5 Top Holiday Windows in Festive Toronto

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Cavorting polar bears, human-sized nutcrackers, wintry street scenes of Toronto and fantastical woodland settings are among the festive touches you’ll find in this season’s holiday window displays throughout Toronto. Local writer, Doug O’Neill, takes us on a tour.

A mannequin in holiday and Christmas dress.

Pick a mid-December evening, just after dusk, to get the full flavour of our holiday windows in Toronto. Standing in front of the fantasy-fuelled windows means, for a brief moment, you can stop adulting and lose yourself in the magic of the holidays!

Hudson’s Bay Company

176 Yonge Street.

FAO Schwarz has been synonymous with toys for 150 years in North America and is front-and-centre this year in the Hudson's Bay windows along the south side of Queen Street, west of Yonge, across from the Toronto shopping landmark, the CF Toronto Eaton Centre. Holiday-seekers can expect mechanical rabbits in Narnia-like snow settings, cavorting polar bears, whimsical woodlands inhabited by curious furry creatures – including dancing rabbits. Plus, there are giant snow globes and a snow-covered Toronto street scene complete with CN Tower and revolving street car.

While you’re there: After checking out the Hudson’s Bay windows, head over to the City Hall rink, just down the street, and skate to disco and pop music. Just look for the Instagram-worthy TORONTO sign and you’ll find the rink. (Visitors can rent skates and check out the local food trucks parked along Queen East; free admission.)

Saks Fifth Avenue

176 Yonge Street.

For a fashionista’s festive touch to the holidays, saunter around the corner from the Hudson’s Bay windows to the stunning Saks Fifth Avenue holiday windows on the west side of Yonge Street. The Saks Fifth Avenue design team this year embraced a “Theatre of Dreams” theme. Chic, fashion-clad figures and avant-garde mannequins are positioned against a rich, holiday-red backdrop, providing frame after frame of glam, glitter and haut couture.

While you’re there: Cozy up to the octagonal bar at the glitzy Lena Restaurant or sit down to a meal with your friends in a velvet-lined booth. Or, for a more casual outing with a larger group of revellers, grab a table at the spacious Craft Beer Market at Adelaide and Yonge.

Holt Renfrew

50 Bloor Street West.

If you’re looking for stylish holiday windows, Yorkville is your go-to neighbourhood, particularly the north side of Bloor just west of Yonge. Once you stroll past the sparkling giant-size crystal ornaments in the windows of Swarovki’s, you’ll be greeted with the warm and fuzzy holiday displays of Holt Renfrew, whose windows are emblazoned with a “Gifts Come True” theme. Tasteful Christmas trees are bedecked with snow-dusted pine cones and are flanked by traditional shopping carts full of furry white teddy bears.

While you’re in the Yorkville neighbourhood: Check out the stylish yet minimalist windows at Harry Rosen menswear (82 Bloor West) and then stroll down Old York Lane, the pedestrian walkway that links Cumberland Street to Yorkville Avenue. The tiny (and tony) shops along the lane get into the spirit of the season by incorporating Kate Spade handbags and other haute couture accessories into their holiday windows.

The Toronto Christmas Market (which runs until December 23 this year) is a seasonal highlight at the Distillery District: lots of outdoor entertainment, a giant Christmas tree and festive fanfare throughout the 19th-century Victorian Era setting. A huge draw during the holiday season are the festive storefronts. Rather than one or two mammoth holiday windows, the small shops on the cobblestone back lanes in the Distillery District create one-of-a-kind holiday window displays. There’s plenty to gaze at on Trinity Street, but don’t miss the artfully-decorated storefronts on Gristmill Lane and Tank House Lane. There you’ll be greeted with human-size Nutcrackers and towering metallic snowmen in amongst the pine bows.

While you’re there: Warm up with a cup of the city’s best hot chocolate at SOMA chocolatemaker (32 Tank House Lane).

Rosedale Neighbourhood

If you’re curious (okay, nosey) like me, the festive lighting on the century-old homes in upscale Castle Frank and south Rosedale could be right out of a Disney holiday flick. Take the subway to the Castle Frank 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. Or visit the Evergreen Brickworks (550 Bayview Avenue) down in the Don Valley for a hot cuppa in the late afternoon before enjoying the house lights in Rosedale.

About the Author

Freelance writer Doug O’Neill loves to boast about Toronto, “a city that reveals its secrets one neighbourhood at a time.” He can be found on Instagram and Twitter at @dougoneill.