I love winter! I love crisp snow, blue skies, and bright days with the sun bouncing off the white ground. I like being out in the cold, cozy in my parka, wearing my favorite down mitts. I like watching a blizzard from the warmth of my home with a cup of tea. I like the smell of cold! I love the crunch of true cold under foot. I love it all, including winter festivals.
I'm not the only one. Many of our readers love winter too. I know because, as the cold approaches, the number of people reading our winter posts goes way up.
It's now time. It's time to take advantage of all that winter has to offer.
Festivals are a great option for winter travel when you're going solo. Winter festivals offer lots of fun and outdoor activities to watch, participate in, and enjoy. Below are tips on how to enjoy them and a few that you'll want to add to your list.
You might also want to read Winter Solo Travel: Destinations, Planning, and Packing and A Winter Road Trip Alone: 40 Essential Tips
Going to Festivals Alone Is a Social Affair
Summer, spring, fall, and winter, I've been to festivals on my own at every time of the year. I've always found that they are a great option for solo travelers. Here's how to enjoy winter festivals solo.
- Join in, festivals are community affairs. Festivals bring people together to honor long-held traditions and shared community values. Join in and you'll experience the real culture of your destination. If you're in your home country you'll see the small differences that make each city unique.
- Have a seat and meet new people. Festivals are busy and friendly. There are too many people at festivals for everyone to have their own table. Shared tables for experiencing gastronomic delights are expected. Have a seat and meet someone new.
- Enjoy a different musical genre. Very often the music at winter festivals harkens back to traditional tunes from centuries past. It may not be your usual listening pleasure but it's often toe-tapping, spoon-slapping fun.
- Try new activities. Have you ever been kick-sledding? What about dogsledding? Snowshoeing? There are so many winter activities to try for the first time. Festivals are safe environments to give something your first go.
- Enjoy doing things you've forgotten to do. Has it been a while since you've been tobogganing? The slide at Quebec City's Winter Carnival, and most winter festivals for that matter, is crazy fun. A festival is a perfect time to enjoy those activities you have, for one reason or another, left in your past.
- Soak up the energy. Everyone goes to a festival to have a good time. People are happy. They tend to be more energetic and open to new experiences. Tap into that energy and have fun.
And now for a few winter festivals to add to your list.
Festival du Voyageur Solo, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Established in 1970, the Festival du Voyageur celebrates traditional French Canadian food, music, and heritage.
Saint-Boniface, Winnipeg’s French neighborhood, is the home of the festival. I arrived and, naturally, took a moment to get oriented. I had to learn how the Festival worked, what events were planned for the day, and where the best food was. I did all of that with a BeaverTail in hand.
Hmm. I think I should clarify. A BeaverTail is deep-fried dough made with whole wheat flour and pulled by hand to resemble the long, flat tail of a beaver. (The beaver uses its tail for many purposes but, most interestingly, it's used to slap the water to provide a warning to other beavers when it feels threatened.) The BeaverTail pastry is traditionally topped with cinnamon and sugar but a variety of sweet and savory toppings are now offered. It's a must at least once a winter.
I checked out the ice sculptures first but passed a great day attending three concerts, sitting by a fire chatting with other festival goers, and watching kids on the toboggan run and sled races. There was plenty to do to fill three days!
Read about other things I did during my trip to Winnipeg:
- Going to the Spa Solo: Favorite Water Treatments Indoors and Out
- The Canadian Human Rights Museum Is a Must
Quebec City Winter Carnival Solo
I went to the Carnaval de Québec many times during university but, a few years ago, I went to the festival solo for the first time.
Carnaval de Québec is considered the largest winter festival in the world. Alongside a lineup of international artists are traditional activities such as:
- Ice canoe races. The St. Lawrence River is huge, fast flowing, and doesn't freeze completely. Dozens of teams race canoes either pushing the canoe along the ice or paddling it through icy water.
- Human foosball. Kids are strapped into position as if they are the spinning players on a foosball table and the game begins, one team against another. It's hysterical to watch.
- The Ice Castle. Unlike the ice sculptures that one typically walks around, in this case you are walking through the sculpture with two-dimensional carvings in the walls.
- Toboggan Run. This ice run is beside the Chateau Frontenac with a great view of the river.
- Slapshot practice. Kids try their hand at getting the puck into what would normally be a wood-burning stove, a much smaller target than a hockey net.
Most of the Carnival takes place in and around the old city of Quebec which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985. If you have not yet been, it is the most European experience you will find in North America. There is the Lower Town centered around the Place Royale and harbor, and the Upper Town which includes the Citadel. Just walking around this city in winter is a wonderful experience. Add the Carnival, and you have an extra special destination.
Don't miss taking the ferry across the river to Levis so that you get a view of Quebec from the river.
Winterlude Winter Festival in Ottawa-Gatineau, Ontario, and Quebec
Ottawa, being Canada's capital, has a special government body called the National Capital Commission. Their job is to make the city, in fact the region that stretches from Ottawa into Quebec, beautiful, lively, and fun for all Canadians. Their premier event in the winter is Winterlude.
Winterlude is a festival of food, music, ice sculpture, and skating. Yes, held for two weeks in February each year, you are pretty well guaranteed that the Rideau Canal will be frozen and prepared for skating. This rink is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and almost 7 km long. It is also my excuse for never having learned how to stop properly on skates.
Rather than tell you all about Winterlude, I'm going to let Nadine show you.
More Winter Festivals for Solo Fun
Naturally, there are many more exciting winter festivals. Here are a few on my list.
- Winter Festival of Lights, Niagara Falls. The falls come alive with ice and lights in the winter.
- Toonik Tyme, Iqaluit, Nunavut. After a winter of 24-hour darkness, Iqaluit celebrates the return of the sun in April.
- Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous, Whitehorse, Yukon. Whitehorse fights the cabin fever that winter can cause with their annual February festival.
- Frostival, Fredericton, New Brunswick. This festival runs for 3 weekends and includes many events including the Maritime Cup for cross-country skiing and the Shivering Songs festival.
- World Pond Hockey Championships, Plaster Rock, New Brunswick. Teams from around the world compete on multiple rinks. If you're a hockey fan, or just a winter festival fan, this is the real deal.
Winter Festivals in the United States:
- Fur Rendezvous, Anchorage, Alaska. Join a traditional festival that dates back to 1935. Like the Rendezvous in Whitehorse, it's about breaking up the winter and avoiding cabin fever.
- Saranac Lake Winter Carnival, Saranac, New York. You can participate in typical winter sports like Nordic skiing and ice skating, but there are also some unusual competitions like ultimate Arctic frisbee and a women's frying pan toss.
- Frozen Dead Guy Days, Nederland, Colorado. Yes, that's right. This festival has an interesting history that has resulted in slightly morbid activities like coffin races and a parade of hearses.
- SnowFest, North Lake Tahoe, California. This is “a ten-day mountain Mardi Gras celebration with nearly 100 events spread throughout North Lake Tahoe, including a Mardi Gras party, a luau, a dog pull, a dog costume contest, fireworks, several parades, snow sculpture and ice carving competitions.”
You'll also want to read how to pack for winter fun here: Winter Solo Travel: Destinations, Planning, and Packing.
Have you enjoyed going to festivals solo in your travels? Please share your experiences in the comments section below.