Although the cold winter months typically elicit dreams of sunny skies and sandy beaches, miles away from Canada’s snowy streets, there are a plethora of destinations in our country that are even better in the winter.
Seasonal festivals, unique winter activities and natural beauty that really pops in the colder months makes these cities must-sees from the months of December through March.
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“We don’t need to run south of the border as soon as the temperature drops,” says Jeff Element, president of The Travel Corporation Canada. “There are so many things to do in Canada in the winter that are fun and engaging. Plus, you get the comforts and familiarity of how things are done at home.”
Because our seasons are so distinct from one another, they also have a deeply transformative effect on our cities, making them entirely different experiences every three months.
“It’s hard to acknowledge a lot of places in Canada just by visiting in the spring or summer. The country offers such a different sensory experience in winter,” says Michael Sadowski, North American marketing director for Intrepid Travel.
These are their top Canadian cities that must be seen and experienced in the winter.
“This is a great walking city, even when it’s cold in the winter, because the set-up is really pretty,” Element says. “It feels like Christmas all the time in the winter.”
Of course the annual Carnaval de Quebec (which runs from Jan. 26 to Feb. 11 this year) is a huge draw, offering a plethora of activities from an international snow sculpture contest and canoe race on the frozen waters of the St. Lawrence to ice skating and a 300-foot ice slide.
Our nation’s capital excels at turning the harsh winter months into a time to celebrate and enjoy being outside.
“The iconic Winterlude festival is a massive draw for winter travellers,” Sadowski says.
Held this year from Feb. 2 to 19, unique activities include an ice dragon boat festival, a snow and ice sculpture exhibit, and the annual Accora Village Bed Race that sees people dress up in costumes and race decorated hospital beds on ice to raise money for charity.
“Of course, Ottawa’s claim to fame is that it is the site of the world’s largest naturally frozen skating rink,” he says, making a skate on the Rideau Canal a thrilling and romantic experience.
It seems the party never stops in Montreal, regardless of the season. But winter may be when it’s at its liveliest.
“Montreal becomes the city of festivals in the winter,” Sadowski says.
From the infectious electronic tones of Igloofest, an outdoor music event, to Montreal en Lumiere, one of the world’s largest winter festivals featuring art, music and food (and which attracts about one million visitors per year), there’s no shortage of things to do (and dance to) to keep you warm and energized.
Affectionately dubbed “Winter-peg,” this provincial capital boasts the country’s only human rights museum, which acts as a window into the history of Canada in order to spark conversation and promote respect of others. It’s an experience that Element calls “moving and eye-opening.”
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“I’ve travelled to Winnipeg every winter for the last four or five years, and I have to say the warm hearts of the people of Winnipeg make it a great place to go,” he says. “They’re so friendly and warm, you don’t even really notice the cold.”
The majestic Rockies make for a breathtaking backdrop, no matter the season, but when you can add in the supernatural beauty of the Northern Lights, it makes for a next-level experience.
“Jasper is a Dark Sky Preserve, so there isn’t a lot of light pollution, which makes stargazing and seeing the Norther Lights a really spectacular event,” Sadowski says.
In addition, Jasper is a haven for winter activities like skiing and snowboarding, as well as iconic Canadian pursuits like dog sledding.
Of course, the west coast of Canada offers some respite from the harsh cold that tears through the rest of the country, but that’s not the only reason to visit Vancouver in the winter.
“The drive to Whistler along the Sea-to-Sky highway offers such beautiful and picturesque views, especially in the winter,” Element says. “Plus, Whistler is a skiing mecca and offers so many outdoor activities.”