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8 Magical Winter Getaways in Ontario

8 Magical Winter Getaways in Ontario

8 Magical Winter Getaways in Ontario
Ontario in the winter is magical! Experience Christmas markets in Toronto and Ottowa; twinkling lights and charm in Goderich and Stratford; ski slopes and alpine coasters in Blue Mountain; sleigh rides and hygge in Peterborough, ice wine and frozen waterfalls in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and more in these Ontario winter getaways!

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Ontario’s cities and towns turn into picturesque snow globes as snow softly falls on frozen lakes and rivers. Take a winter walk under a canopy of snow-covered coniferous trees, snuggle up by a fireplace on a frozen lake, or sip mulled wine under twinkling lights: Canada in the winter is magical!

Canada’s most populous and southernmost province has loads to offer in the winter, like the European style Christmas markets in Toronto and Ottowa; twinkling lights and undeniable charm inGoderich and Stratford; ski slopes and alpine coasters of Blue Mountain; sleigh rides and hygge in Peterborough, aka“Canadian cottage country;” and ice wine and frozen waterfalls in Niagara-on-the-Lake. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg (pun intended)!

We tapped an Ontario local to create this guide to the best winter getaways in Ontario. Take it away, Mandy!

Looking for more Canada winter travel inspiration? Take a look at some of our other winter posts to help you plan your winter getaway:

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Need a handy dandy checklist to help you pack? We’ve got a printable version of our Canada in winter packing list that includes EVERYTHING you’ll need for your trip to Ontario in the winter. Sign up in the box below and we’ll deliver it right to your inbox. Just call us the fairy godmother of packing lists!

Though Toronto in the winter can be chilly, it’s basically a giant ice palace!

Winter Getaways in Ontario FAQ’s

Before you book your trip, here’s what you need to know about visiting Ontario in the winter.

How cold is Ontario in the winter, really?

Ontario is a huge province and different areas experience winter differently. Temperatures in places like Ottawa can drop to -35 Celsius (-31 Fahrenheit) in January whereas more southern destinations like Stratford can experience blustery snowstorms with temperatures hovering around the freezing point. Lakeside Goderich can see wind gusts that may shut down highways for days at a time as snow blows across the vast open spaces.  

But the expression that “there is no bad weather, just bad clothing” is so true. Bring your winter boots, down-filled jackets and fur-lined mitts because, despite the cold, winter in Ontario is beautiful, particularly after a fresh snowfall!

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There are plenty of railway options to get to and around Ontario in the winter.

How do I get to Ontario in the Winter?

Your best best to get to Ontario from the USA is to start in Toronto as a jumping-off point Toronto is easily accessible from much of the East Coast by train, plane and automobile and can be a great home base for your winter activities.

Porter Airlines flies to Toronto (and onward to destinations including Ottawa in Ontario) from New York, Chicago, Boston and Washington at reasonable rates. Porter dubs its service as ‘flying refined,’ which means you’ll be sipping Ontario wines from a proper wine glass and eating yummy snacks (all complimentary) on board.

Even better, they fly into downtown Toronto to the Billy Bishop Airport, a small airport on a little island with a footbridge connecting passengers to downtown Toronto. No winter driving is required!

If you fly into Toronto’s (much larger, but further away) Pearson International Airport, take the UP Express to Union Station in the city centre. The efficient service runs from 4:55 a.m. to 10:27 p.m. daily and costs $12.35 one way.

Do I need a car in Ontario in the winter? 

If you’re visiting one of the major cities (Kingston, Ottawa, Stratford), travel by rail from Toronto is possible. But if you plan to travel to more remote areas, you’ll want to rent a car to get around. 

If you do rent a car, make sure you are comfortable with winter driving – and parking – including on snow and ice. Your best bet is to get an AWD vehicle with snow tires. If venturing into remote areas like Goderich or Stratford, you’ll want to monitor road conditions as snowstorms are known to shut down the roads for days at a time. 

  • Travel Tip: Booked your flight and rental car yet? We recommend using Kayak to price-compare deals and dates to save money… so you can spend more on food during your trip (#letsbehonest). Also, be sure to book with a credit card that includes primary rental car insurance, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which has saved us heaps of money on rental cars and other travel issues multiple times! More details here.
Canadian flags hanging outside a brick building during winter in Kingston, Ontario - Tourism Kingston
Canadian flags hanging outside a brick building during winter in Kingston, Ontario (Photo Credit: Tourism Kingston)

How to get around Ontario without a car? 

You’ll want to stick to cities accessible by VIA Rail if you don’t have a car. From Toronto’s Union Station, VIA Rail serves Kingston, Ottawa, and Stratford with daily service. 

Toronto has an excellent subway and streetcar service, while the nation’s capital Ottawa has a light-rail service to help travelers around town.

Wandering around the downtown core of smaller cities (like Stratford and Kingston) is possible on foot, just be sure to have warm winter boots and a warm jacket as public transit is limited. 

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Who are the original inhabitants of Ontario?

First Nations were the original occupants of the land settlers call the province of Ontario and the territory covers 46 treaties and other agreements.

The province is home to 13 distinct groups of First Nation: Algonquin, Mississauga, Ojibway, Cree, Odawa, Pottowatomi, Delaware, and the Haudenosaunee (Mohawk, Onondaga, Onoyota’a:ka, Cayuga, Tuscarora, and Seneca). Each has its own language, territory and customs.

Today, Ontario is home to 207 reserves which are held by 123 First Nations.

