Canada has a long and cold winter. Having said that, the country has no lack of fun and exciting things to see and do during the year-end holiday seasons. From outdoor adventures to festivals, the cold doesn’t stop people from going out and having a great time. Here we have a list of top-rated and recommended winter activities in Canada. They are recommended by me and my fellow travel bloggers. Hopefully, these ideas will inspire you on your Canada trip this winter!
See the northern lights dance in Yellowknife
Viewing the amazing and magical northern lights is on many travelers’ bucket lists. In fact, the chance of catching this spectacular natural phenomenon is different due to a lot of factors. Yellowknife in Canada is one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights, as it has a 90 percent chance of sightings during winter (between mid-November and March).
Plan a northern light trip in Yellowknife!
Yellowknife is well-known for northern light viewing with well-rounded facilities and professional travel agencies. Yellowknife is the capital and the only “city” in Canada’s Northwest Territories. Sprawling on the north bank of Great Slave Lake with a population of just over 30,000, Yellowknife has extremely low light pollution, furthermore, its high latitude also serves long and cold winter with clear dark nights. Travelers may be surprised that they can get a glimpse of the northern lights outside the hotel window at 7 p.m.!
For a better chance of a sighting, stay in Yellowknife for a few nights. Sign up on a local tour or visit an aurora village first to learn a bit more about the where what and how to see the lights, with the comfort of a cozy blanket and a hot drink. Popular guides could be booked way in advance, so don’t forget to make a reservation before departure during the high season. Afterward, rent a car and explore the area on your own, you will most likely be able to see the lights in any open space outside the city.
Explore Montreal’s city highlights and Montreal in Lights
For being the largest city in Quebec, Montreal has made its mark in the country with deep historic and cultural significance. Besides, Montreal is quite different from other cities in the country – for starters, Montreal’s (and Quebec’s) official language is French.
Take a walk in the historic district of Old Montreal, as you will sense the Frech vibe wherever you go. The Basilique Notre Dame is one of the most photographed and visited landmarks in Montreal. The building was once the largest cathedral in North America for over five decades upon its completion in 1823.
The exterior of the cathedral may be subtle in its Roman Catholic style, but the interior is among the most dramatic in the world. The ceiling is painted with a rather unusual deep blue and adorned with golden stars. The entire visual is accentuated with a combination of azure, blue, red, purple, silver, and gold elements on the sanctuary in front.
Another recommended city highlight is the Montreal Olympic Park, visiting the Olympic Stadium (The Big O) and Montreal Biodome.
It was the venue hosting the 1976 Summer Olympics, and the stadium is still home to Montreal’s professional baseball and football teams. It was nicknamed “The Big O” because of its donut shape. Given that it was built almost 50 years ago, the structure is a rather futuristic architecture. Check out the Olympic Tower, next to the stadium – the 165-meter-tall tower is an observation deck with a panoramic view of the city of Montreal. Take the funicular and reach the top – the Olympic Tower is holding the record for being the world’s tallest reclined structure, at 165 meters in height.
While the 1976 Summer Olympics was one of the most costly throughout history, the facilities, including the $1.4 billion stadium (that was eventually paid off in 2006), were renovated and transformed into other sports and recreational venues that brought in tourists and locals. The Montreal Biodome is one of the great examples. The Montreal Biodome is one of four facilities that make part of Space for Life – the largest natural science museum complex in Canada. The four sites also include the Montreal Insectarium, Montreal Botanical Garden, and Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium.
The Biodome was originally a combined velodrome and judo facility, and today, this is a walkthrough of four ecosystems that could be found in the Americas.
Montreal en Lumiére
Eileen from FamiliesGo!
Montreal is not an obvious choice for a deep-winter getaway but for ten days in February the city lights up with Montréal en Lumiére, its annual festival of lights and it’s a happening place to be. Families with kids of all ages, couples, and groups of friends bundle up and head outside for a nightly block party with food trucks and free activities. They vary from year-to-year and have included Ferris wheels, a temporary outdoor ice rink, ice sculpting, bobsled runs, zip lines, mini-curling, and giant versions of familiar games like Light Bright. On the food front, look for trucks selling sausages to cook over firepits; mulled wine, beer, and Canadian specialties like beaver tails (made-to-order flat doughnuts with a choice of toppings), frozen maple-syrup lollipops and poutine (french fries with beef gravy and melted cheese curds). Around the city, museums, art galleries, and skating rinks stay open late, restaurants host special menus and tasting events, there are outdoor concerts and venues host music and comedy performances.
The festival culminates in Nuit Blanche (white night) a dusk-to-dawn citywide celebration with performances, art exhibits, special late-night meals, and more. Check out the calendar and get tickets ahead of time. The outdoor activities are centered around the Quartier des Spectacles downtown. Book a room at the DoubleTree by Hilton Montreal to be steps away from all the fun. You’ll also be right above Underground Montreal, and Not far from the Old Town, Mont Royal and Mile-End, where there’s ample nightlife at any time of year.
Visit Niagara Falls and other waterfalls in Hamilton
The famous Niagara Falls is named one of the world’s three greatest waterfalls, together with Iguaza Falls, and Victoria Falls.
