Beyond the CN Tower – an insider’s guide to Toronto

Hi Frugalistas!

I don’t know about you, but Toronto and Canada more generally is high on my list of places to visit.  It’s a country I’ve never been to, but it looks so beautiful and I’ve never met a Canadian I didn’t like.   I’m therefore thrilled to be able to present Toronto as my latest Insider Guide.  The lovely folks over at Calculated Traveller, Mary and Jamie, have really inspired me, so I hope they will you too!

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1. A lot of people think Toronto is just about hockey and the CN Tower. What other popular sites and cultural activities should visitors look out for on a trip to Toronto?

What’s really great about Toronto is that the city comes to life no matter the season – and everyone knows how extreme Canadian weather can be. If you’re visiting in the summertime, Toronto’s waterfront is definitely a highlight; the downtown portion (Sugar Beach, HTO Park, Harbourfront etc.) is fantastic and only getting better with the new developments, and Sunnyside Beach all the way to the Humber Bridge is an amazing stretch to bike or walk through.

In the wintertime, Toronto’s nightlife becomes absolutely gorgeous. Something I aim to do every December is to go skating under the Christmas lights at Nathan Phillips Square – a really great public square adjacent to city hall. The Distillery District is also a great cultural hangout at night, when the lights come on. The annual Christmas market draws quite a crowd, and there are a lot of galleries, coffee shops and restaurants to explore as you get lost in one of the most historically rich streets in the city. It always reminds me of places like Greenwich Village in NYC or Old Montreal.

2. What is your favorite place in Toronto to take out of town visitors, and what makes it so special?

This might be in almost every Toronto guidebook, but the Royal Ontario Museum has a special place in my heart, I love taking out-of-towners to see the exhibits there. I spent a lot of time there as a kid, and it was the first place that I got a job, so naturally it became a second home to me. The ROM is a huge cultural attraction in Toronto, and also houses such a diverse collection of artifacts and specimens. It’s a great place for all ages. Unlike some museums, you can find yourself spending hours at the museum, and still wanting to come back the next day.

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3. Tell me about your favorite place that I wouldn’t find in a guidebook.

401 Richmond. Located in the middle of the Entertainment District, this is a great place to visit if you’re interested in art, design, or architecture. The restored industrial building is home to many artists’ studios, galleries, shops and festivals, and often has exhibitions open to the public. It is also quite a beautifully designed building, where you can grab a nice cup of coffee or tea. Be sure to check out the rooftop garden or the courtyard – great outdoor space with a fantastic view of the CN Tower.

4. What is your perfect day out and about in Toronto and why?

Aside from hockey and the CN Tower, Toronto is very well-known for its diverse culture, and this shows in the extremely distinct neighbourhoods. I absolutely just taking a walk through really any neighbourhood downtown and stumbling upon something new. Some of my favourite spots for a stroll in the city are Roncesvalles Village (where I grew up), Little Italy, and the Annex. I would probably end my day in High Park – one of the best parks in any busy downtown core. In my opinion it probably can hold its own against NYC’s Central Park.

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5. There are many great day trips from Toronto. Could you share some of your favorite day trip destinations?

Going a tiny bit further from the downtown core…the Don Valley is definitely a great place to visit. There are really great bike paths in the area, and the Evergreen Brickworks lands smack in the middle of that area. A former brick factory, it’s been converted into a cultural/community space which houses galleries, education programming, children’s programming, seasonal farmer’s markets, and artist’s studios and shops. The pedestrian paths from the Brickworks and through the Don River area are absolutely wonderful; the park really takes you away from the busy city life, and you really don’t notice the highway that’s adjacent to the area.

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In terms of full-out day trips, way outside the city boundaries, Ontario (and Canada in general) has fantastic parks. The National and Provincial Parks are all very well-known and popular, and I would definitely recommend checking out places like Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area, or the Niagara Region across the Lake.

6. What is the best way to find out about concerts, exhibitions and other special events?

The most up-to-date information can be found online. I usually browse BlogTO (a really popular local blog which covers pretty much everything that happens in Toronto) once a week to check out what’s happening.

7. Some quick fire favorites now:

Favorite garden(s)/outdoor space(s) – High Park

Favorite window shopping street – Queen Street West

Favorite market(s) – St. Lawrence Market

Favorite spot for a tea or coffee – Any café in Little Italy or the Annex

Favorite value for money restaurant(s) – Chinatown

About the author:

Jamie Kwan

Jamie Kwan – Staff Writer at Calculated Traveller Magazine is a young graduate of Ryerson University’s Architecture program, and is based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. While not the biggest adventure-seeker, he will go out of his way to check out and experience the most hidden architectural gems of a city. You can find more of his love for architecture at www.jamiekwan.com, as he documents his mission to sketch and photograph the city he lives in…and find the most awesome grilled cheese sandwich ever.

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