The Best Places to Experience winter in Ontario

While most of Ontario turns into a winter wonderland in the cold months, below are the best places to enjoy all the cold weather has to offer for outdoor fun, cultural attractions, and warming food! There’s nothing like the silence that falls after a fresh layer of snow or a day soaking it up outdoors, regardless of the cold. Dig in!

Skating down the 5-mile Rideau Canal may be the most iconic winter activity in all of Ontario! (Photo Credit)

Ottawa, Ontario: The Capital Winter Wonderland

The nation’s capital, Ottawa, is a city of neighborhoods with the Ottawa River and the impressive historic Rideau Canal running through it.

The Parliament Buildings stand on the banks of the Ottawa River with great views of the Ottawa skyline visible from the Museum of History across the river in Gatineau. Tours of parliament are offered daily and are free of charge. 

The downtown core is where the Museum of Nature, Bank of Canada, Royal Canadian Mint and the imposing Supreme Court of Canada are located. Just further along on 24 Sussex Drive is the Prime Minister’s residence and nearby is the Governor General’s house (the Queen’s representative in Canada). 

With two universities and one college in the city, the downtown Byward Market area in particular has a party vibe with a concentration of nightclubs and bars located in this neighborhood. 

Here are the best things to do in winter in Ottawa:

  • Wander around a European-inspired Christmas Market: Check out Marche de Noel Ottawa Christmas Market, where you can wander around checking out Christmas lights, indulging in warm, sweet holiday drinks and snacks, and visit over 35 vendors. They also have plenty of live holiday music, as well as a Christmas tree lighting, and if you’re feeling crafty, a wreath-making workshop.
  • Skate along a canal: Skate from Ottawa’s downtown to Carleton University on the world’s largest skating rink – the Rideau Canal – which is almost 5 miles in length. You can spend hours skating around on the canal with the stately parliament buildings in the background, and access to the canal is free and open 24-hours a day, 7 days a week! Skate rentals are available on site. Stopover at Dow’s Lake or one of the stands along the skateway and grab a famed Beavertail, a delicious Canadian fried pastry – try it smothered in maple, of course. Want more skating options? Ottawa has 250 skating rinks – you could literally come here and not skate all of them in one winter!
  • Attend a winter festival and winter Pride: Winterlude is a one-stop winter festival that runs from most of February each year and features a lineup of snow sculpture and ice carving competitions, a giant snow playground called Snowflake Kingdome, and plenty of food and drink events across the National Capital Region. Winterlude also coincides with Winter Pride, celebrating the 2SLGBTQ+ community – but in winter!
  • Taste test some beer at local microbreweries: If you need a nice beer to warm you up, Ottawa is home to a great selection of microbreweries. Check out some of the best ones like Beyond the Pale Brewing Company, Bicycle Craft Brewery and Tooth and Nail, all of which are located in the Hintonburg neighborhood.
  • See some holiday lights: Ottawa has no shortage of light events, including one on the Parliament Hill. Every year from early December to January you can visit Parliament Hill between 5:30 pm to 11 pm (until midnight on December 31) and witness a free 15-minute dazzling digital imagery show with music on the impressive backdrop of Parliament Hill’s architecture, with visions of Canada’s landscapes with colorful lights.
  • Soak in North America’s largest outdoor spa: Nordik Spa-Nature is no ordinary spa – picture steaming hot springs against a snowy hillside, surrounded by quaint, Nordic wooden buildings, increasing your body’s circulation with the heat and the cold. This is the best way to embrace the winter weather and taking a “treat yourself” day. You can read a great guide to the spa experience here.
  • Check out the National Gallery of Canada: Thursday evenings entrance fees are waived at the National Gallery of Canada (permanent collection only) and it’s well worth a visit to see the Canadian and Indigenous Galleries. The collection includes a host of artworks by the famed Group of Seven, and don’t miss the 17th-century Croscup Room from Nova Scotia whose walls are painted by an unknown artist. You can also see more modern works like a sound installation by Janet Cardiff featuring the sound of 40 individual choir voices singing over 40 different speakers inside the reconstructed (and quite beautiful) Rideau Chapel.
  • Take a visit to Quebec: Fancy a trip to Quebec while you’re here? A short walk over Alexandra Bridge will lead to Gatineau, Quebec, just across the Ottawa River where the architecturally interesting Museum of History is located. 

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A view of Parliament Hill and the Parliament of Canada in the snow in Ottawa, Ontario - Flickr
A view of Parliament Hill and the Parliament of Canada in the snow in Ottawa, Ontario (Photo Credit)

Where to Stay in Ottawa

  • The contemporary Arc The Hotel is perfect for a stay in Ottawa. An on-site bar and restaurant are great for colder evenings when room service is in order. It’s also located downtown with wonderful access to the transit system, which is helpful for getting to the airport or train station.   
  • Located in the lively Byward Market, just steps away from the national museums, the Andaz Ottawa offers sleek rooms with one of the best rooftop bars providing views over the Notre Dame Cathedral, Parliament and the historic Fairmont Chateau Laurier. 
  • For a unique budget option, try the Hosteling International Ottawa Jail Hostel. The hostel sits in the former Carleton County Gaol, or the Ottawa Jail, as it is also known, and the stories from guests who have stayed here tend to be on the haunting side. The jail formerly housed inmates awaiting death row. The downtown location means guests are steps away from the top attractions, perfect on cold winter days. 
Train at an old train station during a snowstorm in Kingston, Ontario - Tourism Kingston
Kingston is at its most stunning under a blanket of snow, especially at an old train station! (Photo Credit: Kingston Tourism)

Kingston, Ontario: The Hip, Food Lover’s Paradise

Kingston, Ontario is an ultimate destination for food and drink lovers and fans of an indie music scene. Legendary band The Tragically Hip hails from this eastern Ontario city, as does Brian Adams.

