Christmas in Toronto: 11 Delightful Things to Do (Markets, Lights & Day Trips!)

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Wondering what there is do during Christmas time in Toronto? The answer is… nothing.

I’m joking, obviously. Sorry – the Vancouverite side of me gets competitive sometimes. The truth is, Toronto may not be a city especially known for its holiday celebrations, but with enough sleuthing and digging, you’ll find there’s actually plenty of festive pockets of fun around the city.

I recently spent a week stomping around Toronto in search of the city’s best festive things to do… much to the chagrin of the friends I was visiting. Frankly – the mission was a lot tougher than I expected, with scattered and outdated info, plenty of overpriced money grabs and places impossible to get to without a car. Nonetheless, I persisted, and am happy to share with you today an honest take on Toronto’s best holiday pop-ups, events, light displays, and more.

(Because trust me – if you just go by what the pretty videos on social media say, you’ll be very disappointed).

So, I ho ho hope you enjoy this Toronto Christmas / Holiday guide, and be sure to stick around until the end because I’m saving the best for last!

Save this List of Toronto Christmas Things to Do!

You’ll be very glad you did.

1. The Original Toronto Santa Claus Parade

We’ll kick things off with a classic. The start of the festive season in Toronto is marked by a century-old tradition known as the Original Toronto Santa Claus Parade.

Since its inception in 1905, this beloved Toronto event has been one of the main highlights of the city’s festive calendar, with 20+ floats sponsored by various organizations and businesses, ten marching bands and even an appearance from the Big Man himself to end the parade on a high.

From start to finish, the parade takes about 2.5 hours to weave its way through downtown Toronto, with hundreds of participants representing the city’s diverse makeup. 

Special guests of honour include local broadcasters, the city mayor, plus an eerie and inexplicable amount of clowns.

My personal highlight however was probably the walking mailboxes who were collecting letters to Santa, or maybe the walking Tim Hortons cups for optimal Canadian cuteness. Hands down, if you’re looking for a wholesome, family-friendly Christmas activity in Toronto, make sure you time your visit for this. 

2. The Distillery Winter Village

Formerly known as the Toronto Christmas Market, the Distillery Winter Village is the largest and most popular festive market in the city.

In this pretty part of town, you’ll find Victorian-era industrial buildings restored and transformed into a hub for culture, community, and capitalism. I mean… shopping and dining...

With cobblestoned streets and red-bricked buildings acting as a scenic backdrop to festive cabins selling ornaments, gifts, and plenty of food and drink, the atmosphere here feels worlds away from the glassy highrises that engulf the downtown area nearby, especially around the glittering 56 ft Christmas tree, sponsored glamorously this year by Dior.

I did enjoy the vibe here, but I went on a Monday afternoon, before the typical holiday mobs descended. Be warned – the crowds here can get intense, and admission is charged on weekend evenings after 4pm, so plan your visit for an off-peak period, ideally on a weekday or before 4pm, to make the most of the experience. 

Sure, the atmosphere becomes a lot more magical at night, but it’s much easier to justify spending $20 on a sausage in a bun when you don’t have to wait in line forever for it. And don’t forget that the district is home to a number of permanent vendors selling more affordable treats without the Christmas market markup, like Tartistry, which in addition to having a delightful name, sells the most amazing butter tarts.

PS: If you have no choice but to go on a weekend, book those tickets in advance because they do sell out!

On site, you’ll also find an “immersive experience” called Illuminarium. While the photos look cool, the reviews do not, with tons of one star reviews repeatedly emphasizing that it’s not worth the money. So, be warned! Always check reviews for these holiday things.

3. The Fairmont Royal York

Next, let’s move onto fun holiday things to do around Downtown Toronto. 

While primarily a business district, there are still sprinkles of festive cheer spread around this part of town, from office buildings with their own trees and lights set up to more extravagant affairs, like at the luxurious Fairmont Royal York.

