8 Convincing Reasons to Visit PEI During the Winter

Visiting Prince Edward Island during the winter is a completely different experience than during the summer. I’ll admit I actually enjoyed it more during the “off season” than during peak tourist season.

Yes, the weather is colder, a lot, a LOT of places are closed, but the hospitality is warm, the scenery is inviting, there are plenty of activities, and the food is always amazing.

If you’re planning a trip to PEI during the winter and need a bit of convincing of whether or not it’s the right move, these reasons should persuade you!

what is PEI like during the winter

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What is the temperature in PEI during the winter?

The temperature in PEI during the winter ranges, on average, between -3 to -11 degrees Celsius. However, when you factor in the windchill, it can feel more like -25 (and let me tell you, those cold Northumberland Strait winds really take your breath away!).

The coldest month in PEI is usually February, and the windiest month is December, which I can attest to! 😂

You’ll want some warm layers, including a winter jacket, hat and gloves. I did all of my adventuring in my Blundstone boots – from beach walks, hikes, driving all around the island, downtown strolls,  you name it! They were warm, sturdy, and provided the traction I needed to do what I wanted to do safely!

1. There’s not a lot of tourists

This reason alone is why visiting PEI during the winter is so ideal. Sure – a lot of the activities, restaurants and amenities are closed, but there is so much natural beauty to be seen for the outdoorsy type. Just bring some warm clothes and you’re all set!

This means flights will be less crowded, airport lines will be shorter, and getting through Covid testing is a breeze!

Tourism in PEI contributes three times more to the economy than in any other Canadian province, generating over 6% of GDP (as of 2019). Peak tourist season runs from May – October, which is also when the majority of amenities on the island are available, like camping, museums, tourist attractions, shopping, and PEI National Park.

You’ll have to do some planning in advance, like knowing where to find food and restrooms, but it’s well worth the journey to experience what the island has to offer with a fraction of the tourists!

teacup rock thunder cove beach
Teacup Rock at Thunder Cove Beach

2. You won’t have a problem finding parking 

Driving downtown Charlottetown in December was so peaceful – no traffic congestion or hoards of people trying to cross the street – and there was no shortage of parking at all!

A great bonus to visiting PEI (and Charlottetown in particular) during the winter, Peakes Wharf Parking – the main parking lot is free. So, if you plan to wander downtown during the day, or to park downtown for dinner, you can park here for free between 8:00 am – 8:00 pm.

Charlottetown is also a big supporter of shopping locally and has implemented the Park Free Program, where you can shop with participating merchants and receive a free hour of street side metered parking (or in one of the three downtown parkades).

charlottetown prince edward island winter

3. You’ll have the entire beach, park, and trails to yourself

After visiting Prince Edward Island during the peak tourist season in August, and then in December, I can tell you my two experiences varied drastically. 

Places once congested with groups of people became empty – and it was a breath of fresh air. I’ve always enjoyed visiting places where not a lot of people frequent, and winter in PEI was just the place for me to be! 

Cavendish Beach floating boardwalk
Winter River Trail

From Cavendish Beach, the Teacup Rock, lighthouses, Knox’s Dam, hiking trails and more, I rarely saw another person on my adventures. It really makes you appreciate the area more, allows for great photo opportunities and gives you the chance to really soak it all in!

I just know that if I visited some of these places during the summer, I wouldn’t have left with the same feeling as when I had the place to myself.

things to do in pei during the winter
Rocky Point

4. The scenery is stunning in the snow

In addition to having these beautiful trails, beaches and parks to yourself, the scenery alone is what has convinced me that winter is one of the best seasons to visit PEI

The island is largely populated with coniferous trees including pines, firs, and spruces, which are stunning all year round, but the dusting of snow makes them absolutely captivating. 

The beaches and parks become winter wonderlands with ice, snow, and frozen landscapes. You’ll definitely want to bundle up (those winds can be merciless!) but it’s so worth it to experience these outdoor spaces with no one else around. 

