Ultimate Guide: 10 Amazing Things to Do in TorontoBy Alicia Grimshaw
Toronto: the cleanest city, the happiest people and the nicest grub. I visited Toronto this summer, and I can honestly say, I fell in love with the place. There’s art, unbelievable coffee, and just an all-round great vibe. If you’re thinking about visiting Toronto or planning a trip there, make your way through my ultimate guide:
The Lowdown: Toronto is a city fuelled on coffee. And while Starbucks and Tim Horton’s still dominates every street corner, the independents are fighting back with their own cup of hot Joes. Toronto is home to a number of excellent coffee shops, but by far the one you need to visit is the uber cool, Sam James Coffee Bar. I know you shouldn’t judge a shop on how Instagram-worthy the interiors are, but they just scream out to be photographed – clean cut and minimalistic – you get the picture.
Why: Their Park Shop location is not just light and airy, it’s also home to cookies, poptarts, twinkies and more, all made in house by Lindsey Gazel of LindseyBakes. Their latte is a serious contender for the best latte in Toronto. You heard it here first, folks.
Where: Locations here
Photo Credit: Anderson D’Souza
The Lowdown: The CN Tower is not only featured on Drake’s latest album cover, it’s also on every Toronto tea towel, postcard and various novelty items. The tower, which dominates the Toronto skyline is what the Effiel Tower is to Paris: iconic (and heaving with tourists). But you possibly can’t stay in Toronto and not visit the tower – it boasts spectacular views over the city, and is really rather magical when the sun set and Toronto turns into a sea of lights.
Why: At 553.33 m-high, the CN Tower is the highest structure in Toronto. Travel up one speedy lift to the viewing platform. There’s a glass floor (yes, really) where you can stand, or in some cases, jump (people are mad sometimes). If you’re not good with heights, best to skip the glass floor and head to the 360 restaurant where the floor moves as you eat. Try the beef. Incredible.
Where: 301 Front St W, Toronto, ON M5V 2T6, Canada
The Lowdown: The best way to describe West Queen West is if East London upped sticks to Toronto. The 15 short blocks between Bathurst St and Gladstone Avenue is home to art galleries, trendy bars, super cool art-and-design boutiques, and plenty of independent shops. This is by far one of Toronto’s most fashionable neighbourhood’s, and is frequented by the Bohemian and artsy crowd.
Why: If the weather is hot, the Drake Hotel has a cracking roof terrace, and their Strawberry Daiquiri is divine. They also dish up brunch in the cafe downstairs, and their shop has plenty of cool knick knacks that make ideal presents for chums back home. Other must visits are the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, Bicyclette, a local clothing boutique, and Clafouti, a bakery that created heavenly pastries and sandwiches. Get there in the morning to taste them at their freshest.
Where: West Queen West, Toronto
The Lowdown: Toronto Island basically feels like you’re on holiday. A holiday within a holiday, if you will. Getting there is pretty easy – take the 30 minute ferry ride from the Central Pier, and get off at Ward Ferry. There’s no transport on the island, only official vechiles, and it’s inhabited by a small number of residents. You can easily spend a whole day here – Toronto Island shouldn’t be rushed.
Why: Before you set off on your bicycle tour, fuel up at Refectory Cafe. Not only is their BBQ chicken sandwich the stuff of dreams, they have one of the best waterside terraces. Order one of their iced teas, and lap up a bit of zen on the outdoor patio. The bike hire shop is just 20 minute walk from the cafe; bike rental doesn’t cost you the earth, and it’s one of the best ways to see all the island. There’s incredible views of the lakes, plenty of wildlife and more than enough ice cream stands to keep you energised.
Where: Toronto Island, Toronto
The Lowdown: Toronto takes art, and their thriving art scene very seriously. It’s one of the few places in the world that regulary hosts free art shows, with new art exhibits and pop-ups happening every weekend. Toronto’s art scene is diverse – not only can you marvel at Toronto-based artists, art festival Luminato is a gateway of international artists delivering adventurous art in adventurous places.
