Top 28 things to do in Toronto in winter

If the thought of travelling to a reputationally-freezing place during the winter months sends a shiver down your spine, put on a jacket and prepare to have your mind changed. There are so many great things to do in Toronto in winter, that I wish my February visit was longer than the week I’d planned. You’re already in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, so why not see it in the tourism off-season, like the locals do?

TOP 28 THINGS TO DO IN TORONTO IN WINTER

The best way to showcase Toronto’s versatility is in a listicle, and it’s going to be a long one – you’ll find great tips on where to eat and drink, festivals to align your trip with, sightseeing, and cool hangout spots. Don’t forget to bring your gloves, some boots and a scarf, and you’ll be laughing!

1.Go Ice Skating (almost anywhere)

Ice skating at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto
Strap your skates on and go for a spin in one of Toronto’s many outdoor rinks.

When babies in Canada are born, the doctor gives them a slap on the bum to get their respiratory system going, and a nurse hands the parents a pair of tiny ice skates and a hockey stick. True story. I read it on the internet. So, it’s no surprise that once the weather turns icy, Canadians use the cold to their advantage and ice skating rinks appear all over the country. There are quite a few outdoor skate rinks that you can visit in Toronto, and they all open on November 24 or December 1. You can find a list of all of Toronto’s outdoor ice skating rinks here, along with their opening and closing dates .

2. Visit the Bata Shoe Museum

Indigenous Alaskan and Canadian clothing
The shoes collected by Sonja Bata include those worn by Indigenous Canadians and Alaskans.

Everyone likes shoes – they keep our feet warm, dry and stop them from looking like hooves. But what if you really love shoes? Toronto has the perfect place for you my friend! The Bata Shoe Museum tracks 4,500 years of history of foot coverings from all over the world. It’s the largest collection of footwear in the world. They all come from Sonja Bata’s personal collection, which she began back in the 1940s, and now numbers 13,000 pairs. It was inevitable, considering she’d married into a shoe manufacturing family and moved to Canada from Switzerland. Mrs Bata put her considerable architecture expertise into shoe design and researching their history.

Arsenic Green Victorian dress
The Fashion Victims exhibition was all about clothing that was slowly killing its owners.

The museum features just over a 1,000 pairs of shoes, from the likes of Ancient Egypt and the Chinese foot binding days, all the way to celebrity shoes of today. While I was there was an exhibition on Victorian fashion and footwear, which was fascinating. Did you know that the dyes used to give fabric and shoes their vibrant colours were poisoning their wearers? Women (and men) were going to doctors with rashes and red eyes from the amount of arsenic being used to manufacture the dyes in their clothes and shoes. According to the museum, doctors at the time said that a woman might carry ”in her skirts poison enough to slay the whole of the admirers she may meet within half a dozen ball-rooms”.

Cost: Adult $14, Senior $12, Student $8, Children (5-17) $5, Children up to 4 are free. Discount family packages are also available.
Address: 327 Bloor Street West, Toronto.
Hours: Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 12pm-5pm.

3. Experience Graffiti Alley

Graffiti Art in Toronto's Graffiti Alley
Toronto’s vibrant street art scene stretches well past Graffiti Alley.

You won’t have to go far to find street art in Toronto, in fact, there’s an entire alley dedicated to it in the city’s Fashion District. Graffiti Alley is nestled between Portland Street and Spadina Avenue and spans about three blocks. Don’t be surprised if you find crowds of eager photographers jostling for position even in winter – Toronto’s Graffiti Alley is well known and includes art from some pretty famous aerosol artists like Uber5000 and Elicsr.

Find out more about Toronto’s Street Art here.

There are epic ‘Under the Sea’ themes that run an entire block, and more Hannah Barbera characters than you can poke a stick at. There are references to pop culture and tributes to deceased rappers and artists. But one of the things that artists tend to do best, is social commentary, and there’s plenty of that tucked in among the tags. Don’t let the chilly weather or a little drizzle deter you, you’ll regret it!

Cost: Free.
Address: Between Portland Street and Spadina Avenue, Toronto.
Hours: Any time, although daytime is preferable.

4. Go Architecture Sight Seeing at the University of Toronto

University of Toronto's Convocation Hall
Built as the midpoint of the University, Convocation Hall is used for graduation ceremonies.

I am a total nerd for old buildings and while I hardly know anything about the styles and designs of the structures, it doesn’t stop me from wandering with my eyes upwards, marveling at what’s in front of me. Even though Toronto wasn’t ”established” until around the late 1790s, there is plenty of beautiful old buildings to discover.

My favourite place to wander was the University of Toronto. The Convocation Hall is a domed building on the grounds that was designed in the early 1900s by Canadian architect Frank Darling. His design was influenced by the Edwardian Baroque revival going on at the time. It lays at the centre of the University and acts as a sort of anchor.

Kings College Building at the University of Toronto
Two architects worked on the building, which meant it was always going to be a conglomerate of styles.

