Toronto Travel Guide
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A Taste of Toronto’s Art Scene: How to Pair Your Dinner With Gallery Experience

PHOTO: Kiev.Victor / Shutterstock

With over 150 languages spoken among Toronto’s extremely diverse neighborhoods, it comes as no surprise that the global hub encompasses a culturally and creatively diverse art and culinary scene.

Canada’s largest city offers a plethora of innovation and craftsmanship that takes inspiration from the local and global societies that call it home. A truly international city, the museum culture transports the mind all over the world and with a global culinary scene to match, Toronto is a great first step to the rest of the world.

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Aga Khan Museum and Diwan Restaurant

A perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of downtown Toronto, the Aga Khan Museum offers stunning grounds filled with gardens and art-accented reflecting pools perfect for a quiet midday stroll. Opened in 2014, the Aga Khan focuses on the artistic diversity of Islamic civilizations stretching all the way from Morocco to China with over 1,000 permanent artifacts. Pause for reflection in the open-air inner courtyard and soak up the sun between gazing at the innate detail and ancient preservation of the various tapestries, ceramics, and illuminated manuscripts. Between the gardens, courtyard, and stunning architecture, this modern Islamic art offering is unlike any other in the Western world.

Further transportation to the Islamic world comes from the Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian cuisine served at the upscale, sit-down restaurant, Diwan, which overlooks the Aga Khan Park. Housed in the elaborate Damascus room, a recreated private Syrian home from the early 19th century, dining feels like being in an exhibit, with hand-painted, delicately carved wooden panels located on the ceiling and walls. Bites of rich biryani and fluffy sweet pea falafel taste like a home-cooked meal with décor to match, allowing for a dining experience that fills all of the five senses with comfort.

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Art Gallery Ontario and Drake Commissary

Walking into this spacious museum, the Art Gallery Ontario is clearly a place for daydreamers and art enthusiasts. It’s filled with warm wood and natural light that peeks through giant glass windows which span an entire city block. The can’t-miss spiral staircase stops along every floor and eventually leads to an enclosed rooftop with views of the surrounding city.The museum features notable works by established and emerging Indigenous Canadian artists, European masters, and the Group of Seven. It’s mission to showcase diverse and underrepresented artists leaves even the biggest art buffs with new names to add to their roster of favorite makers.

Continue the discovery of new at restaurant/gallery collective, Drake Commissary, where everything from the sausage to the bread to the deconstructed tapestry on the wall is made from scratch. The restaurant, bakery, bar, and artisanal market — replete with a photo booth, outdoor movie screen, and indoor/outdoor dining frequently outfitted with DJs–functions as a rotating gallery space. A hub for the creative and culinary arts, the Drake Commissary blurs the lines between consumption and creation with ever-changing exhibits, events, and performances presented by artists from all over the world in a variety of mediums. Sitting down, you may find that your tabletop is a part of the rotating art that you see hanging on the walls in this creative, culturally curious restaurant. A perfect stop to round out a day, the space has an interesting take on incorporating art in the everyday public world with its creation of homemade food, décor, selected works, and music.

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Royal Ontario Museum and Cibo Wine Bar

Canada’s largest museum houses over 13 million artifacts of artistic, cultural, and natural significance with prominent collections of fossils, Canadian history, near Eastern and African art, plus selections of design and fine art. Items from all over the world meet in the epicenter of the Royal Ontario Museum, where the old and new flourish together. The building is a reflection of that contrast with the original 1914 stone architecture merged alongside Michael Lee-Chin’s 2007 addition, The Crystal, a modern, angled, reflective sculpture-like installation. The old is rejuvenated in this museum with exhibits incorporating new interactive technologies like artificial intelligence and current artists on display next to renowned Renaissance painters.

Just a five-minute walk away in the heart of Yorkville, Toronto’s high-end shopping district,is Cibo Wine Bar. The old world rustic Italian flavors combined with a wall of over 2,500 wine bottles in the middle of the industrial chic restaurant plays with texture, smell, and sight. Watching the chefs sling raw pizza dough in the ovens through the open kitchen and the strong smell of truffles emanating through the air transports the diner back to ancient Italy.  Just like the dinosaur bones, royal jewels, and mummies offered glimpses into the past, this restaurant lets your tastebuds transport you.

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The Gardiner Museum and Fortunate Fox

Canada’s national ceramics museum is a hidden gem that started out as housing for George and Helen Gardiner’s private collection and grew with the help of donations to include over 4,000 pieces. The specialty museum includes works from the ancient Americas and the Italian Renaissance, English delftware, Chinese and Japanese porcelain, plus a contemporary gallery with rotating exhibits that look to the future of ceramic art with both purpose and artistic persuasion. As objects move from household items to works of creative inspiration it will leave you inspired to change your everyday china to something more experimental.

Just down the road more handcrafted glory lies attached to the Kimpton St George Hotel (a livable art installation if you ask us), at the Fortunate Fox, a hip gastropub that offers lounge vibes for the creatively inclined to drink, eat, and play in an inspirational yet unpretentious setting. The windows open up to popular Bloor Street and the walls are lined with books that all have the spines ripped off to reveal cream-colored bindings, providing a shockingly beautiful space that feels equal parts welcoming and elitist cool. Everything is prepared from scratch, and just like the variety of uniquely crafted and experiential ceramics at the Gardiner Museum, the restaurant glorifies craftsmanship from the breakfast Croque Madame with beer cheddar sauce to the gold art deco lighting fixtures.

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The Bata Shoe Museum and Luma

There really isn’t anything quite like the Bata Shoe Museum with over 13,000 artifacts spanning over 4,500 years of culture, fashion, and daily life throughout the world. It is nearly impossible to find a culture not represented with shoes ranging from French chestnut crushing boots to Yoruba leader’s heavily beaded regalia boots in Nigeria to Queen Victoria’s ballroom slippers. Currently, the museum holds a heavy emphasis on research of Canada’s indigenous population shoemaking practices and Circumpolar footwear. Each shoe is provided with a detailed description that puts natural environment, purpose, and societal expectations into focus. All incredibly preserved, the shoes let history textbook descriptions come to fruition at last.

Carry on that theme and gaze down at the footwear of locals in the crowded entertainment district from a birds’ eye view at the second-floor restaurant, Luma. A focus on Canadian cuisine inspired by Toronto’s culturally diverse neighborhoods, the food is luxurious while remaining authentic. A great place to get a feel for the local scene, which after a day at looking at life through another’s shoes feels absolutely right–not to mention delicious.