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Canada's most heavily populated city, Toronto is vibrant, cosmopolitan and home to more than 80 ethnic groups. The city boasts soaring skyscrapers, gorgeous architecture, museums, art galleries, fine restaurants, large shopping complexes and striking natural beauty.
Situated on the north shore of Lake Ontario, Toronto has distinctive neighbourhoods, where immigrants from across the globe have helped shape what it means to be Canadian. The city's most prominent feature is the CN Tower, one of the world's tallest free-standing structures with design elements giving visitors unparalleled city views. Chief among them are glass-fronted elevators and a revolving restaurant near the top. Toronto also boasts the Rogers Centre, a multi-purpose entertainment complex with a retractable roof, and a claim to being the world's greatest entertainment centre.
The city gets bitterly cold during winter so travellers should visit over the mid-year period if avoiding chillier weather is a priority. But come rain or shine, travellers to Toronto seldom leave disappointed.
Casa Loma is the only full-sized castle in North America. Formerly the home of Canadian financier, Sir Henry Pellatt, the massive structure is a wonderland of secret passageways and elaborately decorated rooms. Pallet used his immense personal fortune to build the chateau, though financial troubles meant he could not sustain it. Today, the City of Toronto owns the castle and welcomes a daily influx of guests. Visitors enjoy touring the authentically furnished rooms and splendid gardens, and drinking in the stunning views of Toronto from one of the castle's towers.
Standing 1,815ft (553m) high, Toronto's CN Tower was the world's tallest building until 2007. Today, it remains a renowned architectural masterpiece and is arguably Canada's most iconic landmark. One of the tower's top attractions is the award-winning revolving 360 Restaurant, which offers guests breathtaking panoramic views of the city, as well as delectable dishes created with the finest Canadian ingredients. Another drawcard is EdgeWalk. At 1,168ft (356m) above ground, it is the world's highest hands-free external walk and a must for thrill seekers.
The Royal Ontario Museum treats visitors to displays of art, culture and nature from around the globe and across the ages. It ranks as one of North America's premier cultural institutions, and is Canada's largest and most comprehensive museum. Its 40 galleries and exhibition spaces house 13 million artworks, cultural objects and natural history specimens, including dinosaurs, galleries of Chinese art, a bat cave, a gem and gold room, exhibits on Ancient Egypt and Nubia, and the Samuel European Galleries. Visitors will not be disappointed.
The Toronto Zoo is one of the largest zoos in the world and has a big focus on conservation, with more than six miles (10km) of walking trails spread over 700 acres. More 5,000 animals and over 450 species call it home. Visitors will enjoy touring the zoo's seven geographic regions and encountering animals that are native to them. Favourites include hippos, lemurs, otters, gorillas, bears, Giant Pandas, snow leopards, lions, penguins and cheetahs. Award-winning exhibits await the entire family, as do many seasonal activities. The zoo's interactive wildlife experience is especially popular with kids.
The Distillery Historic District is a much-loved centre for arts, culture, food and entertainment in Toronto. Said to contain the finest collection of Victorian-era industrial architecture in North America, it is indeed a worthy national historic site, and certainly worth a visit.
The district had its beginnings in 1832 and eventually became the largest distillery in the British Empire. It assumed its current role as an arts and culture centre during the 1990s, doubling as one of Canada's most popular film locations. As of 2003, it has been a pedestrian-only village dedicated to the arts. Anyone visiting Toronto should explore the district's many art galleries, artisan boutiques and restaurants, and make sure they book tickets for one of the many festivals and special events held here.
The Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto Canada (MOCA) aims to exhibit, research, collect and promote innovative art by Canadian and international artists whose works tackle the most relevant issues of our times. Formerly the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, the institution has been praised for its incisive, artist-centric approach to its programmes, and its friendly visitor experience. The MOCA is very much a hub for creative exchange and is definitely worth a visit.
Housed in an award-winning piece of architecture, the Gardiner Museum of Ceramics showcases a craft that has existed for centuries. With earthenware of all different shapes and sizes from the ancient Americas, China, Japan, the Italian Renaissance and more, a tour through the museum will shape visitors' understanding of the ceramic process and its place in world history. The museum hosts classes for both kids and adults, and the accompanying Clay restaurant provides the finest of seasonal produce to complete a busy day browsing the museum.
Kensington Market embodies Toronto's multicultural society. Since the 1960s, immigrants from Eastern Europe, China and the Caribbean have injected their customs into the market, creating an area that is a model of open-mindedness. Today, this national historic site remains one of Toronto's oldest, most diverse and liveliest neighbourhoods, containing an eclectic mix of cafes, restaurants, vintage stores, bars and speciality food shops where nobody is really foreign.
