Toronto in December
September 30, 2012 2:32 PM   Subscribe

I have the opportunity to visit Toronto from December 25 - December 29 and I have a few questions: 1) Will things (restaurants, shops, museums) be open on Christmas Day and Boxing Day? 2) Is it foolish to visit in December (weather? crowds?)? 3) What are the must-see, must-do things in Toronto? 4) What are the best restaurants in Toronto? (I'm looking for fine dining as well as local fare.) Thanks!
posted by tmharris65 to Travel & Transportation around Toronto, ON (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
1) Basically nothing will be open on Christmas Day. A few restaurants -- mostly Chinese ones and ones in hotels, major movie theaters, that's about it. Boxing Day is a mixed bag -- some tourist places will be open, some won't. It's the Canadian equivalent of Black Friday for shopping, though, so many chain stores will be open and have huge sales on.

2) Toronto weather in December is highly variable. You might get snow, it might be damned cold, it might be crisp and fall-like but otherwise fine. Toronto only has snow on Christmas about half the time, so that should tell you something about your odds. And barring a massive, major snowstorm, snow doesn't affect Toronto much, so it won't make any difference to your stay even if it is snowing.

3) What do you like to do? It's a very large city with many things to do. We have great theater (both Broadway level and local productions), great music (both major label acts on tour and small local venues), great museums (see previous caveats), great neighborhoods, great shopping, great restaurants.

4) Can you narrow this down a little? There are thousands and thousands of restaurants in Toronto. Where will you be staying? Looking for things near attractions? Making food a major focus of your visit such that you'll travel for great food? If I had to recommend one single restaurant to visit in Toronto, it would be Keriwa Cafe, but it's a bit out of the way and not in the greatest neighbourhood.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:01 PM on September 30, 2012

Yeah, narrow it down please. Then I'll be a fountain of ideas.

Are you coming with kids? Are you 65 years old or 19 years old? Do you like museums or do you like hole-in-the-wall bars? (Or both?) As for 'must sees', do you want the major tourist attractions (in which case you don't need a forum like mefi) or the stuff that locals love to do on a day-to-day basis?

Since it sounds like you've done no research at all, i'd suggest you at least start with these websites to help you focus:

Lonely Planet: Toronto
Toronto Life
Now Magazine
posted by Kololo at 4:26 PM on September 30, 2012

Two adults in our 40s.

We like the arts/theater, museums, shopping, dining. We also like architecture and simply sightseeing.

As far as restaurants go, we always like to eat at "the best" restaurant a city has to offer.
posted by tmharris65 at 4:37 PM on September 30, 2012

There's thousands of restaurants in Toronto, and very many different ways of defining best. Most stars? Most exclusive? Any one of a wide range of cusines from around the world? Best neighbourhood eats? We could still use a bit more direction here.

In terms of Christmas, here's a list of what was open on Christmas Day last year. It's not exhaustive but it will give you an indication of what will be available. Plus the places in Chinatown are always open.
posted by scrute at 5:06 PM on September 30, 2012

Can you make the drive down to Niagara Falls? If you do indeed like architecture try and make the drive to Buffalo too!
posted by Blake at 5:21 PM on September 30, 2012

(Why is everyone being so mean?)

By "the best," I really do mean the best _____ -- fine dining, neighborhood favorite, exceptional ethnic, vegetarian, most stars, most exclusive, what have you. Fill in the blank.
posted by tmharris65 at 5:23 PM on September 30, 2012

Toronto Life's best restaurant list (this is a pretty reliable source for 'the best of') and "best new restaurants" list
posted by Kololo at 5:25 PM on September 30, 2012

I think the reason people are being a bit impatient is that very generic questions like this are usually best answered by general city or travel websites, not forums like Mefi. The main benefit of asking a question here is to get information that's specific to your interests, but since you didn't ask for that, people are trying to figure out what you "really" want (beyond the generic), so that they can add actual value to the thread.
posted by Kololo at 5:29 PM on September 30, 2012

Here are my suggestions:

Arts: see the nutcracker put on by the national ballet of Canada. Go to the art gallery of Ontario. See a concert at Roy thompson hall.

Theatre: I don't know much about theatre so I'll let others weigh in.

