The Top Things to do in the Winter in Toronto - The Luxury Edition
Now, just because I’m from Toronto doesn’t mean I inherently know the top things to do in the winter in Toronto. I say that because getting to know a city takes effort, even if you were born there. Exploring and understanding a city is an active pursuit, and, ultimately, it’s this pursuit which separates people who happen to call this city home, from those who can appreciate what a privilege that is.
What I’ve always loved about winter in Toronto is that, if anything, there seems to be even more events on the docket as compared to other seasons. It’s as if mother nature is kindly telling Toronto’s citizens to politely stay indoors until spring, and, in response, Torontonians have figured out every trick in the book to disobey that order.
Whenever I tell people I’m from Toronto when I’m abroad, almost everyone asks, “Wow, wasn’t it freezing?” I simply respond that my childhood would not have been the same without those glorious winter activities in Toronto, and, in those memories, I can barely recall the cold.
Winter in Toronto is special because it isn’t something we put up with, it’s something we embrace. Recently, I teamed up with the amazing folks at Toronto Tourism to prove that not only is there a lot going on during winter in Toronto, but it’s also the perfect opportunity to live it up a little and, as they say in one of my favourite shows, Parks and Recreation, “treat yo self.”
Today, we’re talking how to find that Toronto luxury, while also paying respect to some of the top winter attractions in Toronto. Make no mistake, at this point, Toronto is a four season city and, truthfully, the fun never stops.
It’s also worth noting that a lot of what I’m going to mention here is somewhat time sensitive, and is more aligned with Christmas activities in Toronto, but I’ve gone with the “top things to do in the winter in Toronto” heading because I don’t want to insinuate that you must celebrate Christmas to take part in these activities. Also, many of these places can be appreciated even after Christmas style events have finished in old time during the winter in Toronto.
Where to Stay in Toronto in Winter
It’s safe to say that there are no shortage of luxury hotels in Toronto, but I do think that some hotels in particular are on a different level. Keep in mind here that there are plenty of budget options in terms of accommodation in Toronto, but this post is all about allowing you to conceptualize a more luxury-centric winter weekend (or longer) in Toronto.
For this campaign, I had the opportunity to scope out what you could describe as Toronto’s newest and hottest hotel, and it didn’t disappoint. Let’s end the drumroll, and unveil my top pick for you while you’re appreciating winter in Toronto.
NOTE: This post may contain some affiliate links. That means, simply, that I may get commissions from some of my recommendations. That being said, my opinions are fully my own.
Hotel X Toronto by Library Hotel Collection
For my money, Hotel X Toronto, a part of the Library Hotel Collection, is the the top hotel in Toronto. They’ve covered all their bases in the creation of this property and, I’d like to think, they thought about any complaint somebody might have, then addressed that in their building plans.
This is luxury done right, as it’s first class and elegant, but not arrogant. They’ve got a sports centre that includes 4 tennis courts, a rooftop swimming pool, excellent food, a library, and even a 250 seat cinema. We were given a media tour of premises and while hotel tours have the potential to be dull, this was far from it. Hotel X Toronto is something else.
My personal favourite part of the hotel, perhaps other than my gorgeous room, was the Kandy Gallery by Neil Dankoff. The Kandy Gallery at Hotel X Toronto features some of Neil’s finest travel photography and fits in with theme of the hotel, travel. Each floor, in fact, features travel photography of a different region, so, of course, you can imagine I was rather pleased. My floor was Iceland, and if you follow my blog, you know my feelings about Iceland.
The Best Luxury Winter Activities in Toronto
As my intro alluded to, winter fun in Toronto isn’t all that hard to come by, and there are plenty of ways to keep it classy. I should stipulate that, generally speaking, I’m using the term “luxury” here a little bit loosely. I’m really just looking towards some top-tier, photogenic spots in the city that I feel you could enjoy in our coldest season. It’s not a prerequisite by any means that your wallet be bulging to appreciate this proposed itinerary, it’s more just that these are spots which can show a more regal and luxurious side of the city.
In short, I spent the weekend testing out the top things to do in the winter in Toronto so that I could provide some authority here to guide you on your own luxury winter Toronto weekend.
Let’s get to it.
