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Travel Mapped Christmas

9 best cities to spend Christmas in Canada

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Taraneh Jerven Dec 04, 2018 2:15 pm 4,640

Canada is good at Christmas.

In a country where winter is intense, residents go beyond a light display or two to make the season bright. With a dazzling array of festivities ranging from parades, to markets, fireworks, ice skating, and sleigh rides, here are the nine best places, from east to west, to spend Christmas in Canada.

Québec City

Québec City is not just one of the most Christmas-y places in Canada – it’s one of the most Christmas-y places in the world. Old Québec is transformed into an old-fashioned Dickensian Christmas village. The snow and lights dazzle against a backdrop of the most historic architecture in Canada.

As if the charm wasn’t enough, you can sip mulled wine and nosh on sausage at the timber stalls of the annual German Christmas Market, or browse for locally-made trinkets at the Old Port Christmas Market. After you’ve explored, find a spot of peace and Christmas music at one of the city’s heritage churches. Or burn off the indulgences with winter sports at the nearby Sentier des Caps de Charlevoix.

Montreal

montreal christmas

Montreal at Christmas/Shutterstock

Visitors describe Christmas in Montreal as Paris without the jet lag, and it is all about the decadent French holiday food. Bûches de Noël, tourtière — spiced pork pie in the crumbly crust — decadent foie, spiced saucisson, marrons glacés, filled praline-chocolate pinecones, and other tempting morsels are available at the city’s bustling public markets. You can also expect the usual round-up of light displays, ice skating rinks, craft fairs, and theatrical spectacles that comprise a Joyeux Noël in a cosmopolitan city.

Ottawa

Christmas in Canada

Ottawa Tourism

Canada’s capital kicks off the holiday season with the illumination ceremony for Christmas Lights Across Canada, a stellar light display that suffuses the Parliament Buildings in holiday cheer from December 5 to January 6, 2019. The festivities also include carols and fireworks.

Other must-attends include the National Gallery of Canada’s Christmas tree lighting with a 12-metre tree, cocoa, and free gallery entry. When the temperature drops low enough (normally around January), residents put on their ice skates and glide down the scenic Rideau Canal – Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest naturally frozen skating rink in the world.

Niagara Falls

Although it’s a breathtaking destination any time of year, Niagara Falls really rocks Christmas. They know how to deck the falls. The highlights here are the nightly fireworks illumination of the falls, and the Winter Festival of Lights. The Winter Festival of Lights is on now until January 25, 2019 along an eight kilometre long route that travels through the beautiful landscapes of the Niagara Parks, Dufferin Islands, and surrounding tourist districts. New this year, the festival also includes the Cascades of Fire International Fireworks Competition until November 18, 2018. Add two Santa Claus Parades and you’ve got a mighty good Christmas.

Toronto

If you live by the motto “bigger is better,” head to Canada’s largest city for an onslaught of Christmas fun ranging from the gargantuan Christmas tree in Nathan Phillips Square, to the waterfront skating rink, to the Christmas display windows at the flagship Hudson’s Bay store.

Other must-attends include Toronto Christmas Market, set in the Victorian, cobblestoned Distillery Historic District. For culture and beauty, check out The Nutcracker by The National Ballet of Canada, and candlelit holiday flower shows at Allan Gardens Conservatory and Centennial Park Conservatory, with thousands of flowering plants including more than 30 kinds of poinsettia.

Edmonton

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Image: Edmonton Tourism

Why Edmonton? Candy Cane Lane. For the last 40 years, residents have created an eight-block West End light display featuring all things twinkly and festive including glowing candy canes. Hundreds of thousands visit, marvel, and bring a donation to the Edmonton Food Bank. More holiday fun in Edmonton: horse-drawn sleigh rides down Whyte Avenue and old-fashioned festivities at Christmas Reflections in Fort Edmonton Park. When you can’t face the cold any longer, get cozy at the indoor Festival of Trees with gingerbread house competition.

Banff

christmas in canada

Kelly MacDonald/Banff & Lake Louise

Treat yourself to the holidays at one of Canada’s most magical mountain destinations. A city in the midst of wilderness, Banff boasts the full gamut of winter sports alongside more romantic and unusual holiday pastimes.

Instead of Christmas light displays, try stargazing under winter skies at the Banff Gondola. Why settle for a sleigh ride when you can mush your way through the forest whilst being pulled by a team of huskies? Instead of a Christmas cocktail party, try a dance set or two at Brewster Dance Barn. When the physical exertion and cold temps threaten to overwhelm, sink into the world famous Banff Hot Springs to recover.

Vancouver

Aurora Winter Festival Toronto

Aurora Winter Festival Toronto/Brandon Artis Photography

Vancouver is in a league of its own when it comes to holiday spectacles. This year, the highlight is Aurora Winter Festival, a true North Pole extravaganza featuring many mystical worlds including a Disco Den, Arctic Retreat, Luminous Gardens, and Whimsical Forest, as well as winter-y characters, an ice skating rink, Santa’s Workshop, and tube park.

Other classic Vancouver Christmas events include meeting Santa and his reindeer at the Peak of Christmas at Grouse Mountain, free ice skating at Robson Square, the Vancouver Christmas Market, VanDusen Festival of Lights, Carol Ships in English Bay, the Christmas train at Bright Nights in Stanley Park, and Rogers Santa Claus Parade.

Whistler

christmas in canada

Mike Crane/Tourism Whistler

Whistler Village is blanketed with fluffy snow and Christmas charm in December. The range of activities make it an ideal destination both for romantic getaways and family time. You can ski and snowboard every day with both mountains open over Christmas and New Year, and extended hours in the Village. Make sure and dress like Santa or his missus on December 16 when the first folks in costume at the lift get free tickets.

More fun: skating with Santa at Whistler Olympic Plaza, horse-drawn sleigh rides, family après events with live entertainment, carolling, spas, fine dining, and more.

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Taraneh Jerven
Taraneh is a travel writer whose work has appeared in publications such as Rough Guides, DK Eyewitness Travel Guides, and Kinfolk. City break or wilderness, she's on it. Learn more: smallfolktravel.com
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