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Top Things to Do in Toronto for the Holidays

The holiday season in Toronto is a time for family, friends, fun and festivity. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the city transforms into a wonderland filled with sparkling lights, outdoor skating rinks, festive window displays and seasonal performances.

If you’re planning a visit to Toronto in November or December, you won’t want to miss these iconic holiday events that are sure to get you in the festive spirit. ShareThis

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Toronto Christmas Market

November 20 to December 20. Inspired by the tradition of the European Christkindlmarkt that originated in Germany in the 1400s, the Toronto Christmas Market is a four-week long event celebrating all the sounds, sights and scents of Christmas. Taking place in the Victorian-era, cobblestone-lined Distillery Historic District, this annual festive event brings local craftmakers, carollers, musicians and artisanal food-makers together for a truly magical experience.

Sip on mulled wine, European Christmas cocktails and hot chocolate as you peruse the selection of Christmas merchandise including hand-made ornaments, wood carvings, candles and crafts. Then cozy up by the fire with your loved one, or make your way to the central stage where carollers, brass bands, and authentic European dancers provide holiday entertainment for the whole family.

Free admission Tuesday to Friday and $5.00 admission (incl. tax) Saturday and Sunday. Visit TorontoChristmasMarket.com for the latest information. Also, special Distillery District walking tours are offered by Go Tours Canada Tuesday through Friday during the Christmas Market.

More Christmas markets await throughout the city. Visit the Union Station Holiday Market perched just outside the station on Front Street in a tented area and showcasing unique merchandise from artisans, designers, food merchants and cultural institutions. CF Shops at Don Mills has a Holiday Market every weekend in December with festive vendors, holiday music and a strolling Santa. On December 5 and 6, Frost Fair: Christmas Market Past & Present at Fort York will have heritage-inspired reproductions and holiday greenery, cooking demonstrations, costumes and more.

Christmas at Casa Loma

Throughout December. North America’s only castle is a sight to behold during the festive season. Built by Sir Henry Pellatt over a three-year period from 1911-1914, Casa Loma is an homage to the Gothic castles of days gone by, complete with soaring battlements, secret passageways, five acres of gardens, a massive pipe organ and over 98 rooms.

This December take part in the holiday magic during Christmas at Casa Loma for a wide range of activities and exciting performances that are fun for the whole family. Enjoy two brand new magic shows created by famed illusionist entertainers Professor Wick and the duo Incredibrent and Super Sarah. As always kids are invited to visit Santa in his castle workshop, scour the castle on a scavenger hunt, participate in creative arts and crafts, decorate tasty treats, sing along with carollers and much more. In the evening experience the Magical Winterland Nights at Casa Loma (select nights in December).

Ugly Sweater Cruise

December 18. For a complete change of pace get into the holiday spirit with Mariposa Cruises’ Ugly Sweater Cruise! Step aboard the Northern Spirit for a complimentary photo booth, ugly sweater contest (the most hideous outfit wins) and fun food stations, all while sailing by Toronto’s iconic skyline lit up for the holidays. This event will feature a full cash bar as well as a DJ playing cheesy holiday tunes to set the mood. This is a 19+ event.

Santa Claus Parades

A favourite holiday tradition for over a hundred years, there are three major Santa Claus parades to choose from in the region – Toronto, Mississauga and Brampton. Make memories for your kids and get set for an exciting afternoon full of marching bands, colourful floats, costumed revellers and, of course, the big guy himself.

Sunday, November 15: Toronto Santa Claus Parade makes its way from Bloor and Christie through downtown Toronto for nearly 6 kilometres of excitement and fun.

Saturday, November 21: Brampton Santa Claus Parade takes place under the stars, for extra twinkle, with a start time of 5:00 p.m.

Sunday, November 29: Mississauga Santa Claus Parade takes over the historic Village of Streetsville starting at 1:00 p.m.