Why: 2016 marks 10 years of Luminato, with this year’s the biggest Luminato to date. The 10 day festival is a celebration of visual art, music, theatre, dance, magic and performances. 2016 was the first year that Luminato was based in one place, know to locals at The Hearn (past years has meant that different shows were at different venues across the city). Luminato aim is to propose a new model for a cultural institution, one where everything is open, inclusive and porous.
Where: Check their website for updates
Photo Credit: Jonathan Castellino
The Lowdown: St Laurence Market is a hugh indoor complex that is home to more than 100 vendors, including bakers, butchers and artisans. If you come down here at lunchtime, you’ll see office workers flock to get their hands on Carousel Bakery’s peameal bacon sandwich. This sandwich is somewhat of an Toronto symbol, and it’s imperative for any first-timers to buy one. Immediately.
Why: Try the bacon sandwich from Carnicero’s; crispy skinned bacon that’s carved to order and stuffed into a bap. It’s proper naughty, but proper delicious. Yianni’s Kitchen is so cheap they’re practically giving away their battered, deep fried apples sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. At 60 cents each, you can’t knock them. St Laurence Market not only sells hot goods, but you can also stock up on fresh fish, poultry, fruit and veg. Come at the weekends and you can pick up candelabras alongside your cucumbers.
Where: 92-95 Front St E, Toronto, ON M5E 1C3, Canada
The Lowdown: Cannes may be known as the film festival for critics, however TIFF (Tonorto International Film Festival) presents the best of international and Canadian cinema to film lovers. What began as the Festival of Festivals over 40 years ago, has become the world’s most important publicly attended film festival and grown to embrace programming 365 days a year.
Why: As a premier cultural institution TIFF offers screenings, lectures, discussions, festivals, workshops, industry support and the chance to meet filmmakers from Canada and around the world. Apart from the big daddy festival which happens in September, TIFF’s year round programming provides a platform to watch, discover, and discuss classic and contemporary cinema.
Where: Tiff Bell Lightbox, 350 King St W, Toronto, ON M5V 3C6, Canada
The Lowdown: 401 Richmond is a creative space which houses art galleries, studio spaces and shops. It’s a haven for artists looking for inspiration, direction and a new workspace. Not an artist? 401 Richmond is full of creative nooks that can take an afternoon to explore. Open Studio is one of those galleries that showcases art that pushes the boundaries, and can genuinely leave you feeling speechless.
Why: If you’re in the mood to splash the cash, Musideum is a small music shop that is a treasure trove of unique and interesting instruments. Book nerds, visit Swipe on the ground floor. It’s a quaint independent bookstore that sells books on design, art and other subjects. Other highlight include; Gallery 44 for contemporary art, Abozzo Gallery for Cannian artists and The Roastery for a flat white.
Where: 401 Richmond Street West, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5V 3A8
The Lowdown: You don’t have to ride on an open tour bus tour to enjoy a new city. Sometimes it pays to put down the map and take it easy. The Distillery District is a national historic site and a car-free zone. It’s a place where locals and tourists come together for shopping, drinking and dining. On the weekends the pavements transform, and music festivals and art performances take place.
Why: For dining, try Boku for sushi. High quality Japanese food served in a swish setting. There’s also shops for bargain hunters. And, let’s not forget about the art offering. There’s Arta Gallery, Corkin Gallery and Nightwood Theatre for live shows. Balzac coffee has a super outdoor seating area, and is the perfect setting for drinking their iced juices.
Where: The Distillery District, Toronto, ON, Canada
The Lowdown: Yes, craft beer is nothing new. And let’s be honest, you can drink beer down at your local boozer. But there’s something quite special about Bar Hop on Peter Street. It’s three floors of beer heaven – 36 brews on draught, plus a constantly rotating selection with many one-off brews, and a selection of local craft ciders. This 3-storey haunt has a magical rooftop terrace which was made for an afternoon drinking.
Why: Bar Hops is suitable for both the beer novices and craft connoisseurs alike. The team are on hand to help with your alcoholic beverages, and their bar snacks menu is the best in the area. The Scotch olives are a Bar Hops staple – a sort of take on a Scotch egg, but it’s an olive instead. The casing is Pimento beer cheese and Italian sausage, we’ll say no more.
Where: 137 Peter St, Toronto, ON M5V 2H3, Canada
For more information on Toronto, visit their website here.