The holiday season is a big deal at the Fairmont, where a glittering Christmas tree is set up in the lobby every year, along with an array of fun festive activities including this year, their own Gingerbread Way with over 8000 freshly baked gingerbread bricks, pieced together with real icing and candy. 

Best of all, members of the public are free to come in and admire the decorations, even if they’re not staying at the hotel. Just be sure to not steal any candy.. which I sadly did notice during my visit. seriously – who vandalizes a gingerbread house?? I’ll never understand.

To find the gingerbread decorations, enter through the main lobby to see the giant Christmas tree, and head upstairs.

4. Winterville at Eaton Centre

Downtown, you’ll also find some festive cheer at Eaton Centre, one of the largest malls in Canada. In fact, they’re so committed to the holidays that even the King of Christmas himself, Michael Bublé made a guest appearance at the start of the season.

While of course, Eaton Centre just a mall, it’s a pretty huge one, with over 200 retailers to browse and even a pop-up kiosk selling very cute personalized ornaments. The main festive highlights though are part of the mall’s Winterville program, which includes visits with Santa, fun light installations (like big reindeer and a lit archway in Trinity Square) as well as a large Christmas tree that displays a 3 minute light show four times a day… complete with its own little snow flurry.

NOTE: If you’ve been researching Toronto Christmas activities, odds are you’ve read about the extravagant window displays at Hudson Bay Company. Unfortunately this year, they didn’t appear to be doing much… but there were some other fun installations to be found around the mall, like these ‘dream machine’ windows on Yonge St created in collaboration with the Ontario Science Centre, showcasing kinetic sculptures are made of (mainly) everyday objects that move to music. Be sure to stick around until they’re activated – they’re absolutely amazing! 

5. Nathan Phillips Square

Another highlight of the festive season in Downtown Toronto is at Nathan Phillips Square, where you can enjoy a skating rink with Toronto City Hall and the photogenic TORONTO sign as a pretty backdrop (plus a fun dragon friend this year).

The coolest part about this rink is that it’s free……… so long as you bring your own skates. Assuming you’re not someone who casually lugs their skates everywhere, rentals will set you back $15 per adult, which is still a fairly affordable outing by Downtown Toronto standards.

For a completely free experience though, behind the rink you can pose with the square’s modest Cavalcade of Lights, which consists of a few light installations like sparkly arches. It’s mainly a photo opp spot, but (in fairness), it’s a pretty cute one.

NOTE: While the square used to be home to the Holiday Fair in the Square event, it has since relocated to North York in Mel Lastman Square (and was sadly closed the day I wanted to visit). So, don’t come here expecting a big Toronto Christmas Market!

6. Old Town

While wandering Toronto’s Downtown for festive magic, it’s also worth heading towards Old Town, where you’ll find St Lawrence Market, a historic Toronto institution that has been serving the local community for over 200 years.

Home to over 100 vendors, this is an ideal place to warm up and grab a bite to eat, although don’t expect too many festive vibes in the market itself. Instead, you can get your fill of obnoxious festive magic in two stops nearby, including one of my personal favourite places in Toronto: the Berczy Park Dog Fountain, which features sculptures of 27 dog breeds, many of which are seen sporting festive scarves and hats during the holiday season. 

While roaming around this area, you can also duck into Brookfield Place next to the Hockey Hall of Fame and encounter some surprisingly festive light installations, including a lit up arch and a dazzling set of Christmas wreaths.

7. Visit Festive Pop-Ups

Besides the signature Toronto Christmas events mentioned above, you’ll also find festive pop-ups in Downtown Toronto and beyond. These vary year to year and, truthfully, vary quite a bit in quality as well… probably since pop-ups are by nature, temporary.

I also noticed that a lot of pop-ups were way smaller in person than I expected, though close up angles in social media content can make anything look epic, I guess.

Nonetheless, here are some of the Toronto pop-ups I checked out this year, and what I thought of them..