While the best time to visit the fall is during summer (as you can get close to the falls and get wet on a scenic boat cruise), Niagara Falls has a lot of things to see and do, including entertainment, attractions, wineries, and more.
Niagara Falls is located between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, draining water from Lake Erie to Ontario with the highest water flow rate in North America. 3,160 tons of water flow over Niagara Halls every second! The waterfall is actually comprised of three waterfalls with the Horseshoe Falls being the largest, and probably the most recognizable one among the three. Given its impressive volume of water flow, the waterfall is actually not that high at a mere 50 meters.
During winter, visitors enjoy a lesser crowd. Hop on the Skywheel and enjoy panoramic views of the falls; Shop til you drop on the main street and nearby outlets; Have a walk along the natural trails. The frozen falls have a different kind of beauty and it doesn’t stop spectators be humbled by the power of mother nature.
Explore Winter Waterfalls
Erie from Everywhereontario
Looking to add some picturesque photo-ops to your Eastern Canadian winter getaway? Then head to Hamilton, Ontario where you can explore over 150 waterfalls! That’s right, Hamilton is known as the “Waterfall Capital of the World,” and for good reason.
While some of Hamilton’s waterfalls require a lengthy hike to access, many are fully accessible a short walk from the parking lot.
While hiking is at its peak in the warmer months of the year, many of these waterfalls are even more beautiful when they’re blanketed in snow and ice.
Here are some of our favorite winter waterfalls in Hamilton:
Webster’s Falls: One of the most popular waterfalls in Hamilton, Webster’s Falls is easily accessible and offers stunning views, especially in icy Canadian winters. The falls are about 30 meters wide, making Webster Falls the widest falls in Hamilton.
Tew’s Falls: Tew’s Falls is the tallest waterfall in Hamilton, at 41 meters (135 feet). The hike to Tew Falls is easy, with the option to continue on for a long walk to Dundas Peak Lookout. If you’ve got the time and can brave the cold for a bit longer, the view from Dundas Peak is well worth the effort!
Albion Falls: Albion Falls is another popular waterfall in Hamilton. It’s considered a stepped jewel and drops 19 meters (62 feet) into a picturesque ravine.
Devil’s Punchbowl Falls: Devil’s Punchbowl Falls is a spectacular bowl-shaped cascade and one of the most unique waterfalls in Hamilton.
When hiking and visiting the falls, remember to wear proper footwear and dress in layers. This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s especially important in the winter when temperatures can fluctuate, making trails icy and slippery. Make sure you’ve got a good pair of hiking boots or shoes with good traction.
While visiting Hamilton in the winter, you might also want to check out skating on the Hamilton Waterfront Outdoor Rink at Pier 8 for a unique way to see the city from a different perspective!
Go to Christmas Market and Carnaval de Québec
Quebec City was one of the most memorable Christmas celebrations that I had. I remembered the most touching moment was the first time I entered Quebec City’s old town main street, and I was stunned by the view – the warm lights of each shop and store penetrate the big windows, and each of these houses has Christmas trees glowing at front. It was snowing quite seriously as I walked down the street, yet I didn’t care much about the cold.
As we all know that Christmas markets traditionally happen in Germany and Eastern Europe, there’s also a great Christmas market in Quebec City. The German Christmas Market offers an exceptional multi-sensory experience. The Christmas market is a group of traditional wooden kiosks with colorful lights and free activities that illuminate the city’s old town. Entrance to the market is free and it opens in late November until December 23rd.
Quebec Winter Carnival is a seasonal festive event that takes place in February every year, the event has a long history since 1955. The Carnival is among the most visited winter festivals in the world, with over 1 million visitors attending, it sets a record in the year 2006.
The carnival has a list of programs and activities from a masquerade ball, outdoor parade, outdoor sports events, a snow sculpture contest, shops and bars, outdoor banquets, and many more!
Skate on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa
Parliament Hill is located at the heart of Ottawa on Crown Island, and it’s been the most visited and featured location in the capital city of Canada. The striking Gothic revival suite architecture dominates the city skyline, and they are still the home to the Parliament of Canada today.
The eternal flame at the center in front of the Parliament is a symbol of Canada. It was originally erected as a temporary monument but then remained due to tremendous public support. Facing the island on the opposite side of the river is the Canadian Museum of History, together with the museum cluster, these venues tell a compelling story and share knowledge of Canadian development, culture, and values. The museum is a walkthrough exhibition, showcasing different eras chronically.
When I was visiting Ottawa, one memorable image that I remembered was the dark and mystic Ottawa River as I was crossing Alexandra Bridge. Outdoor ice skating may be common in many places across the world, but it is special in Ottawa. The Rideau Canal is a UNESCO Heritage Site, connecting Ottawa with Lake Ontario, and the Saint Lawrence River at Kingdom. In winter, the 220-kilometer-long waterway is covered with ice; It is transformed into an ice-skating rink with the beautiful Fairmont Château Laurier and National Arts Center as a backdrop. The waterway is opened to the public for free between January and early March.
