50 things to do this winter in Toronto
Just because winter has arrived in Toronto doesn't mean there isn't a ton of things to do in this city, from outdoor activities that embrace the snow to those that keep us inside all cozy and warm (preferably with a libation or two on hand). Historically speaking, Toronto residents have been a resourceful bunch when it comes to winter activities, and many of these past times -- with the exception, perhaps, of ice boat sailing -- are still practiced today.
As much as the city has developed over the years, it's still common to see folks bust out toboggans, skates or even skis in search outdoor entertainment when the temperature drops. Add to that the fact that our culinary scene has never been healthier, and you have the recipe for a packed winter of events and activities that'll make the cold months fly right by.
Here are 50 things to do this winter in Toronto.
Take a frigid dip in the Lake
Polar Bear swims are a one-a-year tradition on January 1, and the mad dash into Lake Ontario at Sunnyside is Toronto's crazy version. Consider it a cleansing of the soul, as the frigid water wipe away last year's troubles, and last night's hangover, with all fundraising proceeds going to Habitat for Humanity.
Go cross-country skiing
Cross-country skiing is a very Canadian way to explore the great outdoors. Bundle yourself up, strap on some skis, and take an up-close-and-personal tour through some of Toronto's best nature trails. You could even bring a back pack filled with warm beverages and a winter picnic.
Brave the winter waves on Lake Ontario
More and more Canadian surfers are hitting the waves in winter, when normally tame waters get epic with the stormy weather. Brave the cold and this year winterize your summer habit- get a suitably thick neoprene wetsuit, booties and gloves, train hard and go with seasoned winter surfers to one of the sweet spots on the shores of Lake Ontario or Georgian Bay. Bodhi would be proud.
Go snowboarding or downhill skiing
Adrenaline junkies can find their fix by pushing off the top of a double black diamond run coated in fresh powder. Hopefully the two minutes it takes you to get down the hill provides a big enough rush, this is Ontario after all! For real though, we have some great ski hills in and around the city, so take the day off, pile some friends in the station wagon, and head off to shred the mountain.
Lace up for a midnight skate
Most of Toronto's outdoor ice rinks are fenced in and close by 10pm, but there's a few barrier-free rinks, which make perfect places to skate into the wee hours. Nathan Phillips Square is the most obvious candidate here, but the better choice is the Ryerson rink on Gould Street. Illuminated by the new School of Image Arts building, it's far less trafficked and far more pretty.
Skate at Toronto's newest covered ice rink
Not a fan of the snow or midnight skates? Lace up and hit the ice at Greenwood Park rink, near Greenwood and Dundas East, the latest addition to skating rinks in Toronto. Enjoy the crisp winter air at you take to the open skating trail, or get under the floating roof of the outdoor rink and start a pickup game, bonus is you won't ever have to stop your shinny to clear off the snow.
Check out some ice art
You'll never believe what those crazy kids can do with ice nowadays. Outfitted with a variety of chain saws and picks, artists carve out everything from owls and wolves to corporate logos. Okay, so the latter aren't as impressive sounding, but when carved out of ice even they attain a certain cachet that's unexpected and, dare I say it, cool. Sigh.
Bomb down a ravine wall with reckless abandon
What would winter in Canada be without tobogganing? No need for country living to enjoy wildly sliding down a snow capped hill, there are plenty of spots right in Toronto (Trinity Bellwoods, Christie Pitts, and Riverdale parks to names but a few). Drag out the snow pants and the GT Racer or invest in an old timey wooden toboggan and feel just like a kid again.
Race your bike with studded tires
An annual tradition in Toronto for over a decade, the Icycle bike race brings out couriers and other urban riders to fly around Dufferin Grove ice rink on studded bike tires in pursuit of glory and support of Charlie's Freewheels, a local bike shop and charity initiative. It's hard to believe just how fast riders can go on pure ice, and the whole event is a ton of fun.
