Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Toronto
Toronto's sensational St. Lawrence Market has been a neighborhood meeting place for more than 200 years. The restored, high-trussed 1845 South Market building houses more than 50 specialty food stalls including cheese vendors, fishmongers, butchers, bakers and pasta makers with lots of action and yelling of prices in silly voices.
Inside the old council chambers upstairs, the St. Lawrence Market Gallery is now the city's exhibition hall, with rotating displays of paintings, photographs, documents, and historical relics. On the opposite side of Front Street, the North Market building houses a farmers' market on Saturday and an antiques market on Sunday. Overlooking the market is the glorious St. Lawrence Hall, which can be seen for blocks. Considered one of Toronto's finest examples of Victorian classicism, the building is topped by a mansard roof and a working, copper-clad clock tower.
The Toronto Harbour comprises of a few areas. Running east to west from Jarvis, just south of Queens Quay to lower- Spadina along and south of of Queens Quay is the downtown Harbourfront area. The focal point of the Harbour also known as The Harbourfront is where the Harbourfront Centre, Power Plant art gallery and Queens Quay Terminal are located. At Bay and Queens Quay, the walkway to the ferries ($7 per adult each way) to access the Toronto Islands.
The Harbourfront has transformed over the years due to the proliferation of condo developments and a new population that never existed. It is now become more of a destination due to its revitalization. You can picnic, rent a boat or take a tour over to the Toronto Islands or simply walk along the boardwalk. Key spots to picnic other than the islands are on the man-made beaches, mainly Sugar Beach (named after the Redpath Sugar Factory nearby) and the HtO Park.
The Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, built in 1808, is the oldest landmark in Toronto as well as one of the earliest lighthouses built on the Great Lakes. Originally, sperm whale oil and later coal were used to light the lantern and guide ships through York Harbour, but today the lighthouse is no longer in operation. It eventually got replaced by a fully automated, electric tower and the historical grey stone building with the bright red door and railings is now only occasionally opened to the public during special events. As the island has grown and evolved over the centuries, the lighthouse moved further away from the water and now, it stands in a quiet meadow surrounded by a thicket of trees.
Local legends portray the hexagonal lighthouse as being haunted, blurring the line between facts and myth, and most locals have heard some camp fire stories or other about the events having seemingly transpired here.
With six million objects in its impressive collection, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is Canada's biggest natural history museum. With its new eye-catching, über-modern Daniel Libeskind design, the main building is now a magnificent explosion of architectural crystals, housing six galleries, including the new “Renaissance ROM” building.
ROM's collections bounce between natural science, ancient civilization, and art exhibits. The Chinese temple sculptures, Gallery of Korean Art, and costumery and textile collections are some of the best in the world. Kids file out of yellow school buses chugging by the sidewalk and rush to the dinosaur rooms, Egyptian mummies, and Jamaican bat cave replica. The cedar crest poles carved by First Nations tribes in British Columbia are not to be missed; the largest pole (278 feet/85 meters) was shipped from the West Coast by train, then lowered through the museum roof.
At the base of the CN Tower is sports and entertainment venue, The Rogers Centre (formerly known as the Skydome). Since the name change in 2006, the Centre welcomes over 3.5 million visitors a year. It will celebrate 25 years in 2014.
The Rogers Centre is the home of the Toronto Blue Jays Baseball Club, World Series Champions in 1992 and 1993, and the Toronto Argonauts Football Team, who last won the Grey Cup in 2004. It is known as having the world’s first fully retractable roof. The roof opens and closes in 20 minutes and is a fun feature while being at a game or event. The Rogers Centre is the ideal venue for a big stadium concert; some of the biggest names in the business have entertained the masses from The Rolling Stones to Bon Jovi. To learn more about the Rogers Centre, you can experience a one hour fully guided behind-the-scenes tour. Highlights include a visit to different levels, a press box and a luxury suite among other stops.
Fort York is one of Canada’s most important and earliest historic sites and was in use between the 1790s and 1880s. The military fortifications consisting of stone and wood barracks, powder magazines and officers’ quarters were put in place by the British Army and Canadian militia troops as the primary harbor defense of the city of York, Toronto’s old name and back then the capital of Upper Canada. It guarded the entrance to Toronto Harbour and Fort York saw action three times, the most notable of these battles being the Battle of York in 1813, when the invading U.S. Army destroyed the fort and the retreating British soldiers blew up the powder magazines, killing hundreds. Of course, the British government was not pleased by the defeat and subsequent ransacking of York and this event spurred the much better known British invasion of Washington D.C. a year later, which resulted in the burning of Congress and the White House.