Window Displays & Lights

Lighting Up the Night

November & December. For many, the holiday season doesn’t officially begin until the illumination of Toronto’s famous Christmas Tree at Nathan Phillips Square. This special event takes place every year at the Cavalcade of Lights. Also featuring performances by some of Canada’s top musical talent, a brilliant fireworks show, and outdoor skating party under the glow of more than half a million lights, the Cavalcade of Lights is a must-attend holiday tradition that will warm the hearts of even the frostiest of attendees.

Illuminite, the 360-degree theatrical experience culminating in the lighting of the spectacular Christmas tree in Yonge-Dundas Square, features DJs, dancers, acrobats and more as part of Winter Magic.

Toronto’s waterfront becomes a Spectacle of Lights starting November 28, 2015. New this year, see the Toronto Music Garden come alive with an animated lighting installation where music notes, harps and a canopy will be shining brightly with over 39,000 low-energy LED lights, along with the other exciting displays at The Westin Hotel, the Fire Hall and the Amsterdam Bridge at Harbourfront Centre.

For festive cheer just outside the city, check out the tree-lighting ceremonies at Mississauga’s Celebration Square and Brampton’s Gage Park – ideal for those staying near Pearson International Airport.

Holiday Displays

For the most iconic holiday window displays in the city, take the subway down to Queen station where the flagship Hudson’s Bay store location rivals Macy’s in New York with functioning train sets, mechanical mice and moving Santas.

When November and December roll around, the Bloor-Yorkville neighbourhood and its “Mink Mile” becomes the place to go for upscale holiday shopping. Even if you don’t have the budget to spend on Bloor-Yorkville’s price tags, it’s fun to simply window shop and admire the festive displays. While you’re in the neighbourhood, drop into the Gardiner Museum for its fabulous 12 Trees of Christmas exhibition with trees decorated by top designers from Hermes, Holt Renfrew and more.

A striking blue LED tree atop a bridge spanning Yonge Street is the centerpiece of the Rosedale Main Street Cavalcade of Lights that runs a few blocks north of Bloor Street. Be sure to include a visit to the restored historic North Toronto train station (now converted to a store) when you’re in the area.

The Christmas Flower Shows at the Allan Gardens Conservatory and Centennial Park Conservatory are the highlight of the year. Each conservatory is decorated and filled with thousands of flowering plants including over 30 varieties of poinsettia. On the first Sunday in December, the shows’ grand opening features horse and wagon rides, carolers, hot apple cider and a visit from Santa. For a very special experience, the conservatory can also be enjoyed by candlelight on several weekends. The shows run until mid-January.

For more on holiday displays check out My Top 5 Holiday Windows.

Theatrical Productions

The Nutcracker

No staged production is more authentically “Christmas” than The Nutcracker, Tchaikovsky’s famous adaptation of E.T.A Hoffman’s storyThe Nutcracker and the Mouse King. The National Ballet of Canada has been staging the beloved two-act ballet every year since 2005, enthralling both children and adults. Infused with humour, surprise, brilliant choreography and magnificent costumes, this traditional presentation of the classic tale is a feast for the eyes, ears and imagination. Not to be missed. December 12, 2015 to January 3, 2016 – Four Seasons Centre

Cinderella

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella is the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical from the creators ofThe Sound of Music andSouth Pacific. This lush production features a full orchestra and all the moments you love—the pumpkin, the glass slipper, the masked ball and more—plus some surprising new twists! Be transported back to your childhood as you rediscover some of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s most beloved songs, including “In My Own Little Corner” and “Impossible/It’s Possible.” December 1, 2015 to January 10, 2016 – Ed Mirvish Theatre

The Phantom of the Opera

Cameron Mackintosh’s spectacular new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s phenomenal musical success, The Phantom of the Opera comes to Toronto as part of a brand new North American Tour. Hailed by critics as “bigger and better than ever before,” this production boasts exciting new special effects, scenic and lighting designs, staging and choreography.December 8, 2015 to January 23, 2016 – Princess of Wales Theatre

