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Looking for tips on things to do in Toronto?
As part of our city guides series, we interviewed Melissa Shearer from the Mellyboo Project who is a Toronto native and passionate about her city.
Melissa shares with us her insider tips on the best things to do in Toronto, plus advice on where to eat, sleep, drink, shop and explore.
Toronto is a special city in the world – it not only embraces the fact that 49% of its residents were born outside of Canada, but also turns multiculturalism into the face of Toronto.
It is a mecca of delicious food from all over the world, amazing shopping, and has a theatre district which rivals that of Broadway; it even hosts one of the best film festivals in the whole world.
When you make a trip to Toronto, you are sure to get a cultural experience!
The Bata Shoe Museum
Are you, or a special lady in your life a shoe-a-holic?
The Bata Shoe Museum is every woman’s dream museum – showing off the history of shoes from the days of the Chinese binding their feet, to displaying famous shoes from history and pop culture. Just a short walk west on Bloor Street from Yorkville, the Bata shoe museum has one semi-permanent exhibit and three changing exhibits that showcase more than 1000 shoes from over 4500 years of history!
Toronto’s Only Clothing Optional-Beach
Wanna take it all off? Literally. Want to strip down to your birthday suit? There’s one place in the city that you can do this and not get arrested for indecent exposure.
Toronto’s only clothing optional-beach sits a short ferry ride from Harbourfront to Hanlan’s Point. Being one of two clothing-optional beaches in the entire COUNTRY (the other being in British Columbia), the beach is a very popular hotspot in the summer months!
Visiting with the family? Do not miss Riverdale Farm – an example of a rural Ontario farm from 1880-1920. You can visit with the farm animals or even chat with the farmers while they do their everyday chores. Admission is free and it’s open every single day of the year!
No trip to Toronto would be complete without a visit to the CN Tower. Being a native of the area, I have been to this attraction many-a-time with out of town guests.
You get an unparalleled view of the city, if you’re hungry (and have a bit of money to spend) you can dine at the revolving restaurant 360, and now you can add a bit of thrill-seeking to your visit by partaking in the EdgeWalk – which has you walking around the circumference of the roof of the main pod 356m/1168ft above the ground!
Catch a Sports Game
Additionally, depending what season you visit in, catching a sports game should be in order! Toronto has some of the most avid sports fans in the entire world.
You can attend ice hockey games at the Air Canada Centre and watch the Toronto Maple Leafs between October and April. When hockey’s finished for the season, there’s always baseball and you can watch the Toronto Blue Jays play at the iconic Rogers Centre from April to October.
The Distillery District
The Distillery District is a kick back to the early days of Toronto, complete with original buildings.
Now a hotspot amongst artists and young professionals, this neighbourhood has amazing restaurants and bars and beautiful art galleries and even a few small theatre spaces.
Toronto has such diverse neighbourhoods that have such unique personalities; it’s hard to limit it to just a couple.
Most non-Torontonians don’t realize that you can bask on the beach in Toronto – and while it’s not quite the pristine white tropical beaches of Fiji, Toronto’s Beaches community is a summer hotspot amongst those who like to stick around the city rather than venture to cottage country.
Both family friendly and complete with great cafes and restaurants, The Beaches is a favorite amongst tourists and locals alike.
Toronto is home to more than 9000 restaurants – accommodating every type of palate and budget.
One of my favorite places to eat in the city is Fresh – a modern vegetarian restaurant and made-to-order juice bar with 3 locations around the city. I highly recommend the quinoa crusted onion rings!
Another favorite is Fran’s – a traditional diner where you can get all-day breakfast for an amazing price.
Don’t forget to try some poutine (hot chips, cheese curds and gravy) while you’re in Canada – Poutini’s House of Poutine and Smoke’s Poutinerie are two restaurants that know their niche market and ONLY sell the good stuff – and they even cater to vegetarians and vegans!
Best to save these stops for post-drinks.
Toronto is known for it’s amazing Chinatown and Asian food. There are hundreds of restaurants that serve up delectable Asian fares some of the best being Dumpling House and Rol San (for amazing dim sum) on Spadina Rd. in the heart of Chinatown.
If you’re looking for some late-night traditional Chinese cuisine, be sure to check out New Ho King – a favourite amongst the University of Toronto students.
