Canada is known for its winter. Everyone you meet around the world will comment on how snowy it must be in Canada all year long! While it isn’t always cold, visiting Toronto in the winter is the best time to see Canada in its full snow-covered glory.
Some people fear the cold and worry that there won’t be anything for them to do in the city. I’m here to tell you that’s not the case! Toronto is packed full of amazing activities that you can do come snow or shine in the winter. There are even places to hide from the truly Arctic days when the temperatures dip into double negatives.
If you’re ready to say goodbye to the winter blues and enjoy some fun in the snow, read on to find out everything you need to know about visiting Toronto in winter, including what to wear to prepare and the best things to do in Toronto during the winter.
This is a guest post by Nina of Nina Out and About
Why Winter is the Best Time to Visit Toronto
Most articles will tell you that the best time to visit Toronto is in the summer when the weather is warm. But warm weather means crowds of people making it nearly impossible for you to visit the sites you want to see.
Besides, “warm” in summer means temperatures close to 40C with smog health warnings that will keep you locked inside.
Winter is a unique time to visit Toronto when you’ll find fewer tourists, making it easier for you to enjoy the sites, and more outdoor opportunities to embrace the winter wonderland that the city becomes every December.
Winter Weather in Toronto
Winter in Toronto runs from December to March. However, November is often considered the unofficial start of winter, since the first snowfall usually occurs during this month.
Average Toronto winter temperatures hover around -10C. However, since 2018, winters have been extremely harsh, with temperatures regularly hovering around -15C. For two weeks in 2021, we even had -25C!
Now, don’t let those numbers scare you. They may sound cold, but one of the amazing things about winter in Toronto is that, even though it’s cold, it’s actually sunnier than in the summer. The white snow reflects the sun, making it blindingly bright and warming you up.
You’ll find snow on the ground from November to early April, but I recommend visiting Toronto in January to see the snow at its best.
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What to Wear in Toronto in Winter
Pack your winter gear to visit Canada! Decorative gloves and wool coats won’t be enough to face the negative temperatures.
You’ll want to pack:
- Warm winter boots with an insulated layer
- Thermal underwear to layer beneath your clothes
- Heavy, knit sweaters
- A toque or earmuffs that completely cover your ears
- Thick gloves
- Hand warmers that you can put in your boots for long, cold walks
- Sunglasses with polarization to protect your eyes
- A thick parka that zips fully. You don’t want any buttons or gaps where the cold air can get in
- A scarf or balaclava to cover your neck and your mouth/nose
- Thick, warm socks. Or socks that can be layered.
Things to do in Toronto in Winter
Ice Skate at Nathan Phillips Square
Nathan Phillips Square, located in downtown Toronto, is the perfect spot to enjoy winter in Toronto. The gathering place is turned into a giant outdoor ice rink every winter for the enjoyment of thousands of ice skaters. It’s one of the best free things to do in Toronto if you have your own skates or rent a set from the kiosks for a small fee, then take to the ice for a fun-filled afternoon.
You’ll want to bundle up, as it is cold on the ice! While you skate, you’ll pass the famous Toronto sign. Snap a picture for the perfect winter selfie.
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The CN Tower is a classic stop when you’re in Toronto. First-time tourists love going up to see the city from the highest possible point. Although I’m not a big fan, having gone many times as a kid and having my sister shove me onto the glass platform, but if it’s your first visit to Toronto then it has to be on your Toronto itinerary!
Head to the top to see the city from an aerial view. You’ll spot all of the corners of the city. In winter, it’s a stunning view of the city blanketed in snow.
Take a Tour to Niagara Falls
Most people assume that Niagara Falls is best seen in summer when the water is rushing at full force, but they’d be wrong!
Winter is the coolest time to see the falls when they are partially frozen in a forever descending cascade. You won’t want to take a voyage on the Maid of the Mist boat tour when it’s this cold out. Instead, stand and view the falls from the platforms, before you scurry inside to find some hot apple cider.
You might like these tours from Toronto to Niagara Falls:
Royal Ontario Museum
The ROM, as it’s more commonly known, is the most famous museum in Toronto. It’s a giant museum filled with artefacts from around the world.
You’ll want to wander through during the day to see the most beautiful exhibits. Then come back on Friday evening to have a drink when the museum turns into a dance club. Buy tickets here.
