Toronto has been called Toronto the Good, the T-dot, T.O. But no matter how you choose to refer to it, Toronto has always stood for big in Canada. Beyond the usual big ticket items -- its four professional sports teams, a full slate of cultural attractions, and green space galore -- Toronto also has the wonderfully unexpected: a fairytale castle perched grandly atop a hill, a farm smack in the middle of a charming Victorian neighborhood, and an idyllic group of islands just a short ferry ride away from downtown.
More than anything, however, Toronto is a city of neighborhoods, each one with its own unique character, and many with a distinct ethnic flavor as well. Visitors should try to see a couple of the 40-odd neighborhoods to get to the heart of what makes the city tick.
The Best of Toronto
The word Toronto comes from a Huron (a Native American tribe) word meaning "meeting place," which is fitting for a city the United Nations declared the most ethnically diverse in the world. Home to 4.5 million people from more than 100 countries, Toronto's rich ethnic mix gives it an energy evident in its bustling neighborhoods. More than 80 languages are spoken widely, and two multicultural television channels broadcast in 50 languages around the clock. The city's 7,000 restaurants include cuisines as exotic as Afghani, Tibetan, and Somali, and city notices are routinely translated into about a dozen languages. Call up Toronto's transit information line and you can get help in 18 languages, from Korean to Farsi.
Being Canada's largest city, Toronto also has a formidable cultural scene. It's the third-largest theater center in the world after New York and London, drawing tourists to North American premieres and long-running shows like Mamma Mia and, more recently, Lord of the Rings. Every October the Festival of Authors draws writers and book lovers from every corner of the globe. In summer, back-to-back cultural festivals keep the city moving to the beat of the global village.
Toronto's also mad about movies, hosting North America's largest film festival each September, and film production crews throughout the year. Long ago, location scouts discovered that Toronto's ethnic neighborhoods, pioneer village, medieval castle, skyscrapers, and waterfront could stand in for other cities, places, and times. In fact, it's ranked third in TV and film production, and second as exporter of TV programming in North America, earning it the nickname Hollywood North. Walking downtown you're almost certain to see a film crew transforming Toronto into London or New York with the help of a few checker cabs or a Union Jack flapping in the wind.
Fast Facts & Information
Fast Facts & Information
Geography and landscape: Toronto stretches along 27 miles of Lake Ontario's northern shoreline and sprawls northward into hilly farm country. While there are few natural landmarks, it's an exceedingly green city, with ravines crisscrossing it and two rivers -- The Don and The Humber -- providing peaceful valleys filled with parks and bike trails that wind down to the lakeshore.
General orientation: Thanks to 19th century British surveyors, Toronto's streets were laid out in a grid running north-south and east-west, making it easy to navigate. With the CN Tower and Lake Ontario as your southern landmarks, a good map should be all you'll need to find your way around, whether you decide to see it on foot, by car, or taxi, or by public transit. Many of the city's downtown attractions are within walking distance of each other.
If your feet need a break, the city boasts one of the safest public transit systems in North America. Kids get an extra kick from riding The Red Rockets, which are Toronto's streetcars. You can get to distant places like The Toronto Zoo by bus, and even attractions in the suburbs like Canada's Wonderland can be reached via public transport.
Safety: Despite its size, Toronto is actually safer than Montreal, Calgary, or Vancouver, and a great deal safer than most cities in the United States. Because Toronto's central core has remained a vibrant, livable place, there are no downtown neighborhoods to be avoided. The only place where you might encounter a pickpocket is The Eaton Centre, a sprawling downtown mall along Yonge Street. Exercise caution in crowded situations, and you'll fare well. But should you ever need assistance from police or emergency vehicles, call 911.
Population: Toronto is the fifth largest municipality in North America after New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Mexico City. The population of Greater Toronto is 4.5 million residents and that includes surrounding cities and suburbs like Etobicoke, Scarborough, and North York.
Currency: Before leaving for your trip to Toronto, talk with your local bank about exchange rates and if they offer that service. That's one way to try to find the best exchange rate and have money in your pocket as you hail a cab from the airport to the hotel. Otherwise, you might get stuck in a long line if you try to use an airport ATM or the international currency exchange services booth conveniently located inside the airport.
Since Toronto is an international business center, numerous storefront exchange businesses are located throughout the city. You can walk up to the counter and buy or sell currency just like you are making a transaction at a bank. Be aware that most of these businesses aren't open Sundays or Mondays.
Most Toronto hotels will exchange foreign currency, but only for their guests. Some hotels also limit the exchanges to $100 in Canadian currency per day.
Climate/weather: Summer in Toronto can be hot and humid, with temperatures from 75 to as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit (25 to 35 degrees Celsius). Winter brings snow and the occasional ice storm, with cold spells averaging between 35 to 13 degrees Fahrenheit (2 to minus 10 degrees Celsius). The best time to visit is spring, when trees are in bloom and moderate temperatures prevail, or autumn, when fall colors turn the cityscape into a richly textured tapestry of scarlet and gold.
One-third of Canada's population lives within a hundred miles of Toronto, so rush hour can be challenging. Keep reading for our vital tips on getting around Toronto.
Toronto's public transportation includes buses, streetcars, and subways. These all are great options because driving can be dicey due to Toronto's extended rush hour. Here's our primer on Toronto transportation:
From the Airport
Rental car: All major rental companies are represented at the Toronto Pearson International Airport. Travelers can pick up or return their rental cars on the first and/or the basement level of the Terminal 1 parking garage and/or the ground level of the parking garages in Terminals 2 and 3.
Maps and driving directions into downtown Toronto are available from car rental service counters, and are fairly straightforward. Two main routes -- along Highway 401 or 427 -- lead into downtown. Ask the car rental agent about which route is the best option for your destination. The average daily rate for a midsize car is $60 per day.
Taxis: Taxis are available outside the arrivals level of the airport, and charge a flat fee of $46 to downtown Toronto. Most taxis are large town cars and can take up to four passengers.
Public transportation: If you'd like to take public transit into Toronto, there are a few ways to do it.
Airport Express is a bus service that drops passengers off at about a dozen downtown hotels for a one-way fare of $16.45 or round-trip fare of $28.35. You can buy tickets directly from the wicket located curbside, online at the Web site, or directly from the bus driver. For an updated schedule, check the company's Web site.
The 192 Airport Rocket bus route provides all-day express bus service between Pearson Airport and Kipling subway station. Once at Kipling, take the subway into midtown to the Yonge/Bloor station. A second option is taking the 58A Malton bus to Lawrence West station. You can get directions at both subway stations for the rest of your trip, or consult the Toronto Transit Commission Web site before your arrival. Both route fares are $2.75 per person.
GO Transit, Toronto's commuter network, provides daytime bus service between Yorkdale Mall and Pearson Airport. This route costs $5.10 per passenger. From the Yorkdale subway station travelers can access the University subway line, which will take you downtown for $2.75 per person.
Overnight service is available on two routes -- the 300A Bloor-Danforth bus and 307 Eglinton West -- between the hours of roughly 2 am and 5 am. Both serve all three airport terminals and cost $2.75 per passenger.
Rush hour: One-third of Canada's entire population lives within 100 miles of the CN Tower. As in most heavily populated cities, rush hours, which are 6:30 am to 8:30 am and 4:30 pm to 7 pm, can be heavy in the downtown core and on the highways. Expect bumper-to-bumper traffic during rush hours on major roads like Highway 401, The Gardiner Expressway, and The Don Valley Parkway.
Rules of the road: When driving alongside a streetcar, make sure to stop if the doors open. Passengers exit streetcars right into traffic on many routes, and cars are required to stop until the streetcar doors close again.
Don't plan to drive to Niagara Falls on Friday night and return Sunday night -- if you do you'll probably regret it. The main route to The Falls is The Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW), which is particularly congested during summer weekends. You'd be better off avoiding driving there on weekends.
Public transportation: The Toronto Transit Commission operates one of the world's finest public transportation systems, with a network of interlinking subway lines, buses, and streetcar lines.
