Toronto is well known for its world-class sightseeing, incredible foodie scene and shopping to die for. But what you may not know is that all this doesn’t shut down over winter. Far from it; Toronto comes into its element in the colder months with a host of vibrant festivals, events and winter sports to get stuck into. From tasting the best hot toddies in Toronto’s downtown bars to snowshoeing and sledging in the parks and hills, Toronto lives up to its reputation as one of the most exciting cities there is. In fact, there’s no better place for a city break this winter.
When you’re on holiday and the weather turns colder, the temptation to don your woollies and luxuriate in the warmth of your plush hotel can be strong. But the great outdoors still beckons even in winter in Toronto. There’s plenty going on and some of the city’s best sights become even more beautiful with a dusting of snow. The snuggly duvet, soothing spa and fire-warmed bar will be there when you get back. Here are some outdoor activities that get better with chilly weather:
• A trip to Toronto’s islands isn’t just for summer; in winter they offer breathtaking snowy landscapes without the crowds that gravitate in warm weather. The perfect way to explore the beautiful scenery is on a snowshoe hike or by cross country skiing.
• Whether you’re a tourist or a born-and-bred Torontonian, a favourite winter pastime has to be ice skating. You’re spoiled for choice in Toronto with dozens of indoor and outdoor rinks waiting for you to get your skates on. Many of the outdoor rinks are free of charge, too. One of the most popular is at Nathan Phillips Square in front of the town hall.
• Join in with the locals for a spot of tobogganing down one of the popular slopes in Toronto. Buy or hire a sledge and head for the snows of Riverdale Park, Trinity Bellwoods, Christie Pitts and more. Some parks prohibit sledging, so make sure you check first.
Festivals and events
Chilly days and dark nights don’t stop Torontonians from having fun. Instead, they wrap up warm, deck the city out with glittering lights and organise a whole host of fun events and festivals to keep you entertained throughout the winter. Here are just a few of the festivities on offer:
• 17th October to 8th November 2015 marks the Toronto Chocolate Festival – a veritable Garden of Eden for chocoholics as participating chocolatiers, patisseries and restaurants offer out free samples. For a decadent afternoon treat, step into the timeless elegance of the Omni King Edward Hotel for high tea with a chocolate twist, where jam scones are replaced with chocolate pastries.
• Toronto’s Cavalcade of Lights is a festive tradition almost 50 years old. It marks the lighting of Toronto’s official Christmas tree and is the best way to ring in the holiday season. Spectators will be wowed by a brilliant fireworks display and an after party with DJ and ice skating at Nathan Phillips Square. Visit on 28th November to take part this year.
• The annual Bloor-Yorkville Icefest is a festival unlike any other. Contestants armed with chisels, pick axes and even chainsaws put their incredible skills to the test as they artfully carve out enormous blocks of ice in the ice sculpture contest. Vote for your favourite glittering sculpture on the day.
It wouldn’t be a winter city break without a spot of shopping. It’s the perfect time to buy Christmas presents for friends and family or a new winter wardrobe for yourself. Toronto boasts a world-class shopping scene with an eclectic mix of high street favourites, high end names, independent boutiques and craft goods. Here are a few of our top shopping destinations:
• The Toronto Eaton Centre easily gives any Westfield Centre a run for its money. This huge mall presents row after gleaming row of stores from high street to high end. Visiting at Christmas is a treat in itself to see the impressive lights and giant decorations on display.
• St Lawrence Market has become iconic for finding the best fresh, local produce. It’s been around for over 200 years but more recently has been named one of the world’s top 25 markets by Food & Wine Magazine.
• For a totally different shopping experience, check out the One of a Kind show in Toronto’s Exhibition Place from 26th November to 6th This is the largest craft show in North America and it showcases a mind-blowing range of charming handmade produce, from hand-enamelled jewellery to hand-painted ceramics.
If you’re looking to warm up on a frosty day, there’s no better way than by sampling hot chocolate at Toronto’s most welcoming cafes, hot toddies at its trendiest bars and hearty food at its finest restaurants. Toronto has a truly multicultural dining scene guaranteed to delight even the most well-travelled tastebuds. Here is our pick of wining and dining options in winter:
• The Winterlicious food festival offers delighted foodies the chance to sample choice morsels from Toronto’s top restaurants every year. From 29th January to 11th February 2016, more than 200 popular restaurants will take part, offering three course menus for a discounted price. Don’t forget to also check out the cooking demonstrations and cookery schools.
• For a humbler yet no-less tasty experience, get involved in La Poutine Week from 1st – 7th January. Restaurants will be serving up their take on the Canadian classic made from fries, cheese and gravy sauce, with you as the judge.
• Toronto’s love of patios doesn’t end with summer; you can experience the al fresco lifestyle in winter by cosying up on one of the many heated patios and fire pit seating areas. The Sky Yard rooftop patio at the Drake Hotel serves up a warming Salted Caramel Flip in winter.
Don’t assume that Toronto’s sights are best seen in summer. In fact, the glittering frost and alluring snow blanket of winter make many of Toronto’s best-loved attractions even more beautiful. Here are some of our top choices for sightseeing in winter:
• Brave a visit to Niagara Falls in winter and you will be rewarded with magical views unlike those at any other time of the year. Nearby railings, lampposts and trees are transformed into glittering ice sculptures by the frozen spray from the Falls. The water tumbling through snowy and icy floes can best be seen on an exhilarating helicopter ride.
• Toronto is home to a majestic castle of its own, which comes into its element at Christmas time. The Great Hall, dining room and luxurious suites at Casa Lomo are bedecked with lights, stockings and wreaths while enormous glittering trees decorate each room. The stunning frosty grounds are no less impressive.
• A trip to the top of the CN Tower results in fantastic views no matter the season, but the city looks extra impressive in winter when it is blanketed in sparkling white snow by day and adorned with twinkling Christmas lights by night.