The snow has begun to fall, and I had to dust off my winter jacket for the first time today. Winter in Saskatchewan is cringe worthy. Minus fifty Celsius winds, snow drifts against the door, those persistent drafts, pushing out stuck cars, frozen engines, slippery roads, tongues stuck to metal poles... the list goes on. Winter sucks.
But it doesn't have to! Here are 6 places to embrace the world famous Canadian Winter!
6. Banff, Alberta
I could just say "the Rockies" as the whole mountain range between Alberta and British Columbia is an outdoorsman's paradise in the winter, but Banff has a special place in my heart so I'll focus on that location.
Banff National Park is home to the stunningly beautiful Banff Springs Hotel – one of Canada's most iconic buildings. This luxury hotel was built during the 19th Century in a cross-country effort to make the vastness of Canada more appealing to tourists, and it worked. The hotel offers suites anywhere from $300 to $1,000 a night, but with over 300 rooms available, there's always a place for you!
Besides the gorgeous hotel, the town of Banff also boasts quaint shops and incredible shopping. Throw all that in with the downhill and cross country skiing, snowboarding, curling, skating, ice fishing, hiking and plethora of hot spring in the area, it's a perfect winter getaway.
5. Ottawa, Ontario
My only trip to Ottawa was in late October, but I've always wanted to go back in the winter. The main reason is to skate (or attempt to) on the Rideau Canal Skateway, a 7.8 kilometer long outdoor skating rink, making it the largest outdoor rink in the world. The canal was built for military purposes in the event that the United States invaded, in which case there was a lifeline between Montreal (the then capital of Canada) and Kingston (the then headquarters of the British military).
You can also go to Winterlude and take part in fire and ice sculpting (or just watch somebody else do it!) or visit the Snowflake Kingdom – the biggest snow playground on the continent! You can also go downhill and cross country skiing in Canada's capital, if you didn't get enough of that in Banff.
And if you're hungry, swing by ByWard Market Square and grab yourself a Beaver Tail – a classic Canadian treat that US President Barack Obama had to try!
(It was our treat since they never invaded us again!)
4. Quebec City, Quebec
If you love shopping but can't afford Paris, Quebec City is the next best thing. From cobblestone streets and French architecture to a YEAR ROUND Christmas store, Quebec City is one of the best places in Canada to spend your winter.
But this city isn't just good for shopping and architecture gawking. Quebec City is also home to the world's largest winter festival, featuring things such as snow baths, night parades, snow slides, giant foosball, snow sculptures, shows, sleigh rides, and skating!
In November they also close off some of the streets and Red Bull puts on "Red Bull Crashed Ice", a high-paced downhill ski tournament through the winding francophone streets of the only walled city north of Mexico.
If you need a place to spend the night, be sure to check out the Hôtel de Glace, a 100% ice hotel, the only of its kind in North America. The hotel features a beautiful Great Hall, Chapel, ice slide, exhibitions and Ice Bar, as if you needed any more convincing.
Not nearly as big as Ottawa or Quebec City, Churchill is a nature lovers dream come true. Isolated from the hustle and bustle of Canada's main cities, this community boats a population of only 813 people. Why head here? One reason in particular:
Polar bear tours!
Nestled on the edge of Hudson's Bay, this community not only offers tours to go out and see polar bears up close, but it also has a problem with polar bears wandering into the city. On Halloween the police use helicopters and patrol the community to protect the kids from overly curious bumbling, snuggly snowy teddy bears.
(Okay, maybe not so snuggly. Seriously. Don't get too close.)
Besides polar bears, you can also see the majestic beluga whales, go ice-fishing, cross country skiing, kayaking and camping out in an igloo and watch the mesmerizing northern lights!
2. Regina, Saskatchewan
"Wait. Didn't you say winters in Saskatchewan suck?"
They are pretty awful, but that doesn't mean there isn't anything fun to do in the winter!
Regina offers a unique shopping experience at their annual Wintergreen Fine Craft Market where you can buy a variety of locally made crafts, such as dishes, artwork, jewelry, ornaments and - oh my god! - the fudge! If you miss Wintergreen that's okay because there's more awesome shopping experiences, such as the ChristKindl Markt and the Sparkle 2015 Christmas Jewelry Sale.
If you're feeling outdoorsy, you can go skiing, skating, curling, roller blading, kite surfing or ATVing outside the city. You're also welcome to catch a flight with the Regina Flying Club and view the city from above like I did a few weeks ago. Additionally you can go on a sleigh ride through the majestic Wascana Park, drop by a Pat's game or catch a performance at the Globe Theatre, with "The Snow Queen" and the "The Hound of Baskervilles" coming up the next few months.
If you're hungry, there's always the dozens of excellent restaurants popping up downtown like Malt City, the Capitol Jazz Club and Tapas Bar, Slow Food Pub, the Cathedral Freehouse, Leopold's Tavern or Bushwakkers Brewery that will leave your mouth watering for more!
