Featured image courtesy of Tourism Toronto
Toronto at Christmastime is a colourful blur of glistening lights and snow-covered sidewalks speckled with hurried shoppers. The head offices of TD Bank, Bank of Montreal, CIBC and Scotiabank at King and Bay Streets compete to showcase the most eye-catching holiday tree and light decorations. Skates are flung on the backs of children and adults alike as they go on the hunt for the nearest outdoor rink. Friends or colleagues, looking to share some holiday cheer, meet for lunch or cocktails at crowded restaurants decorated with holly boughs and bows.
Families visiting Toronto during the holidays will enjoy several outdoor winter festivals, dazzling Christmas tree lightings and the beloved Santa Claus Parade along University Avenue during the holidays. If you’re reuniting with friends in Toronto or simply want a taste of big city life at Christmas, read further to find out about key holiday attractions you’ll want to experience and some of Toronto’s best hotels to book for the holidays.
Toronto Christmas Market at the Distillery District
This hugely popular holiday market in Toronto’s historic Distillery District is based on a traditional European market. When you enter the market, you can’t help but notice the 50-foot white spruce towering over the centre square. If you’re with small children, they’ll want to take a spin on the Ferris Wheel or visit with Santa and give him their Christmas lists. (Bring your own camera to take a photo.)
Slip away from the kids to shop for last-minute stocking stuffers at vendor stalls selling Christmas ornaments, strudel, shortbread, savoury pies, socks, and skincare products. Live music performances on the Main Stage and Victorian carollers strolling along the cobblestone streets will put you in a holiday mood.
If you need to warm up, slip inside the Pure Spirits Oyster Grill for a plate of curried mussels or enjoy a handcrafted lager and burger at the Mill Street Brewery. The Christmas market is free before 5 p.m. during the week and $6 on weekends. Be forewarned that it’s elbow-room only on weekends; try and visit during the week for a more relaxed visit.
Nathan Phillips Square Holiday Light Display and Outdoor Skating
Nathan Phillips Square is lit up in a kaleidoscope of holiday colours throughout the month of December. Skate along to classic tunes on the square’s outdoor ice rink while admiring the 18-metre Christmas tree decorated in over 3,800 LED lights. If you’re feeling thirsty, visit the ice lounge for festive cocktails or shop at the artisan market for unique gifts and gourmet goodies. On December 31st, celebrate with other Torontonians at the annual New Year’s Eve countdown. The popular evening event features live music and dance performances, a DJ spinning tunes and dazzling fireworks at midnight.
Festive Shopping at St. Lawrence Market
This kinetic food market becomes electric during the month of December when busy shoppers arrive to buy holiday décor, like fresh cedar and pine wreaths, or holiday urns to decorate their front doors and porches. There is an air of cheerful but focused energy permeating throughout the market as shoppers choose between fresh turkeys at Whitehouse Meats or stop by Mike’s Fish Market for succulent shrimp, scallops or lobster for Christmas Eve dinner.
Stop by Giftworks for Toronto and Canadian-themed souvenirs, including maple syrup cookies, Toronto logo hoodies, postcards, books, and Native arts and crafts. Don’t leave the market without ordering the famous peameal bacon sandwich from Carousel Bakery, but pack your patience as the bakery attracts huge line-ups. The St. Lawrence Market is open Tuesdays to Saturdays in December (the Antique Market is open on Sundays).
Nutcracker Afternoon Tea at the Omni King Edward Hotel
Escape the shopping madness and savour the spirit of the holidays at the Nutcracker Afternoon Tea at The Omni King Edward Hotel. You’ll enjoy your high tea in the Art-Nouveau-designed lobby beside the magnificently decorated Christmas tree or in the hotel’s stately Victoria’s Restaurant. For a set price of $55 per person plus tax and gratuities, you’ll receive a selection of fine loose leaf tea, a holiday plate of finger sandwiches, including the hotel’s signature beef Wellington, in-house baked scones with rich Devonshire cream and holiday desserts such as shortbread, pudding, mousse, and trifle.
Put your Christmas cares on the back burner and cherish holiday memories as you listen to classic holiday music from Bing Crosby and Andy Williams being piped in the lobby. The Nutcracker Afternoon Tea takes place from mid-November to the end of December on Wednesdays through Sundays. Reservations are required in advance.