Then there’s the Kings College, or University College, built in the 1850s and designed by Frederick Cumberland and William Storm, who put together a mishmash of architectural styles to form the large building. The process was a laboured one though – the brief was for it to be consistent with Victorian architecture but that first Gothic design was disliked by the committee. So it was back to the drawing board for a try at Italian and later Byzantine designs. Eventually they settled on asymmetrical Romanesque. 

Cost: Free.
Address: 31 Kings College Circuit, Toronto.
Hours: Anytime but obviously day time is best.

5. Go Shopping on Younge Street

Younge-Dundas Square billboards in Toronto
Younge-Dundas Square is a mecca for shoppers and entertainment lovers

Younge Street is notoriously long – 56km in fact – and it was even listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest street at one time. Except they were adding parts of a highway to it, so that was removed after 1999. In any case, we want to visit the Downtown Younge section, where the shopping and entertainment district resides.

It all centres on Younge-Dundas Square, which reminds me of a miniature Times Square. I’m sure someone will be upset with my saying that. Sorry. Would you believe that the Toronto Eaton Centre, that faces that square, is one of Toronto’s most visited tourist attractions? It lays claim to being North America’s busiest shopping center, with more than 48 million visitors in 2015 alone, according to Wikipedia (so it must be true). It’s also why I stayed well away. Big crowds + staring disappointedly into a change room mirror = unhappy holiday times. But for those who like to shop, this place has 235 retailers spread across more than 200,000 square metres of shopping space.

Cost: As much as you can spend on things.
Address: 220 Yonge Street, Toronto.
Hours: Monday-Friday 10am-9.30pm, Saturday 9:30am-9:30pm, Sunday 10am-7pm.

6. Scare Yourself On A Ghost Tour

Toronto Distillery Historic District Ghost Tour
Our tour guide and storyteller was nice enough to take a photo with me.

I gravitate towards ghost tours ever since I did one in Edinburgh and it scared the Beetlejuice out of me. Those Scots really know how to tell a tale. So whenever I’m planning a new trip, I check out the ghost tour potential. Toronto’s addition to my Ghost Hunter cache did not disappoint, although I will admit it was positively freezing. It was my fault that I booked for a particularly cold evening (around -7°C) with a whipping wind.

Over in the Distillery Historic District in the city’s East, you’ll find the Ghosts and Spirits of the Distillery evening walking tour. Our guide, dressed in a hooded cloak and carrying a lantern, lead us through the streets of the district

With tales of gruesome accidents, the perilous world of whiskey-making and the explosive War of 1812, you’ll quickly see why this is area is known as one of Toronto’s most haunted spots. Join us as we stroll along the cobblestone streets of the historic Distillery District and area by lantern light. When brothers by marriage, James Worts and William Gooderham decided to go into the brewing business back in 1832, founding the Gooderham and Worts Distillery, the area was born on the banks of Lake Ontario.

Whiskey making wasn’t without its perils back then so there are plenty of horror stories and tales of mysterious spectres to keep you interested. And if that’s not enough, there’s even a little warming pit stop at a bar for a nip along the way. We’re not just talking about ghosts of the human variety either. Prepare for stories that involve the mewing of ghost cats, looking for more mice no doubt. If that doesn’t have you quite convinced, what about the fact that it was central to America’s invasion of Canada during the War of 1812? Fought by Americans against the British, this war was waged on Canadian soil and lasted until 1815, killing many Canadians who were part of the British forces.

Cost: Adults $23.75, Youth (up to 17) $19.75.
Address: 30 Gristmill Lane, Toronto.
Hours: Tour runs from February to November.

7. See An Ice Hockey Game At ScotiaBank Arena

Ice hockey players in Toronto
Front row seats for the Toronto Marlies versus the Hershey Bears.

You can’t go to Canada and not take in the national sport. It would be an insult to the great nation built on being extremely polite unless there’s ice and a puck involved. Ice hockey is where Canadians take out their aggression with the help of sticks and slamming people into barriers. The games are usually fast paced, exciting and sometimes difficult to follow. That puck moves quick!

Ice hockey game in Toronto
Things can get a little full-on out on the ice

I was lucky enough to be in the city for a public holiday known as Family Day, held on the third Monday in February. Of course you can’t have a public holiday to spend time with your family unless you have something to do on that day, right? Enter a mid-afternoon hockey game between the Toronto Marlies (the feeder team for the Toronto Maple Leafs) and the Hershey Bears from Pennsylvania. Tickets were pretty cheap so I managed to nab a front row spot next to a family that consisted of a mum, dad, grandpa, a 5-year-old and a newborn. They were all decked out in Maple Leafs gear and having a fantastic time. The grandpa was nice enough to give me a running commentary of proceedings and why the game was rubbish. They even got me some popcorn and a drink. I now have a Canadian family thanks to this hockey game. You should get yourself one too.

Cost: Dependent on the game you see, but my front-row ticket cost $60.
Address: 40 Bay Street, Toronto.
Hours: Game dependent.

