Known by many Canadians (and some locals in a half-serious manner) as the Centre of the Universe, Toronto is not only the largest city in Ontario and Canada, but it is also the most culturally and economically influential region in the entire nation. As such, much of what makes Canada the place that it is in the world can be found here, making this city an absolute can’t miss destination for any foreign visitor doing a tour through Eastern Canada. Even if your plans primarily deal with seeing the sights of Western Canada, and you are flying in from Europe, structuring your travels to have a long layover here is highly advisable and it will be well worth the effort.
Many of Canada’s best museums can be found here, putting this city in direct competition with its interprovincial rival Ottawa in this genre, and the theatre district here rivals that of New York City, putting it in lofty company. Being the first point of entry for many immigrants in the modern era, the large population base here and attractions it provides, and its delicate climate compared to other parts of the country (except for the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, which is practically tropical compared to everywhere else, including Southern Ontario) has convinced many of them to settle here in large numbers over the years, leading to the Greater Toronto Area to become one of the most ethnically diverse metropolitan areas in North America in the present day.
Containing many of the core assets that comprise the Canadian identity, along with the accoutrements of being an alpha city on the global stage, the time you spend in Toronto will surely count among the top highlights of your adventures in Canada.
Redesigned by the wondrously chaotic mind of architect Frank Gehry in 2008, the Art Gallery of Ontario contains precious works of art, and is a work of art in its own merit. Being the largest space for the visual arts in Canada, the AGO contains an enviable collection of the best art Canadian artists have produced over the past several generation. Additionally, it also contains art from significant periods in art history from Europe and Africa, and it regularly hosts many of the A-list exhibits that make the rounds among all the world’s major art galleries and museums.
Another museum on par with the AGO in terms of quality is the Royal Ontario Museum, which focuses on natural history and culture. While there is certainly attention paid to these topics in the context of Ontario and Canada, this museum focuses primarily on world cultures, and the wonders of nature throughout the globe. This is reflected in its many high quality permanent and visiting exhibits, which cover topics ranging from dinosaurs to its eclectic collection of artifacts from East Asia and Africa and much more. Plan on spending an entire afternoon here.
If taking in a live stage show is a high priority of yours whenever you visit a major world city, then Toronto’s Theatre District shall not disappoint you. Many theatres can be found along trendy expanses of Yonge Street between Adelaide Street in the north and King Street W in the south, making this stretch the third largest concentration of theatres in the English speaking world after London and New York City.
Many people often say that a person’s home is their castle, but sometimes when money is no object, it can take on the literal meaning of that idiom. A classic example of this in the Toronto area is Casa Loma, a palatial residence built by Sir Henry Pellatt, a former financial giant from the early days of Bay Street. The home that he built for himself over the years took on the physical appearance of a castle, complete with secret rooms and passages within, towers, and a regal garden that consumes five lush acres on Casa Loma’s spacious property. Get lost within its countless rooms and admire the spoils available to those who make it rain in life!
No aspect of Canadian culture is as salient as the game of hockey. Over time, it spawned leagues, and then the National Hockey League, creating heroes for multiple generations of athletic youngsters since 1918. The Hockey Hall of Fame documents the stories of these athletes playing the world’s fastest, and dare we say it, greatest game, along with artifacts relating to their achievements. All of the game’s trophies can be found here, including the most famous trophy in sport, the Stanley Cup.
While each of the cultural attractions listed above are world class in their own way, you’ll probably leave them for another day in favour of ascending the CN Tower on your first day in Toronto. This is completely understandable, as one of the world’s tallest freestanding structures utterly dominates the cities’ skyline for countless miles. The observation deck will grant you a sweeping view of how big Toronto and its surrounding area truly is, as more than one hundred thousand people move to the area every year. Daredevils can do a Edgewalk on the outer periphery of the tower, while those that are less insane can watch them at 360 restaurant, which does a complete revolution every hour.
While much of Toronto’s waterfront was used for industrial purposes in the past century, the decline in this sort of employment since left many stately brick warehouses vacant. Rather than let these structures decay and rot, they were refurbished into The Distillery District, where many restaurants, bars and shops can be found in the present day. The streets of the district are strictly pedestrian walkways, making for a relaxing experience as you walk from galleries to shops to bars and more.
If you are seeking a nature break within city limits, hop on a ferry to the Toronto Islands, which are located a couple of kilometres away from the downtown core. The views of the downtown skyline from here are hard to match, the abundance of lush hardwood trees will provide shade from the merciless summer heat, and the beaches that ring the coast provide access to the refreshing waters of Lake Ontario. All in all, it is a great place to go when the stresses of city life are getting too much to bear!