Eclectic Toronto

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Eclectic Toronto
Toronto is home to authors, poets, architects, scientists, songwriters, hockey stars, Olympians, fashion designers, photographers, business mavericks, and even magicians. Each unique scene contributes to the city’s multilayered cultural mosaic.

With additional copy by Karolyne Ellacott
By Flash Parker, AFAR Ambassador
Photo by Nikhilesh Haval/age fotostock
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    Where to Find Culture in Toronto
    Toronto’s museums and galleries house some of the best in native, contemporary, ethnic, and foreign art. The Royal Ontario Museum’s natural history and world-culture collections are unparalleled (they really come to life after dark during Friday Night Live, where visitors can sip cocktails in the shadow of dinosaur skeletons). Come fall, the city's Nuit Blanche celebrates the talents of hundreds of artists from sunset to sunrise. The Luminato Festival is 10 days of creativity and international art. And the Aga Khan Museum sheds light on Muslim civilization through exhibitions, music, dance, and more.
    Photo by Nikhilesh Haval/age fotostock
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    Toronto's Best Ice Skating
    From late November through mid-March, Toronto’s public skating rinks are open, providing visitors with an exhilarating break from the everyday hustle. Skating under the lights and within view of the popular 3-D TORONTO sign at City Hall’s Nathan Phillips Square is a uniquely Toronto experience, as is heading to Wayne Gretzky’s restaurant for dinner afterwards. Shinny (or pickup) hockey takes over many rinks later in the evening; grab a stick and join a game at Harbourfront, Dufferin, or the Trinity Bellwoods rink. The skating trail at Evergreen Brick Works gives skaters a chance to admire the revitalized heritage buildings and design installations.
    Photo by Franz Marc Frei/age fotostock
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    Toronto's Indie-Music Darlings
    The city that spawned Billy Talent, Metric, and Tokyo Police Club has a loud and proud indie-music heritage. By law, at least 35 percent of the music played by radio stations must be Canadian, so new talent can be heard every day. For a look at the city’s sound scene, start your day in vinyl shops such as Grasshopper Records. The weekend Bluegrass Brunch turns the Dakota Tavern into a country-and-western venue, and the Mod Club in Little Italy showcases up-and-coming DJs in an energetic setting. In the summer, don't miss a show at the outdoor Molson Canadian Amphitheatre and check the performance schedule at Massey Hall, a favorite haunt of iconic players.
    Photo by Alan Marsh/age fotostock
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    The Great Urban Outdoors
    The bucolic green side of Ontario is never as far away as it seems. The province's network of trails stretches for hundreds of miles through beautiful forests and marshlands and alongside lakes and rivers. Nearby routes include the mile-long Betty Sutherland Trail, which follows the Don River; you can follow the stunning green spaces of the East Don River park system from North York all the way to Lake Ontario. In the city proper, the lakefront, which was recently revitalized, is popular among runners, walkers, and in-line skaters. While hardly rugged, the Allan Gardens Conservatory and the Edwards Gardens show off Toronto's green thumb nicely. For a peek at the range of the city's outdoor offerings, try a self-guided Discovery Walk and explore Toronto’s parks, gardens, ravines, and beaches.
    Photo by Tibor Bognar/age fotostock
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    Street Markets
    Occupying space on the Market Block since 1803, St. Lawrence Market runs a bustling Saturday farmers' market, and houses roughly 120 independent vendors and the Market Gallery exhibition space. Kensington Market is one of Toronto's most diverse neighborhoods as well as being home to a market. The district has ethnic-food shops and cafés, is the site of an annual Festival of Lights, and hosts Pedestrian Sundays during warmer months. For a different sort of going-to-market, the shops in Queen West offer vintage and designer clothes as well as high-design housewares.
    Photo Courtesy St. Lawrence Market
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    An Evening at the Arts
    In the Entertainment District, the beloved Royal Alexandra, built in 1907, is the oldest continuously operating theater in Canada; it has hosted performances from legends like the Marx Brothers, Martin Short, and Orson Welles. Also in the neighborhood you'll find Roy Thomson Hall, the home of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and Passe Muraille, an alternative space on whose site avant-garde-theater history was made with the collective creation The Farm Show in the 1970s. And don’t forget to check out the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre—the only double-decker theater still in use. Toronto’s theater scene is the third-largest in the English-speaking world, after London and New York.
    Photo by Andrew Rubtsov/age fotostock
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    Wet Your Whistle
    Toronto’s craft-beer scene is booming: The city, which was formerly the exclusive dominion of Molson and Labatt, is now home to about 20 independent breweries, like Mill Street, Bellwoods Brewery, Amsterdam Brewing Company, and Junction Craft Brewing. Burdock is a cool new brewpub in the Bloordale Village neighborhood. Bar Volo, Beerbistro, and the Indie Alehouse curate stout lineups, while celebrations like Cask Days (held in the historic Evergreen Brick Works building in October), the Old Toronto Beer Tour (Saturdays, through Corktown and the Distillery District), and Toronto Beer Week (at the end of July) bring suds to the masses.
    Photo by Flash Parker
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    Toronto's Architectural Legacy
    Design and architectural feats are a hallmark of Toronto, a city proud of its eclectic ethos. The 1927 Union Station, the main transport hub, is a stately example of Beaux-Arts style. Several successive expansions and renovations of the Art Gallery of Ontario have kept the changing face of architecture top of mind for visitors. The most recent overhaul, by Toronto-born architect Frank Gehry, features his signature titanium cladding on a new wing, a sinuous stairwell in the Walker Court, and a new face with the glass-and-wood Galleria Italia. The 98-room Gothic Revival Casa Loma contains fascinating elements like crenellated towers and hidden corridors.
    Photo by Flash Parker