Toronto has never been high on my list of must-see travel destinations, and my neutrality for it was a sentiment echoed by plenty. Christopher Hitchens said “Say ‘Toronto’ or ‘Ontario,’ and the immediate thought associations are with a somewhat blander version of North America.” Mike Myers said “Toronto’s a city that doesn’t even have a dish named after it.” Still, Toronto is a metropolitan growing at a ferocious rate with more than half of its residents being born outside of Canada. Though the city is not as grand as Montreal, there’s a dynamic personality that bubbles forth once you leave the Downtown area.
Old Town Tour with TourGuys: When it comes to walking tours, guides can vary from college-aged adults recalling memorized scripts to experts. I was surprised that this walking tour gave us a guide with a PHD in Forensic History and, on top of that, he was an expert at keeping people engaged for almost two hours. Trust me, as someone who has been on dozens and dozens of different walking tours, this is amongst the best.
You will not see many pretty sites on the Old Town tour, but the guide will open your eyes to Toronto’s torrent history of racism, disease, and even a few serial killers. What’s more, unlike with ghost stories, all of this is true.
Eat Healthy & International: Did you know that an estimated 52% of all Toronto residents come from outside of Canada? That means that they’re bringing their heritage, guaranteeing that you have authentic cuisine from all over the world at your fingertips. I highlight for my friend Kaitlin and I was Pai, a northern Thai restaurant that was THE best Thai food I ever had.
Vegetarians and health-conscientious individuals will find a plethora of options that deliciously cater to their specific diets. I have never seen so many gluten-free, vegan eateries in one place! We dined at Fresh and can highly recommend this place.
Kensington Avenue: This stretch of stores and restaurants are hip and edgy and should be a tourist attraction. And yet it isn’t. Here, you’ll find locals relaxing, smoking weed, dining, and shopping.
There’s a hippy vibe here that is unlike any other place I encountered, and the mix of graffiti and greenery will make for beautiful photos.
Second City: I love live comedy, and this energetic troupe is no exception. Almost every sketch is intelligent and, even if it isn’t your cup of tea, at least it’s quick. Unfortunately, the show ended with a particularly off-putting sketch where they tried to give the audience the heebie jeebies that there could be a terrorist attack that was about to happen in that very theater, similar to what happened in the Bataclan Theater in Paris or the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. It could have been because of my hatred of this sketch, but it also felt like it was the longest. It ended the show on what I considered to be a very sour note that left me angry and privately messaging the company via Facebook the next day. With Second City being a major attraction in a major international city, it’s only a matter of time before they perform that sketch for someone who has directly or indirectly been impacted by a terrorist attack.
Toronto Islands: This presents people watching at it’s finest, as well as arguably the best view of the city. A fifteen-minute ferry ride resides the islands. While a local recommended we visit Ward’s Island, we went to Center Island and didn’t find time to make it over.
Center Island has a kid-friendly amusement park, biking, fountains, grassy fields, and eateries. Away from the path and the crowds, there’s opportunity to swim.
For a unique dish, try the Beavertail. This dessert has a similar taste to a funnel cake and can be topped with a variety of sweet goodness; I chose chocolate and bananas while my friend Kaitlin opted for a topping similar to apple-pie filling.
Practical tip: Buy tickets for the ferry in advance like we did, or else you might find yourself wasting precious time waiting in a line that looked long enough to test the sanity of even the strongest.
Daytrip to Niagara: Niagara Falls is beautiful, epic, and a tourist trap. It would make for a great day trip from Toronto, as long as visitors are savvy about not spending too much money on the bells and whistles thrown their way. For example, a trip on the Hornblower is fantastic, but every other attraction designed to help you see or experience the falls is a rip-off.
To learn more, check out my blog post about things to do in Niagara Falls and things to avoid.
Things in Toronto I’d Recommend Skipping
Toronto Greyhound Terminal: While our bus left only a few minutes late, the rudeness of the staff is unforgiveable, as is the amount of chaos they unnecessarily created. One person would tell people to get onto one line, another would then direct that same group to another line. In reality, both staffers I’m referring to were unapologetically directing a large group of people towards the wrong bus. If I hadn’t consulted with a third employee after the first two were contradicting one another, my friend and I would have been waiting at the back of the wrong line (that we gruffly were sent to) by the time the right bus pulled away without us. Greyhound should have better signage, better employee training and, most importantly, shame.
The CN Tower: This really should come as no surprise, but it’s worth noting anyways. When we arrived, we were told that after we buy our tickets, there would be an hour and a half wait ride up in the elevator. No one, as in no one, should have to endure that sort of torture, let alone be charged for it.
Casa Loma: The experience at Casa Loma was, for the most part, okay. However, anyone who has been to Europe will find this place a bit underwhelming. The rooms and gardens are ‘pretty,’ but nothing about the excursion here was memorable. If you are dying to check out North America’s only castle, don’t let my less-than-flattering review deter you. However, if you’re on the fence, skip this bland attraction.