More Things to Do in Toronto
Hockey is akin to a religion in Canada and its shrine is The Hockey Hall of Fame, located at the foot of Front and Yonge near the Financial District in downtown Toronto.
The Hockey Hall of Fame offers something for fans and non-fans alike: the finest collection of hockey artifacts at all levels of play from around the world; interactive games that challenge shooting and goalkeeping skills; themed exhibits dedicated to the game’s greatest players, teams and achievements; multimedia stations; theaters; larger-than-life statues; a replica NHL dressing room; an unrivaled selection of hockey-related merchandise and memorabilia; and NHL trophies. The piece de resistance, of course, is hands-on access to The STANLEY CUP. A new addition to the Hall of Fame is to view The Clarkson Cup, awarded annually to the team that wins the Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL) championship. Donated in 2013, it is named after former Governor General of Canada, Adrienne Clarkson.
This quirky museum is dedicated to the style and function of footwear in four impressive galleries. With over 10,000 pairs of shoes, displays range from different cultures from China to Egypt and even a collection of 20th century celebrity soles
The museum has three types of exhibitions:
The main exhibitions, which include one semi-permanent and three changing exhibitions in specially-designed galleries, which can go on to become Travelling Exhibitions
'Snapshot' exhibits, on display for one or two weeks and feature five to ten display cases
Semi-Permanent exhibitions give you an overview of footwear history such as the All About Shoes flagship display, a voyage through 4500 years of footwear.
True to its name, the Entertainment District hosts Toronto’s extensive performing arts, club and sports scene. The Roy Thomson Hall, home to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, might look like a big glass container, but once inside is an architectural and acoustic marvel. At the Royal Alexandra Theatre, famous productions such as Mamma Mia! and the LionKing have been performed and for more shows, musicals and plays, head to the Princess of Wales theatre. At that venue, you will find amazing views from all angles and it is said, that there isn’t a single bad seat in the whole theatre. Sport fans should visit the Air Canada Center, an indoor sporting arena and home of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Raptors, as well as the Rogers Centre, the gigantic baseball stadium where the Blue Jays play.
Sugar Beach is an urban beach that was opened in 2010 in an attempt to make the shoreline more accessible to the public and to revitalize the space. The name Sugar Beach is a reference to the Redbath Sugar Refinery, which can be seen just opposite the beach and the park was clearly designed with that sugar theme in mind. The fine, white sand looks almost a bit like sugar, the large granite rocks are painted in red and white stripes similar to a bonbon and then there are the patio umbrellas in that perfect shade of pink candy floss. Contrary to what the name “beach” might actually suggest, the area does not allow for swimming or bathing in the Lake Ontario water and instead is a recreational and relaxation space. Beneath the pink umbrellas, white beach chairs dot the sand and invite for a relaxing afternoon with a book or some good company.
The New City Hall is one of Toronto’s most characteristic landmarks. Overlooking the busy Queen Street West in downtown Toronto, the New City Hall is nicknamed “the eye of the government” because of its shape on a plan view. The building’s easily identifiable dual curved and almost identical towers surround a council chamber that is mounted on a raised platform, a creation of Finnish architects Viljo Revell, Heikki Castrén, Bengt Lundsten, and Seppo Valjus, as well as landscape architect Richard Strong, who designed the building after an international architectural competition that yielded submissions from 42 countries in 1958. Part of the competition also included the Nathan Phillips Square below, which is now home to overheard walkways, a reflecting pool, and large concrete arches – it remains one of Toronto’s main gathering places, and New Year’s Eve celebrations are held there every year.
Literally the “House on a Hill,” Casa Loma - a mock medieval castle with Elizabethan-style chimneys, Rhineland turrets, secret passageways, and an underground tunnel - towers above midtown Toronto on a cliff. A walk through the sumptuous interior of this eccentric 98-room mansion is a trip back in time.
Inside, you can wander through the majestic Great Hall, marveling at its 59 foot (18 meter) high hammer-beam ceiling, while in the Oak Room the stately paneling took three years for artisans to create. Elegant bronze doors open up into the Conservatory, which is lit by an Italian chandelier with electrical bunches of grapes. Rugs feature the same patterns as those at Windsor castle. The original kitchen had ovens big enough to cook an ox, and secret panels and tunnels abound. The stables were used by the Canadian government for secret WWII research into anti-U-boat technology.