Stay at The Omni King Edward Hotel
If, after enjoying the Nutcracker Afternoon Tea, you are so enamoured with the surroundings, why not reserve a room at The Omni King Edward Hotel, which was named after King Edward VII. The hotel’s Crystal Ballroom was also the location of an episode of the TV series, Suits, which starred Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. Suffice it to say, this hotel connotes royalty. Although the hotel recently underwent a $40 million refurbishment, the lobby retains many of the original touches from its 1903 roots including crown mouldings, marble pillars, and a 360-degree second-floor balcony (be sure to spot the larger-than-life chess piece near the fireplace). Rooms are decorated in a gorgeous red, white and grey colour scheme and feature HDTVs, safes, Keurig coffee machines and WiFi.
Stay in shape during the holidays with a visit to the hotel’s in-house fitness facility featuring cardio machines with personal TVs, weight machines and a yoga practice area. Or, take a brisk walk outside and explore the Old Town neighbourhood. The hotel is within walking distance of the St. Lawrence Market, Toronto Eaton Centre, and Hockey Hall of Fame, so you have plenty to experience while you keep moving.Check availability >>
Sheraton Centre Toronto
The Sheraton Centre Toronto is ideally situated for holiday shopping since it’s right across from the Toronto Eaton Centre. Choose a room facing Nathan Phillips Square so you can gaze out of the floor-to-ceiling windows and watch skaters twirl on the ice rink.
Rooms have been recently refurbished in warm, neutral tones and include a desk with ergonomic chair, telephone with voicemail, coffee maker, iron and ironing board. But you won’t have to worry about pressing your clothes to dine in the hotel’s casual BnB or to enjoy a quick coffee and grilled chicken panini in the Link Café. Once you’ve fuelled up, you’ll definitely want to check out the indoor/outdoor heated pool. Even though it’s winter, you’ll be able to swim outdoors as snowflakes tickle your nose.
If the weather in Toronto is blisteringly cold, you don’t have to step outside since the hotel is linked to Toronto’s underground PATH pedestrian tunnel that winds around shops, cafes, and bars. Should you decide to venture around the city by car, skip the valet parking and save by using the City Hall lot across the street.Check availability >>
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Toronto
The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel will make you feel right at home when you opt for the junior one bedroom suite. Equipped with a microwave, stove top, and refrigerator, the suite also features a pull-out couch for the kids in a separate living room area. Other homey touches include complimentary bathrobes and slippers. For added excitement, choose a higher floor room to marvel at the unobstructed view of the Toronto skyline and the iconic CN Tower.
Hunger attack? You’ll definitely want to visit the hotel’s Hemispheres Restaurant for fine dining, as well as enjoy a breakfast buffet with scrambled eggs, bacon, turkey sausage, pastries, yogourt, and fruit. If you’re feeling peckish between meals, indulge in warm cookies at the check-in counter or pick up a snack at the 24-hour mini market. Other family-friendly conveniences include a laundry room on the mezzanine for guests to use as well as interconnecting rooms to accommodate parents and kids.Check availability >>
InterContinental Toronto Centre
If you’ll be attending a Toronto Maple Leafs game during your Toronto vacay, you’ll definitely want to stay at the InterContinental Toronto Centre — just a five-minute walk from the Scotiabank Arena. The hotel is also within walking distance of popular Toronto attractions including Ripley’s Aquarium, the Rogers Centre, the Hockey Hall of Fame., and theatres on King Street West.
Splurge on an Executive Room where you’ll be spoiled with Serta Perfect Sleeper mattresses, marble bathrooms, and access to the Club Lounge where you can enjoy breakfast and high tea. Since you’ll be steps from the Entertainment District’s high-end restaurants, you’ll have a wide range of choice for dining. If you prefer to stay in, dine at the hotel’s Azure restaurant, which features a solarium-style window that is great for people watching. You won’t want to skip Azure’s buffet breakfast that includes Eggs Benny, oat pancakes, omelettes, Pineapple & Mango Smoothies, and fresh fruit.Check availability >>
Four Seasons Hotel Toronto
If luxury is your middle name, you won’t find a better hotel in Toronto than the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto. This flagship Yorkville hotel was reopened at its present location in 2012 and is more glorious than its previous incarnation two blocks west. A frequent favourite of stars staying in town for the Toronto International Film Festival, this five-star hotel whispers “first class” from the innovative menu at French celebrity chef Daniel Boulud’s eponymous café to the sublime spa treatments that include bamboo massage and an oxygen facial with rose quartz crystals.
Work out like your favourite celebrity on the treadmills, spin bikes and elliptical machines at the hotel’s 24-hour gym and enjoy complimentary flavoured water and fresh fruit post exercise. Did you forget to bring your runners? The hotel will provide you with activewear and shoes to use during your workout. If there’s anything else you need, the hotel makes it incredibly easy to communicate with staff via the Four Seasons app.Check availability >>