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Best Holiday Windows in Festive Toronto

By Doug O’Neill | @dougoneill

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Miniature train stations, mechanical (life-size) Nut Crackers, animated elves, electronic carolers, uber-sized glittery snowflakes, designer mice asleep in ornate matchboxes, frolicking faeries, and fireplaces bedecked with stockings… These are some of my favourite (holiday) things – and I can expect to find them each festive season in window displays throughout Toronto.

I like to pick an evening, just after dusk, in mid-December to get the full flavor of our holiday windows. Sometimes I’m greeted with scenes straight out of Dickens – and other times they’ve got touches of Disney.

My five top picks for holiday window tours on foot:

  1. Hudson’s Bay Company, 176 Yonge Street, Yonge and Queen.

    The Bay's Holiday Windows

    If you’re seeking nostalgia and tradition: hats off to The Bay for going all out – year after year – with their holiday window displays. Their ornate and superbly crafted holiday tableaux run the length of the windows on the east side of Yonge and along Queen West. They rival Macy’s in New York. Functioning train sets, mechanical mice, moving Santas. I remember the year they took the “Tales of Narnia” as the theme. Expect to feel warm and fuzzy all over.

    While you’re there: after checking out The Bay windows, I like to head over to the City Hall ice rink, just down the street, for some ice-skating. (It’s free.)

  2. William Ashley China, 55 Bloor St. W.

    If you’re looking to be wowed at first glance: Sometimes it’s difficult to see the china for the tree! William Ashley staff erect what must be the tallest (real) Christmas tree each year. It’s Instagram-worthy! Their holiday window displays are true art. Imagine pyramids of delicate china tea cups taking the shape of holiday motifs.

    While you’re there: once you’ve Facebooked the incredible window display, head up to the Panorama Lounge (top of Manulife, 55 Bloor St. W.) for a festive night-cap and for a night-time view of downtown Toronto.

  3. Holt Renfrew, 50 Bloor St. W.

    Holt Renfrew's Holiday Windows

    If you’re looking for a stylish or romantic take on Christmas: the mannequins in Holt’s holiday windows add a little chic (and sometimes a touch of bling!) to the season. Fashion meets festive while a track of holiday carols play in the background. You’ll find yourself singing along. Just saying.

    While you’re there: check out the window displays at Roots (100 Bloor West.) Last year they embraced a Canadiana theme.

  4. Castlefrank neighbourhood

    If you’re curious (okay, nosey) like me: the festive lighting on the century-old homes in upscale Castlefrank and south Rosedale could be right out of a Disney holiday flick. Take the subway to the Castelfrank stop, and walk due north.

    While you’re there: one subway stop east will put you on the Danforth. Try the Dora Keogh Irish Pub (141 Danforth Avenue) for a post-walk libation and live music.

  5. Distillery District (55 Mill Street)

    Distillery District decorated for the Holidays

    If you want to go back in time: cobblestone streets (the real thing!) and Victorian buildings make for a nostalgic Dickensian Christmas at night-time. The window displays of the artisan stores and bakery shops look gift-wrapped!

    While you’re there: visit the Christmas Market (Nov. 29 to Dec. 15).

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