Canada’s largest city hones in on fun, interesting and out-of-this world attractions. And why shouldn’t it? Toronto boasts a list of places that could satisfy even the most discerning traveller. The city hosts many crowd-pleasing annual events in a line-up that read like a Who’s Who. Some of the best things to do in Toronto are tied to its historic background.
In the early days, Toronto was known as York and nicknamed “Muddy York” for its muddy streets but later got a name change to Toronto in 1834.
Lots have happened since. These days, tourists can visit some of those old neighbourhoods to discover many surprises.
As a local, I love to neighbourhood hop and wander through the shops and trendy restaurants then drop by a local watering hole to rub shoulders with friends and fellow Torontonians (that’s what locals are called).
Out-of-towners can visit several attractions and avoid the cues by using a Toronto City Pass, which gets you admission into Toronto’s top five attractions. Now here’s where to catch the Toronto vibe year-round.
1-For the Vertigo-Free Junkies
A speedy elevator ride isn’t for the faint of heart but then again reaching the observatory atop of the iconic CN Tower is a treat any day.
Test your nerves with a walk on the Glass Floor and gaze down then head to the SkyTerrace observation area for fabulous panoramas.
On sunny, seasonal days there’s another treat in store.
Atop the CN Tower there is also The EdgeWalk. It’s no power walk though. Until recently the CN Tower was pegged as the world’s tallest freestanding structure but it now has a new title as “World’s highest external walk on a building” by Guinness World Record.
Nowhere else in the world can you head up 116 storeys alfresco-style harnessed to an overhead rail to walk around the 5ft (1.5m) wide ledge circling the top of the CN Tower’s main pod.
2-For the Foodies
We love food so much Toronto fetes two annual foodie festivals.
This is when high-end restaurants pledge lunch and dinner prix-fixed menus giving culinary lovers who might not ordinarily have a chance to sample the fare of some of the city’s most prolific chefs.
I made reservations at Momofuku’s Noodle Bar, the foodie institution helmed by chef David Chang, and went straight for the highly lauded ramen soup. Boy was it tasty, one spoonful at a time.
In winter through the steamy windows you’ll catch hungry patrons dining on fabulous 3-course meals at over 200 restaurants.
In summer the whole dining affair repeats itself through Summerlicious with either the same restos or a different crop of restaurants joining the party.
3-FOR THE HISTORY HOUNDS
Bruce Bell, tour guide extraordinaire regales on Toronto’s yesterdays, and weaves fabulous story telling with his passion for Toronto.
Take a guided tour to see such sites as Toronto’s first jail, first farmers market and other Toronto firsts. Ask him about Toronto’s Richard Burton-Elizabeth Taylor connection.
I got the scoop at the legendary King Edward Hotel. The historic property was at one time the most lavish hotel and had a newly installed invention called the automatic elevator. Luxe guests couldn’t get over pushing the button to go up and down, and they did, over and over again.
4-For Critter Watchers
Nothing beats animal spotting than a trip to the Toronto Zoo. Have a wild time observing some extraordinary mammals, birds and cold-blooded reptiles at play.
Ensure your zoo visit includes seeing the polar bears, African penguins, Western lowland gorillas, and yes our pandas, Er Shun and Da Mao.
There are knowledgeable volunteers stationed at a lot of animal look-outs through the zoo.
5-For Relic Hunters
Behind the doors of the Royal Ontario Museum, a national landmark, lies some of the country’s and the world’s most esoteric, rare artifacts.
The building itself is an example of Toronto’s bravado. A renovation and expansion designed by the renowned architect Daniel Libeskind has resulted in the museum expanding its public display space allowing more collections to be viewed.
I love hanging around the Egyptian area and watching the bats flutter at the bat cave. The ROM hosts evening events and has a busy schedule of guest speakers who lecture on themed topics throughout the year.
6-For Science Nerds
Boost your brain power at the hands-on, interactive discoveries at the Ontario Science Centre.
Ever since first opening in the sixties, this Raymond Moriyama masterpiece of design erected along the Don River Valley ravine has attracted up and coming scientists.
While built mainly for kids in mind, parents too will have fun exploring the exhibits. My favourite is the gravity defying electricity demo that gets your hair to literally stand on end. Beats saying you have a bad hair day.
7-For Art Lovers
Any time of year is a good time to drop into the oeuvre of the Art Gallery of Ontario.
The permanent exhibition boasts an extraordinary collection from the world’s largest public collection of Henry Moore sculptures to the rare ivory maquettes donated by media baron Ken Thomson.
Amble through the Frank Gehry-designed addition to see streaming natural light filter into the Galleria Italia.
If you’re feeling famished sneak into the gallery restaurant Frank for delicious lunch entrees.
8-For Hockey Fans
Despite having not won the Stanley Cup since 1967 Toronto remains one great hockey town and the Maple Leaf fans make no mistake in letting visitors know.
During hockey season crowds who weren’t able to snag a game ticket, like to gather at the Maple Leaf Square located next to the arena at the Air Canada Centre to watch the game on a jumbo outdoor videotron.
Afterwards, many hockey fans huddle inside to the Maple Leaf Sports Bar and Grill to continue revelling or in most cases drowning their sorrow over a good pint of beer.
Off-season true fans hibernate in the inner sanctum of Hockeydom a.k.a. the Hockey Hall of Fame (HHoF).
The mecca of all NHL greats, this is where you’ll find original team jerseys, autographed pictures, and all matters of hockey memorabilia. But the cherry on top is to sneak beside the shiny Stanley Cup to pose for selfies beside the prized trophy.
The HhoF is home turf for the Stanley Cup after it goes through the rounds of staying with the winning NHL hockey team.
Every season each member of the winning NHL hockey team gets a chance to take the Stanley Cup to their home.
Looking for more things to do in Canada? See Best of Canada.