And if it’s a quick, cheap meal – you can’t go wrong with Bahn Mi Boys – who serve up Toronto’s best Vietnamese subs. The bonus? Their entire menu is under $8!
Canada is known for having a drinking culture akin to that of Australia, New Zealand and the United States and with this comes no shortage of places to go out in the city and enjoy a beverage.
One of my favorite places to drink is Horseshoe Tavern, one of Toronto’s oldest pubs. They’ve been serving up cold drinks and live music since 1947, and music legends such as The Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson, and Canada’s own The Tragically Hip have graced the stage.
If breweries are more your style, then be sure to check out Steam Whistle Brewing Company – you can take a free tour around one of Toronto’s designated ‘green buildings’ and learn all about their award-winning craft beer that puts a green-friendly spin on their product.
Planet Traveler is being touted as Canada’s greenest hostel, and it sits right in the middle of eclectic Kensington Market.
One King West + Residence is fairly central and close to Toronto’s Union Station transit hub, you will get to experience luxury at a fraction of the price.
Hotel Le Germaine may set you back a pretty penny, but rest assured, you will have one of the best sleeps of your life. I still have dreams of sleeping in that bed!
Want vintage? Check out Kensingston Market.
To stay up with all the trends be sure to hit up Queen Street West or one of the biggest mall’s in the city, Toronto’s Eaton Centre.
Looking to get some designer duds? Look no further than Yorkville and the upscale department store Holt Renfrew.
Also be sure to check out St. Lawrence Market every Saturday – it was hailed as the world’s best food market by National Geographic in April 2012.
I may be biased, but I truly believe the Toronto International Film Festival, which goes on for 10 days at the beginning of September, is one of the best times of year in the city.
The city has such an amazing energy and everyone is excited about the hundreds of celebrities that make it into town to promote their films.
Mid-July to be beginning of August is commonly associated with Toronto’s Caribbean Carnival, formerly known as Caribana – the world’s largest Caribbean carnival outside of the Caribbean itself, and North America’s largest street festival.
The highlight of the two-week celebration is the parade consists of beautifully costumed dancers, floats and some of the world’s best soca calypso, steelpan and reggae music!
Admittedly, the public transport is NOT at the level it ought to be at, especially if Toronto wants to consider itself on par with some of the other major cities of the world.
The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has a basic underground subway system and above ground streetcars, as well as buses in the areas outside of the downtown core.
Many, however, opt to walk. The city is laid out in a fairly easy to understand grid complete with beautiful parks and interesting landmarks to see. Just make note that the city is quite large! If weather isn’t completely up to par, there is the PATH – a maze of underground walkways that cover a large distance of the city.
Be warned – these subterranean hallways aren’t the easiest to navigate, but if you have the time, it’s all part of the adventure.
This may be a bit biased, but I truly believe that early autumn is the best time to visit Toronto and the surrounding areas. The air is no longer muggy and humid, but it’s still warm enough that you can walk around with a light jacket or sweater.
Not to mention the beautiful colours of the autumn leaves make it a photographer’s delight.
No trip to Toronto would be complete without a jaunt over to Niagara Falls. Only an hour and a half away, it’s very easy to take a day trip in a rented car, or with a tour company, to one of Southern Ontario’s most beautiful sights.
Along the way there are numerous vineyards where you can try some of the Niagara region’s delicious wines.
Domestic airline travel in Canada sucks. It really does. Since Canada’s landmass is the 2nd largest in the world, air travel is unavoidable, unless you are doing a Great Canadian roadtrip.
Air Canada is a member of the Star Alliance, so if you’re interested in the points, I’d recommend them – although the service is hit and miss.
If you’re traveling around Eastern Canada and into the northeastern United States, Porter is a great new airline. Be’ aware that it’s not cheap. If service and overall experience is what you’re looking for, they may be your best bet.
If you’re looking to do a cross-country train-trip – there’s only one option: ViaRail. They’re expensive, the service is pretty standard, but the trains come equipped with free WiFi.
In terms of budget travel, MegaBus is probably your best option when traveling along the Toronto-Montreal corridor and into the northeastern United States. They claim to be eco-friendly and have free wifi on board, and if you book far enough in advance, you can get a ticket for $1!
To get the perfect view of the Toronto skyline, take the ferry over to Centre Island. There’s something very special about seeing the city from the water.
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