Winter Holidays in Canada
Canada's not just for summer
Canada isn't just for summer. And the winter isn't all about skiing and après, either! Canada does have incredible powder snow and world-class ski resorts, granted. But it also has crisp blue skies, the Northern Lights, sleigh rides, dog-sledding, ice climbing, glaciers and tons more activities on offer.
Find winter fun
Winter in Alberta
Alberta's Rocky Mountains are a winter playground once the snow arrives. From around November to April, you'll find all sorts of snowy goodies on offer. Canmore is a great place for dog sledding and heli-skiing. Calgary's Olympic facility gives you the chance to try bobsleigh and luge. The mountain towns of Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper have chocolate-box landscapes rich with snowshoeing, ice climbing and horse-sleigh adventures. Jasper in January is a 2-week festival offering music, sporting and culinary events.
Winter in British Columbia
Two of the most famous centres in Canada come alive in winter: Vancouver and Whistler. Whistler is known for its world-class skiing and snowboarding but the town has lots more on offer, including zip-lining and snowmobiling. The spas are perfect for relaxing in a hot pool as the snow falls around you. Vancouver is full of bright lights and Christmas shopping, with cafes and breweries to keep you warm (although the climate in the city is pleasantly mild).
Winter in Ontario
Ontario has some of the best winter festivals in Canada. Winterlude in Ottawa sees 3 weeks of festival fun take place every February, with ice sculptures, a snow maze and the world's longest natural skating rink. The Winter Festival of Lights illuminates 3 miles of displays along Niagara Falls, lighting up the icy waterfall in all its winter glory. Toronto's Cavalcade of Lights is one of the biggest and best, with fireworks and a huge Christmas tree.
Winter in Québec
Québec City is home to the biggest winter festival of them all - Carnaval du Québec. The program of spectacles and events features a canoe race across the frozen St. Lawrence River, a night-time parade and a breathtaking ice palace. Montréal boasts Igloofest, with 12 nights of dance music concerts in the Old Port and MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE, from the end of February to mid-March. The city lights up with art installations culminating in the highlight of nuit blanche.
Skiing to skating
Best ski resorts
Banff - From your base in the lively town of Banff, you can access the Ski Big 3 resorts of Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise and Mt. Norquay. Some of the most atmospheric skiing in the Rocky Mountains.
Jasper - Marmot Basin resort offers fewer crowds and bigger slopes.
Whistler - The best-known of them all. The biggest ski area in Canada with world-class pistes and a vibrant pedestrian village.
Sun Peaks - The dry BC Interior makes for incredibly light powder.
Best for skating & snowshoeing
Lake Louise - You can ice-skate on this picturesque lake and snowshoe the nearby trails before warming up with a hot chocolate in the iconic Fairmont hotel.
Ottawa - Skate on the frozen Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which becomes the largest natural ice rink in the world. Snowshoe in the Gatineau Park conservation area just minutes from downtown.
Vancouver - Skate in Robson Square and snowshoe on the trails of nearby Grouse Mountain for great views of the city.
Best wildlife watching experiences
Jasper National Park is incredible for wildlife watching. Although bears will be hibernating, there are plenty more animals to spot in Maligne Canyon, like elk, bighorn sheep, deer and bald eagles.
In Banff National Park, you can often spot elk in the towns in the morning.
If you're visiting Ontario in winter, head to Algonquin Provincial Park. The wilderness reserve is home to moose, deer, elk, martens, wolves and plenty of birdlife.
Ice climbing to sledding
Ice climbing and ice canyons
Jasper's Maligne Canyon Ice Walk is one of the most popular winter activities. Join a guided tour and explore the canyon's walkways, frozen waterfalls, ice caves and incredible ice formations. Banff, Lake Louise and Canmore in the Albertan Rockies are prime locations to try the exhilarating sport of ice climbing on frozen waterfalls. Beginner climbs are open from November through to April, with more advanced, higher elevation climbs open even longer.
Is there anything more adorable than husky puppies? You'll be pleased to know that most dog-sledding tours have a meet and greet with the adorable huskies at the end. In the Rockies, you'll find plenty of places around Banff and Lake Louise to try dog-sledding. Wrap up warm and enjoy the sled ride or try mushing a team of dogs yourself. You can also try dog-sledding in Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, in Ontario's Highlands or plenty of Québec's wilderness regions.
Snowmobiles and heli-tours
For high-octane excitement, you can't choose a better activity than snowmobiling or heli-sightseeing. Rush through silent forests and frozen lakes in pristine environments by snowmobile for a truly unique thrill. Towns like Banff, Canmore and Whistler are perfect for heli-sightseeing, giving you a bird's eye view of the snowy mountain peaks and glaciers. You can even land on the glaciers themselves! Take a heli-tour over Niagara Falls for a new way to appreciate the natural wonder in winter.
Winter (from November to March) is the best time to try to see the Northern Lights. Canada is one of the best places in the world to spot them as much of the country lies under or close to the auroral oval - the region around the poles where the aurora is active. There are plenty of tours you can join to find the lights or you can hunt for them yourself anywhere with little light pollution on a clear night. Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, Churchill in Manitoba and Jasper National Park are some of the best places to spot the lights.
Food, drink & relaxation
Gourmet and après delights
There's no better way to warm up in winter than with some delectable food and drinks. The après scenes in Banff and Whistler are bursting with bars to try, so you'll never be short of a tipple with a view. Try fine dining with unbeatable vistas at Christine's on Whistler's Blackcomb Mountain. In Ontario, a true Canadian treat is maple taffy, poured onto ice and rolled onto a lolly stick.
