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Ours to Discover: Holiday markets, finding the spirit of the season

Five Christmas markets you need to visit in the weeks ahead

Avatar By: Renée Suen December 5, 2021
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About this series: With COVID-19 restrictions having eased over the last few months, Wheels wants to inspire you to get ready to explore — but only when it is safe to do so. This series of daytrips and longer drives highlight great experiences you can have in the province and across Canada, ands show you why this country is “Ours to Discover.”

Holiday markets are a popular December tradition that celebrates the season with spirit-warming flavours, sounds and colours. Whether you’re wandering an enchanting winter village’s craft-stocked aisles, being greeted by carollers’ serenades, or shopping for that one-of-a-kind gift, these festive gathering places are guaranteed to get everyone in the holiday spirit. Plus, jolly old Saint Nick might even make an appearance. Here are some markets within an hour’s drive from downtown Toronto.

Holiday Fair in the Square in Vaughan

Bigger, brighter and no longer held in Nathan Philips Square, Holiday Fair in the Square in Vaughan

is a unique shopping and entertainment experience that combines a Christmas market with the energy of a winter carnival (with a portion of the proceeds supporting Epilepsy Toronto). Packed with new attractions and features, this year’s event has also teamed up with Vaughan’s dazzling Nights of Lights, a 40-minute walk-through experience that features more than 1.5 million LED and RGB lights synchronized to beloved holiday tunes.

You can shop the Artisan Market, stop by the Polar Point Bar for some mulled wine, eat food truck goodies or visit Santa Claus at the fair’s North Pole (you can’t miss it with its 50-foot-tall Christmas tree). The accessible venue also has a Holiday Midway, live entertainment and a 15,000-square foot warming tent. Holiday Fair in the Square operates through Dec. 30. It is free, except for Nights of Lights (general admission is $19.99 and children ages two to 12 are $12.99.

How to get there: A 40-minutes drive from downtown Toronto, head north on Allen Road and then take Highway 401 west to Highway 400 north, turning right onto Highway 7, another right onto Interchange Way, and a final right at Assembly Park.

Outdoor Christmas Market on the Farm

Only a 45-minute drive away in Mount Albert, the Niemi Family Farm transports visitors to the North Pole via a Scandinavian-themed winter wonderland. A haven for seasonal goods, you will discover charming handmade crafts, homemade fudge, traditional Finnish baked goods and even Santa himself waiting in his kota (a traditional Lappish hut used in northern Finland). There are also freshly cut Ontario-grown Christmas trees outside of the market area, along with handmade wreaths and garland.

The market operates Thursdays through Saturdays to Dec. 22. Admission is $14.99 and children under two years old are free.

How to get there: Head north on the Don Valley Parkway and continue onto Highway 404. Take the Davis Drive exit in Newmarket and head west before turning north onto Highway 48. The destination – complete with farm animals, a glittering light-dusted forest and private bonfires – is on the right.

Niemi

WinterFest at Canada’s Wonderland

Packed with more than 40 attractions and activities, this immersive holiday extravaganza offers attendees everything from ice skating on Snowflake Lake (reservations required) to family-friendly rides, holiday sing-a-longs and a nightly tree lighting ceremony of the theme park’s two 50-foot-high Christmas trees. In addition to more than a dozen live shows, there’s an ice wine bar for imbibers and even a chance to decorate cookies with Mrs. Claus. Stroll through Northern Starlight, the park’s new 100-foot-long coloured LED tunnel, before browsing the wares of GTA-based artisans and craft vendors. Celebrate diversity with light displays honouring Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali, Chinese New Year, Indigenous observances and more. WinterFest operates through Dec. 31 and admission starts at $29.99.

How to get there: Take Highway 401 to Highway 400 and follow it north to Canada’s Wonderland Drive.

Holiday Street Market at Scarborough Town Centre

Admission to this winter wonderland — put on by the Street Eats Market — includes unlimited kid-friendly rides and attractions, including a 35-foot-tall Christmas tree. You can get a sugar rush at the hot cocoa bar or maple syrup sugar shack, and toast marshmallows at the fire pit lounge. There’s shopping at the artisan village featuring more than 80 vendors and a 200-foot-long dining table that’s warmed by outdoor heaters. The market operates Fridays to Sundays until Dec. 19 and is also open Dec. 21 to 24. General admission is $20 with children ages two to 17 paying $15.

How to get there: Head east on Highway 401 and take the McCowan Road exit

Market

Mississauga Festival of Trees

Looking to get crafty? CreativeHub 1352 is hosting a new art-filled winter festival at the Small Arms Inspection Building in Mississauga. You can take part in one of the paid public workshops, like building your own birch deer. The event starts off as an indoor artisan market from Dec. 10 to 12. Then it switches to a culinary market full of fresh, locally produced specialty goods on Dec. 17 and 18, and then turns into a family pyjamas party for children four to seven years old on the afternoon of Dec. 19. Admission starts at $6.32 for children ages two to 12 and $9.50 for adults, with an additional fee for certain activities.

How to get there: Follow the Gardiner Expressway west to North Service Road in Mississauga before taking Exit 136 for Dixie Road. Continue driving for roughly five minutes and you will arrive at the Small Arms Inspection Building.

Festival

COVID-19 need to know

Note that the government-mandated proof of vaccination rule is in effect. Check provincial guidelines before you head out on your road trip (ontario.ca).

For the drive

Interested in learning more about Christmas traditions and hearing some less-known holiday fiction? The “Christmas Past” podcast is full of insight and interviews related to this time of the year. More information and episodes are available at christmaspast.media.

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