Go for a run
'Ain't nothing gonna break my stride, ain't nothing gonna hold me down!' could be the mantra this winter, with running events slated clear through to spring. Some are joyful races that have you stripping down for a good cause, or outfitted in your best gear and attempting a marathon. Sometimes it's just nice to go for a pleasure jog along the lakeshore, belting out your favourite songs. Whatever the case, 'you got to keep on movin'!'
FOOD AND DRINK
Get your prix fixe fix
Winterlicious gets underway January 31st, but you best get prepared for January 16th when reservations open. You'll have to book early if you want to get a table at places like Splendido, Mistura and Momofuku Daisho. There are over 200 restaurants participating this year, so if you miss out on the big names, not to fear. And don't forget: lunch reservations are easier to secure.
Drink some craft beer
Chug-a-lug some brews at the outdoor winter Craft Beer festival this January 25th at Roundhouse Park, outside the Steam Whistle Brewery. A slew of local beer makers will be tapping kegs and pouring pints, and several food vendors are also available to accompany the libations. Overall an excellent way to warm up!
Ride a mechanical bull
Ever find yourself wishing to re-enact your favourite scenes from Urban Cowboy? Well, clearly I'm not the only one, because there is now not one but two country-themed bars in Toronto complete with mechanical bulls. Both Boots N' Bourbon Saloon and the Rock N' Horse Saloon are campy fun, so think Rhinestone Cowboy meets Country Strong. The more serious country-fried folk go to the Dakota Tavern, where it's all Heart Worn Highways and Coal Miner's Daughters.
Shop at a Winter Farmers Market
Good thing a few of our favourite farmers' markets have indoor winter versions so we can continue to support local growers and keep healthy too. The Dufferin Grove Organic Farmers' Market heads for the shelter of the Dufferin Grove rink house, Saturdays the St. Lawrence North Market tucks all its vendors inside, or hit the Village Organic Farmers' Market at the Toronto Waldorf School in Thornhill.
Drink on a heated patio
Toronto has a love affair with the patio, and thankfully there's a host of bars equipped with heated and/or covered patios, so you can still enjoy taking a breather from the congested bar, without freezing your ass off. There's lots to pick from, The Drake SkyYard, Cold Tea, Sweaty Betty's, Hemingway's, The Cadillac Lounge and more.
Immerse yourself in Toronto's cocktail culture
Roy Thompson Hall hosts Bar Fest on January 24th, where you can discover loads of Toronto's top quality drinks under one roof. Participating bars include BarChef, The Emmett Ray, Mill St. Brewery, and Rakia Bar, mixing up specialty drinks from a bunch of boozy categories like vodka, sake, craft beer, whiskey, wine and more. Your $79 dollar entry fee includes eight drink tickets along with complimentary snacks. Bottoms up!
Down a pint of stout
Toronto craft beer makers know that stout is the beer of winter, and provide us with a variety of the delicious dark local brews. The Indie Alehouse throws Stout Night, a four course family style dinner paired with stouts by Ontario Craft Brewers. The next one is happening December 22nd, get your tickets from $60 here.
Ring in Chinese New Year
On January 31st the Chinese Year of the Horse will begin. During the traditional 15-day celebration celebrating family, renewal, gratitude, luck, and well-wishing you can watch the parade move through Chinatown, take tours, see fireworks, take in Lunar Fest (a celebration of Asian culture) at the Harbourfront, and, perhaps most importantly, feast. Check out our recommendations for where to eat on Chinese New Year here.
Learn about wine (or just get drunk)
How does one get through winter without wine? I don't really have an answer to this question, preferring instead to take its consumption as a necessity over the colder months. Not content to just drink? Wine classes offer an opportunity to gain a little knowledge as well as a buzz. Toronto offerings range from the sophisticated to the casual, and many of them are cheaper than you'd think given that you get to drink as you learn.
Nerd out with your tastebuds at the Toronto Tea Festival
While no one should ever make you feel bad for brewing Red Rose, the world of tea culture has a lot to offer, from tastes to traditions - tea is actually as subtle and complex as wine, and more difficult to serve up (full disclosure, I'm a bit of a tea nerd myself). The Toronto Tea Festival will let you sample hundreds of loose teas prepared by the delicate hands of exhibitors from February 1-2 at the Toronto Reference Library. There will also be tons of drool worthy fancy tea swag for sale.