The standard fare on Toronto Transit is $2.75 per person. Children are 70 cents and seniors/students pay $1.85. If you plan on using public transit during your visit, pick up a transit map and consider buying a one-day or weekly pass to save money.
Toronto has three subway lines -- the Bloor/Danforth line, which runs east-west, and the Yonge Street and University lines, which run north-south and converge at Union Station downtown. All subways have designated waiting areas, and it's important to stay behind the yellow line on subway platforms.
Toronto streetcars run along major streets in downtown, with buses taking their place outside the city core. Streetcars operate frequently (every 5 to 7 minutes during the day) and can be boarded with a transfer obtainable in the subway stations or by paying your fare as you board. At night, buses and streetcars will allow women passengers to request stops between regular designated stops.
Taxis, by bike, and on foot: Taxis are easy to flag downtown, with fares that rarely top $15 in the city core. Meters start at $3 and are distance-based, so they increase in increments of 25 cents. A typical trip in downtown Toronto will cost $7 to $10, depending on traffic. Try not to travel at rush hour however, when long waits in traffic can send your taxi fare into the stratosphere. Make sure that the metered rate is set at one, unless the driver has explained why it isn't, such as for a large number of parcels or many passengers. Most taxis have a limit of four passengers.
There are bike lanes on certain major thoroughfares (city hall has bike maps), but cycling isn't recommended unless you're a seasoned urban rider because getting wheels stuck in streetcar tracks is a common hazard. You can combine cycling with public transit since bicycles are permitted inside all city buses, streetcars, and subway trains, except during morning and evening rush hours.
A popular place to cycle is car-free Tommy Thompson Park, better known as Leslie Spit, where abundant wildlife attracts birders from all over the city. Another choice spot is High Park, in the west end, which is car-free on Sundays. For a full day of cycling you can go from Leslie Spit to High Park along the lakeside Martin Goodman Trail, stopping at scenic points along the way.
Families can rent a quadricycle -- a unique four-seater bike -- to tour the car-free Toronto Islands. You can pedal along the island's pathways and bridges to the 1808 Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, and cruise down the 'streets' of Ward Island, where a small community of island residents live in cottages year-round.
Toronto is a safe and friendly city with a cosmopolitan side. Keep reading to learn about Toronto's special events and attractions, which will suit families and singles alike.
Toronto Special Events & Attractions
For many years, Toronto had a reputation as being safe, clean, and industrious -- positive attributes, to be sure, but not exactly the makings of an exotic and exciting vacation spot. Today, thanks in large part to the influx of immigrants from every corner of the world, Toronto has become a marvelously diverse and happening city. While it has retained its efficient way of life, it has developed a more daring, cosmopolitan side, becoming the kind of rare big city that suits both singles and families alike.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Special Events & Attractions in Toronto
Insider's Guide: The Best of Special Events & Attractions in Toronto
Every weekend from May to October, there's another nationality celebrating a holiday or another major festival kicking off. The hotspot is Harbourfront (235 Queen's Quay West), a massive cultural complex on the lakeshore. Along with open artist studios, galleries, and theatres, festivals devoted to French Canadian, Latin American, Indian, Ashkenazi, and hip-hop culture, among others, take place here regularly. Other events revolve around food, like the Hot & Spicy Food Festival, which draws aficionados for chef demonstrations and lots of sampling at ethnic food tents.
CN Tower (301 Front St W) is Toronto's tallest and defining landmark. This is the tallest freestanding structure in the city at 1,815 feet from the ground to the tip of its communications aerial. It was built to solve communications problems caused from the skyscrapers dotting the landscape in the 1970s. You can test your courage by walking across the glass floor 113 stories about the ground. The glass is only 2-1/2 inches thick, but is so strong it can hold up to 85,000 pounds. If you are more daring, go higher up another 33 floors to the Sky Pod viewing area. On a clear day you can see the spray coming off Niagara Falls, which is 62 miles away.
Ontario Science Centre (770 Don Mills Rd) has more than 600 exhibits in 10 exhibition halls in addition to visiting exhibits. You'll see a hair-raising electrical ball, lasers burning through wood, and flowers shattering into icy shards. You can't see it all in one trip, so make time for in-depth exhibits like the Human Body and The Living Earth and a larger-than-life film shown at the OmniMax movie theatre. Also save time for the new Weston Family Innovation Centre, which explores current science and technology trends.
Toronto Zoo (361A Old Finch Ave, Scarborough) is home to more than 5,000 animals that will make the young and young-at-heart feel a special place in their heart. There's a lot to see on the 710 acres, so make time for the African Savanna, the largest indoor Gorilla rainforest exhibit, the Kids Zoo with its numerous interactive stations, and Splash Island, a 2-acre water play area. You can also see some amazing animal shows in the 750-seat Waterside Theatre.
Ontario Place (955 Lake Shore Blvd W) is a futuristic entertainment complex on the waterfront of Lake Ontario. Its space-age design incorporates a series of elevated white pods, joined together by a network of wide ramps and pontoons, like a stage set for The Jetsons. It's worth spending the entire day here, enjoying the more than 20 rides and attractions, which include an IMAX Cinesphere Theatre, bumper and pedal boats, a children's play area, miniature golf, a motion simulator ride, a waterpark, and five Olympic-sized beach volleyball courts.
Medieval Times (Exhibition Place, Dufferin Gate) allows adults and especially kids to experience the 11th century with a four-course banquet. Guests walk through the door and are greeted by a King and Princess, then walk forward into the Hall of Arms decorated with authentic medieval artifacts. Silverware wasn't a luxury back then, so you'll have to eat your entire meal with your hands. The show includes ring piercing contests, javelin throwing, jousts, and horses performing military drills. Afterward, guests can go to the Knight Club to meet the show cast, get autographs, or take photos.
The African Lion Safari (RR1, Cambridge) is one hour from Toronto and is home to more than 1,000 animals of more than 100 species, but the facility is only open from May through October. Guests remain in their cars as they slowly drive past grazing giraffes, playful monkeys, exotic birds, and majestic lions in the reserve park. Another option is to leave your car in the main lot and get on a guided bus tour through the complex for an additional fee. You can also watch live animal performances, like the Parrot Paradise Show, Birds of Prey flying demonstrations, and the Elephant Swim in the recreational lake. You can also take an African Queen boat tour through the property.
The Hockey Hall of Fame (30 Yonge St) combines memorabilia with state-of-the-art exhibits and interactive technology. It's an ideal venue for an intergenerational visit: while Grandpa checks out a re-creation of the Montreal Canadiens' dressing room, the grandkids can try to stop slap shots from a virtual Wayne Gretzky or Mark Messier. Upstairs in the original bank building a more respectful calm predominates as visitors file by the many trophies, awards, and portraits of Hall of Famers. A highlight is the original Stanley Cup on display in the ornate bank vault. You can have your photo taken with it, or do as the pros do and plant a big kiss on it!
Major league sports attract huge crowds to the Air Canada Centre (40 Bay St), where the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs and the NBA's Toronto Raptors play. Over at the Rogers Centre (1 Blue Jays Way), the Toronto Blue Jays play in baseball's American League and the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts play a slightly different version of the game than is played in the NFL.
For a unique sporting experience, check out the Canadian sport of lacrosse, a fast-paced game where players pass a ball using long sticks with baskets. The game pre-dates hockey as an organized sport in this country, dating back to the 1860s. Today a professional league operates across the country, and home games featuring the local team, Toronto Rock, take place from January to April each year at the Air Canada Centre.
You can spend an afternoon watching the thoroughbred and standardbred horses race at the Woodbine Racetrack (555 Rexdale Blvd, Rexdale). It's the only track in North America that offers both kinds of horses racing on the same day. This track is known for hosting the $1 million Queen's Plate and the $1.5 million Canadian International.
