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 four Canadian winter festivals within and near Ontario that you do not want to miss.
Since its launch in 1979, Winterlude has been referred to as “The Ultimate Canadian Experience,” a celebration of Canadian climate and culture. In 2023, this three-weekend long festival will take place from Feb. 3- 20.
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
Every winter, Montreal sparkles under the light of the Festival Montreal en Lumiere. This year, the festival runs from Feb. 16 to March 5, featuring a program packed with fine dining, outdoor activities, spectacular lighting and a myriad of cultural events.
Each year, over 600 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.
Carnaval de Quebec
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 Feb. 3-12, 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.
BONUS: Winter Festival of Lights
If you’re looking for a winter festival that requires less planning and travelling, the Niagara Falls Winter Festival of Lights is on now until Feb. 20. Take a drive to the falls to visit Canada’s largest free outdoor lights festival for a gorgeous display of three million lights along the Niagara Parkway, the Niagara Falls and Dufferin Islands. The 101-night festival is available every day, but plan your trip around the weekend and enjoy the added bonus of live entertainment. For chocolate lovers, try the Hot Chocolate Trail, where you can enjoy 17 stops of treats and sips thanks to the top chocolatiers, chefs and mixologists in the region.
Natalie Preddie is a travel and lifestyle writer, speaker and guest expert on Cityline, Your Morning and Global’s The Morning Show.