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Best things to do on Christmas in Toronto in 2023

Best things to do on Christmas in Toronto

When December hits, Toronto transforms into a magical winter wonderland with abundant festive activities that make the city shine. This guide covers the best things to do at Christmas in Toronto – from indulging in cherished traditions with the family to finding romantic new discoveries that will have you falling deeper in love with Canada’s largest city during the most wonderful time of the year.

The holiday season in Toronto brings out some of the best festive magic the city has to offer. As the weather turns cold and snow covers the streets, Toronto transforms into a winter wonderland complete with Christmas markets, lavish light displays, holiday concerts, and much more. Locals and visitors alike have plenty of delightful Christmas activities to take part in to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year. 

From sipping mulled wine and picking up handmade gifts at the Toronto Christmas Market to skating under the bright lights of Nathan Phillips Square, there is no shortage of holiday fun in Canada’s largest city. Theatre productions of holiday classics, elaborate hotel displays, Christmas meal experiences, and museum exhibits dedicated to Canadian Christmas traditions make enjoying the spirit of the season easy for all.

In this article, we will provide an overview of the best things to do on Christmas in Toronto. From annual tree lightings and concerts to one-of-a-kind shopping destinations, these are the top ways to soak up all of the Yuletide magic Toronto offers during the holidays. The diversity of options reflects the lively mix of traditions celebrated by Toronto locals. By trying some of these favorite holiday happenings, you’ll feel the special warmth, joy, and charm that makes Christmas in Toronto an unforgettable annual event worth braving the cold for.

Traditional Christmas Activities

Visiting the Toronto Christmas Market

The Toronto Christmas Market is one of the city’s most beloved holiday traditions, drawing over 1 million visitors each year. Since 2010, the bustling Distillery District has been transformed into a magical winter village, with the Christmas Market as its festive centerpiece. Wooden cabins adorned with twinkling lights line the pedestrian walkways, each featuring local vendors, international foods, Christmas trees, and seasonal décor to captivate attendees. You can truly experience the sights, sounds, and smells that make the Advent season feel so merry and bright.

With over 50 local artisans, the Christmas Market is a shopper’s paradise for unique holiday gifts like glass ornaments, warming Canadian maple products, jewelry, winter accessories, decorations, and old-world crafts. Be sure to try the spiced wine and European holiday nibbles, or visit the Franzl Family Christmas Tent – the Market’s popular gathering spot for live music performances all season long. The enchanting surroundings are what give the Toronto Christmas Market its trademark charming appeal for families and friends.

The Magic of Christmas Lights Displays

Some of the most impressive residential areas to see vibrant light displays and decorations are Kingsway, Regal Heights, Cabbagetown, Moore Park, Rathnelly, The Beaches, Rosedale, and Forest Hill. Stroll through these neighborhoods in the early evening for some stunning visual displays to spark the Christmas spirit!

The Cavalcade of Lights at Nathan Phillips Square is a stunning large-scale light display with the enormous Toronto sign and giant Christmas tree as the main attraction. In late November, the lighting ceremony takes place to officially begin the Christmas season in Toronto, with a dazzling 30,000 environmentally-friendly bulbs.

Tours

For visitors who want a guided tour of Toronto’s finest Christmas lights, companies like Tour Guys offer special holiday light tour experiences from late November through December, allowing you to leave the navigating to professionals well-versed in finding the best displays. 

Outdoor Ice Skating Rinks

The Natrel Rink at Harbourfront Centre allows skaters of all ages to glide against the scenic backdrop of Lake Ontario, the Toronto skyline, and the CN Tower. Its central location makes it one of Toronto’s most iconic outdoor skating spots.

The Nathan Phillips Square rink lets locals spin around the titular arches in front of vibrant colored spotlights and City Hall during the most magical time of year downtown. Skaters flock here to enjoy the photo-worthy atmosphere.

Tips for visitors

It’s wise for visitors to rent skates nearby rather than bring their own for convenience. The best times to hit popular rinks are during extended hours (9PM-11PM at Harbourfront) or weekdays to avoid massive crowds. Dress warmly in layers and wear gloves, thermal socks, and a helmet for an enjoyable experience. Checking weather and rink conditions before heading out is also advised.

