In a country where winters are long and nights are dark, holiday celebrations brighten the season. When the sun dips below the horizon, glittering lights warm frigid temperatures. It's a social season for Canadians as we gather in the company of friends and family. There's something about elaborately decorated shop windows, botanical gardens dripping with string lights and winter ales that gets us in the spirit. If you're looking to visit Canada, or simply making a stay-cation, here are three cities that transform exceptionally during the holiday season.
One of the oldest cities in North America, the provincial capital is a wonderful place to visit any time of year. The gorgeous Château Frontenac resembles a fairy tale castle and the city walls that surround Old Quebec are the only remaining fortified walls north of Mexico. Although the walls may be hidden beneath snow, the Château Frontenac is beautifully decorated and hosts an annual Christmas dinner-dance.
Even without any celebrations the holidays would be delightful here, with some of the most historic architecture in the country and charming, cobblestone lanes, but the old section of the city is wonderful when transformed into a Dickensian Christmas Village early in December. Wander the streets enjoying the lights and peeking into a few shops before doing some last-minute shopping at the Christmas Markets:
The Old Port Market opens at the end of November and is filled with handicrafts and regional products. Find a souvenir of your visit to the city or grab a few unique items to use as decoration.
To stave off that hunger, head for the German Christmas Market at the Place de l’Hôtel-de-Ville and load up on grilled sausages and tasty gingerbread. Warm those cold hands with a cup of mulled wine and shop for treasures.
The Quebec City Craft Fair at the Centre de Foires, ExpoCité is the perfect spot to find handmade goods of glass, leather and wood as well as food, clothing and much more. This might be just the place to get yourself a much-deserved Christmas treat.
Canada's most populous city has a history dating back to 1793 when British officials purchased the land and established the Town of York. As the city expands and amalgamates with nearby municipalities, unique neighbourhoods are created that retain the characteristics of their original towns. Take advantage of the extended holiday hours for the city attractions and do some sightseeing while enjoying the festive atmosphere.
The season kicks off with the Cavalcade of Lights event and the lighting of the Christmas tree that towers 60 feet in the air and is covered with lights and more than 700 ornaments. The lighting is accompanied with musical talents and a beautiful fireworks display.
The highlight for many is the Santa Claus Parade through downtown, which is one of the largest in the world. Although seeing the event in person is the best, it’s also shown live on TV and rebroadcast a few more times. If crowds aren’t for you, try one of the smaller parades in the neighbourhoods. There are many and the dates rarely overlap so an enthusiastic Santa fan could take in several events during one season.
If possible, plan a side trip to Niagara to see the Winter Festival of Lights, a five kilometre route of displays that are a mix of old favorites and new surprises. Millions of lights decorate Dufferin Islands and the surrounding districts in a show that happens every evening from mid-November until mid-January.
Tourism Vancouver/ Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
Capilano Canyon Lights: Hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights transform the park into an enchanted forest. After dark, cross the suspension bridge and then explore the forest canopy on Treetops Adventure before venturing onto Cliffwalk. There's also a 153-ft live Christmas tree, sing-along and craft stations.
The Carol Ships Parade of Lights started as a single boat bedecked with lights and has grown to include as many as 80 vessels decorated and travelling the waters around False Creek, Deep Cove and Port Moody. Watching from the shore is delightful, but if you can manage to book a dinner on one of the ships you’ll discover what it feels like to be inside a Christmas story. Lights, music and a wonderful holiday spirit abound.
Bright Nights in Stanley Park is a brilliant display of more than three million sparkling lights that can be viewed from a plaza or travelled through by miniature train. The ride is fun for all ages as the train takes passengers through displays and live performances.
For the month of December the VanDusen Botanical Garden becomes a winter wonderland blazing with colour at the Festival of Lights. The Scandinavian Christmas Gnomes give performances and the Grinch is hiding away in his secret hut somewhere on the grounds. Don’t miss the Dancing Lights show on Livingstone Lake or other special events that are scheduled throughout the month.
From November 21st through December 24th you'll find Queen Elizabeth Theatre Plaza decorated as a German-style Christmas market. What can festival goers expect from the Vancouver Christmas Market? Peruse artisan vendors, ride the carousel, sip mulled wine, eat Currywurst and tap your toe to live entertainment.
Have you celebrated the holidays in any of these cities?
Let us know - comment below
Related content on Canadian Traveller