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Tour Toronto like a TIFF Star (on a Fan’s Budget)

September 8th kicks off the red carpet parade otherwise known as the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). A-listers like George Clooney and Salma Hayek hit the city’s most elegant hotels, restaurants, bars, and boutiques. Anyone would love to explore in Hayek’s designer shoes, but if your wallet’s looking a bit more Winter’s Bone than The King’s Speech, don’t worry, it’s easy to experience the high life for less in Toronto.


Start planning your trip today with our Toronto Travel Guide. See more details on TIFF (Sept. 8-19 in 2011) in our Toronto Film Festival review and and remember that the new TIFF Lightbox (350 King St., 416/599-8433), the festival’s movie theater-museum-lecture hall, is open year round. For the best chance of spotting a star, be sure to explore upscale Yorkville where the festival is centered, or the trendy Ossington strip. You just may find celebs shopping for diamonds at Royal De Versailles or primping at the Hazelton Hotel.


STAY: Elevate with Arty Hotels

Thanks to the festival (and big business) Toronto is a town swimming with high-end hotels. Of course, the prices on these luxury suites can wipeout your savings. Mid-range options can be depressingly bland; rooms with the same beige bedding as any on airport strip. But not so at the Gladstone Hotel, a grand Victorian on West Queen West. While rooms here are small, each is a commissioned work of art. Playful options include the Faux Naturelle (pictured above), a riff on cheeky pastorals, or the Model Citizen, sporting a peacock theme (light-up tail feathers, anyone?). Another bonus, the hotel bar has a scene all its own. So while it’s unlikely Rachel Weisz will have the room next door, you may find stars bar-hopping between this spot and the Drake Hotel down the street.

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SHOP: Artisanal Chocolates

Ogling the goods at Chanel or Cartier is a fun diversion, but not many people can afford to leave with a shopping bag in hand. Why not shop somewhere you can afford to buy? Confections at SOMA chocolatemaker are just as gorgeous as any Bloor Street bauble. The fair-trade, organic sweets here have been winning awards for their smooth and unexpected flavors like gianduja laced with poprocks. (Don’t worry, more traditional pairings exist, too.)


EAT: Haute Bar Restaurants

Dining in the Ritz-Carlton’s TOCA restaurant (181 Wellington St. W, 416/572-8008)—complete with a glass cheese cave holding $1100 wheels of Gouda—will set you back plenty. But who says you need a dinner table to do dinner? Belly up to the TOCA bar and make a meal of their Latin-inspired small plates, like pulled pork tortillas. While you eat, you can also enjoy some of the best cocktails in town. Mixologists here combine molecular gastronomy with fine spirits to concoct delicious potions; try the Minted Cucumber Collins. Also note: aside from saving over the restaurant, there’s plenty more mingling to be had at the bar. Who knows, you may just rub elbows with the next Tarantino, if not the man himself.


SEE: Dance That’s On Pointe

Forget Natalie Portman’s Black Swan, the National Ballet of Canada is the real deal. The company wrapped up a run of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a big, bombastic production. Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon takes a Nutcracker-esque story ballet and gives it a trippy tumble down the rabbit hole. The dancers pull out every vaudeville trick in the book—puppetry, tap dancing, twirling down the aisles—joyfully plunging into their parts. There’s little doubt that this company ranks among the best in the world. Tickets start at just C$22. Up next on the calendar : Romeo and Juliet in November. But if you need a dance fix ASAP, hit the Harbourfront Centre to see Vietnamese dance on the Tet Trung Thu program taking place during TIFF on 9/17.

RIDE: A City Icon

Let the stars keep their limos—streetcars are the best way to get to know the city. Like San Francisco’s cable cars, they give the city a dash of personality, and jumping on a cheery red car as it rolls downtown is a cinematic moment no visitor should miss. A ride is just C$3.

Photo Credits: Toronto International Film Festival courtesy Tourism Toronto, Faux Naturelle room courtesy Gladstone hotel, TOCA restaurant courtesy Toronto Ritz-Carlton, Sonia Rodriguez and Keiichi Hirano in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland photo by Bruce Zinger

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