When it comes to the world’s most sought after Christmas holiday destinations, the festive charm of cities like London, Paris, Vienna and New York City certainly can’t be beat. But have you ever considered Toronto, Canada for a holiday getaway?
We hadn’t either, until we were visiting my parents in Erie, Pennsylvania in December a few years ago. On a very long layover in Toronto on our way home, we decided to check out Toronto instead of just sitting at the airport for hours. We popped in to the Distillery District and spent a fun, albeit cold, couple of hours eating and drinking our way through the Christmas market. We left full of poutine, oysters and beer vowing to return to Toronto for a proper trip.
Toronto in winter might not seem like the ideal time to visit Canada’s largest city, but the holidays are when Toronto comes alive. Decked out in its’ festive finest, Toronto offers many similar holiday events, pop-ups, Christmas markets and holiday lights without the insane crowds of New York City. Check out these things to do in Toronto at Christmas, which are all dog-friendly so you even bring your furry family members along.
Visit a Dog-Friendly Toronto Christmas Market
Distillery Winter Village (Formerly Known as the Toronto Christmas Market)
The Gooderham & Worts Distillery dating back to 1832 long ago closed up its whiskey production, but the site provided the perfect opportunity for redevelopment. Home to the largest collection of Victorian-era industrial architecture in North America with its more than 40 heritage buildings and 10 cobblestone streets, the former whisky distillery was re-imagined into a quaint pedestrian-only arts-and-culture hub. One of Toronto’s top places to see and be seen, the Distillery District has over 40 different boutique shops, galleries, restaurants and, of course, a variety of brew pubs slinging the local ales.
The Distillery District is one of Toronto’s most dog-friendly parts of town. All the shops and galleries, with exception of those selling food (per the regulations of Health Canada) allow you to shop and browse with your dog in tow. You especially won’t want to miss popping in to the Sniffany & Co pet boutique. You’ll find a variety of treats, toys and much more. Coco was particularly a fan of their dog biscuit bar and loved her beer mug biscuit. Sniffany & Co staff even offer to watch adorable dogs for a short time while you dine or get a drink in the Distillery District.
And during the holidays, the Distillery District becomes even more magical with its’ dog-friendly Distillery Winter Village. It’s Toronto’s largest Christmas market, and in addition to the regular boutique shops and restaurants, you’ll find European-style wooden chalets pop-up offering a variety of international cuisine, gifts, hot drinks, and plenty of festive photo ops.
Trinity Square is at the heart of the Distillery District, and each holiday season a 56-foot Silver Fir tree holds center court in the square. And there’s plenty of other Instagram-worth photo ops with 7-foot tall snow people, life-size greeting cards, the Distillery District’s iconic Countdown to Christmas sign and even two specially created pup photo booths for holiday photos with your dog.
There’s also daily live entertainment with sing alongs with the Candy Cane Carolers. The songs are even projected onto the Singing Wall on the Spirit of York Building, one of Toronto’s most iconic buildings. And festive performances are regularly scheduled throughout the Distillery Winter Village season.
In Ontario, regulations don’t allow pets (except service animals) to be anywhere where food is prepared, packaged or served. But the Distillery Winter Village gives you the perfect opportunity to dine out with your dog in Toronto. A number of electric bonfires are placed throughout the Distillery Winter Village and the vendors offer a variety of international cuisine from poutine to pierogies.
Most of the restaurants will allow you to tie your dog up along their fence while you dine. If, like us, you’re not comfortable with that then head to the Mill Street Brew Pub. Mill Street Brew Pub is one of Toronto’s first microbreweries and their historic Distillery District location is where they first opened their doors in 2002. They have a heated outdoor patio that is open year round and they allow you to dine with your dog right at your table on their patio. Or, as already noted, the nice staff at Sniffany & Co kindly offer to watch dogs for short periods while you grab a bite to eat.
Distillery Winter Village is open November 16, 2023 – January 7, 2024. Tickets are required and must be purchased online for Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays after 4PM, and December 18-31 after 4PM. Entry is free all other times.
Stackt Holiday Hills at Stackt Market
Stackt Market is downtown Toronto’s ever evolving market made entirely out of shipping containers. With more than 20 pop-up shops housed in shipping containers and the Blue Moon Brewery, Stackt is North America’s largest shipping container market.
For the holidays, Stackt Market transforms into a festive wonderland. The Stackt Holiday Hills has a variety of pop-up shops for unique gifts, a 120-foot long holiday light tunnel with awesome views of downtown Toronto and the CN Tower, a 20-foot tall Christmas tree, all-weather outdoor curling lanes, and the Fire & Fizz patio where you can get Taittinger Champagne and s’mores making kits for the dog-friendly patio.
Dogs are welcome on a leash all throughout Stackt Market and in the pop-up shops (unless they sell food). Because of Canada Health regulations, dogs are not allowed inside the Blue Moon Brewery. But there are electric bonfires placed around the Stackt Holiday Hills and there’s even an off-leash Bark Yark on the Fire & Fizz patio.
Stackt Holiday Hills is open November 17 – December 31, 2023. Entry is free.