Holiday Street Market at the CN Tower: A small handful of food stalls at the base of the CN Tower. Honestly quite disappointing – only a few stalls open and a few still actively under construction. I’m hoping the market will fill out more over the season though, just keep your expectations in check!

Holiday at the Well: A pop-up at Downtown Toronto’s newly “opened” mixed use development (with retail, residence, and office space). Sadly, most shops have yet to open so it was pretty empty, but there were a few cute things spaced out around the complex, like a festive light tunnel, a holiday yurt pop-up, and I’ve heard that they do a projected light show on the ceiling too.

STACKT Holiday Hills Market: Held at the largest shipping container market on the continent, this festive pop-up has fire pits, table curling, twinkly lights and of course lots of opportunities for shopping too at the 20+ vendors set up in repurposed shipping containers. I visited this market on a very rainy evening, so it wasn’t the most bustling event by any means, but I still enjoyed seeing some of the light installations, and enjoyed a quick drink at the festively decorated Blue Moon Brewery.

8. Enjoy a festive shopping experience

Beyond Downtown Toronto though, it has to be said that much of what draws visitors to the city, and what keeps the city’s millions of residents happy, are the many pockets of food, drink, and shopping found in diverse neighbourhoods scattered around the city. 

While this means sometimes having to plan strategically and do some hopping around modes of transport, what the city lacks in compact walkability, it makes up for with options. Here are some neighbourhoods to put on your Toronto holiday bucket list:

  • Bloor-Yorkville Holiday Magic: An upscale area where luxury shops can be found in abundance alongside a small festive calendar including light installations and pop-ups in/around the Village of Yorkville Park.
  • Queen St West: Considered one of the top shopping areas of the city, with a mix of chain and independent retailers. Check out the Welcome Market, a small but cute marketplace to pick up gifts from local makers and The Grand Order of Divine Sweets, which sells the most epic fandom-themed chocolate and candy creations perfect for gifting. Close by this area as well you’ll find some very festive and delicious places to grab a bite, including Papi Chulo which I’ll discuss more later, and the tremendously popular spots on the Ossington Strip.
  • Kensington Market: While not particularly festive in terms of decorations, Kensington Market is still one of Toronto’s top must-dos and a great place to shop for gifts or grab a tasty and affordable bite.
Pretty lights at the Village of Yorkville Park

9. Visit a festive Toronto bar

There’s options aplenty if you want to grab a drink somewhere festive in Toronto. The downside? Many of the city’s holiday pop ups, if reviews are to go by, can leave a lot to be desired, from hour plus waits and extortionate tiny cocktails to complaints of bad service, bad drinks and everything in between. 

Needless to say, not all festive bars in Toronto are made equal. What I’d recommend is prioritizing places that are open year-round and happen to have a holiday event, rather than pop-ups that are built just for the season, since these focus less on the quality of food and drink, and are more often cash grabs. 

I ended up at Papi Chulo’s for their Mistletoe & Margarita pop-up and thought the decor was amazing, but so were the margaritas and tacos. In any case, make sure you check reviews before you book a holiday pop-up, because sometimes it’s tough to tell which ones make the Nice list.

Some tips:

  • Read reviews first, thoroughly
  • Book ahead whenever possible and arrive early/at off-peak times for walk-in only experiences 
  • Prioritize places that operate year round and have good reviews over pop ups
  • Remember that you’re paying a premium for the festive experience so lower your expectations or go elsewhere if your priority is quality food and drink rather than festive atmosphere 

Here are some of Toronto’s most popular festive pop ups. Again, read reviews carefully before booking!! Listing them here does not imply an endorsement – I just wanted to save you some leg work.

10. Admire beautifully decorated houses

Of course, I couldn’t write a list of the best Christmas things to do in Toronto without mentioning some of the neighbourhoods famed for their extravagant displays.

Granted, I didn’t have the time (or car) needed to creep through these spots myself, but I figured I should share the list with you anyway in case you have more resources than sad little me.

NOTE: Many of these are scattered around the GTA and aren’t particularly close to each other, so a car really would be needed!

