First time in Toronto? I can guarantee you’ll fall in love with this sparkling, vibrant city. With a bustling city center, magnificent skyline, and wonderful public transit system, it’s far too easy to spend days wandering around.
Most people flock south during the winter, but despite the well-below-freezing temperatures, Toronto makes for a wonderful getaway.
If you’re visiting Toronto for the first time in the winter, here are some things you don’t want to miss!
The Toronto we know and love today is situated at the mouth of the Humber River, but in the 17th and 18th centuries, it referred to the area of Lake Simcoe.
Now, it’s the bustling capital of the Canadian province of Ontario and is home to 3 million inhabitants, and a vacation spot for over 40 million visitors every year.
With 7 major sports teams, 8,100 restaurants, over 400 acres of green space, you’re guaranteed to have something to do here no matter where you turn.
I had the good fortune to visit Toronto in February last year and I had a blast! I only spent a 3-day weekend there to take advantage of my no-class Fridays in college, but I was able to see and do plenty – not to mention stuff my face with all their amazing food.
Toronto Lights Festival
The Toronto Lights Festival is an exhibition that happens every year in the winter and spring in Toronto’s Distillery District.
The area is full of interesting restaurants, and the light exhibits are breathtakingly beautiful! It’s entirely free to enter – simply take a walk in the evening and enjoy the artists’ creations!
If you’re here at the right time, this would be my number one suggestion of what to do in Toronto. The festival usually runs from mid-January to early March, but make sure you check the dates as they change each year.
The CN Tower is, as of the time of writing, the tallest free-standing building on the North American continent and boasts the highest glass floor elevator in the world. In fact, it’s touted as one of the modern 7 wonders of the world!
It’s not cheap for a ticket ($38), but you’ll certainly love the experience.
We managed to get a hotel room with a clear view of the tower and it was so tall that I couldn’t even see the top in the snow! Because of its unique shape, it’s instantly recognizable in any skyline photo, and you can see it from practically anywhere in the city.
Polson Pier is my favorite spot for seeing the Toronto skyline. It’s also the perfect place to watch the sunset over the buildings and watch the city lights sparkle to life!
In the winter, the crashing waves and below-freezing temperatures mean that it’s almost entirely covered in thick sheets of slick ice, so watch your step and don’t slip. It’s also extremely cold and windy at night, so bundle up!
Nathan Philips Square Skating Rink
This one is a classic winter activity in Toronto and you can’t miss it! Framed by the giant Toronto sign, you can ice skate for free on Canada’s largest artificially-frozen outdoor rink.
Even better, it’s set along the shoreline of Lake Ontario! Skate rentals are not free, but a few dollars is a small price to pay for endless hours of skating around.
Every hour and a half, they clear out the rink to re-smooth the ice out, which is always entertaining to watch!
Art Gallery of Ontario
If you’re looking to get away from the cold. weather, nothing is better than the beautiful AGO.
The design is altogether stunning, and the exhibits are thoughtfully curated and put together. Don’t miss seeing the hallway with the café; it’s one of the most picturesque spots in the entire museum!
I also loved the asymmetrical spiral staircase leading to a 360-degree view of the city and the temporary Yayoi Kusama exhibit. You can learn more about all the Yayoi Kusama exhibits I’ve seen here – she makes the best immersive installations!
You can purchase an annual pass or one-time visitor tickets on their website.
This is another cool local art installation collective located at the Beaches waterfront! The structures here are often beach-themed, even though the event is held during the wintertime.
Definitely a lovely place to walk around and marvel at the artistry on a sunny winter afternoon!
The Bentway Skate Trail
The Bentway features an ice skating trail under the Gardiner in the winter, which means that instead of being limited to a small rink, you have a whole path at your fingertips.
Best of all, the skate trail is free! Skate rental is only $10, and you can enjoy whizzing past the Toronto buildings and structures on your way through.
Graffiti Alley is exactly what it sounds like – a whole string of alleys completely covered in street art graffiti. Due to its ever-changing nature, you never know what you’ll find here, but that’s one of my favorite things about street art!
I’ll warn that not all of the art is necessarily an “Instagram mural” material, but it’s so immersive that you can’t help but love it.
Winter Light Exhibition
This is yet another winter lights exhibition in Toronto. This one’s located at Ontario Place, and also happens to be free to enter!
There are fewer light exhibitions than at the Lights Festival – only 12 illuminated creations by local artists. There is also a free skating rink and a bonfire on the north end of Cedar Cove!
This Gothic revival castle is located a short way outside of Toronto and is absolutely the coolest thing!
With endless rooms to explore, an oven big enough to roast a whole ox, and even a seasonally decorated dungeon (I can’t make this up), you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back into Hogwarts!
It costs $25 and the last entry is at 4:30 pm, so make sure to get there early enough to explore the whole thing.
I spent hours enjoying the grandiose halls and libraries, walking around the beautiful grounds, and yes, looking at their dragons in the dungeon.
My personal favorite room is the charming tea room with its natural light and fresh ambiance, which they still use today to host parties and events.
Seven Lives Tacos
Seven Lives Tacos y Mariscos is pretty much a staple in Toronto. It’s not fancy by any means, but delicious and a must-try place to grab a bite if you have the time.
Seating is quite limited, and the never-ending cloud of people in this cramped store will let you know that it’s the real deal. Located in the Kensington Market area, you can enjoy a meal and then spend countless hours browsing the small shops that fill the district.
I may be biased because I’m Chinese, but Toronto’s Chinatown is the place I keep going back to! The food is inexpensive and incredibly delicious, and you’ll find every sort of snack, dessert, and boba shop walking down the street.
Here I’ve listed a few of my favorite restaurants and cafes in the Chinatown area:
- Answer Tea: the CUTEST blue flower backdrop, plus delicious boba!
- The Alley: an Australian chain with the prettiest drink aesthetic
- Juicy Dumpling: no-frills place for Chinese soup dumplings, but they’re so cheap and delicious I went there 3 times in one weekend
- Gyugyu-ya: incredibly tasty beef Japanese curries for a great price
- Icha Tea: a traditional teahouse (not your typical boba spot!) in a tranquil, soothing space
- Miku: fine dining with flame-seared sushi and a stunning restaurant interior
The Gooderham Building is the Flatiron Building of Toronto! This unique wedge building design, if looked at from the right angle, almost provides an optical illusion of how thin it is.
It’s pretty much impossible to miss this building if you spend any time in downtown Toronto; I walked past it countless times, and sometimes I still did a double-take.
Frozen Tiffany Falls
This one’s a little outside of Toronto, but one of my favorite memories from when I was there.
Located in Hamilton, you can either drive or take an hour and a half bus ride out towards the trailhead. The “trail” is extremely short and only takes about five minutes, but at the end you’ll find a dazzling wide waterfall!
In my opinion, Tiffany Falls is the most beautiful in winter when it’s completely frozen over and you can venture onto the ice like we did here!
I would suggest coming in mid-February at the very latest – the ice was already starting to turn to slush when we visited and I had to watch my step so as to not sink my foot into a freezing cold stream!
We hope that this article has helped inspire you to visit Toronto. If you have any questions about the destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
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We Are Travel Girls Contributor Angelina Suwoto Angisusu.github.io
Angi Suwoto is a travel addict and lifestyle writer living in the Big Apple. As an early 20s Asian-American world traveler connected with a wanderlust-filled millennial crowd, she aspires to show others the magical beauty of this world wherever she goes. She started writing to brighten up young adults’ everyday lives with a fairytale-like whimsical style and fresh but honest writing, and believes that her voice can encourage others to bring joy into their own lives.
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