Toronto is the capital of the province of Ontario and the most populous city in Canada, where almost 3 million people live. The city is located on Lake Ontario and, despite having a moderate climate in summer, the extreme temperatures arrive in winter (from December to February), with thermometers reaching -15 ° C, sometimes with a lot of wind and snow.
The cold temperatures frighten many tourists who plan to visit Toronto during the winter. So, having thought about it, I’m here to give you all the tips to enjoy Toronto during this season. Keep reading to find out what to do, where to stay, where to eat and what to pack to enjoy the best of winter in Toronto.
What do you need to enjoy Toronto during the winter?
Packing a proper suitcase can improve your entire experience and help you enjoy Toronto in the winter; allowing you to endure the low temperatures. So, what should you pack for a winter trip to Toronto?
– A good pair of socks, such as a warm wool type;
– A warm, wind-resistant and comfortable jacket, that withstands the low winter temperatures and occasional winds in Toronto;
– A beanie or hat to keep your head warm;
– Portable phone charger so you can keep connected to be able to order an Uber when you get tired of walking or it gets too cold to walk;
– International adapter; electrical outlets in Toronto are type A (the one with two flat pins) and B (with two flat pins and a rounded one in the center) – similar to the US.
Practical information for visiting Canada
Currency: Canada’s currency is the Canadian dollar and you can get around with an international credit card.
Visa: some nationalities need a visa or an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) to travel to Canada. Make sure to check the latest requirements on the Canadian government website.
What to do in Toronto during the winter?
The CN Tower is Toronto’s most emblematic landmark and one of the city’s highlights. When built in 1976, the CN Tower was a symbol of modernity and progress. It was one of the tallest buildings in the world until 2007, when it lost its position, but remains today in seventh place.
The tower has 3 observation points at varying heights, a rotating restaurant (called CN Tower 360 restaurant) and additional bistros and cafes within the complex. In addition, the CN Tower is open all year round, meaning you can easily include it in your winter travel itinerary to Toronto.
Another activity to do in Toronto is to visit the Toronto Islands. Center, Hanlan and Ward’s Islands are located on Lake Ontario and are only a few minutes away by ferry from downtown. During the wintertime, the ferry only goes to Ward’s Island, about 15-minute trip, and you can buy tickets at the Jack Layton Terminal.
While visiting the Toronto Islands might be best suited for the summertime, as they are very charming and offer many outdoor activities – even a beach – it is still worth visiting in the winter even if only for a short time. Once at the Toronto Islands, you have the most beautiful view of Toronto’s skyline with the tall buildings and the CN Tower cutting across the sky.
CITY HALL & TORONTO SIGN
Toronto City Hall and the large sign with the name of the city are must-see attractions during your visit to Toronto. The Toronto sign can be visited in the morning or at night. During the winter time there is a free ice- skating rink open to the public, and the lights of the Toronto sign give an unusual and magical aspect while many are ice-skating in it.
DUNDAS STREET / DUNDAS SQUARE
At various times in Toronto, I felt like I was in a mix of NYC and London. This similarity was even more noticeable when visiting Dundas Square, a region with luminous TV panels resembling a smaller version of Times Square, in NYC.
Dundas Square is nearby Toronto City Hall and in this cosmopolitan area you’ll find famous stores, whether on the streets or inside a huge mall. This makes it a great area for those who want to buy cool clothes (or warmer ones) when they are in town. Here you can find my favorite stores – Uniqlo and Muji.
In the picturesque Distillery District, you can travel a little bit through time. In the 19th century, this area housed an old whiskey distillery. Today, the area has been redeveloped to become an excellent area to explore, take pictures, and have a coffee or craft beer.
As you stroll between charming red Victorian buildings and cobbled streets steeped in history, you can find art galleries, open-air sculptures, bars, and restaurants. The Distillery District definitely deserves to be included in the itinerary of anybody who wants to visit Toronto during the winter.
Many say that Kensington Market resembles London’s Camden Town, and I agree. The name itself makes us think of a closed market, but in fact Kensington Market is an area that has several restaurants and hipster shops. The place is young and vibrant, with many colorful buildings and graffiti murals.