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Art Gallery of Ontario
The AGO (we shorten everything) is the best art gallery in Toronto. Even non-art lovers will enjoy the AGO on a cold day as you’ll be toasty warm inside while you explore Canadian artist exhibits.
Stop by the wooden room, where the building has been architecturally built to mimic the frame of a ship. The room is entirely wooden, with large ribs across the ceiling that make you feel like you’re in an ancient ship.
St. Lawrence Market
St. Lawrence Market is a staple of downtown Toronto. The market used to be the one place people could visit to get their weekly produce. Now, you can visit for fresh local produce and sample some of the best food in Toronto.
You’ll get some amazing local salmon, yummy mustards, and more! It’s like going on a mini food tour in one building. I highly recommend checking out the peameal bacon sandwich – the meal of Toronto. Carousel Bakery has been making them for over a hundred years in the same spot.
Alternatively, if you would prefer to take a guided food tour in Toronto, check out this food tour of the Kensington Market district.
Watch a Hockey Game
What would Canada be without hockey?
Visit Toronto in the winter and stop by a Leafs or Marley’s game. They’re incredibly fun, even if you’re not into hockey. You don’t need to know about the rules of hockey to have fun drinking beer and screaming incoherently at the players.
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Every winter, Canada’s only castle turns into a winter wonderland. They create a courtyard full of lights that makes you feel like you’re a winter Cinderella wandering the grounds.
Don’t forget to go inside so you can see the luxurious interior of the building.
Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada
It sounds like a touristy thing to do, and it is, but visiting Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is incredibly fun, especially at night.
Visit at night to have a unique experience of wandering through the darker, and cheaper cost, aquarium. You’ll walk beneath a tunnel of sharks, get to spot glowing fish, and even touch a starfish!
Go Skiing in Toronto at Blue Mountain Resort
Take a day trip from Toronto to visit Blue Mountain, a nearby ski hill.
Blue Mountain is the #1 spot that locals visit each winter to hit the slopes and go skiing in Toronto. Whether you ski or snowboard, you’ll love this faux Swiss mountain town.
You can even rent a chalet to drink your hot chocolate by the fire after a long day on the cold slopes.
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Dine at Winterlicious
Toronto is a big foodie city. You’ll find delicious places to enjoy meals all year long.
To help the city’s restaurants, Toronto has created Winterlicious to encourage people to visit more restaurants. Every year, the finest restaurants in Toronto create tasting menus that are more affordable so everyone can enjoy the yummy meals you’d usually need to break the bank for.
Things to do at Christmas in Toronto
Distillery District Christmas Market
Recently, Toronto decided to get in on the Christmas market game. We used to have little markets across the city, but now we have the giant one that feels like you’re in Germany.
Visit Toronto in December to take photos under the Christmas lights, shop for unique Christmas gifts, and enjoy outdoor performances by bands. It can get busy, so avoid weekends if you’re not a fan of crowds.
Cavalcade of Lights at Nathan Phillips Square
Visit Toronto’s largest Christmas tree at Nathan Phillips Square. Amongst the outdoor ice rink, you’ll find the beautifully lit up Christmas tree covered in bright lights. These go up in November, but I’d wait until December to visit so you can enjoy the Christmassy feels.
Santa Claus Parade
You may not be a kid anymore, but that doesn’t matter. The Santa Claus Parade in November is for everyone!
The date changes every year, usually, it takes place on the 3rd Sunday in November, and for 2021 is scheduled for Sunday 21 November 2021. Bundle up, head to Toronto’s main Dundas street, and grab a hot chocolate from Tim Hortons. You need to camp out early to get a good seat.
If you don’t want to sit outside, cosy up in a Toronto hotel room and watch it live on TV, but be sure to book your hotel in advance as it will be a busy weekend in Toronto!
Toronto Travel Tips
I hope this post has inspired you to take a trip to Toronto this winter. Before you book, check out these top tips to help you make the most of your Toronto vacation:
Check Your Travel Documents
About the Author
Nina is the badass solo female traveller behind Nina Out and About. She has lived in over 7 countries living her best life as a digital slow-mad. For amazing tips on how to move abroad, gain the confidence to solo travel, and stay safe as a woman alone in a foreign country, check out her website Nina Out and About or find her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
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