Toronto is known for many things, especially its cold winters. Although many visitors wouldn’t think to visit Toronto in winter, it’s truly a shame as there are plenty things to do in Toronto in winter for the brave souls willing to venture out into the cold. Once you’ve packed your toque, warm mitts, and even warmer boots, you’ll be ready to discover Toronto through a local’s eyes. Keep reading for insider tips for Toronto in winter!
Today, Toronto local Kristal from Adventure Dawgs is going to show you the best of Toronto in winter through one-of-a-kind experiences in Toronto Canada. Wanderlustingk editor Karen has visited Toronto multiple times in winter and was always surprised by how lively the city is in winter. After layering up, channel your inner Elsa and don’t let the cold bother you. Thank you to Toronto Tourism for permission to use these photos.
A quick list of things to do in Toronto in Winter
- The Bentway Skate Trail
- Go ice skating
- Toronto Holiday Market
- Toronto Christmas Market
- Explore the Distillery Historic District
- Go skiing or snowshoeing
- Explore the ice sculptures in Yorkville
- Attend the Winterlicious food festival
- Watch a ice hockey game
- Visit the Hockey Hall of Fame
The Bentway Skate Trail
The Bentway Trail is a 1.75 km (just over one mile) trail that runs from Strachan Avenue to Bathurst Street with plans to extend it to Spadina Avenue. The trail is in the footprint of the elevated Fred Gardner Expressway which provides some cover from rain and snow. This path runs directly beside Historic Fort York and is a short walk from the Canadian National Exhibition Grounds, Lake Ontario, and almost every major downtown attraction.
Given that it is under the expressway and there is ample parking nearby, it is convenient to visit by private vehicle and there are several streetcar stops along the length of the trail. The trail is popular for art exhibits and markets but during the winter months, skating reigns supreme.
When you get tired of skating and want to get out of the cold, nearby Liberty Village has restaurants, pubs, and coffee shops where you can warm up and thaw out your toes. Or take a walk along the shore of Lake Ontario to appreciate the natural beauty of a frozen lake.
If you feel like going somewhere a bit more central, there are plenty of other city-run skating rinks including Nathan Phillips Square where the now-iconic Toronto sign is installed. Located at Queen Street West and Bay Street, the square is mere steps from Toronto Eaton Centre. If you didn’t bring your own skates, you can rent a pair so you can join in the fun.
After skating, wander the Holiday Market that pops up in December, featuring vendors, rides, and even a massive decorated tree. Night comes early in the winter and when the sun goes down, the square is lit with lights that reflect off the snow. Or if New Year’s festivities are what you’re after, every year there is a concert finished off with fireworks. If you want to avoid driving and plan on taking the subway, Queen Station is located inside the Eaton Centre and there are buses and streetcars that stop at the square.
Toronto Christmas Market
Once you’ve visited Nathan Phillips Square, take a trip back in time and head over to the Distillery Historic District. There, from mid-November to December 23, you’ll find the Toronto Christmas Market. You may not see the cobblestone streets under the snow but you cannot miss the historic buildings with every kind of vendor imaginable. Pause for a moment to listen to the carollers that stroll through the market. Little ones, both two- and four-legged, will be able to visit with Santa for photos.
There are plenty of places to stop for a bite to eat and with a distillery and brewery in the district, there truly is something for everyone. Admission is free during the week until 5:00 pm on Friday when tickets have to be purchased for entry during the weekend. There are plenty of parking lots in the area if you want to drive and buses and streetcars are available if you’d rather leave the driving to someone else.
Go skiing or snowshoeing
If the hustle and bustle of downtown doesn’t interest you, take advantage of some of the parks in the city. Rouge Urban National Park lies on the border of Toronto and Markham, although it is destined for significant expansion north. Currently 12 km (7.5 miles) of trails stretch through the park. The trails aren’t maintained in the winter but they are still open for cross country skiing and snowshoeing. There are bus stops all through the park and lots of places to park.
If your visit to Toronto calls for shopping, a visit to Bloor-Yorkville is almost mandatory and if you’re there during Icefest, you’ll have the chance to marvel at the ice sculptures that dot the sidewalks.
If shopping doesn’t interest you, the Royal Ontario Museum is nearby at Bloor Street West and University Avenue. With Yonge/Bloor Station at one end of Yorkville and Museum Station at the other (directly in front of the Royal Ontario Museum), it is easy to get there on the subway.
Attend the Winterlicious food festival
For the foodies, Winterlicious is a must. Over one hundred restaurants participate in the annual festival, allowing you to sample three-course prix fixe menus all over the city. What better way to experience the offerings at some of the most exclusive spots in Toronto?
Watch ice hockey or visit the Hockey Hall of Fame
What’s a visit to Toronto without watching the Toronto Maple Leafs play? The Air Canada Centre (rebranded Scotiabank Arena July 1, 2018) sits at the base of the CN Tower. For the real hockey fans, the Hockey Hall of Fame is nearby at 30 Yonge Street where you’ll be able to satisfy any hockey fan.
Far from being a desolate winter wasteland, Toronto remains a vibrant city welcoming everyone that is willing to explore all that it has to offer. For more tips about Canada, check Kristal’s blog!
Have you been to Toronto in winter?