  • Kringlewood | All along Inglewood Drive, Toronto: Fun street famed for its many giant inflated Santas
  • Brock Avenue, Toronto | Street known for having lots of nicely decorated houses, with 188 & 262 known to usually go all out
  • Savage Christmas Lights | 1 Fletcher Place, Toronto: Bright light show in support of SickKids
  • Desario Family Festival of Lights | 165 Benjamin Boake Trail, North York: An amazing fundraiser with epic lights that has been going on for over 20 years.
  • Angus Glen Golf Club | 10080 Kennedy Road, Markham, ON: Free displays at a fancy golf club

11. Casa Loma Holiday Lights 

And lastly, saving the best for last as promised, if there’s one magical Christmas experience in Toronto you can’t miss, for me it’s the Casa Loma Holiday Lights.

While elsewhere in the city, the decor can be so sparsely spread that it doesn’t feel overly Christmassy, at Casa Loma you’re fully immersed in festive cheer, with everything from sparkling light displays in the gardens to more immersive set-ups that make use of giant teddy bears, animatronics and more.

Known as Toronto’s own castle on a hill, this beautiful mansion has been around since the 1910s and was constructed in Gothic revival style with a hefty budget of 3.5 million dollars, or the equivalent of over a hundred million dollars today. Featured countless times in movies and TV shows too, odds are you’ve probably seen Casa Loma before without even knowing.

And it becomes all the more magical during the holidays… obviously! During the festive season, Casa Loma puts on two different events – Christmas at the Castle, which is its usual visit route with a sprinkle of additional holiday magic through Christmas decor and performance, and the Casa Loma Holiday Lights, which takes place mostly outdoors in the castle gardens after the main castle has closed.

With plenty of whimsical displays and fun characters roaming around, plus several shows each evening for entertainment, I was very pleaantly surprised by how much was included in the entry ticket, which may seem steep at first but is in my opinion really worth it for what you get.

A unique highlight is a chance to walk through the castle’s 800ft tunnel system which connects the main part of the castle to the hunting lodge and stables. During the holiday season, this becomes an elaborately festive tunnel of lights and insallations, which lead you all the way to see Santa Claus himself. 

And while certain displays definitely seemed like recycled props from their Halloween event (looking at you, “Grinch” that was clearly just a skeleton with a hat on), I still enjoyed this spot very much… and consider it the most festive event to enjoy in Toronto.

… Although I’d recommend booking the last time slot possible to minimize crowds!

BONUS: Enjoy a festive day trip 

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that this video so far has focused on festive things to do in the City of Toronto… but expand your search to the Greater Toronto Area and beyond, and you’ll find many more noteworthy festive experiences, like…

Niagara Falls

If you’re up for a bit of a longer day trip, you can do as I did and book a day trip to the iconic Niagara Falls, famed for its epic cascades framed by rainbows …… when you visit on a nice day that is!

Granted, the weather wasn’t exactly on our side during this visit, but it’s worth mentioning because Niagara Falls during the festive season is home to the annual Niagara Falls Winter Festival of Lights, which decorates the area with various light installations over an 8km or 5 mile path, and even fireworks on select dates throughout the season.

Once the rain cleared and we could somewhat see the falls themselves, I can confirm it was pretty magical. 

Other ‘Hallmark Movie’ Christmas Towns

… And just FYI, if you’re hoping to live out your ultimate Hallmark movie fantasies, Ontario is a pretty great place to do that since a lot of those movies do actually film here!

Some cute Hallmark-esque small towns I’ve heard great things about include Niagara-on-the-Lake and Stratford.

Niagara-on-the-Lake Photo by Dalma Dioszegi on Unsplash

Did I Miss Any of Your Favourite Holiday Things to Do in Toronto?

Let me know in the comments so I can add more to my list for future visits!

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✈️ Google Flights: For finding flight deals

🌎 WorldNomads: For travel insurance

🎉 GetYourGuide: For booking activities

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