The town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, located on the south shore of Lake Ontario at the mouth of the Niagara River, is often described as the prettiest town in Ontario. NOTL is a great choice for a day trip or weekend getaway any time of the year but is extra special during the holiday season when the historic town transforms into the most beautiful Christmas village.
We have visited the town many times over the past 30 years but always during the summer theatre season until this year when we planned two day trips to Niagara-on-the-Lake in November. The first visit was November 10th and we were able to attend a Christmas show but the town wasn’t decorated for the holidays yet. Our second visit was late November and the festive decorations were all in place. (I assume that the holiday decorating doesn’t get underway until after Remembrance Day on November 11th as the NOTL Poppy Project ran through November 13, 2023.)
Our most recent visit was on a weekday and we enjoyed a lovely day. The town was bustling but not as crowded as a summer visit and only a little snow could have made it more perfect!
Enjoy the festive spirit of December with FREE parking in Old Town from Dec 1 to Dec 31!
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Strolling a Christmas Village
My favourite part of the day was enjoying a stroll through the town’s historic downtown area of Queen Street and environs appreciating the beautiful holiday decorations, the Christmas music and the festive atmosphere. I’m a bit like a little kid – I get excited at the first hint of Christmas!!
Buildings such as the Prince of Wales Hotel, the Shaw Cafe & Wine Bar and the Old Court House have beautiful garlands, wreaths and bows installed and each of the shops have decorated exteriors and festive window displays. I would love nothing more than to return for an overnight stay to enjoy an evening walk along Queen Street when it’s lit up with twinkling lights!
Christmas Shopping in Niagara-on-the-Lake
Shopping for special Christmas gifts at the boutique shops along Queen Street and side streets is so much better than a trip to the mall!
My favourites are the Little Blue House Hatley boutique (they have the cutest Christmas pajamas), Greaves (for delicious jams and jellies), Beau Chapeau (if you need a stylish hat), Serendipity (French products), and Victoria’s Teas & Coffees but there are so many lovely shops to choose from that you can find a gift for everyone on your Christmas list (and maybe a little something for yourself too!).
The Christmas Store
Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Christmas emporium, Just Christmas, deserves a special mention for holiday shopping. Canada’s oldest year-round Christmas store, located in a historic building on Queen Street, opened its doors in 1985 and has been delighting Christmas lovers ever since.
Just Christmas offers over 5,000 different Christmas items including tree toppers, stocking hangers, nativity sets, Santas and snowmen, nutcrackers, and an enormous selection of hanging ornaments. I find it impossible to visit without picking up an ornament or two!
Shaw Festival Holiday Shows
The world-renowned Shaw Festival was launched as an annual summer theatre festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake to feature the works of George Bernard Shaw and other plays from and about his era. When Tim Carroll, the Shaw Festival’s new Artistic Director, arrived in town in 2016 he decided to mount a Christmas show and the Victorian feel of Niagara-on-the-Lake led him to choose A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
Adding a Christmas show to the Shaw Festival playbill was a great success and now there are two holiday season shows mounted each year – A Christmas Carol at the Royal George Theatre and a musical at the Festival Theatre (Brigadoon in 2023). We saw and enjoyed matinee performances of both holiday season shows this year.
A Christmas Carol – a family-friendly version of the holiday favourite where Ebenezer Scrooge becomes a changed man after Christmas Eve visits from a series of ghosts. This version of the classic tale includes puppetry and isn’t particularly dark making it suitable for ages 6+. November 5 – December 23, 2023. Running time is 1 hour 45 minutes with one intermission.
Lerner and Loewe’s Brigadoon – A modern young man meets a girl from the past when he stumbles upon a magical village that appears out of the Scottish mist for one day every century and must decide if he should stay with her in Brigadoon or return to the world he knows and never see her again. Beautiful music and fun dance numbers! Recommended for ages 8+. November 15 – December 23, 2023. Running time is 2 hours 15 minutes including one intermission.
Holiday Events in Niagara-on-the-Lake
There are a number of special holiday events that take place in Niagara-on-the-Lake including:
- Candlelight Stroll – The traditional evening stroll begins with an opening ceremony outside the Old Court House followed by a procession led by a horse drawn carriage. Participants walk along the stroll route behind the carriage while enjoying musical performances. Candles are sold from 2 pm – 8 pm (or until sold out) and cost $5 each – cash only. Friday December 1, 2023, 6:30 – 9:30 pm.
- Niagara-on-the-Lake Rotary Holiday House Tour – Tour six gorgeous, beautifully decorated homes; visit local historic and cultural sites; and sample complimentary tastings from 3 featured wineries and a winery/distillery. All the profits go to charitable causes. Friday December 1 and Saturday December 2, 2023, 9:30 am – 4:30 pm.
- Holiday Market at Niagara Pumphouse Arts Centre – Experience the magic of the season with festive shopping at the Holiday Market featuring handmade holiday gifts, ornaments & decor created by over 25 talented artisans. 247 Ricardo Street. December 1 – 10, 2023. Admission is free.
- Christmas Wonderland Garden at Pillar and Post – The Gardens at Pillar and Post turn into a seasonal Christmas wonderland complete with sparkling lights, holiday music, festive snacks, an ice rink, warming fire pits, and holiday movies under the stars. 526 Regent Street. December 1, 2023 – January 1, 2024.
Where to Stay in Niagara-on-the-Lake
If you can spend the night or plan a weekend getaway in Niagara-on-the-Lake then there will be more time to enjoy the holiday season and events. We haven’t stayed in Niagara-on-the-Lake during the holiday season but have stayed at both Pillar & Post and Queen’s Landing at other times of the year and the Prince of Wales Hotel has been on my wish list for ages. All three of these boutique Niagara-on-the-Lake hotels are part of the Vintage Hotels group.
Pillar & Post – This 5 star luxury hotel housed in a 19th century building features all the modern comforts guests need including an on-site spa and fine dining restaurant. Located in the Old Town historic district just a short walk from the Queen Street shops. Seasonal bonus – the hotel’s garden is transformed into a Christmas Wonderland for the holiday season! Check reviews and current rates on TripAdvisor, Expedia Canada or Booking.com.
Queen’s Landing – Located right on the water, the Queen’s Landing offers Niagara River views and award-winning dining in the picture-perfect setting of a luxurious Georgian mansion. Check reviews and current rates on TripAdvisor or Booking.com.
Prince of Wales Hotel – Located on Queen Street just steps from the boutique shops and Shaw Festival theatres, this beautiful Victorian-era hotel is a historical landmark named in honour of a royal visit in 1901. The hotel features elegant guest rooms, an on-site spa and an award-winning restaurant. Traditional English tea served daily. Check reviews and current rates on TripAdvisor or Booking.com.
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