CN Tower Holiday Street Market
The CN Tower is one of the most iconic landmarks in Toronto. And while the CN Tower itself isn’t dog-friendly, the Holiday Street Market at the base of the CN Tower is. This small downtown Toronto holiday market is only open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, but you’ll find a selection of international street food vendors and small artisan shops. There’s also a photo booth to take a picture in Santa’s sleigh. Santa’s elves practically appear out of no where with all the perfect props like reindeer antlers to make your photo extra fun.
CN Tower Holiday Street Market is open December 1, 2023 – January 7, 2024 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Take Your Dog to See Christmas Lights
Bloor-Yorkville Holiday Magic
Bloor-Yorkville is considered one of Toronto’s most glamorous neighborhoods. The neighborhood is known for its charming Victorian row houses and the elegant Mink Mile, where you’ll find the most prestigious designer boutiques like Chanel, Hermès and Gucci. But you don’t need to be a millionaire to enjoy Bloor-Yorkville.
There are plenty of restaurants, bars and cafes to enjoy. Since most Toronto restaurants aren’t dog-friendly, we recommend grabbing some takeaway from 8Mile Detroit Style Pizza (the Oh, Canada! is a popular and delicious choice) and heading to Yorkville Village, the neighborhood’s urban park. The various sections of Yorkville Village are a nod to Ontario’s diverse geography with a wetlands, waterfall and Scotch pines all located inside the park. Plop down on the popular Rock, a 650-tonne billion year old piece of granite that was shipped to Toronto from the Canadian Shield, and enjoy the pizza with your pup while the sun goes down.
And during the holidays, the Yorkville Village is done up in its holiday finest for Bloor-Yorkville Holiday Magic. You’ll find a Christmas light tunnel, one-of-a-kind illuminations like Santa and his reindeer soaring over the streets, a Christmas tree, carolers strolling the neighborhood on weekends throughout December, and the unique permanent benches along Bloor Street that resemble campfires and light up when in use.
If you need to warm up, pop in to the Starbucks at Yorkville Village. They are one of the Toronto locations that welcome dogs inside and will serve up a puppuccino with a smile.
Head to Inglewood Drive (between Mount Pleasant Road and Welland Avenue) in Toronto’s Moore Park in December, when more than 50 of the neighbors in the one kilometer stretch of this neighborhood collectively decorate their houses with a 14-foot tall inflatable Santa in nearly every front yard.
It’s a simple case of Claus and effect. It all started in 2013 when local resident Amy Westin saw the Griswold-esque 14-foot tall inflatable Santa at the Canadian Tire store. Finding it hilariously obnoxious, she put up the waving inflatable Santa. And as a joke some good humored neighbors followed suit. Now it’s a neighborhood tradition, and for the past 8 years more than 50 houses all put up their 14-foot inflatable Santa. In fact, Inglewood Drive is even temporarily dubbed Kringlewood during the month of December!
Toronto, well technically Mississauga about an hour from Toronto, is home to the world’s largest light show and multimedia display. It’s called Illumi Toronto, and more than 20 million LED lights stretch through 13 themed universes from the Jurassic Encounter with its attacking tyrannosaurus to the Poles with an icy land of penguins and igloos. It’s all set up on a 600,000 square foot site that is equivalent in size to about 10 American football fields.
While not every night at Illumi is dog-friendly, Illumi wants your dog to enjoy the light illuminations too. There are several Doggie Nights throughout the season when dogs on a leash are welcome to join you for a walk through the illuminations.
Illumi is open October 1, 2023 – January 7, 2024. Check their schedule for Doggie Night.
Explore Downtown Toronto
The CN Tower is Toronto’s most iconic landmark. Quite literally towering over the city at 1815 feet (553 meters), the concrete broadcast and communications tower was the the tallest freestanding structure in the world from 1976 until 2007, when it was surpassed by Dubai’s Burj Khalifa.
Home to several observation decks, the Edge Walk for thrill seekers, and a restaurant that currently holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s highest wine cellar at 1151 feet (351 meters), the CN Tower is Toronto’s most visited attraction. Unfortunately, the CN Tower and its restaurant and activities are not dog-friendly. If you wanted to visit, you could take turns and should plan for at least one hour to get through all the lines for security and elevators plus time to visit the observation deck.
We didn’t visit the observations decks on this visit, but still enjoyed the CN Tower from the ground. Directly across the street is the historic 1896 Canadian Pacific Railway Don Station and Roundhouse Park. There’s picnic tables, a miniature train that operates in summertime, the Toronto Railway Museum and the dog-friendly Steam Whistle Tap Room. Coco loved taking a break from exploring dog-friendly Toronto for a game of fetch under the shadow of the CN Tower in Roundhouse Park.
Nathan Phillips Square
Torontonians will proclaim that the holiday season in Toronto hasn’t officially started until they’ve paid a visit to Nathan Phillips Square. Located right at the heart of the city, Nathan Phillips Square is Toronto’s version of Rockefeller Center in New York City. It’s Toronto’s civic hub, with more than 1.8 million visitors stopping by every year for a variety of special events.