Drink in a Yurt on St. Patrick's Day
Mix traditions this St. Patrick's Day by drinking your obligatory Guinness in the yurt at the Ceili Cottage. It's more interesting than a winter patio, and it'll save you from getting drunk at an anonymous pub amidst a bunch of plebeians who couldn't find Ireland on a map but who you can bet have made sure to outfit themselves in the most hideous green attire imaginable. A yurt is where it's at.
The Motorcycle Show
From February 21st to 23rd at the Direct Energy Centre at Exhibition Place, The Motorcycle Show will have hundreds of bikes on display, compete with some major deals. There will be plenty of cool demos where the groans from Tim Allen types will roar just as loud as the engines. It's $17 bucks for adults, and the website has all the prices for kids, seniors, or families.
See the best in Canadian design
The Toronto Design Offsite (TODO) festival is the rogue baby brother to the bigger Interior Design Show, showcasing the up and coming talents of Canadian designers. Various installations, exhibitions, and events dot the cityscape, encouraging hands-on public engagement. Stop into any one of them and see design in practice, listen to ideas exchange, and witness the Canadian design community spark and bubble with creative energy.
Listen to electronic music in the cold
Brrrrr! Winter Music Festival will be back for a second year, heating up outdoor venue Echo Beach on February 1st, 2014. Brrrrr! promises "a diverse lineup, stunning visual displays and an incendiary vibe" for about $50-$60. Wolfgang Gartner, Sharam, Bass Jackers, Lee Foss and Felix Cartal and more are on the line up. VIP tickets are pricey at $97 but get you access to heated areas and bottle service. Did anyone go last year? Was this awful, or fun?
Skip the art world middleman at The Artist Project
The Artist Project (TAP) will challenge the typical art fair format from February 20 - 23 at the Better Living Centre. Here, you'll find the artists themselves in the booths - over 250 curated contemporary artists from Canada and around the world. This means you get to meet and hopefully buy work directly from the people behind it. That's pretty special. There will also be various special events and programming taking place.
Cheer for the farm team
While you won't get to see Phil Kessel speed down the wing, Toronto Marlies games are a hell of a lot easier to get tickets for, cheaper, and often just as entertaining as the big club. You can check out the stars of the future try and impress enough to get called up from seats about five times closer to the action for a fraction of the price. And the beer's cheaper too!
See some of Canada's best films of the year
We are lucky to have the international roster of films and stars TIFF brings us every year, but it's our homegrown talent that fills our hearts with pride the most. What better way to celebrate Canadian cinema than to attend Canada's Top Ten Film Festival at the Bell Lightbox January 3-12th, where you can watch the best short and feature length films by contemporary Canadian filmmakers.
Get hot and sweaty at Long Winter
Long Winter is back and already in full swing. The Fucked Up curated/invented/branded dealie mixes bands, art installations, food and more at The Great Hall, where temperatures are always womb-hot no matter how much ice and snow deign to cover this great metropolis. Sweaty, carnivalesque, what-is-even-happening type shows don't come along too often in this condo-y, PR-email-y city. Plus it's pay what you can and all ages. Concerts will take place January 10, Febrary 7, and March 7.
Decide if Atom Egoyan should quit filmmaking
Atom Egoyan has been busy, dividing his directorial duties between film and stage. His latest foray is direct operas for the Canadian Opera Company, next up is Mozart's relationship farce Così Fan Tutte opening in late January. Not to be outdone, the following week his newest film, Devil's Knot, arrives in theatres. The film, based on the case of the West Memphis Three, stars Reese Witherspoon, Colin Firth and Alessandro Nivola.
Hit up Toronto's biggest alternative design event
Come Up To My Room is the interdisciplinary art and design explosion that happens at the Gladstone Hotel, getting stronger and more fantastic with every year. Creative peeps transform the rooms of the hotel with their mind-altering installations the public is welcome to explore, or get right in there and participate is the collage parties at the Melody Bar. Either way you won't look at the Gladstone the same way again.
