Known to Canadians both affectionately and not so affectionately as the Center of the Universe, Toronto is both the biggest city in Canada and the country’s unofficial cultural capital. It’s also a true world city and one of the most cosmopolitan places on earth, thanks partly to generations of immigration to the city.
This has given Toronto an incredible food scene and a culture all of its own. But if you want to see a more hidden side of the city, you’ll have to do some digging. Away from the well-known tourist attractions like the CN Tower and the Royal Ontario Museum, the real heart of Toronto lies waiting to be discovered.
Drop off your bags at a Toronto luggage locker, and you’ll be ready to enjoy everything it has to offer. These tips can help you see the city like a local and get a deeper understanding of exactly what it is that makes Toronto one-of-a-kind.
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Soak up the culture at Kensington Market
Toronto is very much a city of neighborhoods. And while some, like the Financial District or Chinatown, are more famous than others, Kensington Market is definitely one of the coolest. This historic market neighborhood is a great place to spend an afternoon browsing the vintage stores and independent boutiques, listening to buskers, and noshing on international cuisine from the many eateries that line the streets.
Kensington Market is also a great place to people-watch. It’s one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the city, and you’ll see everything from hipsters to hippies to families out enjoying a sunny day. And if you want to get a real taste of Toronto culture, make sure to stop by during one of the many festivals and events that are held here throughout the year.
Enjoy a drink at The Rooftop Terrace at the Broadview Hotel
The Broadview Hotel is one of Toronto’s most iconic landmarks. The historic building, which was once a department store, has been transformed into a luxury hotel, complete with a rooftop bar that offers some of the best views in the city.
If you want to enjoy a drink with a view, The Rooftop Terrace is definitely the place to be. Sip on a cocktail while taking in panoramic views of the city skyline, Lake Ontario, and the CN Tower. And if you get hungry, the bar also serves up small plates like charcuterie boards and flatbreads.
Admire street art at Graffiti Alley
Toronto is filled with incredible street art, and Graffiti Alley is the best place to see it. This narrow laneway, which is located just south of Queen Street West, is covered top-to-bottom in colorful murals and graffiti.
Wander down the alley and admire the artwork, which changes on a regular basis. And if you’re feeling inspired, you can even add your own tag to the wall. Just be sure to bring some spray paint!
See up-and-coming comedy stars at Second City
Second City is the world-famous comedy theater that has launched the careers of some of the biggest names in comedy, including Tina Fey, Mike Myers, and Martin Short.
If you’re looking for a laugh, Second City is definitely the place to be. The theater offers shows nightly, featuring some of Toronto’s best up-and-coming comedy stars. And if you’re feeling brave, you can even try your hand at stand-up during one of the theater’s open mic nights. Be warned, though, that Toronto audiences know their comedy and may not be particularly merciful if you bomb. Even the famed Canadian politeness only goes so far.
Take the ferry to the Toronto Islands
The Toronto Islands are a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Just a short ferry ride from downtown, the islands offer stunning views of the skyline, as well as a chance to relax on the beach or hike through forests.
The islands are also home to several attractions, including an amusement park, a petting zoo, and an outdoor theater. And if you’re looking for something to eat, there are plenty of picnic spots and cafes to choose from. Just be sure to bring your sunscreen!
See a Maple Leafs hockey game
There are few more typically Canadian things you can do than watch a hockey game, and the Toronto Maple Leafs, the city’s National Hockey League franchise, is known for having some of the most passionate fans in North America. If you can get tickets to a home game, it’s definitely an experience you won’t want to miss.
Even if you’re not a huge hockey fan, the atmosphere at a Maple Leafs game is electric, and it’s sure to be a fun night out. Just be warned that the team hasn’t won a Stanley Cup championship in over 50 years, so don’t expect too much from them.
Explore Toronto’s LGBTQ2+ scene
Toronto is known for being one of the most LGBTQ2+ friendly cities in the world, and there’s no better place to explore its vibrant queer scene than Church Street. This lively street is lined with bars, clubs, and restaurants that cater to the LGBTQ2+ community.
No matter what time of day or night it is, there’s always something happening on Church Street. Whether you’re looking to dance the night away at a club or simply enjoy a drink with friends, you’ll feel right at home on this inclusive street.
As the biggest city in Canada, Toronto is the gateway to this vast country for many visitors. But Toronto isn’t really like anywhere else in Canada – or anywhere else in the world. The multicultural vibe of this Canadian city has given it a culture all of its own.
Check out some of these activities, and you’ll be seeing the city like a local. Before you know it, chances are you’ll be planning your next trip to this legendary Canadian city.