Whatever you call it—Toronna, Hogtown, the Big Smoke, TO, or the TDot—no one can deny that Toronto is a city of neighborhoods. These enclaves, influenced by diverse ethnicities, blend into each other, creating a geographical melting pot. From the lively Chinatown to the Latin-influenced Kensington Market, the TDot is more than the film town it's known to be every September. It is home to some of Canada’s best chefs, an explosive music scene, and abundant visual and performing arts. Although May to September is the best time to visit, there is plenty to do to warm up during the cold winters as well.
Toronto winters and summers are extreme. Fall and spring are much more comfortable, weather-wise. October and November are cool and crisp minus the snow; March and April are rainy. In early September, stars and star seekers touch down for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), so book well in advance!
Toronto Pearson International Airport is about 40 minutes from downtown by taxi; it’ll cost $50-60. Shuttle buses are around $25. The public transportation system, called the TTC, has a bus that takes you to the subway and then downtown. Have exact change of $3 for this bus, called the 92 Airport Express.
TTC trains, buses, and streetcars traverse the city. One-way fare is $3, and daily, weekly, or monthly passes can be bought in stations. Cash is also accepted, but make sure to have exact change. Taxis are readily available, and HAILO or Uber are the best apps to use to ensure a safe and reliable ride.
The Beaches Boardwalk offers a great place to walk or run, not to mention a great skyline view of the city. Walk south to the Ashbridges Bay from Coxwell and Queen, past the cluster of sailboats and beyond the Boardwalk to “the rocks,” where you’ll find this peaceful view. Make a day of it by packing a picnic, your bike, or a swimsuit to test out the Olympic-size swimming pool at the boardwalk’s center. Just north is the Burger’s Priest, known for its tasty hamburgers.
Toronto is renowned for the multicultural influences throughout its neighborhoods. With three Chinatowns, two versions of Little Italy, Korea Town, and a smattering of cuisines from Latin American in Kensington Market to Ethiopian on Queen West, you won’t be famished for choice. Canadian cuisine extends beyond poutine. Canoe is famous for haute Canadian cuisine with views to match. Bannock, at the Bay department store, is a runner-up. A new breed of chef is spurring innovation with restaurants like Black Hoof, Bar Isabel, and Chantecler. Markets come to life in every neighborhood on the weekends. The most famous is the historic St. Lawrence Market, flush with fresh produce and eating options, including the famous peameal bacon sandwich from Carousel Bakery.
The CN Tower has revived since the inception of Edgewalk, a thrilling walkway on the tower’s exterior and an incredible vantage point of the metropolis. The Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario offer fun and thought-provoking exhibitions and events on a regular basis. West Queen West, Ossington, and the Distillery District house clusters of small art galleries. The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts is home to performances by the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada. The symphony performs at the unusually-shaped Roy Thomson Hall. Toronto’s quirkier sights include the Bata Shoe Museum and the Canada Walk of Fame in the heart of Toronto’s theater district at King and Peter streets.
Though Toronto is most known for its film festival, TIFF, Hot Docs brings film buffs back to the Big Smoke every April. North by Northeast (NXNE), Canadian Music Week (CMW), and Jazz Fest keep music lovers entertained in the spring and summer. Neighborhood festivals like Kensington Market’s Pedestrian Sundays happen from May to October. In June, Toronto Pride Week celebrates the diversity of the gay community and is home to World Pride in 2014. The Canadian National Exhibition (known as the CNE or the Ex) is a fun way to count down the summer and has become known for quirky food creations like the infamous Cronut Burger. Art is celebrated year-round at the Contact Photography Festival in May, Nuit Blanche in October, and the Christmas Markets in December.
You can discover Toronto’s grittier side through its graffiti, most notably in Graffiti Alley just south of Queen West, though you’ll find glimpses of incredible street art scattered throughout the city. Canadian personality Rick Mercer (the equivalent of John Stewart) conducts his famous rants in Graffiti Alley for the Rick Mercer Report. Food enthusiasts will love regular events like the Toronto Underground Market (TUM), a chance for lesser-known chefs to sell their tasty goods at the Evergreen Brick Works. TUM’s biggest success is now the popular Mexican restaurant La Carnita, which throws a big birthday bash—complete with art battles and delicious eats—every July at the Brick Works.
Natalie Taylor is a freelance writer and blogger based in Toronto, where she covers food, lifestyle, design and travels in Canada and beyond. She has contributed to National Geographic Traveler, Travel and Leisure, Condé Nast Traveler, and the Globe and Mail. Follow her adventures on Instagram