50 things to do this winter in Toronto 2015
Things to do this winter in Toronto range from desperate measures to escape the cold to activities that force us to embrace the snow -- sometimes at 40kph careening down a hill. Yes, just because the cold months are upon us doesn't mean that we must curl up and hide away for until the warm sun returns. This is a city that adapted to winter weather long ago, and we continue to find novel ways to entertain ourselves when the mercury plummets.
Here are the top 50 things to do this winter in Toronto.
Bridge fine art and comics at the Art Spiegelman Retrospective
Pulitzer winner and one of the Time's 100 Most Influential People, the Maus cartoonist's work is a thrill to see in person. The brilliant AGO exhibit is on until March 15, and includes original drawings and rarely seen works from Spiegelman's career.
Dance away your holiday gluttony at Solaris Winter Music Fest
On Boxing Day, EDM fans can get a head start on NYE and dance off their sins with Skrillex, Kaskade, Boys Noize, Adventure Club, Tchami, and 3LAU and more. This Direct Energy Centre show is one of those all ages dance parties City Hall isn't fond of, so enjoy the glowsticks while you can, little elves.
Make your final memories at the Guvernment & Kool Haus
On Dec 31 the Guv's Magic NYE will mark their last New Year's celebration - but! The countdown continues with bookings until February. At Kool Haus you can catch Zeds Dead, Opeth, and Black Label Society and more before closing day.
Say you saw them when at Class of 2015
No need to mope around after the NYE fuss is over - live music fans will have more fun launching 2015 with the New Year's Indie Music Honour Roll series at Silver Dollar. On weekends from January 1 - 30 catch seven different line ups including Pet Sun, CROSSS, Mimico, Pistol George Warren, New Fries, CHOBO, and Bile Sister.
Take in the best in Canadian film
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. The nominees for best Canadian picture this year are Denis Villeneuve's Enemy, Michael Dowse's The F Word, and Xavier Dolan's Mommy. In addition to these major films, the festival will Canadian docs and feature interviews with Naomi Klein, Avi Lewis, and Agent Johnny Utah (you know, Keenu Reeves). Runs January 2nd to 11th at the TIFF Lightbox.
Escape your own drama with Next Stage Theatre Fest
The Toronto Fringe's annual Next Stage fest is a must-hit for indie (/punk?) theatre fans, as is the beer tent. Tickets are available now, and the 12 day fest runs January 7 - 18.
Get a dose of art on your way to the train
Co-organized by Raster Gallery in Warsaw and Art Metropole, over 20 contemporary art galleries will take over Union Station between January 16-23rd for Villa Toronto, a major contemporary art festival that's previously been held in Tokyo and Reykjavik. Concerts and other events will run in conjunction with the fest.
Discover design at the Toronto Design Offsite Festival
Each winter, design installations and unusual prototypes get rolled into public spaces for the Toronto Design Offsite Festival. This year's fest (January 19-25) features screenings, panels, window installations, and more; check out the festival's site for the ever-growing lineup. A highlight each year is the Gladstone's Come Up to My Room exhibit, which gives designers free rein to do up one of the hotel's rooms on the second and third floor.
Check in on the fate of GenX at MOCCA
Canlit fans will be excited about this upcoming exhibition at MOCCA: Douglas Coupland's everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything installation will continue the writer's obsession with tech and pop culture via whatever means necessary - including Lego. The MOCCA exhibit is free, but the one at the ROM will cost you. January 31 - April 19.
Take in some culture at a Toronto theatre
Local stages will be home to a diverse collection of comedies, dramas, and even a thriller over the winter months, including the highly acclaimed production of Noel Coward's Blithe Spirt, where Angela Lansbury was all the rave on Broadway. Not to be beat, CanStage's take on Chekov's The Seagull promises to be one of the most thought-provoking productions of the season.
Be dazzled by Basquiat
Another AGO blockbuster, this will be Canada's first large retrospective of the NYC graffiti/fine art artist. Basquiat's often massive paintings are fascinating to behold in person, as child-like sketches and sardonic scrawled wordplay tackle issues of racism, social justice, and politics that are unfortunately just as relevant today. Starts February 7th.