One of Toronto's largest events is the Toronto Caribbean Festival, a two-week celebration that attracts over one million revelers. Based on Trinidad's Carnival, the festival now also includes the music, dance, food, and costumes of Jamaica, Guyana, the Bahamas, Brazil and other cultures represented in Toronto. The centerpiece Caribana parade is a street party packed with thousands of giddy masqueraders dressed in elaborate costumes. A grandstand seat is $21, but it's free anywhere along the roadside.
Toronto's arts and culture scene boasts several fine museums and performing arts troupes, including the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada. Go to the next page to learn more about Toronto arts and culture.
Toronto Arts & Culture
Toronto's cultural institutions have gone through a renaissance, with major expansions of The Royal Ontario Museum, The Art Gallery of Ontario, and The Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art. The Canadian Opera Company and The National Ballet of Canada now have a permanent home in a beautiful new state-of-the-art Opera House.
But Toronto's cultural life goes on outside of these hallowed halls, along streets like Queen Street West, the domain of artists, musicians, and their bohemian hangers-on. Stroll down a few blocks of it, particularly the strip west of Bathurst Street, and you'll find intriguing artist-run galleries, cool boutique hotels like The Drake and The Gladstone, and an endless parade of shops hawking Australian boots, Japanese paper lanterns, vintage clothes, pressed tin treasures, rare estate teas, and olive oils, and much, much more.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Arts & Culture in Toronto
Insider's Guide: The Best of Arts & Culture in Toronto
Royal Ontario Museum (100 Queen's Park) is the fifth largest museum in North America with 45 galleries and excellent research departments that have brought it international acclaim. Make sure to visit the Asian galleries, which are the world's finest collection of Chinese Temple Art outside China, and extensive Korean and Japanese galleries as well. Its brand new addition, an enormous exploding crystal designed by Daniel Libeskind, is a striking addition to the Toronto landscape. Housing a spectacular atrium space with no right angles to be seen and covered in glass-sliver windows, the crystal's four levels of galleries will showcase some of the museum's finest pieces.
Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas St W) features Canada's largest art collection. Alongside an impressive European art collection, including such heavyweights as Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and Edgar Degas, the gallery has a sculpture atrium devoted to its unsurpassed collection of Henry Moore bronzes. An extensive contemporary art collection documents the evolution of modern movements and includes works by Claes Oldenburg, Jenny Holzer, and Andy Warhol among others. An addition designed by native Torontonian Frank Gehry will be completed in 2008.
Textile Museum of Canada (55 Centre Ave) has a permanent collection of garments, tribal rugs, and textile samples from every culture in the world. It also has changing exhibits by contemporary artists whose works are inspired by textiles. You never know what you'll find here. For example, a recent show riffed on classic weaving patterns, but used beetles, butterflies, and other colorful insects to render elaborate designs on the gallery walls.
Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art (111 Queen's Park) has an impressive collection of ceramics -- from delicate Meissen porcelain tea sets and Italian Renaissance ceramics to irrepressibly fun modernist urns by leading contemporary artists.
The Bata Shoe Museum (327 Bloor St W) has amassed more than 10,000 pairs of footwear and related artifacts from 2,500 BC to the present day. Since founder Sonja Bata began collecting shoes in the 1940s, pop stars, politicians, and everyday folk have all entrusted their shoes to her. When she decided to open a museum, local architect Ray Moriyama designed a cunning shoebox-like structure whose "lid" seems to be lifting off. There are neat surprises everywhere, like chestnut crushing shoes from France and platform running shoes worn by Spice Girls member Ginger Spice. Exhibits change regularly, but starting at the lower level you'll find a neat overview of the history of shoes and a sampling of extraordinary shoes that reveal the breadth of the collection.
The Toronto Centre For The Arts (5040 Yonge St, 416-733-9388) houses three theaters: the George Weston Recital Hall with 1,036 seats, a multipurpose 250-seat studio theatre, and the Main Stage Theatre with its 1,850 seats. Because of its excellent acoustics, this is the place to hear the world's best international singers and musicians.
The Hummingbird Centre For The Performing Arts (1 Front St, 416-393-7469) is municipally owned, seats 3,155 people, and is the largest multi-use facility in the country. It's home to the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada. Some of its most popular international touring acts have included Riverdance, Judy Garland, and Liberace. The center has a huge 60-foot proscenium and a sizable lobby mural by York Wilson.
Toronto is becoming a hotspot for architecture, centered on new projects by famous architects such as Daniel Libeskind. On the next page, we'll provide suggestions for experiencing Toronto's architecture and landmarks.
Toronto Architecture & Landmarks
In the last few years Toronto has emerged as an architectural hotspot with major projects by noted 'starchitects' Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind, Norman Foster, and the highly original Will Alsop. The talk of Toronto has been Libeskind's addition to The Royal Ontario Museum, which he has imagined as an exploding crystal, five stories tall. Time will tell whether Gehry's enhancements to The Art Gallery of Ontario will have as much visual impact.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Architecture & Landmarks in Toronto
Insider's Guide: The Best of Architecture & Landmarks in Toronto
So far, the most audacious structure to be built is Will Alsop's new building for the Ontario College of Art & Design (100 McCaul St). Like a tabletop, a black-and-white checkered rectangle hovers, suspended 40 meters above ground on four colorful metal legs. Students adore it, and fans of architecture regard it as the most important building that's gone up in Toronto in the past 10 years. By any measure it's a wonderfully imaginative addition to the city's otherwise old-school architecture and a wonderful preview of what's to come.
For insight into Toronto's past, head to Old York Historic District centered around the St. Lawrence Market (92 Front St E). Heritage buildings, like the 18th century St. Lawrence Hall, the iconic Flatiron, and the cluster of cathedrals on Queen Street make this Toronto's most photogenic district.
Charming 19th century storefronts lined with flowerboxes predominate, and gems like the Toronto Sculpture Garden (115 King St W) and St. James Cathedral (65 Church St) offer a shady respite from summertime crowds. St. James was founded in 1797, as the first Anglican Church in York, as Toronto was then called. Its gothic style and its 300-foot spire make it a Toronto landmark. In the tower, a fully automated clock triggers the 10 church bells, which ring on the quarter hour.
Directly across the street, the Toronto Sculpture Garden offers innovative contemporary sculpture installations in a compact, urban park. Artists test out ideas here, experiment with public space, and address issues of architectural scale, materials, and context.
Casa Loma (1 Austin Terrace) is a medieval castle built between 1911 and 1913. Complete with turrets, stables, a 60-foot Grand Hall, a wine cellar, a shooting gallery, three bowling alleys, and the first elevator and built-in vacuum system in Canada, it was featured on A&E's America's Castle. Kids can look for secret passageways hidden behind mahogany panels, run down a long tunnel to the stables, and climb up the turrets, which have spectacular views of Toronto and the lake in the distance.
Spadina House (285 Spadina Rd), is a grand mansion that was lived in by successive generations of the renowned Austin family, from the 1880s right up until the 1980s. With its billiards room and conservatory, Spadina House is like a game of Clue brought to life.
Toronto's financial district has some splendid skyscrapers, but two buildings stand out as architecturally significant: BCE Place (181 Bay St), a soaring glass-and-steel structure with a show-stopping galleria designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, and Mies van der Rohe's Toronto Dominion Centre (66 Wellington St W), a marvelous black modernist complex of six imposing towers.
If you'd prefer to while away your days in Toronto by shopping, we have suggestions on the following page.
Toronto's neighborhoods have vibrant main streets filled with interesting shops with unique merchandise. But one mall -- the Eaton Centre -- bears mentioning, as it's ranked as Toronto's top tourism attraction, according to city records. When it was built in 1979, the Eaton Centre was an anomaly in Canada: a downtown mall that improved upon the suburban model. You can see the antecedents -- the natural light, the trees, and fountains -- which we now take for granted.
