Toronto may not be a city particularly known for its Christmas celebrations, but I assure you that when you know where to look, you'll find plenty of festive places to discover. My name is Christina and I will take you virtually to the best Christmas destinations and experiences in Toronto. I hope you enjoy and remember to stay until the end because I'm saving the best for last.
The Original Santa Claus Parade
We'll start with a classic: the start of the festive season in Toronto is marked by a century-old tradition called the Original Toronto Santa Claus Parade. Since its creation in 1905, this event dear to the hearts of Torontonians has been one of the highlights of the city's festive calendar. With more than 20 floats sponsored by different organizations and businesses, 10 marching bands and even an appearance by Santa Claus himself to close the parade, this event is enchanting from start to finish.
The parade takes approximately 2.5 hours to travel through downtown Toronto, with hundreds of participants representing the diversity of the city. Special guests of honor include local journalists, the town mayor and a bewildering and inexplicable array of clowns. My favorite moment was probably when I saw traveling mailboxes actively collecting letters to Santa or maybe even traveling Tim Hortons cups, for optimal Canadian cuteness. Without a doubt, if you are looking for a family Christmas activity in Toronto, make sure to schedule your visit during this event.
The Distillery Winter Village
The next Christmas must-do in Toronto is a visit to the Distillery Winter Village, formerly known as the Toronto Christmas Market. The Distillery Winter Village is the city's largest and most popular festive market. It's located in Toronto's famous Distillery District, a piece of history comprised of Victorian industrial buildings lovingly restored into a modern hub of culture, community and capitalism. I mean, shopping and dining.
The vibe here is very different from the glass buildings that surround the city center, with cobblestone streets and red brick buildings serving as a picturesque backdrop to festive shacks selling ornaments, gifts and food. The focal point of the event is undoubtedly the 56-foot Christmas tree, glamorously sponsored this year by Dior. Of course, the giant countdown to Christmas is also an Instagram favorite.
All of this, plus the usual food and shopping offerings in the Distillery District, explains why so many visitors flock to this event every year. However, be careful, the crowds can get intense and there is an entrance fee on weekend evenings after 4 p.m. So make sure to plan your visit during an off-peak period, ideally during the week or before 4 p.m., to make the most of your experience.
Sure, the atmosphere gets a lot more magical at night, but it's a lot easier to justify spending $20 on a sausage in a bun when you don't have to wait in line for hours. Also don't forget that the area is home to several permanent vendors who offer more affordable treats, without the Christmas market mark-up, like Tarry's for example, who sell the most delicious butter tarts.
Various Activities to Do in Downtown Toronto
Although downtown Toronto is primarily a business district, it still has a festive atmosphere, with office buildings having their own trees and lights, as well as more extravagant events, like at the luxurious Fairmont Royal York. The holiday season is a big deal at the Fairmont, where a twinkling Christmas tree is set up in the lobby each year, accompanied by a host of fun festive activities, including this year their very own "Gingerbread Man Alley » made up of more than 8,000 freshly baked gingerbread men assembled with real icing and candy.
The general public is allowed to come and admire the decorations, even if they aren't staying at the hotel, just don't steal any candy, which I unfortunately noticed during my visit. Not far away, you will also find a festive atmosphere at the Eaton Center, one of the largest shopping centers in Canada. They're so addicted to Christmas that they even brought in Michael Bublé, the King of Christmas himself, for an appearance at the start of the season. Although the Eaton Center is just a mall, it's a huge mall with over 200 retailers to browse and even a pop-up kiosk selling some really cute personalized ornaments.
Highlights of the holiday season are included in the mall's Winterville program, which includes visits with Santa and fun light installations, like large reindeer and a light arch in Trinity Square. The mall's main attraction during the holidays is of course its Christmas tree which puts on a 3-minute light show four times a day, complete with its own little snowstorm. Unfortunately, the Hudson's Bay Company showcases, which are usually highly anticipated every year, didn't seem to do much this year.
Luckily, there were other fun installations to check out around the mall's storefronts, like the Dream Machine windows on Young Street, created in collaboration with the Ontario Science Centre. These kinetic sculptures, made mainly from everyday objects, move to the rhythm of the music. Make sure you stick around until they activate, they are absolutely amazing. Another highlight of the festive season in downtown Toronto is at Nathan Phillips Square, where you can enjoy an ice skating rink with Toronto City Hall and the famous "Toronto" sign as a photogenic backdrop.
This year, there was also a small parade of lights including some light installations just behind the iconic ice rink. Although the square once hosted the Fair in the Square event for the holidays, this market was moved to North York this year, at Mel Lastman Square, and was unfortunately closed on the day I wanted to visit. As you stroll through downtown Toronto in search of festive magic, it's also worth heading to Old Town, where you'll find the St. Lawrence Market, a historic Toronto institution that has served the local community since over 200 years old. It's a great place to warm up and grab a bite to eat, although you shouldn't expect a very festive atmosphere in the market itself.
