Toronto, the capital of the province of Ontario, is a major Canadian city along Lake Ontario’s northwestern shore. It’s a dynamic metropolis with a core of soaring skyscrapers, all dwarfed by the iconic, free-standing CN Tower. Toronto also has many green spaces, from the orderly oval of Queen’s Park to 400-acre High Park and its trails, sports facilities and zoo.
International centre of business, culture, arts and finance, Toronto is regarded as one of the most cosmopolitan and multicultural cities in the world. What to do and what to see, though? Here’s a taster for you.
Museums and art galleries may be tourist magnets for many, but shopping is something we don’t readily recognise as being an actual ‘attraction’. Yet the CF Toronto Eaton Centre attracts the most visitors to any Toronto venue. Careful you don’t shop until you drop – you’ll need fit-for-purpose feet for this one. 220 Yonge Street.
If you reckon the Eaton Centre is a marathon of shopping, then just wait until you see PATH, Toronto’s 19-mile-long underground network of pedestrian tunnels, elevated walkways and a shopping complex that the Guinness World Records claim is the largest underground shopping complex in the world. And the number of stores/shops here? Only about 1,200.
Forming a sizeable part of the eastern section of Toronto’s waterfront, the Scarborough Bluffs (so named because of its location) stands above the shoreline of Lake Ontario for about nine miles, their highest point about 300ft. Consisting of nine parks – some at the top of the bluffs, some along the shoreline, and only one, Bluffer’s Park, with a beach – this makes for a perfect day out of the city, especially if you’re into nature trails and recreation facilities.
You can’t visit Toronto without experiencing Niagara Falls, which is located about 75 miles from the city. A natural phenomenon, this world-famous voluminous water attraction is a major tourist magnet. Don’t fall in!
There are no airs or graces about Pharmacy. To find it, keep an eye out for a big ‘Bar’ sign and a window full of old toys. In keeping with this curious marketing strategy is an inordinately cool and low-key bar with a huge choice of bourbon and beer. Tip: don’t even think about asking for a cocktail. 1318 King West, at Cowan.
For something a touch more svelte, try Bar Raval, a casual Spanish joint with swathes of curving wood décor that bring to mind the surreal art of Dali and Gaudi. 505 College Street.
Downtown Toronto has many hotels, but very few, if any, have the class, quality and downright dashing style of Le Germain Hotel. The dark wood furnishings are the epitome of elegance, while the in-situ cocktail bar is a perfect pre-pillow stop-off. As for the following morning, we really like that this hotel doesn’t have a specified check out time. 30 Mercer Street.
Located in the city’s famed pedestrian-only Distillery district, the recently restored landmark Broadview Hotel (originally built in 1891), is now presented in true boutique fashion. Each room has singular design features, as well as – keep still thy beating heart! – a vinyl record player. 106 Broadview Avenue.
A perfect place for lunch, Grand Cru Deli has an array of pan-European food tempered with cute flavours and recipes. The place is also gaining a real reputation as a wine bar (having an on-site wine school undoubtedly helps), so the combination of each is enough to tempt you in. 304 Richmond West.
Located in a former florist shop, Aviator still retains a certain hint of the feminine about it. Reflecting its choice of name, a portrait photo of Amelia Earhart is positioned close to the kitchen, while the food presents one refined delight after delight (try the grilled octopus, and you’ll see what we mean). 1458 Danforth Avenue.
Great atmosphere? Burnished interiors? Independent roaster? Scrumptious pastries? Dineen Coffee Company has it all, and while there are now three locations around the city, this one – with a chandelier straight out of Downton Abbey – is our favourite: 140 Yonge Street.
Another successful coffee shop, with seven locations, is Jimmy’s Coffee. There’s a truism about how your favourite coffee shop should be like having chat with your mates at home (décor notwithstanding!), and this is what you get. The best bet for location, in our opinion, is: 100 Portland Street.
Dating back to the early-mid 1800s, St. Lawrence Market was named by National Geographic in 2012 as the world’s best food market. You can easily understand why. Located in the Old Town area, everything you might need for your larder is gathered here. Sectioned into North and South Market buildings, the former features produce from local traders; the latter has space across two floors for well over 100 vendors. Take your pick here from bakeries, seafood, and the city’s signature Peameal bacon sandwiches. There are also numerous culinary classes you can book into (something that more food markets should adopt?).
93 Front Street East/Jarvis Street.
A bona fide Gothic Revival castle in the midtown area of a city? Say hello to Casa Loma. Built in 1914 by financier Sir Henry Pellatt, the castle is a heritage landmark and one of the city’s most successful tourist attractions (as well as a popular film/TV location). 1 Austin Terrace.
What was once a derelict array of Victorian industrial buildings is now the Distillery District, a developed cluster of shops, cafés, restaurants, hotels, arts and culture venues. With a restoration process that re-used original materials and merged them with contemporaneous technologies, the end result is a wonder of design and heritage.
There are many other art galleries to visit, of course, but the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is the one you need to, have to. Founded in 1900, with about 480,000 sq ft of gallery space this is one of the largest of its kind in North America. It has, unsurprisingly, the biggest collection of Canadian art in the world, and in addition to its galleries houses a library, workshop, artist-in-residence, research centre, theatre and lecture hall. The main priorities for tourists, however, are not only the gallery’s 90,000-plus artworks but also the Frank Gehry-designed renovations (in 2008), which caused the Toronto Star to describe them as “the most effortless and relaxed architectural masterpiece this city has ever seen.” 317 Dundas Street West.
The Art Gallery of Ontario is the second most visited culture spot in Toronto. The first is the Royal Ontario Museum, which as Canada’s largest museum is a showcase centre for culture, nature and art from around the globe and through the centuries. It has millions of artworks, cultural objects, and natural history examples, but there’s more than objects and artefacts to see: the 2007 expansion to the museum was designed by ‘star-chitect’ Daniel Libeskind, and has divided opinion with its sharp, angular framework. 100 Queens Park.
If you plan to read a book at one of our recommended coffee shops, then you had best buy it in the extremely compact Monkey’s Paw. Pitching itself as the bookshop where “you’ll find the book you didn’t know you were looking for”, here you will find no book published after 1980. Something quite unique about the shop is a Biblio-Mat, a book-vending machine that spits out random second-hand books for a mere $2. The owner, Stephen Fowler, meanwhile, is a mine of information on the oddest of books, but if you’re looking for bestsellers, forget about it. 1067 Bloor Street.
WRITTEN BY TONY CLAYTON-LEA