Historically, Kingston was the first capital of Canada, though in those days it was known as Upper Canada(Upper and Lower Canada existed prior to the unification). It’s also known as the limestone city, and the downtown core is filled with historic buildings made of the building material including the city hall which was once the parliament building. The buildings sit on the shore of the expansive Lake Ontario, one of the five Great Lakes. 

With the prestigious Queen’s University and the Royal Military College located in Kingston, there is a lively student vibe around town, particularly in the center where the colleges are located. 

Here are the best things to do in winter in Kingston:

  • Walk along the Waterfront Trail: See all the major sights while wandering on the eight-kilometer-long (5 mile) Waterfront Trail, which meanders along scenic Lake Ontario. Along the way you’ll pass the Bellevue House, home to Canada’s first prime minister; City Hall; Springer Market Square where you’ll find an outdoor public skating rink, and more.
  • Take a Kingston food tour: Join Kingston Food Tours for a wander through the city’s best restaurants in the downtown core. Participants also learn about the history and architecture and stories of notable characters who resided in the area. The company also offers a Beer & Bites tour that includes stops at the city’s many microbreweries. 
  • Go snowshoeing: Visit Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation Area, just north of Kingston, where you can get out in nature and snowshoe along 13km (8 miles) of trails. They also do snowshoe and skii rentals on site so you can spend an afternoon exploring the groomed ski and snowshoe trails!
  • Get everything and anything chocolate: Stop by Cacao 70 for EVERYTHING chocolate. I am talking about sweet charcuterie boards, dessert pizzas, and five (!!!) kinds of hot chocolate. If you need a sugar rush, this is your place!
  • Listen to some great music: A trip to Kingston wouldn’t be complete without some indie music. Stop by Musiikki Cafe where you can see live music every single night of the week! They support musicians and artists locally, nationally, and internationally, and have an upstage stage and a beautifil backyard courtyard for music. Even their downstage bar, which has a large selection of fair trade coffee and whiskey, hosts daytime music.
Kingston sign - Kingston Tourism
If you. visit, you can really put the “I” in Kingston. Get it? Get it?? (Photo Credit: Kingston Tourism)

Where to Stay in Kingston

  • This Kingston Waterfront Hotel is where you’ll want to stay to be in the heart of the action, yet with views of Lake Ontario. An indoor pool and on-site bar are must-have amenities if storm-stayed inside.  
  • For a more intimate experience, book a stay at the Hochelaga Inn set in a 1879 mansion in the city’s downtown. Breakfast is included in the rates, meaning no need to brave the cold for the first coffee of the day, and staying in a snow-covered Victorian mansion definitely adds to the idyllic snowglobe vibes.

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Stratford, Ontario: A Charming Winter Town

While Shakespeare didn’t live in Stratford, Ontario, they still pay homage to him!

The city, which sits upon the Avon River, pays homage to Shakespeare during the summer months when the Stratford Festival is in full swing. There you can find a lineup of plays that not only includes Shakespearean tragedies and comedies, but musicals as well. The Festival occasionally organizes concerts in one of its three venues throughout the off-season. 

With the Stratford Chef School in town, the city has a diverse dining scene that caters to a range of budgets, many of which are located off the historic market square in the city’s downtown core.

While roaming around the downtown, imagine Justin Bieber busking on these city sidewalks. Hailing from Stratford, Bieber got his start on these sidewalks in the not-so-distant past.

The best things to do in winter in Stratford:

  • Take a walk around the town: Enjoy a winter walk on the banks of the Avon River, meandering over to Tom Patterson Island and even the Shakespearean Gardens. Warm up afterwards with a hot drink at Cafe Bouffon or Edison’s Cafe Bar, both on the city’s main drag. Afterwards, head to the European-inspired Market Square, particularly beautiful as the snow falls gently, reminiscent of a snow globe.
  • Go snowtubing: About 20 minutes outside of town, you’ll find River Valley Golf and Tube, where you can book at 90-minute session and gently (and somewhat speedily) glide down a snowtube track! It’s all the fun of outdoor sports, but without having to worry about the talent!
  • Explore local history: Visit the Stratford-Perth Museum (you’ll want to arrange a taxi there and back as the location is slightly out of town) to see the popular Justin Bieber exhibit and learn more about local history and heritage. Their collection spans over 20,000 artifacts to tell the stories of people and communities in Stratford and Perth County, from the early 1800s to today, which includes relics like CN railway equipment, furniture, quilts, clothing, depression glass, military objects, medical equipment and much more.
  • Check out a stunning holiday light display: Lights on Stratford – Winter Festival of Lights kicks off on December 17 until the end of January. The stunning light display that will transfer the downtown core into a winter wonderland extends to nearby the Stratford Festival overlooking the Avon River. The bridge leading to Tom Patterson Island lights up as well and we recommend a winter picnic under the stars lit up by glittering lights strung around the trees.
  • Walk one of the many themed trails: Sample the best the city has to offer on one of its themed trails -the chocolate or the bacon and ale trail– that winds its way through the downtown core and beyond. There is even a Christmas Trail between November 1 and December 20 to help you get all your holiday shopping done and shop local. Each trail includes several suggested stops with five to six tastings or gifts included.
Lit up Sky Castle at Lights On Stratford Winter Festival of Lights in Stratford, Ontario - Zhu Rui
The