Shopping: Eaton centre, yorkdale shopping mall, bloor street (for your Chanel and tiffany fix), yorkville (pretty expensive, a lot of stars go there)

Museums: go to the royal Ontario museum, the Gardiner textile museum, the. Inuit art museum.

Dining: momfuku just opened here. You have to go to guu. And susur or lee. (Both very expensive.) King's cafe in Kensington for Asian vegetarian. One love for vegetarian caribbean

Architecture: go to casa loma, the Ontario legislature buildings, university if Toronto, city hall.

Other must see and do: the cn tower of course. Harbourfront, and the beach in the east end. Skate at Nathan Phillips square at city hall.

Sorry no links, on my phone.
posted by foxjacket at 5:31 PM on September 30, 2012

I'm not being mean, but I run a restaurant recommendation site for a living and you're giving me absolutely nothing to go on. There are thousands of restaurants, and hundred of them are excellent, so best is totally meaningless. I mean, I could sit here and think up categories and tell you what I think the best restaurants are on each one, but I'd be here all night.

Some of the best regarded very expensive restaurants are George, Canoe, Splendido, and Nota Bene. Khao San Road is the best Thai in the city. There are new David Chang restaurants just opened, but I haven't been to them and they are so hyped at the moment that I couldn't guess whether they are good or not. Keriwa Cafe, which I mentioned before, is my personal favourite resto in the city at the moment, but that takes into account price and proximity to my house to some extent. In the same nabe as Keriwa, I love Cafe Polonez for Polish home style food.

Libretto for pizza, unless you want a more, varied menu in which case Terroni, provided noone in your party is fussy or likes to drink diet cola. For more interesting Italian, campagnolo or enoteca sociale.

I could go on like this for hours, possibly days, but it feels like a waste of my time, because you're obviously not going to eat in dozens of restaurants in 4 days. Some sense of what you want would help me focus.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:20 PM on September 30, 2012

Most shops are closed Christmas Day with the exception of designated tourist zones. If you have a car or are cool with taking public transit, I highly recommend heading up to Pacific Mall northeast of the city. Open 365 days of the year from 9-9, it's an Asian mall with two floors of shops that sell everything from electronics to eyeglasses to designer clothing to medicinal herbs. Up in the second floor foodcourt is Sun's Kitchen, which makes some of the most delicious noodles in town and served in various combos of veggies, dumplings, meats and broth.

With regard to general restaurant recos, another good source is Joanne Kates' annual top-100 list. Khao San Road is great but they stopped taking reservations recently so keep that in mind. Libretto on Ossington doesn't take reservations either but their location on Danforth does. A little further north on St Clair are both locations of Pizza e Pazzi which also does a neapolitan style pizza not too far from The Stockyards which does good BBQ.

Some smaller or family run places may be closed for holidays the week after Christmas but most things are open. The malls are best to be avoided because of bargain hunters but otherwise otherwise a lot of folks are on vacation so traffic and such aren't terrible.
posted by dismitree at 7:46 PM on September 30, 2012

The National Ballet Company's Nutcracker is a Christmas tradition in Toronto (very traditional - even too traditional for my taste, as I prefer more contemporary dance). War Horse is also playing -- a wonderul production. (I'm not usually a big budget theatre fan, but War Horse is special - especially for the puppety and choreography).

The Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario are major museums - both are very good. If you have access to a car, the McMichael Gallery (1/2 drive north of Toronto - outside of the public transit system) has a very unique collection of Canadian art, including First Nations, Inuit and Group of Seven. I don't know is any of these places will be open on the 25-26.

Queen Street West (esp Spadina to Ossington) is a nice shopping area and more unique to Toronto than the Eaton Centre or Yorkdale (both big malls) - but not as unique and Kensington Market (strange mixture of gift stores, vintage, designer boutiques, import places and dollar stores - also excellent buritos from the Emporium Latino). Bloor between Yonge and Avenue and Yorkville right behind are the high end shopping districts.

