The red carpet at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) has just been rolled up ending another blockbuster year but that doesn’t mean Toronto has gone to sleep and stopped welcoming day trippers and tourists. Au contraire – Canada’s thriving metropolis (it’s the nation’s largest city) continues to cast a buzz on most every front. Of course, there are plenty of exciting things to do in Toronto.
As a local who has been known to sample some of the newest and oldest things around town, I’m here to tell you, you will never run out of things to do. Here’s my insider’s guide to Toronto:
Things to do in Toronto for theatre buffs
Toronto’s theatre district packs in the night owls and matinee lovers.
The Princess of Wales Theatre, an Ed and David Mirvish-created theater house, is a new build that has a renowned collection of abstract art.
Son David who now oversees the Mirvish theater empire is an avid art collector and when you walk inside this stage it shows.
Just a block west is HQ of TIFF. Known as the Tiff Bell Lightbox it houses five public cinemas and two galleries that feature temporary art and film exhibitions.
One of the bigger crowd pleasing exhibits currently on display until January 25 is the world of Stanley Kubrick. Guided building tours are also available.
Toronto also boasts the world’s last operating double-decker theatre, the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre.
When The Elgin debuted on December 15, 1913 vaudeville was the rage and fans couldn’t be more tickled to walk through this theatre palace decked in Tiffany-style chandeliers and the works.
Concerts and theatre productions are regularly scheduled and guided tours are available.
Things to do in Toronto for festival buffs
This list would be remiss if TIFF were missed. The little indie film festival that grew has now become the second most important film festival in the world.
This year TIFF celebrates 40 years of showcasing movies from every corner of the world.
This lucky scribe was there for the gala festival opening night. King Street was closed, the signature orange ball pop up art pieces lined the roadways as did the sea of movie fans aching to get a glimpse of Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts starring in Demolition.
Me – I saw the muckraker award-winning docu-maker Michael Moore shine at the Princess of Wales Theatre for his world premiere of Where to Invade Next.
On the music festival scene, Toronto’s got this beat covered too. The city’s biggest, freest music festival is the Beaches International Jazz Festival.
Each summer this music street party takes over the east end in the Beach for 16 music-filled days.
Celebrating world music, R&B, Rock’n’Roll, fusion, jazz you name it you can thank the founders and artistic director Bill King at the helm.
The accomplished artist who’s been the music director for greats like Janis Joplin, Linda Rondstadt and the Pointer Sisters to namedrop a few is already planning for another huge mega music celebration next year.
Discover your inner kid or better yet take your family to The Ex a.ka. the CNE, Canada’s largest and oldest annual fair for ultimate fun in the sun stuff.
I love the midway, the zillion rides, the cotton candy, and hearing the infectious laughter. You can’t help but put a huge grin on your face for this one.
The Exhibition or the ‘Ex’ to locals has always been a fixture of the final days of summer, ending its glorious three weeks of thrills on Labour Day.
That’s when the grand finale happens: The Canadian International Air Show. Planes from around the world come to show off. But the real favourite is the squadron of Snowbirds from the Canadian Air Force as they perform amazing aerial stunts. Basically it’s the last big hurrah before the new school year.
Toronto’s best crashpads
You know Toronto’s all grown up when a new crop of luxury hotels open. In the past few years, the city’s accommodations scene has seen a collection of the finest brands enter the fold.
One of them is the Shangri-la Toronto. A beacon of luxe the glassy skyscraper is ideally located at the crossroads of Toronto’s financial and entertainment district so there’s big appeal for the suits and theatre crowd (a.k.a. corporate and leisure travellers).
Hang out in the spacious lobby decked out in haute-style. Lavish dove grey seating areas overlook the busy streetscape or choose a cozy spot by the two-sided fireplace, order a cocktail or a high-tea and then head to the anchor restaurant Bosk for yummy Asian-inspired eats. Conde Nast Traveler rated the pool as one of the world’s most beautiful.
Another cool crash pad, lauded as Canada’s first condo hotel is the SoHo Metropolitan that has its own cachet. Guests enjoy the facilities like the fitness center where a former Mr. Universe is the hotel’s fitness trainer or the Scandinavian-inspired room interiors with its heated bathroom floors. Wahlburgers is a fun new diner from the Wahlburg Brothers (Mark, Donnie and Paul) which is attached to the hotel.
Exploring Old Toronto
With all the city’s new attractions it’s nice to see some old Toronto. For a look at some of the city’s earliest residences, visit pretty Cabbagetown in the east end.
This patch of gingerbread gabled 19th century Victorian houses offers a glimpse into Toronto’s past.
The miniature front yards, the size of postage stamps have become a heavenly showcase for urban gardeners.
Many home owners sweetly display ornamental cabbages as cool topiaries or in artistic clusters.
For eats and treats, the St. Lawrence Market is a gastronomic haven.
Spot butchers, fish mongers, bakers, farmers, and cheese purveyors assemble their prized goods for sale at Toronto’s oldest market.
Still, the news gets better. In early September an archaeologist unearthed foundations dating to the 1831 market located at the north market building.
I was there to view the three trenches that have opened a whole new window on this city’s past. The finds also confirm what many suspected: the oldest city market.
After some nibbles at the St. Lawrence Market, head eastward to Mill Street, home of the historic Distillery District.
In its hey days this was the Gooderham and Worts whisky empire, the largest distillery operation in the British Empire and a major supplier to the dry Americans.
Today, the old buildings have a collection of artsy tenants, indie studios, and shops and restaurants.
Theatre goers also enjoy the nightly shows at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, home of Soulpepper Theatre Company, Canada’s largest urban theatre.
Ilona Kauremszky is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Toronto.
If you’re planning on visiting Toronto it’s worth putting Niagara Falls on your itinerary as there are plenty of things to do in and around Niagara Falls all year round.
If you have a few more days to spend in the region, here are five more suggestions on how to spend your time:
1-Niagara on the Lake has 19th-century charm, shops, fine dining, spas and restaurants.
2-Bruce Peninsula is a relatively undiscovered region that will delight wilderness enthusiasts looking to escape the city.
3-Explore Canada’s Gibraltar in Bon Echo National Park.
4-Discover Canada’s Seventh Wonder – Sleeping Giant Provincial Park in Thunder Bay was voted as the Seventh Wonder of Canada in a poll conducted in 2007 (beating Niagara Falls).
5-Head to Point Pelee National park for hiking and kayaking in the wilderness.