The Harbourfront Centre remains at the heart of what's current and creative in Toronto. The innovative non-profit cultural organisation has been around for more than 40 years, and specialises in creating events and activities that charm and entertain a diverse public. Locals gather at the centre's distinctive waterfront venues for some weekend gallery hopping, biking and concerts. Visitors also enjoy strolling along the promenade, indulging in theatrical performances and browsing craft boutiques, or they head to Queen's Quay Centre for some superb retail therapy. Year-round features at this urban playground include film, dance, theatre, music, kids shows and marine events.
Avid ice hockey fans should make a point of it to visit Toronto's Hockey Hall of Fame. Within this shrine to Canada's favourite pastime, visitors can learn about the history of the game through memorabilia from every era, hockey artefacts from around the world, themed exhibits, multimedia stations and images of great moments in hockey history. Iconic players' gear, skates and sticks are also on display. Visitors usually relish having hands-on access to the Stanley Cup, and trying out state-of-the-art games that challenge shooting and goalkeeping skills.
Boasting more than 200 attractions, including Splash Works and a huge variety of roller coasters, Canada's Wonderland is deservedly the country's favourite theme park. Its inviting array of rides includes carousels, train rides and the Time Warp â€' Canada's only flying roller coaster. The park also has lots of shopping and dining options. The sheer variety of rides and amusements here ensure that everyone will have a good time regardless of age, making it a must for the entire family.
Besides being Toronto's largest public park, High Park is also one of the city's most important natural areas. Visitors will encounter woodland, wetlands, a beautiful lakefront, prairie habitats and a preserved slice of the black-oak savanna ecosystem that once covered most of southern Ontario. It all makes for an idyllic setting in which to enjoy the park's playgrounds, zoo, dog park, hiking trails, greenhouses, picnic areas, eateries and sporting facilities. Parking is convenient and public-transport access is easy. All said, High Park makes for a fun family day out.
Toronto has loads of places for kids to play and even learn new things, ensuring they'll be stimulated for days on end.
Canada's Wonderland is the country's premier theme park, with families relishing the mix of rides and entertainment. Travellers looking for kid-friendly ways to enjoy the outdoors should head out to High Park and Centre Island's Centreville Amusement Park.
Parents can add a touch of learning to family holidays in Toronto by visiting the Toronto Zoo, the Jungle Cat World Wildlife Park or the Ontario Science Centre. Children might also have fun when climbing the CN Tower, with views from one of the tallest buildings in the world sure to be a thrilling experience.
Lake Ontario takes some of the edge off Toronto's humid continental climate. Summer (June to August) tends to be hot and very humid, while winter (December to February) is severe with heavy snowfall. The average maximum temperature in January is 28°F (-2°C), while the average maximum temperature in July is 80°F (27°C). Rainfall tends to occur throughout the year, but summer, though the sunniest season, is also usually the wettest. Autumn is perhaps the best time to travel to Toronto, as temperatures are less extreme than in summer or winter, with mild days and cool nights.
Toronto's restaurant scene is extremely diverse and diners can expect a bevy of culinary adventures. As a starting point, travellers should remember that certain cuisines cluster in distinct areas.
College Street, better known as Little Italy, is naturally home to the city's best Italian restaurants and trattoria. Danforth serves up Greek food, while authentic Chinese establishments are abundant in Chinatown. Visitors should also check out King Street West for excellent Indian, Japanese and sushi eateries.
Otherwise, Lai Wah Heen, Bangkok Garden, 360 and Canoe are among the titans of Toronto's restaurant scene and definitely worth visiting. Tips of 15 to 20 percent are expected for good service.
Located within the sophisticated setting of the Metropolitan Hotel, Lai Wah Heen is renowned for turning the finest local produce into authentic dishes from different regions of China. The large menu offers some of the best dim sum in the city, as well as other intriguing options. Service is attentive and the food is elegantly served. The restaurant opens daily for lunch and dinner.
Senses Cafe is the perfect place to launch a bright day in Toronto. Fresh-brewed artisanal coffee, decadent treats, seasonal fruit and guilt-free comfort food are all on offer to feed the body and nourish the soul. Patrons enjoy themselves before emerging into a city full of possibilities.
For those wishing to sleep in, the cafe does made-to-order brunch favourites on weekends, and a selection of chef-curated lunches on weekdays.
