It’s officially holiday season which means Ontario road trips in December have Nat King Cole, Mariah Carey, Bing Crosby, and the Carpenters joining along for the car ride. Pull out those calendars, friends. Even with the absence of office holiday parties thanks to this darn pandemic, your schedule is about to fill up!
Below you’ll find several different winter, light, and Christmas festivals in different cities around Ontario. To build your road trip itinerary, use them as your starting point and then map out the other places along the way you’d like to see. Or, don’t plan, and just see where the road takes you!
Stratford Lights On Festival
If there’s anywhere that knows how to put on a show, it’s Stratford, Ontario. For the second year, picturesque Stratford’s heritage downtown and parks are about to become even more fairytale-like with their Lights On festival from December 17, 2021 to January 28, 2022. This year’s interactive light installations is called “Journey – an act of travelling from one place to another”. Local artists’ made-in-Stratford displays will feature themes of transportation, “worldly and other-worldly landmarks”, and motion. Visit each of the 4 main festival stations (Shakespearean Gardens of a Thousand Lights and Tom Patterson Island to name a few) and make sure to also check out the 10 storefronts that are promising to be social-media worthy. I’m especially looking forward to experiencing the Market Square’s Sky Castle which will feature massive arches lighting up with different colours and playing music for one heck of an immersive moment!
The festival is free to attend and physical distancing will be in place for both staff and attendees.
Kitchener’s Christkindl Market
Kitchener’s 25th Christkindl Market will be celebrated both online and in-person this year. The outdoor festival has moved over to Gaukel Street adjacent to Victoria Park and takes place from December 2nd to 5th. A very short walk away on King Street, Bobby O’Brien’s will also best hosting the festivities. If you’ve attended Christkindl in Kitchener before, both new locations are short distances from Kitchener City Hall where it usually takes place. The market is open on Thursday from 4pm-8pm, Friday from 12pm – 8pm, Saturday from 10am – 8pm, and Sunday from 10am – 4pm and will feature 22 vendors. Masks are required and market-goers are encouraged to social distance.
Enjoy festive choral music, sip Glühwein, purchase your Christmas tree and gifts, meet the award-winning national Ice-Stock (Eisstockschiessen) team, and stroll around downtown Kitchener’s German Christmas market.
Simcoe Panorama Market
Between December 4th and 24th, 2021, Simcoe’s Panorama Market is delighting crowds with their River of Lights and Christmas displays. Due to the pandemic and funding changes, the size and scope of the event had to be reduced. That being said, this is definitely still a holiday event to check out! You can find the market located at 50 Bonnie Drive in Simcoe, Ontario. The local scouts group will be selling hot chocolate and cookies to help raise money for the lights, so bring an appetite. If you’ve got kids and they enjoy colouring, Norfolk County Recreation is holding a colouring contest and the sheets can be downloaded from the website.
The Simcoe Panorama Market is free to attend, but donations are welcome through their website so they can continue hosting next year. Every little bit helps! The event is fully outdoors so physical distancing is required and masks need to be worn anywhere where 6 feet of physical distance isn’t possible.
Toronto’s Distillery District Winter Village
Next on the agenda is Toronto’s Distillery District Winter Village. The winter shopping cabins are open from Tuesday to Sunday starting at noon. The rest of the Distillery’s many diverse shops, restaurants, and cafés are open 7 days a week starting at 10am daily, with closing times varying between 8pm and 10pm. There are more than 75 vendors to pop in and out of, many of whom are happy to deliver your purchases or you can bring a cloth tote to bring them home with you.
Parking is sparse so if you’re comfortable with public transit these days, park farther away and hop on a bus or streetcar. Another option would be to carpool or use Bike Share Toronto. Tickets for 6-year-olds to adults are $8 after 4pm on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays and from December 20th to December 23rd after 4pm. Children under 5, including babies, require a free ticket as well to help with capacity. If you can make it during the week, tickets aren’t required and it’s free to attend. Everyone 12 years and older will require proof of double vaccination and government ID to enter the Distillery District.
Warm up with a sake tasting flight and pick up a bottle of the delightful IZUMI Sake Apple Cider for home from Ontario Spring Water Sake Company, North America’s first sake brewery. (My tastebuds have vetted this many times for you.) When your sweet tooth kicks in, head over to Cacao 70 and order a Chocolate Marshmallow Pizza, just because! Before you leave, visit the 50-foot tall Christmas Tree and enjoy the holiday magic.
(Pssst! If you’re super adventurous and want to add a bike tour to your winter escapades, check out this Holiday Gift Guide for a discount with Toronto Bicycle Tours!)
Niagara Falls Christmas Market
The free-to-enter Niagara Falls Christmas Market runs on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, starting on November 13th and going until December 19th, 2021. This huge event has around 50 vendors who change each weekend, just to spice things up. There are also 30 large-scale interactive light displays, live music each night, glow sings, and more special events. It’s a dog- and kid-friendly event with Santa available for photos on Saturdays. It’s also wheelchair accessible and they are even available for hire through the website if needed. Each vendor will accept card or credit, so make sure to have a little of each on hand for your wintry purchases.
To get there, head to Niagara Falls downtown area. The market stretches from Valley Way to Queen Street and ends at St. Clair. Parking is possible on the streets surrounding the market or in the municipal lots nearby. An alternative option is to take the GO Train or bus in to the city. The GO station is walking distance away from the market which makes logistics much easier to consider! Covid considerations have been taken into account and public health mandates will be followed on-site.
Fun Fact: While in Niagara I’d highly suggest checking out the Ontario Power Generation Winter Festival of Lights as well. It’s running until February 21st, for 101 nights, which is the longest that Canada’s largest free outdoor light festival has ever run! There are over 3 million twinklers lighting up the Niagara Parkway, Dufferin Islands, and Niagara Falls. Let’s just say this is high on my December bucket list of places to visit this year.
Burlington Lakeside Festival of Lights
This waterfront Ontario city has 60 light displays turned on each day from 4pm until midnight. If that’s not a positive aspect of having darker afternoons and evenings, we need to chat! The Burlington Lakeside Festival of Lights show is at Spencer Smith Park or you can drive down Lakeshore Road and see them. It’s happening from November 25th to January 8th and if you’re there for Christmas Even, Christmas Day, Orthodox Christmas, or New Year’s Eve the lights will be on allllll day!
Niemi’s Outdoor Christmas Market
I heard about Niemi’s Outdoor Scandanavian-style Christmas Market through friends on Instagram and now I can’t wait to check it out. It opened on November 12 and goes until December 22, 2021 on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 11am to 7pm. It’s located at the Niemi Family Farm on Highway 48 in Mount Albert and costs $14.99 per person to attend. They’ve got Santa and other children’s activities, vendors selling everything from festive wreaths to hot apple cider, and even Christmas trees for you to take home. There’s also an illuminated forest walk that’s covered with magical twinkling lights. I’m not a Hallmark movie person at all, but I imagine if you are you’d feel like you’re starring in one walking through the light up forest! For any Finnish friends in the crowd, they’ve got Finnish baking available too.
The market is fully outdoors, so be sure to dress warm. If families and friends would like to reserve a private bonfire they can do so through the website. To get a sneak peek of the winter magic you’re about to experience, check out this YouTube video.
Are you going on any other Ontario road trips in December this year?
There are so many different winter festivals to see in Ontario! What are some of your favourite Ontario road trips in December to take and what traditions do you have for this cozy season? If you’re looking more winter ideas, check out this Ontario Travel Gift Guide and how to spend a Winter Weekend at Windy Lake Provincial Park!