Well known as the ACC, The Air Canada Centre is home of the Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League (NHL), the Toronto Raptors of the National Basketball Association (NBA), and the Toronto Rock of the National Lacrosse League (NLL). Some of the art deco facade on the outskirts of the arena pays homage to the building’s history previously occupied by Canada Post’s Toronto Postal Delivery Building.
Since its inception in 1999, the outlying area of the ACC has developed into Maple Leaf Square, with the Le Germain hotel and condominiums as well as a number of restaurants, supermarkets and office buildings in the vicinity. The ACC is a premier concert and event venue. The Tragically Hip played ACC’s first concert and other bands like Bon Jovi, U2, The Police and Rush have played up to 4 or 5 concerts in one tour at the ACC.
Humber Bay Park consists of two man-made peninsulas, that jut out at the mouth of Mimico Creek just before it joins Lake Ontario. Humber Bay Park East is a great place to go animal watching, as a large number of cormorants, geese, herons, swans and ducks congregate here. Also frequently seen are Great Egrets and Red-Tailed Hawks, and you might even spot a turtle basking in the sun on a nice day. Most people combine this with a walk on the many trails that either lead along the shore of the lake or through the greenery of the park. Along the shore, you will find two sandy beaches and if you are a photographer, Humber Bay Park is also a great spot to see the spectacular Toronto Skyline with the CN Tower rising up in the midst of the skyscrapers. The two peninsulas are connected by a small pedestrian bridge and on the other side at Humber Bay Park East, visitors can find a parking lot and the big marina.
High Park, with its numerous cultural institutions, sports facilities, playgrounds and even a zoo, is the largest park in the Canadian metropolis Toronto and serves as a recreational area for locals and visitors alike. About a third of the park is left in its natural state and is home to both large groups of trees, shrubs, grasses and Canadian flowering plants as well as the many species of birds that are native to the area. High Park is especially beautiful late April and early May, when the Sakura cherry trees around Hillside Garden are in full bloom and spread their wonderful fragrance. The first of these trees that now make up a huge big pink canopy were given to High Park as a present from the citizens of Tokyo, while later on more and more Sakuras got donated by various sources.
Opened on October 16, 2013, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is located in the heart of downtown Toronto, next to the Rogers Centre and the CN Tower. It features a total of has 5.7 million liters of marine and freshwater habitats, including a spectacular and crowd-pleasing walk-through tank. It is organized into nine galleries featuring 16,000 animals from different areas of the world: Canadian Waters, Rainbow Reef, Dangerous Lagoon, Discovery Centre, The Gallery, Ray Bay, Planet Jellies, Life Support Systems and the Shoreline Gallery. Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is home to more than 13,500 exotic sea and freshwater specimens from more than 450 species, including octopuses, eels, sharks, stingrays, seahorses, exotic fishes, sea dragons, and many more. It also hosts many unique events for an additional fee, including a Stingray Experience, Friday Night Jazz, sleepovers, yoga, Sea Squirts for children, and photography classes. There is a store and café on-site.
Kensington Market is a must-see on a visit to Toronto. The lively market is filled with a mix of food stores selling a variety of meats, fish, and produce. If that isn’t enough to make your mouth water, you can browse bakeries, spice and dry goods stores, and cheese shops. It is also home to many restaurants covering a wide variety of styles and ethnicities.
Along with the plethora of food shops in Kensington Market are a wide variety of new and used clothing boutiques plus discount and surplus stores. And just when you need a respite from all the shops, grab a seat in cozy café or stop for a meal in one of the many restaurants. In summer, Kensington Market hosts several car-free Sundays, and a pedestrian mall unfolds on the narrow streets. Live music, dancing, street theatre and games are among the special events on the closed streets.
After undergoing an extensive renovation by Toronto-born Frank Gehry, the Art Gallery of Ontario has reopened in a dramatic new building that strikes a dazzling balance between art and architecture, and makes great use of natural light.
The Art Gallery of Ontario holds a staggering 79,000-plus works, as well as a huge photograph collection. Highlights include rare Québécois religious statuary, First Nations and Inuit carvings, and major Canadian works by Emily Carr and the Group of Seven. European art is also well represented with works by Thomas Gainsborough, Auguste Rodin, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and René Magritte.
The AGO also displays a comprehensive collection of contemporary art in a variety of mediums, including sculpture, projection art, painting, and instillation art. A wide spectrum of exhibitions round out the AGO’s art-filled experience.
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