  • Lights on Stratford – Winter Festival of Lights
  • is an awesome way to see some immersive, glowing exhibits! (Photo Credit: Zhu Rui)

    Where to Stay in Stratford

    • The downtown Mercer Hotel may be the hippest place in town to stay, with some of the best eats available on the main floor, Mercer Kitchen. The trendy decor, on-site bar and restaurant and spacious rooms with views over the main street, you couldn’t ask for a better location. 
    • For a self-contained stay, try VRBO’s in Stratford, where you can stay steps away from the downtown core, perfect for exploring the city center on foot in the winter cold. Check out this studio apartment complete with fireplace which is above Bentley’s Bar and Inn, the perfect place to get some delicious food or a drink! There is also this modern box apartment (it’s so square!) which is close to all the action and super adorable.
    The ice skating rink in the middle of Nathan Philips Square in the middle of Toronto, Ontario
    The Nathan Phillips Square ice rink is a great way to enjoy the city center of Toronto in the winter, one of the best winter getaways in Ontario. (Photo Credit)

    Toronto, Ontario

    The capital of Ontario, Toronto is the most populous city in Canada and one of the most diverse with over 200 ethnic origins residing in the city. Neighborhoods filled with shops, bakeries and restaurants in the likes of Little Portugal, Chinatown and Greektown attest to the city’s diverse heritage. 

    The city also boasts the imposing CN Tower which rises 553 metres high (1,814 feet) and is visible throughout the city. It held the title as the world’s tallest free-standing building until 2007 when the Borj Khalifa opened in Dubai. 

    The best things to do in winter in Toronto:

    • Visit a Christmas Market: The Toronto Christmas Market is a charming European-style Christmas Market, all lit up with fairy lights, a giant Christmas tree and market stalls. It’s located in the Distillery District, which has one of North America’s best-preserved 1800s industrial architecture. Talk about ambiance as you eat your pretzel and drink mulled wine!
    • Check out some street art: Bundle up in your warmest winter gear (Toronto can be bone-chillingly windy on the shores of Lake Ontario) and enjoy a self-guided street art tour through Graffiti Alley, probably the most Instagrammable street ever! Join a guided Tour Guys tour to find out more about the artists behind the installations. 
    • Skate at one of Toronto’s most iconic ice rinks: Head to Nathan Phillips Square ice rink and rent a pair of skates, and get ready to glide against one of Toronto’s best backgrounds. The rink is covered by arches of lights with a big Christmas tree rink side, the city skyline in the background, and the huge, light up sign which spells “Toronto”. It may be the most photogenic spot in all of Toronto!
    • Warm up in a (free) musuem: To get your museum on, the entrance fees to the Art Gallery of Ontario’s permanent collection is free on Wednesday evenings (watch the winter wonderland from inside the Gallery Italia designed by Frank Gehry). The nearby underrated Bata Shoe Museum waives entrance fees on Thursday and worth it to see the extensive collection of celebrity footwear, including monogrammed silver platforms once worn by Elton John, and even a boot that once belonged to John Lennon. 
    • Take in Toronto’s International Food: Join a 2.5-hour Kensington Market Internaitonal Food Tour to discover Toronto’s most vibrant and diverse neighborhood. On this tour, you’ll eat cuisine from 8 different countries in under a mile of walking, tasting everything from Tibetan momos to Jamaican patties. Best of all, it’s enough food to fill you up for lunch!
    • Celebrate Christmas at a Castle: Toronto has it’s very own castle, Casa Loma, built in 1914 by financier Sir Henry Pellatt in the very grandiose gothic revival style. Nowadays the castle is a historic landmark open to tours, but during the holidays, they have two holiday events! Outside there is the Holiday Lights Tour, where you can walk about 1.5 miles around the castle in a winter wonderland of sparkling lights against the stunning castle. Inside, you can explore Christmas at the Castle, and see the luxurious halls decked with artist-designed Christmas trees.

    Where to Stay in Toronto

    • The historic Fairmont Royal York is well worth the splurge for its refined service and on-site spa and restaurants. From the hotel, guests have access to the underground PATH network that connects Union Station to the Eaton’s Centre, several blocks away. You can literally visit Toronto and not have to go outside to walk to the mall. The CN Tower and Union Stations are across the street. 
    • For more affordable stays, take a look at the VRBO’s in Toronto, like the super trendy apartment in the heart of downtown, or you can really go all out with some urban options like a stay in the famed and ultra-hip Drake Hotel, or in this sleek hotel room just steps away from the PATH network. 

    Blue Mountain in Collingwood, Ontario

    Blue Mountain is a resort village located near Collingwood in central Ontario. The “village” attracts a well-heeled crowd from the city for ski breaks or a weekend escape at the chalet, which in the wintertime, turns into a veritable holiday village with snow and twinkling lights adorning the adorable buildings of the town.

    With a plethora of dining options, exciting nightlife and shopping, it’s possible you won’t even need to leave the resort village during your stay. Food options range from quick takeaway to sushi bars and Greek restaurants and everything in between.