8. Eat at Wanda’s Pie in the Sky

Wanda's Pie in the Sky fruit flavoured pies
It’s so difficult to choose which slice of pie you want… first

All of this running around cold Toronto is bound to make you hungry. And you need a treat because you’re on holiday so wander over to Wanda’s Pie in the Sky in the Kensington Market area of Toronto and prepare to be wowed. Wanda Beaver (was there ever a MORE Canadian name?), originally a Niagara local, began baking when she was around 8-years-old. She was still baking while putting herself through Art School years later, when a cafe wanted to order her pies. Her business grew from there, and I’m glad it did because I would eat at Wanda’s Pie in the Sky every day of my life if I could.

Key Lime Pie slice
A slice of Key Lime Pie. Picture: Wanda’s Pie in the Sky.

There are 15 types of fruit pies, not including a few apple varieties and another 15 American cream and custard pies on the menu. I limited myself to one visit because I wanted to fit in my plane seat home, and decided on Key Lime. It was ah-mazing. You might also notice that the store has a decidedly ‘California-hippy’ vibe to it. That’s because Wanda spent some time living in the state, practicing transcendental meditation. The store really feels like a community hub.

Cost: $6.25 + tax per slice.
Address: 287 Augusta Avenue, Toronto.
Hours: Monday-Saturday 8am-8pm, Sunday 9am-7pm.

9. Visit A Castle Built For A King

View from Casa Loma Castle Tower over Toronto
In the summer you get to see the gardens, but I think the view of the city is nice enough to compensate

Just north of Toronto’s main hub, and easily accessible by public transport (and a bit of an uphill climb) is Casa Loma. Toronto’s castle on a hill is just over 100 years old but it’s got a history to rival that of the European Castles it was modelled after.

Casa Loma’s history began when Major-General Sir Henry Pellatt decided he needed a gothic-revival building that would be fit for the English royal family when they visited the city. From that kernal of an idea sprang a 98 room mansion, complete with stables, a huge garage, gardens and greenhouses to shelter his beloved plants during Canada’s freezing winters.

Read more Casa Loma history here and see all the stunning photos

Unfortunately the Pellatt family fell into financial difficulties before the castle could be properly finished, so it was sold. It has changed hands many times over the years – it was earmarked as a hotel, used as a club in the 1920s, and launched the careers of Big Band group Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra.

Cost: Adults 18-64 $30, Seniors 64+ $25, Children 4-13 $20, toddlers under 4 are free. Parking onsite costs $10.
Address: 1 Austin Terrace, Toronto.
Hours: Daily 9.30am-5pm although the last admission is at 4.30pm. Closed on Christmas Day.

10. Stay At Planet Traveler Hostel

Planet Traveler Hostel facade
If you’re looking for a place to stay with eco-friendly credentials, Planet Traveler is your best bet

I already know what you’re thinking: ‘A hostel? Why would I stay in a hostel when I’d be much more comfortable in a hotel with my very own room’. Wrong. Well, maybe right, depending on what kind of traveller you are. This trip was a solo mission for me, planned around renewing my E3 visa that allows me to work in the USA. So staying in a hostel was perfect for me – I got to break up the time I spent on my own with meeting new people, and it was cheap. Two very important boxes ticked.

Read all about my stay at Planet Traveler Hostel and its eco credentials here

But the real reason you should stay at Planet Traveler is because it’s an eco-friendly hostel that is beautifully designed, clean and cosy. It features geothermal heating and air conditioning, solar panels, solar thermal water heating, LED lights, wastewater heat recovery and is BIG on recycling. Plus, for all the other solo travellers out there, the hostel hosts nightly get togethers that range from free pasta night, to trivia night and everything in between.

Cost: Price varies depending on room chosen. See website for details.
Address: 357 College Street, Toronto.
Hours: N/A.

11. Marvel At The Toronto Light Festival

Fire breathing mechanical dragon
This fire breathing mechanical dragon is no joke

This one is probably one of the best things to do in Toronto in winter, or at least it’s my favourite. After all the Christmas lights are packed away in a tangled mess ready to be fought with next year, winter in the city can feel pretty dull and lifeless. That’s where the Toronto Light Festival comes in. The Distillery Historic District lights up between January 18 and March 3 with light art created by artists from around the world. Giving you a reason to shake off your winter blues, put on a coat and leave the house after 5pm.

Light art love heart in Toronto
All you need is love

In the words of the festival’s creator and executive director, Mathew Rosenblatt ”Winter sucks, and we simply want to make winter not suck so much. We want to create something special and something that will lift the collective spirit of the City”. Well said. It was pretty difficult for me to pinpoint a ‘favourite’ piece from the 2018 festival, but it’s impossible to pass up a dragon that breathes actual fire. At intervals that were impossible to catch on my camera (sorry about that).  Called Heavy Meta, the 9 metre long, 6 metre tall dragon is actually a car. At least it was built on top of a bus for Burning Man (no surprise) and usually tours the US, but it was built right here in Toronto.

