Since I’m leaving Toronto (and winter) behind to head to New Zealand tomorrow, I decided to write an itinerary for spending a winter weekend in Toronto.
Winter in Toronto is a special time. The city comes alive in the winter with outdoor skating rinks literally everywhere. Tobogganing takes over every hill, no matter how small. We’re fortunate to get sun with our snow, and to have underground tunnels to avoid the freezing days.
Sure, it can be cold. But Toronto makes up for it with a lot of interesting things to do.
So, how should you spend a winter weekend in Toronto?
Start your winter weekend in Toronto with a visit to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). On Friday nights, the ROM hosts “Friday Night Live.” At these events the galleries are open, but a dance floor is added. It’s probably the only time you’ll ever get to dance in a museum (without looking crazy).
From 7p.m. on, you can visit the ROM for just under $20. Get there early, as spots are limited. It helps to buy tickets online.
You must be 19+ to go to Friday Night Live.
Start your day by heading to the St. Lawrence Market in Downtown Toronto. In 2011, it was rated the best food market in the world by National Geographic. The St. Lawrence is a Toronto institution that features quality meat, produce and baked goods.
I recommend getting there early (around 8 a.m.) to snag some chocolate croissants from the lower level. Pair that with a coffee from the famous Balzac’s Coffee Roasters across the street (or apple cider if, like me, you don’t do caffeine) and wander the market while you eat your breakfast.
Bring reusable bags if you want to grab some snacks for later in the day. You can find local cheese, crackers, olives, nuts, sweets and more at the St. Lawrence.
Save some room for the official food of Toronto: a peameal bacon sandwich. The best ones are from Carousel Bakery.
Carousel Bakery used to only bake bread and serve their peameal bacon sandwiches as samples. They quickly realized that people were coming more for the peameal, so they switched their business plan.
If you’re not from Canada, you may know peameal as “Canadian bacon” or “back bacon.” Here, it’s served fried on a bun. Add some mustard or honey to complete this Toronto delicacy.
Saturday Early Afternoon
From the St. Lawrence Market, take the TTC or walk 30 minutes to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). The gallery features art by the Group of Seven and indigenous artists, amongst others.
The AGO is a must see while you’re in Toronto, even if you’re not very into art. Skip the extra exhibit and head to the second floor to a glass and wood room that stretches the length of the building. Take a seat on a bench and look out at the winter landscape. It’s a one of a kind view. There’s even an espresso bar if you want a snack.
Tickets are only $20 for adults. The AGO is open until 5:30p.m. on Saturdays.
Saturday Late Afternoon
When you’re done at the AGO, head over to the famed Distillery District. The red brick style of the Distillery makes it a beautiful place to walk. It is like a piece of Europe in Toronto.
There is an eclectic mix of stores if you’re looking to do some shopping.
In the winter, there is nothing better than wandering the Distillery District with a hot chocolate from SOMA. It is the best chocolate place in the Distillery – maybe even in Toronto. If you think you can handle it, get the Mexican hot chocolate for a bit of added spice! Before you leave, stock up on chocolate bars and truffles to take home (if they make it that far!).
In November and December, the Distillery District transforms into Toronto’s most popular Christmas market. They put up a massive Christmas tree, decorated with a blinding amount of lights. Bands play music every day (Saturdays feature pop music). Warm up at a beer garden with glüwein, hot toddies or beer. Check out the vendors that sell knitwear, ornaments, soap and food.
The Distillery District is free to enter, but the Christmas market costs $6. Book online to get an admission time slot and skip the line. Once you’re in, you can stay for as long as you want.
The Christmas market runs until 9p.m. It typically runs from mid-November until December 23rd.
Take in a show at Soul Pepper, the theatre company in the Distillery District. The theatre is smaller and does unique performances like A Christmas Carol in theatre in the round.
This winter, Soul Pepper is performing A Christmas Carol and Peter Pan.
Tickets are much more reasonable than other shows in Toronto. See their schedule and pre-book tickets here.
If you’ve had your fill of the Distillery District, head to Ripley Aquarium.