There are more than 285 shops, restaurants, and services to wind your way through, not to mention a movie theater, a ticket kiosk for same-day, discount theatre tickets, and a police station. Stop in for last-minute souvenir purchases at the Yes Toronto! Shop, where discerning tourists can find highly wearable T-shirts.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Shopping in Toronto
Toronto's destination shops (Prada, Chanel, Hermes, etc.) are clustered along Bloor Street in Yorkville, alongside upscale galleries, haute couture boutiques and funky shops like Ice (163 Cumberland St) and yoga emporium LuLulemon (130 Bloor St W), which attract A-List celebrities during the Toronto Film Festival.
Hazelton Lanes (87 Ave) is home to dozens of exclusive shops, Toronto's only Roll Royce dealership, and a Whole Foods Market that has gourmet take-out and a small cafe.
A few blocks north of Yorkville you'll find Paper Bag Princess (287 Davenport Rd) with its unsurpassed collection of vintage couture clothing.
Spend a lazy morning at the St. Lawrence Market (92 Front St East), where food lovers browse the 19th century stalls for homemade breads, mustards, spreads, fancy cheeses, spices, seafood, and prime cuts of meat. Pick up a snack or lunch before heading over to the Distillery District (55 Mill St), where funky shops and galleries inhabit old brick buildings once used for whiskey making.
Queen's Quay Terminal (207 Queen's Quay West) has more than 100 upscale stores in this renovated 1920s warehouse. Its stores include Amance Ladies Fashion, Jodi's Lingerie, Tanya Lam Design, and Tim Horton's.
Check out the Dragon City Shopping Mall (280 Spadina Ave, 416-596-8885), which has more than 30 stores and services that will allow you to immerse yourself in the Chinese culture. You can buy Chinese herbs or jewelry or admire arts and crafts.
There is enough to keep you browsing for days here, but two shops feature great souvenirs. If you're a fan of contemporary jewelry, you're sure to find something at Corktown Designs (55 Mill St, Bldg 54), which represents more than 50 Canadian and international jewelry makers. Pop into Soma Chocolatemaker (55 Mill St, Bldg 48) for a decadent treat. They specialize in artisan-quality chocolates, cookies, and candies made from estate and heirloom cacao beans and boast flavors you'll find nowhere else.
When you've finished shopping, perhaps you'll want to hit the town. Toronto's Entertainment District is teeming with clubs, theaters, and pubs, belying the city's former reputation as a place without much of a nightlife. Keep reading to learn more about nightlife and entertainment in Toronto.
Toronto Nightlife & Entertainment
Once upon a time, Toronto nightlife was an oxymoron, and the rest of Canada, particularly Montrealers, considered the city a place to work, not a place to play. How times have changed, and today Toronto boasts nightlife on a par with cities like Chicago and New York.
The Toronto Entertainment District is a stretch of downtown between the CN Tower and Queen Street that teems with nightclubs, wine bars, and pubs, and two of Toronto's major theatres -- The Edwardian-era Royal Alexandra (260 Kings St W) and the plush and modern Princess of Wales (300 King St W), with its Fran Stella ceiling murals and Gaudi-inspired interior.
Wander along King Street for a pre-theater meal and have after-theater drinks at Monsoon (100 Simcoe St) or in the ultra-cool bar in the nearby Mobil Three-Star Hilton Toronto Hotel.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Nightlife & Entertainment in Toronto
Insider's Guide: The Best of Nightlife & Entertainment in Toronto
Resto-lounges -- that unique fusion of bar and restaurant where palates meet percussion -- have been popping up all over town. Some succeed, others try their best but can't rise to the occasion. Amber (119 Yorkville Ave) in Yorkville is a basement boite where the demimonde sups and sips simultaneously. Hard to pull off, but Signe Langford's food is stellar, and the music isn't hair-raising: it morphs from jazz to French accordion to house music.
Ultra Supper Club (314 Queen St W) attracts an older crowd with deep pockets who come to revel in chef Chris Zielinski's brilliant pairings and one of Toronto's favorite rooftop lounges.
You'll have no problem finding a dining and/or dancing option on College Street's Little Italy (on College Street running roughly eight blocks west of Bathurst). Try nouveau Indian cuisine at Xacutti (503 College St), then get ready to dance, as the area comes alive with more than a dozen venues. For Latin music and dancing (as well as a campy drag show every weekend), check out El Convento Rico (750 College St). If it's a more loungelike mood you'd prefer, have after-dinner drinks at Sutra (612 College St) or Lily (656 College St).
The Academy of Spherical Arts (38 Hanna St) is a 22,000-square-foot venue named for its location in the former Brunswick Billiards Factory. This club, which has attracted the likes of Woody Harrelson and Bruce Willis, is a perfect spot to sip cocktails or cross cues on one of its 14 antique billiards tables. There are four distinct rooms, each with its own vibe, and full dinner menus are available along with a legendary list of 120 malt scotches,180 beers, and about 100 champagnes.
Pop into the birthplace of Canadian stand-up comedy at Yuk-Yuks Comedy Club (224 Richmond St W) and you'll see why Canada is the source for great comedians, from Jim Carrey, Dan Akroyd, Rick Moranis, Mike Myers, and Martin Short to today's stars like Russell Peters and Colin Mochrie. If you have dinner reservations you can also count on the best seats in the house.
The Bloor Cinema (506 Bloor St W) is a vintage movie house in the middle of the Annex neighborhood, and one of the best places in town to see rare movie classics, as well as premieres of new films from around the world. It also hosts a number of smaller film festivals, so be sure to check and see what's playing on the Web site. A pre- or post-movie meal is easy to find anywhere along this part of Bloor, where the choices run from sushi to Hungarian soul food.
When Torontonians want to relax, they have plenty of spas, boutiques, and eateries from which to choose. Keep reading to learn more about relaxing and unwinding in Toronto.
Relaxing & Unwinding in Toronto
From 9 am to 5 pm, Toronto's infamous work ethic still holds sway, but when Torontonians want to kick back, there are plenty of places to go. One of the best is the Distillery Historic District, an old whiskey distillery comprised of 19 Victorian-era brick buildings. A few years ago an enterprising group of business people decided to transform the area into an arts and cultural village and today its mix of artist-run boutiques, galleries, eateries, and bars makes it an ideal spot for just hanging out and enjoying the ambience.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Relaxing & Unwinding in Toronto
Insider's Guide: The Best of Relaxing & Unwinding in Toronto
Two spas stand out as remarkable, for their unique environment, which soothes urban stresses away. The Hammam Spa (602 King St W) is a Turkish-style spa located among the exclusive strip of award-winning restaurants and sophisticated nightspots on King Street. Drop in between meals to experience a spa with the look and feel of a natural grotto, with black slate surfaces and lit onyx bowls that hold iced towels and cold water for cooling down.
This upscale co-ed spa features a complete menu of spa treatments, but its signature experience comes in the artesian-oil infused steam room, used in concert with detoxifying mud therapies. Couples can experience a Swedish or Deep Tissue massage for two with nutmeg, ginger, and cedar wood oils. Or opt for a half-day at the spa: you and your love can get exfoliated, detoxified, mint-washed, massaged with sea salts, and aromatized in blissful togetherness.
Oasis Wellness Centre and Spa (55 Mill St) is a new 23,000-square-foot urban retreat in the Distillery District that offers holistic treatments, products, and resources designed to relax, release, and revive. This is as close to a European spa as you're likely to find in North America with a full slate of therapists and practitioners, whose goal is to make you feel better as well as look great.
Cabbagetown, (east of Carlton & Parliament Sts), is one of Toronto's oldest and most fascinating neighborhoods blessed with unspoilt Victorian architecture, quiet leafy streets, a working farm and an ornate period cemetery called Toronto Necropolis, where famous historical figures rest.
Stroll down Carlton or Winchester Streets, admiring the gingerbreading, tall gables, decorative ceramic tiles, slate roofs, and other fine architectural features of the houses. It got its quirky nickname from the working-class Irish immigrants who settled here and grew cabbages in their front gardens. Today it's a highly sought-after corner of the city, close to downtown, but retaining a small-town feel with an old-fashioned village green at its centre.