Hooded figures cloaked in light
The Guardians of Time, by Manfred Kielnhofer, from Austria

There are tons of other notable artworks, like the flock of birds that fly faster as it senses you running around in a circle, the Bat signal, some very cool peace signs, creepy hooded figures and some interestingly-created faces. But you really have to read the Toronto Light Festival By-Laws and Ordinances to be prepared:

No swimming, no complaining,
No shivering, no bikinis,
(This will not be strictly enforced),
No foul language,
No eating discoloured snow,
No taking second-rate photos (eds note: Sorry, I may have broken that one),
No horseplay,
No gossiping,
No swinging,
(Or exchanging keys),
No shoving, no pushing,
No smoking,
No pets that bite.
No littering,
No big PDAs, no acronyms,
No Christmas carols,
No diving,
No peeing, no glass,
No peeing into a glass,
No panicking,
No name-calling,
No runny noses,
No being bored or cold,
No touching the sculptures.

Have fun, hold hands, keep warm. – TLF Management.

Cost:Free.
Address: Begins at Gristmill Lane, Distillery Historic District.
Hours: After dark between January 18 and March 3.

12. See A Car Crashing Out Of A Building Two Storeys Up

Car crashing out of building
If you’re not expecting to see it, this car will take you by surprise

Usually, the only time you see death-defying stunts involving vehicles and buildings is in the movies. But Toronto is the city that keeps on giving, so make your way to Queen Street and look for the CTV building. It actually belongs to Bell Media and is the headquarters of their television and radio hub, but it still has a huge CTV sign up on one side of the building, because some of their shows have offices in the building. In any case, you need to look for the huge CTV sign, underneath you’ll see a news car bursting out of the building, suspended in midair. It’s so legitimate, that the car even has one wheel just in constant rotation as if the car has just crashed out and is stuck halfway out.

This one’s pretty close to Graffiti Alley, so it’s a great pit stop along the way, especially if you’ve got pre-teen kids. They’ll love it. The building backs onto a parking lot that also includes a huge mural that’s fun to check out as well.

Cost: Free.
Address: 299 Queen Street, Toronto.
Hours: Anytime of the day (and probably at night as well).

13. Climb Canada’s Tallest Building

Toronto cityscape by night
Toronto cityscape by night from the CN Tower

While we’re in the western side of town, you’re going to want to check out Toronto’s CN Tower, which holds the title of Canada’s tallest building. The building’s pinnacle tops out at 553 metres above street level, and it’s one of the city’s most visited tourist attraction. It’s named after the railway company that built the tower back in 1976, Canadian National, but it’s now owned by the federal government. Did you know that the CN Tower was named as one of the Modern Seven Wonders of the World? It’s silhouette is synonymous with the Toronto skyline.

You can take advantage of the views afforded by the tower by taking the 58 second journey up in an elevator to the CN Tower’s lookout level, which is 346 metres above street level. So a couple of hundred metres below its loftiest heights. You might want to close your eyes on the way up if you’re afraid of heights though, because the glass elevator gives you an idea of how fast you’re travelling as you shoot away from the ground. You may also want to avoid the glass floor, which gives you a view all the way down to the city floor on a clear day.  The glass floor is just over six centimetres thick and consists of a scuff plate that is replaced every year, two layers of tempered glass, a one inch space for air, and another two layers of tempered glass. Still don’t feel safe? Just look through it from a distance.

If you’re really keen to test your nerve you can try Skypod, which takes you another hundred metres into the air (447 metres) and is one of the highest observation platforms in the world. You’ll pay extra for it, but if you like a bit of adrenalin, then it’s probably worth it. My fear of heights and bank balance meant I didn’t make it all the way up, but on a clear day, it’s said that you can see 160 kilometres away. During the summer months you can also do the Edgewalk, which clips you into a harness and lets you walk out onto the edge of the Tower with a group. There’s also a restaurant up among the clouds if you’re looking to book a special romantic dinner.

Cost:
General Admission: Adult (13-64) $38, Seniors $34, Child (4-12) $28.
General Admission and SkyPod: Adult (13-64) $53, Seniors $49, Child (4-12) $43.
Address: 290 Bremner Blvd, Toronto.
Hours: Daily 9am-10.30pm.

14. Eat An Epic Burger At The Burgernator

Lamb burger and fries
This lamb burger was the absolute business

Kensington Market has some great places to eat, and one of my favourites was The Burgernator. After a log day’s sight seeing, you want a hearty dinner, especially when it’s cold outside, so a burger and fries always hits the spot. It seems that lots of locals agree with me, because when I visited for a quick dinner on a Sunday night, the place was packed and there was an order line that was to the door. I would not be deterred though! My stomach was rumbling for a burger and I waited it out, watching patrons from all walks of life tuck in. This isn’t a “chew and spew” burger joint (as we’d say in Australia). We’re talking more on the gourmet side of things, complete with a choice of cheese and beef, chicken, lamb, or vegetarian patties.

Have you tried Canada’s take on fries yet? Known as Poutine, fries are covered in cheese curds and gravy, for that extra dose of salt and fat missing from regular fries. But you can just opt for the normal kind, sweet potato fries, onion rings, or fries with sweet chilli and sour cream.

Cost: Around $12 for a burger and fries.
Address: 269 Augusta Avenue, Toronto.
Hours: Monday to Wednesday 11am-9pm, Thursday to Saturday 11am-10pm, Sunday 11am-8pm.