    The best things to do in winter in Blue Mountain:

    • Hit the slopes: If you’re coming to Blue Mountain, you’re most likely here to do it’s main activity: skiing! With over 40 trails and 365 skiiable acres with classification ranges from easy, difficult to double black diamond, you can skii or snow board at whatever level you’re on. And from the top of the skiing summit you can take in gorgeous views of Georgian Bay below. Ski lessons are available for those who may be new to the sport, and Blue Mountain is known to be very beginner friendly. 
    • Hit the chalet for an après-ski in style: What better way to warm up after skking than getting a drink? Local brewery Northwinds has opened a brewpub in the “village” and it’s the perfect spot for warming up after a day on the slopes, and Jojo’s Bar will also give you that authentic après-ski experience. If you want to get a little more wild, head to Rusty’s at Blue for raging music, flashing lights, and lots of dancing!
    • Take a snowy horseback ride: Horseback riding is avaible year round at Mountain View Stables, so you can bundle up and take a snowy adventure through 180 acres of woodland and pastures. The horses take you on a relaxing one-hour, guided ride on a path that meanders in and out of woodlands, past streams, with the snowy ski hills in the distances. It’s a great way to give those legs a rest and enjoy some of the most beautiful countryside in Canada.
    • Ride a Mountain Rollercoaster: Want to see the mountainside a little more quickly? Zoom down this mountain rollercoaster on a mile of track at nearly 25 miles an hour. Unlike an alpine slide, your car is connected to a track, which makes it possible for you to glide through the snowy mountains, through trees and banked turns, safely. It may just be the best way to see the mountain in the snow!
    • Discover some waterfalls: Venture off the resort to explore the many waterfalls of Grey County, which is located about 45-minutes away by car. Inglis Falls is absolutely gorgeous, the water casacding in every direction over rocks stacked 60 feet high. Hogg’s Falls is not nearly as large, but it’s worth the easy walk from the car park and can be completed as a loop. Winter visits should be done with caution, but on a sunny winter day they can make for stunning backdrops to snowshoe (rentals available in the village).

    Where to Stay in Blue Mountain

    • For a slopeside hotel experience, book a room at the Blue Mountain Inn. The hotel has a modern cottage feel, but with must-have ski resort amenities like saunas and both indoor and outdoor hot tubs. Yes, you read that right. Canadians love a dip in the hot tub even on the coldest of days.  
    • Located in the heart of the village action, the three hotels comprising Village Suites resemble classic lodges – a mountain lodge, and two railway lodges. The hotel has a mix of standard rooms and suites. If driving, opt for indoor parking to avoid any car troubles or brushing the snow off on cold mornings. 

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    the gooderich lighthouse in the winter
    The Goderich lighthouse in the winter! Goderich is one of the most beautiful Ontario winter getaways. (Photo credit: Goderich Tourism)

    Goderich, Ontario

    This small town on the shores of Lake Huron, Goderich has been known nationwide since Victorian times as the “Prettiest Town in Canada”; and for good reason. It sits along the shores of lake Huron, has a beautiful town “square” and plenty of beautiful outdoor recreation areas.

    The historic main street is actually an octagon, locals call it “the square” and is lined with independently owned shops, cafes, restaurants, and art-deco cinema from the 1930s is still in operation. 

    The Maitland River, which runs through Huron County, drains into Lake Huron in Goderich and the trails that follow the river’s edge make for great winter walks under a canopy of snow-covered coniferous trees.

    The best things to do in winter in Goderich:

    • Get festive in the “Square”: During the winter months, Court House Park is lit up with festive decor during the “Festival of Lights Celebrations” in the form of nativity scenes, selfie stations and landmarks lit up in miniature such as the famous lighthouse. It makes for a lovely quiet evening walk with the courthouse clock chiming every quarter hour. And in early February, Courthouse park hosts its Winterfest, with a candlelight walk, chili cook-off, snow-pitch tournament, crafts, and fireworks.
    • Take a long walk or ride along a winter trail: Rent them from 360 Bikes n Boards on the Square or a fat tire bike from Goderich Bike Shop and hit Guelph to Goderich Rail Trail. The flat-surfaced trail passes through farmland (barren in winter), over creeks and rivers, and under snow-covered tree canopy. It is ideal for cross-country skiers as well and links lakeside Goderich with urban Guelph, some 82+ miles away. While you may not be able to see all of it, it’s a great way to experience the beautiful rolling, rural landscape!
    • Drink a local winter beer: Try some of the local brews from the area, especially the speciality winter beers that you can’t miss. Try East Street Cider for their Harvest Botanical cider, Square Brew for the Vienna is Waiting lager, and Bayfield Brewing Company from nearby coastal Bayfield for a Hazy Sunset, Thresher, or Navigating Lieutenant  – served at most restaurants in town. 
    • Visit the Goderich Lighthouse: Though only standing at around 33 feet, the Goderich Lighthouse is a pictaresque white and red building that stands on a precipice which overlooks Lake Huron. In the winter it’s a good place to watch the sunset over the lake, the red and orange hues turing to purple and pink as the night falls.
    • Go to Christmas in Bayfield: Located just about 20 minutes south of Goderich, the super quaint town of Bayfield has many preserved historic building and is situated close to a marina. During the months of November and December, they have holiday events like the lighting of the lights with Santa, holiday markets, Christmas crafts, and ice skating. Something about visting a small town for the holidays feels magical!
    the square in winter of goderich ontario (Photo Credit :Goderich Tourism)
    The square all lit up for winter in Goderich, Ontario. (Photo Credit: Goderich Tourism)

    Where to Stay in Goderich

    • The historic Benmiller Inn in the hamlet of Benmiller, less than 10 minutes from Goderich is a perfect winter getaway destination. Located next to the Maitland River, this former woolen mill has a cozy on-site restaurant and spa spread out over several buildings once occupied by a major industry in the community. What’s more, there are the great riverside trails at their doorstep for winter walks. 
    • It’s rumored that Walt Disney stayed at Hotel Bedford right on the “square” in Goderich when visiting the area where his family had roots. This is a great option for those who want to be in the heart of the action with views of courthouse park and pub access on site.
    Horse Drawn sleigh ride in Lake Louise Banff in Winter
    Taking a sleigh ride through the hills is a magical winter activity!

