Six ways everyone in your family can enjoy winter in Toronto this holiday season
Do you crave a winter getaway that offers a little bit for everyone? It’s that one place where the outdoor lover is kept moving for hours, while the shopaholic finds exceptional deals or fantastic finds, while the kids are kept entertained and you can enjoy the seasonal festivities?
If you’re looking to experience a bit of all this, and more, you need to come to Toronto.
There’s a reason why singer Drake loves ‘The Six’ and why Hollywood comes back year after year to film blockbuster movies.
The city is a magical place, especially when its festive spirit is on display.
For those planning a weekend getaway or a near-home vacation, here are the best ways each family member can enjoy the winter season this year.
#1: Spend time outside. No really!
If you want to start your visit to Toronto with a chance to make a memory, consider heading over to Nathan Phillips Square. In the wintertime, the water fountain in the front of the split-barrel-shaped ‘New City Hall’ (next to the ‘Old City Hall,’ which is now used as a courthouse) is frozen over and turned into a public skating rink.
At night, the rink is transformed into a postcard-inspired image, with multicoloured lights illuminating the massive “Toronto” sign that’s on display.
Don’t have skates? Not to worry. You can rent an array of sizes at the skate-shack beside the rink and when you’re done you can get toasty in the warming hut while sipping hot chocolate from the rink-side snack stand.
If you plan your visit around New Year’s Eve, make sure you show up for the festivities at Nathan Phillips Square.
An annual tradition, this public event includes a night of live music, food trucks, street performers, crafts for the kids as well as an inspiring countdown to midnight — and if you want to minimize your commuting time, consider staying at Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, which is literally across the street.
If you’re in town the Saturday before or after New Year’s (or any Saturday between Dec. 15, 2018 and Feb. 16, 2019), then check out Natrel Rink at Harbourfront.
Set against the shoreline of Lake Ontario, you can skate the rink to the tunes of guest DJs. Each Saturday has its own theme making it a unique, one-of-a-kind experience every weekend.
The skating rink is free, although rentals are a small fee.
If you’re looking for another memorable skating experience, head to the 1.7-kilometre Bentway Trail, underneath the Gardiner Expressway, Toronto’s main east-west artery.
The figure-eight ice track is open for skating on Dec. 21, 2018.
This ice trail runs directly beside historic Fort York – Canada’s largest collection of original War of 1812 buildings and the site of the 1813 battle between the British and the Americans.
The fort is a popular spot for art exhibits and markets and a great way to take a break from outdoor activities.
#2: Make memories with the kids
What better way to remember the holiday season than to create an artistic masterpiece. This year, Fort York offers kids a chance to learn how to make gingerbread cookies using pioneer tools. The free event (with the price of admission to Fort York) is open to children ages 4 and up.
Another option is to act like a local and go tobogganing. Popular spots include the hills in Riverdale Park, which also hosts a small public-accessible farm, as well as High Park and Trinity Bellwoods Park.
The best part is that all these toboggan hills are just a stone’s throw away from great spots to grab a bite to eat or a cup of hot chocolate.
#3: Visit the markets
A trip to Toronto is incomplete without a bit of shopping.
The iconic Eaton Centre, which features the much-loved Canada Geese installation by artist Michael Snow, is one of many place to seek retail therapy.
The beauty is if you stay at the Marriott Downtown at CF Toronto Eaton Centre you won’t have to carry your parcels very far after your shopping spree.
For a more ‘uptown’ shopping experience, visit Yorkville.
Located right at the heart of Toronto, at Bloor and Yorkville, this is Toronto’s version of New York’s Fifth Avenue or Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.
Revel in the luxury of high-end stores like Cartier, Louis Vuitton and Holt-Renfrew — Canada’s answer to Saks or Neiman Marcus.
For an eclectic shopping experience, be sure to visit Kensington Market. Located between Spadina and Bathurst streets from Dundas to College, the market is a mix of funky bohemian, street-savvy urban and clean, modern sensibilities.
This wide-range of stores and restaurants is due in part to decades of successive waves of new immigrants that came to this city.