15.Visit The Ontario Science Centre

Don’t discount the Ontario Science Centre, as if it’s not really a great holiday destination. Even if you don’t have kids, the Science Center is a great place to experience more than 500 interactive exhibits and daily science demonstrations. If film is more your deal, why not check out Ontario’s only IMAX Dome Theatre, at the centre. There’s everything from the Space Hall, complete with a planetarium, to learning about the human body, a nature escape and an actual rainforest. That’s right, there’s an actual rain forest that you can walk through, crawl through caves, a tornado you can touch, and poison dart frogs that you may want to avoid. The outdoor exhibits don’t stop there either. Just outside the Centre is the Don River Valley ravine, where you can explore the tree slide carved from a fallen pine, or just meander along the paths. Unfortunately tis part of the center is only open between late spring and autumn.

Cost: Adult (18-64) $22, Youth (13-17) $16, Child (3-12) $13.
Address: 770 Don Mills Road, Toronto.
Hours: Monday to Friday 10am-4pm, Saturday 10am-8pm, Sunday 10am-5pm.

16. See The Stanley Cup At The Hockey Hall Of Fame

The Hockey Stanley Cup
Don’t miss your chance to see the Stanley Cup up close and personal

Hockey tragics (and mildly interested fans) shouldn’t miss the Hockey Hall of Fame. Actually, even if you don’t know much about hockey, you definitely recognise the name Wayne Gretsky. Even if it’s just from that classic 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie. The Hall of Fame charts the rise of hockey and its super stars from as far back as the 1920s, and includes memorabilia such as uniforms, trophies, sticks, and other memorabilia. But probably the most sought-after part of the 15-exhibit museum is the Great Hall where the Stanley Cup is on display for part of the year, while a replica takes its place for the rest of the time. The Stanley Cup is the trophy awarded to the winner of the National Hockey League playoffs. As the oldest trophy to still be awarded in professional sports, the cup has had some additions made to it over the years to allow for the names of each championship winning team to have its name inscribed. The best part is that you can get up close and personal with the cup – it’s not behind glass, nor is it cordoned off in any way. You can walk right up to the Stanley Cup and get your photo taken with it, stare at the names and spend forever looking for your team. The Great Hall also holds a bank vault, where all of the current National Hockey League trophies are held.

Australian hockey team memorabilia
I couldn’t leave out a legitimate reference to Australia

It’s not just North American hockey players who are honoured by the Hall of Fame though. The World of Hockey Zone pays tribute to players from around the world (including australia) and Russia also makes a big appearance. If bling’s your thing, you should definitely check out the huge Stanely Cup rings that players of the winning team are awarded each year. I know very little about hockey in the grand scheme of things, but I had a great time learning about all the records, superstitions, safety developments and the replica Montreal Canadians dressing room.

Cost: Adult, $20, Youth (4-13) $14, Senior $16.
Address:  30 Yonge Street, Toronto.
Hours: Winter, spring and fall Monday to Friday 10am-5pm, Saturday 9.30am-6pm, Sunday 10.30am-5pm.

17. Eat Like A King At St Lawrence Market

St Lawrence Market building
St Lawrence Market has been knocked down and rebuilt too many times to count

You have two choices at St Lawrence Market in Toronto: Either eat every delicious thing you lay your eyes on (that your stomach can fit), or watch the crush of people trying to buy their favourite food stuffs. This is Toronto’s version of London’s Borough Market (which I love and miss so badly), and contains almost every treat you can imagine. The market is comprised of three separate sections:

  • The South Market: has over 120 vendors selling fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, dairy, grains and bakery products.
  • The North Market: is the site of Saturday Farmers’ Markets, where growers and producers from across Southern Ontario bring their goods.
  • St Lawrence Hall: is the retail business hub and is made up of offices on the second floor. You can rent the third floor for weddings.

The North Market has the most history. It was the site of farmer’s markets stretching back all the way to 1803, when a wooden structure was built on the site. By 1831 it was replaced with a brick building and things were booming until the Great Fire of Toronto in 1849 demolished everything, along with much of the city. The market is rebuilt two years later and demolished to be reconstructed in 1904. Who would have thought one building could undergo so much construction?

Different varieties of cheese
There’s no point visiting a Farmer’s Market if you’re not going to look at the cheese

But you really want to know what you can find in the market. So let’s talk food, my eye was caught by the massive stacks of BBQ ribs, Jerk pork pies, brown glazed sugar glazed smoked back bacon, all of the types of breads and pastries you can imagine, great cheese like farmhouse Wensleydale, Shropshire blue and farmhouse blue stilton, olives and picked vegetables, jams and chutneys, and French pastries like macaroons and croissants.

The market’s also a great place to take cooking classes on baking macaroons, savoury pastries using rough and olive oil pastries, or bring your child to learn to make French Bistro Classics.

Cost: Free entry.
Address: 92-95 Front Street East, Toronto.
Hours:
North / Farmer’s Market: Saturday 5am-3pm
South Market: Tuesday to Thursday 8am-6pm, Friday 8am-7pm, Saturday 5am-5pm.

