Everyone can feel a little Grinch-y in December. It feels like the holiday season starts earlier and earlier, the malls are packed, and slush-y streets make for wet walks to work. But even the most hard-hearted Scrooge can appreciate the magic of a holiday light display and Toronto knows how to do the holidays right. With dazzlingly bright displays twinkling across the city, it’s hard to stay feeling miserly for long. Here are our favourite places to feel your heart (and someone else’s hydro bill) grow three sizes this holiday season.
Weekday evenings (closed Mondays) and all day on weekends for most of December, Nathan Phillips Square hosts a Holiday Fair in the Square. The famous Toronto sign remains lit, but the arches above the skating rink, a giant tree and all the surrounding vendor tents are covered in a canopy of lights. All is free (including skating on the rink – but there is a fee for skate rentals), so you can spend your money on delicious fare like Tiny Tom’s donuts, beaver tails, and yes, even wine.
The Distillery District plays host to the Toronto Christmas Market, which washes the historic district in light. It’s the perfect place to reflect on Toronto’s history (the Gooderham & Worts building that dominates the backdrop dates back to 1832) or, in the modern parlance, “do it for the ‘Gram” – Instagram opportunities abound at this popular holiday spot. Be aware that it is not free on weekends and parking can be a challenge – best to take transit if possible.
Yes, we know. It can be crowded, but maybe that’s because it is home to the largest Christmas tree in Canada, a towering behemoth that stands at 100-feet. It spans the height of the whole building – three massive levels. The Eaton Centre also boasts stores not seen many other places in Toronto (or even Canada), like Uniqlo, an Apple store, and Nordstrom, for you to find that unique holiday gift.
The posh shops aren’t the only thing to see in this tony neighbourhood. This holiday season, the park on Cumberland Street will be decked out with lights covering every surface, including the huge fountain beside the famous Yorkville rock. Grab a hot chocolate from one of the many nearby coffee shops and take a stroll through the neighbourhood – maybe the luckiest on your shopping list will get a treat from one of the ultra-luxe stores. For some goofy holiday fun, check out the Speedo Santa Run on Saturday December 15 at 1:30 p.m., which departs from Hemingway’s and raises money for the Toys and Games Fund at the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children.
If all the Netflix Christmas specials are to be believed, there’s nothing more magical at the holidays than a castle (especially when an average girl just so happens to fall in love with a real life prince!). All through December (and even a bit into January), Casa Loma will host A Nutcracker Christmas at the Castle. Though tickets must be purchased for entry, buyers will get plenty of bang for their buck, with offerings like ice skating performances, an illusionist, Santa’s workshop and a 40-foot-tall tree, along with eight other trees styled by Canadian designers.
It doesn’t seem that appealing to visit in winter, but the bravest – and most well-layered – visitors will be treated to a spectacle of lights at this lakefront venue. Ontario Place’s Winter Light Exhibition, which runs all the way into March, features work from 18 artists under the theme “Disruptive Engagement”. Warm up afterwards with a skate or by roasting a s’more at one of the community bonfires. Besides, nothing says Canadian Christmas like being a little bit frozen.
It’s not as gleaming with lights as the rest of these Toronto landmarks, but there’s something so quintessentially Torontonian about making the most of winter and skating under the Gardiner Expressway, we had to include it. 2017 was the first year a stretch of road under the Gardiner opened up to public use and saw 50,000 visitors come and skate. This year, its figure 8 shaped rink is opening again, on December 21 weekend. Don’t worry about the cold too much – there are also blankets and fires nearby to cozy up.
From our families to yours, we wish you a happy and healthy holiday season!
Jim & Chris