Book Sharks After Dark tickets and plan to get to the aquarium after 7pm in order to save a few dollars on admission. Adult Shark After Dark tickets cost $30. The aquarium is open until 11p.m. so there’s no rush (and less of a crowd), making it the perfect time to visit.
Ripley Aquarium is a great winter spot, because it doesn’t matter if Toronto is freezing or dark.
My favourite part is the Dangerous Lagoon, an automated walkway that winds you through (and beneath) the shark tanks.
What better way to start the day than with brunch?
If you’re feeling classic, head to School in Liberty Village. The brunch is so amazing, you’ll be ok with going to school on a weekend (bad joke aside, the food is seriously impressive!).
Brunch starts at 10a.m. School doesn’t take reservations, so you may have to wait a bit for a table. The earlier you get there, the better.
If you’re looking for a more interesting breakfast, head over to Rol San in China Town for the best dim sum in Toronto. The food is very reasonably priced (i.e. 4 dumplings for $6). The menu is more of an order form, but it has English names for each dish. If you don’t know what they are, take a shot in the dark or ask a server for help.
Rol San opens at 9:30a.m. They don’t take reservations. Try to get there no later than 11a.m. to avoid the rush of hungover students looking for a (delicious) cheap breakfast.
If you eat at Rol San, wander across the street to Kensington Market before you leave. Kensington is a historical district with some interesting shops to explore as you work off brunch.
Sunday Early Afternoon
On your last afternoon in Toronto, head to Nathan Phillips Square. It is now the site of the Toronto sign, but it has long been home to an open air skating rink in the winter.
This is a great activity for friends, couples, families or just you! Even Torontonians head downtown to skate at Nathan Phillips Square every winter.
Didn’t bring skates? No problem! Rent them for $10/two hours. Helmets only cost $5/two hours. The rental stand is open from 10a.m. to 10p.m. daily.
Warm up with Beavertails and hot chocolate afterwards.
Sunday Late Afternoon
End your last afternoon in Toronto by warming up at the Elmwood Spa. Get a hot stone massage or a fire and ice body treatment to unwind after skating.
The Elmwood is open until 6:30p.m.
Services over $100 grant you free access to the swimming pool, whirlpools and steam rooms. They recommend arriving an hour before your services to full enjoy the pools.
For your final evening in Toronto, keep it simple and have a nice dinner.
Toronto has hundreds of incredible restaurants, but that’s a whole other blog post. So, I’ll just recommend three restaurants near downtown Toronto.
Chubby’s Jamaican is an adorable Jamaican themed restaurant on King St. The food is simple Jamaican fare done to perfection. Get the jerk wings and jerk chicken – you won’t be sorry! Everyone I know has either loved Chubby’s or is dying to go.
Make a reservation so you don’t get stuck waiting in a line. The prices are reasonable for Toronto ($19 for a main), so you won’t break the bank getting chubby at Chubby’s!
Richmond Station is a restaurant committed to fresh, local ingredients. Because of that, it’s menu is often changing. They are well-known for their great wines.
The restaurant maintains its authentic neighbourhood eatery style, complete with limited seating. Make a reservation for dinner. Prices at Richmond Station are average for Toronto ($25 for a main).
Amano Pasta at Union Station is a delicious dinner option. They specialize in homemade pasta that may be the best I’ve ever had (outside of Italy, of course). Amano frequently changes its menu and warns you not to get too attached to the current fare. Try to get a seat near the pasta making area for some great entertainment while you eat.
Located inside Union Station, Amano is easy to get to from the TTC or the underground PATH system. The restaurant is on the smaller side, so make a reservation to be safe. The prices are very reasonable for such great quality pasta and rather large portions (about $20 for a main).
Toronto Hotel Tip
Stay in a hotel on the underground PATH system to avoid some of the cold weather. The PATH is a network of underground walkways that run throughout the downtown core of Toronto. It connects many offices, subways and other buildings. Inside the PATH, you can find shops, restaurants and more.
As I mentioned, I head to New Zealand tomorrow so I’ll be skipping Toronto’s winter this year. I was almost sad about that until I started packing shorts and realized that it’ll be shorts weather at Christmas (is that even allowed?!).
So you’ll have to enjoy the winter weather for me!
What’s your favourite winter activity in Toronto?