Toronto’s formidable centers of finance, art and culture give it big-city appeal, but its long history as a destination for immigrants arriving in Canada give it global flavour. Over 160 languages can be heard on a walk through Toronto’s city streets. Any cuisine under the sun can be tasted. There’s also world-class museums, abundant green space and all the ‘neighbourhood charm’ one could want.
Use a Toronto day room as your springboard to take advantage of everything Canada’s largest city offers.
Search for the White Squirrel
The eclectically hip neighborhood of Trinity Bellwoods is the perfect spot to begin your dive into the culture and charm that makes the 6ix so special. Named after the large city park bordered by Queen Street West on the south and Dundas Street on the north, Trinity Bellwoods Park is actually the remnants of the long defunct ‘Trinity College’ — constructed in the 1850s. On a beautiful day, locals and tourists alike fill the park’s grassy slopes with sunning, drumming, or just enjoying the natural beauty of the park.
Coffee culture abounds in this neighborhood and luckily you barely have to leave the park to find a quality cup of java. Try the White Squirrel Cafe, named after the famous white (albino) squirrels that call the park home. The cafe even has a to-go window, so if you’re in a rush or enjoying the park with a furry friend, you can order your latte or delicious ice cream affogato to go.
Go Grunge in Graffiti Alley
Get ready to uncover your inner hipster exploring what Vogue calls “one of the coolest neighborhoods in the world” in West Queen West. Take a stroll down Queen West to see all the funky street art and murals that decorate this side of town. Snap a selfie with the enormous white squirrel (symbol of Trinity Bellwoods) on Gore Vale Ave done by artist Lovebot. Lovebot’s ‘robot with a heart’ graphic has become iconic and can be seen all over the city.
Perhaps one of the most recognizable spots in all of Queen West is Graffiti Alley, tucked away just south of Queen West near Bathurst St. More than a cool place to take photos; Graffiti Alley actually represents the acknowledgment of graffiti as an art form. In Toronto, graffiti is not only legal, but it’s also encouraged—even paving the way for city organizations like StART which nurture street art in the city.
Discover Canadian Couture
Queen West is also home to many fabulous boutiques and shops making it an ideal place to indulge your inner trendsetter. The fashion and jewelry are not only on point but local at The Coal Miner’s Daughter. This trendy boutique focuses on primarily Canadian-made clothing, jewellery and accessories. Need a special outfit for that night on the town? You can peruse Instagram-worthy options (and receive five-star service) at boutique ZUMEL. Don’t sleep on your purchases, though; designs have limited stock, so once something’s gone, it’s gone!
Eat Your Way through Kensington Market
One of the things Toronto does best is markets, and nowhere is Toronto’s multiculturalism on finer display than at the bohemian paradise and world heritage site, Kensington Market. This once-immigrant neighborhood is now filled to the brim with colorful Victorian houses, cozy cafes, funky vintage shops, indie boutiques, art spaces and specialty grocers. On a typical day in the market, pedestrians and bicyclists traverse the narrow streets with ease. However, the market closes to road traffic entirely from May–October on the last Sunday of each month.
A dense neighbourhood or not, all that walking will surely leave you famished. Take a load off with a beer at Kensington Brewing Co. before you contemplate some of the cities tastiest (and wallet-friendly) eateries.
POW WOW Cafe serves Indigenous food like Ojibway fry bread while Rasta Pasta offers delicate Jamaican-Italian fusion with dishes such as Jerk Chicken panini or lasagna with steamed callaloo. If you’re in the mood for a formal dining experience, you can’t go wrong with wine bar Grey Gardens, a concept from legendary Toronto restauranter Jen Agg. Try their superbly smoky mackerel dip with chips and cozy up with a glass of vino.
Stock up on Syrup & Taste the Bacon
If you prefer a more classic ‘food hall’ environment, head over to the famous St. Lawrence Market, located in Toronto’s Old Town District. This stately structure dates back to 1845 and today houses countless food vendors, meat and produce purveyors—and on Saturdays—a quality farmers market!
No visit to the St. Lawrence Market would be complete without a taste of the quintessential Canadian favorite, the peameal bacon sandwich. The infamous Carousel Bakery has been serving up these salty flavor bombs for over 30 years, and even chefs like Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse are fans! (Pro Tip: Head to the lower level of the market to find a cornucopia of maple syrup-derived treats, equally perfect for rabid on-the-spot consumption or souvenirs from your time in the North!)