Schedule a film fest staycation
See enough of the deep-winter programming Toronto's winter festivals have lined up, and you're blocked out enough time indoors to beat hypothermia and cabin fever. Look out for fests like Human Rights Watch (Jan 30 - Feb 1), The 8 Fest (Jan 30 - Feb 1), Great Digital (Jan 30 - Feb 5), Black Film Festival (Feb 10-15), and Reel Artists (Feb 18-22).
Check out stand-up from three SNL veterans
The comedy gods may not have smiled on the post-Saturday Night Live careers of Chris Kattan, Rob Schneider and Tim Meadows - but at this back-to-basics standup show at Brampton's Rose Theatre, you might catch a bit of the comedy spark we all stayed up way, way past our bedtimes to see. The show is February 12, and will hopefully not contain more than two minutes of Mango.
Travel east or west for live music
While the Rockpiles mark Toronto's east and west to many music fans, Riverside now boasts new warehouse venue Jam Factory, current home of Feast in the East's live music series, while deep in the west end Junction City Music Hall joins the neighbourhood's thriving music scene on Dundas west of Keele.
Get in the know with Toronto's weird scene at Wavelength
The Wavelength Music Festival is back from February 13-15. For the first time ever the fest will stretch across multiple venues as it celebrates its 15th year with a theme of Past, Present and Future. The line up is TBA, but expect some local favourites and a lot of up and coming talent.
Let your roots grow out with the Winterfolk Music Festival
Winterfolk's 13th year runs from February 13-15, with over 150 urban, blues, rock, jazz, country, folk and roots artists performing on multiple stages in the Danforth and Broadview area. Performers are TBA.
Get your geek on at Frostcon
FrostCon will bring comics, cartoons, sci-fi, manga, steampunk, anime/manga, and a whole bunch of cosplay to the Sheraton Centre on January 31. A smaller (and newer) event than some of Toronto's other conventions, it's like a ray of light in the cold, grey winter for cosplayers who greet spring with the arrival of ComiCon in late March.
Get a literary education without going to school
There's nothing that will push you in a literary direction like cold weather, and Toronto has a thriving series for readings and live monologs, including regular free and PWYC picks like True Stories Told Live, Pivot, Blue Coffee, Tell Me Something Good, and Chiaroscuro.
Start your fine art collection
Over 250 curated contemporary artists from Canada and around the world will flood the Better Living Centre February 19-22. This means you get to meet and hopefully buy work directly from the people behind it. Make no mistake, there's plenty of forgettable art here, but it's the hidden gems that make the show each year.
FOOD & DRINK
Have a drink with MOCCA
On at MOCCA on Queen West until December 28, Toronto artist Vera Frenkel's Ways of Telling exhibit features a pop up piano bar. The Transit Bar is tended Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays from 4-6pm, and Thursdays through Saturdays from 4-9pm.
Warm your soul with a hot toddy (or some other winter cocktail)
Few things warm one up better in the winter than a stiff drink, but if you're looking for the ultimate in booze-assisted heating, the hot toddy is your ticket. At its purest form, the drink is basically booze and hot water, but at places like Holy Oak, Geraldine, and the Gaslight (to name only a few), the concoction becomes the most comforting thing in existence.
Raise a glass of craft beer at the Roundhouse
The only thing that will get me to hang out outdoors in January for more than five minutes is the prospect of sampling the wares of two dozen local breweries. The Roundhouse Winter Craft Beer Festival, hosted at the Steam Whistle brewery, is offering just that, plus food trucks, marshmallow-roasting, and contests for best retro ski wear, on January 25. Advance tickets are $20.
Embrace tiki culture (and dream of the beach)
The beach may seem like a very distant thing in the middle of February, but you can immerse yourself in tiki culture at a variety of Toronto establishments, including the new Bill Hicks bar in Leslieville and longtime favourite Souz Dal, the latter of which has real sand on the year round back patio. Not dive-y enough for you? There's always Hawaii Bar, but that might just depress you even more.
Eat and Greet the Band
Dinner and a show? Collective Concerts and Rose & Son's is kicking off a series of pre-show dinners where fans will have the chance to mingle and munch with their favourite musical acts. The first event happening Saturday January 24 at the Phoenix will feature a menu from Big Crow tailored to the tastes of Canadian alt-country trio, Elliott Brood.