Enjoy Winter at Ontario Pace in Toronto
CN Tower is usually the first place that comes to mind when you are visiting Toronto. True, it is a widely-recognized landmark and the view at the summit of the tower is impressive and one-of-a-kind. If you are visiting there at night, the light of the city sprawling along Lake Ontario was unforgettable.
Away from the tower, Toronto has a great number of indoor locations, museums, and markets that are available for tourists to explore in winter and stay warm.
To jazz up your trip to Toronto, head to Ontario Place. Winter at Ontario Place is an annual winter festival that has a number of programs and winter activities, such as ice skating, film screening at Cinesphere, bonfires, and many more. At the same location, the Winter Light Exhibition takes place between February and March, the exhibition showcases an exciting number of innovative and creative light installations, usually with a theme that inspires viewers in different ways. Entrance to the exhibition is free, with food stalls serving food and beverages during the exhibition period.
Be festive at the Festival du Voyageur in Winnipeg
The long and cold winter in Winnipeg can be tough. Instead of hiding and hibernating, the locals celebrate with the Festival du Voyageur. The Festival is the largest winter festival in western Canada, and it is held annually in February since the year of 1969. The name “Voyageur” traced back to the root of Winnipeg’s fur-trading past, as those workers used to transport and travel by canoe.
The 10-day winter festival takes place in the city’s French quarter, with an exciting list of programs and activities that celebrates its unique French heritage and culture via period food, parade, music, dance performances, live presentation of the life of the voyageurs, exhibitions, and art.
Soak in the Banff Upper Hot Springs
Natasha from Planes. Trains and Karcaz.
Nestled amidst western Canada’s scenic Rocky Mountain region is the world-renowned Banff Upper Hot Springs. Boasting temperate, natural mineral water, and generous amenities, these pools act as an oasis from the surrounding snowy peaks and dense woodland that Banff is so otherwise well-known for. Located just a quick five-minute drive from the city center, the Banff Upper Hot Springs are popular with both travelers and locals alike; and as such you can expect them to be teeming with activity. It is recommended to call in advance to ensure you can avoid peak visiting hours (and any subsequent lines!), as the facility is first-come, first-serve. Of course, there’s no shortage of nearby activities to keep you busy, as the Banff Upper Hot Springs shares a parking lot with the Sulphur Mountain gondola – a sightseer’s dream come true! – where a cable car suspended over the side of the mountain carries you to the summit to get a bird’s eye view of the bustling valley below. And come to the end of the day, retire in either the budget-friendly Fox Hotel located near the vibrant main street or the luxury Banff Springs mountain resort, located in one of Canada’s most notable castles.
Ski on Grouse and relax in a resort in Whistler
For adventurous travelers, head to a ski resort for a skiing weekend or holiday!
While Canada has no lack of skiing destinations, Skiing on Grouse is a truly special experience and a wonderful choice. First, Grouse Moutain is one of the most popular travel attractions in Vancouver, it is located a mere 12 kilometers from Vancouver downtown, and it takes only 15 minutes to get there by driving. Secondly, the mountain offers an absolutely stunning and open view of Vancouver. Lastly, the destination features a wildlife refuge, great restaurants, summer activities galore, and outdoor adventures, hiking trails, making it a fantastic place for outdoor activities all year round. It is possible to purchase a day pass for a lift ride to the mountains as a taster; Skiing and Snowboarding above the city lights in the evening are also magical. For those who enjoy the sport, a Winter Pass offers full-season access to winter activities, from skiing to snowshoeing, mountaintop ice skating, and more.
Whistler is a little bit farther away from where it hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics. Today, the small town is filled with skiing resorts and facilities, as also shops and restaurants, for those who can enjoy a relaxing vacation during their ski breaks.
Go ice fishing and dog sledding in Yukon
The Alaskan huskies are fascinating and friendly creatures, and they take travelers on a journey that involves natural wilderness sceneries and exciting terrains in Yukon.
It might look a bit far on the map, but Yukon is actually quite active during winter. Some visit there for the northern light viewing – apart from searching for the lights in the evening, it is fun to get warm and hop on a sled to explore the wonderful snow-covered wilderness.
For a taste, sign up for a half-day tour from Whitehorse and learn everything about the dog as well. Along the Takhini River, the start of the Dawson Overland Trail marks the history of the Klondike Gold Rush by the end of the 19th century, and it is also part of the famous Yukon Quest (Sled Dog Race in Yukon since 1984). For an overnight experience, travelers can spend the nights in rustic lodges with a homemade hot meal during their stay, or camp out in below-freezing temperatures and sit around a campfire.
Icefishing season begins mid-winter in Yukon and there are a number of places to do so, such as Marsh Lake, Braeburn, Labarge, and Little Atlin Lakes.
Don’t stay indoors all day this winter. Instead, explore a little! Enjoy the outdoors and try out a few winter sports this year.
Truly awesome list! Whenever I thought about Northern Lights, “Norway” always pops-up in my mind. Didn’t know that Yellowknife in Canada is famous for that. Would love to visit it when I travel to Canada.
Have you seen them? What was your experience? You can check out my other posts about northern lights viewing too 🙂