My personal approach to winter is to hunker near a fireplace with a fortifying drink or three. But if you suffer from itchy feet at this time of year, Canada is stuffed like a bulging Christmas stocking with tempting, ski-avoiding options.
Let's start with the parties. Quebec City's mammoth Winter Carnival (carnaval.qc.ca) should be on every ice bucket list, especially if you love snow sculptures, night parades and frozen balls (not what you think). Add a sleepover just outside the city at the Hôtel de Glace – opens Jan. 5 – (hoteldeglace-canada.com) for the full fleece-clad effect.
Several other Canadian cities also know how to paint the town white. Try Montreal's High Lights Festival (montrealenlumiere.com); Ottawa's Winterlude (winterlude.gc.ca); Fredericton's FROSTival (frostival.ca); or Whitehorse's Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous
(yukonrendezvous.com), complete with chainsaw chucking and dog-howling contests.
I also (dimly) recall having a delightful time one year at B.C.'s Sun Peaks Winter Okanagan Wine Festival (thewinefestivals.com). Out east, the Niagara Icewine Festival (niagarawinefestival.com) is equally sip-worthy.
Alternatively, commune with the winter wonderland from a cozy train seat. VIA Rail's Vancouver to Jasper route slides between grand snow-capped peaks, but I also love the less-crowded Jasper to Prince Rupert service, where ice-draped forests and frozen lakes appeal. See viarail.ca/offers for possible ticket deals.
You could also hop VIA's Winnipeg to Churchill train for some aurora-spotting. The Northern Lights are a winter must-do and Canada has some ideal viewing destinations. If you're Manitoba-bound, check out the trip-planning resources at everythingchurchill.com – or face plant into a cool Northwest Territories visit instead.
Flying into Yellowknife, you can marvel at aurora-streaked skies from rustic cabins; explore the hauntingly silent backcountry via snowmobile or meet chilled locals on guided city tours. See spectacularnwt.com for ideas. Alternatively, if you're nearer Ontario's Algonquin Park, Voyaguer Quest (voyageurquest.com) organizes everything from dogsledding weekends to Stew and Brew culinary retreats.
If you really want to connect with the wintery locals, though, hit the ice. Skating Ottawa's Rideau Canal is a Canadian rite of passage, of course, but you can also hone those triple Salchows on Winnipeg's huge Red River Mutual Trail (theforks.com/rivertrail). Combine with the city's annual Festival du Voyageur for a complete wintery vacation (festivalvoyageur.mb.ca).
Or you could skate across to the Canadian National Pond Hockey Championships (canadapondhockey.ca) in Huntsville, Ont., where hundreds of teams compete on 28 al fresco surfaces. Watch others work up a sweat at the upcoming Canada Winter Games (canadagames2015.ca) in B.C.'s Prince George. The puck drops on 2,400 athletes on Feb. 13 – add the city's Coldsnap (coldsnapfestival.com) music fest to keep things toasty.
But if you're not into all this bone-chilling outdoor exposure, cocoon yourself in a decadent hotel instead – preferably a spa-equipped one. Gazing at scenic snowfalls from the windows of castellated Fairmont favourites such as Banff Springs or Château Frontenac is arguably the best way to experience winter. For seasonal room deals, visit fairmont.com/winter.
Visiting Victoria – possibly Canada's balmiest winter city – can also keep the chills at bay. You're more likely to see cold-season rain than snow here, with locals sporting shorts. Plan a Yuletide visit at tourismvictoria.com/christmas.
On the other side of Vancouver Island, Tofino also makes a virtue of the face-whipping winter tempests that can lash the area. Stormwatching here means donning thick waterproofs and facing down salt-licked maelstroms on deserted beaches – then scampering to your hotel room for a hot-chocolate embrace.
But if you need a knees-up to raise your temperature, consider celebrating New Year's in a different Canadian city. Events of all sizes dot the country like a string of fairy lights, but Halifax (halifax.ca/NewYearsEve) wins in the party-throwing stakes. Peel off your fleece at the free concert and giant fireworks finale – and expect to make hundreds of new friends to keep you smiling until spring.
