At home or away: Inspiring Christmas activities for a lifetime of memories

Whether you plan to stay at home this Christmas and welcome guests, or travel cross-country to see loved ones, how will you keep the gang entertained between all those big meals and gift giving? Here are some great ideas sure to please everyone!

At home or away: Inspiring Christmas activities for a lifetime of memories

The holiday season can be hectic with groceries to buy, gifts to wrap, cleaning to do, and more. That’s why if you’re having guests over or are planning to visit loved ones, you probably haven’t thought of how you'll keep the gang entertained between all those big meals and gift giving. To inspire you, here are ideas for activities you'll find in some of Canada’s major cities, whether or not you live there.

Maritimes / Atlantic Canada

When you think of skiing and snowboarding, New Brunswick likely doesn’t jump to mind as having one of Canada’s top ski and snowboard resorts.

  • In fact, Crabbe Mountain, the highest peak in the Maritimes, has everything you or your guests could want if you need time away: tons of snow, plenty of runs and chair lifts, and lots of cozy accommodation in nearby Fredericton.

If winter sports leaves you feeling cold, there’s no better way to reconnect with the spirit of the season than at an old-fashioned Christmas market fair. Best of all? Canada has many to choose from!

Give your host a break
Even the most tireless host sometimes needs a break – and a meal out can be a treat! The problem? Kids can be fussy. Fortunately, there are many family-friendly dining choices in Halifax that don’t involve a drive-thru, scary clown-like mascot, and that locals and visitors alike will love.

For a quaint small-town experience
The St. Andrews Christmas by the Sea festival can only be described as a quintessential step back in time. Lasting all December long and with downtown St. Andrews merchants offering extended shopping hours, you’ll discover loads of such fun activities including:

  • Firemen’s Santa Clause Parade
  • Gingerbread Dream House Competition
  • Mermaids and Pirates New Year’s Eve Family Ball
  • Shiretown Singers Annual Christmas Concert

You’ll want to visit more than once!

Montreal

The wonderful thing about Quebec is there’s so much to do, explore and experience for both locals and tourists.

If ever you’ve eaten one too many big holiday meals, then a walking tour of Montreal is the perfect (and fun) solution to burn it off!

  • From the Montreal Ghosts Walking Tour in Old Montreal to a special Christmastime stroll where you'll get to meet Santa, visitors and locals alike adore these history- and story-filled walks through the town.

If a "leisurely" walk won't do it for you, then some of Montreal's best winter activities are a stone's throw away from the downtown core. They include:

  • Snowshoeing in Mount Royal Park
  • Ice skating in Montreal’s Old Port
  • Dog sledding, zip-lining, inflatable games and more at Parc Jean-Drapeau, the former site of Expo 67.

If there’s one thing everyone agrees on is that Montreal is a photo-friendly city.

  • Instead of taking yet another photo of the Christmas tree (or Uncle George snoring in the recliner) why not grab your camera, bundle up the kids and head out to Montreal’s most Instagram-worthy spots for pictures people will really want to see.

Of course, not everyone loves winter’s chill.

Despite your best efforts to keep everyone happy, sometimes a jaunt about town won’t cut it. The solution? A change of pace by taking a day trip to Quebec City.

Ottawa

A bit further west sits, Ottawa. It’s a given there’s plenty to do there:  Parliament Hill tours, museums to visit, skating along the Rideau Canal and more. Best of all, everything is well publicized and easy to find. Another reason Ottawa is so visitor-friendly is the great selection of restaurants suitable for any occasion:

And when you’re ready to welcome in the New Year, there are many superb spots in Ottawa to raise a glass of champagne!

Toronto

Without a doubt, TO has it all: fashion, food, and fun spread across a vibrant metropolis. That means for lucky locals there’s no shortage of lively neighbourhoods to explore, where visitors can venture at their leisure – Liberty Village, The Annex and Parkdale, to name but a few.

  • Each of these unique enclaves offers an opportunity to spend a few hours meandering about discovering their unique character.

For the shutterbugs among you, although there are countless places in the city to go and snap photos, some really stand out! Toronto's most Instagram-worthy spots are said to include (but no doubt there are more):

  • A frozen dessert parlour (of all things!) called Sweet Jesus with over 67.5K Instagram followers!
  • Nathan Philips Square, home to the famous 3-D TORONTO sign.
  • Toronto Botanical Gardens, which is a sanctuary of activity throughout the year.

For locals or visitors who want to get their blood pumping, Toronto has an array of community skating rinks that offer scenic views and cozy facilities.

If you’re looking for something different to entertain your guests (or yourself), some underrated activities in Toronto include:

  • Heading just north of the city to the McMichael, a national art gallery with the largest collection of Group of Seven paintings in the country. In the mood for a hike? There are also lovely trails nearby.
  • Visiting Steam Whistle Brewing, an independent brewery housed in Toronto's historic John St. Roundhouse next to the Rogers Centre.
  • Spending the day at the Kensington Market – complete with some of best vintage shops, grocers and international eats in town.

Calgary

It takes more than the region’s famously unpredictable weather to dampen the holiday spirits of Calgarians. That’s why during Christmas the city comes alive with an energy that make this unique gem of the Prairies shine.

Just as having family seated around the dinner table is important, so is giving Mom the break she deserves.

While most people are happy to receive new stuff for Christmas, true book lovers will tell you an afternoon spent sifting through stacks of well-loved books is a treat. And Calgary has some great used book stores to discover.