18. Go Back In Time To Toronto’s First Post Office

Toronto's First Post Office
Toronto’s first post office is still flying the Union Jack

It seems a little strange to think of Canada as a branch of Great Britain, but that’s exactly what it became way back when the British defeated the French. So it stands to reason that instead of getting their own post office, Toronto’s first post office functioned as an offshoot of the British Royal Mail. It’s now a little museum as well as being a functioning post office where you can send postcards to friends and family. It first opened in 1833, back when the city was called York and not Toronto. There were three other post offices before this one, but this was the first to serve the newly renamed city of Toronto.

The beautiful old building contains a room where kids (and adults) can try their hands at writing letters using ink and a quill. Which is much more difficult than it sounds, to be honest. It also displays artifacts from the post office’s history, and a topographic model of Toronto as it was in 1837. The post office is probably worth skipping if you’re pushed for time, unless you’ve got children or are really interested in post office history.

Cost: Suggested donation $2.
Address: 260 Adelaide Street East, Toronto.
Hours: Monday to Friday 9am – 5.30pm,  Saturday 10am – 4pm, Sunday 12pm – 4pm.

19. Take A Winter Daytrip To Niagara Falls

Snow and ice at Horseshoe Falls, Canada
Don’t let the icy weather deter you, the Falls in winter are beautiful.

Niagara Falls is one of the most well known tourist attractions spanning the Canadian and US boarders. It’s a popular place to visit and it’s on bucket lists the world over, so it can get pretty darn busy over at the Horseshoe Falls side of things. That’s why I really recommend visiting Niagara Falls in the winter months. Apart from the fact that it’s so much less crowded, you’ll get a whole new perspective of Falls during winter. While everyone else might be sharing photos of green grass and blue water, you’ll probably have ice and snow along with the water that rushes 51 metres down into the Niagara River.

Read all about Visiting Niagara Falls From Toronto in Winter

I also really loved the Journey Behind the Falls, which takes you 13 storeys down to some viewing portals where you can watch the water rush down in front of you, see the icicles created by the cold weather, and listen to the roar of all of that water. In the summer months you’re able to walk out onto a platform to see the Falls, but in winter you’re going to want to stay warm and dry. Did you know that Canada’s side of Niagara Falls gives the best views? But if you’re keen to head across to New York state you’ll be needing the International Rainbow Bridge, which stretches 400 metres across the river and connects Ontario to New York.

Niagara River Whirlpool
The Niagara River Whirlpool

If you’re wondering if there’s enough to do in and around Niagara for a proper day trip, there really is. I decided to take a guided tour, which shuttled us over to Niagara and came complete with a commentary on the history and points of interest along the way, but you can always take a train if you need a cheaper alternative. Our guide let us wander for a few hours in Niagara, which gave us time to see the Falls and head up to the main town for lunch and a bit of shopping if we wanted. Then it was off to see the massive hydro-electric power station and a whirlpool that exists in the middle of the Niagara River because of erosion.

A quick pit stop in the quaint little town of Niagara-On-The-Lake was like stepping back in time to the Victorian era. There was even a horse drawn carriage that you could ride in, but I was more interested in the sweets and hot chocolate to warm up a bit. From there it was off to the Lakeview Wine Company, to sample some ice wine. Ice wine is a super sweet wine that requires grapes to be harvested when the temperatures are below freezing, between midnight and sunrise.

Cost: Depending on the time of year, day and time of travel, a return train trip to Niagara Falls from Toronto costs around $44. The day trip I took with a tour company cost $89.25.
Address: Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Hours: Journey Behind the Falls is open between 9am-5pm in winter.

20. Visit The Flatiron Building

Toronto's Flatiron Building
This Flatiron Building is skinny on one side and fat on the other – making it more triangular than anything

It’s almost like every city has a Flatiron building these days! When I think of it, New York immediately springs to mind, but you might be surprised to learn that there’s also one in Toronto. Except here, it’s actually called the Gooderham Building. It lives on ta triangular parcel of land on the edge of the city’s financial district and was built in 1892. Designed by architect David Roberts Jr, the building was commission by distiller George Gooderham and was an office for the distillery (mentioned above in the Ghost Tour section) until 1952 and was sold in 1957.

But it’s not just the architecture and shape of the building that interests tourists and locals alike. The ‘triangle bottom’ side of the building is painted with The Flatiron Mural, created by Canadian artist Derek Besant. It looks like a sheet that is being ruffled in the wind, painted with a picture of a building that is directly across the street from the Gooderham Building.

Cost: Free.
Address: 49 Wellington Street East, Toronto.
Hours: Whenever you feel like strolling by.

21. See A Fountain That Has A Bone To Pick

Dog Fountain in Toronto
During winter the water is switched off so it doesn’t freeze

Adjacent to the Gooderham Building is Berczy Park, where you’ll find a couple of unusual sculptures, one of which comes in the form of a fountain. It’s actually a three-tiered fountain and a favourite with dog-lovers. Designed by Montreal architect Claude Cormier, the fountain is dotted with 27 cast-iron dogs all spouting water from their mouths and also staring up to the fountain’s apex. A golden bone is perched atop the fountain – the object of the salivating dog’s desires.