    Peterborough, Ontario

    Peterborough, Ontario is known as the gateway to the Kawartha lake region, also known as “Canadian cottage country,” where you can snuggle up in true hygge fashion on the edge of a frozen lake. Hot chocolate anyone?

    The city itself stands along the Otonabee River, which freezes over in winter and is open to ice skaters, while at Jackson Park you can see 250-year-old trees dangling with icicles. If you are looking for cultural attractions and outdoor winter activities, this is your place!

    Our favorite things to do in winter in Peterborough:

    • Enjoy a magical a sleigh ride: Bundle up and head over to Merrylynd Organics for a 2-3 hour sleigh ride through beautiful fields of white and snow-covered evergreens. There is also a tobogganing hill and skating area as well, and they provide the hot chocolate (obviously a necessity!). If you want an extra spooky or romantic ride (however you look at it), you can take a moonlit sleigh ride as well!
    • Take up speed skating: If you have the need for speed, head 15-minutes north to the town for Lakefield to the Ontario Speed Skating Oval, where you can rent speed skates and take on the quarter-mile speed skating track. It’s just like regular skating, but faster! And don’t worry if you’re not a pro, recreational skaters are welcome. They even do a candlelight skate each year!
    • Learn about Canadian Indigenous People: To get your dose of culture, head to the Canoe Museum of Canada, which, yes, is about canoes, but also so much more. This museum explores Canadians and its Indigenous Peoples’ relationship with canoes and the waterways of Canada, with artifacts from First Nation Peoples and over 100 canoes on display. 
    A park completely covered in snow during winter with a pathway in Ontario
    Does this picture immediately make you crave a cozy cabin and a fireplace, or what??

    Where to stay in Peterborough, Ontario

    • Located just minutes from downtown Peterborough, surround yourself with 195 acres of forest, wetlands, and river at the charming Golden Pathways Retreat B&B. Nothing like having a delicious breakfast with expansive views of snowy nature as far as the eye can see!
    • Burley’s Executive Garden Suite is right by downtown Peterborough and has all the cottage charm of the lake district. The apartments each have their own kitchen and gas fireplace, a perfect place to cozy up and look out over the beautiful landscaping.

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    A snowy and icy top of Niagara Falls during winter in Ontario
    Niagara Falls in Winter is an icy winter wonderland.

    Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

    Niagara-on-the-Lake is a sweet little town in Ontario’s Niagara region. This quaint destination makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time, with the old-world charm of horse-drawn carriages, beautiful architecture, and historical sites. 

    Nearby Niagara Falls (a 25-minute drive away) tends to get all the attention, but that’s not all the area is known for. As one of Ontario’s premier winemaking regions, wineries and farm-to-table restaurants dot the Niagara region. Plus, access to trails and natural areas makes this a great destination for the outdoor enthusiast. 

    Here are the best things to do in Niagara-on-the-Lake in the winter:

    • See some (frozen) falls: Head to Niagara Falls for a look at this natural wonder in its sparkly winter state. The chilly (okay, frigid) weather scares off some crowds, but the relative quiet makes the experience even more magical. While the falls don’t freeze, layers of ice build up and icicles form on surrounding cliffs making it look like a scene from Frozen. There’s lots to do in the adjacent town of Niagara Falls, too, like sipping a signature Niagara Icewine beer (you read that right) at Niagara Brewing Company just steps from the falls themselves.
    • Visit a winery, or ten: With 25 wineries in the countryside of Niagara-on-the-Lake (and 50 wineries in the Niagara region), it’s clear that these winemakers are on to something. And if Ontario is known for any specific wine, it’s ice wine. This sweet, decadent wine is made from harvesting frozen grapes in just the right conditions. Niagara-on-the-Lake even hosts one of several ice wine festivals in the region, where you can find a healthy sampling of the region’s best. 
    • Eat some farm fresh food: Where there’s good wine, there’s often good food to go with it, and Niagara-on-the-Lake is no exception! Treadwell, a restaurant in the heart of Niagara-on-the-Lake (and with a new location and event space in Old Town), is a farm-to-table restaurant specializing in seasonal dishes and local wine pairings. Menus feature mouth-watering items like maple-glazed duck breast, potato and herb gnocchi, and butternut squash and sage risotto.
    • Get into the holiday spirit: When winters are cold and long, you better embrace them. What better way to get out and enjoy the season than with a festival? In addition to the ice wine festivals, you can explore the Niagara Falls Christmas Market and the Winter Festival of Lights, both in Niagara Falls. The Festival of Lights lasts all winter long, as Canada’s largest illumination festival. There are several different walking routes you can take to enjoy the beautiful displays — just make sure to bundle up! 
    • Do some winter hiking: Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you can’t get out for a hike. Take a brisk, warming walk and escape to nature on the Bruce Trail, the longest and oldest trail in Canada. While you won’t hike the entirety of the trail (it’s 900 kilometres!), you can hike from the southern terminus for as long as you want. The trail traverses the Niagara Escarpment, over which Niagara Falls flows. You won’t see anything quite as extreme as Niagara Falls on the trail, but you can expect smaller cascades and lovely views. 

