This is what the Toronto Christmas Market looks like this year
The Toronto Christmas Market has arrived once again in our Distillery District for its seventh year. It's a holiday shopping wonderland laid out against the backdrop of rough cobblestones, brick facades, industrial metal and the famous sculptures and art installations that transform the place daily.
Admission was free for the opening night of the Christmas Market, normally $6 on weekends starting at 5 p.m. on Friday, but you can also check it out for free on weekdays. Beware that the place will probably be packed with holiday revellers like it was the first night, so go early if you want to avoid being sucked into the shuffle of line after line and bottlenecks near attractions.
My advice would be to line up for things you know are going to get slammed as dinnertime hunger hits around 6 p.m., like grilled cheese and poutine stands, and otherwise speed as quickly as you can between booths offering free samples of wine, brandy, Amarula, and beer. As the crowds start to roll in, it's not so hard to find quicker service food and quieter interesting booths.
So eat first, shop second, and of course make a visit to the beer hall. Next to the Mill Street Brewery and operated by Pure Spirits Oyster House, this massive beer garden pays an adult homage to Christmas with arty signage reading Naughty or Nice. You can get massive turkey legs in this area, and from one of the European cabin style huts ubiquitous in the market, you can grab bacon sammies ($10) and bratwurst ($7).
Some huts sell wares and some sell food, and this one serves up ooey-gooey raclette, which is in essence melted Swiss cheese. For $12 they'll shave the molten cheese onto rosemary and garlic potatoes, and garnish with a gherkin if you like. Eat it fast, though, because it hardens quickly in the winter night air.
On opening night the Christmas Market lit its magnificent 52-foot Norway Spruce Christmas tree (donated by Forests Ontario and Ontario Wood), accompanied by stellar performances featuring gospel, jazz, and a children's choir, the likes of which are guaranteed to continue. A sound system pumps music throughout the entire area so you can always listen even if you're not watching.
In one of the sections of the Market with free samples of Amarula mixed with hot chocolate, there are cozy heat lamps and fire pits. If Toronto weather keeps up like this, on warm opening night it was almost hot, but I'd be crowding around these fires with a warm drink in seconds on a colder evening.
Uncle Betty's Diner serves up mini donuts in wacky flavours like maple bacon ($6.50), cookies and cream ($6.50) and the works ($7.50). The smell is tantalizing from far away, and this is one of those shorter order items that's a little more dependable for a snack in a pinch.
But where would a Christmas Market be without poutine? $8 traditional poutine and $10 Montreal poutine topped with smoked meat are slung steaming to gravy-crazy crowds.
There are a variety of small vendors at the market selling food items like Petite Thuet, and a ton selling various Christmas ornaments that make easy gifts. This cute little fabric elf is $18.
There are other stations around with more off-the-wall gifts, and of course you can shop at the many stores in the Distillery that open their doors for the market to find the perfect present. Yo Sox is selling socks featuring bacon and fried eggs ($10.95) and similar undies for $20. Get all your male giftees in one go by buying four items and getting the fifth free.
There's a huge Woodcutters grill going near the Ferris wheel and merry-go-round, and the lineup in such a populous spot is long. If you're not into waiting, just make sure you get a peek at the open grill laden with sausages. Psst...the same menu is available at that Oktoberfest stall in the beer garden, so choose the shorter queue.
The merry-go-round is laden with children and families, but the Ferris wheel is a little more private and makes a romantic escape from the tumultuous crowds with a pretty view.
A forest of pink Christmas trees eschews tradition with a magical maze perfect for mystical Snapchats and selfies.
Right in front of it, there's a huge heart with mistletoe hanging above it, blending an old custom and our modern snap-happy lives.
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