Disney on Ice

Classic meets contemporary as Disney on Ice presents Dare to Dream! See your favourite Disney Princesses in a celebration of 75 years of Disney Princess stories. And embark on an uproarious adventure during Disney’s hilarious hair-raising escapade, Tangled. Travel to the enchanted forest with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as Snow White escapes from the Evil Queen in her search for her one true love. All the beauty, sparkle and fantasy that Disney is known for come together in this production. Dec 18 to 27, 2015 – Rogers Centre

Holiday HO-HOs

For lots of laughs, check out Peter Pan, The 20th Anniversary Family Musical PANto-monium! or The Second City’s Unwrapped.

Theatre Guide

For more productions check out our Theatre Guide.

Concerts & Live Music

Keep it classy by attending one of the many symphony and choral performances by the likes of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra.

Handel’s Messiah

December 16 to 19 at Koerner Hall. Celebrate an annual holiday tradition at Koerner Hall. Join Tafelmusik for an uplifting and profoundly moving performance of Handel’s Messiah. Experience this baroque masterpiece in the intimate and acoustically stunning Koerner Hall.

Cirque de la Symphonie: Holiday Hits

December 8 & 9 at Roy Thomson Hall. Amazing and amusing feats will be performed alongside your favourite seasonal classical music performed by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Expect strong men, aerial silk artists, acrobats, contortionists and so much more, in this five-star musical circus extravaganza!

Toronto Symphony Orchestra: Messiah

December 15 to 20 at Roy Thomson Hall. It’s the biggest Messiah in Toronto! These heartening performances of Handel’s immortal oratorio will be given in Sir Andrew Davis’s uniquely grand-scaled edition—with a large classical orchestra, huge choral forces and esteemed vocal soloists.

Mississauga Symphony Orchestra: A Merry Little Christmas

December 20 at Hammerson Hall. A combined orchestra of over 300 musicians, featuring members of the Mississauga Symphony Orchestra, Mississauga Symphony Youth Orchestra & more! In this family oriented afternoon program, A Merry Little Christmas, the MSO, MSYO and Cawthra Park Secondary School Choirs perform Christmas favourites and sing-a-longs. Make sure to drop by early to visit the Long & McQuade instrument petting zoo in the Atrium

Skating

Skating rinks can be found in the Toronto region around practically every corner. They range from a small patch of ice in a neighbourhood park to the frozen expanse of Grenadier Pond in High Park. Starting mid-November and running to mid-March, all are free of charge (except for skate rentals, where noted). Here are a few of the perennial favourites:

Nathan Phillips Square

For an iconic urban skating experience, have a glide around Nathan Phillips Square amidst the tall buildings, the sparkly lights and massive Christmas tree. (Skate rentals available.) 100 Queen Street West

Natrel Rink at Harbourfront Centre

For a waterfront experience, make your way down to Natrel Rink at Harbourfront Centre in front of the scenic shoreline of Lake Ontario. Afterwards, grab some hot food and drinks at the Lakeside Local Bar & Grill. (Skate rentals available.) 235 Queens Quay West

“Lake Devo” near Ryerson University

Tiny “Lake Devo” with its massive Precambrian boulders is actually a city of Toronto Park located near Ryerson University. A reflecting pond in summer, it freezes over in winter and gets its nickname from its official name, Devonian Square. 50 Gould Street

Gage Park Skating Trail

Brampton’s temperature-controlled skating trail at Gage Park provides a unique and wonderful setting as you can glide around the trees surrounded by the splendor of the park and expanses of fresh powdered snow. For a special treat, go on a clear night when spectacular star gazing can be added to the experience. The park’s meandering paths attract kids and grown-ups alike. (Skate rentals available Thursday through Sunday.) Gage Park – Main Street South and Wellington Street West, Brampton

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