Cavendish Beach
Point Prim Lighthouse (credit: Richard Wills)

5. Restaurants will be quieter

Peak tourist season coincides with lobster season, but fortunately you can still grab delicious seafood dishes all-year round. Charlottetown has an abundance of amazing restaurants to pick from to satisfy your seafood craving during any month! I also loved that because there are a lot less tourists, you’ll find a lot of locals hanging out at these restaurants and you won’t have an issue booking a reservation or walking in for a table.

This was such a contrast to when I visited during the summertime when wait times could be upwards of 2 hours!

Seafood Chowder at Lone Oak Brewing Co

6. There are lots of great winter festivals

Charlottetown’s Ice City Festival runs for a month during the winter from February 4th – March 6th (2022) where you can witness stunning ice sculptures, art installations, skating, horse and carriage rides, music festivals, sugar shacks, a fire and ice busker festival, snowshoeing, and much more! Embrace winter on the island with some Ice City Festival fun!

Of course there is always the delicious WinterDine in Charlottetown, where you can take part in a 3 course meal for a steal of a price, just $35-$45! I am definitely timing my next visit for this tasty event to eat my way around the city, which is held from January 17 – February 6 (2022). Good luck picking just one restaurant to try!

For those looking to head outdoors away from the city, there is also the Winter Woodlot Tour in February, where you can learn about PEI’s Forest Enhancement Program, go snowshoeing through a wooded trail, learn about the island’s birds and birds of prey, watch how maple syrup is made, see a horse logging demonstration and much more, all while warming up with a cup of hot apple cider!

7. The winter drives will leave you breathless – and there’s no traffic

Something I wish photos could convey was just how beautiful the scenery really is during the winter. With very little traffic and wide open spaces, there are limitless drives to take your breath away. 

Some of my favourite drives were both paved and dirt – which if you’ve never experienced a dirt road drive, you really should. There are plenty of heritage roads in PEI.

St. Patrick Road, New Glasglow

What is a heritage road?

These preserved red clay lanes are spared from asphalt. logging, and snowplows, and are a unique feature of Prince Edward Island.

These narrow roads are captivating – from passing under tunnels of trees to running along farmland, these hilly roads are full of twists, turns, and beauty, and give a glimpse into the history and landscape of the province. 

Once used by horse and carriage, you can see the remnants of old mills, blacksmith sheds, and furniture shops along some of these heritage roads. Some were once used for rumrunners to hide illegal cargo, one is home to the largest American Elm on PEI, and one has its own pioneer cemetery, but all can be enjoyed during all seasons for the abundance of wildlife, plant species, and scenic views.

Scenic drives in PEI

  • Dock Road, North Wiltshire
  • St Patrick Road, New Glasgow
  • Northside Road drive
  • Panmure Island drive
  • French River
Dock Road, North Wiltshire

8. Accommodations and rentals are more affordable 

Would you believe the prices of car rentals can fluctuate as much as 10x during the summer as opposed to the winter? You’ll want to find a vehicle with winter tires and something with enough ground clearance, especially if you’re planning to do some remote driving down dirt roads or lighthouse hunting. If you can secure an SUV, it’s well worth it!

You’ll also find more affordable room rates during the off-season, and while a lot of lodgings may not be open in remote towns during the winter, there is still the option for AirBnbs and Bed and Breakfasts that will show you true PEI hospitality. 

Booking.com

Tips for travelling to PEI during the winter

  • If you’re planning on doing any adventuring, you’ll need to either drive here or plan to rent a vehicle. Flights to PEI (especially from Toronto) are inexpensive during the winter and I have found many flights for $200 RT.
  • You can easily travel with just a carry-on if you’re flying, especially if you have access to laundry. Bring a sturdy pair of versatile boots and jacket and that’s half the battle! I swear by packing cubes and I use them wherever I go.
  • Do your research when it comes to restaurants! A lot of restaurants close during the winter in PEI. Even websites or social media aren’t always updated accurately, so you may want to call ahead to see if they’re open. You’ll generally always find a Tim Hortons or Robins nearby for a coffee, and you can bring snacks along in case of emergencies, or in my case, hanger. 😂
  • Don’t underestimate how cold it can get. The wind can be really brutal so it’s best to come prepared with warm clothing, especially gloves. I can’t stress that accessory enough! My hands took over a week to recover – the wind and dry air really sapped all of the moisture out of them.
  • Don’t be afraid to drive around the island in the winter. The roads are well maintained and you’re never far from civilization. There’s so much beauty to be seen wherever you travel. And when in doubt, ask a local!

