A worldly, multilingual city of arts and culture
10 January 2017 by Mark Reynolds
Canada’s most populous and cosmopolitan city, sprawling across the northern shore of Lake Ontario, is known as a gateway to Niagara Falls, and a jumping-off point for the lakes and forests of Muskoka and the Kawarthas and the capital Ottawa. But Toronto is a destination in itself, offering something for nature lovers and culture vultures alike. From parks and beaches to colourful neighbourhoods where more than 140 languages are spoken and important art collections are housed, here are some of the city’s not-to-be-missed hotspots.
Once an undeveloped and unloved promenade, Toronto’s waterfront is transforming into one of the city’s key attractions. The Harbourfront Centre is home to a wide range of art and culture festivals, and the Toronto Islands’ sandy beaches, walking and biking trails are a short ferry ride away. Popular summer activities include canoe or kayak hire, sailing and powerboating.
Toronto’s largest public park contains wild forest, carefully tended Chinese gardens, brief-blooming Japanese sakura cherry trees and delightful lakeside hiking trails. There’s even a mini zoo alongside the obligatory sports and picnic areas.
This 9-mile stretch of eroding sand cliffs on the Lake Ontario shore is perhaps Toronto’s most striking geological feature. Scarborough Bluffs Park at the top of the cliffs offers dramatic views of sunsets, moonrises and starry summer nights, while the bluffs themselves are best viewed from nearby Bluffers Park, which also opens onto a beach and the lake. Scarborough itself is awash with keenly priced cosmopolitan cuisine ranging from Persian and Lebanese to Sri Lankan and, of course, hearty British-inspired Canadian favourites.
Nathan Phillips Square in downtown Toronto
Almost half of Toronto’s population is foreign-born, and 12% of the city’s residents are of Chinese origin. On Spadina Avenue and Dundas Street West, hànzì characters adorn almost every shop front and street sign, and East Asian fruits and vegetables abound. Among the plentiful Chinese food outlets you can also find excellent Thai, Japanese and Vietnamese eateries.
At its peak as a 1960 Bohemian hotspot, Yorkville’s coffee houses and music venues played host to the likes of Margaret Atwood, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell as well as international writers and performers. Gradually it has morphed into an upscale living and shopping area where Tiffany & Co., Prada and Burberry now rub shoulders.
Queen West, King West & Liberty Village
Shaped by an 18th century military garrison and 19th century factories and warehouses, the neighbouring streets of Queen West, King West and Liberty Village have been reinvented as a thriving network of hip lounges, indie boutiques and brunch stops. West Queen West defines itself as the ‘creative heart’ of the city, and was duly picked out by Vogue as the second coolest neighbourhood in the world (after Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa), for its “verifiable artery of indie patisseries, home-grown labels, and hidden-from-view galleries.”
Weslodge Restaurant in King West
The red brick buildings of Toronto’s Old Town and the Distillery Historic District now cater to a buzzing urban food and culture scene. St Lawrence Market was named by National Geographic as the world’s best food market and houses over 100 specialist food stalls as well as a Saturday farmers’ market, while savvy collectors head for the North Market each Sunday on the lookout for one-of-a-kind antiques and retro finds. The once derelict Victorian industrial buildings of Distillery now house a dizzying array of contemporary restaurants and galleries.
Royal Ontario Museum
Established in 1912 as five distinct Royal Museums – of Archaeology, Geology. Mineralogy, Palaeontology and Zoology – the ROM amalgamated into a single entity in 1955, and has since become a world-class multi-disciplinary cultural hub. A forward programme of exhibitions and events is underpinned by permanent Centres of Discovery themed around everything from ancient cultures and world art to biodiversity and Canada itself.
Art Gallery of Ontario
With a collection of over 90,000 art works, the AGO is among the most important art museums in North America. It houses an outstanding collection of historical Canadian art with a strong focus on works from Toronto and Ontario, as well as extensive African & Oceanic, photography and prints & drawings collections.
Art Gallery of Ontario