This is where you'll find Riverdale Farm (210 Winchester St), a genuine working farm with rare heritage breeds of cattle, chickens, geese, horses, pigs, sheep, and goats. The farm is open every day of the year to visitors, but from May to October you can also buy refreshments and poke around in a farm-themed gift shop.
After exploring the neighborhood head back to Parliament Street for a cup of coffee at the Jet Fuel Cafe, (519 Parliament St) a local hangout where many of Toronto's finest writers surface for their daily cuppa.
Head over to High Park (Bloor St W and Keele Sts), where you can do a few hours of low-key sightseeing. It has a small zoo, tennis courts, bowling greens, and a large lake to watch as you enjoy a picnic. The 121-acre park is considered an urban oasis.
Sit back and enjoy picnicking or listening to a band concert in Riverdale Park (on Broadway Ave between Danforth Ave and Gerrard St).
Take a stroll through one of the oldest cemeteries in North America. The Mount Pleasant Cemetery (375 Mount Pleasant Rd) is the final resting place for many famous Canadians, including classical pianist Glenn Gould and Charles Best, who discovered insulin. You'll also spot many rare plants and shrubs and a Memorial Peony Garden, which is a prime spot for a few quiet moments of reflection.
An organized tour can help you see all the highlights of Toronto. We tell you about several Toronto tours on the next page.
Toronto Organized Tours Overview
Enjoy a narrated tour of the downtown Toronto and all its key attractions in the comfort of a traditional English double-decker bus, or an authentic open-air trolley. Hop on and hop off according to your own interests and schedule. Pick up is at 123 Front St and most major hotels. Call (416) 594-3310.
The Toronto Hippo Tour Bus (416-703-4476) ends its trip around town with a splash into Lake Ontario and a boat ride around the space-age pods of Ontario Place.
On a sunny afternoon, there's no better way to see Toronto Harbor than on a boat, where you can learn about the history of the city while catching cool breezes off Lake Ontario. A traditional three-mast tall ship called Kajama (416-203-2322) cuts an especially dramatic figure as it glides around the Toronto Islands, where Babe Ruth hit the first home run of his professional career. The Islands are home to Toronto's three yacht clubs and Centreville -- an old-fashioned amusement park with an old-fashioned log flume ride, a historic carousel and swan pedal boats lending it a nostalgic air.
One of the best tours is offered on Sunday afternoons from The Royal Ontario Museum. Each week one of their knowledgeable guides focuses on a different district, bringing Toronto history alive for residents and visitors alike. Historian Bill Genova offers more than a dozen tours that take you to areas as diverse as Little India, the Gay Village, and the Distillery District.
For 15 years, resident foodie and fan-of-the-offbeat Shirley Lum has been giving tours of Toronto's nooks and crannies. Consider the Kensington Foodies Roots walk, which captures the culinary history of this vibrant multi-ethnic neighborhood while sampling Jewish, East Indian, and Lebanese snacks, and culminates with decadent truffles made from Belgian chocolate.
The Foodies Gaslight Stroll winds through the Rosedale and Yorkville areas with stops at a coffeehouse, a cookbook store, and historic points of interest along the way. There's a culinary tour of the St. Lawrence Market and a Charles Dickens walk that recounts his visit to Toronto -- all of it served up with Lum's renowned sense of humor and great knowledge of her subject.
Is it Toronto the Good or Toronto the Ghoulish? You decide when you take a tour with Muddy York Tours. Take one of their walking tours and you'll get insights into (and sightings of?) the ghosts from Toronto's past that still haunt the present. Guide Richard Fiennes-Clinton cuts a dramatic figure, resplendent in a top hat and cape and carrying a lantern. He clearly relishes re-telling all the chilling tales, and gives participants a thorough grounding in all things spectral in Toronto's downtown.
If a daytrip to Niagara Falls is on your list of things-to-do, take a tour with Chariots of Fire. Their all-day itinerary includes two hours free time at the falls and the historic village of Niagara-on-the-Lake, as well as time at the Skylon Tower observation level. Other stops along the way include the Niagara Whirlpool, the hydroelectric dam, floral clock, Queenston Heights, and Pillitteri Estates Winery.
Toronto hotels range from the traditional to the luxurious. If you're not sure where to stay while visiting Toronto, keep reading our guide to Toronto hotels and lodgings.
Toronto Hotels Guide
If you're looking for luxurious accommodations in the heart of one of Toronto's most exclusive districts, then opt for either the Mobil Four-Star Park Hyatt Toronto (4 Avenue Rd) or the Mobil Four-Star Four Seasons Hotel Toronto (21 Avenue Rd). Both offer impeccable service, elegant surroundings, and easy access to midtown attractions like The Royal Ontario Museum and Yorkville's exclusive shops.
For more traditional environs, the landmark Mobil Three-Star Fairmont Royal York (100 Front St W) has been welcoming the likes of the British Royal Family and other heads of state since 1929. Conveniently located across from Union Station, and close to the CN Tower and St. Lawrence District, it's a memorable place to spend a luxurious night or two.
For a walk on Toronto's wild side, stay in a Crash Pad at The Drake Hotel (1150 Queen St W), a bohemian oasis along hip Queen Street West, which has fast become the neighborhood's unofficial cultural center.
Along the same strip, the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen St W) offers a similar immersion in Toronto's art scene with the added bonus of artist-decorated rooms. Rooms pay homage to an eclectic range of subjects, including biker culture, Canadiana, and jigsaw puzzles.
Close to the Eaton Centre and the theatres along Yonge Street is the Mobil Three-Star Pantages Suites Hotel and Spa (200 Victoria St), boasting large comfortable fully-equipped suites that offer stunning city views and washers and dryers for longer stays. A sister hotel, called The Cosmopolitan Toronto (8 Colborne St) offers a Zen-like ambience in the midst of the bustling Financial District. Its Shizen spa and Doku 15 Restaurant, featuring Japanese-with-a-twist cuisine, have brought it wide acclaim.
In addition to some sparkling hotels, Toronto has its share of fine dining. See the Toronto restaurants guide on the following page.
Toronto Restaurants Guide
Toronto has a well-deserved reputation as a culinary destination, and every visitor to the city should graze through its two marketplaces -- the historic St. Lawrence Market and the funky, anything-goes Kensington. Both provide insight into the city's rich gastronomic scene.
St. Lawrence (92 Front St East) offers wonderful cheese boutiques, bakeries, fishmongers, butchers, and spice merchants. It's a great lunch spot, where everybody has their favorites: try Carousel Bakery's (Stall 42) famous peameal bacon sandwiches, or mouth-watering chicken sandwiches from the famous Churrasco St. Lawrence (Stall 49).
Kensington Market (College St and Spadina Ave) offers an ethnic banquet of empanadas, tacos al pastor, Jamaican meat patties, Trinidadian doubles, Persian falafel, organic ice creams made with ginger, rose water and cardamom, and hundreds of other delicacies. Lively and disheveled, it's one of the least pretentious foodie scenes you'll ever come across.
Toronto's vibrant restaurant scene makes it hard to zero in on any favorites, but there are three innovators always worth experiencing. Order the spinach and rabbit dumplings or foie gras at Mobil Three-Star Susur (601 King St W). Order the lobster taco with crisp beet wrapper or rosed Dover sole in brown butter at Mobil Four-Star North 44 Degrees (2537 Yonge St). Try any of the homemade pastas and signature coconut cream pie at the Mobil Four-Star Scaramouche (1 Benvenuto Pl).
And if you feel like being spontaneous, a stroll along King Street West, between Bathurst and Spadina Streets will put you in the middle of some scrumptious choices -- among them Bistro Bakery Thuet (609 King St W), Mobil Two-Star Rodney's Oyster House (469 King St W), and Crush (455 King St W), a permanently packed wine bar.
