By Jim Ferri
You’ll find many of the best places to see in Toronto scattered all over the city. Visit these places and you’ll see why the local population has such great pride in their city.
Toronto is an exuberant place with an enthusiastic following not only among Torontonians but also among numerous travelers, many of whom are drawn by its ethnicity. Although its population is larger than Chicago’s, half of its residents were born in another country, something readily apparent in its numerous ethnic restaurants, festivals and markets such as the popular St. Lawrence Market. According to the United Nations, it is one of the most one of the most multicultural cities on earth.
The fifth largest city in North America, Toronto is Canada’s financial capital. It’s also its cultural capital – it is the third most significant English-speaking theatre center in the world, after New York and London; it hosts a film festival that nears the prestige of Cannes; the city supports more than 50 dance companies; and it is a center of the North American television and film industry.
It’s also safe and clean. In fact, it was once described by former resident and Academy Award-winning actor, director and writer Sir Peter Ustinov as “like New York, but governed by the Swiss.”
If you’re heading to Toronto for the first time, or are returning for another visit, below you’ll find the city’s most popular attractions, each certain to enhance your enjoyment of this wonderful Canadian city.
The 100-year old ROM, as it’s known to Torontonians, is a massive museum of world culture and natural history, one of the largest in North America. Canada’s largest museum, it is home to more than 6 million artifacts as diverse as Chinese funerary objects, Egyptian mummies, dinosaurs and totem poles, even a living beehive. It’s one of the best places in Toronto to while away a half-day.
Popular exhibits include the Dinosaur Gallery, Canada’s First People’s exhibit, rare Art Deco furniture and other pieces, the Arms and Armor exhibit and one of the best exhibits of Greek sculpture in North America, with some pieces dating to circa 325BC.
100 Queen’s Park
Yorkville, Toronto, ON, M5S 2C6
Tel: (416) 586–8000
If the 58-second elevator ride up this 1815+ feet engineering marvel doesn’t take your breath away, the view over the city and its islands at the top certainly will. This popular Toronto attraction was built by the Canadian National Railway, it is the second-tallest freestanding structure in the world and on a clear day you can see the U.S.-Canada border from its observation platform.
It’s one of those things you just have to do, despite the wait for the elevators being quite long at times. And when you finally get to the top you can take a walk on the glass floor and look down almost 1/3 mile, or take a walk on EdgeWalk, a hands-free walk on a five-foot wide ledge that allow you to encircle the tower while attached to an overhead safety rail by a harness 116 stories above the ground. Obviously, it’s not for the faint-hearted.
301 Front St W
Tel: (416) 868-6937
A Popular Place in the City Visited by Few Out-of-Towners: Toronto Islands
These wonderful car-free islands are easily accessible by ferry from downtown Toronto. A welcome respite on hot summer days, some of the islands are reachable by bridges, others only by boat. On Centre Island, the popular main island, you’ll find Centreville, a small amusement park, which has among its other rides a late- 19th-century carousel. Many people just like to take the ferry over for a picnic or to stroll about for a few hours.
The Toronto Islands Ferry Terminal is at the foot of Bay St, off Queens Quay.
With a glass and titanium façade designed by native son Frank Gehry, and Henry Moore’s large Two Forms sculpture near the entrance on the exterior, the AGO charms from the exterior as well as the interior. Inside you’ll discover major works by a number of well-known Canadian artists as well as by such greats as Rembrandt, Renoir, de Kooning, Van Dyck, Picasso, Degas, Matisse, and numerous others. The Gallery’s permanent collection includes rare Québecois religious statuary, First Nations and Inuit carvings, and a Henry Moore sculpture pavilion.
317 Dundas St West
Toronto, ON M5T 1G4, Canada
Tel: (416) 979-6648
Casa Loma, a European-style castle with castellations, turrets, chimneys, and balconies, is something you don’t expect to find in Toronto. It is as spectacular inside as it is on the outside with many of its rooms copies of those in English, Scottish, Spanish and Austrian castles. It was completed in 1914 for Sir Henry Pellatt, a soldier and financier who spent a fortune on its construction, only to lose it to the tax collector a decade later. You’ll wander about the 98-room mansion in awe, viewing its giant pipe organ, the majestic Great Hall, the beautiful bedrooms, the mahogany-and-marble stable reached by an underground passage and its five-acre gardens.
1 Austin Terrace
Toronto, ON M5R 1X8
Tel: (416) 923-1171
Set in downtown Toronto, the 12+ -acre Distillery District was once the home of the Gooderham and Worts distillery, in the mid-19th century the largest in the British Empire. Today the area’s Victorian industrial warehouses have been transformed into an area of boutiques, galleries, restaurants, artist’s studios and cafes, even a quite good local performing theater. Old cobblestone lanes that remain car-free link the 45 buildings in the area and in the warmer months the district is the center for live music, exhibitions and foodie events.
Ontario Place is a nearly 100-acre fun park built on three artificial islands on Lake Ontario on the west side of Toronto. Filled with family attractions including amusement rides, a large waterpark and concert stages, it has been a popular entertainment and cultural complex for more than 40 years. At the moment, however, much of the complex has been closed down – with the exception of the marina, two concert venues, and amphitheater and beach – as the Government of Ontario transforms it into “an innovative provincial landmark.”
955 Lake Shore Blvd W
Toronto, ON M6K 3B9
Shopper’s Heaven: the Eaton Centre
Boasting more than 300 stores and restaurants, the 3-million-square-foot Eaton Centre shopping mall is downtown Toronto’s largest shopping complex. It contains branches of most large North American retailers as well as local merchants. As might be expected, it’s a busy and popular place almost always filled with shoppers who find it a haven on cold winter days.
220 Yonge St.
Toronto, ON M5B 2H1
Tel: (416) 598-8560
Toronto’s Famous Shrine: the Hockey Hall of Fame
You don’t need to be a hockey fan to enjoy a visit to the shrine of Canada’s favorite sport, the Hockey Hall of Fame. Another popular Toronto attraction, the exhibit contains the largest collection of hockey memorabilia in the world including the original 1893 Stanley Cup, one of the most well-know trophies in any sport. You’ll also find, as expected, displays of goalie masks, skate collections, players’ jerseys and even a replica of the Montréal Canadiens’ locker room. There are video games as well, that let you test your skill against Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier and some of the other greats of the sport. Also notable is the building itself, a former 1885 Bank of Montréal branch covered with ornamental details.
30 Yonge St.
Toronto, ON, M5E 1XB
Tel: (416) 360–7765
While not quite as close to downtown as other sites – it’s located on the Canada-U.S. border, a two-hour drive from Toronto – Niagara Falls is a must-see attraction for many visitors to the city. There are several ways to see the falls from the Canadian side: above, behind and under the falls. If you have a few hours it’s easy, and well worth doing all three. You reach behind the falls through underground tunnels. To go under the falls board one of the Hornblower Niagara Cruises, a thrilling (and wet) experience. Nighttime provides a totally different experience as the falls are bathed in an array of pink, blue and green lights.