The Toronto Christmas Market (The Distillery District Christmas Market)
There’s no question about it at this point, The Toronto Christmas Market is one of the top Christmas activities in Toronto. Christmas aside, it’s probably just safe to say that it’s one of the top winter activities in Toronto in general, though, to be fair, it only runs from November 15th to December 23rd, and we all know Toronto’s winter extends quite a bit past that.
There’s a reason that the Distillery District served as a movie set before it’s relatively recent reincarnation as one of the most popular tourist areas in the city - it’s because it’s incredibly picturesque. The Toronto Christmas Market, perhaps more than anywhere else is probably going to get you that Toronto holiday photo you’re hoping for, especially for all you instagrammers out there. You can get your best winter attire on and, boom, you’ve got yourself a nice little photo to put on the mantlepiece.
It can be busy, there’s no question, but that’s because it’s worth it. They’ve got mulled wine, cider, a slew of winter treats like giant pretzels, and rides for kids.
I’ll tell you this, I was with a few other content creators here, and it was this place that seemed to really strike a chord with them, more than anywhere else we went. If you want to check out my colleagues by the way, you can find them on Instagram at Get Lost with Jackie, Hello Drifter, The Life of Jessicaa, and Daily Dream 360. They’re all wonderful, talented people in their own right.
If you’ll be in Toronto after the Toronto Christmas Market is over, you should know that the Distillery District should still be at the top of your list of Toronto winter activities as it’s beautiful when lightly dusted with snow.
The Aurora Winter Festival
The Aurora Winter Festival, a brand new arrival as far as winter attractions in Toronto are concerned, runs from November 29th through to December 30th. It takes place on the old grounds of Ontario Place, and they’ve actually done a fairly nice job turning it into a creative Toronto winter wonderland.
It’s a particularly fun spot to capture winter photos, but you should note that a lot of others have the same idea, so you’ll likely have to throw the elbows out a bit to make sure you don’t have people in your shot. My favourite part of the Aurora Winter Festival, perhaps not surprisingly, was the frozen pond, where our group was able to skate. Skating (and hockey in general) is one of my favourite winter activities in Toronto, so that stars aligned on this one for me.
We also checked out the Tube Park, which was fun, but I’m not necessarily sure I’d wait if there was a big line. The Aurora Winter Festival is a neat spot, but, in some ways, you can tell this is the first year they’re giving it a shot, and I can imagine the Tube Park could be even more fun next year with a few upgrades.
All in all, the Aurora Winter Festival has to be in consideration for one of the top things to do in the winter in Toronto just because it’s so unique, and you’ll experience some things here that you won’t elsewhere in Toronto. Watch for the Aurora Winter Festival to become more and more popular, and get better every year.
If you’ll be arriving in Toronto after December 30th, it’s no problem, as Ontario Place will still be hosting the Winter Lights Exhibition until March 19th, and it aways gets rave reviews.
Casa Loma: A Nutcracker Christmas at the Castle
Casa Loma is brilliant at outfitting their castle for the occasion or season. During Halloween, they’re famous for their “Legends of Horror” at Casa Loma campaign, then, seemingly right afterwards, they’re gearing up for Christmas in Toronto.
This Casa Loma Christmas, as it were, is particularly kid-friendly, as they offer a variety of shows pretty much non-stop which are geared towards the whole family. I watched one show in that was focused on magic, and kids of all ages were involved. It’s quite a coincidence but one of my brother’s good friend’s fiancee is actually one of the ice skaters in one the other shows here! I didn’t get to see her skate, but know she’s very talented.
I should note that the “Nutcracker Christmas at the Castle” runs daily from December 1st to January 6th from 9:30am-5pm, and nightly from December 17th to December 23rd from 5-9pm. I can imagine it’d be pretty special at night with all the lights.
I would say that, just in terms of looking at Christmas in Toronto as a whole, or winter attractions in Toronto at large, this is a bit more kid-centric, at least during the day when I went, but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed either way. Whatever events are going on can’t change the fact that Casa Loma is one of Toronto’s most picturesque and unique cultural sights. Thus, it cracks the list for one of the top things to do in the winter in Toronto.
Even if their Christmas programming isn’t on, I think you can safely add Casa Loma to your list of places to visit in Toronto in winter, similar to the sites I’ve listed above this.
Holiday Fair at Nathan Phillips Square / Ice Skating at Nathan Phillips Square
The Holiday Fair in Nathan Phillips Square is a great addition to the growing number of Toronto Christmas events. It runs from the first of December until the 23rd, but take note that, at least this year, it’s closed on Mondays. It’s a great spot to do a little holiday shopping, or just to feel a part of the holiday season in Toronto.
Now, I’m including it on this list of what I consider to be places that in some way represent Toronto’s more luxurious side because there’s a lot of charm in this square, and it’s a great spot to go before dinner or what have you. Basically, it’s one of those date ideas in Toronto that’s sure to be a hit.
Now the Holiday Fair thing is great, but it’s safe to say that skating in Nathan Phillips Square in winter is probably the iconic Toronto winter activity no matter what. You can actually rent skates every day (weather permitting) from November 24th until March 17th. In my opinion, this is winter in Toronto done right, and I feel like, in some way, Nathan Phillips Square in the winter is a showcase of how much we appreciate our coldest season.
The new Toronto sign also makes it one of the most alluring places to get a photo in the city of Toronto.
Shopping in the Ever Stylish Bloor Yorkville Neighbourhood
There are a ton of neighbourhoods in Toronto that I appreciate for a variety of reasons, but there’s no question that Yorkville (or Bloor Yorkville) is the neighbourhood known for its style and, well, money. If you’re into shopping you’ve just found where you might be spending a fair portion of your time if you’re visiting Toronto.
Yorkville is some of the priciest real estate in Toronto because, much like 5th Avenue, if you’ve got a store here, it’s a statement that you’re a big player in whatever you’re focused on. If you don’t love the cold, then this might be one of the winter activities in Toronto you’ll appreciate most because you’ll be spending much of your time indoors.
I should note that Yorkville is more than just shopping though, there are plenty of adorable cafes and great restaurants in the neighbourhood. It’s also a picturesque neighbourhood in general, and always rises to the challenge when it comes to appreciating Christmas in Toronto, or just the holidays at large. You’ll find ample bright lights and colourful streets here.
I explored this neighbourhood with my fellow content creators and, admittedly, many of the stops were more geared towards their tastes, seeing as I was the only male of the group. That being said, I respected the creativity of the stores that we visited.
We took a tour with Omar from Made in Canada tours and he brought us to Christian Louboutin, Tanya Heath, Archives, and my personal favourite spot, Kandl, a new store where you can make your own candles just the way you want them to smell.
Shopping in Yorkville - you can add that to your top luxury winter activities in Toronto.
Miracle on Queen Street Pop-Up Bar
Miracle on Queen St. might be the most fun spot that I’ve indulged in some holiday themed beverages when it comes to Toronto. The only problem is that the rest of Toronto knows that as well. As such, it’s not uncommon for there to be a several hour wait. That being said, they have a system where you can add your name to the list go off to another place, and they’ll let you know when you can come on back.
In my humble opinion, it’s worth it just to see, and keep in mind that it’s only open from November 23rd to December 26th. Again, this is something that’s perhaps more specific to Christmas in Toronto as opposed to Winter in Toronto, but this post, in truth, is really about what Toronto aims to do in the colder months that’s unique and not necessarily occurring at other times of the year. And, of course, I’m talking about places that do things to a certain standard, and Miracle on Queen St. fits the bill.
This place is just downright fun, but not just limited to Toronto. These Miracle pop up bars all over the place and I, for one, am a fan of the trend.
Eat at Some of the Best Restaurants in Toronto in Winter
Naturally, the Toronto restaurants which you think are the best are going to be a reflection of your tastes, but I want to highlight some restaurants which are in the areas of some of the places that I’ve described above. Basically, I want to highlight some great restaurants in Toronto that will nicely coincide with your Toronto winter activities if you use my recommendations to create your own Toronto itinerary.
Bannock - Bannock, just a short walk from Nathan Phillips Square, is Canadian comfort food at its finest. In truth, it’s hard to even know what “Canadian food” is, which is why places like Bannock are important. It’s a fun place with a creative menu that you won’t find elsewhere.
Bar Reyna - After you’re done your Yorkville shopping, go ahead and add Bar Reyna to your list of places to visit in Toronto this winter. As in, if you’re already there, don’t miss the chance to go. The heated back patio makes you feel like you’re cheating winter in Toronto, and the Mediterranean inspired food is scrumptious. The cocktails are also excellent! I can firmly stand behind this choice and let you know that you aren’t going to be disappointed.
