Toronto’s Winter Traditions

Find Hotels

Travel writer Cristina Cantarelli shows you the way to enjoy Toronto's cool weather like a local.

Sure, it can get a little nippy over here, but Toronto has always been one of the best cities to take in the winter season. Although the warmth hibernates for a few months, our city doesn’t! There are many winter traditions you can join in that will give you a local experience and make you enjoy Jack Frost nipping at your nose!

Cavalcade of Lights /
Nathan Phillips Square

Cavalcade of Lights

The Cavalcade of Lights celebration officially kicks off the spirit of the season in Toronto. For almost 50 years, thousands of Torontonians have flocked to City Hall in November to see the illumination of the 50-foot tree. Grab a hot chocolate for the fireworks show and watch some of the best performances in Canadian music.

Polar Bear Dip

Hang up that snowsuit and dust off the bikini! Every year on January 1, Torontonians strip away the layers for a jump into Lake Ontario. The Toronto Polar Bear Dip has been an annual tradition at Sunnyside Beach for almost 15 years, but it’s not just to get rid of our New Year’s Eve hangovers. The event helps raise money for Habitat for Humanity and build housing projects in Toronto.

Black Creek Pioneer Village

Maple Syrup

One of my favourite winter memories as a child was tapping real maple syrup. Just a few minutes from downtown, Black Creek Pioneer Village is Toronto’s largest outdoor living history museum and it is an especially nostalgic tradition for families during March Break. The maple syrup festival takes place in a re-created village from the 1860s. It’s a unique experience of what it was like to live in rural Ontario complete with Victorian costumes, horse-drawn wagon rides and sugar bushes where you can learn to boil tree sap in a traditional syrup cauldron just like our early settlers once did. Brewing sweet Canadian maple is sure to get you all warm and fuzzy inside, no matter how cold our winters get.


Even in minus 30 degree weather Torontonians are an adventurous folk. Tobogganing is one of our pastimes and with more than a dozen hills in the city, you don’t have to go too far to find a good slope. Centrally located, Christie Pits and Trinity Bellwoods offer a variety of hills from beginner to more advanced. In the east side of the city, all the tobogganing action is at Riverdale Park. Here you’ll get traditionally straight slopes and some of the best views of city every time you climb to the top. If you’re a winter sports connoisseur head west to High Park – you’ll be sliding in the background of some of the tallest, picturesque trees! In the summer they bloom colourful cherry blossoms. In the winter they’re beautifully blanketed in fluffy white snow.


In Toronto, we like to turn our summer pools into ice rinks and that’s exactly what we do at Nathan Phillips Square. Torontonians have been skating their way around this square for over 40 years and if you ask the locals they will tell you some of their fondest childhood memories took place here. The rink is located under our distinctive City Hall towers and in the backdrop of our Tree of Lights. You can glide under the Freedom Arches or go for a skate at night when the rink illuminates with sparkly holiday lighting and vibrant music. No skates? You can rent a pair for just a couple bucks an hour.

About the Author

A journalist by trade, Cristina Cantarelli traded in the conventional 9-5 to experience the world. Her passion for Europe has taken her to more than 25 countries and 45 different cities. When she’s not eating, travelling, and writing about it, she works as a social media and PR freelancer based in Toronto. Read her blog, The Travolution.