Toronto is Canada’s largest city which is filled with museums , art galleries , towering skyscrapers and more than 1500 parks.
Riding one of the glass elevators up the CN Tower is one of those things you just have to do in Toronto. Dominating the city’s skyline, the 553m communications spire stands over the city like a beacon. Three observation levels reveal unforgettable views and even Niagara Falls can be seen on a clear day.
There are floor-to-ceiling windows, glass floors and an ‘EdgeWalk’ for those with the backbone to walk around the perimeter of the main pod. With no fence and no windows, it’s just you, tethered to a track. Even if you don’t visit, you’re bound to catch a glimpse of the tower at night: the entire structure puts on a brilliant (free) light show year-round.
Discover street art
Every neighborhood has a little street art, encompassing everything from graffiti to commissioned murals. Look around and you’ll find examples hidden down forgotten streets in the Financial District, adorning brick walls in the Annex neighborhood and the east end, and covering entire facades in the Village, Kensington Market and the west end.
The most popular – and perhaps the most photographed – location is Grafitti Alley, a collection of myriad artists’ works that spans three blocks just off Queen St West. Highly Instagrammable and perfect for colorful selfies.
St Lawrence Market
Opened in 1845, St Lawrence Market has been part of the city’s fabric for almost 175 years. It’s a foodies’ paradise, with more than 120 vendors selling fresh produce, meats, cheeses and all manner of prepared foods at South Market. Come here to poke around and to graze. Weekends bring the farmers and antique markets, and both are worth checking out.
Inside the old council chambers upstairs, the Market Gallery has rotating displays of paintings, photographs, documents and historical relics, while next door, cooking workshops and special events are held at the Market Kitchen.
Hockey Hall of Fame
The mecca of Canada’s national sport, the Hockey Hall of Fame is a spectacular labyrinthine museum in the Financial District. Inside, multimedia exhibits showcase the greats – icons and players of the game. Visitors walk through a recreated Montréal Canadiens’ locker room, watch documentaries and movies, and even shoot pucks at video-projected National Hockey League goalies.
Even those unfamiliar with the rough, super-fast sport are likely to be impressed by the world’s largest collection of hockey memorabilia. Don’t miss the goalie-mask wall, with rows and rows of personalized face shields. And, of course, be sure to take a pic with the beloved Stanley Cup, the championship trophy awarded annually to the NHL playoff winner.
Royal Ontario Museum
Opened in 1914, the multidisciplinary Royal Ontario Museum is Canada’s biggest natural-history museum. The permanent collection features more than six million specimens and artifacts, divided between natural history galleries and world culture galleries.
There’s also a ‘discovery zone’ where kids can handle skulls, pelts and stuffed wild animals. Free docent-led tours are offered daily, and you can expect to learn about everything from ice-age mammals and hardwood forests to Chinese temples and religious masks.
Once the Gooderham and Worts distillery, the largest distillery in the British Empire, the Distillery District is now a fabulous collection of restaurants and coffee shops, art studios and galleries, performance spaces and specialty boutiques. The setting is a beautifully-preserved Victorian industrial complex – think red brick, cobblestone walkways and imposing buildings.
In summer, expect live jazz, activities, exhibitions and foodie events. In winter, a festival of lights and a Christmas market lure people out from the warmth. Year-round, the place is buzzing.
Art Gallery of Ontario
One of the country’s finest museums, the Art Gallery of Ontario has a wide collection ranging from 15th-century European art to contemporary American works. The highlights are the Canadian pieces, including Inuit and other aboriginal sculptures and paintings and landscapes by Tom Thompson and the Group of Seven – a famous group of Canadian landscape painters from 1920 to 1933.
And, of course, the spectacular redesign of the building itself by renowned Canadian architect Frank Gehry is a treat by itself. There’s a surcharge for special exhibits, but visits to the permanent collection on Wednesday evenings are free. Several highly recommended – and free – tours are offered throughout the week.
A relatively small enclave north of downtown, Kensington Market is multicultural Toronto at its most interesting. It’s not a constrained market as much as a working residential neighborhood. The antics in Bellevue Square Park tell you all you need to know about this eccentric – some say just plain weird – area. Yes, there’s a swing set, but it’s literally child’s play compared to the bongo drumming circles, tightrope walking, fire hula-hooping and occasional boomerang tossing that keep the big kids busy.
