Celebrate winter in Toronto with these fun activities!

49 Shades of Winter: Your guide to winter in Toronto

Last Updated on May 4, 2021 by Pamela

Baby, maybe it’s cold outside but that’s no reason you can’t have fun in Toronto all winter long.  We’ve curated 50 chill ways – indoor and outdoor – to love #the6six throughout the wintry season. There’s something to suit every taste and budget – and many are free!

Disco on ice 

Toronto has plenty of opportunities for budding figure-skaters to channel their inner Patrick Tan or Tessa Virtue. The City of Toronto maintains a directory of neighbourhood skating rinks. One of our favourite blading outings: the  DJ Skate Nights at the Natrel Rink at Harbourfront. Skate rentals are available.

Eat your way through Winterlicious

The annual two-week foodie fest Winterlicious returns. Enjoy a prix fixe lunch or dinner menu ($28-$53) at more than 200 participating restaurants. Winterlicious is an excellent opportunity to try hipster spots like the Drake Hotel and pricey restaurants, such as Café Boulud.

All-age tobogganing

Who doesn’t remember the thrill of zooming down a snowy hill as a child?  Grab a sled or toboggan (and maybe a friend’s child if you’re too embarrassed to go in an adult-only group) and choose one of our four favourite spots for tobogganing in Toronto: Withrow Park (in Riverdale), Centennial Park (in Etobicoke) and Riverdale Park East and West (walkable from Cabbagetown).  Ensure littles ones wear helmets – and always look for updates regarding the types of sleds and toboggans that are permitted.

Grab some island time in winter  

A mere mention of Toronto Islands conjures up images of sunbathing, swimming and the clothing-optional beach. However, the islands are a great escape during winter. The car ferries (not the large boats) operate throughout winter, making the islands easily accessible for hiking, cross-country skiing – even skating on the frozen lagoons. MEC Toronto (on King Street) has skis and snow shoes to rent.  To warm up over a hot cuppa, the Rectory Café operates (on reduced hours) throughout winter. 

Wildlife viewing in Rouge National Urban Park  

Caution is always recommended when visiting Parks Canada properties in winter – so be prepared. With fewer visitors in Canada’s only National Urban Park on a winter’s day, you have fairly good chances of spotting deer and other wildlife that are more elusive in summer. (Bring snowshoes when there’s a good foundation of snow.)  Check out the winter safety tips on AdventureSmart. 

Battle the winter blues with a “light”-hearted visit to the Museum of Canadian Art  

Just opened in the fall of 2018, the Museum of Canadian Art (MOCA) provides an excellent winter mood-booster in the form of the “Light Therapy” show which runs until April 30. Apolonija Šušteršič’s exhibit is intended to “draw on the benefits of balanced daylight to enhance vitality and mood.”

Horse-riding in winter!

Even horses like to get outside in winter. The Ranch, in Oakville, offers weekend rides throughout the winter (weekday rides resume in the spring). What could be more romantic than hopping on a horse for a scenic trail ride on a snowy day.

Join the winter fun at Ontario Place

The winter program at Ontario Place runs until March 17. The outdoor skating rink, the illuminated “fairy trails” and the chance to roast marshmallows by a community bonfire at night entice wintertime visitors to Ontario Place. The Winter Light Exhibition on its own is enough to warrant repeat visits before the end of winter. Called “Disruptive Engagement,” the innovative outdoor light exhibit features 18 installations by artists from different backgrounds.

Walk toward the light at the Distillery District

The Toronto Light Festival sees all manner of psychedelic lights in wild shapes and configurations transform the Distillery District’s Victorian setting into a weirdly wonderful explosion of colourful light for 45 days of winter. One of last year’s hits was the metal fire-breathing dragon.

Hit the beach for Winter Stations

The popular Winter Stations series of temporary public art installations will once again take over the shores of Ashbridges Bay, Woodbine Beach and Balmy Beach from February 18 to April 1. This year’s theme: political upheaval.