You can easily remedy this by visiting a few nearby sights, including one of my favorite places in Toronto, the Dog Fountain in Berczy Park, which features sculptures of 27 dog breeds, many wearing scarves and hats festive during the holiday season. While strolling through this area, you can also enter Brookfield Place, next to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and discover some surprisingly festive light installations, including a light arch and a dazzling array of Christmas creatures.
Festive Experiences in the Greater Toronto Area
Aside from Toronto's iconic Christmas events, you'll also find festive pop-ups throughout downtown Toronto and beyond. They can vary from year to year and, to be honest, the quality varies a lot too, but here are some of the ones I was able to experience this year. First of all, the Rue des Fêtes Christmas market at Cen Tower. The Cen Tower is probably an attraction you've already heard of or seen.
Formerly the tallest structure in the world, the tower is today a symbol synonymous with the city and probably Toronto's most visited tourist attraction. Although not particularly festive, it lights up with lovely colors at night and this year they have added a new festive market known as the Holiday Street Christmas Market. It takes place from Friday to Sunday. To be honest, when I visited, the market seemed quite minimalist, with only a few food stalls open and a few still under construction. I hope the market will be more developed as the season goes on, but manage your expectations. Another pop-up can be found at The Well, one of the newest additions to downtown Toronto's public spaces. This mixed-use development includes commercial, residential and office space, with a unique emphasis on pedestrian traffic and a community feel.
This was another place advertising festive events in downtown Toronto, although during my visit it seemed like most places were still waiting to open. However, as scattered as they are, there are some cute festive features to admire here, including a festive light tunnel and a Christmas light installation. I heard they also do light shows projected onto the ceiling. Another nearby pop-up is the Stacked Holiday Hills Christmas Market, known as the continent's largest shipping container market. Stack Market has a lovely festive atmosphere during the holidays, with fire pits, table curling, twinkling lights and of course, plenty of shopping opportunities. This unique market is known for its emphasis on local businesses with more than 20 vendors setting up shop in recycled shipping containers.
These were the pop-ups I was able to check out this year, but there are many more in and around Toronto. However, their quality and supply may vary. So I recommend checking reviews before booking a Christmas pop-up, as sometimes it's hard to tell which ones are really worth seeing.
Caloma's Magical Experience
Finally, I save the best for last. If there's one magical Christmas experience in Toronto that you can't miss, it's Caloma's festive lights. While in other parts of the city the decorations can be sparse enough to create a truly festive atmosphere, in Caloma you are totally immersed in the Christmas spirit. You'll find sparkling light installations in the gardens as well as more immersive displays that use giant teddy bears, animatronics and more.
Known as Toronto's Castle on a Hill, this magnificent mansion has been around since the 1910s and was built in the Gothic Revival style with a budget of $35 million, the equivalent of over $100 million today. 'today. She's been featured numerous times in movies and TV series, so you've probably seen her before without even knowing it. And it becomes even more magical during the holidays! During the festive season, Château Caloma hosts two different events: Christmas at the Castle, which offers a regular tour with an added touch of magic through Christmas decor and performances, and Caloma Festive Lights, which takes place mainly in the castle gardens after the main closure of the castle.
These festive illuminations include lots of fairy installations, fun characters and a few shows each evening to keep you entertained. I was pleasantly surprised by everything that was included in the entry ticket, which may seem steep at first, but I think is definitely worth it for what you get. A unique highlight is the chance to walk through the castle's 800-ton tunnel system, which connects the main part of the castle to the hunting lodge and stables.
During the holiday season, these tunnels transform into a tunnel of lights and elaborate installations that will take you all the way to Santa Claus himself. Although some of the installations certainly seem to be recycled props from their Halloween event, I still really enjoyed this place and consider it the most festive event in Toronto. However, I recommend booking the latest time slot possible to minimize crowds.
Other Festive Experiences in the Greater Toronto Area
In addition to Toronto's iconic Christmas events, you'll also find many other notable festive experiences in the Greater Toronto Area and beyond. Feel free to review the written version of this guide for a more comprehensive list of suggestions.
If you're up for a little day trip, you can do like me and book a day trip to Niagara Falls, famous for its epic waterfalls framed by rainbows. When visiting on a beautiful day, of course the weather wasn't really on our side on this visit, but it's worth mentioning because during the festive season Niagara Falls hosts the annual Festival of Lights of Niagara Falls, which decorates the area with various light installations along an 8 km route and even includes fireworks on select dates throughout the season.
Once the rain subsided and we could partially see the falls lit up in all the pretty colors, I can confirm that it was truly magical. In conclusion, I hope you enjoyed this tour of Toronto during the Christmas period.
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