10 best cities to visit in Canada during the holidays

Canada has a reputation for horrible winters. But all that fresh snow and the chilly December air make for a cozy holiday escape that helps to foster a mindset of embracing the magic of winter rather than dreading the cooler months.

In fact, it’s the perfect time to reconnect with our neighbors to the north and plan a magical getaway for the holiday season.

Whether you’re hoping to spend your holidays hitting the ski slopes in the Canadian Rockies or you’d prefer to sip mulled wine while browsing Christmas markets in Old Montreal, here are some of the most festive places in Canada to spend the holidays.

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We’re pretty sure Whistler had to be the inspiration behind “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.” The world-famous ski destination offers picture-perfect powder, decadent local food and a whole bunch of alternative outdoor activities for those who prefer to keep their feet firmly planted on the ground.

Between the heated outdoor pool, three hot tubs and views of surrounding mountains and forests, the Four Seasons Whistler will be among your best bets for a luxurious holiday getaway in Whistler. It’s just an eight-minute walk from the base of the Whistler Blackcomb ski elevators.

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Lake Louise is a picture-perfect outdoor destination at any time of year, but it’s particularly magical come Christmas. The cozy mountain town offers the perfect setting to rest and relax with a steaming cup of hot cocoa or to strap on your skates and spin around the frozen 200-foot-deep turquoise lake in the middle of the mountains.

If you’re hoping to find the right combination of rustic and luxurious, look no further than the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. This bucket-list property is one of the oldest luxury hotels in Canada and boasts breathtaking views of the turquoise-hued lake and surrounding mountain ranges.

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Looking for a more adventure-focused holiday expedition? Head to Churchill, Manitoba. This small prairie town boasts more wild polar bears per capita than any other city in North America. Don’t worry about trying to spot a polar bear or other arctic critters yourself, though — expert-led tours and expeditions are abundant and easy to book.

The Polar Inn & Suites is a no-frills spot to spend the night. Each room includes a kitchenette and cozy dining space to refresh and recharge after a day of searching for polar bears — and maybe even the northern lights.

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The biggest city in Ontario is a fun weekend destination year-round, but it’s particularly magical in December. Head to the Distillery District for a glimpse of the twinkling lights and artisanal crafts that make up the Toronto Christmas Market or head to Nathan Phillips Square to skate around the lavishly decorated Toronto City Hall.

The Ritz-Carlton, Toronto takes the holiday season seriously — from “The Nutcracker” afternoon tea and Christmas dinner services to actual visits from Santa, this lavish property goes all out when it comes to conjuring holiday magic.

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Maybe you’ve visited Niagara-on-the-Lake during its peak summer season, but don’t overlook winter at the popular vacation city just yet. Here, you’ll find less-crowded skating spots, an annual mulled wine festival and a quick drive to the festive lights and sounds of Niagara Falls.

Looking for something at the intersection of cozy and lavish? The Prince of Wales hotel will do just fine. This royal-inspired property feels more like a sumptuous speakeasy than a small-town hotel thanks to its deep mahogany sitting rooms, open-air dining room and opulent suites and rooms that appear to be borrowed directly from Versailles.

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Looking for world-class skiing on the eastern side of Canada? You’ll want to head to Mont Tremblant. This popular ski destination has won the hearts of visitors and locals alike — and for good reason. Mont Tremblant is arguably the best ski mountain range east of Alberta, but also offers a beyond-charming village at the base of the mountain that will feel as if you’ve been transported to the North Pole proper.

There are dozens of charming addresses in the Mont Tremblant village, but the Sommet des Neiges will be your best bet should you be after a luxurious stomping ground geared toward skiing. The high-end property actually includes ski-in/ski-out facilities so you won’t have to transport your skis just to get to the slope.

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Quebec City is going to be one of the chilliest destinations on this list — it’s a city famous for its ice hotel, after all. But it’s well worth braving the cold for the centuries-old architecture and opulent holiday decor alone. Old Quebec City is packed with options for keeping warm, from indulging in a steaming pot of cheese fondue to sipping mulled wine in one of the city’s many cozy bars and pubs.

There’s really only one address that matters in Quebec City, and it’s the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac. You’ve probably seen this stunning property already, as it’s the most photographed hotel in the world. But the interior is just as impressive as the chateau-esque property. Here you’ll find unabashed luxury and hospitality from the myriad of local-focused bars and restaurants (including a hearty Christmas dinner service) to the spa services and extracurricular activities like wine tasting with local cheese pairings directly from the property’s cheese cellar.

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Montreal is going to be your best bet for world-class dining and entertainment juxtaposed against centuries-old architecture and history. Grab a cup of mulled wine and make your way through the Village de Noël de Montréal at the Atwater Market or head straight to Les Grands Ballets Canadiens’ rendition of “The Nutcracker.”

You’ve got endless options when it comes to accommodations in Montreal, but there are a few standout properties depending on what neighborhood you’d like to call home. Check into the Ritz-Carlton, Montreal for timeless luxury downtown or drop your bags at the slightly more down-to-earth Hotel Nelligan if you’re hoping to spend the holidays exploring the cobblestoned streets of the Old Port.

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Nova Scotia is best known for its abundance of kind-hearted citizens and tight-knit community — and that’s only amplified come December. Strike up a conversation at one of the many pubs and bars around the downtown core and you’ll likely leave with an invite to a Christmas dinner or holiday party. Otherwise, warm up with a steaming bowl of lobster chowder and a drink at Bishop’s Landing or head to the Glow Halifax Christmas Light Festival, an interactive holiday light show and market that draws both visitors and locals alike.

Halifax might be quaint, but it’s packed with great historic and contemporary properties. The Westin Nova Scotian is going to be your best bet if you’re hoping to be right in the middle of the restaurants and shops at Bishop’s Landing. Head up Spring Garden Road to The Lord Nelson Hotel & Suites should you prefer to be next to the Halifax Public Gardens.

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Planning a winter holiday in St. John’s is always a good idea. Not only will you find an abundance of Christmas dinner services, holiday craft markets and Celtic Christmas productions, but you’re actually about a four-hour drive to the port of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. It’s a quiet French territory off the coast of Canada where you’ll find everything from buttery croissants and pain aux chocolat to French architecture and shopping. Make sure to pack some euros.

Built on the site of the old Fort William at the base of Signal Hill, the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland is not just brimming with history, but also incredibly well-placed. It’s within walking distance of all of St. John’s best cultural offerings as well as a stone’s throw from the revered George Street.

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