Unique Toronto Christmas Experiences

Multicultural Christmas Events

Toronto prides itself on diversity, which shines through in many holiday events that infuse Christmas traditions from various cultures. The Christmas Around the World Show at the Enercare Centre showcases over 50 cultures/countries with pavilions decorated to represent Christmas styles from around the globe – including food tastings, choirs, and dance performances. The Cavalcade of Cultures brought on by the Toronto Christmas Market also highlights international Christmas songs and dances on select nights to embrace cultural differences.

Viewers flock each December to performances like the National Ballet of Canada’s acclaimed run of The Nutcracker featuring Tchaikovsky scores and ornate sets/costumes. The phenomenally popular play A Christmas Carol graces Toronto stages in late November through December as well with Tony Award-winning sets and costumes, promising Christmas cheer for all ages.

Booking tickets early online through official box offices like TicketKing or directly through show websites ensures you secure seats for high-demand productions. Top venues include the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Ed Mirvish Theatre & CAA Theatre for large holiday performances. 

Christmas Dining in Toronto

From November to early January, Toronto’s premier dining destinations like Canoe and Sassafraz offer decadent multi-course holiday tasting menus, with optional wine pairings and a holiday ambiance courtesy of spectacular waterfront views and twinkling lights.

Several restaurants offer Christmas-themes pop-ups with elaborate décor and entertainment, such as Fairmont Royal York’s lavish Feast for Twelve event series. For romantic cruising on Toronto’s inner harbor, Mariposa Christmas Dinner Cruises feature live music and gourmet meals on atmospheric multi-level boats adorned with garland and lights. Classics like Sweet Jesus also unveil special holiday treats annually.

Shopping and Festive Markets

Best Christmas Shopping in Toronto

For an iconic shopping experience, the Toronto Christmas Market, Distillery District, and Nathan Phillips Square offer a wonderland of local artisan products and holiday cheer. Those seeking famous retailers won’t be disappointed at Yorkdale Mall and CF Toronto Eaton Centre featuring stunning decorations intermingling with top brands and buzzing crowds embracing the season of giving.

Bring home distinctly Toronto gifts like sports jerseys & gear or Canadian maple syrup products. The markets showcase an array of ornament makers, jewelers, and winter accessory designers like mittens/hats/scarves, and even pup treats that highlight local talent perfect for Christmas presents. The Toronto memorabilia shops in the CF Toronto Eaton Centre and boutiques in Kensington Market house excellent gift options you won’t find elsewhere.

More Festive Markets

Evergreen Brick Works & Ontario Place offer lively holiday markets in quaint settings slightly off the beaten path, but full of warmth and unique shopping opportunities. The Evergreen market prides itself on eco-conscious products and experiences like candle-making workshops. Ontario Place transforms into a winter escapade full of cozy decor and hot drinks to peruse local goods not found elsewhere in the GTA. The markets make for wonderful adventures to discover underrated makers this Christmas season.

Family-Friendly Activities

Santa Claus Parades 

The Santa Claus Parades in Toronto and Etobicoke occur in mid-November, bringing awe and joy to kids city-wide as Santa waves amid colorful floats, dancers, and fanfare along parade routes before meeting fans in malls post-show.

Parade routes can get very crowded, so arrive early with kids to secure ideal sidewalk spots and bring seat pads or blankets for comfort. Have little ones wave glow sticks or wear fun hats/antlers to embrace the playful spirit while marveling at floats going by playing holiday music. 

Interactive Kids Events

Throughout late November and December, malls facilitate beloved meetings with Saint Nick himself for stories and photos at locations like Scarborough Town Centre and Upper Canada Mall.

Kids can channel creative energies into fun workshops like gingerbread house-making classes or ornament-crafting sessions – offered abundantly at local community centers. Evergreen Brick Works facilitates cookie decorating and sustainable craft-making. 

Educational Happenings

The Canadian Christmas traditions exhibit at Spadina Museum explores holiday artifacts and traditions stemming back 200 years with colorful displays of antique decorations. While at Young Welcome Centre, kids can become little helpers in a 1950s-era Santa’s workshop.

Casa Loma activates Nick’s Christmas Forest within the majestic castle walls starting in late November, transporting young ones to a dazzling Narnia-esque winter forest with Santa sightings, ice sculptures, and twinkling lights. Education and magic intertwine at these and other Toronto museum happenings.