Named after Toronto's latitude, North 44 has been one of the city's most genteel eating places for many years and is an experience in pampering. The artistic interior bathes diners in a warm glow, the food is superb and the service flawless. The seasonal menu is influenced by Mediterranean, American and Asian flavours and might include pepper and sesame crusted tuna, lamb shank or stuffed quail, as well as a few exciting pastas and pizzas. Desserts such as the lemon meringue mille-feuille are the best in town. Reservations essential. Closed Sunday. Dinner only.
For foodies visiting Toronto, 360 Restaurant is a definite bucket-list item. Located in one of the world's tallest free-standing structures, the CN Tower, it offers patrons breath-taking, revolving views of the city, and dishes created with the finest Canadian produce. Daily lunch service runs from 11am-3.15pm. Dinner is from 3.30pm-10.15pm. Visitors should also note that the summer menu starts in May, while the winter menu begins in November.
Established over 30 years ago, Bangkok Garden is noted for introducing Thai cuisine and culture to Toronto. The Thai Consulate has since awarded the restaurant the Thai Select Premium designation, recognising the authenticity of its food and the tremendous quality of its service. Bangkok Garden is open Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner, while Saturdays and Sundays are dinner only.
Widely considered one of the country's best restaurants, Canoe is renowned for crafting dishes that reflect Canada's diverse landscape and heritage. House chefs use only the finest produce from around the country, sourced through their close relationships with domestic farmers and suppliers. Canoe is open for lunch and dinner from Monday to Friday, while Saturdays and Sundays are for private events.
Toronto Pride is one of the largest gay and lesbian celebrations in the world. It attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each June who participate in the festival's variety of events. Every year, a different theme sets the tone for the activities and events on the programme, culminating in the massive Pride Parade and the Dyke March.
Elevating photography beyond the simple snapshot, the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival is a premier cultural experience in Canada. It highlights the enduring significance of photography in modern life, and celebrates talent and innovation in the art form. CONTACT now features more than 1,500 photographers and artists at more than 200 venues across Toronto. The festival attracts crowds of nearly two million people, making it the largest photography event in the world. Some of the exhibitions are public installations which decorate outdoor and urban spaces wonderfully.
No self-respecting Canadian city can go without hosting an annual jazz festival, and Toronto offers one of the best on the continent. The 10-day TD Toronto Jazz Festival attracts jazz celebrities from all over the world, and now draws more than 500,000 fans each year. While around 1,500 musicians feature in the festival at 40 locations in the city, the main hub of the jazz festival is Nathan Phillips Square in the heart of downtown Toronto. The venue is a good source of information on what's showing and who's playing.
Toronto Taste is a celebration of exquisite cuisine, fine wines and stunning waterfront scenery. The annual fundraising event brings together more than 70 top chefs and 30 of Ontario's premier vintners and beverage companies, and is the biggest fundraising event supporting Canada's largest food-rescue charity, Second Harvest. The charity collects perishable food that would otherwise go to waste and redistributes it to community organisations that feed hungry people in Toronto. The festival has raised funds for as many as 1.9 million meals, making Toronto Taste not only a memorable celebration of cuisine, but also a major contributor to a worthy cause.
The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is perhaps the largest of its kind that is open to the general public. Unlike Sundance and Cannes, which screen a number of independent features and world-cinema projects, Toronto's famous film festival has a glamorous Hollywood sheen to it. Many filmmakers and studio bosses consider it to be a successful launching platform for the crazy awards season that eventually climaxes with the Academy Awards in February. TIFF screens nearly 400 films at various venues in downtown Toronto, attracting audiences amounting to more than 480,000 people, with only around 5,000 of them industry professionals.
The Fringe Festival continues to be Toronto's liveliest grassroots-theatre experience. Throughout the city, thousands of artists perform comedy, cabaret, music, poetry, drama and classics to their adoring crowds. What sets the Toronto Fringe Festival apart is that judges do not select its list of plays. Instead, a lottery process determines participation, giving all entrants an equal chance to perform. This ensures a huge variety of productions and a festival that consistently leads to the discovery of fresh artists and plays.
From swanky clubs to cosy bars, the nightlife in Toronto has something for everyone. Visitors can expect an action-packed cosmopolitan vibe in this big and energetic city. Little Italy has a number of trattorias that double as bars, while Greektown has its own flair and party atmosphere. Broadly speaking, bars and pubs close around 2am, while dance clubs stay open till dawn. Late-night buses pick up afterhours commuters when the subway shuts down.
Clubs come and go fairly quickly in Toronto, so visitors should check out local nightlife guides for the hottest spots. The legal drinking age in Ontario is 19 and is strictly enforced at most venues. Dress codes tend to be relaxed, but many will refuse entry for people wearing jeans or trainers.
