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It’s time to give Toronto a break.

The city that Canadians love to hate has been named the top Canadian destination to visit this year by Vacay.ca. Surprised? That’s because you probably still get mental images of construction, congestion, crime, filth and maybe crack cocaine every time you think about the place. And if that’s the case, prepare to be culture shocked. Toronto’s changed from the city you remember. It’s a booming metropolis that has an emerging food and arts scene that could compare with some of the best in North America. So get ready to drop those old pre-conceived notions, because this isn’t the city you thought it was.

Toronto’s art scene is stylishly awesome

We don’t just have galleries where you can walk around and look at pretty pictures, our museums have full blown epic parties:

The ROM

Friday Night Live at the Royal Ontario Museum lets you shake a tail feather next to some of nature’s most fearsome (but luckily, extinct) creatures for only $12 ($10 for seniors and students).

Or you can skip the scary dinosaurs altogether and check out First Thursdays at the Art Gallery of Ontario. The monthly event features live music, artist talks and drinks – sometimes you can even get your nails done on the signature spiral staircase.

There are also clay classes at the Gardiner Museum, where you can create your own artifacts! But if you’re the type who really enjoys a quiet little stroll through rows of incredible art, don’t worry – we have plenty of that too. Power Plant Gallery

Some of the nicest displays of contemporary art can be found in Toronto’s Power Plant Gallery, while the AGO often features the work of world-renowned artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat.  Jean-Michel Basquiat

Did we mention there’s a castle?!

Casa Loma

OK, it’s more of a mansion than a castle. But you can still escape inside for scotch and dinner on Jan. 24, granted you make a king’s salary. But if you thought Casa Loma was nice, wait until you see what our subway stations look like:

Summerhill Station

Right there is Summerhill Station. The trains come frequently, but unfortunately you won’t be served any royal dinners there. But for the right ingredients, you can always trot over to the Summerhill Market and one of the city’s best-stocked LCBOs. Booze, food and architecture? That’s called culture and a day well spent in the city. 

You can taste the world, all in one city

Bar Isabel

Royal meals aside, culinary talent practically grows out of Toronto’s neighbourhoods, but a few in particular stand out. Little Italy’s Bar Isabel (above) features a savoury, tapas-style menu that can tame any seafood craving. The place was also named the best new restaurant in Canada in 2013. Or you can check out Agave y Aguacate in Baldwin Village, where you’ll find Mexican fare with a twist (good luck spotting a taco on those menus).

If East Asian cuisine is more to your taste, you can find some of the best ramen in the city at Kinton Ramen on Baldwin St.

Toronto takes “buying local” to a new extreme

Evergreen Brick Works

Nobody can afford to eat at restaurants every day, but with the freshest ingredients you can find in the city, you’ll hardly ever need to. Evergreen Brick Works hosts a farmer’s market that runs almost year-round, and all of its food comes from within a 200 km radius. Or you can take it up a notch by heading over to the St. Lawrence Market, which is known to be among the best in the world (which is a considerable title, when you consider the competition). Exotic selections of maple syrups, vinegars, salts, meats, olives — anything you could possibly imagine — wait for you inside.

Still haven’t seen a farmers market that’s close to home? They’re literally all over the city.

Beer, crafted to perfection

Getty Images

There’s obviously no shortage of craft beer in Toronto. Look, there’s an entire district dedicated to them (and if you haven’t been, you should totally go)! But there’s also a host of lesser-known breweries that’ll knock your socks off, and an entire week dedicated only to beer. Not enough beer? Then join the Society of Beer Drinking Ladies for a semi-regular tipple.

Bellwoods Brewery

The oldest independent brewer in Toronto, the Great Lakes Brewery (above), features great selections like “Harry Porter” or “Pompous Ass English Pale Ale.” Bellwoods Brewery, which began in a garage, now occupies one of the hottest spots on Ossington. You can ask the bartender to tell you the whole story over a pint of its Grandma’s Boy. Mmm!

Toronto’s hot, hot, hot!

Toronto Fashion Week

Who says Toronto isn’t fashion forward? Vogue named West Queen West the second best neighbourhood in the world, beating out other big names like Bushwick and Hackney (Take that, New York). The international officiate for style cred singled out the area for its “verifiable artery of indie patisseries, homegrown labels, and hidden-from-view galleries.” But the area is also a major fashion hub, and is home to quirky little art crannies like graffiti alley.

Enough star power to make any teen shriek

Benedict Cumberbatch
Toronto is all the Hollywood with none of the plastic. The Toronto International Film Festival, which pours in the hottest celebs the U.S. has to offer, just celebrated its 40th anniversary. But don’t worry about missing it, they’ll be back again next year!

Toronto will make beautiful music with you

The Opera House
Toronto’s music scene is thriving, no matter what your taste is. You can catch A-list celebrities at places like the Rogers Centre and the Air Canada Centre, but insiders know the best experiences are at the small, intimate venues. Craving Indie rock? Check out the Cameron House or the Horseshoe Tavern on Queen St. West. Jazz? Look no further than the Beaches International Jazz Festival, or if it’s not summer, Rex Jazz and Blues Bar. DJs more your thing? Check out Kool Haus down by the waterfront. The list goes on and on and on.

You’ll laugh, cry and then do it all again

Yuk Yuks
For a city once known for its coldness, it sure does feature a lot of outstanding comedy (and that ain’t no joke). You could head over to the classic comedy staple, Yuk Yuk’s, for some guaranteed laughs. But if you want to do something more original, Second City puts on side-splitting improv shows almost every day. And you can get tickets for only $25 (money well spent, trust us). Comedy Bar on Bloor St. West is also a nice choice, promising good laughs in a traditional underground setting (think New York’s Comedy Cellar). Finally, Bad Dog Theatre not only puts on shows, they host workshops that can train you to be a comedian of your own!

Toronto: The city within a park

Cherry Blossoms
Toronto has concrete, sure, but it isn’t exclusively a concrete jungle. So if the bustling metropolis proves to be too much for you, there are plenty of scenic green spaces to escape to. The Don Valley alone extends from Lake Ontario in the south to beyond Steels Ave in the north. Tucked inside are trails perfect for mountain biking, hiking or just taking a leisurely stroll.

High Park in the West end gets even better. It’s home to a zoo, a fishing pond, trails, communal farming, a restaurant and an outdoor theatre where Shakespeare plays are held every summer (this year Julius Caesar will be playing). And if you’re around in the spring, you absolutely must check out the cherry blossoms in bloom.

Cherry Beach

Too hot for the trails? No sweat. You can catch some rays on Sugar Beach, Cherry Beach and Woodbine Beach (not bad for one city, eh?). Each has its own distinct personality and feel. Sugar Beach is perfect for quick stops (it’s basically a glorified sand pit with pretty umbrellas), Cherry (above) for quiet relaxation and Woodbine for volleyball and hitting the waves.

But yeah, Toronto’s just a cold city full of cold people. You’re not missing much, right?

Well, we’re not saying you’re wrong, but…

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