El Catrin Destileria - With their heated patio, the Distillery District’s El Catrin is a hot ticket among Torontonians and tourists during winter, but you should know that the food is worth the wait. It’s a trendy spot, and, in my opinion, it’s best to get a bunch of small dishes for the table and share. I also wouldn’t pass on the chance to get some quality tequila. You may want to check to make sure the line isn’t several hours long, but if it lacks a huge line, then you’ve got no excuse.
360 The Restaurant at the CN Tower - They run a holiday brunch and dinner as a nod to Christmas in Toronto, but you can go anytime. I’ve heard that recently they’ve really upped their food game there, so if you’ve got a little extra cash in the wallet, you may want to take in views of Toronto from over a thousand feet in the air. Aren’t restaurants in the sky what luxury is all about?
What Are Some Other Things to Do in Toronto in Winter?
Above, I’ve talked about some of the winter activities in Toronto that I have appreciated so far this season, but, just in case nothing stood out to you, I’ll rattle off a few more of the top things to do in the winter in Toronto. As always, this content is for you, so I want to make sure you can use it as best as possible to explore my hometown of Toronto, especially if you’re someone who is planning on celebrating Christmas in Toronto.
The Bentway Skate Trail - Forget about luxury for second because for just ten dollars, you can rent skates for two hours and skate the trail which is located in the heart of Toronto. Personally, it’s at the top of my to do list for winter activities in Toronto this coming year. It’ll be running from December 21st to February 18th, weather permitting.
Breakfast with Santa at Ripley’s Aquarium - An underwater breakfast with Santa taking place between 7:30-8:45 on the morning of December 22nd and 23rd (and more dates prior to this post for reference next year.) They’ll also host a NYE party. Beyond all this, a main reason I want to include it on the list of the top things to do in the winter in Toronto is because it’s arguably our top indoor attraction. Even if it’s a snowstorm, you’ll be good to visit.
Bring out the Ol’ Toboggan - Toronto is one of the best cities in the world to go tobogganing, and my childhood can attest to that. See if you can get hands on a snow craft and blaze down some of Toronto’s hills.
Experience Winterlicious 2019 - This might be my favourite food event all year in Toronto. Basically, nearly two hundred restaurants offer three course lunches and dinners for a fixed price. It’s a wonderful way to explore Toronto’s culinary scene. Often times you’ve got top tier restaurants taking part, and it might be your only chance to try to many excellent restaurants in such a short period of time. By the way, it runs from January 25th-February 7th.
ROM for the Holidays - From December 26th to January 6th, the ROM will be putting some epic, kid friendly programming for the holiday season. Besides that, the ROM is a great spot to visit when you’re in Toronto, especially if you’ve got kids.
Visit the Hockey Hall of Fame - I mean, it only makes sense to appreciate winter’s game during the winter season, right?
Go to a Maple Leafs Game - If you’re a hockey fan, the Maple Leafs are one of the teams you need to see in their hometown. We Torontonians are made about our Maple Leafs, which explains our ticket prices, but hey, this list about about luxury, right?. In the theme of winter in Toronto, you might just want to take a peak at just how passionate we really are about this game.
Find the Winter Event That’s Right For You - The city of Toronto does an excellent job of keeping track of and posting winter exhibits and events to ensure that winter in Toronto is anything but boring. I can only imagine they’ll be something you’ll like considering the list of things to do in winter in Toronto.
So, in a Nutshell, That’s Winter in Toronto
Winter in Toronto is something special, and that’s mostly because there’s something always going on. I started off this article trying to focus more on luxury, and while I think I did highlight some of the more luxurious experiences, I also couldn’t help but make sure this was an itinerary which can serve anybody and everybody. Toronto, after all, is all about inclusivity, and I’m proud of that.
This winter, if you do make it to my hometown, may your hot chocolate be hot, your gloves warm, and your smiles wide.
I want to humbly thank Toronto Tourism for hosting me as media. All opinions are my own. I want to hear from you guys. Have you been to Toronto before? Is there anything you’d want to add to the list? How do you feel about winter in general? Any and all comments are welcomed below, and, as you’ll know, I respond to each and every one personally.
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