Gorge on poutine for a week
Poutine gets feted the first week of February with restaurants in Montreal, Quebec City, Sherbrooke, Ottawa and Toronto dishing out the classic combo of fries cheese curds and gravy. Prepare to devour the iconic junk food and participating Hogtown restaurants including Holy Chuck, Fancy Franks and Marky & Sparky's (to name just a few).
Check out a new restaurant
Take your pick from a line-up of newly opened eateries or hold out for some of the most hotly anticipated restaurants to come. Last year's most buzzworthy, Bar Isabel is set to branch out with opening of Bar Raval, while newcomers like Kanpai look especially promising with a menu of Taiwanese snack foods and cocktails on draught set to debut in January.
Bask in sushi paradise at Toronto's first Sushi Festival
The First Annual Toronto Sushi Festival launches March 5-6, 2015 at Roy Thompson Hall. The promoters promise appearances from "the best Japanese Restaurants in Ontario" but exhibitors and celebrity chefs are yet to be announced.
Hit up a winter patio
Demonstrate your resilience to the cold by chilling out patio-side in the off season. Cozy up by the al fresco fireplace at Mill St. Beer Hall or let The Drake Sky Yard wrap you in blankets and serve you wintery cocktails.
Take a trip to Turkey without coughing up airfare
Located near Yonge and Eglinton, the new Istanbul Cafe does authentic Turkish coffee, pastries and light meals that will transport you to a warmer place just when the days look most bleak. There's even a fireplace should your imagination fail you. Don't leave without trying the Sekerpare!
Ring in the Chinese New Year
This year's Chinese New Year falls on February 19, but plans for the celebrations are already rolling in, with festivities planned for Chinatown and Market Village for the following weekend. You can also mark the occasion at this food fest devoted to dim sum happening on Saturday, February 21 at Daniel's Spectrum. Gung hey fat choy!
Watch our teams actually play well at a new sports bar
Don't look now, but the Raptors and Leafs are actually top teams in their respective leagues right now. That could all change over the course of the winter, but assuming it doesn't (and assuming you can't afford tickets to the ACC), why not check out one of Toronto's new sports bars. The Dock Ellis landed on Dundas West last year, and has since been joined by The Contender and The Derby, all three of which offer a less corporate sports watching experience (think craft beer over Molson Canadian).
Escape the city!
Not all of us have the time or money to head to the tropics each winter, which is why it's so useful that Ontario is dotted with year round resorts and cottages/cabins that allow weary city folk take a load off for a few days. Whether it's to ski or to curl up by the fire with a book, the options are plentiful and beautiful.
Go surfing indoors
Granted, there's no water, tropical breezes, or hot surfers (actually, there might be hot surfers), but the new Surfset gym at Yonge and Eglinton, with its fleet of balance-testing surboards, aims to give you all the fitness benefits of shredding a killer wave, bro.
Drool over vinyl at Toronto's new crop of record shops
Stock up on vinyl this winter at Toronto's newest record shops (music will make your eventual hibernation more enjoyable, trust me). In addition to the relocation (and consolidation) of Sonic Boom to a beautiful new space on Spadina, stores like Tonality Records and Tiny Record Shop have injected new life into Toronto's vinyl scene.
Compete in your own version of the Hunger Games
Paintball is so, well, messy. That's not an issue at Toronto's soon-to-open Hunger Games-style battleground. Archery District is a new facility in Scarborough revolving around archery tag. For those unfamiliar with the game, you run around shooting one another with foam-tipped arrows, strategizing with teammates to best neutralize the opposing squad. Fun!
Stay at Toronto's newest hotel
The recently opened Delta Toronto Hotel boasts 567 rooms over 40 storeys that tower over the rapidly tourist-drawing and condo-ifying South Core area, which makes it a great place to take staycation. The new space is modern, cheery and colourful, with bold pops of colour in the lobby and some swanky standing bathtubs in the rooms (which go for $179-$299 a night).
Check out the new comic book shop at the Reference Library
The worst thing about the Toronto Comic Arts Festival is that it only comes once a year. If you, like me, feel that the Toronto Reference Library is way more fun when it's packed with visiting indie-comix personalities, tables full of graphic novels, and stacks of novelty plushies, head over to check out the new (permanent) TCAF store run by the folks at The Beguiling.