Visiting Kensington Market in winter is perfect, as you can find different types of food to try. You can go into a restaurant for lunch, walk for a while and then find somewhere to have a dessert or a coffee (and warm up) before continuing your day. In Kensington Market, Toronto’s winter temperatures will surely not spoil your trip.
A few places to eat in Kensington Market are: Seven Lives Tacos y Mariscos; Tortería San Cosme; Jumbo Empanadas; and churros at Pancho’s Bakery.
ST. LAWRENCE MARKET
And if you like to try a variety of foods while traveling, St. Lawrence Market is a great place to check out in Toronto. This market is situated in a 19th century building and is open all year-round, making it the perfect place to shelter from the cold winter in Toronto.
St. Lawrence Market is also one of the most traditional places in Toronto where you can buy fruits, empanadas, and the item for which the market is best known – the bacon sandwich.
Places to eat while at St. Lawrence Market: Carousel Bakery and Sausage King.
Not necessarily a tourist spot, but the Gooderham Building is so close to St. Lawrence Market that makes it perfect combination to check out before or after visiting the market. This building is one of the places in Toronto that further highlights the city’s resemblance to NYC, since it resembles the American city’s Flatiron Building.
ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM / ART GALLERY OF ONTARIO
For more cultural programs in Toronto (which are also a great option to hide from the cold) head on over to the Royal Ontario Museum. This museum is full of natural history and world culture and is known for its architecture and its collection of art exhibitions.
Another cultural option in Toronto is the Art Gallery of Ontario, where you can find more than 90,000 works of art.
Did you know that Toronto has a “castle” in the heart of the city? Yes, Casa Loma is constructed in a Gothic-Renaissance style and is a historic attraction. If you have time, include a visit to this tourist spot in your winter itinerary in the city.
Casa Loma belonged to a wealthy businessman and today is a museum open to the public that wants to see up close the glamour of the high society of the past. In addition, the place is enormous: it has 98 rooms, gardens, a wine cellar and an outdoor area at the top offering surreal views of Toronto, with the CN Tower rising between the city’s buildings.
If you like art, go to Graffiti Alley to appreciate beautiful murals and art drawings scattered about.
Almost every big city has a Chinatown. Of course Toronto does not fail, and has its own. In Toronto’s Chinatown you will find a variety of great restaurants, shops with Chinese products and more.
If you have more time, be sure to visit one of the other ethnic neighborhoods in the city, such as Little Portugal, Little Italy and Koreatown.
Where to stay in Toronto during the winter
Downtown Toronto is the best place to stay, as it is close to many of the city’s attractions. My recommendation of places to stay in the city are: Shangri-la Toronto, the place where I stayed, which has extremely comfortable rooms and excellent service; Four Seasons, an excellent choice of 5-star hotel, since the Four Seasons brand was born in Toronto; and The Drake Hotel, with its spectacular location, it’s also the center of art, design and cuisine in the city.
Where to eat in Toronto during the winter
In addition to visiting the markets and trying the many foods inside them, take some time to visit some restaurants in Toronto. During the winter, Asian cuisine is an excellent choice and, since Asian culture is very present in Toronto, there will be plenty of options. When you are craving Chinese food, go to Rosewood Chinese Cuisine, Rol San or Dim Sum King.
When the cold hits and you want ramen, head to the famous Momofuko Noodle Bar, the restaurant of the famous chef David Chang (from the Ugly Delicious TV show, on Netflix). Other restaurants for ramen in Toronto are Kinton Ramen, Ramen Isshin or Sansotei Ramen.
The wintertime in Toronto is also great for pasta, so when it’s time to eat a good Italian meal, you can go to Eataly, a large market selling various Italian items and with 4 restaurants and several cafes, dessert shops and bars to have a wine or a drink. Also, check out Giulietta, Sotto Sotto or Gusto 101 for Italian food in Toronto.
For other international cuisines, head to DaiLo – French/Chinese cuisine, Bar Raval – a tapas bar, and Tennessee Tavern – for drinks and Pierogi.
When you want a cup of coffee, you can head to Tim Hortons (a Canadian chain similar to Starbucks), Fika, Neo Coffee Bar, Dineen Coffee Co and Quantum Coffee, perfect places to keep you warm in Toronto during the winter.