A Canadian winter is a magical thing: Dark nights mean lights twinkle brighter, falling snow creates fairytale settings, and cooler temperatures encourage snuggling. The citizens of Canada are a hearty bunch who aren’t afraid to venture outdoors, even in the frostiest months.
In fact, winter festivals draw thousands of people — both locals and visitors — to delight in those long winter nights. Each of these seven festivals is a perfect reason to venture northward this winter.
Winter Festival of Lights
Dubbed “The Longest Festival in the World,” the Winter Festival of Lights is an annual holiday tradition that draws big crowds. The main attraction is five miles of light displays, which makes this more of a handsome driving tour than a festival.
Regardless of how you describe it, the millions of sparkling lights are enough to brighten even the Grinchiest of hearts. Throw in the fact that you’re visiting Niagara Falls — which is darn impressive across all seasons — and you’re guaranteed a wow-inducing winter weekend getaway.
Festival du Voyageur
In central Canada, Festival du Voyageur is another Francophone-influenced winter event that celebrates the nation’s fur-trading history and patented French heritage.
Visitors can watch wood carvers in action, “get jiggy with it” in the official jigging competition, participate in the beard-growing contest (open to all genders!), learn more about Métis and First Nations histories, or simply sip a hot beverage while watching the merry crowds.
Le Carnaval de Québec
Known in both French and English as “Carnaval,” the annual celebration of joie de vivre (translation: the joy of living) is Canada’s largest winter festival. Drawing upward of a million people each year, official Carnaval events include a masquerade ball, outdoor sporting competitions, snow sculptures, ice canoe races, live music and other endorphin-releasing activities.
The mascot Bonhomme — a lovable wintery version of the Michelin Man — wears a red toque and sash to represent the heroes of yesteryear. In a nutshell: jolly European-infused vibes in one of North America’s most charming cities.
In Canada’s capital, Winterlude makes winter lovable. The focal point of the festival is the Rideau Canal Skateway, which at five miles in length is the largest skating rink in the world.
The Snowflake Kingdom (bonus points for the adorable name!) offers ice sliding, digital art projection, live shows and plenty of snacking options. Meanwhile, the Crystal Garden is home to some of the most incredible ice sculptures you’ll ever see.
Even if you’ve never imagined life as a fairy tale princess, or jumped aboard the “Frozen” train, you’ll still find yourself awed and inspired by Edmonton’s Ice Castles extravaganza. As cold temperatures descend on the city, ice artists create a winter wonderland by hand-placing hundreds of thousands of icicles into formations.
Bundle up and wander through LED-lit sculptures, imagine yourself seated on a frozen throne, wind your way through ice tunnels and mazes, or breeze down an icy slide. Little ones can meet the festivals ice princesses, and even pause for a photo with them during scheduled appearances.
Montréal en Lumière
The big differentiator of Montréal en Lumière is the opportunity for fine dining and gastronomic experiences. While also offering similar attractions as other festivals on this list (ice sculptures, live music, pretty lights, etc.), the cornerstone of Montréal’s winter festival is food.
Each year, hundreds of renowned chefs, wine producers and speakers take part in a series of workshops, tastings and conferences for every taste and budget.
The recipe is simple: Foodies unite and eat lots of food! The festival concludes with Nuit blanche, an all-night event that assembles 300,000 nighthawks teaming up for one wild urban adventure.
The brightest tradition in Calgary is, hands down, the Cagary Zoo’s ZooLights festival, which brings a mighty glow for seven weeks each winter. Nearly two million lights shine throughout the property, transforming it into a wondrous landscape of brightly lit animal figures and light displays.
Bring the kids and warm up with piping hot cocoa as you make your way through the displays and wintry activities, like snow bowling, ice carving demonstrations and the chance to build your own igloo. Perhaps the best part? Your visit will help fund the zoo’s ongoing animal conservation efforts.
Aurora Winter Festival
If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to stroll through Santa’s Village, the Aurora Winter Festival is perhaps your closest approximation. Filled with light displays, magical characters, food gardens, amusement rides and other joyful activities, the village is the perfect place for youngsters or youngsters-at-heart.
See Father Christmas (in the flesh!) at a magical storytelling show, or simply pen a wishful letter at the writing station, where a magic mailbox delivers letters straight to Santa.