If you’re interested in venues that truly capture the holiday spirit, visit Toronto’s Christmas Market in the Distillery District. This outdoor event has become so popular that visitors must now pay admission on the weekend. But it’s worth it.
Open Tuesday to Sunday from Nov. 15 to Dec. 23, the market offers a family fun zone, numerous stalls selling everything from German-style potato pancakes to barbeque sausages and pork chops. For those with a sweet tooth, there are waffles, donuts and speciality chocolates.
The market is free to visit during the week and $6 for entry on the weekends (starting Fridays at 5 p.m.).
Even when it’s not super-busy, parking is limited to plan accordingly. Either take transit or leave yourself time to find a paid parking spot nearby.
#4: Enjoy the festive season
For family members who love a good festival, plan your trip around Winter Solstice on Dec. 21. Kensington Market comes alive with a foot-traffic-only outdoor celebration filled with amazing costumes, street performers and a celebration that ends with a fiery finale to honour the longest night of the year.
This is the 28th year that the neighbourhood has hosted this annual event and, for many, it’s the must-attend festival of the winter season.
Another option is to check out Icefest, which occurs after the holidays and right before the Family Day weekend in mid-February (on the weekend of Feb. 9 and 10, 2019). This free event in Yorkville showcases incredible ice sculptures while offering live ice carving demonstrations.
Another option to consider is Evergreen Brickworks, a demonstration hub where visitors can experience sustainable practices that can help cities of the future flourish.
Between Dec. 26 and 31, this area is transformed into a Christmas Village. You can also spend some time as a family trying to complete the Brickworks’ scavenger hunt.
There are three different versions for ages 3 to 10, as well as a photo scavenger hunt for teens and adults (although, you’ll need a camera or phone to participate). The scavenger hunt is free although donations are gratefully accepted.
If you plan your visit on a Saturday, you can pick up fresh goods at the Farmer’s Market or find that perfect handcrafted gift.
#5: Soak in some art and culture
Toronto is a world-class city and this means the city boasts some of the best art exhibitions in the country. For a great overview of Canadian and international art, tour the Art Gallery of Ontario, affectionately referred to as The AGO.
This large building of galleries hosts an impressive standing collection of art by Canadians such as The Group of Seven and Emily Carr. Plus, it hosts special attractions like the Anthropocene exhibit of award-winning photographer Edward Burtynsky, who examines humankind’s influence on the environment.
Or visit the impressive Royal Ontario Museum on Bloor Street at Avenue Road. Hang out with the ROM’s collection of dinosaurs and artefacts or take in special exhibits like The Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition, on display from Dec. 1, 2018 until Mar. 31, 2019.
If you time your trip right, you could ring in the New Year at the ROM. There will be a dinner and dance as well as exclusive access to an exhibit on the imagined life of Zuul, a gnarly-faced, armoured dinosaur recently identified by museum palaeontologists as a new species, the ankylosaur.
#6: Follow your favourite team
For sports fans, what’s a visit to Toronto without watching the Toronto Maple Leafs play? Tickets are hard to come by in this hockey-mad city, but you can try to take advantage of the 200 tickets that are released to the public 48 hours before each home game.
Dedicated hockey fans can also visit the Hockey Hall of Fame at the foot of Yonge Street. Gaze upon the NHL’s most coveted award: The Stanley Cup.
Incidentally, this is also where the Toronto Maple Leafs play home games and the arena plays host to a large number of music and entertainment events like Disney on Ice, which comes to the arena between January 25 to 28, 2019.
If a large part of your trip involves ice-sports, consider staying close the activity. The Westin Harbour Castle, near the bottom of Yonge Street right on the lake, is walking distance to the Scotiabank Arena, Hockey Hall of Fame and great restaurants options. As an added bonus, this hotel offers exceptional access to UP Express — the fast train to Pearson International Airport — which may mean avoiding cars and parking fees if you ended up flying into Toronto for your winter experience.
Where to Stay in Toronto
Lock in the best rates when you book your stay at participating Marriott International brands – including St. Regis, Delta Hotels by Marriott, Westin and Marriott.
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