Romantic Christmas Ideas for Couples

Date Ideas

Cozy retreats like Ripley’s Aquarium’s Christmas lounge offer sweet underwater views with festive drinks in hand. Couples can also embark on horse-drawn carriage rides to see Christmas lights downtown before stopping for a nightcap fireside at Good Neighbour. Skating hand-in-hand under the stars to holiday classics ringing through the chill air makes date night special. 

Couples’ Getaways

Nearby train-accessible towns like Niagara-on-the-Lake immerse lovebirds in winter splendor through its Christmas market, Welland Canal holiday lights cruise, and festive theatre calendar for quick romantic escapes ideal during the Christmas season.

Opportunities to Volunteer

Giving Back

The holiday season inspires Torontonians to give back, with abundant December opportunities to volunteer time or donate to great local causes. Some top charities and drives transforming communities include Salvation Army’s toy and food drives, Covenant House’s clothing donations plus preparing community meals for the less fortunate through Daily Bread Food Bank locations. Spreading Christmas goodwill is easy by contributing to one of these stellar organizations meaningfully improving lives when kindness matters most.

Volunteering

Helping groups like Fred Victor Centre and Scott Mission serve warm Christmas meals to shelter residents leaves an impact. Volunteering shifts at Daily Bread Food Bank sorting donations also feeds many. 

Local Volunteering Toronto posts abundant seasonal volunteer openings – from gift-wrappers to charity event assistants. Getting involved is turnkey through their seamless listings. 

Charity and Fundraisers 

Torontonians kindly donate to annual drives through fire stations for Toronto Fire Fighters Toy Drive and various grocery locations supporting Toronto’s Daily Bread Food Bank. 

Participating in charity fundraisers benefits local organizations immensely. The Toronto Christmas Market facilitates a giving tree where attendees directly donate gifts to less fortunate children. Runnymede United Church also hosts a vibrant Christmas Bazaar full of holiday products with all proceeds going to local Toronto charities. Donating funds or time brightens the season.

Conclusion

With twinkling lights, festive ambiance, and abundant Christmas magic sparkling across Toronto during the holidays, creating special memories with loved ones is easy. From indulging in time-honored traditions like magnificent tree lightings and outdoor skating to new discoveries like multicultural celebrations and whimsical museum exhibits made for curious young minds, the city shines bright with seasonal activities for all.

Couples enliven romance seeing the iconic landmarks downtown dusted with snow before cozying up to lake views with a spirited Christmas cocktail in hand. Families build lasting bonds while meeting Santa, gawking at Zoomer’s dazzling Festival of Lights, or embarking on cultural adventures to learn new holiday customs. The giving spirit embedded in the season also makes Toronto’s charitable drives and volunteering opportunities plentiful for spreading more cheer.

Whether relishing the holiday excitement or basking in its thoughtful tranquility, Toronto offers up quintessential Christmas joy across its vibrant neighborhoods blanketing residents and tourists alike in the unique warmth that comes from honoring what matters most while bringing community and loved ones together.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Where is the best place to see Christmas lights in Toronto?

Some of the most impressive Christmas lights displays are at Nathan Phillips Square, the Cavalcade of Lights, the Distillery District’s Toronto Christmas Market, and neighborhoods like Kingsway, Regal Heights, and Cabbagetown. Guided Christmas lights tours are also available.

2. What are the top Christmas events for families in Toronto? 

Top picks include Santa Claus Parades, meet-and-greets with Santa at malls, interactive Christmas workshops at places like Evergreen Brick Works, festive exhibits like Nick’s Christmas Forest at Casa Loma, and Zoomer’s Festival of Lights. 

3. What performances should you see for Christmas in Toronto?

Popular annual Christmas performances include the National Ballet of Canada’s Nutcracker at the Four Seasons Centre for the Arts and Christmas plays/musicals like A Christmas Carol showing at venues like Ed Mirvish Theatre. 

4. Where are the best places for couples to spend Christmas together in Toronto?

Romantic spots include cozy Christmas pop-ups like Ripley’s Aquarium’s holiday lounge, horse-drawn carriage rides to see Christmas lights, skating rinks like Nathan Phillips Square, and quick nearby winter getaways like Niagara-on-the-Lake.

5. How can you give back or volunteer in Toronto at Christmastime? 

Volunteering at soup kitchens and shelters like Fred Victor Centre, assisting with Toronto food and toy drives, gift-wrapping presents, and participating in charity fundraisers/events organized by groups like the Toronto Christmas Market and Daily Bread Food Bank. Read more: Sparkling Celebration

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