There’s nothing like the sparkle of the holiday season leading up to New Year’s Eve to give Toronto an instant festive makeover. With snowflakes falling lightly on your face, glittering lights illuminating the evening sky, and the swoosh of ice skates gliding across a frosty skating rink, visiting the city and celebrating the holiday season here is like a classic movie you never want to end.
Skating on the Harbourfront
Your magical holiday immersion begins at the Natrel Rink on the Harbourfront. No matter how wobbly you are on skates, once you make a few spins around this mirror of ice overlooking Lake Ontario, you’ll be infused with festive spirit. Surrounded by the glimmering skyline, this perfectly round rink will make you feel as though you’ve landed on a magical island in the North Pole—minus the sub-zero temperatures. On Saturdays, international DJs spin Top-40 tunes, offering a unique opportunity to show off your best celebrity-skating-show dance moves.
Taking in a Show
The festive season also means spectacular live theatre. Third in size to only New York City’s and London’s, Toronto’s thriving artistic community offers exceptional music and the best in performing arts—from Broadway-style musicals to lavish productions featuring the requisite nutcrackers, sugar plum fairies, and reindeer. A beloved family holiday tradition includes taking in a matinee at the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre, a designated National Historic Site and the last “double-decker” Edwardian theatre in the world. Built in 1913, the elegant 1,500-seat Elgin theatre features royal boxes and exquisite gilded plaster details, and upstairs is the fantastical Winter Garden, with trompe l’oeil pastoral paintings and a hanging roof garden guaranteed to transport your family to a dreamy wonderland.
See the Lights
No holiday trip to Toronto is complete without going gaga over lighting displays. New for 2015 is Spectacle of Lights, four modern waterfront installations showcasing snowflakes, musical instruments, and tall ships animated with thousands of sparkling lights. For a holiday classic, press your nose up to the display windows of the Hudson’s Bay Company, where festive visions often include animated Santa’s workshops, trains laden with gifts, and flickering fireplaces with stockings hung with care. Just steps away is Nathan Phillips Square, home to the Cavalcade of Lights—a December must-see. At this festive street party, the action doesn’t slow down when the temperature drops. You can take a spin at a skating party, see acrobats soaring overhead, rock out to legendary pop music, and definitely get a crick in your neck trying not to miss a minute of the nightly fireworks extravaganza. City Hall is also the top spot to join the New Year’s Eve countdown: a fireworks celebration that’s a favourite holiday tradition. When it’s time to retreat for the night, there’s no place quite like the Westin Harbour Castle with a view that can’t be beat.
Shopping at the Christmas Market
It’s also the season to wrap yourself in your goofiest reindeer sweater, don some fuzzy earmuffs, and mingle with the holiday crowds. If you’re in town before Christmas, be sure to stroll the cobblestone streets at the Toronto Christmas Market. In the Distillery Historic District, a pedestrian zone filled with 19th-century historic brick buildings that seem lifted from a Charles Dickens novel, you’ll hear carollers, smell toasty chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and see candy canes galore. Lined with rustic wooden stalls filled with arts and crafts, jewellery, and other one-of-a-kind creations, this month-long outdoor market bursts with gift-giving options that will thrill even the biggest Grinch on your shopping list. When you’re all shopped out, wrap yourself in a faux-fur throw, lounge around one of the glowing fire pits, and sip a steaming hot toddy or glass of gluhwein—Christmas joy guaranteed.