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15 Reasons Why You Should Brave a Canadian Winter

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Canadian winters have a bit of a reputation. Cold, snow, and ice are probably the first things that come to mind, but despite the harsh weather it’s also beautiful, and can be a lot of fun. We’ve made the most of our long winters, and invite you to come join in us for the good parts. Need a little more convincing? Well here are 15 reasons why you should put on the thermals, and come play in our winter wonderland.

THE WORLD’S LONGEST SKATING RINK

Although there are a couple Canadian contenders for this title, I can assure you that the primary contender, the Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa, is one of the best parts of a Canadian winter. A UNESCO world heritage site, the canal loops through the core of downtown Ottawa and stretches 7.8km to Dow’s Lake. And if you need a break along the way; feel free to stop for a beaver tail. Don’t panic animal lovers; it’s just a delicious pastry that you can get in a variety of sweet or savoury flavours.

Note: Skating season is totally dependent on weather, but generally runs late December/early January til the end of February.

Canal

Beavertails and skating on the Canal
CC Mikey G

WINTER FESTIVALS

With endless amounts of snow and temperatures well below freezing, Canadians need to do something to celebrate. A variety of winter festivals can be found across the country but two of the most popular include:

Winterlude: The capital’s winter party, Winterlude runs over two full weeks and three weekends. The celebration has occurred annually for three decades and takes place over a few locations in the heart of the city. A variety of activities take place throughout the day, and many are free. A few popular activities including checking out the ice sculptures (you can even try it yourself), the snowflake kingdom (a giant snow playground), food tours, DJ nights, and other fun outdoor activities.

Carnival: Quebec City’s winter wonderland is another Canadian tradition filled with snowy magic. Events include street parades, dog sled rides, ice sculptures, and a massive ice castle to explore. Visitors of legal drinking age (18 in Quebec) should be sure to try the traditional Carnival drink: Cairbou. To take part in Carnival, visitors need to purchase an effigy; a small figurine in the shape of Carnival’s snowan mascot, Bonhomme, to tie to your coat as an entry pass.

An Ice Sculpture at Carnival

An Ice Sculpture at Carnival

THE ICE HOTEL

Another winter favourite located just outside Quebec City is America’s only Ice Hotel; The Hotel de Glace. Celebrating 15 years in 2015, the Hotel De Glace is recreated every year to entire visitors with its magical rooms and incredible sculptures.  The Hotel De Glace is an enchanting experience for anyone, especially children (and children at heart) wanting to create their own Frozen adventure.  For some inspiration check out Sarah of Solo Mom Takes Flight‘s experience at this cool hotel with her daughter.

EXPERIENCE ONE OF THE WORLD’S MOST BEAUTIFUL TRAIN RIDES

Training through the Rocky Mountains is beautiful at any time of year, but there’s something magical about a ride through the winter. Frozen lakes, icy mountains, and Canadian wildlife are all visible through the windows on this epic adventure.  Train rides can be multi-day tours and paired with other winter activities, such as skiing or guided ice walks, as part of a vacation package.

SKIING/SNOWBOARDING

Looking to hit the slopes? Canada has you covered from coast to coast. While most people will head west to the Rockies to partake in these winter activities, you can indulge your inner ski-bunny at countless mountains and hills across the country.  A personal favourite of mine is Mont Tremblant in Quebec; a European-esque resort known for skiing, but full of other fun winter activities as well.

Mont Tremblant, Quebec

Mont Tremblant, Quebec

NORTHERN LIGHTS

Scandinavia tends to get all of the glory when it comes to this much sought after phenomenon, but guess what? You can see them in Canada too! From Newfoundland to British Columbia, all the way up to the Northern Territories there are plenty of places in Canada to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. To plan your Canadian northern light sight-seeing check out the most  popular viewing areas here.

Northern lights in the Yukon CC StudioLit

Northern lights in the Yukon
CC StudioLit

POLAR BEARS

Want to get up close and personal with one of the world’s most incredible mammals in their natural habitat? Then you better head to Churchill, Manitoba. Your best chance to see the bears is between October and November when they migrate, but it is possible to see them all year round. Tours offer viewing trips in special tundra vehicles to protect viewers from the curious (and sometimes hungry) animals. And if you are a super polar bear fan, you can always stay in the Wilderness Lodge which is located along the migration route. Don’t worry though, there is a fence!

PICTURE PERFECT CHRISTMASES

Are you dreaming of a white Christmas? Then I invite you to the great white north. Although it can’t be guaranteed (Mother Nature has a mind of her own), snow is almost always a given in many Canadian cities during the holiday season.

Quebec 2014 (1 of 1)-2

Snowy streets decorated for Christmas in Quebec City 

CHRISTMAS LIGHTS ACROSS CANADA

If you can’t tell by looking a the map, Canada is massive. But our main cities are brought together during the festive season with the Christmas Lights Across Canada displays. Illumination ceremonies take place the beginning of December and whimsical light shows projected on main buildings run nightly until early January. The thousands of multicolored lights add a little more magic to the holidays.

CHRISTMAS MARKETS

Although they aren’t quite as full blown as the ones in Europe, Canada has a few Christmas markets of its own. Some of the most popular include those in Quebec City (which include a German inspired Christmas Market and a Farmer’s Christmas Market), the Distillery District Christmas Market in Toronto, and Vancouver’s outdoor Christmas Market Village.

j+L

Toronto Distillery District Christmas Market, Photo Credit: Justin Plus Lauren

POLAR BEAR PLUNGES

Canadians are a little crazy; for proof you need to look no further than the annual Polar Bear plunges. No, this has nothing to do with actual polar bears. Rather, it’s the practise of a bunch of Canucks running into the icy (and sometimes ice-filled) waters on New Year’s Day to celebrate the New Year and raise money or donations for charities.  The Polar Bear Plunge in Vancouver, British Columbia is one of the biggest in the world, but similar plunges also take place in Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, St. John’s, and Halifax to name a few. Crazy costumes are more than welcome.