1. Vancouver, British Columbia
Being next to the Pacific Ocean, Vancouver is spared the cold that the rest of Canada gets – and the snow. Instead, Vancouver trades it for rain, as November to March is their rainy season. Don't let that deter you though; a warm, rainy day in Vancouver is a vacation from the blistery coldness on the other side of the Rockies.
When visiting Vancouver, you can check out the Bright Nights Train and Plaza at Stanley Park, an incredible display of over three million (one for every 11 Canadians) lights. If that doesn't make you say "Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays/Whatever", the Canyon Lights at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is host to the world's largest Christmas tree; a tree that is over 150 feet tall!
If that isn't enough sparkly stuff for the holidays, the people of Vancouver are known for their incredible Christmas decorations, so taking a quick walk around any section of the city will lead to an incredible display of lights, snowflakes, Santa Clauses, elves and nativity scenes.
If you're of the Chinese ancestry – or even if you're not – you can also celebrate Chinese New Year and see the best display of Chinese culture (dragons and all) anywhere in Canada!
Once you're done staring at the lights, throw on your bathing suit and take part in the annual Polar Bear Swim where all Vancouverites take a dip in the English Bay on New Year's Day!
Swimming in subzero temperatures not your cup of tea? That's alright; you can warm yourself up with Vancouver's Hot Chocolate Festival, Wine Festival or Beer Festival. You can also indulge in some incredible dishes at the Stake Restaurant and snuggle up with some felines at one of the many cat café's popping up across Canada.
You can also take an hour and half bus ride to Whistler if you miss skiing and snowboarding from your time in Banff! You can never have too much fun with a fresh layer of snow!
I'd love to hear where you think the best place in Canada to embrace winter is! Let me know in the comments below!
Cover image of Quebec City was taken by Chensiyuan, taken from Wikipedia.
I was recently asked if I preferred my time in Montreal or Quebec City more, and while Montreal is a gorgeous city, decorated with thousands of green copper spires, hosts incredible festivals, has some of the most fantastic food I have ever tasted, and is spotted with beautiful parks, there was just something about Quebec City that spoke to me. Being over four hundred years old, Quebec City is one of the last remaining "walled cities" in North America, and is the only one north of Mexico. Quebec City was the location of some of the greatest conflicts in Canadian history, including the Siege of Quebec by the British.
Belonging to three very different countries (France, England, and Canada) in its four hundred year existence, Quebec City is a mixing pot of old traditions, new ideas, cobblestone streets and modern architecture. Since there is so much to see in Quebec City, I figured I would narrow it down to a couple and let you discover the rest! Here is "8 Places to Visit in Quebec City".
Old Quebec envelopes several locations listed below, and will be where you are spending the most of your time. This historic neighborhood was first developed during the early 1600s and has since expanded to become two separate areas: Upper Town (Haute-Ville) and Lower Town (Basse-Ville).
The Island of the Dolls is in Xochimilco, a borough south of Mexico City. While it would be faster to take a car from Mexico City to Xochimilco, the traffic is dense and the roads are very congested. Instead, if you're going there, I'd recommend taking metro, which is easy and the cheapest in the world. What you gain in comfort, however, you lose in speed, as the train ride takes about 2 hours.
Mexico City and Xochimilco both sit in the Valley of Mexico. Until about a millennium ago, the whole region around Mexico City was surrounded by a massive body of water. Over the centuries due to both climate change and interference by humans, most of this water has dried up, for the exception of Xochimilco. With networks of canals crisscrossing the borough, car transportation is difficult and water transportation is essential. I'm sure there were motorized boats somewhere in the waters of Xochimilco, but I never saw any. Instead, canoes and rafts are common on the water. However, the most popular vessel is a trajinera – a colourful gonadal-like boat that is pushed along the water with a wooden pole.
Xochimilco is known worldwide for their Floating Gardens market, which are essentially canoes floating down the canals, selling wares to tourists on trajineras. These include things like food, drinks, silver rings, trinkets, ponchos and sombreros. Occasionally other trajineras full of Mariachi bands will approach tourists and offer to play beside them on the water.
I have been told my entire life that Winnipeg was just like Regina, but slightly larger. This gave the impression that there wasn't much to see in Winnipeg and that it, along with Regina, were more-or-less "fly over destinations". Since starting my blog, I've learned Regina is an absolutely incredible city so I imagined Winnipeg was the same. I then proceeded to contact Tourism Winnipeg and Travel Manitoba to find out the true Winnipeg, and ended up going on a multi-day excursion of their city.
Since a lot of my readers are from Regina and they almost all know somebody heading there for the Banjo Bowl in a couple of days, I thought I'd put this list together. There's a lot more to see there than just Investors Group Field, and the city's history is incredibly fascinating, so I hope you enjoy this list of 100 things about "Canada's Gateway to the West".
1. The city of Winnipeg is named after the nearby Lake Winnipeg.