Toronto is undoubtedly Canada's shopping capital, offering top international labels and enterprising local brands. Its most famous mall is the Eaton Centre, which brims with brand stores, restaurants and entertainment all under one roof.
But visitors are far better off seeking out local stores that are unique to the city. Lovers of haute couture should try Canadian labels such as Ross Mayer and Linda Lundstrom. St Lawrence Market has an amazing array of local arts and crafts, and excellent food. Kensington Market is the place to go for vintage clothing and other eccentric paraphernalia, while the Heritage Antique Market has an amazing selection of retro items.
Queen West, which has the best that young and trendy Toronto has to offer, is an essential stroll for serious shoppers. Bathurst Street has small, independent art galleries, where discerning buyers can pick up a souvenir or two, while Yorkville, along Bloor Street, is the city's most exclusive retail district and is home to boutiques and jewellers from Milan, Paris and London.
For travellers on the hunt for mementos, the obvious choices are some good Toronto maple syrup or gifts emblazoned with Mounties or maple leafs. Alternative choices would be Native American art, dream catchers or moccasins.
Public transport in Toronto is fast, safe and reliable. Known as the Toronto Transit Commission, it consists of an integrated system of subways, buses and streetcars that reach every part of the city. The subway has four lines and is easy to use, and there are bus and streetcar stations next to every major stop that take over where the subway leaves off.
Fares are standard and a single fare will take commuters anywhere on a single trip. Commuters can use tokens to avoid the hassle of having to pay with exact change but can also use PRESTO cards with preloaded money. To freely change from one form of transport to another, commuters should get a transfer slip when paying for the fare.
The subway runs from 6am-2.00am, while buses and streetcars operate from about 6am-12.30am. Both start at 8am on Sundays. The Blue Night Network services main street routes after 1.30am. Taxis are always available and ferries travel to the Toronto Islands. Driving a hired car is not recommended due to traffic congestion and expensive parking.
Toronto guarantees something for every kind of sightseer, boasting striking natural scenery, charming neighbourhoods and even one of the world's tallest buildings. It has a range of fantastic museums, including the Royal Ontario Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Canadian Air and Space Museum, the Ontario Science Centre and the Hockey Hall of Fame. There are also numerous art galleries, such as the OCAD Professional Gallery, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art.
Visitors can go for a stroll in the city's many distinct neighbourhoods, such as Toronto's huge Chinatown, which is home to the city's 350,000 Chinese-Canadian residents. There's also Little Italy, the lively Art and Design District, and Leslieville, with its antique and vintage shops. The funky Queen West has boutiques, art galleries and restaurants, while the harbour and Toronto Islands are perfect places to relax without having to travel far from the city.
Travellers can save money on many of Toronto's attractions by buying a Toronto CityPass online. It provides discounted tickets to places such as the Ontario Science Centre, the CN Tower and the Toronto Zoo.
Straddling the Canadian-United States border between Ontario and New York, the awesome Niagara Falls attracts millions of tourists every year. The visit makes for a spectacular day trip from Toronto with plenty of action and activities on the Niagara Peninsula. Apart from marvelling at one of the tallest waterfalls in the world, perhaps from a spray-filled boat tour or from a magnificent perch along the cliffs, visitors can enjoy wine tasting, spectacular helicopter flips above the thundering falls, and even skydiving.
The Toronto Islands are only a short ferry ride from the mainland, and provide a peaceful green refuge from the hubbub of the city. Visitors can enjoy a world of tree-filled picnic spots, pedestrian streets, quaint old cottages and beachfront attractions. Paths, bridges and boardwalks connect Toronto Island's three major islands: Centre, Ward's and Algonquin. Short walks or bike rides separate visitors from four sandy beaches named Centre Island Beach, Gibraltar Point Beach, Hanlan's Point Beach and Ward's Island Beach. Centre Island is usually a hit with kids, who relish its huge picnic areas, bike paths and maze. It even has an amusement park, a petting zoo and picturesque swan boats for younger children.
Jungle Cat World Wildlife Park is one of Ontario's most popular tourist attractions. Just 45 minutes east of Toronto, the park is home to a diverse collection of mammals, such as wolves, skunks, lemurs and chimpanzees. That said, its collection of big cats is what makes the park truly special. When it opened in 1985, the park's purpose was primarily recreational. These days, it has taken on a more pronounced environmental-education role. Its chief enterprises include housing rare and endangered cats, and running a variety of fun, kid-friendly programmes. The goal is to educate visitors about the dire need to protect snow leopards, Siberian tigers and the other magnificent animals that sanctuary here.
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