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15 Comments

  1. Kay
    January 3, 2022 / 11:32 pm

    Previously, you would’ve lost me at the temperature, but I’ve recently come to love traveling to destinations in the winter. You’re so right, it REALLY elevates the experience of a place. And PEI looks absolutely beautiful – I’d love to see it outside of high season!

  2. January 5, 2022 / 2:10 pm

    PEI looks so beautiful – and what a convenient post! I’m actually planning on heading there this winter!! Hoping that its gonna be one helluva time!

  3. January 5, 2022 / 2:49 pm

    I’ve always wanted to visit PEI and you’ve convinced me winter might be the time to do so! I really love taking advantage of less crowds and traffic. Thank you for the tip about what to pack and the restaurants too!

  4. gloria li
    January 5, 2022 / 3:12 pm

    it’s really stunning there. Winter festivals will be the reason I visit there.

  5. Erin from Pina Travels
    January 5, 2022 / 4:36 pm

    Ugh, I love PEI so much. I was just there this past fall, and I felt like that was a great time of year, too! I visited in early October and the weather was beautiful (one day was so hot that I was able to swim!!!). And of course, there were barely any tourists. I would LOVE to go back and see what the island is like in winter – your pics are so magical.

    • Sarah
      Author
      January 6, 2022 / 6:56 am

      I need to visit during the fall! It looks amazing!!

  6. Christina
    January 6, 2022 / 12:26 pm

    You lost me at the temperature. Not a fan of anything near or below freezing. However, I do love visiting places “off-season.”

    • Sarah
      Author
      January 6, 2022 / 6:23 pm

      That’s fair 😂 Winter is my favourite season and I think that combined with this time of year being the off-season, it’s really captivated me!

  7. Kelly
    January 8, 2022 / 2:56 pm

    PEI in the winter sounds fantastic! I’ve been in the summer and it’s crazy busy with tourists. I remember the first time I drove down one of the dirt roads, which I also loved. I couldn’t get over the red dirt. You have made me want to go back!

  8. January 9, 2022 / 12:55 am

    I absolutely love seaside places on winter, they are just magical! PEI just sounds like something out of a fairytale and that seafood chowder looks yummy and warm. Lovely post, thank you for sharing 😊

    • Sarah
      Author
      January 9, 2022 / 2:26 pm

      You are so right – there’s something so charming about seaside towns during the winter!

  9. January 9, 2022 / 11:30 am

    The negative temperatures certainly sound intimidating, but all the fun winter things to do on Prince Edward Island make me go “hmm!” I especially love the idea of exploring light houses without the crowds!

  10. January 9, 2022 / 2:16 pm

    I really love the look of the coastline in the snow! I would find the February temperatures very tough, but I think I could cope in December – and now I’m used to skiing, I think I would love to visit those empty trails (as long as I had a warm coat, hat and gloves!)

    p.s. lol at your emergency snack comment. That is very good advice.

    • Sarah
      Author
      January 9, 2022 / 2:27 pm

      You get it! There’s nothing worse than being stuck without food. It’s not a good look for me 😂 You’d love these winter trails, Josy!! They’re so scenic!

  11. Linda
    April 17, 2022 / 9:05 am

    I’ve recently moved here year round and think one of the best things about the winter we’re all the concerts. Trailside in Charlottetown and Red Dirt Girl Music Room are two of my favourites. Saturday morning farmer’s markets year round are a joy. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing make being outside enjoyable. Great restaurants in Charlottetown throughout the year.

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