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3 weeks Ontario and Québec in winter = a bad idea?

3 weeks Ontario and Québec in winter = a bad idea?

May 16th, 2010, 02:08 AM
  #1  
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3 weeks Ontario and Québec in winter = a bad idea?

Hi everyone!
I’m from Europe and have never been to Canada before. I’m planning a trip for about three weeks from Toronto to Montreal to Quebec (may be + Ottawa). Of course I would love to go there in autumn but there is only(!) time in December, January or February for such a tour.
I’d like to see the cities and visit parks like Algonquin (and…?), but I’m not a winter sports-fan.
Is it a bad idea to choose this time of year? Will there “life” outside the malls and cafes in Toronto? Will I have trouble with a rented car in terms of snow etc.? Will I freeze to death in the wilderness?
I hope these questions aren’t too naïve, but I’d love to get some tips and advices.

Thanks,
margon
margon is offline  
May 16th, 2010, 05:16 AM
  #2  
 
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I don't think it's a bad idea at all.

You will find lots to do in Toronto, Ottawa, Montréal, and Québec City aside from shopping and cafés. It's a great time to visit the museums and galleries in those cities, and the theatre and concert season will be in full bloom

February would be a good time to come, as there are major winter festivals at that time.

In Ottawa, it's Winterlude
http://www.canadascapital.gc.ca/bins...&lang=1&bhcp=1

In Québec, the renowned Carnaval

http://www.carnaval.qc.ca/

In Montreal, the HighLights festival (Montréal en Lumière)

http://www.montrealenlumiere.com/vol...n_bref_en.aspx

These are all major festivals and well worth attending.

Several cautions, however.

1. You must be prepared for cold weather, especially in Ottawa, Montréal and Québec where temperatures often get to minus 20C and below. Toronto can also be cold, but not to the same degree. For three weeks, you might want to buy some warm clothes and boots once you get here.

2. Unless you are well accustomed to winter driving, I would forget about renting a car. The weather can be fine or just as easily it can be treacherous. You won't need a car in the cities, and you can easily travel between them by train. I would forget about Algonquin Park in the winter--it can be wonderful, but you need to be properly equipped and if the weather is bad, the driving can be dangerous. Try the Ice Hotel outside Québec City as a "wilderness" experience.

By all means come in the winter--don't let the thought of cold, snow and ice put you off. It can be a great time of the year, even if you don't do winter sports.
laverendrye is offline  
May 16th, 2010, 06:02 AM
  #3  
 
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I live in and love Montreal even (sometimes) in winter, however, given your stated aversion to winter sports, I cannot in good faith recommend a visit to you (especially Quebec/Ottawa/Montreal) that time of year.

If you open your mind on the winter sports business and bring appropriate clothes (longjohns, a REAL winter coat (an "England" winter coat won't cut it here), hats, gloves and a scarf)... winter can be an enjoyable season. I've been ice skating at the Old Port and Parc Lafontaine and it's just lovely. I've also been snowshoeing on "the mountain", which is invigorating and terrific. But to be mostly cooped up inside shuttling yourself from hotel to museums to even restaurant/nightclubs, etc..., I find gets to be depressing (I've done that in years past), but I'm the type who yearns for sunlight.

Even for a winter-sports-lover, there are days so cold in January/February that it can be a challenge (Montreal-Ottawa-Quebec especially, Toronto less so).

I agree that you should forget anywhere "wilderness" that time of year (Algonquin Park) and I would not even consider driving as it may just be an extreme pain for you on your vacation.

Good luck deciding. Daniel
Daniel_Williams is offline  
May 16th, 2010, 06:06 AM
  #4  
 
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The Niagara Wine region has its annual Icewine Festival for the last three weekends in January... check out niagarawinefestival.com Niagara falls is beautiful in the winter and less crowded... Toronto has world class galleries, museums and theatre... Montreal is charming in winter and Quebec offers the winter festival... We did a packaged Montreal/Quebec tour with hotels, tours, and transportation and it eliminated the driving in those cities... have fun!
garyt22 is offline  
May 16th, 2010, 11:52 AM
  #5  
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Thank you so much for your replies, they are really helpful!

But now I am quite sad and disenchanted (if this is the right word).

I knew I had to go to Canada when I discovered some photos of the Toronto-Skyline on flickr. Afterwards I thought traveling along the east coast of Canada would be a great idea to combine beautiful cities like Montreal and Toronto with spectacular nature.
What about snowshoe hiking or cross country skiing in Algonquin? I said I’m not a winter sports-fan, but that sounds fine to me (a compromise). I don’t really like the summer but on the other hand I’m only used to our moderate -10°C (at most).

I don’t know what to do
margon is offline  
May 16th, 2010, 03:10 PM
  #6  
 
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For a first-time sightseeing excursion to Canada, I'd opt to visit between June and October.
Carmanah is offline  
May 16th, 2010, 04:45 PM
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Margon, I agree with everything that has been said.
But I will tell you that if you visit Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec in the winter, it's a real possibility that you will be so cold you will cry. Your face will be frozen so much it will sting. No matter what mitts or boots you have, your fingers and toes will hurt from the cold.

I'm not trying to paint a bleak picture.. But I've had guests from Europe and they could not believe how cold it gets.
It was more than they cold stand.

SO, please consider waiting until you can visit in the nicer weather.
kodi is offline  
May 16th, 2010, 05:21 PM
  #8  
 
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I live in Toronto, and February is our coldest month. It can be so cold ski lessons are cancelled! OTOH, last winter was fairly free of snow and it wasn't bitterly cold, but that was an anomoly. Ottawa is even colder with more snow.