There’s also two sculptures of a pair of giant hands on a grassy patch inside the park, created by Canadian artist Luis Jacob, and aptly titled Jacob’s Ladder.

Cost: Free.
Address: The intersection of Scott, Wellington and Front streets, Toronto.
When: All the time!

22. Eat An Australian Meat Pie (or Lamington)

Australian Meat Pie shop in Toronto
The boomerang above the sign really gives it away

As an Australian expat wandering my way around North America, you can imagine how surprised and excited I was when I caught a glimpse of a sign that said Kanga Aussie Meat Pies with a huge boomerang over the doorway. I will always thank myself for glancing to my right as I trundled down Queen Street in Toronto. Erynn Mayes and Megan Tong opened the Australian pie shop in 2014, after travelling to Australia and experiencing our amazing cuisine (all bias intended). The food was so popular in Toronto that they opened two more shops in 2016 and they sell thousands of pies a week.

Find Out Where To Get Aussie Meat Pies In The USA

If you’re not familiar with Australian meat pies, they’re usually individual pies made with minced beef and a rich gravy and are enjoyed with tomato sauce on top. Nowadays though, lots of bakers have branched out when it comes to the fillings and Kanga’s pies reach an olive branch over the Tasman Sea with a New Zealand pie called the Kiwi Classic (it incorporates cheddar cheese into the traditional Aussie pie). There’s also a nod to India’s famous butter chicken dish in the Butter Chix pie, and of course Canada gets a nod with The Canadian, filled with steak and bacon.

It was way too early in the day for me to be going all-out on a meat pie though, so I stuck with another Australian delicacy – one of the biggest lamingtons I’ve seen in my life. Lamingtons are basically squares of sponge-like cake, dipped in a cocoa mixture then covered in coconut. They are also heaven.

Cost: $6.85 per pie.
Address: 65 Duncan Street, Toronto; 150 King St W – C-114, In the corridor by St Andrew subway station; or 99 Bay St C-142, PATH, Commerce Court West, Food Court, Concourse Level in the PATH.
Hours: Monday to Friday 11am-6pm. The Duncan Street store is also open on Saturday 11am-6pm.

23. Go Underground To Shop And Explore

The weather outside is frightful, but you’re on holiday and you want to go out. But when it’s bucketing down rain, or the snow has turned to slush, it’s a little difficult to motivate yourself to navigate the streets. Fear not, Toronto has an excellent solution that’ll keep you warm, dry and happy all at the same time. Toronto has built a network of underground pedestrian tunnels and elevated walkways, known as PATH. They allow you to get from one part of town to another without ever popping your head up out of shelter. PATH is more than 30 kilometres long and it even includes shopping and food courts along the way. So if you wanted, you wouldn’t even have to see daylight while you’re out and about.

I used PATH to get all the way from ScotiaBank Arena in the city’s south to the Younge-Dundas Square in the north when the rain was coming down and I was too lazy to work out public transport back to the hostel. It worked a treat! It links up the subway system as well, so you can walk to a station, and get your bearings by the underground street signs so you can tell where in the city you are. PATH has entrances to more than 50 buildings, 20 parking garages and five subway stations.

Cost: Free.
Address: There are entrances all over the city! Stop by Tourist Information for a map or go to http://torontopath.com/path-map/
Hours: Open daily.

24. See The Wave Decks

Simcoe wave deck Toronto
If you think it looks cool from the land side, you should see it from the water

The cedar deck built on the shores of the Ontario River follow its ripples and waves for a truly beautiful waterside view. They aren’t as functional as your traditional flat deck, but it is much prettier. During the winter months the deck is roped off to pedestrians because the ice makes it too slippery, but you can still admire it anyway. I visited the Simcoe Wave deck, and got to see all of the boats wrapped up for the winter on a partially frozen river. There are also wave decks at Rees and Spadina along Queens Quay. All three have LED lights installed below and cast glowing light onto the water at night.

Ontario River Toronto
You can also get some great views of the Ontario River

Cost: Free.
Address:
Simcoe Wave Deck: 243 X Queens Quay W, Toronto.
Spadina Wave Deck: 401 Queens Quay W, Toronto.
Rees Wave Deck: On Rees Slip, Queens Quay W, Toronto.
Hours: Any time of the day or night.

25. Take A Snap With The Toronto Sign

Toronto sign
Don’t even think about missing the Toronto sign, no matter when you visit

If you’re looking for the perfect Instagram spot that’ll make your photo-mad friends a little jealous, look no further than the Toronto sign out in Nathan Phillips Square. The colourful sign was erected for the 2015 Pan American Games, but stayed put because it was so popular. During the winter months, the colours change to signify different national and international days. For example, the sign is blue on November 6 for the Make A Wish Foundation, teal on November 8 for Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, it is dimmed on November 11 for Remembrance Day and red and white on December 1 for World Aids Day. The sign is 3 metres tall and 22 metres long, so there’s plenty of space for everyone to hop into your photo! It won’t run out of colours to change to either – the LED lights inside are capable of transitioning between 228 million colours.