If you pop along, you’ll find flavors from around the world, pocket-size stores selling vintage books and clothing, bikers and dreadlocked urban hippies. These co-exist happily alongside residential houses, eateries and traditional shops like butchers, greengrocers, fishmongers and cheese merchants.
In the district of North York, this former estate garden features annuals, wildflowers, peaceful waterfalls and extensive rockery as it sits along Toronto’s ravine system. The arboretum has been magnificently installed next to the Children’s Teaching Garden, allowing toddlers and little ones to interact with the environment.
Adjacent to the park is the Toronto Botanical Gardens. More than 3.7 acres of land make up 17 unique gardens like the Pollinator Garden with Urban Bee Hives, the Kitchen & Herb Garden and the striking Carpet Beds, which hold 15,000 plants and carry on the tradition of Victorian carpet bedding.
For stunning outdoor views, head to Scarborough Bluffs where lakeshore cliffs with cathedral-spire formations expose evidence of five glacial periods. Spanning 14km from Rosetta McClain Gardens to East Point Park, there are several trails that allow visitors to enjoy meadows, forests, beaches, wetlands and spectacular views across Lake Ontario.
The highest section, grassy Cathedral Bluffs Park (65m), makes a great photo op. About 6km east is Guild Park, a serene 36-hectare lakefront forest filled with architectural relics and sculptures from the 1950s to the 1970s. The bluffs also created one of the best beaches in Toronto, Bluffer’s Park Beach, which has soft sand, shallow water and a couple of good swimming spots. It’s also the best place to appreciate the jutting cliffs and spires.
Legoland Discovery Centre
It may not be a full-fledged theme park, but Legoland Discovery Centre is loved by kids. It especially appeals to younger ones, who delight in its collection of hands-on, educational Lego-centric attractions, including an earthquake table, a 4D cinema and a Lego factory.
Located a 30-minute drive northwest from Toronto’s downtown, the attraction has two children’s rides and three-million bricks – enough to keep young hands busy for the day. There’s a themed café with family-friendly selections, and the locale is part of a large shopping mall, adding extra appeal for parents who might want some retail therapy after the family excursion.
Located west of downtown Toronto, High Park spans more than 398 acres. The family-friendly park has a playground, public pool, picnic areas, off-leash dog space and sports facilities, and is known for its famous cherry blossoms, which bloom in April and May.
Numerous trails and nature walks can be taken in the summer, and in winter, the park is covered in a white blanket of snow making cross-country skiing a beloved activity. The park’s Grenadier Pond is a popular fishing spot and when it freezes over, it’s used for skating. One popular attraction is Shakespeare in High Park, which has been produced in the park’s amphitheater every summer for almost 40 years.
Explore Toronto’s food scene
Toronto has more than 7000 restaurants, representing a phenomenal range of tastes, cultures and experiences. Each neighborhood has its own trademark: the Financial and Entertainment Districts have fine dining and celebrity chefs, while Kensington Market and Chinatown are all about hole-in-the-wall eats and homegrown talent. Dining halls featuring a variety of cuisines and communal tables have popped up around town. Assembly Chef’s Hall is a fine place to start.
There are two festivals that showcase Toronto’s culinary scene annually – Summerlicious in July and Winterlicious in January. Over 200 top restaurants participate in these extravaganzas, offering high-end dinner and lunch options in three price categories to showcase the city’s culinary diversity.
Bata Shoe Museum
Shoe-lovers know that it’s important in life to be well shod, which is a stance the Bata Shoe Museum takes seriously. Impressively designed by Raymond Moriyama to resemble a stylized shoebox, the museum houses a collection of 13,000 ‘pedi-artifacts’ from around the globe spanning 4500 years; only 3% to 4% are on view at any given time.
Peruse 19th-century French chestnut-crushing clogs, Canadian indigenous polar boots or famous pairs worn by Justin Timberlake and Pablo Picasso. Some of the museum’s most famous shoes are ballroom slippers worn by Queen Victoria, Elton John’s monogrammed silver and red platform boots, Elvis Presley’s white and blue patent loafers, Marilyn Monroe’s red leather stilettos, Madonna’s platform Dolce & Gabbanas and the Dalai Lama’s flip flops.
Sports fans may want to check out the Rogers Centre, one of the largest stadiums in Canada with over 53,000 seats. Technically awe-inspiring, it opened in 1989 with the world’s first fully retractable dome roof primarily to serve as a baseball stadium for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Tours include a brain-scrambling video wall screening footage of past sporting glories, concerts and events, and you can also check out the stadium’s memorabilia museum.
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