Crash 2014's indie rock honour roll
From January 11 - January 25, the Class of 2014 concert series will rock out at the Silver Dollar Room every weekend. Headliners of the four nights include Fresh Show, Jef Barbara, Cellphone, and Akua, while presenters include Wavelength, Silent Shout, Mark Pesci's Toronto Punk and Hardcore Shows, and Aron Miller of Arts & Crafts. Will these bands be Toronto's break out acts of 2014? Decide for yourself.
Expand your mind with Surrealist art
While the idea of a collection of World War One era abstract artworks may seem a dour contrast to the flamboyant David Bowie exhibit that recently graced the AGO, the bold and symbolic, often psychedelic avant-garde works exploring the emotional turmoil of the age actually carry on the torch of colourful stimulation surprisingly well.
Immerse yourself in Toronto's indie theatre scene
Between January 8th and 19th you could witness the best of indie theatre in Canada with the Next Stage Theatre Festival taking place at the historic Factory Theatre just off Bathurst. Imagine ten of the most stellar performers and plays from the summer Fringe festival and then take up a notch, and afterward getting to discuss the works in the cozy McAuslan Beer tent. I say Bravo!
Take in sweet underground sounds at Wavelength
Now entering its 14th year, the 2014 Wavelength Festival will run from February 13-16. The local collective's music and arts fest will showcase some killer bands at venues around Toronto. This year you can see Colin Stetson, Marnie Stern, DIANA, Cousins, TOPS, US Girls, The Wet Secrets, Odonis Odonis, and many more. You can also bet on special connected events and daytime programming, freebies, and hopefully some all-ages gigs. Weird Canada will be launching their new distro, too - whoah.
Embrace the blues at Winterfolk
Not feeling the indie and electronic concerts? If you're looking for something more roots oriented, Winterfolk XII will showcase over 150 blues and roots artists on 5 stages from February 14-16. Right now until December 25th you can get half price passes (check out their website for details). Got extra time? They're currently looking for volunteers, too.
Rewind through time with Lutz Dille
If you missed Lutz Dille's Toronto photographs during the fall at the University of Toronto Art Centre, you'll have from Jan 14th to March 8th to view his must-see photos including "fashion accessories, unconscious gestures and everyday objects" taken after he moved to Canada from Germany in 1951. Dille sought honesty with his camera, and standing amid his photos, you can almost feel him standing over your shoulder. Lutz Dille passed away in 2008.
Dance away Boxing Week at the Drake Hotel
If the hunt for boxing day deals leave your heart cold, here's the winter music series for you. From December 26 - 30th, The Drake's annual mini fest will keep you warm and give you an excuse to duck out of the house to get sweaty in style. Nautiluss, Phèdre, Doomsquad, Kevin McPhee, and Rich Aucoin are slated with a ton of other acts - check out the website for the full line ups and details.
Release your inner geek and cosplay desires
Prepare for geeks to take over when this city hosts the country's huge comic event Toronto ComiCon, from March 7-9th. Enjoy tons of vendors, celebrity Q & A's, signings, and sharing your favourite titles and shows with the sea of other comic fanatics. I suggest you dust off those Trekkie costumes and start practicing your Klingon now for maximum participation.
Learn how to parkour at the new Monkey Vault Space
Parkour is for those jazzed by the opening scenes of the third Jason Bourne movie, where he was seen scaling, jumping and bouncing off the city walls. Also described as urban freestyle climbing, parkour is gaining momentum in Toronto too, prolonging the outdoor activity by taking it indoors the new Monkey Vault Movement Training Centre on Symes Road. You can literally hang by the rafters and no one will ever tell you to stop monkeying around.
See what's shaking in Hamilton
Why not take a jaunt to Hammer, where lower rents and increased opportunity has creative upstarts reviving the cultural landscape? With a bevy of great restaurants, galleries and a thriving music scene you can make a day or a whole weekend of it. Crush a burger at Chuck's burger bar and then stop by The Baltimore House for some live music.