Skating the old-fashioned way – on a frozen pond

Grenadier Pond, the mini lake in High Park, was popular for outdoor skating since the early 1900s. Climate change means it’s hard to predict whether the ice thickness will be adequate. City staff monitor ice thickness of Grenadier Pond and place a flag at the pond (red means unsafe; yellow flag means use at your own risk).  There are plenty of non-skating options: cross-country skiing, hiking, tobogganing, bird-watching and visits to the Nature Centre. 

Live it up on the Fringe

The Next Stage Festival is a curated boutique festival of innovative, entertaining works by writers from past Fringe Theatre Festivals. One of this season’s highlights: David S. Craig and Richard Greenblatt’s “Athabasca” features a showdown in Fort McMurray between an oil tycoon and a journalist. Performances will take place at various downtown venues and spaces.

Catch the next wave of filmmakers

Prepare to be wowed by the cinematic prowess of 10 youths (ages 14 to 24) whose films will be screened February 15 during the TIFF Next Wave Festival at TIFF Bell Lightbox on King West.

The big chill hits Yorkville

Bloor-Yorkville hosts the 14th Annual Icefest in February. The tony shopping district is transformed into an outdoor gallery of ice sculptures, which remain until they melt, but Feb. 9 is the day you can actually see the ice-carvers in action. 

Embrace the illusions!   

Shake up your winter’s day with an out-of-this-world journey of sensory, optical and mind-bending fun at the Museum of Illusions. Fancy seeing yourself walking on the ceiling of a room – or the vision of a friend’s head on a platter? These are some of the experiences that await you at Toronto’s newest museum at 132 Front Street East.

Geek out at Toronto’s “Nerdiest Bar”  

Storm Crown Manor (580 Church  Street) sets the tone with heads in jars, Star Trek helmets on the wall, and paraphernalia from “Blade Runner,” “The Shining” and “Twin Peaks” throughout the two-storey Victorian mansion. “Game of Thrones” fans rank among the clientele who watch their favourite episodes on the huge screens – instead of sports games. And there are plenty of board games in the help-yourself cupboard. Snacks? How about Wolverine Poutine.

Try your hands (and feet) at outdoor curling!  

Who knew that outdoor curling in Toronto was a thing? There are outdoor curling rinks at Alexandra Park (Dundas and Bathurst) and 370 The West Mall (just south of Burnhamthorpe). The Toronto Curling Association will assist novices. Brooms, rocks and stones are provided.

Enjoy a free concert presented by the Canadian Opera Company

From September to May, the Canadian Opera Company hosts its annual Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Take your pick of vocal, piano, jazz, dance, chamber and world music. 

Escape to the tropics at Allan Gardens Conservatory

Make it a study in contrasts: pick a snow day, during blizzard preferably, and head to the heated glass-windowed conservatory at Allen Gardens. While winter rages outdoors, you’ll have the heat, humidity and scent of the tropics indoors.

Catch an IMAX film at the Ontario Science Centre

There are few cinematic experiences so dazzling and dizzying than watching Oscar-worthy documentaries on the giant dome screen at the Ontario Science Centre with a state-of-the-art sound system that delivers 13,000 watts of wrap-around audio from 44 speakers. Screening this winter: “Journey to Space,” “Pandas” and “Oceans: Our Blue Planet.”

Aga Khan Museum – free on Wednesday nights

The Aga Khan Museum in Don Mills is a stunning architectural gem. The galleries inside the stunning edifice will open your eyes to the beauty of Islamic art and culture. Free admission Wednesdays from 4 pm to 8 pm.

Author Talks & Readings at the Toronto Public Library

The Toronto Reference Library– as well as smaller branches throughout Toronto – host guest authors on a regular basis. With speaker lineups that include the likes of John Irving, what’s not to love.  F

Join a free line-dancing lesson

Line dancing is not, we repeat not, a permission to dry hump on the dance floor – but getting up close and comfortable with fellow novices is part of the fun at Rock ‘n’ Horse Saloon. Burn some calories, learn a few moves. Blue jeans recommended. 