Meanwhile, there are just as many great ethnic eateries whose exotic dishes will linger in your memory for years to come. Wonderful Greek food can be had along the Danforth -- an avenue lined with restos serving up souvlaki and spanakopita until the wee hours of the morning. You should try the moussaka and kebabs at Mobil Two-Star Patris Restaurant (888 Danforth Ave), anything tapas at Kokkino Restaurant and Lounge (414 Danforth Ave) or suckling lamb at Ouzeri (500A Danforth Ave).
The Babaluu Supper Club (136 Yorkville Ave) features a Latin American and Mediterranean menu with a Spanish influence. Try the eggplant and sesame dip with homemade plantain chips, the seared sea bass with mango salad, or dip platter with plantain, yucca, and corn chips.
The Mobil Three-Star Mistura Restaurant (265 Davenport Rd) offers contemporary Italian cuisine with a menu that changes seasonally to ensure fresh ingredients are used. Try balsamic glazed lamb ribs or cheese dumplings with mushroom ragu if you spot them on the menu.
Restaurant tipping in Toronto is similar to other big cities, with 15 percent considered the standard and 20 percent for exceptional service.
Toronto is a big city with attractions that suit all tastes. Read our suggested itineraries on the next page, which will help you make sure you hit all the hotspots.
Suggested Itineraries for Visiting Toronto
As you've learned, there are tons of things to do in Toronto. We've put together some suggested itineraries to help ensure that you see the best of Toronto during your visit, whether your interests are special events and attractions, arts and culture, architecture and landmarks, shopping, nightlife and entertainment, or relaxing and unwinding.
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Special Events & Attractions in Toronto
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Special Events & Attractions in Toronto
Sure, you have to visit the CN Tower while you're in Toronto, but what are the other must-see attractions? The following suggested itineraries will answer that question.
1 day: Start at the symbolic heart of Toronto, the CN Tower (301 Front St W). Still the world's tallest freestanding structure 30 years after its construction, it's a thrill to enter its glass-fronted elevators and zoom to the top in an incredible 58 seconds. Make sure to step onto the tower's glass floor, where you can gaze down at the sidewalk, more than 1,136 feet below. Kids and parents alike can't resist sprawling across the glass floor and taking the ultimate prank photo of themselves in an apparent free fall.
Next-door is the Rogers Centre, (1 Blue Jays Way), formerly the Sky Dome. You can try to get tickets to a Blue Jays game, but if you strike out, take a one-hour tour of this amazing landmark, with its retractable roof. It's an awesome sensation to stand in the middle of the field, with the roof open and the CN Tower looming right above you. If a roof tour is available, you'll experience the regular tour plus another half hour up on the network of catwalks, 36 stories above home plate.
If it's time for lunch, head east along Front Street to one of Toronto's classic delis, Shopsy's (33 Yonge St). Try a Montreal smoked meat sandwich and a house dill pickle, then head across the street to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
As exciting and loud as the game it celebrates, the Hockey Hall of Fame (30 Yonge St) combines memorabilia with cutting-edge exhibits and interactive technology. Make sure to visit the Hall of Fame awards and the original Stanley Cup on display in the ornate bank vault.
2 days: Spend the next day exploring Toronto's lakeshore, with its many points of interest stretched out along Queen's Quay. Harbourfront Centre (235 Queen's Quay West) is the heart of the district, and provides an almost continuous array of cultural programming throughout the year. Summertime brings a whole roster of themed weekends under the banner "World Routes." To the constant rhythms of world music beats, kids and grown-ups alike can join craft workshops, or take in street performers and kid's concerts, festivals, and international food fairs. And the best part is it's free.
Watch the glass blowers, jewelry makers, and ceramists practice their craft in York Quay's open studios, and then shop for an affordable piece of artwork in Bounty, the craft shop on the premises. Take a stroll up Queen's Quay and visit the local fire hall's fireboat.
Just beyond it is the inspiring Toronto Music Garden, (475 Queen's Quay West), a project of cellist Yo Yo Ma. The garden's beautiful plantings and distinct landscapes are based on the moods and sounds evoked by Bach's first Suite for Unaccompanied Cello. Free concerts are held on Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons in the band shell, drawing music lovers and boaters, who drop anchor to enjoy the magical summer evenings.
From the lakeshore take the 15-minute ferry trip to the Toronto Islands, where generations of Torontonians have come for a day of swimming and sports. A series of bridges connects the islands, making it an ideal place to explore by bike. On Centre Island, an old-fashioned amusement park called Centreville has an elaborately carved turn-of-the-century carousel and rides geared to little tykes, aged 2 to 12. Ward's Island, the easternmost, is where all the island residents live today, in about 100 small cottages surrounded by lovely, whimsical gardens.
There's also a great place to eat on Ward's Island. The Rectory Cafe (416-203-2152) is just a short walk from the Ward's Island Ferry. If you rent a bicycle, you can go farther afield and explore Hanlan's Point. Once a bustling summer resort with vaudeville theatres, hotels, and a baseball stadium where Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run, today it's a quiet nature preserve and popular beach.
3 days: For a theme park experience five minutes from downtown Toronto, head to Ontario Place (955 Lake Shore Blvd W), a futuristic entertainment complex on the waterfront of Lake Ontario. Spend time on the bumper and pedal boats, the motion simulator ride, and in the waterpark. You can easily spend several hours here.
If you want to contrast it with a little history, Fort York (100 Garrison Rd) is five minutes away and offers the story of Toronto's founding in 1793 and the Battle of York in 1813. Guided tours are offered daily in summer, and on special occasions, like Canada Day observed July 1, there are military re-enactments with musket drills and much marching about.
Enjoy sushi, sashimi, and teriyaki dishes at Guirei Japanese Restaurant (600 Queen's Quay West, 416-977-6111). This is a great place to order Japanese specialties like donburi, udon noodles, and tempura.
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Arts & Culture in Toronto
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Arts & Culture in Toronto
Toronto is home to some of North America's finest museums. By using these itineraries, you can be sure you get to most of them during your visit to Toronto.
1 day: Start the day at the Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas St W), where you can view Canada's largest art collection, including the Henry Moore Collection.
Nearby is Baldwin Street, a kind of mini-Greenwich Village, whose two shady blocks are lined with good restaurants -- many with outdoor tables. Grab a few steamed buns at Yung Sing Pastry Shop (22 Baldwin St), try upscale pan-Asian fare at Mata Hari (39 Baldwin St), or opt for the city's best tiramisu at John's Italian Cafe (27 Baldwin St).
Later, look at some of the hippest Canadian artwork at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (952 Queen St W, 416-395-0067). You can browse through the more than 400 pieces, most made after 1985. Look for two-dimensional pieces created from Betty Goodwin or Roland Poulin sculptures. You can easily spend the afternoon here--its works on display are diverse.
In the evening, catch a performance of the Canadian Opera Company at the
Hummingbird Centre For The Performing Arts (1 Front St, 416-393-7469).
2 days: Explore the Royal Ontario Museum (100 Queen's Park) for a morning and you'll see just a fraction of the suits of armor, Victorian lamps, carved crest poles, and massive dinosaurs on display.
Cross the street for lunch at the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art (111 Queen's Park), where chef Jamie Kennedy's rooftop eatery boasts spectacular views of the city. After sampling his seasonal tapas-style lunch menu (try his elevated version of Yukon Gold fries), have a wander through the Gardiner's impressive collection of ceramics.
A three-block stroll along Bloor Street brings you to the delightfully quirky Bata Shoe Museum (327 Bloor St W). Definitely one of Toronto's quirkier spots, this museum has amassed more than 10,000 pairs of footwear and related artifacts from 2,500 BC to the present day.
In the evening, catch an orchestral ensemble or headliner like Aretha Franklin or Sarah McLachlan at Massey Hall (178 Victoria, 416-872-4255). This hall is considered the grande old dame of Toronto's classical music halls. You can easily catch a quality performance here, mainly because more than 100 events are held here each year.
For dinner, head to the Superior Restaurant (253 Yonge St, 416-214-0416) to try the dry-aged prime beef or seasoned chicken over pasta.
