When I was a kid, Burlington was always where we went for special occasions and family get-togethers—Thanksgiving, Christmas, cousins’ birthday parties—the list goes on. My mother grew up there and all her immediate family still lives there. While we spent lots of time there with family, it wasn’t until my teenage years that I started to realize there was more to Burlington than I knew: festivals, excellent restaurants, a plethora of activities and great outdoor spaces year-round.
And even though the town, on the edge of Lake Ontario and a short trip from downtown Toronto, is known to shine in summer with an enticing and clean waterfront, there’s plenty to do in winter, too. In fact, when the temperature drops and the lake becomes somewhat of an icy desert, downtown Burlington and the surrounding area can really shine.
Embrace the cold! Burlington has lots to offer outdoor enthusiasts. For something sweet and casual, strap on some skates at the Rotary Centennial Pond rink overlooking Spencer Smith Park and Lake Ontario—bring your own or borrow a pair there! Open from 10am to 10pm all winter, you can squeeze a quick skate in anytime during your visit.
After your skate, take a stroll along the waterfront to Brant Street and find Kelly’s Bake Shoppe. You’ll have surely worked up an appetite and will absolutely deserve one of their award-winning cupcakes (and maybe a few to take home later!) If a hot coffee is what you need, especially after exploring downtown in the cold, head a block and a half farther north on Brant Street to find Tamp Coffee Company, where you’ll find locally roasted beans and baristas truly passionate about their caffeinated craft.
If you’re looking to get a little deeper into the snow, Burlington is surrounded by a wonderful selection of Conservation areas, each one offering something different than the next. Hilton Falls has long been a family favourite for hiking alongside a frozen river, waterfall and reservoir. Stuff your pockets with bird seed for the chickadees who will pop down and pick snacks right out of your hand! Park staff also often build huge bonfires near the waterfalls so you can stop to warm up and even roast a marshmallow or cook a hotdog by the crackling fire. You can also go cross-country skiing on site or check out one of the other many Halton parks open year-round for snowy, peaceful hiking and great views of the Niagara Escarpment.
Most people think of the Royal Botanical Gardens as a warm-weather destination, but they actually have quite a bit on offer during the winter, too. They bring in special exhibits for winter visitors. Note to the squeamish: this year, it’s all about creepy, crawly spiders! In addition, some of the grounds are still open for trail walking and exploring. And if you prefer flora over bugs, their indoor plants, such as their stunning orchids, are always on display.
After taking in the peaceful garden grounds, you’re a hop, skip and a jump away from Easterbrook’s—Canada’s second-oldest hot dog stand. Stop in to the cute retro diner for one of the footlongs that’s made them popular since 1930. In case you were wondering, the accolade for oldest place to grab a “dog” belongs to Skinners Hot Dogs in Lockport, Manitoba.
And for pint enthusiasts such as my husband, who would take (or rather, has indeed taken) a day trip to Burlington just to drop in for a beer, there’s Nickel Brook Brewing. The brewhouse has been in business in Burlington since 2005 and they produce some of the best beers in the province. On weekends, they offer tours of the brewery, but you can drop in to their tap room and bottle shop any time from Wednesday through Sunday and sample any of the twenty or more beers they have on tap.
Burlington is both an easygoing place and an easy day trip from most places around Toronto. It’s also a great place to break up the winter monotony!