Our favourite winter experiences in Toronto
Toronto is one of the most beautiful cities in all of Canada. It has everything you can ask for from stunning lakeside views to a thriving downtown core, with a wide range of opportunities and experiences to enjoy during the winter months. Make no mistake, the winters in Toronto can get well below freezing, but don’t let this put you off - it’s still a magical time to visit the city and unlike the UK and Ireland, they actually know how to deal with this sort of weather. So leave your flip flops behind, pack your best hat and gloves and prepare to enjoy this historic city!
As at any time of year, the best way from the airport is the UP Express train travelling directly from Pearson International Airport into Union Station for just a few dollars.
It’s good to plan ahead, so that you schedule your outdoor activities for when the sun is high in the sky and your indoor activities for once the sun has set. One of the best things to do on your first morning is to take a Hop-on Hop-off bus tour which has the double-whammy effect of helping you get your bearings and allowing you to tick off a few sights from your list.
The Distillery District is a fabulous place to browse independent art galleries, boutique shops and, throughout the holiday period, a gorgeous Christmas Market. From mid January the “Toronto Light Festival” transforms this neighbourhood into a magical exhibit of light and art.
Part of Ontario Place’s recent rejuvenation includes an impressive and free winter light show, along with skating, fire pits, and food vendors. There’s a great atmosphere and it’s a lovely place to kick off an evening.
Ice-skating is always popular in Toronto and of the various rinks and trails in and around the city, our top pick is Nathan Phillips Square as it’s easily accessible and open every day from 10am until 10pm.
Toronto has an amazing array of restaurants serving food with influences from all around the world, and in February there is the wonderful Winterlicious fortnight which showcases the city’s diverse cuisine. Enjoy special menus for lunch and dinner at a wide selection of restaurants with a range of price points.
Sitting next door to each other are two of Toronto’s most popular attractions - Ripley’s Aquarium and the CN Tower. You can ascend to the observation platform of the CN Tower at nearly 1,500 feet and enjoy panoramic views of the city, Lake Ontario and its islands. Dare to walk over the glass floor and then recover with a nice lunch in the revolving restaurant. Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is open every day of the year and you will find a superb array of galleries such as the Dangerous Lagoon, Canada’s Waters and Rainbow Reef.
Of course there is world-class shopping in Toronto and you can spend hours in the warm embrace of its fabulous malls. Our two favourites are The Eaton Centre and the Yorkdale Shopping Centre - both home to over two hundred retailers for all budgets, and with plenty of watering holes for when you need sustenance. There is also the upscale Bloor-Yorkville, often referred to as “Mink Mile” which has an assortment of designer stores lining this swanky street.
Culture Vultures should check out ROM or AGO…. the abbreviated Art Gallery of Ontario has over 90,000 works of art. You'll do best to check out which exhibitions are in place before you go so that you can plan your time there wisely. Likewise the ROM, or the Royal Ontario Museum, has a dizzying array of natural history, cultural and art exhibits.
If you’re there for more than a couple of days, then it’s worth hiring a car and taking a day trip down to Niagara Falls. Perhaps head via Niagara-on-the-Lake for an early lunch in this picturesque town, where you can try and then buy some of its famous Icewine. Then onto Niagara Falls - a mesmerizing place to visit in the winter, with some sections freezing over. All the attractions are open (with the exception of the boat tours) so you can enjoy the Journey Behind the Falls, Skywheel, Skylon Tower and more. Driving back to the city along the Niagara Parkway you will get to enjoy the Winter Festival of Lights which boasts over two million lights and over a hundred animated light displays. A beautiful finale!