Celebrate like a local with these can’t-miss, big-city traditions that have been thrilling crowds for years (or decades).
Distillery Winter Village
Inspired by Europe’s outdoor markets, the Distillery Winter Village at the Distillery Historic District has quickly become one of the city’s favourite and most Instagrammable holiday events. Stroll the cobblestone streets lined with wooden kiosks where you can purchase handmade gifts from local artisans. Music, twinkling string lights, a 15 m (50 ft) Christmas tree, carollers, buskers and a strolling Santa and elves all add to the storybook magic.
Ice-skating Toronto’s outdoor rinks
’Tis the season to hit the ice at one of the city’s open-air rinks. With the iconic TORONTO sign as a backdrop, Nathan Phillips Square’s famous rink is a must-skate for any visitor, but it’s not the only cool place to show off your skills. Take a spin around the historic clock at the Union Station pop-up rink, glide along the Bentway’s looping 220 m (722 ft) skate trail beneath the Gardiner Expressway or try the family-friendly path at the east-end’s Evergreen Brick Works.
The tradition of holiday decor goes back to the 1920s, when seasonal store windows attracted shoppers to visit Toronto’s two biggest retailers at the time. A century later, festive displays still bring people downtown to see the windows of Hudson’s Bay and Saks Fifth Avenue (both at 176 Yonge St.) and along Yorkville’s Mink Mile. In the west-end Junction neighbourhood, shoppers can use an augmented reality (AR) app to watch the various window displays come alive.
Kensington Market’s Winter Solstice Festival
One of Toronto’s most memorable holiday events, Kensington Market’s Winter Solstice Festival Parade celebrates the longest night of the year (December 21) with music, jugglers, stilt walkers and lanterns as it winds through the streets of this bohemian neighbourhood. If you can’t make the parade, check out the market’s eclectic mix of shops for gift-giving ideas and treat yourself to authentic Mexican churros from Pancho’s Bakery or a cardamom latte from Fika Café.
Original Santa Claus Parade
A Toronto tradition since 1905, millions of people have experienced the joy of lining the Santa Claus Parade route in all manner of weather to welcome Santa to town. This year, you can stay cozy and warm while enjoying the show from your couch! With larger-than-life floats, magical characters, special performances, and Santa and Mrs. Claus, of course, it’s a celebration not to be missed. You can watch the parade on December 4, 2021, at 7 p.m. on CTV and CTV 2.
Snow Magic at Ontario Place
Delight in the city’s newest immersive winter-themed drive-thru experience from the comfort of your own vehicle. The 1.7 km (1 mile) route along Ontario Place’s East Island includes 18 magical art installations by Canadian artists, an awe-inspiring soundscape and an interactive game. Extend the family fun and book one of the park’s four firepits to enjoy after the event — just don’t forget to pack blankets and marshmallows!
City Hall’s Cavalcade of Lights
It’s “bright lights, big city” at this annual free event that marks the official start to Toronto’s holiday season. The family-friendly Cavalcade of Lights celebration (November 27, 2021) at Nathan Phillips Square features the lighting of Toronto’s 15 m (50 ft) Christmas tree, live musical performances, skating presentations and a DJ skating party.
National Ballet of Canada’s The Nutcracker
The National Ballet of Canada has made the performance of The Nutcracker a cherished holiday season tradition. The company’s take on the beloved classic is James Kudelka’s 1995 staging, which opens at a Christmas Eve party in rural 19th-century Russia. Afternoon tea at the nearby Omni King Edward Hotel or Shangri-La Hotel, Toronto is the perfect pre-theatre treat. In the past both hotels have offered Nutcracker themed tea service.
WinterFest at Canada’s Wonderland
It’s not the North Pole, but you’ll find a world of holiday spirit just 30 km (19 miles) north of Toronto. Each November and December, Canada’s largest theme park, Canada’s Wonderland, transforms into an immersive holiday experience for all ages, with ice skating on Snow Flake Lake, a nightly Christmas tree lighting ceremony, live holiday shows, strolling performers and select amusement park rides open for exhilaratingly festive winter fun.