Over the past couple of years Toronto has really stepped up it’s game around the holidays. And this year is no different. But Toronto is an expensive city and especially around the holidays it’s hard to stay on budget. I know you want to splurge on gifts for all of your family and friends and usually end up buying things for yourself in the process (#treatyourself). Luckily there are some free things to do in Toronto.
So while you’re panicking about the cash flying out of your wallet faster than you can eat holiday sweets, you can take a breather when it comes to your social life over the holidays. Toronto during the holidays is not only extremely festive (the largest Christmas tree in Canada is in Toronto!), but also caters to everyone. That includes you (I know you’re trying to save for your next trip).
Even with this small list of what to do in Toronto for free you’ll easily be able to fill up your calendar for the month of December with all of the Toronto events happening. Everything I have listed has are free things to do in Toronto (meaning entry) but I can’t promise that you won’t want to buy mulled wine, holidays treats, or cute crafts while there.
Toronto Christmas Market
One of the top Toronto attractions and the most famous thing to do in Toronto during the holiday season is to visit the Toronto Christmas market in the Distillery District. You can see dance performances along with the vendors selling all things Christmas along with tasty holiday treats and street food. Did I mention there’s a lifesize gingerbread house? Sip on mulled wine while strolling through the charming Christmas-lit streets. It’s open Tuesdays-Sundays but is only free Tuesdays-Fridays (before 5pm). Find more details here.
DJ Skate Nights
Now let’s talk about super fun things to do in Toronto: skate! Every Saturday from December 17th until February 18th get ready to get your groove on at this block party on ice. From 8-11PM on the Natrel Rink at the Harbourfront Centre you can dance to sets from local and international DJ’s. The party is even on for NYE! I ceraintly wouldn’t miss one of these events in Toronto if I were you. You can get more info and check out the line-up here.
Union Station Holiday Market
From December 5th-16th you can find the pop-up holiday market at Union Station. You’ll find artisans selling jewelry, socks, yummy treats and more. It’s open weekdays 7:30am-7:00pm and the weekends 10am-6:00pm. Find the full list of vendors here.
Holiday Fair in Nathan Philips Square
Forget heading to Europe for Christmas markets, one has finally come to us! Starting December 8th, running until the 23rd Nathans Philips Square will play host to this European-inspired Christmas market. Not only will it include plenty of pop-up shops for your holiday shopping, but a winter carnival as well (yes, that means rides!). Don’t forget to grab some tasty food from one of their many vendors and check out the ice bar. You can also skate here all through winter! The market will be open weekdays 11:30am-9:00pm, Saturdays 10:00am-10:00pm, and Sundays 10:00am-9:00pm. You can find more info and times regarding events on their website.
Holiday Film Screenings
For only one week, Hot Docs cinema on Bloor Street is showing some of your favourite holiday classics on the big screen. Starting December 17th running until the 24th you can catch films like Elf, Love Actually, The Holiday and more. Find out the screening times here.
Annual Kensington Market Winter Solstice
One of the great places to visit in Toronto is Kensington Market. And on Wednesday, December 21st you can choose to participate or simply watch the parade of lights. You can help support the local merchants of the market by choosing to purchase a lantern and taking part in the celebration of the longest night of the year. Find more details on where to meet and times here.
Browse Holiday Winter Displays
Yes it’s Canada and it’s cold out, but the holiday winter displays are absolutely beautiful. The best in the city are the windows at Hudson’s Bay on Queen Street across from the Eaton Centre which rival some of the displays you can find in New York City. You can find more displays along Bloor Street showing off products that don’t fit into your holiday budget (sorry, I feel you) among the high-end stores that line the street.
Events That Are Worth The Ticket Price
Unfortunately not everything is free (don’t I wish!), but I thought that these three Toronto activities were worth a mention because they will all be fun and beautiful to see. And just in case you run out of free stuff to do in Toronto!
Magical Winterland Nights
For the first time, Casa Loma will be decorated inside and outside for Christmas. In the gardens there will be a lighting display and events will happen every week. Did I mention there is going to be s’mores and hot chocolate as well? It will be held every Wednesday night from December 2nd until January 4th 5:00pm-9:00pm. Admission price is $27 for adults, tickets and more event details can be found here.
At the Gardiner Musem from November 18th until January 8th you can see the 12 Trees exhibition that showcases designs from contemporary artists and their take on the traditional Christmas tree. There will be a 35-foot tree decorated in the front plaza for all to see as well. Tickets are $15 for adults ($9 for students) and can be purchased here.
Ginger Bread Build
Since it’s the holidays why not support a good cause and participate in Habitat For Humanity’s Ginger Bread Build at Toronto City Hall. All proceeds support homes being built in the GTA area. Take part on December 3rd or 4th by purchasing a kit for $50. You can find more details here.
There are plenty of free things to do in Toronto during the holidays and many more that require just a little bit of cash. So don’t be too stingy and remember to treat yourself this holiday season as well. I’d be heading to that ice bar or the life-size gingerbread house (I know there’s really good fudge around there) if I were you!
Want even more to do in the city? Find activities available all year long here.