  •  Cabin Fever Books stocks rare and out-of-print copies of the classics, plus vintage posters and prints.
  • Aquila Books buys and sells specialty books, manuscripts, artwork and antique scientific instruments.
  • Books Between Friends is a special place where the Christmas spirit lives year ’round because they donate most of their profits to charity.

And if you can’t bear to watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer one more time, you’ll be happy to know Calgary has a vibrant theatre scene.

If you’re keen about culture but with a historical flavour, Calgary also has a ton of great museums worth visiting: from the Glenbow Museum which houses Western Canada’s largest art collection, to Heritage Park Historical Village providing a snapshot of Western Canadian life from the 1860s to the 1950s, to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame!

From art lover to history buff to sports enthusiast, there's something for everyone to enjoy.

Edmonton

Edmonton is steadily becoming a major Canadian urban centre, with a host of world-class activities to discover. So whether you’re entertaining guests or visiting, there’s no shortage of things to do during the holidays.

Among Edmonton's top must-see attractions are:

  • The Art Gallery of Alberta, with its collection of more than 6,000 pieces, is dedicated to exhibiting and preserving art and visual culture in Alberta. It's also great for kids and offers Wednesday morning Tours for Tots and childrens' birthday parties.
  • The Alberta Legislative Assembly Visitor Centre is a chance for out-of-towners to discover the province’s vibrant history and culture through exhibits, displays and an interesting 45-minute guided tour of the Legislative Assembly.
  • A visit to the pyramids at the Muttart Conservatory to take in their impressive botanical displays. Home to an astounding array of plant and flower species, the Muttart Conservatory combines art and nature into a stunning experience you'll never forget.
  • The TELUS World of Science makes science enjoyable and understandable for everyone, with captivating exhibits, special events, IMAX movies, planetarium shows and more.

If you're a night owl by nature, you're in luck!

For some truly family-friendly activities in Edmonton:

  • The Alberta Ballet performs the classic Nutcracker Suite every December.
  •  Catch a family matinée at the historic Metro Cinema in Edmonton’s Garneau neighbourhood. Most Saturdays, kids under 12 get in free for activities in the lobby plus a classic children’s movie at 2 pm.

Vancouver

Whether you prefer the charm of an authentic Christmas market or the modern spectacle of the world’s largest light-up maze, there are many ways to celebrate Christmas on the West Coast.

Among the most popular outdoor events for the holidays:

  • Riding the Bright Nights Christmas Train which chugs through Stanley Park, taking young (and young-at-heart) riders through a dreamlike tour of the park lined with millions of flickering lights, live performers and captivating Christmas-themed displays.
  • Visiting  the world’s tallest living Christmas tree all lit up, next to the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park.
  • Enjoying breakfast with Santa and his Elves in his mountaintop workshop at Grouse Mountain’s Peak of Christmas Celebration.

If you’re a history buff, there are lots of historical sites to visit in and around Vancouver. Two that truly capture life on Canada's West Coast are:

  • The Gulf of Georgia Cannery, which offers a unique glimpse into the West Coast fishing industry and culture. It also offers seasonal events like farmers’ markets, local art shows and film screenings.
  • The Roedde House Museum, recreating the daily life of an average middle-class, immigrant family from the Victorian period. It’s a highly interactive experience and guests are encouraged to wander through rooms, and handle objects and artifacts from the era.

For anyone interested in photography, Vancouver and environs is the place to do it. So where are the best views in Vancouver for snapping photos?

  • For an urban view there’s the Vancouver Lookout at the top of the historic Harbour Centre building. With some trekking, Queen Elizabeth Park is the highest point in the city and has the prettiest locale to see Vancouver’s downtown core.
  • For more sweeping views, if you’re feeling adventurous and energetic, Grouse Mountain and Mount Seymour Resort will deliver unforgettable vistas of the Vancouver area that will make the extra effort pay off big time.
  • For sky-high views, then you could give a helicopter tour a whirl. (Just hang onto your camera real tight!)

There are many great neighbourhoods in Vancouver for visitors to stay, but it seems everyone likes to flock to the West End for its laid-back vibe and stunning scenery.

  • Bordering North America’s largest natural city park, the area offers a wide range of activities for both visitors and locals – from cycling the Seawall to shopping on Robson Street to strolling through tree-lined residential streets. If you have time to spare, why not spend a relaxing day exploring Vancouver’s West End.

When the time comes for some grown-up fun, whether to meet friends for cocktails, dance the night away, celebrate a special occasion, or for a low-key rendezvous Vancouver’s best nightlife destinations are ready to deliver.

  • If you want to impress out-of-town guests with a wow-worthy take on the classic Canadian Caesar, take them to Score on Davie.
  • For a fun ladies’ night out, make a beeline for a curtained booth at the swanky Notch8 Restaurant & Bar.
  • Want to take a trip to Jamaica for the evening? Hit Calabash Bistro where you’ll swear you’ve been swept away to a land far, far away.

Whatever you do in Vancouver, you’ll wonder why it was ever dubbed “No Fun City”!

The Christmas holidays can be crazy, and in between everything you need to get done are the friends and family who make your life special and give it meaning. So whether you’re planning to have loved ones stay over for the holidays, or you’ll be traveling across the country to see them, make sure you spend quality time with them doing activities that will create wonderful memories to last a lifetime.

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