Winter vacations in Canada for couples, families and friends

1.

Hôtel de Glace at Quebec’s Valcartier Resort – Valcartier, Que.

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A truly unique accommodation experience, the Hôtel de Glace at Quebec’s Valcartier Resort is the only “ice hotel” in North America – and yes, those crystal-clear walls really are carved out of frozen water. When you’re not cozied up in your sleeping bag admiring the incredible snow sculptures, take to the nearby slopes for some snow-rafting, glide along the 1km skateway or make a splash in the indoor waterpark. Keep the family fun going and extend your stay with a night or two of winter camping at the resort’s campground to really round out your trip.

2.

Carnaval de Québec – Québec City, Que.

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This beloved festival in Québec City has been running since 1894, and every year it’s a joyful celebration of winter in this picturesque city. Stroll past castles made of ice, watch canoes race along the ice, climb on towering snow sculptures and fly down an ice slide (do you sense a theme?) Make sure the kids get a picture with Bonhomme, the cheery, red-hatted mascot of the festival. While they’re doing that, parents can grab a glass of Caribou, a Québécois take on mulled wine that’s a festival staple. This winter, the festival runs from February 3 to 12.

3.

Petit-Champlain – Québec City, Que.

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The cobblestoned streets and charming buildings of this historic quarter of Québec City are like a portal back in time to the 1600s – and it’s particularly magical when dusted with snow. Get there via the funicular, a type of cable railway system that connects the Lower Town with the Dufferin Terrace. (Make sure the whole family takes in the picturesque view of the St. Lawrence River on the way up.) While wandering this whimsical street – one of the oldest commercial streets in North America – pop into one-of-a-kind shops to sample decadent fudge or sweet maple syrup. Listen to carolers passing by as you are immersed in the history of French settlement at Samuel de Champlain’s house or Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, one of the oldest stone churches on the continent.

4.

Bora Boréal – Sainte-Brigitte-de-Laval, Que.

Bora Boréal / @therollingvan

The floating chalets at Bora Boréal offer true immersion in utterly spectacular scenery, just 30 minutes outside of Québec City. Stay in one of two beautifully-appointed, ultra-chic homes that hover just above a tranquil lake, keeping warm inside while you watch the snow fall on the surrounding forest. If you’re feeling active, put on your skates and get the family involved in a game of hockey on the frozen lake, or strap on the provided snowshoes and head into nearby Sainte Brigitte-de-Laval for a coffee or hot chocolate.

5.

Constantin Sugar Shack – Saint-Eustache, Que.

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Located about an hour from Montreal, the Constantin Sugar Shack is a must for lovers of maple syrup and the great outdoors. This modern-rustic “cabane à sucre” is surrounded by a century-old maple forest but there’s plenty to do beyond the trees. The kids will love the bouncy castle (yes, even in winter!), the playground and the doll museum, and everyone will enjoy the outdoor fireplaces, the walking trails and seeing how maple syrup is made. Enjoy a hearty traditional “sugar shack” meal which includes maple-smoked ham, pea soup, omelets and baked beans, then top it off with the famous Québécois delicacy, tarte au sucre.

6.

Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations – Wendake, Que.

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Immerse yourself in the Iroquoian way of life by spending the night in a traditional longhouse. Participate in authentic experiences during your stay and hear storytellers share First Nations myths and legends. Learn from a traditional craftsperson how to make your own talking stick. Take a day trip to the nearby Site Traditionnel Huron to learn about Huron traditions, including a visit to a longhouse, smokehouse, sweat lodge and a giant tee-pee. Dine at this boutique hotel’s highly-regarded restaurant, La Traite, for traditional Indigenous food inspired by the local terroir. These experiences and more await you when you spend a few days at the Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations, located just outside Québec City on the Huron-Wendat reservation.

7.

Skating on the Rideau Canal – Ottawa, Ont.

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Whether the kids are just learning to glide or are speeding circles around you, taking the family skating along Ottawa’s Rideau Canal will be a memory they’ll never forget. Located on Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, the mighty river usually freezes over in late January, becoming a vast urban skating rink which attracts thousands of people from around the world. A post-skate BeaverTail, a pillowy pastry coated in cinnamon sugar, is practically mandatory and helps to end the day on a sweet note.

8.

Winterlude – Ottawa, Ont.

Ottawa Tourism

This annual celebration, happening this winter from February 3 to 20, 2023, is inspired by how the area’s ancestors would come together during the long winter months to enjoy each other’s company. Welcoming over 60,000 visitors each year to the Ottawa-Gatineau area, Winterlude is known for its magnificent ice sculptures and an array of truly Canadian winter activities. The festival features a number of quirky races on the frozen canal, including Trotting on the Rideau (with horses), a Dragon Boat Race, a Bed Race and the Waiters and Waitresses on Ice challenge. Add in snow tubing, skating, live ice carving and delicious culinary events on both sides of the river and you’ve got the perfect recipe for family fun.

9.

Kensington Market – Toronto, Ont.

@pedestriansundays

They say never go shopping on an empty stomach. So, spend the day browsing – and eating – your way around this iconic Toronto open-air marketplace. Known for its eclectic flair, Kensington Market is home to hundreds of unique and vibrant boutique shops, selling everything from vintage clothing to skateboards. It’s also a hub for cuisine from around the world, and families can partake in a lively Kensington Market food tour where they will get samples along with a guided tour and history of the neighbourhood. On December 21, the market hosts its annual Solstice Festival, where artists, musicians and performers gather to mark the shortest day of the year and celebrate what they call the “return of light” as days get longer again.

10.

Winter Festival of Lights – Niagara Falls, Ont.

Winter festival of lights

Bringing playfulness to those chilly winter nights, the Winter Festival of Lights is Canada’s largest free outdoor light festival. Spectacular displays involving millions of lights across Niagara Falls will dazzle the eye and warm the heart. Kids will be delighted to spot a shimmering moose or polar bear, meet a glowing gingerbread family or walk through a forest of twinkling trees. There’s also live entertainment along the Festival walking route. Don’t forget to pay a visit to the world-famous Niagara Falls to see this awe-inspiring national treasure illuminated in red and green.

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