DOG SLEDDING

The perfect way to get from one place to another on the snow and ice, but more importantly it’s a whole lot of fun. Dog sledding has gone from a mode of transportation, to a fun-for-all winter activity. Dog sledding tour companies can be found countrywide; some offer short tours lasting a couple hours while others offer day-long adventures. I even got to command a team at the Carnival winter festival. It’s a ton of fun, and who can resist a bunch of adorable dogs?

Learning to drive a dog sled

Learning to drive a dog sled

ICE FISHING

Not just a hobby, ice fishing in Canada is actually a sport. I have to admit, I’m not one for drilling a hole in the ice and waiting for something to come along, but those that do it love it. It’s common for a group of guys to get together and spend a weekend on the ice with their fishing gear and a few pints. Just make sure to wear your thermals, sitting out on the ice can get pretty cold!

TOBOGGANING AND TUBING

What’s the best thing to do after a big snowfall? Grab your toboggan or sled of course! We love sledding, and have converted many hills into tobogganing slopes to make the best out of the winter. In Quebec City, they even have a massive ice slide outside the Chateau Frontenac. Another similar activity is snow tubing, which is an absolute blast, especially if you get a big group together and link up.

The giant ice slide

The giant ice slide

HOCKEY

Let’s be honest, hockey and Canada go hand in hand, so it had to be on the list. And for my European friends, yes I am talking about ice hockey- most canucks believe there is no other kind! There are numerous ways to take part in Canada’s favourite sport. Grab some tickets to an NHL game or start up a game of your own on a local rink.

You don’t even need an arena to enjoy hockey, we’re big fans of pond hockey as well. If you want to play, you can sign up for the Canadian Pond Hockey championships which is open to players of all skill levels. Or if you prefer to watch, the World Pond Hockey Championships take place every February in New Brunswick.

If actually partaking isn’t really your thing, and you didn’t manage to score some tickets to the big game, just pop into any sports bar and join the throngs of people cheering for their favourite team. For the ultimate experience come when team Canada is playing and see Canadian pride in all its glory, even at 7am on a Sunday (Sochi 2014, anyone?)

Need a place to stay? I love using hotels.com, booking.com, and airbnb!

explore Canada in the winter

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Original photo: Flickr CC

29 thoughts on “15 Reasons Why You Should Brave a Canadian Winter

  1. Ryan Biddulph

    Hannah what a list! Seeing the polar bears in Churchill has always been one of my dreams. I watched the National Geographic shows like a zillion times as a kid. Seeing the interactions, the desolate but beautiful landscapes and the sheer power and beauty of these bears has always inspired me to see this area in person. I can’t imagine walking outside of my home to see a polar bear in the garbage lol!

    What great shots and neat things to do in Canada. The longest ice skating rink is plain awesome too. Mind boggling when you think about it. Of course I’d fall on my bum every 2 seconds as I’m not too graceful on skates lol. Keep up the great work! See you soon 😉

    Ryan

    1. Hannah Logan Post author

      Thanks Ryan! I would love to see the polar bears one day too- I can’t even begin to imagine how incredible that would be! As for the canal, if it’s easier you are allowed to walk on the ice 😉

  2. Reginia Cordell

    I was just chatting with another traveler about the beauty of winter travel. Most people head out during the summer months because of schedules and whatnot. However, there is such pristine beauty in untouched snow, the Christmas lights, and of course, the gorgeous winter fashions. I haven’t braved the Canadian cold yet but I have been throughout England and France which is a bit similar in temperature.

    1. Hannah Logan Post author

      I think you may find Canada quite a bit colder than the UK and France, but you can always dress for it 😉 Your right about the beauty though- nothing beats Christmas lights on fresh fallen snow!

  3. Mags

    As a Floridian I’ll admit I’m a bit weary of the cold, but I would love to see the Northern Lights. You couldn’t pay me enough to do the polar bear plunge thought! (okay you could, but it would have to be a lot lol)

  4. kami

    I was in Canada only in spring (April/May) but already then I had a feeling it’s an incredible winter destination, especially Quebec City! And now you just proved me I should think of returning there, the sooner, the better! It looks like Canada is a winter wonderland!!

  5. Katie

    Canada has so many cool things! I have spent so many years not traveling Canada because I associate it with “home”, even though it is definitely not! Living in Vermont I headed over the border many winters. Most recently, last winter during that Polar Vortex. I didn’t think it would be that much colder just 1.5 hours north, but the whipping winds from the water that surrounds Montreal proved me wrong!

  6. Ben Warner

    I’m certainly intrigued by this “Distillery District”, I assume it is fun in May as well?

    I’m headed to Toronto in May, that’s why I ask.

    Cheers,
    Ben
    @HugePartyTravel

  7. Alli

    I’ve never ice fished before but I actually think it would be super fun to try it out! My boyfriend’s grandma lives in Gatineau and we want to stop in Ottawa and try out some of these festive ideas on the way! 🙂

  8. Valerie

    Oh my gosh,that ice slide looks like so much fun!!! Every year I think about doing a polar bear plunge but I have yet to get the nerve to follow through! haha

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  10. Stephanie

    I can honestly say this is the first time I’ve ever been—dare I say it—excited at the thought of visiting Canada! Those festivals sound amazing, especially Carnival!! Thanks for making a believer out of this American! 🙂

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