It’s the most wonderful time of the year (well, for me anyway). It’s officially Christmas time, snow, hot chocolate drinking and scarf wearing season.
Toronto may be chilly outside but it is still the season of festivities, feasting and drinking so there is no excuse to bunker down, hibernating for the entire season. Toronto is well-prepared for winter and there are numerous – mostly free – activities, events and festivities to keep you toasty and entertained.
1. Soak up the Christmas Market Festivities
The best way to ignite the Christmas cheer within is to sip on mulled wine whilst browsing through cute Christmas stalls and Toronto has no shortage of Christmas markets. The iconic Toronto Christmas Market at the Distillery District is a must, open Tuesday to Sunday until 23 Dec 2017. Once again Nathan Phillips Square will play host to a Holiday Fair and this year it’s bigger and better.
2. O Christmas Tree
Cavalcade of lights a Toronto holiday tradition for over half a century, features the illumination of Toronto’s official Christmas tree as well as a production of musical performances and a fireworks display. All this is centred around the city’s most popular ice rink at Nathan Phillips Square. Happening on the 25 Nov 2017 from 7pm.
3. Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town
Everyone has to see the annual Santa Claus Parade at least once in their life. Wrap up warm, pack snacks and claim your spot on the sidewalk to see the huge parade bring the city to a cheerful standstill whilst floats, marching bands, clowns and finally Santa glides through downtown. Happening 19 Nov 2017 from 12:30pm.
4. See a Show
This is the best time of year to catch up on the arts, by hiding out indoors with an unbelievable lineup of performances. To start off the holiday season the National Ballet of Canada will be performing is The Nutcracker at the Four Seasons Centre for Performing Arts. Or choose to fill the chilly nights with laughter at Second City, which is always a good idea. Otherwise fill this magical time of year with the biggest selling magic show in the world, The Illusionist, which hits the Princess of Wales Theatre from 12 Dec.
5. Drink ALL the Hot Chocolate
This actually may be why I love Christmas in the winter!! It is completely acceptable to treat oneself to cup after cup of heaven-sent goodness in the name of self-preservation. SOMA’s serves up cups of delicious thick dark hot chocolate and Cacao 70 has a full-page on the menu dedicated to this winter warming beverage. Le Gourmand on Spadina Ave does a simply delicious Nutella hot chocolate (and while you there you may as well grab their unbelievable-melt-in-your-mouth-send-me-to-heaven-my-life-is-now-complete-kind-of-chocolate-cookie) and for something, a little different Maman makes a lavender hot chocolate.
In the winter, we feast! After Christmas and New Years indulging, comes the annual Winterlicious two-week long food fest. Top restaurants across Toronto create custom 3-course prix-fixe dinner and lunch menus featuring their specialities. This is an excellent way to experience over 200 of the best restaurants in the city at a more reasonable price.
7. Slide Through the Snow
If you can’t beat it, get outside and join it. Hop over to the Toronto Islands for some of the most scenic cross-country skiing and snowshoeing within the city.
8. Go Ice Skate
Get outside, strap on some skates and pick a rink to go skating and with over 50 city-run outdoor rinks to choose from, there really is one in every neighbourhood. All the rinks are free to use, but only a few offer skate rental hire. The most popular rinks are Nathan Phillips Square, Natrel Rink at Harbourfront Centre and Evergreen Brick Works. For a more scenic and lengthy skating trail slide on over to Colonel Sam Smith Skating Trail in Etobicoke York. This year Ontario Place has gone all out and created a comprehensive winter wonderland not only will you be treated to beautiful views of the city skyline but they have also set up a light exhibition, skating trails and afternoon bonfires.
9. Watch a Hockey Game
Hockey season has started, and given that Hockey is a religion here, it is highly recommended you see at least one game. Toronto is home to the ever-so-hopeful Maple Leafs. Catching the Leafs in action can put a serious dent in your wallet, try to look out for some “less prestigious” teams if you just want to experience the thrill of the game.
10. Brush up on the Arts
The city is sprinkled with amazing galleries and museums and winter is definitely the time to catch up on the exhibits, with my favourites being the AGO and ROM.
On a sunny winters day, a fun expedition is to seek out the Winter Stations at The Beaches, where contemporary art installations take over the lifeguard stands from mid-February to end March.
The annual Bloor-Yorkville IceFest is a free weekend-long event in February, where the streets of Yorkville are shut down to traffic. Whilst artists carve giant ice sculptures, food trucks line the streets and a host of events and DJs entertain.
There is something to keep everyone busy come winter in Toronto so let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…. (the cold never bothered me anyway;)
*updated Dec 2017