These are the best winter festivals to visit in and around Ontario this year

If there is one thing that Canada does well, it’s winter. Many of us head south in search of warm weather when the snow arrives, but with some of the world’s greatest winter festivals, Canada offers so many reasons to stay. With sparkling lights, live music, skating, ice sculptures and so much more, Canada’s famous winter festivals are waiting to welcome you back this year.

Here are eight Canadian winter festivals within and near Ontario that you do not want to miss.

Winterlude

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Since its launch in 1979, Winterlude has been referred to as “The Ultimate Canadian Experience,” a celebration of Canadian climate and culture. In 2024, this three-weekend long festival will take place from Feb. 2-19.

Most Winterlude events are free, as is transportation between venues, making this an easy event to navigate. Start your Winterlude journey at Snowflake Kingdom (a gigantic snow playground), tubing, skating or exploring an ice castle. Watch horses trotting on the Rideau, the now famous Bed Races, or the Waiters on Ice Challenge. Sample delicious culinary treats, sip Canadian beer and spirits, take in ice sculpting competitions and dance the night away at open air concerts.

Perhaps the most famous part of Winterlude is ice skating along the Rideau Canal through the nation’s capital. Not only is the canal named the largest outdoor skating rink in the world (according to the Guinness Book of World Records), it is also a UNESCO world heritage site.

Festival Montreal en Lumiere 

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Every winter, Montreal sparkles under the light of the Festival Montreal en Lumiere. This year, the festival runs from Feb. 29 to March 10, featuring a program packed with fine dining, outdoor activities, spectacular lighting and a myriad of cultural events.

Each year, hundreds of chefs, winemakers and artisans arrive at Festival Montreal en Lumiere from over 20 countries to create unique offerings for the epicurious. Although there are curated culinary programs, conferences and guided tastings available, most events are free of charge.

Head to Place de Festivals to take in the lights from the heights of the Ferris wheel or whoosh down a giant urban slide. Warm your hands as you roast marshmallows, explore bars and food trucks, enjoy some kid-friendly activities and take in a concert or two.

If you’re in the mood for an all-nighter, enjoy La Nuit Blanche, an epic, well-lit night of Canadian culture with over 200 free shows and numerous activities citywide.

Niagara Icewine Festival

Courtesy niagaraonthelake.com

The Niagara region may be a hotspot for wine tours in the summer, but did you know the wineries in the area create another delicacy in the winter? For those with elevated taste, icewine is the star of the show when it comes to wine — and Niagara on the Lake hosts an Icewine Festival from Jan. 20-21 and Jan. 27-28 for you to give it a try. Happening on Queen Street, the festival offers an immersive experience for attendees, including diverse samples of icewine from local wineries, culinary delights made to pair perfectly with this ultra-Canadian drink.

Attendees can also enjoy live entertainment and another ice variety — ice sculptures! Upgrade to a VIP lounge experience to enjoy a private tent located across from the stage, featuring fire pits, Muskoka chairs and an icewine cocktail bar. 

Winterloo

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This month, Waterloo is transforming into Winterloo! This annual winter festival is taking over uptown Waterloo and bringing plenty of winter fun to the region. The organisers have yet to announce plans for this year, but in years past the festival has featured live ice carving, ice skating in the square, a fire pit to warm up, outdoor karaoke booth, a pop-up curling rink and ice hockey, snow dogs, wintry art workshops and more!

Carnaval de Quebec 

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Carnaval de Quebec is the largest winter festival in the world. Since its inception in 1955, this celebration has been the pinnacle of Quebecois history and culture. Every year, the famous festival mascot Bonhomme tours the city, bringing his joi de vivre wherever he goes. From Jan. 25-Feb. 11, Quebec City will be in winter party mode.

Bonhomme’s Ice Palace always plays a central role in the celebrations, hosting many Carnaval activities. From mixology displays to exclusive Quebec eats and live performers to ice sculpting contests, this is the place to feel the energy and excitement that carnival brings to the city.

The festival program is packed with outdoor winter fun. Night parades full of sparkling lights, colourful characters and fantastic live music will enchant families after a day of taking in snow sculptures, dancing, snow tubing, ice canoe racing and more.

There is a reason this festival is famous worldwide – there is no better way to enjoy winter than with Bonhomme.

Goderich Winterfest

Head to “Canada’s prettiest town” from Feb. 2-4 for a full weekend of exciting activities at Goderich Winterfest! This year, they’ll be hosting the town’s first ever Winterfest Vendor Market on Saturday — and that’s only the beginning! Kids and adults alike will enjoy the Winterfest Petting Zoo, outdoor activities and games in the square, a sno-pitch tournament, a chili cook-off and even a Winterfest Meat Draw. And on Sunday, don’t miss a rousing game of Bingo!

Hamilton Winterfest

Courtesy hamiltonwinterfest.ca

Not too far from Toronto is an annual winterfest sure to brighten up the cold chill of February. Hamilton Winterfest runs from Feb. 2-19 and really does have something for everyone!

For the art lovers, enjoy an open mic night, a winter drag performance with the Frost Queens, a Valentine’s Day lights party and sculptural installations.

For the pop culture lovers, don’t miss Winterfest POP, a 10,000-square-foot pop culture explosion. Explore over 300 plush toys, min putt and vintage arcade game stations, scratch n’ sniff sticker murals, a retro rec room, vintage rocket ride and a gift shop to gift a dose of nostalgia this winter.

On Family Day, Winterfest will transform a rooftop plaza into a day of fun for the whole family, including pancakes and hot chocolate, arts and crafts and even a Family Day passport.

Fire & Ice Bracebridge

Courtesy fireandicebracebridge.com

The Bracebridge Fire and Ice Festival is a true highlight of the winter season in Ontario. If you haven’t visited before, prepare for a tube run that literally runs down the main street of the town! Happening on Jan. 27, you and the family will be able to enjoy axe throwing, a kid-friendly parkour obstacle course, life-size games, a Biergarten, Great Canadian Lumberjack Show, ice sculpting demonstration, campfire and so much more!

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO