By Chloe D’Costa.
From its diverse cuisine to its thriving art scene, beautiful beaches, and action-packed calendar of events, Toronto is a city bursting with culture. When I moved there two years ago, I arrived with little knowledge of the city and set out to experience as much as I could in my new hometown. If you’re considering a trip to Canada’s largest city, then here are my recommendations to maximise on your time in this dynamic destination.
When to visit
May to September is the best time to visit and not only because of the weather. Between Dundas West Fest, the annual Pride parade, Canada Day celebrations, Caribana, Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), and Toronto International Film Festival, almost every weekend throughout the summer offers a chance to discover Toronto’s vibrant mix of cultures.
No matter your interests, Toronto has something for everyone. It’s the home of world-class sports teams such as the Toronto Maple Leafs (hockey), the Toronto Blue Jays (baseball), and the reigning NBA champions, the Toronto Raptors (basketball). It’s also home to the third-largest English-speaking theatre district in the world, behind London’s West End and New York’s Broadway. Other popular attractions include the iconic CN Tower, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), and the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO).
One of Toronto’s best assets is its proximity to nature. Hop on a ferry to the Toronto Islands to discover beaches, parkland trails, and unparalleled views of the city skyline. Cycle the trails or revel in the novelty of beach time in a city. Ferries to Centre Island depart regularly from Jack Layton Ferry Terminal in downtown Toronto. You could also take a bus to Rouge Urban National Park—the first of its kind in Canada—to take in the lush landscapes, or head to Scarborough Bluffs to hike along the shoreline. If you want to stay closer to the city, consider Evergreen Brickworks. The former industrial site has been restored and now hosts regular events such as farmer’s markers, thrift fairs, and beer festivals. It’s also a gateway to hiking trails in the Don River Valley.
Neighbourhoods to visit
Kensington Market is a bustling neighbourhood with quirky cafes, colourful murals and a myriad of vintage shops. During the summer, the streets are often pedestrianised at the weekends to give way to food stalls and musicians.
The Distillery District is an eclectic mix of Victorian industrial architecture with contemporary design and the result is a fascinating contrast to the modern buildings that comprise Toronto’s downtown area. The historic area lay derelict before undergoing an extensive restoration process back in 2003. Today, the pedestrianised cobbled streets are the perfect way to spend an afternoon discovering the arts and culture that have made this one of Toronto’s most popular spots.
Queen Street West
A stroll along Toronto’s Queen Street could easily fill a whole day. Spend time browsing the independent boutiques and local bookshops and make a stop at Trinity Bellwoods park before heading to one of the many restaurants such as Oyster Boy, Mi Taco or Planta. Be sure to check out Graffiti Alley, located near the intersection of Queen Street and Spadina Avenue, to marvel at the street art murals that adorn the walls.
Where to eat
Toronto has a cuisine to suit every taste with neighbourhoods such as Chinatown, Little Italy, Greektown, and Little India offering up a range of flavours and fusions. If you can’t decide on just one cuisine, then it’s worth taking a trip to St Lawrence Market—a hub for Toronto’s assorted food offerings—for takeaway options and fresh produce. Don’t leave Toronto without trying poutine. The Quebecois invention consists of chips topped with gravy and cheese curds. The best place to sample a plate is a much-contested title but Smokes Poutinerie’s downtown locations are a popular choice.
No trip to Toronto would be complete without a visit to the magnificent Niagara Falls. This world-renowned site borders the US and is less than two hours’ drive from Toronto. The town of Niagara Falls is home to three waterfalls, including Horseshoe Falls, the most powerful waterfall in North America. Plan ahead and book a spot on the Hornblower cruise to voyage towards the mighty falls and delight in their icy mist. While the falls are a spectacular sight that shouldn’t be missed, the surrounding town is a tourist hotspot with chain restaurants and a strip of casinos, so my recommendation would be to continue on to the charming town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. If you aren’t driving, be sure to book a tour that includes a visit here. The quaint town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is like stepping back into the 19th century. Stop here for ice-cream or fudge (or both!) before heading to a local winery to sample a glass of the region’s famed ice wine.
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