When people ask me for suggestions for tourist activities in my home city, Toronto, I am sometimes at a loss. It is not a lack of engaging activities and events but rather that the top tourist destinations seem uninteresting to me. Growing up in Toronto visits to the city landmarks CN Tower, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), Casa Loma and the Toronto Zoo were part of school trips and pieces of the landscape of the city. Living amidst such cultural diversity made me take them for granted and narrowed my vision about what to do, or what to suggest for others to do, in Toronto.
After several years living abroad, I moved back to Toronto and returning to the city changed my perspective. The major attractions I grew up with are still around but the city has changed. Major attraction like the AGO, ROM and the Hockey Hall of Fame remains not only because of their rich collections and resources but also because I experience them from a new, more mature perspective. However, there is a lot more in this culturally rich and diverse city. Here is a list of a few of my favorite activities that I would recommend to locals looking for something beyond major tourist sites and for second time visitors looking for a more in-depth experience of the city.
The Second City
Everyone's sense of humor is different but The Second City, along with its sister club in Chicago, has produced some of the finest comedians in the last forty years. The Second City Toronto is also known for producing a SCTV in the 1970s, considered one of the best sketch comedy shows of all time mostly because of its cast including John Candy, Eugene Levy, Dave Thomas, Martin Short and Rick Moranis. The comedy club continues staging hilarious sketch and improv shows with top comedians. Tickets sell out quickly so buy tickets at least two weeks in advance. Seating is cabaret style and if you choose to sit in the front row be ready to participate in the show (you may even end up on stage).
Check for special or one night only shows. Ticket are $18 - $39 plus tax and can be purchased online or at the door.
51 Mercer Street
The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery
The Power Plant is a public contemporary art gallery that also provides education through exhibitions, talks, publications and events. The gallery promotes Canadian contemporary artists by exhibiting their work with their international peers. Housed in a repurposed power plant built in the 1920s the site is more than a gallery, it is a space engage visitors with art, ideas, performances, symposia, an international lecture series and screenings. Recently The Power Plant hosted the internationally touring film The Clock (2010) by Christian Marclay, an 24-hour looped ode to time and cinema, and hosts unique exhibits like “Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture.” Look out for original works of art commissioned by the Power Plant Commissioning Program developing international caliber art.
Admission is free.
Tuesday – Sunday 10-5PM
Open holiday Mondays
231 Queens Quay West,
As one of the increasingly trendy neighborhoods, the Distillery District is quickly becoming a tourist draw. The Distillery District is a national Historic Site and since 2001 is a pedestrian only area dedicated to arts, culture and entertainment. Take a walk around and admire the historic buildings dating from the early 19th century and discover some of the city’s trendiest restaurants, galleries and theaters. The Distillery District is one of many of the neighborhoods taking on unique identities and features. Take some time to visit this and other up and coming areas to get a feel for how the city is changing and maybe discover some local treasures.
Located east of Parliament St. between Front St. E and the Gardiner Expressway
Toronto is one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world, half of the city’s population was born outside of Canada. Cultural diversity translates to culinary diversity. One of my favorites is Ethiopian food, characterized by thick stews of vegetables and/or meat eaten with injera, a sourdough flatbread. Ethiopian food is only one of many options; you can also try Tibetan, Greek, Filipino, Persian, Brazilian, and more. For amazing dim sum head north to Markham and Richmond Hill, it’s worth the drive.
Toronto is a hub of hockey. While going to a Toronto Maple Leafs game is ideal for a sports fan, it is also very expensive. The NHL isn’t the only professional hockey league in town. Tickets for the Peterborough Petes (OHL), St. Mikes Majors (OHL), Toronto Marlies (AHL) are more affordable and you are still guaranteed high quality players and games.
The city's cultural diversity extends to sports, if you like a sport there is likely a team or league in he area. Other major league teams include Toronto Raptors (NBA), Toronto Blue Jays (MLB) and Toronto Argonauts (CFL) all more affordable than NHL tickets. The city also has professional teams in lacrosse (Toronto Rock) and major league soccer (Toronto FC).
There is a lot of green space in Toronto, walking by or through a park is a daily activity. Neighborhood parks are convenient and can be lovely but some fantastic city gardens make travelling for a walk in the park worthwhile. Take a drive to Edwards Gardens and stroll on well maintained paths through beautifully manicured gardens. Enjoy a day at the beach or on the water at Toronto Island Park, a great retreat from city life. Explore Riverdale Farm, a recreation of an Ontario farm from the turn of the 20th century. Explore period buildings, animals, gardens and ponds and stay for the farmer’s market, events and festivals.
If you have spent a winter in Toronto you know that outdoor activities don’t stop when frigid weather arrives. Check local community centers and organizations for outdoor skating rinks and make sure to have a sled ready for the first snow.
Lawrence Ave. E and Leslie St.
201 Winchester St.