Go Rock Climbing
Rock climbing could be the perfect foil for those broken New Year's resolutions. You can avoid the mundane slog of the usual fitness centre and still get a major workout by heading to one of Toronto's climbing gyms instead. Shack-whacky kids, novices and experts alike can enjoy scaling the walls a little differently, bouldering or taking one of the specially designed routes.
While away the day playing board games
Let's face it, some winter days are just to cold and foreboding to engage in outdoor activity. But that doesn't mean you want to hang around inside all day. Toronto's burgeoning board game cafe scene to the rescue. Along with the ever popular Snakes and Lattes, relative newcomers like Castle Board Game Cafe and Roll Play Cafe offer hours of carefree entertainment as the snow falls outside.
Stay a night at Toronto's newest boutique hotel
Be SixFifty, slated to open sometime this winter, is the new boutique hotel, with café, bistro and rooftop oasis at the heart of downtown Toronto. Owners have completely transformed the once notoriously dingy Bay Street Hotel into a Drake/Gladstone/Thompson like structure, though without the social calendar. Book early and be among the first guests to stay in one of the 22 macked out rooms.
Whether you're a beginner, or a curling pro, Toronto's Curling Clubs have options for everyone. There are hundreds of different leagues to pick from, where you can either satisfy your competitive spirit, or just have some fun yelling "sweeeep!" at your teammates.
See what's up on Market Street
Market Street, that little street that runs along the St. Lawrence Market, is set for a business boom with little shops and restaurants popping up. Be among the first to stroll along and feel the old world vibe of the strip, enjoy a meal and a wander. Now if they would only close it to traffic, vendors and townspeople could spill out into the street.
Cleanse at Korean Family Spa
On a cold, winter day why not head to Seoul Zimzilbang, otherwise known as Korean Family Sauna? The spa, complete with several different gem-themed saunas, steam and shower rooms, is co-ed (with separate change and treatment rooms for genders, and everyone dons uniformly unflattering shorts and t-shirts), for all ages, open 24/7, and cheap. The massage and scrub treatments are intense and humbling to say the least, but leave you as soft and knot-free as a new baby. Korean Family Spa is egalitarian lux where you'll feel like, but won't pay, a million bucks.
Throw an axe
Nothin' says "I'm tough" quite like chucking an axe at a bullseye. The Toronto Backyard Axe Throwing League does just that, throwing axes from a distance of 15 feet with points awarded based on where they hit the target. Leagues run every Sunday from 5-8pm and every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 7-10pm
Play some beach volleyball
Intense games of volleyball, sand under your feet, wearing shorts and a t-shirt... all seems like a distant summer memory. However, you can relive the summer bliss by heading to one of Toronto's indoor volleyball courts! Beach Blast in particular has sandy indoor courts, as well as a bar to chill out at after the game. You can join a league or get a drop-in membership.
Take a DIY craft course
Nothing is quite as satisfying as completing your own DIY project. If you're all about craftiness, there's spots around the city offering courses that can help you improve on your talents, or teach you a new handy skill. This winter take up knitting, jewellery making, silk screening, print making, bike repairs, or even furniture upholstery.
Learn something new with the winter Learn4Life program at Toronto Board of Education
The TDSB offers both daytime and evening courses for adults across the city. There are so many courses to pick from that simply browsing through the list will likely inspire your desire to expand your brain. There are art courses, crafting, computer skills, business development, computers, languages, dance... and the list goes on and on.
Writing by Erinn Beth Langille, Aubrey Jax, Julia Stead, and Derek Flack.
Ice skating photo by Jackman Chiu, rock climbing photo by Jeremy Nathan, Boots n Bourbon photo by Jesse Milns, Motorcycle Show photo by Roger Cullman, Come up to My Room photo by Natta Summerky, photo of DIANA by Denise McMullin, Artist Project photo by Brian Chambers, Polar Bear Dip photo by Christian Bobak, windsurfing photo by Reijo Kemppainen