Cost: Free.
Address: Nathan Phillips Square, 100 Queen St W, Toronto.
Hours: Visit anytime, but twilight or sunrise is probably best.

26. Stay In A Serviced Apartment

I had to work for part of my trip to Toronto, so I needed to stay somewhere relatively quite with access to internet that wouldn’t constantly drop out. I chose a one bedroom apartment in Atlas Suites (and paid in full)in Downtown Toronto. Atlas Suites seems to be part of a bigger apartment building, which is managed by a few different companies so check in is a little different to what you’d be used to at a hotel. You’ll need to be buzzed into the building by security and then have your check in letter, which is emailed to you in advanced, a Government-issued ID and a credit card ready. Security will check your reservation and and you an envelope with keys, your room number and information.

I loved that there was a washer and dryer in the apartment, so that I could do all my washing before I returned home from my two week trip. It’s so great to be able to unpack everything straight back into your wardrobe once you get home. The apartment was clean and spacious and had a fridge, stove, dishwasher, and microwave, although the kitchen utensils were a little sparse. It’s located next to a little grocery store where you can buy whatever you need to cook dinner, and a bunch of great restaurants and pubs. My only real complaint is that the internet was very picky and only worked on my computer sometimes. There are two Starbucks within walking distance though so I made a beeline for them when the internet wasn’t working for me.

Cost: I paid $443 for 3 nights in February 2018.
Address: 270 Wellington Street West, Toronto.
Hours: Check in at 3pm and check out at 11am.

27. Eat an Authentic Italian Pizza

Pizza pie
I would eat this pizza every day of my life if I could

One of the restaurants I visited while staying at Atlas Suites was a gorgeous Italian place called Pizza Rustica. The restaurant and bar look really fresh and clean, and is decorated all in white. I visited on a weeknight while the Winter Olympics were on, so it wasn’t as busy as I noticed it was later in the week. I’ve had pizza in Italy (totally bragging) and Pizza Rustica’s offering was completely on par with that! I probably ended up with a  ‘make your ow’n pizza with proscuitto, mozarella, roasted red pepper, mushroom and basil. All I can say is Bellissimo!

Cost: Pizza is between $15-$19.
Address: 37 Blue Jays Way, Toronto.
Hours: Monday to Saturday 11am-9pm, Sunday 12.30pm-9pm.

28. Celebrate Winter At IceFest

Just when you thought you’d had enough of the cold weather, up pops IceFest in early February to remind you why you long for a bit of cold weather in the summer months. As everyone’s getting a little sick of quaking in their boots every time they step out the door, IceFest comes to the rescue with live ice carving demonstrations and ice sculptures to marvel at and take photos of. Having learned a thing or two from my experience at a similar Icy Extravaganza in Ottawa, known as Winterlude, I can give you a few tips. If your phone requires your fingerprint to unlock it, don’t take photos with your phone. Take a camera that you can easily take pictures with while wearing warm gloves. I nearly froze my hand clean off while I was mesmerized by all the Winterlude ice sculptures and taking photos of them all.

Each year’s IceFest has a theme, the 2018 festival was all about Medieval Times and included an 11th century castle complete with knights on guard. The 2019 festival’s theme hasn’t been announced yet but you can bet it’ll be just as spectacular.

Cost: Free.
Address: https://www.bloor-yorkville.com/icefest/directions.php
Hours: February 9 & 10, 2019.

The top 28 things to do in #Toronto in winter, including where to stay and eat.

 

16 thoughts on “Top 28 things to do in Toronto in winter

  1. I must admit I never considered visiting Toronto in winter until now. I thought you would have to stay inside. But I’m convinced I’d be happy exploring the markets, art scene and that fabulous shoe museum. Glad they have lamingtons too 🙂 #FarawayFiles

  2. Great list for Toronto in winter! I’d love to see an ice hockey game and maybe even try my hand at ice skating, as it’s not really something we have in the Southern Hemisphere. Niagra Falls also looks rather spectacular in winter – I would not have guessed!

    1. I am such a rubbish ice skater. I went for my birthday in London once and was hanging onto the sides the whole time while little kids skated circles round me.

    1. I guess that’s the thing about your own country. I was never that excited about exploring Australia…. and then I moved away.

  3. Wow love that Aussie pies and leamington store, we would feel right at home there. Canada is now a very popular place for Australian’s to visit, my brother recently travelled there and speaks very highly of it. I personally like to travel in the off season and see places a bit differently to how others see it. I love snow and think Toronto would be amazing in winter. One for bucket list I think!

    1. You’re so right, two of my cousins lived in Canada for a little while and loved it too. I guess it’s so diametrically different to Australia, weather-wise, but similar in otherwise that it can still feel like home.

  4. I’ve been wanting to visit Toronto, but it wasn’t a high priority, now that I’ve read this post I’m moving it up! There is so much to see and do and I’ve not explored Eastern Canada. Not sure I’ll get the family to go in the winter as they don’t love the cold, but I know I’d love it. #farawayfiles

    1. I was in the same boat, until I had to go there. And then I thought I was so stupid for not visiting earlier! So much great stuff to see and do. I hope you get there soon Hilary.

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