There's no feeling quite like sinking back into a hot thermal pool and gazing at the snowy mountain peaks around you. The Banff Hot Springs is an idyllic location for some pampering and relaxation, from massages to soaking in the mineral pools. The luxurious Scandinave Spa in Whistler is one of the most highly recommended, with plenty of treatments and hot tubs on offer. You can also find Scandinave Spas in Mont-Tremblant, QC and Blue Mountain, ON.
Cosy sleigh rides
Sleigh bells in the snow aren't just for Christmas time (although the holiday season is a magical time to visit Canada). A romantic horse-drawn sleigh ride is a highlight throughout the winter months in Canada. The stunning backdrop of Lake Louise is the most famous place for a sleigh ride, although you can also find tours in Whistler and in the Ontario and Quebec countryside.
Carnaval du Quebec
The roots of this hugely popular festival in Quebec City go all the way back to 1894. It's one of the biggest winter celebrations in the country and is guaranteed to warm your heart in the cold weather. Celebrations include opening and closing ceremonies at the impressive Ice Palace, a masquerade ball at the Chateau Frontenac, outdoor sports events, free breakfast banquets, a night parade and tons more food, music and events in the "worldwide capital of snow".
Niagara Ice Wine Festival
For three weekends in January, the Niagara Region celebrates its best-loved (and most delicious) produce - ice wine. The intensely sweet and fruity wine is carefully produced under rare conditions when grapes freeze on the vine and are harvested overnight. Experience glamour and indulgence at the Niagara Icewine Gala with unique wine and food pairings at over 35 wineries. The vibrant outdoor street festivals offer hundreds of tastings of this nectar of the gods.
World Ski & Snowboard Festival
This huge celebration in Whistler is the largest annual snowsports and music festival in North America. The event is held each April and is a 6-day festival of music, art, photography, filmmaking, ski and snowboard competitions, and non-stop nightlife. It's an incredible party to dive into and experience the best of mountain culture in this world-famous resort. Even if skiing isn't your thing, you'll be amazed by the Big Air Competitions, the inspirational speakers and the insane icy challenges on offer.
Temperatures in Canada
Winter in Canada is freezing cold and snowy - but hey, that's what makes the fun activities possible. As long as you prepare well for the weather, you'll enjoy your winter adventures. Vancouver is the exception with a mild climate on the BC coast. Even in winter, the temperature rarely dips below freezing here. In the rest of Canada, you can expect minus temperatures from December to January, with -2° to -5° not uncommon in Montreal and Toronto.
What to wear
Pack the right clothes and you won’t feel the cold. Take warm boots, thermal layers and a good, warm, waterproof jacket. Hat and gloves are essential. If you are going on an ice canyon walk, warm boots and cleats will be provided, but not all winter excursions provide clothing. If you are planning dog sledding or a sleigh ride, wrap up warm. Although blankets are provided, you will be staying still on the sled so it can get chilly.
Tips for warming up
Enjoy the hot drinks on offer! Canada's incredible café and dining culture comes into its own in winter, where hot chocolate is top of the menu. Many hotels and attractions provide firepits so you can warm up as you chill out outdoors. In big cities like Calgary, Montreal and Toronto you'll find innovative walkways which connect major shopping centres and hotels so you can get around without having to brave the cold.
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Winter Holidays in Canada
In winter, the snow brings a sparkle to the air. Canadians are used to the mass snowfall and chilly temperatures, so the country doesn’t grind to a halt. Instead, winter holidays in Canada are all about big roaring fires, snowmobiles, dog sledding, sleigh rides in the snow and (our favourite) outdoor hot-pooling and spas. It’s truly magical. The Rocky Mountains are the perfect setting and, arguably, look even more impressive and majestic in the winter months, covered in powder snow. The days begin with the sun rising through the towering peaks, alpenglow turning the tops of them pink and orange. Eastern Canada has mountains too, and of course, the cities are filled with ice-skating rinks and winter festivals.
As if the abundance of snowy activities wasn’t enough, a winter holiday in Canada has another trick up its sleeve: the Northern Lights. Canada is one of the best places in the world to see the aurora as much of the country lies near or under the auroral oval. Northern Lights holidays in Canada promise expert guides to take you to the darkest skies, free of light pollution, where the incredible blues and greens dance across the sky. In Northern Canada, the winter days are short like in the UK, offering even more hours of darkness to try to spot those incredible lights.
Top winter activities
Discover some of our favourite things to see and places to go in winter in Canada.
Dog sledding in the Rockies
One of the most iconic winter experiences in Canada. Settle back into a cosy, fur-lined sled or mush your own team of huskies beneath the snowy mountain peaks. Dog sled tours can last from a couple of hours to a whole day, with treats like campfires and hot chocolate. Meeting the friendly huskies is definitely a highlight.
The PATH system
Montréal and Toronto have an innovative PATH system - a maze of tunnels linking you from shop to shop and even hotels, without going outside.
The Rideau Canal
Ottawa’s UNESCO Site freezes over to become the longest skating rink in the world. You’ll even find shops and food stalls on the ice.
The mountain resort of Mont Tremblant is ideal for a winter holiday. It’s tucked away in the Laurentian Mountains on the shores of Lake Tremblant.
The Northern Lights
Winter is the best time to view the aurora, and Canada has some of the world's best spots. Head to Jasper, Yellowknife or Whitehorse.
Adventure in Whistler
Whistler’s not just for ski. It’s a resort for everyone with a lovely pedestrian village, beautiful hotels and lodges and two huge mountains to enjoy. There are plenty of non-ski activities like snow-shoeing, tubing, tobogganing and zip lining. Plus, some incredible spas! You’ll be planning your return before you’ve dusted the snow off your boots.