Snowshoeing or X-country skiing in Algonquin SOUNDS charming, and if the day is sunny and not windy and the snow is lovely and white, it can be a great experience, but you've got no guarantee the gods will be smiling on you for that. Besides, snowshoeing is HARD work, you need to dress in layers, and it's not for those who "aren't winter sports fans"

Two winters ago I was in Ottawa during Winterlude, and it rained, all the ice sculptures melted and there was no skating on the canal.

I'm a proud Canadian through and through, but I'd hate for you to spend a lot of money coming here unless you have a really good idea of what you can expect during the winter - heck the winters change so much from year to year even us natives don't know what we can expect. (one year our idiot mayor even called in the army because of the snow! - but that's a whole other story )

Now, February in Paris - that's my idea of a great time. Done that twice and would do it again in a heartbeat lol.
markland is offline  
May 16th, 2010, 06:38 PM
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I'm glad you guys aren't on the Chamber for Travel to Canada... I live near the border and now I'm afraid to cross for fear I might Cry!!! kodi...thats priceless...
garyt22 is offline  
May 16th, 2010, 07:31 PM
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One idea, if you're stuck with the December-February time frame is to visit western Canada. Coastal BC doesn't get as cold as Ontario or Quebec... in fact, it rarely goes below freezing in the winter. It might make visiting Canada a little bit more accessible if you're stuck visiting those months. Sightseeing can still be done during those months, although you will be limited due to the short daylight hours.
Carmanah is offline  
May 16th, 2010, 07:45 PM
  #11  
 
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Just a word of caution about winter sports activity. It's not every day in winter one can do these things... Some days it's so bitingly cold, outdoor skating, cross-country-skiing, snowshoeing is impossible. I keep a close eye on the temperature and when it's hits those ideal temperatures (-2 to 15 Celsius let's say), I jump! Too close to zero and it won't work either for different reasons. This year in the Montreal area, temperatures really were terrific for skating (although the season ended too early for my liking), although less so for snowshoeing due to general lack of snow.

Have fun deciding!
Daniel_Williams is offline  
May 17th, 2010, 04:43 AM
  #12  
 
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Gary, I kid you not. I've had more than one guest cry from being colder than they ever imagined. I love my country, but I'd hate to see Margon come here in the winter without knowing how cold it really can get.

Now Markland, I'd be interested in knowing just how pleasant Paris is in Feb. ( sorry for hijacking).
kodi is offline  
May 17th, 2010, 07:00 AM
  #13  
 
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kodi, Paris in February was 8 - 12C, at least it was when I was there in 2009 and 2008. I don't like the heat, so it was ideal for walking, many sunny days, little or no rain or snow, little wind, no slush on the streets so street shoes are fine. We walked everywhere in very comfortable weather conditions. OTOH, the trees weren't in blossom, so the beautiful gardens were a little bare - a bit bleak in that sense.

It's certainly not a traditional time for travel to Paris, but it's when we could go, and as I said before, I wouldn't hesitate to go back then. Certainly less crowded in the museums.

I was also there for Christmas and New Years one year, and it was much colder and damper. I wouldn't choose to go back at that time of the year.
markland is offline  
May 17th, 2010, 09:35 AM
  #14  
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I can only repeat myself and thank you for your replies.

///
My last question to this topic would be:
Which month would you recommend which are close to (let’s say) December? Or in other words: could you recommend November or March for the trip I’ve planed?
margon is offline  
May 17th, 2010, 01:15 PM
  #15  
 
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Thank you Markland. Paris sounds like it would be ok. I've been to London in the winter and enjoyed it.

Margon, so sorry to put a damper on your plans.
If I had to choose, I'd recommend November. It can be cold, but not the horrible bitter cold of Jan Feb. It can be windy, but very pleasant.
March can be nice, but I think there is more chance of snow and cold then.

Good luck with your plans.
kodi is offline  
May 18th, 2010, 02:47 PM
  #16  
 
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Personally, I would not recommend November or late March. They are the lowest of the "low season" for a reason - cold, damp, gray and leafless. I would say late December through maybe early March - might as well enjoy the prettiness of the snow if you can't come during the warmer months.

But I will put in another word about Algonquin. My spouse and I visit in the winter every 2 or 3 years. We are not winter sports enthusiasts, but we are nature lovers and (moderate) hikers. We snowshoe when the snow is deep enough (it usually is most of the winter), but one year we got away with winter boots. We're moderately fit, and find snowshoeing not much more difficult than summer hiking - keeping in mind that we stick to mostly flat trails on showshoes (when hiking we'll tackle some hills and slopes). Cross-country skiing would be lovely too.

I agree with the cautions though - it can be frigid up there, and although the drive is all well-maintained highways, snow storms can definitely make things slow and treacherous. If you're in Toronto and have flexibility, you could check the weather reports for a good 2 or 3 days forecast, try to make a last minute booking and head up. Weekends often get booked in advance even in winter, but if you can book weekdays there should be openings.

The descriptions of biting cold are true "sometimes" - BUT - our weather is quite variable and unpredictable. If you're OK with doing a lot of indoor activities "if" necessary while keeping some flexibility for a few days of the great outdoors if the weather is good, I think you could have a nice winter vacation.
mat54 is offline  
May 19th, 2010, 06:13 AM
  #17  
 
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I agree with mat54. November and late March are probably the worst months in this part of the country. For a winter visit, I still recommend February--the days are starting to get longer, the winter festivals are on, and although it can get quite cold, it's not likely to be so cold as in January.

If the winter months are the only time you can get to Canada, I still would advise that you come--just be prepared.
laverendrye is offline  

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