34 Reasons to Head North to Toronto

Some might say that Toronto is Canada’s “Downtown”. This diverse city of 2.7 million has a bustling nightlife, vibrant fashion scene, and an impressive variety of restaurants. And bonus for all you US travelers: a favorable exchange rate means fantastic deals.

 

Where to Stay

There are countless options in this mega city. Your best bets are to stay in Downtown West (“The Entertainment District”—theaters, music, the stadium, nightclubs) or Downtown East (aka “Old Toronto—museums, markets, restaurants and bars).

 

Plus, two of our favorite hotels:

 

Toronto

 

What to do

 

The hot spots

  • CN Tower. For 34 years, this 553-meter-tall tower was the world’s tallest free-standing structure. Afraid of heights? Stick to the revolving restaurant for its magnificent (but very safe) views. But if you’re the adventurous sort, head out onto the Edgewalk. Where groups of six can walk (or hang) along the edge of the CN Tower hands-free (don’t worry too much—you’ll be strapped in).
  • Royal Ontario Museum. With more than six million artifacts spanning art, world culture, & natural history in 40+ galleries, the Royal Ontario is Canada’s most extensive museum. Great for kids and adults alike.
  • Downtown Theater District. The third-largest English-speaking stage spot in the world, Toronto’s Theater District draws many of the world’s top productions and plays host to a number of festivals throughout the year.
  • Art Gallery of Ontario. Perhaps Canada’s most well-established art museum. Stare at both the artwork inside and out (the building was designed by Frank Gehry).
  • Rogers Stadium. An iconic silhouette on Toronto’s skyline (famous for its retractable roof), Rogers Centre is home to the Blue Jays, Toronto’s MLB team. Come join these passionate fans for a night of cheering on their team.

 

Toronto Bluejays

Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Stadium

 

  • Air Canada Centre. Both the Toronto Raptors (currently the only NBA team in Canada) and the Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL) play at Air Canada Centre. And while the teams might not always win, you can expect a large a loyal following of fans.
  • St Lawrence Market. Massive covered market just east of downtown with everything from fresh veggies to almond pretzels to Peameal Bacon Sandwiches. And nothing beats stocking up on some fresh maple syrup. Hot tip: closed on Sundays.
  • Hockey Hall of Fame. If you are a hockey fan, this should definitely make its way onto your bucket list. The HHOF dives into the history of hockey so you’re sure to learn something new. Bonus: you get to see the Stanley Cup in person.
  • The Distillery District. What used to be home to an actual distillery has now become a pedestrian-only district full of art galleries, chic cafes, a theater, and a microbrewery, complete with red brick cobblestone streets. Hot tip: don’t miss the Christmas Market every December.
  • Toronto Islands. If you want a change of pace, a $7 roundtrip ferry ride will take you from downtown to the Toronto Islands, where life is a little slower. No cars, plenty of idyllic parks, and sandy beaches mean plenty to do for any explorer. Lose yourself in the free 15,000 sq. ft. Centre Island Maze or look for ghosts at the haunted Gibralter Point Lighthouse.

 

View from the Toronto Islands

View from the Toronto Islands

 

Toronto slightly off-the-beaten-path

  • Explore Graffiti Alley (i.e. Rush Lane). This ~1/2 mile-long alley is filled with expressive street art that is constantly changing.
  • The Beaches. Toronto has a number of lakefront beaches. Go to Sunnyside beach for watersports or strolling along its lakefront trail, Sugar Beach for tanning in an urban setting (no swimming here), or Bluffer’s Park under the Scarborough Bluffs for a swim.

 

Sugar Beach Park

Sugar Beach Park

 

  • Kensington Market. In this hip and diverse neighborhood you’ll find eclectic vintage shops, cute cafes, and live music. Hot tip: visit on a Pedestrian Sunday (the streets close to vehicle traffic from 12-7pm and line with artists, musicians, performers and food stands.
  • Bata Shoe Museum. Catering to Toronto’s fashion scene, the Bata Shoe Museum is the world’s largest collection of shoes and footwear-related items. The collection houses over 12,500 artifacts, everything from Shaq’s size 20 basketball kicks to ancient Native American moccasins to modern day Manolos.
  • Scarborough Bluffs. These 100-meter tall cliffs have spectacular views of Toronto’s beaches and the marina. Stroll around the beach, have a picnic or hike your way to the top.
  • Get out on the lake. Rent a canoe, kayak or SUP to see the city from the water.
  • Allan Gardens Conservatory. This conservatory’s six greenhouses make a lush urban getaway, especially when the temperatures outside drop.

