Top 20 Places to Spend Christmas in Canada
From festive Santa Claus parades to can't-miss holiday markets, we're counting down the best places to celebrate Christmas in Canada.
Where to Spend Christmas in Canada
Quebec City, Quebec
Even the most cynical Grinch would have to admit Quebec City is a great place to spend Christmas in Canada. Even if you don’t add any festive events to your itinerary, the city’s cobblestoned lanes, fluffy white snow and striking historic architecture is enough to put you in the spirit of the season. But there’s a lot going on in the capital of La Belle Province, including a Christmas market where you can sip mulled wine and browse for gifts, and the chance to meet Santa Claus himself at Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac—widely recognized as one of Canada’s greatest hotels. If you’re looking for places to spend Christmas in Canada, Quebec City will not disappoint.
Dawson City, Yukon
Winters are long, cold and dark in Canada’s sub-arctic, but in the former gold rush town of Dawson City, Yukon—home to the cabins of Robert Service and Jack London, and all of it a national park—the hardy locals light up the holidays with a unique “flotilla.” Towing river boats strung with lights and decorations, residents cruise through town in a boat parade, accompanied by snowmobiles, quads, canoes and police cruisers. And sometimes—on one of the longest nights of the year—the northern lights add to the show, dancing in the sky above. Truly magical!
Here are the best places to see the northern lights in Canada.
Canada’s largest city certainly knows how to do Christmas. Attracting half a million people each November, Toronto’s Santa Claus Parade is one of the biggest in the world. And throughout the month of December, you can take in the Winter Village in the charming Distillery District, as well as the Cavalcade of Lights—a festival that kicks off with the lighting of a massive Christmas tree in Nathan Phillips Square, in front of City Hall.
Don’t miss our roundup of the best drive-through holiday light displays across Canada.
Just like clockwork, they appear every holiday season—those kitschy, cozy, made-for-TV Christmas movies. Predictable as their feel-good plots might be, we eat them up year after year, curled up on the couch with a comfy blanket and a steaming mug of hot chocolate. Where does Almonte, Ontario, fit into this cherished holiday tradition? Believe it or not, this picture-perfect town just southwest of Ottawa has served as the filming location for countless festive flicks, including The Rooftop Christmas Tree and Christmas Festival of Ice. Step into your own Hallmark-worthy winter wonderland by touring Almonte’s impossibly charming streets and scenic waterfalls. If you can, time your visit for the first Friday of December: the town’s population literally doubles for the downtown’s annual “Light Up the Night” festivities.
Here are the best Christmas movies of all time.
Beginning with an illumination ceremony in early December, the nation’s capital bathes the Parliament Buildings in dramatic lights with the prime minister often flipping the switch himself. The ceremony also includes free hot chocolate, Christmas caroling and Beaver Tails, and is followed by a solid month of beauty: both Parliament Hill and more than 60 sites along Confederation Boulevard feature lovely illumination displays.
Once you’ve seen the sights, check out these incredible day trips from Ottawa.
Niagara Falls, Ontario
How do you make one of Canada’s most awe-inspiring natural wonders even more impressive? A spectacular light show, of course! The illumination of the majestic waterfalls is part of Niagara Falls’ annual Winter Festival of Lights, which sees more than three million lights strung throughout the city, including the world’s largest Canadian/American illuminated flag. There are also weekly fireworks over the falls for the duration of the festival, and a number of other festive events, including musicals, shopping fairs and concerts.
Check out more unique things to do in Niagara Falls.
There are few bigger thrills than being a kid at Christmas, especially if you live in Saskatoon. A study by the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management found that Saskatoon has the highest number of candy and toy stores, per capita, in the country, plus an abundance of kids under the age of 14, and a very good probability of having snow on December 25. It’s the perfect combination for a magical Christmas in Canada!
Can’t wait the big day? Kick off your holiday countdown with one of these unique advent calendars.
St. John’s, Newfoundland
Christmas in St. John’s, Newfoundland, is strange in all the best ways. At the heart of the celebrations is the 200-year-old tradition of “Mummering,” which can be traced back to the English and Irish settlers in Newfoundland’s remote “outport” communities. In these small fishing towns—accessible only by boat—the settlers would disguise themselves in whatever odds and ends they could find in their homes (think pillowcases and cardboard boxes) and show up on their neighbour’s doorsteps singing, dancing and celebrating—and not removing their masks until the neighbours correctly guessed their identities. This fun and festive tradition lives on in the Newfoundland capital with an annual Christmas festival, complete with workshops and a big parade that showcases these homespun disguises.
Check out more quintessentially Canadian holiday traditions.
Vancouver, British Columbia
An annual tradition since the 1960s, Vancouver’s Carol Ships Parade of Lights takes the holiday spirit out on the water. Every night in the month of December, as many as 80 boats strung with some 100,000 lights cruise around False Creek, Deep Cove and Port Moody. Watch from shore at a bonfire or carol sing, and book yourself a spot on a dinner cruise on board one of the ships. Or, head to Stanley Park—one of Canada’s greatest green spaces—to ride the miniature train through an impressive display of more than one million lights.
After you’ve seen the sights, check out 10 essential experiences on the west coast of Canada.