    Where to stay in Niagara-on-the-Lake

    • The Harbour House hotel sits right on the water, but is a fantastic place to stay on a winter visit, too. This quaint hotel really goes heavy on the charm, starting with the classic coastal facade. Inside, you’ll find luxurious rooms with cozy fireplaces, spacious bathrooms, and maybe even a water view. Though you can access breakfast and an evening wine sampling without leaving the hotel, you’re also within walking distance of some of the area’s best restaurants. 
    • If you want a self-contained stay, this classic cottage in Old Town is steps from the center of Niagara-on-the-Lake — but with plenty of peaceful privacy. Surrounded by gardens, you’ll feel like you’re in the countryside rather than a few minutes’ walk from spectacular eateries, theaters, and museums. Perfect for winter, you can cozy up next to the living room fireplace after a chilly day of exploring.

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    What to Pack for Ontario Winter Getaways

    Ever heard that saying, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing?”  In addition to keeping you warm as you explore, weatherproof clothing is especially important if you’re going to do outdoor activities. So, be sure to bundle up in your favorite cozy sweaters, a warm coat, and waterproof winter boots! We’ve got all the details you need.

    We recommend wearing an insulting base layer underneath your clothing during your winter trip. That means that the layer closest to your skin should all be made from merino wool! Merino wool is super warm, incredibly soft (nope, it’s not itchy), lightweight, and more temperature regulating than synthetic fabrics, as well as being naturally antibacterial, which means you can re-wear it without the re-wear funk.

    If wool isn’t your thing, wear an equally insulating textile like hemp or silk. Avoid non-insulating fabrics like cotton, and remember that natural fibers are pretty much always better than manmade textiles like polyester.

    After your base layer, you’ll need to add on at least 1 additional layer before your outerwear, like a pair of pants and a sweater. On REALLY cold days, where the temperatures are below 10 degrees, we recommend adding on another base layer before your clothing layer & outerwear. And if you’re doing winter activities, add a waterproof layer as well, like lined snow pants.

    Here are our tried and true travel essentials for Canada in the winter:

    • Merino Wool Base Layer Leggings: These super comfy 100% wool leggings function just like long underwear. They’re made of soft, super-luxurious wool and make your legs feel like they’re being hugged by an extremely soft sheep. Jeremy has this pair. You’ll want to wear these underneath your pants on most days during your trip.
    • Merino Wool Base Layer Undershirt: Laying is crucial, and you’ll need to start with a layer of insulation on top and bottom. If it’s not terribly cold that day, I can sometimes get away with a short sleeved or even sleeveless wool base layer. I also definitely just wear my long sleeved base layer as a shirt sometimes! This is mine and this is Jeremy’s.
    • Wool Socks: Make sure you don’t just have run-of-the-mill acrylic socks for your trip – they won’t keep your feet warm while you’re out in the snow! Instead, bring socks that are primarily made of soft, heat-regulating wool, like these or these.
    • Warm Walking Boots: We recommend boots that can withstand ice or snow, are weatherproof and waterproof, and are comfortable enough to walk in for HOURS. Sounds darn near impossible, right? Well, it’s not. We’ve found the best boots for winter, and we’re OBSESSED with them (and yes, we both have the same ones. Because we’re kinda gross like that). They’re cute, they’re insanely comfortable, they’re waterproof leather with warm thermal insoles, and they’re extremely lightweight and foldable so you can stuff them in your bag when you travel. We can’t recommend these boots enough, and they’re the only shoes we bring on cold weather trips. They’re made to last and they’re worth every cent. Here are my boots and Jeremy’s boots. You can read more about them in our round-up of our favorite travel shoes for women or for men.
    • Travel Jeans:  My favorite travel jeans have 6 POCKETS. 6!! And 2 of them are zipped and hidden inside other pockets, for extra pickpocket protection. They’re super stretchy and buttery soft, dry quickly even after walking through the snow, and roomy enough to layer over an insulating base layer (or two). They’re cozy enough to wear on a plane, stretchy enough to accommodate that 5 extra pounds of holiday weight I always seem to bring back home with me, and they’re super cute! We’re both obsessed. You can get a pair of men’s or women’s jeans on the Aviator USA website.
    • Warm Flannel Shirt: I’m in LOVE with the MerinoLux flannel button-down from Royal Robbins. It’s stretchy, it’s cozy, it’s blended with merino wool (yassss) and most importantly, it’s warm AF and super breathable. It’s also wrinkle-resistant, odor-resistant, and moisture-wicking, and has a hidden zip pocket – so basically everything you could ever ask for in a flannel shirt. I’ve been searching for the perfect flannel for YEARS (you know, like one that didn’t give me that annoying button-down boob gap and allowed me to actually cross my arms) and this is The One. I love it! Here’s mine and Jeremy’s.
    Lia frolicking in the snow in Banff in the winter.
    It’s important to dress appropriately for snow frolicking, so that you can frolic freely without worrying about, like, how much snow you’re going to get down your shirt (yikes). Practice safe frolicking, y’all!
    • Lined Leggings: On very cold days, I add an extra layer of insulating warmth by throwing a pair of lined leggings on over my base layer and under my jeans (I’ve also worn them without extra pants on top of my base layer because leggings are real pants, fight me). I have two pairs of warm lined winter leggings, one lined with merino wool and one lined with fleece.
    • Warm Hat: A warm hat is an absolute necessity. It also doubles as a super cute accessory! Did I just rhyme? You want a hat that will stay on your head when it’s windy wind and keep your ears nice and warm – bonus points if it’s lined. Personally I’m a fan of the ones with poofs on top, like this or this. Jeremy is more of a purist, and likes to wear beanies like this one, which is made from earth-friendly recycled wool and nylon.
    • Warm Coat: Your jacket is arguably the most important thing you’ll bring on a winter trip other than your shoes. It has a big job – namely, keeping you warm but not sweaty, allowing you to actually move your arms, and letting you explore for hours without feeling heavy or restrictive. Plus, it’s gonna be in almost all of your photos.  I bring this this cozy fleece-lined coat with me, and Jeremy wears a wool-blend coat similar to this one and this one.
    • Packable Down Jacket: Jeremy and I each bring two jackets each on winter trips: our heavy/bulky coats, and a lightweight, travel-friendly packable down jacket. It’s perfect for those days when I want the freedom of not wearing a big heavy coat, and it’s also a fantastic added layer of warmth on super cold days. For this trip, I brought this down jacket and Jeremy brought this down jacket.
    • Gloves: Don’t go outside in Canada in the winter without gloves on! Jeremy and I both have these wool gloves that work with touchscreens, because let’s face it, I have a hard enough time using my phone without wearing gloves. Over those gloves we layer on a thicker pair that allows us to do things like throw snowballs at each other.
    • Scarves:  I LOVE a chunky scarf. They’re my favorite accessory! I love this super soft scarf from Royal Robbins, which is blended with wool and turns into a cute shawl or infinity scarf with a few well-placed buttons. I’m also a big fan of scarves that are big enough to double as blankets, like this one or this one.
    • Winter Sports Gear: If you’re planning to go skiing or snowboarding on your trip, bringing a few things can easily be packed in your suitcase will save you cash on rentals. We recommend these goggles and these gloves for snowboarding, and these travel-friendly crampons for snowshoeing.  

