To say I was pleasantly surprised by Toronto would be an understatement. I arrived on a foggy morning, the sky drowning in this gloomy greyness and the air tingling with a winter’s chill. I immediately regretted my decision, and I caught myself thinking about what places to visit in Toronto with such weather. Maybe I should have stayed home where spring had sprung practically overnight.
Getting from the airport to the hostel was much easier than it seemed. I stayed at a hostel called Planet Traveler just around the corner from Chinatown and the Kensington Market area of the city.
Toronto is an incredibly walkable city, which is always a plus for this born and bred Brooklyn chick. I like being able to walk. I like not having to rely on public transport. So Toronto and I were off to a good start. The city wasn’t as exciting as I would have hoped. Still, I started exploring at about 11 a.m. on a cold Sunday morning. Still, within a few hours, the sun was out, and so was every one of these hip urban dwellers seeking some glorious Vitamin C. It was so warm, in fact, that people were out and about in tanks and shorts (though sort of drew the line at leaving my jacket open). Once the sun popped out and stretched its rays across the city, I started to really fall in love. People were out and happy and smiling and appreciative of the respite from a long, cold winter. Toronto was oozing with really contagious energy.
Places To Visit In Toronto: Queen Street West
I first learned about Queen Street West from a story that I had worked on. Last year, Vogue named the top 10 hippest places globally, and among those places was Toronto’s, Queen Street West. Unfortunately, I first headed the wrong way along the street. I encountered endless H&M’s, Zara’s, and wide streets lined with stores that you could really find anywhere. I started to feel disappointed. Finally, I said to myself, there is no way Vogue thought this is cool, as I made an about-face and started walking in the other direction.
That’s when I saw it: Colourful murals as fiery, colourful, and vibrant as a beautiful sunset. Toronto has alleyways lined with fantastic street art that spans from the top to the ground and stretches across building after building. The theme varies, from under the sea to plugged-in technology zombies to modern re-creations of Picasso. My spirits instantly perked up. “Now this, this is friggen cool,” I thought, and I pulled out my camera to start taking pictures. “This is most certainly a hub for the artists in the world.”
But much like parts of Brooklyn, Toronto’s Queen Street West still had traces of its former life sprouting up throughout the streets. So many addicts were lurking around, many alcoholics cracking open beers, people talking about drug deals as you passed them on the street, homeless people begging for some change. The seeds of its past were most certainly still planted throughout the area.
Yet still, it is charming, lined with art galleries, adorable cafes with old-school student desks just outside on the sidewalk for those looking to chat in the fresh air. Restaurants offering everything from Iranian to Jamaican cuisine and locals who looked like you could find them roaming the streets of Williamsburg or Bushwick like it’s their home away from home.
My favourite shops to visit are the Drake General Store, Siberia, Gravity Pope, and Drumi & Chocolate Shops. Filled with dazzling fun and funky jewellery, contemporary clothes that have a classical vintage edge to them, and plenty of knick-knacks to decorate a flat or home, these stores can definitely do some damage to your wallet.
Places To Visit In Toronto: The Gladstone
Toronto is proud of the Gladstone Hotel, an art hotel toward the end of Queen Street West. It is home to three levels of free art exhibits throughout its floors open for viewing by non-guests.
Places To Visit In Toronto: The Drake Hotel
The Drake Hotel is definitely the place to have a Sunday session. One of two well-known art hotels in the Queen West district, the Drake Hotel has an industrial feel lined with modernist touches. The main floor is peppered with high, wooden tables and these funky light fixtures dangling from an exposed ceiling of steel tracks crisscrossing their way over the floor.
Toward the front, a mini library with more comfortable, cafe-like seating. Though it was a touch too cold for the rooftop (either that or I was there too early in the day), it is the perfect drinking spot in the warmer months.
Places To Visit In Toronto: Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art
I’m no art buff, but it’s always worth checking out when something is free. Better known as MOCCA, the museum is home to various shows and exhibitions displaying the city’s modern art scene. While I was in Toronto, I caught an exhibition by a famous Canadian artist named Douglas Coupland called “everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything.”
Places To Visit In Toronto: Kensington Markets
Don’t let the name fool you; Kensington Market isn’t the market you imagine, but there is so much on display throughout the streets of this multicultural neighbourhood. Home to more of Toronto’s famous street art, Kensington Market is packed with people walking through the streets as if there really is some kind of fair going on. You’ll find plenty of eateries offering some fresh empanadas or pies or small cafes where you can relax with a cup of coffee.
Places To Visit In Toronto: Islands
I had planned to visit Toronto Islands for my birthday, but I visited Niagara Falls. However, the cost to venture out to Toronto Island is cheap, a $7 return ferry ticket, and from what I was told, it offers some great views of the city.
Places To Visit In Toronto (well…near): Niagara Falls
If you’re in Toronto, you should pay a visit to the Falls, as it is only about 90 minutes (if that) outside the city, but plan to spend a whole day doing it should you go with a tour. There are plenty of tours available to visit the Falls, drive you through some of the beautiful surrounding suburbs and take you ice wine tasting, all for $55.