3 days: Have a leisurely breakfast before heading west along Queen Street to The Stephen Bulger Gallery (1026 Queen St W) and the Angell Gallery (890 Queen St W) for insight into the lively Toronto art scene.
Have lunch at the Drake Hotel (1150 Queen St W), a bohemian arts and culture mecca in the midst of the city's recently revived gallery district. Try the new-wave sushi rolls and ceviche shooters in the raw bar, or opt for an organic burger in the corner cafe.
End the day at The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery (231 Queen's Quay W), which is Canada's leading public gallery devoted to contemporary art. The gallery makes a point of presenting leading-edge contemporary art. Artist talks, panels, and other events are held here weekends and evenings. Wednesday evenings are free from 5 to 8 pm.
End the day with cool drinks and a glorious sunset at Spinnakers in Queen's Quay Terminal (207 Queen St W).
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Architecture & Landmarks in Toronto
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Architecture & Landmarks in Toronto
When it comes to modern architecture, Toronto is where it's at. Use these suggested itineraries to see Toronto structures that were designed by some of the brightest stars on the architecture scene.
1 day: Toronto financier, Sir Henry Pellat, wanted a European castle so badly he hired 300 craftsmen to build one, perched high on a hill overlooking the city. The result is an eye-popping replica of a medieval castle called Casa Loma (1 Austin Terrace), built between 1911 and 1913. Come for High Tea at 1 pm and savor pinwheel, finger, and tea sandwiches, fresh fruit tartlets, petit fours, chocolate dipped strawberries, and of course, tea.
Next door is Spadina House (285 Spadina Rd), an elegant Edwardian mansion that was home to four successive generations of the Austin family, from the 1880s to the 1980s. You can explore a billiards room and conservatory and other rooms that look like they're from a movie set.
Then take a tour of the Ontario Parliament Buildings (111 Weseley St W, 416-325-7500) to explore its grand structure's vaulted ceilings, marble floors, and dramatic lighting as well as the well-manicured grounds.
To continue with the government theme, head over to Toronto's Old City Hall (100 Queen St), which was designed by architect Edward James Lennox, whose later projects included Casa Roma. You can see its Romanesque Revival style in its castle-like corner pavilions, round-arch openings, and interior courtyard.
For dinner, carry through the elegance theme by reserving a table at Mobil Three-Star Lai Wah Heen (108 Chestnut St), which has a two-level dining room with black granite, 12-foot ceilings and a solarium-style glass wall. The menu, written in English and traditional Chinese characters, offers such delights as wok-fried pork chops and steamed eggplant in soy sauce.
2 days: For a look back at 19th century Toronto, start at the Distillery District, (55 Mill St). Its 19 Victorian-era brick buildings once housed the industrial works of Gooderham & Worts whiskey distillers. More recently it became a prime location for Hollywood movies shot in Toronto. Today the complex houses galleries, boutiques, artist studios, and sidewalk cafes. Jazz, circus arts, and modern dance festivals fill its cobblestone alleyways and venues, and the new Young Centre for the Performing Arts (55 Mill St) fills the theater void.
Stop and admire large-scale works in glass at the Sandra Ainsley Gallery (55 Mill St, Building 32), where pieces by glass superstars like Dale Chihuly can be admired and purchased.
Grab an organic meat pie, sandwich, or dessert at the popular Brick Street Bakery (55 Mill St, Building 45A). Or pop into Mill St. Brewery (55 Mill St, Building 32), for a taste of Tankhouse Ale, and return for an evening performance by Soulpepper Theatre Company, one of Toronto's finest companies, in the Young Centre for Performing Arts (55 Mill St, Buildings 49 & 50).
Just east of the Distillery District is the St. Lawrence area. Go up to the second floor in the St. Lawrence Market, (92 Front St East), where artifacts and photographs from Toronto's past are displayed in a galley, and a wonderful bird's-eye view of the market can be had. The buildings located in the market have the original architecture to make you feel as though the old city is alive and well. Even the area's wide streets are reminiscent of European cities.
Take a photo of the handsome Flatiron Building (49 Wellington St E), and write a letter with a quill pen in Toronto's First Post Office (260 Adelaide St E), which dates to 1833. See a topographic model of 1830s Toronto, period furniture, and buy a 19th century reproduction ink well and sealing wax and bring old-fashioned letter writing back into fashion.
3 days: Tour Toronto's financial district to look at some fine architecture, but keep an eye out for two special properties. BCE Place (181 Bay St) is a soaring glass-and-steel structure with a stunning galleria designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Mies van der Rohe's Toronto Dominion Centre (66 Wellington St W) is a marvelous black modernist complex made up of six grand towers.
Nearby is Nathan Phillips Square, a civic gathering place for art shows, festivals, summer farmer's markets, and the occasional demonstration. Here too, is Toronto City Hall (100 Queen St W), which Torontonians have come to love, but which was highly controversial when it was first built in 1965. In the intervening years Finnish architect Viljo Revell's two curving towers and squat spaceship-like building has become as potent a symbol of Toronto as the CN Tower.
Just down Bay Street is The Design Exchange (234 Bay St), a resource center and gallery exhibiting the latest in industrial and graphic design, fashion design, and ergonomics. It's located in the former Toronto Stock Exchange, where you can see the original trading floor with its art moderne murals still intact.
For dinner, grab a table at Mobil Three-Star Pangaea (1221 Bay St). Its industrial facade is a contrast to its interior's vaulted ceiling and exotic floral arrangements. The chef creates a new sophisticated continental menu daily using seasonal fruits and vegetables and quality meats.
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Shopping in Toronto
Whether you prefer upscale shopping or out-of-the-norm boutiques (or a little of both), Toronto's shopping scene has it covered. These suggested itineraries will be of help when you try to plan your shopping excursions.
1 day: Head to the Bloor/Yorkville District for the city's most upscale shopping. Dubbed the "mink mile," this stretch of Bloor Street is lined with all the usual suspects -- Escada, Prada, Gucci, Max Mara. Pop into Holt Renfrew, (50 Bloor St West), Canada's most exclusive department store, which prides itself on its personalized service and must-have labels.
Along Yorkville and Cumberland streets you'll encounter smaller one-off boutiques in Victorian-era houses, like antique silver specialists Louis Wine (140 Yorkville Ave) and Elizabeth Legge (37 Hazelton Ave), whose antique prints are sought after by collectors and decorators from around the world.
While in Yorkville, grab a latte-to-go at Lettieri's, (94 Cumberland Ave), and soak up the atmosphere of one of the city's most ingenious greenspaces, Yorkville Park. Long ago, a row of 19th century Victorian rowhouses lined this block until they were demolished to make way for the subway. After many years as a parking lot, the city decided to create a new park.
The winners of the design competition decided to reflect the Victorian art of collecting in the design, by 'collecting' and arranging the many landscapes of Canada -- pine forest, prairie, marsh, orchard, rock outcropping and birch grove. Arranged row by row, the 13 distinctive sections merge into an imaginative garden that showcases the majesty and diversity of the Canadian landscape.
2 days: Toronto's multicultural mix finds its fullest expression in Kensington Market (just west of Chinatown, between Dundas and College Sts), where Jamaican patty shops, Portuguese fishmongers, and Chilean empanada stalls contribute to a moveable feast of global cuisines. Come on a Saturday to see it at its liveliest, with music blaring and people meeting up and enjoying the scene.
On the corner of Baldwin and Augusta streets you'll find Casa Acoreana (235 Augusta Ave), which sells every spice known to man, along with bulk foods, nuts, coffee, and old-fashioned candies like barley sugar whistles and saltwater taffy. Another popular stop is Cheese Magic, (182 Baldwin St) where servers are happy to share their impressive knowledge of regional cheeses (like maple cheddar), along with a nice little slab for tasting.
