GSN recently joined thousands of others for the annual Pride Toronto parade – joining the likes of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and RuPaul at Canada’s biggest Pride event. To say it was one of the best Pride festivals we’ve attended (and we’ve been to many), would be an understatement
Pride month is definitely one of the best times to visit, but the Ontario city is a magnet for travellers at all times of the year. It pulls in around 240,000 visitors annually from the UK, and 2.5million from the US.
Toronto, on the banks of Lake Ontario, is the fourth most populous city in North America – after Mexico City, Los Angeles and New York City – so there’s no lack of things to do.
Below is just a handful of suggestions for beginners…
1. Scale the CN Tower
Towering over the city skyline, the CN Tower, built in 1973, is Toronto’s most famous landmark.
Obviously, it offers the most stunning viewpoint from which to see the entire city. Tickets cost from CAN$33 for adults online. Arrive early in the day or go on a weekday if you want to avoid long queues.
The more adventurous can splash out CAN$199 to take part in a hands-free roof-edge walk around the Tower’s main pod. The gift shop sells better-than-average tourist merchandise.
2. Absorb new and old Canadian culture at the ROM
The ROM is the Royal Ontario Museum; one of the finest exhibition spaces in Canada. The original building has been updated with the addition of a controversial, modern extension by Daniel Libeskind that prompts a love/hate reaction among locals.
Inside, you’ll find natural history and a rotating line-up of exhibitions. During my visit, it played host to awe-inspiring glass sculptures from Dale Chihuly and an exploration on the evolution of tattoos.
3. Upmarket dining at One Eighty at The 51st Floor
Offering another of the very best views of the city is the One Eighty restaurant. It’s within a shopping mall at 55 Bloor Street West. http://www.the51stfloor.com. Not only is it a stylish restaurant in its own right, but it offers a spectacular, 51st floor view over the city.
Check it out for weekend brunch between noon and 4pm – we recommended the buttermilk fried chicken and waffles or brioche French toast with Nutella, mascarpone and caramelized bananas.
4. Hot dogs and baseball at Rogers Centre
For a uniquely Toronto experience, consider checking out the Rogers Centre. This huge, awe-inspiring stadium plays host to music concerts but is best known as the home of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team and Toronto Argonauts Football team.
The Blue Jays host all the big US baseball teams, and tickets for the games are surprisingly affordable. Games take place under open air or the retractable roof, depending on the weather.
5. Let it all hang out at Toronto Island
Toronto Island lies within Lake Ontario, not far from the Toronto city shoreline. It’s actually a small chain of islands connected by footbridges. Regular ferry services run daily, and the Islands offers beaches, walks, the Centreville Amusement park and Franklin Gardens.
The car-free islands provide the perfect summer escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Both Hanlan’s Point and Ward’s Island Beach offer good quality beaches and, if you like to let it all hang out, Hanlan’s is clothing optional.
6. See rainbows in Church and Wellesley
The area around Church Street and Wellesley Street West is Toronto’s gay village. It’s difficult to miss: not only do the street signs have rainbows on them, but the borders of the neighborhood are marked by rainbow crossings.
You’ll find a selection restaurants, cafes, bars and bathhouses. Names to look out for include Woody’s, Zippers, Crew & Tangos, O’Grady’s, Fly 2.0 and the Black Eagle. Do also: Enjoy community-oriented events at the 519 center; and pause for moment’s reflection in George Hislop Park, dedicated to one of the city’s most influential gay activists and businessmen.
7. Discover Glad Day Bookshop
Glad Day Bookshop is the oldest surviving gay bookshop in the world. Not only does it sells books and magazine, but also a kooky collection of gifts and nik-naks. It’s currently still at the top of a rickety staircase at 598a Yonge Street, but a move to bigger premises on Church and Wellesley – a couple of blocks away – is due in the next few months.
8. Beer at Beaver
Away from the gay village, this small, long-running gay bar and café is located on 1192 Queen Street West.
Toronto Star have dubbed former art gallery Beaver ‘an alt-culture oasis’. It’s the perfect rest-stop for those browsing the boutiques and independent businesses that make-up the Parkdale neighborhood (such as Glory Hole Doughnuts!)
The team are strong on supporting the wider LGBTI community; witness the touching gesture of support they created for Pulse in Orlando, with a decorated concrete planter out front and appeals for donations inside.
9. Hang out at The Drake
The Drake is one of Toronto’s hipper hotels, but you don’t have to be a guest to take advantage of some of its amenities.
It boasts three stylish restaurant spaces – the Lounge, rooftop Sky Yard, corner Café – open for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. Vegans and vegetarians will also be pleased to see their tastes are well catered for among the menus.
It’s situated on Queen Street West, a couple of blocks from Beaver and amid many independent boutiques.
10. Wine and dine at Wish
Wish is a sweet, small and very gay-friendly restaurant on the edge of Church and Wallesley (3 Charles Street East).
With its driftwood tables, vintage pastel shutters and light and airy feel, Wish brings a touch of South Miami to Yorkville … even if the weather doesn’t always match. I enjoyed a breezy supper on the small front patio. The brunch, lunch and dinner menus offer plenty of seafood, burgers and steak.
11. Sail through the mist at Niagara Falls
I didn’t, unfortunately, have time to squeeze in a trip to Niagara, but it would be amiss not to mention it given it’s one of the busiest tourist destinations for anyone visiting Toronto. There are a range of tour operators that run coach journeys – All About Toronto and Great Adventure Tours being just two. It’s a two hour drive from the city. Check SeeTorontoNow.com for more advice.
Where to stay
Located in the fashionable and exclusive neighborhood of Yorkville, the Intercontinental Toronto Yorkville is directly opposite the Royal Ontario Museum and just a 15-minute walk from the gay district of Church and Wellesley. It has 208 rooms, a gym and pool, with rates starting from £150.
InterContinental Toronto Yorkville, 220 Bloor St W, Toronto ON M5S 1T8. http://ift.tt/1CpGnFZ
How to get there
You can get to Toronto with Air Canada, British Airways and now with recently launched flights with Air Canada Rouge and WestJet from Gatwick to Toronto Pearson International Airport (both airlines also fly from Glasgow).
Visit http://ift.tt/Qvq1Ti for information about Toronto.
Images: The ROM and Niagra Falls courtesy Tourism Toronto. Drake Hotel courtesy Drake Hotel. Other images, David Hudson, unless indicated.