Where to Spend Christmas in Canada: Calgary
While a trip to the zoo may not be your first impulse when spending Christmas in Canada, in Calgary, it’s a tradition. Every year, from late November to early January, the Calgary Zoo hosts a huge event called Zoolights. Sip hot chocolate and wander through a winter wonderland of two-million beautiful lights, warm yourself at a crackling firepit, then get a picture with Santa himself.
Once you’ve navigated the Enchanted Forest—complete with Snow White and evil queen—check out the best things to do in Calgary.
Bay Roberts, Newfoundland
What’s better than a Santa Claus parade? Two, of course! This small Newfoundland community on the Avalon Peninsula hosts an annual Festival of Lights that includes the largest Nativity scene east of Montreal, the province’s first intelligent light park, fireworks, concerts and, yes, two parades—one during the daytime and another at night.
Here are some common Newfoundland sayings, decoded!
Home to an honest-to-goodness Candy Cane Lane, Edmonton’s West End becomes a winter wonderland every December. The neighbours in the city’s Crestwood community have banded together for the past 50 years to decorate their homes with a festive spirit that would make Santa proud. So popular is the spectacle that on peak nights during weekends just before Christmas, there have even been traffic jams. Organizers encourage people to walk—or, better yet, use their website to book a horse-drawn sleigh ride.
Make sure you add these day trips from Edmonton to your itinerary.
On the shores of Georgian Bay, you’ll find the town of Midland, Ontario—and a slice of living history. Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons, a 17th century mission and part of the ancestral homeland of the Huron Wendat Nation, hosts a First Light celebration from the end of November to early December, which sees the impressive site lit by the warm glow of 5,000 candles. Move your feet to live Indigenous drumming and dancing, as well as Franco-Ontario folk songs, before moving on to the cookhouse for some fresh-baked nibbles.
Explore more hidden gems in Ontario.
This city north of Calgary hosts a super-sized holiday celebration every year. In the heart of Nose Creek Park, you’ll find the Airdrie Festival of Lights—a massive outdoor display of a million-dollars’ worth of twinkling lights that’s the largest of its kind in Western Canada. You can wander through the immersive illuminations (or take one of three miniature train rides for a toonie), and enjoy bonfires, an impressive assortment of food trucks and skating on Nose Creek Pond.
Cozy up to the best virtual fireplaces on TV and online.
Victoria, British Columbia
Few places embrace Christmas with the same enthusiasm as British Columbia’s capital, which dresses the dome of its legislature in thousands of lights for the holidays. Nearby, at the recently renovated Fairmont Empress—one of the grandest buildings in town (it’s hosted crowned heads on several occasions)—you can enjoy s’mores out on the veranda. And don’t miss the month-long Gingerbread Showcase at the elegant Parkside Hotel and Spa—a charitable event benefiting Habitat Victoria which brings amateur and professional bakers together with very merry results.
Looking for your own holiday baking inspiration? Check out our all-time best Christmas cookie recipes.
With 102 trails to choose from once you’ve reached its 875-metre summit, Mont-Tremblant is deserving of its legendary reputation amongst skiers. What it’s also got in spades, however, is Christmas spirit. Every holiday season, this picturesque Laurentian Mountain town becomes an enchanting winter wonderland, with bonfires burning throughout the pedestrian-only village, and plenty of events including a treasure hunt, lumberjack demonstrations, traditional storytelling and Quebecois song and dance.
Don’t miss this collection of fascinating Canadian Christmas facts.
A 90-minute drive southwest of Toronto, Simcoe, Ontario, goes big—and bright—each holiday season with the Simcoe Christmas Panorama. Now in its 64th year, the beloved festival transforms the park at the heart of town into a whimsical display of thousands of lights. Take a horse-drawn trolley ride through the charming vignettes, then snap a selfie with a giant Santa Claus.
These winter sleigh rides in Ontario are an unforgettable way to experience Christmas in Canada.
Barkerville, British Columbia
Cradled in British Columbia’s spectacular Cariboo Mountains, Barkerville was once Canada’s greatest boomtown, home to a lucky strike that spawned a gold rush worth billions. That heritage lives on in this historic town and park, where you can tour 125 remaining buildings at the Old Fashioned Victorian Christmas celebration. The festive event features blacksmith demonstrations, caroling, warm drinks, shopping and sleigh rides—but no gold panning!
Here are more historical landmarks every Canadian needs to visit.
Located northwest of Montreal at the foot of the lovely Laurentian Mountains, the town of Sainte-Thérèse, Quebec, hosts an annual food and art festival that runs for three weeks over the holidays. Visit the Village de Noel to say hello to Santa while you sample French Canadian delicacies and sip hot chocolate along Rue de L’Eglise. Can’t feel your nose or your toes after taking that bracing sleigh ride? Warm up inside the Maison des Metiers where you can admire the craftsmanship of talented local artisans.
Got everyone checked off your Christmas list? Don’t miss these great Canadian gifts under $50!
Fernie, British Columbia
The picturesque Kootenay Mountain town of Fernie, B.C., makes the most of its alpine location during the holidays. Where else could you Nordic ski under a full moon, and have your photo taken with a skiing Santa? Round off your trip with a sleigh ride at the Fernie Alpine Resort, then party like its 1984 at Do They Know It’s Christmas—an unabashedly ’80s-themed holiday dance.
Now that you know where to spend Christmas in Canada, check out the world’s most festive Christmas cities.