OUR READERS WRITE
- Extreme but fun: dog sledding and winter camping with Sundogs Excursions in northern Saskatchewan. @jennsmithnelson
- Quebec City! The old city is so lovely and charming in the snow – especially with the lights at night and tons of great restaurants. @roxannestp
- Churchill, Manitoba, is on my wish list – for seeing the polar bears in their natural habitat. @krj108
- Jasper! Exploring the ice-covered Maligne Canyon, snowshoeing, ice skating and yummy meals. There’s also Tofino for storm watching – not a classic winter destination but it’s stunning. @WanderlustMegan
- Picturesque Lake Louise has outdoor skating, dogsledding, sleigh rides and ice climbing – plus a fondue restaurant and spa. @LynnGervais
- Sledding at Le Massif [Quebec] or snowshoeing and fondue at Cypress Mountain [B.C.]. @kattancock
- Storm watching in Tofino. Uncrowded beaches and incredibly powerful waves – perfect for contemplating one's place in the world. There are also great restaurants here. @margymaclibrary
- Yurt camping in provincial parks, Winter Carnival in Quebec and skating on the Rideau in Ottawa. All things I’m hoping to do this year! @LauraDFoodie
- Often forgotten in Canada’s winters are hot springs, spas, storm watching and the Northern Lights. @ehCanadaTravel
- Inuvik, NWT, of course. I’d come for the Inuvik Sunrise Festival and go dogsledding, sip hot chocolate at Ice Road Cafe and watch the drumming and dancing – and see the aurora. @ecojackiejo
- Snowshoeing in Algonquin Park [Ontario]. Also in Algonquin: camping in yurts, dog sledding … @Astro_yyz
- As a Canadian, where else but the Official World Pond Hockey Championships in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, from February 12 to 15. @alirucks
- I would seriously look at the winter experiences at the new Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish [B.C.]. I can’t decide between the snowshoeing and the old fashioned tubing park! @elysemailhot
- It’s gotta be skating on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa – such fun! @OttawaJantine
- Tofino! It’s a rain forest and it’s wet and wild – great for hiking, surfing and the beach. @JessyRenshaw
- Tofino for storm watching! The food scene is incredible but I especially love the raw, natural beauty. @CarolineClapham
- Honestly: Whistler. Spas, snowshoeing, amazing First Nations museum, snowmobiling, skating – there’s so much for non-skiers! Whitehorse [Yukon] is lots of fun too: dog sledding, Northern Lights, hot springs … @nikkibayley
- The West Coast of Canada – especially China Beach or Tofino. Watching the winter storms come in from the Pacific is amazing @RichardatWRG
- The Okanagan [B.C.] for a great wine holiday. Lots of wineries are still open through the winter and there are no crowds – great restaurants too! @locallounge
- Great idea – as a snow-sport-hating Canuck, I think we need more of this kind of thing. What about Montreal – tons of underground walkways and lots of opportunities for a museum/culture/culinary-themed visit. @Turnipseeds
- Fredericton for Frostival and its 100+ events: moonlight snowshoeing, outdoor curling, craft beer tours and opera etc. @FredTourism
- Montreal is a great place to hibernate in the winter: The cuisine and music scenes are built for it! The Gulf Islands [B.C.] are also great for peace, tranquillity and relaxation over the winter, as I’ve discovered – no snow, too! Finally, I’d love to experience Winnipeg’s Festival du Voyageur, which most people outside of the Peg know little about @BCRobyn
- How about winter on Fogo Island? It’s an elemental place! Ice fishing, snowshoeing and adventure. Our inn is a cozy place to watch the storms by a wood-burning stove @fogoislandinn
- Quebec! Start with the Winter Carnival and sleeping in the Hotel de Glace – there’s no end to winter activities in Quebec. @suefrause
- How about Ottawa! For Winterlude, skating on the world’s largest skating rink, Nordik Spa, national museums and great restaurants. @Ottawa_Tourism
- Niagara Ice Wine Festival: tastings, Ice Wine Villages, food and wine pairings and more. @NagOnTheLake
- We’d winter in wine country in Osoyoos [B.C.] and then have a relaxing spa stay at Nita Lake Lodge in Whistler. @HawksworthCom
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