 

Toronto Allan Gardens Conservatory

Allan Gardens Conservatory

 

Seasonal

  • Toronto International Film Festival. Each September, Toronto is host to one of the preeminent film festivals in the world, TIFF. Catch a screening of one of the hundreds of films debuting, try to spot a celebrity, or attend one of the many galas all over town.
  • Nuit Blanche (“White Night”). A free contemporary art festival lasting sunset to sunrise every first Saturday of October (Sept. 30 this year). Swap sleep for a night full of exploring the unique art installations, created by both local & international artists.
  • The Toronto Santa Claus Parade has come to town every third Sunday in November for over 100 years. Bundle up and watch the festive floats go buy or join in at the Holly Jolly Fun Run 5K.
  • Downtown Ice Rink. Each winter, an ice rink goes up at Nathan Phillips Square in downtown Toronto. With the backdrop of festive lights and sparkling skyscrapers, it’ll feel just like a winter wonderland.

 

Toronto Ice Rink

Toronto Ice Rink

 

Where to eat & drink

Toronto’s food scene is as diverse as its population so don’t expect just “one type” of food to be good here—try it all. With that said, you’ll need to get some poutine.

Eat

  • Alo Restaurant. If you have one meal to splurge one, spend it at Alo, where the high-class service matches the high-quality food. Make a reservation and be prepared for a seasonally-inspired tasting menu full of artfully arranged dishes highlighting unique flavor combinations.
  • Canoe. Located on the 54th floor of the TD Bank Tower, Canoe is a modern restaurant celebrating Canadian cuisine and ingredients.
  • Byblos. This Middle Eastern restaurant is a dream. Be sure not to miss the Turkish Manti Dumplings (filled with smoky eggplant and topped with yogurt sauce and molasses) and the Black Truffle Pide (Pide is essentially a skinny Turkish pizza, and this one is topped with buffalo mozzzarella, halloumi cheese and tartufata crème fraîche).
  • Pizza Libretto. A local favorite that serves up real Neapolitan pie. Plus, the thick-but-not-too-thick crust is chewy on the inside and perfectly crispy outside.
  • Seven Lives Tacos. This taco joint in Kensington Market is worth the hype. They focus on baja-style tacos, so you can expect tacos on par with those in SoCal. Messy, cheap, delicious.
  • Sweet Jesus. Need a mid-day refresher? Go to Sweet Jesus and get a soft-serve piled high with crazy toppings. We can’t get enough of these sweet treats.

 

Sweet Jesus – photo via @tricia.koo

 

  • Rose and Sons. Visit this deli on the weekend for an eclectic brunch. Rose and Sons features everything from the diner classics (sausage and eggs) to your Jewish deli faves (lox bagel with pastrami-cured trout to down-home comfort food (fried chicken and grits).
  • The Federal. Another popular weekend brunch spot is the Federal. You might have to wait a bit but the cubano sandwich (roast pork, bacon, aioli, avocado, mustard & pickles packed into sourdough bread) alone is worth it.
  • Fring’s. You might know that Drake’s hometown is Toronto. But did you also know he’s invested in a restaurant? If you’re a fan, head to Fring’s for trendy asian-fusion shared plates, Drake-themed cocktails, and the possibility of sighting him when he’s in town.

 

Brunch at Kadbanu Toronto

Persian brunch in Toronto

 

Drink

 

  • BarChef. The cocktails at Bar Chef mean business (its walls are stocked with jars of bitters—over 5,000 ounces worth—just waiting for the perfect drink). The Vanilla and Hickory Smoked Manhattan will put you back $45 CAD but the taste of cherry & black licorice with a burnt hickory note might just be worth it.
  • Amsterdam Brewery. Brew tours every Saturday from 1-5pm.
  • Ossington. While this neighborhood is infamous for being hipster (up to you whether that’s a negative or a positive), everyone can agree that it has some of the city’s best bars.
  • Drake Hotel. This boutique hotel (it only has 19 rooms!) has a trendy candle-lit lounge perfect for sipping on fancy cocktails while you wait to head into the performance venue in the basement.
  • Jimmy’s Coffee. The trendiest coffee bar chain in the city.

 

Toronto at sunset

Toronto at sunset

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