Taste a Canadian brew!

Head down to the Evergreen Brickworks March 1 and 2 for Winter Brewfest, where 150 brewers from Ontario and Quebec invite you to sample their latest suds.

Outdoor Adventure Show

Discover a universe of outdoor adventure opportunities at the three-day Outdoor Adventure Show at the International Centre (6900 Airport Road). In addition to scores of information booths, there are demonstrations and special talks by world travellers and adventurers. Great inspiration to get through the remainder of winter! (Tip: Avoid the hassles of driving and parking. Take GO Transit to Malton Go Station.)

Get the Led Out!

The Living Arts Centre in Mississauga presents the Philadelphia-based troupe for the fourth time in  “Get the Led Out: The American Led Zeppelin” on Friday, Feb. 15. The six-member group brings the best of Led Zeppelin to stage.  

Come down from a raucous weekend with Sunday evening meditation

Meditation Toronto invites participants (newcomers to meditation are welcome) for an evening of chanting sacred mantras and breathing meditation (and vegetarian meal included). The meditation sessions are held Sunday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Trinity-St. Paul’s Church, 427 Bloor St. West (just west of Spadina). There’s no charge but donations are accepted to help cover the cost of the food. 

Learn improv with Bad Dog Theatre Company

Laughter releases endorphins! Unleash your inner comic and laugh a lot during an improv class with Bad Dog Theatre Company at 875 Bloor Street West.  Classes cost as little as $20 for a drop-in session, or enjoy an evening show for $10.

Toronto Outdoor Club

Ravine hikes on a weeknight, urban trails on the weekend, pub stops after a 3-hour trek.  The Toronto Outdoor Club offers volunteer-led outdoor activities all winter long. Beginners welcome. (A $2 donation is welcome)

Warm up with a pot of tea, Asian-style

Enjoy a traditional Asian tea experience at Icha Tea (on Spadina) with a tea sommelier at your own table.  Learn about tea leaves, nosh a tasty dessert in an unrushed setting.

Toronto Black Film Festival

Canada’s premier festival for black films returns for its seventh edition. The Toronto Black Film Festival, which runs Feb. 13 to Feb. 18, features leading and up-and-coming filmmakers and actors during six days of screenings, special events, workshops and panel discussions during Black History Month.

Hit the trail!

Want to escape the city and spend the day immersed in nature, but don’t have a car? Check out the Toronto Bruce Trail Club for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and winter hiking. Buses typically leave from York Mills station.

Saltwater float in winter

H20 Float on Danforth (near Broadview) provides an affordable spa-like escape that won’t break the bank. Floating tranquilly in a covered (or uncovered) salt-water tank is an excellent way to rejuvenate – and escape on a winter’s day. Herbal tea and fresh fruit included.

Treat your feet to a reflexology treatment or foot bath

After all, that snowshoeing, skiing or maybe even wintertime line-dancing, don’t forget to be kind to your tootsies! Evergreen Wellness Centre on Dundas Street West in Chinatown (near Spadina and Dundas) offers a range of foot baths and reflexology treatments at excellent prices.

Get your fortune told

Forget the weather forecast – get a reading on what’s ahead in your own life. We recommend Fortune Teller Lisa Moore at 475 Bloor St. W.

Poetry and Jazz go together

Nu Jazz, soul and the spoken word all in one venue: The Poetry Jazz Café. Message from management: “At Poetry, we do not do country club jazz. We are experimenting with the new, using the past as a backdrop, jumping without parachutes musically, not knowing the outcome. You are the witness.” House specialty:  The Bitches Brew Cocktail.

Get your fill of Canadian theatre!

