Heading to Toronto this Christmas? I went recently and I rounded up all my best tips including how to get there, where to stay, what to do, and what not to do. Most of us Ottawa folks visit Toronto on weekend getaways, so let's help you make the most of your time!
getting there: via rail
VIA Rail is by far my favourite way to travel from Ottawa to Toronto, especially when the weather's frightful and roads/airports are chaotic. If you can book a few weeks in advance you'll score amazing deals (sign up for their emails right here), and if you have CAA or work for National Defence (military or civilian) there are even bigger savings. If you book using one of their special rates like CAA, be ready to show your membership card on the train.
Whether you pick business or economy there's plenty of leg room and free wifi, and business class has the added bonus of more space plus complimentary meals, snacks, and drinks. Ottawa-Toronto trains take 4ish hours, so roughly the same as driving (minus the headaches) and similar to flying if you count airport security.
When you take the train to Toronto, you arrive at Union Station right across the street from the regal Fairmont Royal York!
where to stay: fairmont royal york
The historic Fairmont Royal York has been my favourite Toronto hotel for YEARS. It's one of those places where every staff member makes you feel welcome, and people aren't too cool or too hip to smile. Know what I mean? This year the hotel celebrated its 90th birthday with a spectacular reno that maintains its elegant charm while adding chic new spaces, including the spectacular new Fairmont Gold at Fairmont Royal York:
Fairmont Gold includes private check-in at the exclusive 18th floor Gold Lounge -- no lineups! Within the lounge you'll find cozy places to relax, fireplaces, views of downtown Toronto, free coffee and tea all day long, free cocktail canapés, an honour bar, and a massive gourmet breakfast buffet every morning. Everything from homemade croissants to huevos rancheros to bagels and lox.
Floors 13-18 have been completely renovated to create luxurious Fairmont Gold rooms: elegant and spacious with everything from wireless streaming hubs to Nespresso machines to walk-in aromatherapy showers and extra plush robes. My room even had a separate marble soaker tub. And upsized Le Labo products!
One of the other perks of staying on Fairmont Gold floors: the team will go out of their way to grant special requests, like early check-in and late check-out.
On our last day in Toronto there was a huge snow storm, and they kindly granted us 3pm checkout so we could relax all day watching Christmas movies til it was time for our train home.
where to eat and drink in toronto
CLOCKWORK: new champagne bar in the lobby of the Royal York, featuring their iconic clock. Phenomenal champagne list and cocktails. It's a VERY busy place so pick an off-hour like early afternoon to ensure you get a seat. Try their signature Meet Me at the Clock cocktail with Veuve Clicquot and a frosé ice cube!
REIGN: Royal York's elegant new restaurant, think modern Canadian with French flair. Try the escargots, they're swimming in butter! Great wine list and flawless service too. REIGN also has a gorgeous piano bar and even a bakery. Reservations strongly recommended, and the decor is positively stunning. I mean:
THE THIRSTY ELF: a festive pop-up bar only for the holidays! You'll find The Thirsty Elf inside York Station -- Toronto's smallest bar hidden inside the Royal York. They covered the whole place in wrapping paper and Christmas decorations! My cocktail arrived in a Christmas ornament and they even had shot glasses made of Christmas cookies. No reservations, line up to get in.
PIZZERIA LIBRETTO: my favourite pizza place in Toronto. Pizzeria Libretto has several locations throughout the city, and there's one on University just a 5 minute walk from the Royal York. I go every single time I'm in town. Wood burning ovens, and phenomenal dough that's never overworked or overcooked. It gets VERY busy at lunch and dinner, reservations recommended. Great negronis!
DINEEN COFFEE: An absolute gem of a place on Yonge at Temperance, Dineen is just a block or two from Toronto Eaton Centre and the Hudson's Bay flagship. Great staff and phenomenal coffee. Perfect spot to warm up on a chilly winter day, perfect for when you've had enough of the mall.
getting around toronto
Another big reason I love Fairmont Royal York so dang much: LOCATION.
- 1 minute walk to Union Station
- 3 minute walk to ScotiaBank Arena
- 4 minute walk to Momofuku and Milkbar
- 5 minute walk to Pizzeria Libretto
- 9 minute walk to St. Lawrence Market
- 12 minute walk to Toronto Eaton Centre
- 23 minute walk to Toronto Christmas Market
Ottawa folks, if you want to go further afield your PRESTO card will work on the TTC's subways, streetcars, and busses: just add a balance to your e-purse and tap as you board or enter the fare-controlled zone. Union Station is Toronto's major hub (TTC, GO, UP Express, VIA), and it's connected to the Royal York underground. You don't even have to step outside!
must visit: toronto christmas market
Gosh I love this place. If you're headed to Toronto around the holidays you've simply got to stop at the Toronto Christmas Market on your list. Every year the entire Distillery District transforms into a winter wonderland for the whole family, with everything from kids activities to mulled wine for the grown ups.
While you're there, try the smoked turkey poutine, go for a ride on the ferris wheel, and pop into the Deciem flagship store to stock up on affordable, high quality skincare by The Ordinary. Oh and Spirit of York Distillery is a must too.
only for the brave
There are a few Toronto institutions that are must-sees for some folks but pretty nutty this time of year. If you go, be ready for LOADS of crowds:
- Toronto Eaton Centre
- Dundas Square
- Nathan Phillips Square
- St. Lawrence Market
One night accommodation for two in Fairmont Luxury Room
Two Express Passes per stay (only required on weekends for entry)
Two Ferris Wheel Passes
Two Hot Chocolate Vouchers (to be redeemed at the Market)
Breakfast buffet for two in REIGN Restaurant
A beautifully renovated Fairmont Gold room with luxurious, upgraded amenities and a residential feel
Two Toronto Christmas Market Premium Experience Passes per stay with access to exclusive indoor warming lounges
Access to the exclusive Fairmont Gold Lounge Complimentary deluxe continental breakfast, evening canapés, and desserts
Dedicated Concierge Team to personalize your stay
win a toronto getaway
This massive prize includes:
- one-night stay in a luxurious Fairmont Gold Room at Fairmont Royal York
- private check-in at Fairmont Gold on the 18th floor
- free breakfast, canapés, and desserts for two in the Fairmont Gold Lounge
- aromatherapy shower experience and upsized Le Labo toiletries
- dinner for two at REIGN (up to $250 value)
- cocktails for two at CLOCKWORK (up to $60 value)
- stay anytime in the next 12 months
Click here to enter and best of luck!
Fairmont Royal York generously provided my stay and tickets to Toronto Christmas Market. As always, all opinions are mine all mine.