This story was created in partnership with: Tourism Toronto
If there’s one thing Toronto does well, it’s the holiday season. Even as a summer-loving local, I’ll be the first to admit: the city is all kinds of magical during the festive period.
There are extravagant decorations, glittering lights galore, and some of the best Christmas markets this side of the Atlantic. And when you need to warm up, you can duck into any number of cool shops and cosy restaurants for a bit of respite from the wintry weather.
Whether you’re visiting Toronto for the first time — or you know the city well but have yet to experience it during the holidays — grab your thermals and get ready for an absurdly enchanting time with these festive microadventures across the city.
- Get your yuletide fix
- Hang out in real-life winter wonderlands
- Sip on cocktails in Kris Kringle-approved bars
- Stave off the cold with hearty comfort food
- Get a head start on your holiday shopping
Travel to: Canada
1. Get your yuletide fix
Toronto has everything we all love about the most wonderful time of the year. Mulled wine? Check. Holiday markets that look like they’ve been plucked from the pages of a storybook? You bet. 50-foot Christmas trees and over-the-top decorations? Of course. Basically, there are a hundred and one ways you can get your festive fix here.
Kick things off with a visit to the Distillery District, home to the city’s most atmospheric European-style Christmas market. Complete with a glittering canopy of twinkling lights and a gargantuan Christmas tree, this is a fantastic spot to shop for local, handcrafted gifts, snack on sweet and savoury treats, or cosy up beside a fire pit with a cup of gluhwein in hand.
All that mulled wine will have you feeling warm and fuzzy in no time, so take to the ice and skate up a storm at one of the following rinks: Nathan Phillips Square (home to the iconic Toronto sign), Union Station’s Sir John A MacDonald Plaza (the newest rink in the city), or the Harbourfront Centre (which features live DJs every Saturday night starting December 15th).
See Also: The Best Souvenirs From Toronto
2. Hang out in real-life winter wonderlands
This year, Canada’s Wonderland (a theme park located roughly 40km from the city centre) has transformed into a glowing dreamland that will impress even the most holiday-obsessed.
Picture whimsical themed areas covered with scores of twinkle lights (more than five million, to be precise), an ice skating rink, live entertainment, and spectacularly festive décor that’ll have you oohing and ahhing out loud.
Can’t stand the cold? Head to Glow instead. This massive indoor Christmas festival features everything from illuminated structures to seasonal eats, live music, and local vendors.
As you can probably imagine, the photo ops here are next level: you’ll find illuminated hanging picture frames, a dazzling light tunnel, and interactive hanging lights throughout the 80,000-square-foot space.
Even the drinks are Insta-worthy, served in food-safe plastic light bulbs with battery-powered LEDs that make it — you got it — glow.
3. Sip on cocktails in Kris Kringle-approved bars
Want to warm up without putting the celebrations on pause? Lucky for you, the city is chock-full of quirky and delightfully unique places to keep you merry and bright well into the wee hours of the night.
Get all the igloo vibes without any of the snow at Proof, the cocktail bar at the InterContinental Yorkville. As part of their “IGLOOsive” experience, they’re serving dinner and drinks inside transparent igloo huts decked out with colourful lights and cosy blankets.
Of all the festive activities on this list, the igloo experience is one of my favourites; it’s just so — pardon the pun — cool, and I can’t think of a better way to get into the holiday spirit than savouring a glass of bubbly from the cosy confines of a life-size snow globe.
If Christmas kitsch is more your style, make your way to Miracle on Ossington, where you can sip on cocktails surrounded by gloriously gaudy decorations. And yes — it is the perfect place to don your ugliest holiday sweater.
4. Stave off the cold with drool-worthy comfort food
After wandering around Toronto all day, you’ll inevitably end up with a serious craving for something hearty and warm. When those hunger pangs hit, head to the city’s newest and buzziest Italian foodie destination: Eataly.
Combining the best attributes of a high-end supermarket with bars, grab-and-go eateries, and sit-down restaurants, you’ll find everything you could ever want to satisfy your cold-weather food cravings at this 50,000-square-foot food emporium.
There’s been a lot of hype surrounding Eataly since it opened in November, so my expectations for this Italian marketplace were sky-high — and, somehow, it managed to exceed them.
The food I ate was definitely a highlight, but more than anything, I love that Eataly is an experience; it’s the kind of place where you can shop for artisanal grocery items with a glass of prosecco in hand, or while away an afternoon eating, drinking, and chatting to experts on all things Italian food.
If you manage to snag a reservation at La Pizza & La Pasta — one of Eataly’s four full-service restaurants — do yourself a favour and order the cacio e pepe (spaghetti with Pecorino Romano cheese and black pepper). This dish is simple but seriously decadent, and the first bite transported me straight back to Rome.
Staying on the theme of hearty comfort food, Gusto 101 is another Toronto institution serving up Italian favourites — with a modern update.
You really can’t go wrong with anything on their menu (trust me on this one), but the mafalde ai funghi (pasta with truffle cream sauce and portobello, porcini, and oyster mushrooms) tastes even better during the chilly winter months.
See Also: 10 Things To Do in Fall in Toronto
5. Get a head start on your holiday shopping (or treat yourself)
In between all the festive food, activities, and general merriment, why not get ahead of the curve when it comes to Christmas shopping?
Whether you’re in need of some major gift inspiration or you’re just out to find a little somethin’ somethin’ for yourself, Toronto’s shops, boutiques, and pop-ups will have you checking everyone off your list in no time.
For vintages stores, upscale boutiques, and everything in between head for the vibrant neighbourhood that is Queen West. This ultra-hip retail strip features an eclectic mix of shops, so you can find presents for your mom, your BFF, and that Secret Santa recipient you don’t really know all that well.
The holiday market at Evergreen Brickworks — a revitalised former industrial site — brings together a varied selection of local artisans under one roof, so it’s a great spot to go for locally-made gifts and one-of-a-kind finds.
And if you’re on the lookout for your favourite tried-and-true brands or an exclusive luxury label, Yorkdale Shopping Centre has you covered. (Hot tip: ask about their Tourist Privileges if you’re visiting from out of town.)
I used to think this city was at its best in summer, but after getting stuck into these festive activities and events, I’m telling anyone who’ll listen: you have to visit Toronto during the holidays!
If you’re ready to experience the magic that is Toronto in December, explore our range of Eastern Canada trips for itineraries that’ll show you the best of destinations like Toronto, Montreal, Niagara Falls, and more!