The Tarragon Theatre (a 5-minute walk from the Dupont subway station) has been producing Canadian theatre exclusively since 1970. Arts workers and patrons under 35 can purchase $22 tickets for select performances. This winter season’s highlights include works by the multi-award-winning Daniel MacIvor and Drew Hayden Taylor.

40th Annual Rhubarb Festival

The eclectic, ballsy, sassy, boundary-pushing arts festival returns to Buddies in Bad Times Theatre for its 40th year from Feb. 13 to 24. The producers call the Rhubarb Festival a “hotbed of experimentation, with artists exploring new possibilities in theatre, dance, music, and performance art.

Enjoy a roof-top cocktail!

What’s more indulgent than sipping your cocktail-of-choice outside in winter? UrbanGuides suggests the recently renovated Broadview Hotel (at Broadview and Queen) or Hemingway’s (In Yorkville).  Yes, both roof-tops are equipped with heat lamps.

Get board at Snakes & Lattes!  

Connect (or compete) with friends over your choice of hundreds of board games at Snakes & Lattes. There are two locations (Bloor West and College West). In-house game ambassadors will gauge your skills, interests and how badly you want to be challenged. Good grub and pints, too. You will end up talking to the folks at the next time. It’s Toronto at its absolutely friendliest!

Best hot chocolate on a winter’s day (or night)

Spend some time rambling the cobbled back lanes at the Distillery District and reward yourself with a cup of authentic hot chocolate at Cacao 70 at the Distillery District https://cacao70.com/en/our-locations/distillery-district. Enough said.

Fight the frosty weather with a fondue!  

Certain culinary traditions, such as raclette and cheese fondue,  are best enjoyed in winter. For a higher-end version, try the cheese fondue that’s part of the After Ten Theatre menu at Barberian’s Steakhouse. A more moderately priced, yet tasty, option is the cheese fondue at The Biermarkt.

Day trip for wine-lovers

Who says wine tours are for the summer season only? The Niagara-on-the-Lake Icewine Festival (January 19 to 28) offers tours, tastings, food-pairing, outdoor sculpture and ice bars. It’s the ideal wintertime day trip.

Explore the Leslie Street Spit in winter

Tommy Thompson Park undergoes a complete transformation in winter: animal prints on the snow (keep your eyes peeled for rabbits), winter-loving birds and natural ice sculptures along the spit. It’s only steps from the TTC at Leslie Street and Unwin Avenue.  

Toast Robby Burns on January 25 with a hearty Scotch whisky!  

Variously called the Bard of Ayrshire or the Ploughman Poet, Robby Burns is popular in the depths of winter. His birthday is a bonnie excuse for poetry or peaty scotch!  UrbanGuides Canada recommends five great bars for prime whisky-lovers on Robbie Burns Day.

Just imagine, 140 artists’ studios to visit all under one roof – a bonus on chilly winter days. 401 Richmond, the iconic industrial heritage building on Richmond Street, invites visitors to wander from studio to studio, checking out the works of artists, cultural producers, social innovators and microenterprises.  

Saturday afternoon jazz at The Pilot

The Yorkville jazz club has been hosting Saturday jazz matinees for years. In the dead of winter, who wants to wait until nightfall to go out? The Pilot also hosts weeknight jazz.

Listen up, it’s the 2019 Storytelling Festival

The theme of this year’s Storytellers School of Toronto Festival (which runs March 2 to 24):  “Stories told eye to eye, mind to mind, heart to heart.” The storytelling is intended to “bring wisdom from the ancestors to illuminate our future, weaving new understandings from the web of old stories.” At various venues, including the Gladstone Hotel.

Turn your weekday lunch into a good deed at Trinity Café

Eating your take-out lunch in the maze behind the Eaton Centre isn’t an option once the chills of November arrive. For a budget-conscious, tasty lunch, consider Trinity Café which supports adults “who are living with mental illness by providing a welcoming community volunteer workplace where participants can engage in meaningful volunteer work through employability skills development along with interpersonal, communication and community building skills.” Monday to Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 pm