And during the holiday season the square is home to Toronto’s official Christmas tree, an outdoor ice skating rink and a calendar full of Christmas activities and events like the Cavalcade of Lights.
The Nathan Phillips Square ice skating rink has been a holiday tradition for nearly 60 years. The reflecting pool turns into an outdoor ice skating rink from the end of November through March with the iconic Toronto sign, Freedom Arches and downtown architecture as a backdrop.
Obviously ice skating itself is not dog-friendly, but feel free to watch the ice skaters twirl around the rink with your pup alongside you.
Where to Stay in Toronto with a Dog
Kimpton Saint George
Toronto is a sprawling metropolis, and the Kimpton Saint George couldn’t be better located in Canada’s largest city. Tucked between the fashionable Yorkville and the historical The Annex neighborhoods, the Kimpton Saint George is just about equal distance from Uptown and Downtown. The University of Toronto and several of the city’s top museums are practically on the hotel’s doorstep, and it’s just a short walk to several tram and bus stops nearby.
The Kimpton Saint George is Canada’s first Kimpton hotel, and it sets a high bar. Arriving you’re immediately given the impression that this hotel is full of fun quirks and clever details.
Especially if you arrive heading west on Bloor Street, what stands out immediately on the 14-story hotel is the giant owl mural. The Kimpton Saint George commissioned the owl mural from local Toronto street artist Jerry Rugg, otherwise known in the street art community as BirdO. Take a look at the owl’s sunglasses, which reflect the Toronto skyline at sunset.
And the creative touches don’t end there. You’ll find lots of artworks by local and Ontario artists throughout the hotel from the landscapes adorning the lobby to the one-of-a-kind, hand-dipped metal wall pieces hanging in each guest room. The giant mirror in the elevator lobby makes for a fun photo op, and during the holidays you’ll want to sit next to the roaring fireplace and twinkling Christmas tree.
Kimpton hotels aren’t just pet tolerant – they are truly pet-friendly with no pet fee and no breed or weight restrictions. Coco was immediately welcomed by all the staff. All pet guests receive a tote bag at check-in, which included a bag of locally made 2-ingredient banana chip dog treats, a microfiber towel, a toy, and a box of poop bags. The staff can also make pet-friendly recommendations if you need. And in the room, there’s a dog bed that’s large enough even for larger breed dogs and bowls for use during your stay.
As for us, the room was very stylish, comfortable and spacious. The bed was quite literally what I imagine sleeping on a cloud must feel like. I could have happily stayed in bed hugged by the perfect pillows and mattress that just seemed to form the perfect cradle for my body for the entirety of my stay in Toronto. In fact, that bed was so good that Tim and I are still talking about it nearly a month later.
We also love that there’s a social hour every evening in the lobby from 5-6pm. During our stay complimentary wine or hot mulled wine was offered. There’s also coffee and tea in the lobby throughout the day, and there were biscotti and candy canes. Dogs are not to be forgotten, as there’s a dog watering station also in the lobby.
Other amenities include a fitness center, yoga mats in every room, bicycles available for guests who want to discover Toronto by bike, an onsite restaurant and onsite parking garage (for an additional charge). Every month there’s also a social media password you can get by following Kimpton on social media. Tell the password to the front desk and you’ll be gifted a surprise.
As my second Kimpton stay (I also had a fab stay at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh sans a pet a few years ago), I’m definitely apt to look for this upscale hotel chain in more destination in the future. And I would not hesitate to return to the Kimpton Saint George for future visits to Toronto. Coco also gives her paws up approval.
How to Get Around Toronto with a Dog
When it comes to getting around Toronto with a dog, it’s actually pretty easy! While we’re used to getting around using public transportation in Europe, and it’s typically dog-friendly, that isn’t usually the case in the US and Canada. If public transportation allows pets at all, it’s usually limited to small dogs in a carrier. Thankfully, Toronto is pretty pet-friendly when it comes to getting around the city.
The TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) allows pets of any size to travel for free on the TTC network so long as the pet is on a leash or in a carrier. There are specific times off-limit to pets traveling on the TTC, which is the peak travel periods when commuters are going to and from work (weekdays from 6:30am – 10am and 3:30pm – 7pm). Otherwise, your pet can travel right alongside you on the TTC network during weekends and off-peak travel periods.
For those peak periods, other options to get around Toronto with a dog are to walk, use Uber Pet (which we find is still hit and miss), or use the local pet-friendly taxi company Beck Taxi. Beck Taxi has an option right in their app for riders to tap “I have a dog” and the nearest pet-friendly taxi will pick you up. If you’re headed to or from the airport, there’s also Paws En Route as an option. This smaller fleet of exclusively pet-friendly taxis is more used by locals for getting to scheduled vet and grooming appointments, but they do offer airport pick-up and drop-off service so long as you have booked in advance.
Our stay with Kimpton Saint George Toronto was in partnership with Kimpton Hotels in order to bring you this story. However, Luxe Adventure Traveler maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm for travel are entirely our own.