Admire the Classics at AGO & Enter the Crystal at the ROM
If brushing up on art is more your speed, why not spend an afternoon wandering the halls of the architecturally stunning Art Gallery of Ontario (the AGO). A vision of the contemporary genius Frank Gehry, who also designed the famous Guggenheim Museum in Spain, the AGO contains more than 90,000 works of art, covering everything from cutting-edge contemporary to the more classic European masters—including a Van Gogh! Notable recent AGO exhibitions include the Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors and the Guillermo del Toro retrospective: At Home with Monsters.
The Royal Ontario Museum, or the ROM as it’s called, is well worth a visit even to merely gaze upon the ‘Crystal.’ This glass, aluminum, and steel crystalline form was controversially added to the building back in 2007. While the Crystal’s jutted appearance certainly adds pizzaz to the museum’s entrance, it’s still as polarizing to this day. Should you make it inside, you’ll find natural history, world culture and an astounding collection of dinosaurs, minerals and meteorites. Keen to explore the museum after dark? On special Fridays through the summer and fall the ROM hosts ‘Friday Night Live’ opening up its galleries for a night of thematic-based music, dancing and drinks!
Other notable Toronto museums that are always a good idea include the Balta Shoe Museum (perfect for your inner fashionista) and the Hockey Hall of Fame (because what is a trip to Canada without hockey, eh?).
Day Drink in the Distillery District
Wandering through the quaint cobblestone-lined streets of the Distillery District will have you feeling transported to Europe! Charming 19th-century brick buildings that date back to when the area’s whiskey-distillery past surround the pedestrian-only area.
Today the Distillery draws crowds for its amazing galleries, outdoor sculptures, music performances, fine dining, and of course, plenty of establishments where you can imbibe with your cocktail of choice! Spirit of York Distillery Co. crafts their own premium spirits (gin and vodka) on site and offers a 2,500 sq foot tasting room where you can watch the grains make their way to your glass! Enjoy a flight of spirits, or one of their signature cocktails, such as a ‘Pom Sunday’ a refreshing combination of their home-brewed gin, simple syrup, pomegranate juice, soda, and sparkling water at their tasting bar.
For a refreshing spin on a ‘typical distillery’ tour, consider IZUMI sake. IZUMI is an Ontario-based sake company that makes their delectable product unpasteurized, unfiltered and freshly pressed with the freshwater of Muskoka lake! Learn all about the sake process on their public viewing tour and enjoying a guided taste of four different sake samples.
Soak in the CN Tower Skyline
End your Toronto daycation on a high note with a picture-perfect view from the rooftop of the Broadview Hotel. Once a strip club, the 127-year-old landmark has been reimagined as a boutique hotel. Head to the roof for an espresso or a green smoothie bowl and soak in one of the most visually astounding views of Toronto’s skyline, including the CN Tower and the Don River.
Punctuate the Day with Drinks, Jazz
After a sublime sunset and Toronto skyline, your day may be over, but the evening awaits. If you booked a Toronto day use room and need to check out, you can usually still leave your luggage securely at the hotel for a few more hours. So what next!?
Venture to the Distillery District to wet your whistle, then get ready to bust a move (or at least hum a tune) at one of the city’s best live music venues. For an old-school big-band vibe that’ll make you swear you’re in the Big Easy, stop by the Rex Hotel, Jazz and Blues Bar. This musical mecca, described as ‘where jazz musicians go to hear jazz,’ is a city institution hosting 19 shows per week! It’s not unusual for such talents as Harry Connick Jr, Ani Difranco, and Joshua Redman to grace the stage, so be on the lookout! The Rex hosts daily shows starting in the evening but as early as noon on Saturdays and through the night, It’s the perfect place to cozy up with a cesar (Canadian Bloody Mary) and nurse that hangover (or start working on a new one).
With its premier museums, diverse culinary fare and historic charm, it’s no riddle why Toronto has become a destination for global travellers. Whether you’re booking your Toronto day room for business, fun —or a bit of both — there’s no doubt this international city will leave you wanting more!