have made La Belle Province famous.
In 2024, this event will take place from February 2 to 11.
Ski the slopes at Mont Tremblant
While ski resorts are plentiful in Quebec, Mont Tremblant in the Laurentians is perhaps the most renowned. The village has a distinctly European feel, with restaurants, pubs, lodging and shops that bustle with activity. The Fairmont Tremblant, situated at the foot of the mountain, offers premium alpine accommodation, easy access to the slopes, and the Axe Lounge Bar, the perfect place to warm up after a day in the great outdoors. If you’re feeling a little muscle strain from all the skiing, the Moment Spa Fairmont Tremblant can soothe away the aches.
Personalize your Montreal and Quebec City Getaway By Rail with an add on excursion to this iconic ski destination.
Skate the frozen canal in Ottawa, the nation’s capital
From late December to late February, weather permitting, Ottawa’s Rideau Canal Skateway is the largest naturally frozen skating rink in the world. While nature controls the ice conditions on the canal, Ottawa also has many refrigerated outdoor rinks, including Rink of Dreams at Ottawa City Hall.
Cross-country skiing is another wonderful way to enjoy Ottawa. The Kichi Sibi Winter Trail stretches from the Canadian War Museum to Westboro Beach, offering 16 kilometres of groomed pathways for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, walking and Winter biking. The Greenbelt is another popular pick and has upwards of 150 kilometres of trails. After a day outdoors, warm up at Zoe’s in the Fairmont Chateau Laurier.
Don’t miss hockey night in Canada
Hockey, aka “Canada’s game,” is the most popular sport in the country. In Toronto, that means the Maple Leafs, one of the teams that founded the NHL in 1917. On game night, the energy is positively electric at the Scotiabank Arena, as well as in dozens of surrounding sports bars and pubs. Hockey fans won’t want to miss the Hockey Hall of Fame. Dedicated to the history of the game, this is much more than a sports museum — it’s an immersive, interactive celebration of hockey. If you're booking a Winter trip, be sure to ask our travel advisors about adding a hockey game to your itinerary.
This year, the NHL's regular season will run from October 10, 2023 until April 18, 2024, when playoffs will begin.
See Niagara Falls Winter Festival of Lights
The short days of Winter make it perfect for beautiful displays of light. Step into an enchanted world of light and color at the Niagara Falls Winter Festival of Lights which runs from mid-November, 2023, until January 7, 2024. Canada’s largest illumination festival attracts more than 1 million visitors annually. Illuminations include hundreds of trees wrapped in lights along the Niagara Parkway, Canadian wildlife displays, the two-storey tall Zimmerman Fountain, a Gingerbread house, a 60 foot light tunnel, a stunning castle and more.
Experience Winter in the Rocky Mountains
Alberta is big-sky country, and in the winter, that means bright sunshine, blue sky, and snow in the Rocky Mountains. Skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, heli-skiing, skating, and snowshoeing — take your pick. Banff and Lake Louise are known world-wide for their alpine charm and have everything you need for a getaway, including spas, tours, accommodation for all budgets, and excellent dining options. The Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise are must-see stops on any visit — these gorgeous, historic Fairmont properties have been providing elegant hospitality to visitors for over a century.
To maximize the fun, time your visit to the Rockies with SnowDays! Downtown Banff transforms into a larger-than-life winter gallery of snow sculptures, while Lake Louise becomes a frozen wonderland of ice sculptures. A variety of special SnowDays activities and events, as well as specialty cocktails and menus at many of the restaurants, add to the winter fun. It's the perfect time to plan your Canadian Rockies Winter Train Trip.
Go on a Snowmobile tour in Banff
In many parts of Canada, snowmobiling is considered the ultimate Winter activity, and is one of the most fun family activities. It’s a great way to see stunning places only accessible in Winter—and it’s enjoyable for all ages. Scenic trails, wildlife and a spectacular icefall within an old-growth forest are just some of the memorable highlights you can experience during a snowmobile tour in the mountain playground of Banff, in the Canadian Rockies.
Discover a winter trip to the Rockies: Rockies Winter Rail Classic
Skate at Evergreen Brickworks in Toronto
The city of Toronto offers plenty of Winter wonders, but its best-kept secret is the Evergreen Brick Works ’ skating rink. This public space focuses on sustainability, recreation, education and green design initiatives. Housed within the walls of the former brick factory, its open-air skating rink uses a sustainable refrigeration system called ECO CHILL, which cools the ice and reuses any excess heat to warm the adjacent Marketplace building—a great spot for picking up some locally made souvenirs. Glide under the building’s rustic, exposed beams as you weave around the snow-covered garden lined with beautiful evergreen trees.
Have tea at the Fairmont Empress in Victoria
Who doesn't love a tea party? Afternoon tea in the historic Lobby Lounge at the Fairmont Empress in Victoria tops many visitors' wish lists when they visit this beautiful seaside City. The iconic property has been pouring traditional English Afternoon Tea for 113 years and counting. Enjoy flaky scones with housemade strawberry jam, fluffy pastries, honey from the hotel’s hives and finger sandwiches presented with flourish on the specialty tiered tea service. The hotel is known to enhance the experience with seasonal touches, such as the carolers and holiday treats with their Festive Tea, offered in late November through December .
Add a visit to Victoria to your Cross-Canada train trip: Luxury Journey Across Canada by Train
Whizz down the Whistler Blackcomb tubing hill
Skiers and snowboarders aren't the only adventurers zipping down the snowy slopes at Whistler Blackcomb. No skills or experience are needed to ride the Whistler Blackcomb Coca-Cola Tube Park, meaning your whole family can enjoy the fun together. There are multiple lanes to appeal to different thrill seekers. And the convenient conveyor belt carries you right back up to the top of the tubing lanes.
Try dogsledding near Quebec City
A unique and iconic Canadian experience perfect for the whole family is dog sledding. It’s a great way to get out into the woods, where the snow on the trees makes everything seem magical. Along with the Rockies, the area around Québec City is another wonderful place to dash through the snow. Children can’t drive the sleds, but can enjoy the wonder of the ride as a passenger.
Visit a lush West Coast Winter garden
The moderate temperatures on the Canadian West Coast mean places like the Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island and VanDusen Gardens in Vancouver are spectacular even in the winter. Both of these year-round beauties offer 55 acres of glorious gardens, as well as special seasonal events and entertainment and lovely afternoon teas. At Butchart Gardens, take in the subtle beauty of the frost-dusted shrubs, trees and flowers, as you wander the quiet pathways.
Both these gardens make excellent excursions during a Rockies, Islands, and Bears Adventure.
Surf Vancouver Island — year round
Yes, you read that right! You can surf in Canada in the winter. With its stunningly beautiful beaches and wild exposed coast, Tofino on Vancouver Island is Canada’s surf capital. While surfers of all skill levels will find waves year-round in Tofino, the winter months have the biggest waves. Local surf companies and tour operators provide lessons and gear, including wetsuits designed for cold water. If the waves get too big and the weather turns stormy, cozy up with a warm drink at Long Beach Lodge and storm watch — the view from The Great Room is exhilarating.
About the author: Carolyn Camilleri is a Contributing Writer with Fresh tracks Canada. A magazine writer and editor since 1996, she loves the discovery that comes from travel. Her work has appeared in several Canadian travel publications, including Where Victoria, Harbour... Read more
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