Editor’s Note: Viator recently held a contest to “Win Your Dream Travel Job” where we selected 4 finalists to travel the world shooting video. For 60 days, these teams traveled and filmed in some of the world’s top destinations, documenting their experiences along the way. Go here to read more about their Toronto adventures!
Toronto may be known as Canada‘s financial and business capital but it is so much more than that. This “mini New York” is the fifth largest city in North America, home to 2.7 million residents with one of the most diverse and multicultural populations in the world. The city has a thriving culture that known for some of the best festivals in the world from The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Nuite Blanche and LuminaTO.
In addition to the nine major events that happen in the beloved T.O. every year, there are a multitude of ethnic restaurants, great shopping and eclectic neighbourhoods that are easily walkable or accessible by public transport.
Where to Stay
Toronto is a pretty big city but it’s fairly easy to get around. The centre of Toronto runs from Bloor to Union. In downtown Toronto, the business district spans from Dundas to Union (south) and Yonge to Spadina (east to west). Most chain hotels are here but a number of luxury and boutique options have been introduced in the past year if you are looking for high-end accommodation. These hotels are very close to the subway station and to attractions like the CN Tower and the theatres.
If you are a leisure traveler and are looking for a different experience, more creative options can be found in the West End on West Queen West. Hotels like The Gladstone offer themed rooms created by local artists. These hotels are closer to the booming restaurant and nightlife scene happening on West Queen West and on Parkdale. There are streetcar stops right outside these hotels for easy access to transport. It is very easy to find a taxi on Queen Street as well. If you want to be in the heart of Kensington Market, you can get a boutique hostel option there.
Toronto has a big biking culture and you can find a number of hop-on, hop-off bike stations from Bixi Bikes. You can rent your own cheaply or book a Toronto bike tour.
What to Do
If it is your first trip to Toronto, stick to exploring downtown before venturing out into other neighborhoods if you are short on time. Toronto is synonymous with the CN Tower. Not only does it offer a phenomenal view of the city but it has had a recent revival, thanks to its new attraction called The Edgewalk. If you are a thrill seeker, experts will guide you along the edge of the CN Tower on a pulley that holds up to 15,000 pounds. They take photos and video to capture this unforgettable experience.
The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) are key cultural institutions that have had recent facelifts to attract visitors. You can get discounted tickets at the ROM from 3 pm to 5:30 pm on Fridays only. AGO’s Permanent Collection is free from 6 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. every Wednesday night.
Toronto is also well known for the little film festival that could, The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Attracting some of the biggest stars in Hollywood every September, the films featured at TIFF have been known to win the big prize at the Oscars (i.e. Slumdog Millionaire). TIFF has spawned the Bell TIFF Lightbox where you can watch films all year long and see some fantastic exhibits right in the heart of downtown.
That said, there are more than 70 film festivals that happen in Toronto annually and if there’s one to see in addition to TIFF, it’s the Hot Docs festival every March. Hot Docs features some ground breaking documentaries that are hosted in smaller repertory theatres across the city and enable you to connect with the directors and stars on a smaller scale.
Toronto is known for its eclectic neighbourhoods and it is a great walking and biking city. The neighbourhood you can’t miss is Kensington Market, with its eclectic mix of Latin and South American food stalls, vintage shops, graffiti and cafes. This is where the locals are and it is a prime spot to people watch.
Queen Street is another prime neighbourhood and spans from the east to the west, so much so that there is Queen West or Queen West West (or West Queen West as it’s also known). Even further along Queen is Parkdale, another burgeoning neighbourhood of honky tonk bars, vintage shops and a burst of new restaurants that are taking the Toronto dining scene by surprise.
Eating and Drinking
Though Toronto is not New York (as much as it wants to be), its food scene is growing rapidly and its inventive, young chefs are being recognized in and outside of Canada. You will find one of the most diverse food cultures in the world in Toronto, with cuisines spanning from Ethiopia to India. Many of the neighbourhoods in Toronto are dedicated to certain cultures and their cuisines.
If you want to be on trend and where the foodies are, Dundas West is your neighbourhood. Also known as “Carnivore Row,” spawned by nose to tail restaurant The Black Hoof, it hosts a variety of restaurants for fine dining or a quick snack. Popular options include Campagnolo, Enoteca Sociale, Porchetta & Co, The Grove and The Black Hoof’s new sister restaurant, Hoof Raw Bar for an inventive take on seafood.
Due to the legal restrictions on food trucks in the metropolis, there is a rapid rise of food trucks and small businesses opening up shop to cater to specialty gourmet fast food. Look out for events organized by Food Truck Eats and the Toronto Underground Market for a taste of sandwiches, tacos, desserts and more. Some stalls have been so popular that they have their own restaurants now. If you want Mexican fare with a street graffiti twist, La Carnita just opened; Rock Lobster has an outpost for lobster rolls in a little churros shop in Kensington Market; and Banh Mi Boys makes a delicious Vietnamese sandwich and adds Asian flair to poutine and tacos.
These options make it very easy to dine on a budget in Toronto.
The best free thing to do in Toronto is to take a walk around the different neighborhoods. In the summer, the Toronto Harbourfront is where everyone is basking in the sunshine on their way to Centre Island. Pedestrian Sundays in Kensington Market happen on the last Sunday of each month from May to October. The streets are closed to incoming traffic and it’s a celebration of music, dance and food. Not to mention, that this event is one of the best people-watching spots in the city.
If you only have one day in Toronto, go to Queen Street. Queen Street runs from the very east to the very west end of the city. Get on the Streetcar (for $3) and head to Parkdale and walk your way east. There are a number of restaurants, shops and art galleries to pique your interest. From there, go the Art Gallery of Ontario. Not only does it have some fantastic exhibits, there is a permanent collection featuring works from iconic Canadian artists in the Group of Seven and fantastic views of the street in the Frank Ghery designed, Galleria Italia.
The best thing to eat in Toronto besides ethnic food is a sandwich. Many sandwiches are influenced by different cultures and you can get Italian veal sandwiches to Indian roti. Favourite sandwich shops include Porchetta & Co, New York Subway and Rock Lobster.
The best shopping in Toronto is found in the vintage stores. There are a number of vintage stores in Parkdale. You can find some fabulous leather coats and dresses in Kensington Market on Kensington Avenue. Courage My Love is your best bet for accessories.
For up-to-date info on the latest hotspots in Toronto, check out The Grid, a local weekly that features some really great writers.
Flights to Toronto can be found direct on Air Canada or West Jet. Flights to the Island Airport can be found on Porter or Air Canada from select cities.