Fashion mavens head to the market's second-hand stores amassed along Kensington Street. Don't miss Courage My Love (14 Kensington St), famed for its African beads, vintage lingerie, old leather jackets, and Bakelite bangles. You could spend an afternoon rummaging through their drawers, racks, and bins. Leave some time to poke into Exile (20 Kensington Ave), Dancin' Days (17 Kensington Ave), and Asylum (42 Kensington Ave) too. Toronto's top stylists are regular clients, snapping up wide belts, platform shoes, and other vintage accessories.
While there's no shortage of snackables in the market, for an authentic French bistro meal try La Palette (256 Augusta St), or assemble an innovative design-your-own rice bowl across the street at Rice Bar (319 Augusta St).
A ten-minute walk up Bathurst Street brings you to Honest Ed's (581 Bloor St W), a landmark discount store named for its proprietor, theater impresario Ed Mirvish. Covered in thousands of light bulbs and corny slogans ("Only the floors are crooked") on the outside, and decorated with hundreds of autographed theater posters on the inside, this bargain emporium is a throwback to a simpler time when discount stores ruled retail. Inside, displays of low-priced merchandise -- everything from clothing to soup to appliances -- are marked with hand-painted signs still created in-house by a traditional sign painter. The store sprawls across an entire city block, so it's easy to do as the sign says: "Come in and get lost."
3 days: Queen Street West (between University Ave and Spadina Ave) is a nice mix of home decor and fashion boutiques with a few chains you'll recognize (The Gap, Guess) and others you won't -- Le Chateau (336 Queen St West), Aritzia (280 Queen St W) and Caban (262 Queen St W). Locals might miss the old days when this was the stomping ground of artists, hipsters, and other boulevardiers, but it's a sure bet for any fashionistas in search of a fix.
If you'd like a taste of the out-of-the ordinary, head further west to the area fittingly called West Queen West. This is where you'll find a mash-up of galleries, fashion boutiques, and hip watering holes lining Queen Street from Bathurst St to Gladstone St. Torontonians come here to check out whatever's on the cusp of cool -- be it a hot young chef cooking in a tiny hole-in-the-wall cafe, an artist making a much talked-about debut, or a brand new fashion label launching its first line of clothing.
Comrags (654 Queen St W) is a much-loved local fashion label, and Style Garage (938 Queen St W) offers custom furniture and home accessories by Canadian designers. Galleries are probably the biggest draw though, and Angell Gallery (890 Queen St W) and Edward Day (952 Queen St W) are two well worth exploring.
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Nightlife & Entertainment in Toronto
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Nightlife & Entertainment in Toronto
Toronto's after-hours scene has undergone a renaissance in recent years, giving visitors to the city plenty of clubs, bars, restaurants, and music venues to chose from. These suggested itineraries will help you plan trips to the hippest spots in town.
1 day: The Horseshoe Tavern (370 Queen St W) is a Toronto landmark where The Stones once kicked off a tour and The Police played to an almost empty house on their first North American tour. Now past its 50th birthday, the legendary bar is still showcasing 'roots, rock and alt nu music', and is always worth checking out.
Next door the Rivoli Cafe (334 Queen St W) serves global comfort food, and books top alternative bands and comedy acts.
Due south is the Entertainment District, which has restaurants and nightclubs, plus Wayne Gretzky's (99 Blue Jays Way) sports bar and restaurant, and comedy group The Second City's northern outpost (51 Mercer St).
2 days: If you'd like to experience Toronto's avant-garde party salon of the moment, head over to The Drake Hotel (1150 Queen St W), where eclectic art-inspired events (and straight-ahead music sets) happen nightly in the Underground Bar. A sampling of Underground events might include a Super 8 film festival, a night of Weimar cabaret tunes, a video release party, and an Improv comedy night. Every Monday, the Drake hosts Elvis Mondays, a free night of music featuring emerging Toronto indie bands. Wander upstairs for a cocktail under the stars in the Sky Yard rooftop patio -- a homage to 1930s-era Miami Beach -- and if the night drags on, get a Crash Pad (Drake lingo for a hotel room) for the night and see how the other half lives.
3 days: Small wonder that the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, was shot in Toronto. Greek culture is alive and well and stretches for blocks and blocks on The Danforth, where you can start eating in the late afternoon and still be noshing into the wee hours of the morning. The Friendly Greek (551 Danforth Ave), Astoria (390 Danforth Ave), and Pappas Grill (440 Danforth Ave) all serve great home-style food, but for a more elevated take on souvlaki and spanakopita, plus a long stylish bar, try Myth (417 Danforth Ave).
If after filling up on Greek food you'd like a change of scenery and a spot of Guinness, head to Allen's (143 Danforth Ave), an Irish-American pub where Celtic bands play on weekends and the beer and whiskey lists are legion.
Afterward, catch a rare movie classic at The Bloor Cinema (506 Bloor St W), a vintage movie house in the middle of the Annex neighborhood.
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Relaxing & Unwinding in Toronto
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Relaxing & Unwinding in Toronto
Toronto has a reputation as a city with a strong work ethic, but the locals know how to kick back and relax, too. Follow these suggestions for relaxing and unwinding in Toronto.
1 day: The Distillery District's complex of brick and stone industrial buildings is like a theme park for adults, with more than a dozen architecturally significant structures built between 1857 and 1900. Used as a whiskey distillery until the 1960s, it ranks among the finest examples of Victorian Industrial Design in existence. After years of use as a film set, today it's a thriving urban village, filled with independent artists, designer shops, restaurants, galleries, and home to Soulpepper Theatre Company (55 Mill St, Bldg 49), one of Toronto's finest.
Wander from funky space to space, engage the artists in conversation about their work, and don't miss out on Toronto's best cup of coffee, roasted, ground and brewed for your pleasure at Balzac's (55 Mill St, Bldg 60).
2 days: Head to High Park (1873 Bloor St W), in the west end of town, for a pleasant hike, where you might encounter rare flora and wildlife indigenous to the area. Its 121 acres are crisscrossed with paths and nature trails, which are used for cross-country skiing in the winter, and biking and jogging paths the rest of the year. The park's active committee holds informative walks during the summer months, which depart from the Grenadier Restaurant, in the center of the park.
Families enjoy the Nature Centre's drop-in programs and the Children's Garden where green-thumb activities get kids excited about community gardening and growing their own food. There's a swimming pool and tennis courts, and a nice collection of sculpture that dots the hills. Most peculiar of all are the animal paddocks, which date back to 1890 when deer were kept in High Park. Today you'll find domestic and exotic species including bison, Tibetan yaks, llamas, deer, Scottish Highland cattle, peacocks and sheep.
From June to August, the venerable Canadian Stage Company (26 Berkeley St) mounts its annual Dream in High Park production on High Park's amphitheatre. It's especially magical when they do Midsummer Night's Dream, but always a high-quality show featuring some of Toronto's finest classical actors. Assemble a picnic at one of the Eastern European delis on nearby Bloor Street West, and enjoy one of Toronto's most delightful summer outings.
3 days: The far eastern end of Queen Street is where you find The Beaches, a neighborhood beloved by dog-owners, journalists, and other creative types. Hop on the Queen Streetcar heading east until you come to the end of the line. You'll be in the middle of The Beaches, close to the Kew Beach with its nostalgic bandstand and lifeguard station, and a short stroll from the boardwalk that winds along the beach and joins up with the Martin Goodman Trail.
Poke around in some of the clothing boutique and home decor shops, and stop in Book City (1950 Queen St E), a popular independent bookstore. If it's time for a bite, stop in at Lick's (1962A Queen St E), for one of Toronto's best burgers.
Toronto is no longer just a straight-laced, mild-mannered town. Visitors can have a good time experiencing the city's dining, nightlife, attractions, and wild architecture. Come see Toronto for yourself -- you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Illona Biro is a Canadian freelance writer and editor who has traveled the world looking for fascinating people and unique stories. She trained as a journalist in London and worked on a newspaper in Mexico City before settling in Toronto in 1993. Since then, Illona has contributed to dozens of newspapers and magazines, writing on everything from parenting to politics.