I generally only eat at places that cost $20 or less per person, so I don't know fine dining. But if you are looking for cheaper but excellent food, the south Indian food (including dosas) at Madras Masala is brilliant; the best Ethipian I've had in Toronto was at Sheba at Bathurst and College.
posted by jb at 7:50 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sorry - Sheba is Ethiopian, and actually the best I've had anywhere -- the kitfo melts in your mouth.
posted by jb at 7:51 PM on September 30, 2012

Some capital A Architecture worth visiting: Art Gallery of Ontario (Gehry); Ontario College of Art & Design (Alsop); TD Towers (Mies Van der Rohe); BCE Place (Callatrava); Union Station.
posted by Flashman at 8:48 PM on September 30, 2012

Seconding Khao San Road.

Pacific Rim Mall is a fabulous Christmas-period idea and would make a great half-day trip.

Check out Tafelmusik.
posted by sixswitch at 9:15 PM on September 30, 2012

Husbunny and I visited Toronto in the summer and we visited in February. We're about your age, and we had a ball.

First of all, if it's snows, it's lake effect snow, so it's similar to Pittsburgh or New York.

In February we drove up from Atlanta, mostly because everyone says they want to move to Canada in the summer, but it really takes balls to say you want to in the winter. We took that challenge.

The first time we went, we stayed at the Sheraton downtown. Don't really recommend that, only because downtown rolls up the streets at night. When we went in February, we stayed out in Brampton. More suburban, more of what we'd encounter when we move there (pipe-dream). We decided to drive into the city after a fresh snowfall. We bailed on that idea after we saw about 7 cars in snow drifts off of the freeway. I mean, if guys who live there can't do it...

We saw the Blue Jays play, and we saw Evil Dead the musical. That was great. We took a day tour to Niagara Falls in the summer. Don't know if I'd like it in the winter.

For what you're describing, I recommend staying in the Theatre District.

I also suggest a guided tour of Toronto. There's a half day bus tour that was really interesting.

If you can get past the boredom of Christmas, I think you'll really enjoy Toronto. They have underground tunnels from the hotels to shopping and stuff like that.

Tim Hortons is good for breakfast.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:59 AM on October 1, 2012

Speaking to number 3 and 4, BlogTo is a fantastic resource that might help you narrow down things to do in the city according to your personal interests.

If you have a pad/pod, they also have an app which allows you to look up reviews and recommendations for any place in the city where you happen to find yourself. Especially for restaurants. Standing on the corner, for example, craving poutine.... and you've got access to recommendations for the best Poutineries, directions for how to get there, and then other related highlights also close by. Galleries, theaters, bars, you name it...

I totally don't work for them, but I would use it if I was visiting.
posted by OlivesAndTurkishCoffee at 7:24 AM on October 1, 2012

You might consider staying at the Gladstone or Drake Hotels, two marvelous boutiques on Queen St W.

If you're planning to come into town on Christmas day, you'll want to suss out where you will eat beforehand because most (95%) places will be closed (the exceptions being Chinese restaurants outside of downtown and hotels). Having said that, Tundra in the Hilton is a pretty good restaurant and the Royal York Hotel has a posh locavore oriented restaurant that I also enjoyed reasonably well. (neither were the city's "best" restaurants). Pacific Mall might might be open, which would make that a reasonably fun way to spend half a day. Depending on how light you travel, you could even go there straight from the airport (it's in the NE quadrant of the city, about 80 minutes from downtown by transit).

As others have said, Toronto's weather Christmas week is quite variable. You'll want to come prepared for biting wind and blustering ankle-deep snow, but also for grey skies and muddy roads. You'll certainly needs gloves and hats; I might wear a fall coat but you'll want your winter wear, I suspect. You'll likely need warm, waterproof foot wear.

I strongly recommend visiting Little India on Gerrard St E. There are also other AskMe questions about things to do in Toronto you should look at.

The Distillery District has done a nice "Christmas market" the last few years, you'll have to check if it's dates match yours.

The Eaton Centre and Yorkdale mall will be overflowing with bargain-hunting crowds from Dec 26-28, but elsewhere will be totally manageable. By the same token, I have no idea why you would you go to a Canadian mall on holiday from the US.

In addition to BlogTO and Toronto Life, check out the concert listings at Wholenote for classical and new music concerts.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 10:41 AM on October 1, 2012

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