Rent the ice at Maple Leaf Gardens
The Gardens might be a grocery store-athletic centre hybrid these days, but you can still skate under the original cathedral roof Ryerson's Mattamy rink. At over $300 an hour, it'll cost you a pretty penny for the privilege, but for those who remember Toronto's most famous barn, there's something profoundly nostalgic about hitting the ice here. Not into history? There are lots of other options for ice time.
Catch an experimental show in Kensinton Market
If you've yet to drop by Ratio on College, Toronto's newest DIY music venue and art space is keeping busy, hosting multiple events per week from concerts to film screenings to art pop ups with an experimental bent. Go for the programming, stay for the cozy apartment-style seating.
Forget absolutely everything at a sensory deprivation spa
When you're floating blissfully in a pitch-black tank of water, it may as well be summertime outside, for all you know. H20 Spa on the Danforth was one of the first to offer the float-spa experience; other options include Toronto Floatation in Thornhill, Toronto Float Tanks near Christie Pits, and Float Toronto on West Queen West.
Get locked in at a new escape room
Escape rooms in Toronto are springing up faster than we can write about them, proving the trend has caught on in a major way in the GTA. With most game rooms previously concentrated in the suburbs, the downtown area recently welcomed some new additions, including Trapped and Mystery Room.
Ride the subway with no pants
It may seem counter-intuitive to disrobe during a winter commute, but that's all part of the fun at the annual No Pants Subway Ride, the purpose of which is to both shock and amuse. The idea is simple: hop on the subway, yank of your pants, and go for a ride pretending that nothing is unusual about your (lack of) attire. Last's year's event was the mist popular yet, so expect a big turnout this year (January 11th).
Learn the art of taxidermy
Teta Kika's Casual Taxidermy classes allow you to make some... interesting gifts and decor pieces at a beginner level. The February class is sold out, but March is still available and more may pop up. If you can't wait, Action Potential Lab is running a workshop February 7 with licensed instructor Mickey Alice Kwapis.
Work out, dragon boat-style
Afterburn Fitness, a brand-new gym in Scarborough, is the first in the GTA to offer indoor dragon boat training all year 'round, using an indoor pool outfitted with two 20-man boats. (You can also whip yourself into shape using a wide variety of other training equipment - but where's the fun in that?
Check out the new ice rink at Regent Park
A major piece of the Regent Park Athletic Grounds is slated to open shortly after New Year's. Assuming everything goes according to plan, the new ice rink at Sumach and Dundas will be unveiled on January 3rd with a Maple Leafs alumni skate and other community events.
Hit up one of Toronto's underrated tobogganing hills
Beyond the city's most popular tobogganing hills like Riverdale and High Park, there are a host of other bumps well-suited for sledding, some of which are straightforward and easy and some of which require caution on account of their gradients. Best bets include Westlake Memorial Park and the Pine Point Arena hill.
Try your hand at ice climbing
You'll have to make the short drive to Ancaster to try out ice climbing in real life, but you can build up your climbing strength at any one of Toronto's many indoor rock climbing gyms. The skills are a little bit different between the two disciplines, but there's plenty of crossover as pertains to one's comfort level and strength. Ice climbing is a pure winter sport insofar as it exposes participants to a beautiful environment but poses a serious challenge to be overcome.
Explore the (deserted) Islands
Winter on the Toronto Islands is a lot quieter than the summer, and while ferries dwindle, the trip to Ward's Island is still consistent throughout the day. Once you arrive, you'll find skating and cross country skiing, art exhibits, a cozy B&B, a farm, and a quiet winter oasis for all your hiking and shoe-shoeing desires.
Strap on some snowshoes
Snowshoeing is an underrated winter activity if there ever was one, and while Toronto's parks ravines are probably at their most fun to explore during summer and fall, you will find few things more beautiful in this city than the trails of High Park after a fresh snowfall. Go for a guided tour with the local ski club or buy your own and explore at will.
Ride your bike (no, seriously)
There was a time that you'd have to quite brave to saddle up and ride your bike over the winter in Toronto, but things are looking up. The City will spend $650K to plough key bike lanes this year, meaning that you won't have to log all your miles on the trainer if you're a die hard cyclist. This is obviously a win for commuters, too.
What did I miss? Add your ideas for things to do this winter to the comments below.
Writing by Aubrey Jax, Natalia Manzocco, Liora Ipsum, and Derek Flack
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