    Whew! That should keep you warm and toasty. Need more tips? Head to our Canada in winter packing list!

    Oh hey, want a printable version? Just sign up below and we’ll send the packing checklist straight to your inbox, plus tips to help you plan a winter getaway to Canada!

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    About Our Guest Poster: Mandy Sinclair lives between Goderich, Ontario and Marrakech Morocco. She is the founder of Tasting Marrakech, food and cultural tours in Marrakech, and Tasting Huron County, delivered curated food experiences. She also runs a Morocco blog and podcast called Why Morocco. Mandy writes about travel, lifestyle, and arts. Her writing appears in the Monocle guide to Marrakech, Lonely Planet, Brownbook, the Independent, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, Evening Standard, Fodor’s, Contemporary&, and more.


    Which part of Ontario are you looking forward to visiting the most? Are you a ski lover or on the hunt for cozy food and history? Let us know in the comments below

    Looking for more places to visit in Canada in the winter? Check our other guides:

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    Our Top Travel Tips & Resources

    Here are our favorite travel tips & resources for saving money and planning travel logistics! For more tips, check out our travel tips resource page or our guide to planning a trip.

    • Booking Flights: To score flight deals, search on Google Flights or Kayak. Money-saving tips: fly mid-week or on the weekend; fly carry-on only on a budget airline; and take red-eyes or early morning flights.
    • Accommodations: We usually stay in budget-friendly vacation rentals, boutique hotels or private rooms in hostels. We use Booking.com to book hotels (we love their flexible cancellation policy) and Hostelworld to book hostels (low deposit, easy change/cancellation, and excellent reviews). For vacation rentals, we prefer to book using VRBO because they’ve got lower fees and better support than Airbnb, and we’re not fans of Airbnb’s unethical track record. You can also book vacation rentals on Expedia and Hotels.com. We also use TrustedHousesitters as both hosts (for our home and our fur-child) and travelers!
    • Travel Insurance: We always, ALWAYS buy travel insurance for international trips, and we STRONGLY recommend it – visit our Travel Insurance Guide to find out why. We recommend either World Nomads or SafetyWing for international travel insurance. SafetyWing is one of the few policies that covers Covid-19, and they have excellent monthly policies that are perfect for Digital Nomads and long term travelers!
    • Travel Credit Card: We book all of our trips on our favorite travel credit card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Not only do we earn cash back that we can spend on more travel, but the card offers fantastic travel perks like no foreign transaction fees, trip delay and cancellation coverage, lost baggage reimbursement, and rental car coverage, which helps protect us on our travels. Read our complete review.
    • Vaccines & Meds: We use the travel guides on the CDC website to research recommended medications and vaccines for international trips. We always recommend getting every vaccine recommended by the CDC! You can get them at your primary care doctor’s office or a walk-in pharmacy.
    • Tours: We love booking guided tours, especially food tours and walking tours, to get a local’s perspective and a history lesson while sight-seeing! We book our tours using Viator and GetYourGuide.
    • Transportation: We use Rome2Rio to figure out how to get from place to place using public transit, and book local transportation online using Bookaway wherever we can. For rental cars, we use Kayak to compare rental companies and find the best deal. To save money, we also book with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which includes primary rental car insurance coverage.
    • Luggage Storage: Whenever we’re checking out early or taking advantage of a long layover, we use LuggageHero to safely store our luggage while we’re running around. Use the code PRACTICALW for 2 hours of free luggage storage on us.
    • What to Pack: Here are the travel essentials that we bring on every trip. We also have packing lists for hot weather, cold weather, and many more. Take a look at all of our packing guides!

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