Top Experiences in Toronto
Wining and Dining
Those in search of haute cuisine are pampered in Toronto, where some of the world's finest chefs vie for the attention of the city's sizable foodie population. Toronto's range of exceptional eateries, from creative Asian fusion to more daring molecular gastronomy, offers wining and dining potential for every possible palate. Aromas of finely crafted sauces and delicately grilled meats emanate from eateries in Yorkville, where valet service and designer handbags are de rigueur, and the strip of bistros in the Entertainment District gets lively with theatergoing crowds. Weekdays at lunch, the Financial District's Bay Street is a sea of Armani suits, crisply pressed shirts, and clicking heels heading to power lunches to make deals over steak frites. To conduct your own taste tests, check out some of the following places:
Bistro 990. Staff here are sure to be attentive—they're used to serving celebrities and power-wielding bigwigs who fill the tables on weekday afternoons.
Bymark. An ultramodern and ultracool spot primed for the Financial District set; chef-owner Mark McEwan aims for perfection with classy contemporary fare.
Canoe. Toronto's most famous "splurge" place. Sit back, enjoy the view, and let the waiter pair your dish with a recommended local Ontario wine.
Colborne Lane. Star chef Claudio Aprile's venture is the place to sample cutting-edge creations that blur the boundary between dinner and science project.
Fressen. Dimly lit, ultra-trendy vegan nouvelle cuisine with a wine list to rival any steak house.
Toronto's coolness doesn't emanate from a downtown core or even a series of town centers. The action is everywhere in the city. Dozens of neighborhoods, each with its own scene and way of life, coexist within the vast metropolitan area. Here are a few worth investigating:
West Queen West. As Queen Street West (to Bathurst Street or so) becomes more commercial and rents increase, more local artists and designers have moved farther west; it's also home to a burgeoning night scene and experimental restaurants.
Kensington Market. This well-established bastion of bohemia for hippies of all ages is a grungy and multicultural several-block radius of produce, cheese, by-the-gram spices, fresh empanadas, used clothing, head shops, and funky restaurants and cafés.
The Annex. The pockets of wealth nestled in side streets add diversity to this scruffy strip of Bloor, the favorite haunt of the intellectual set, whether starving student or world-renowned novelist.
The Beach. This bourgeois-bohemian neighborhood (also called The Beaches) is the habitat of young professionals who frequent the yoga studios and sushi restaurants along Queen Street East and walk their pooches daily along Lake Ontario's boardwalk.
Refurbished iconic theaters such as the Royal Alexandra and Ed Mirvish theaters host a number of big-ticket shows in elegant surroundings. More modern venues such as the Princess of Wales highlight local and Broadway performances. The Four Seasons Centre is home to both the National Ballet of Canada and the Canadian Opera Company, which shares the music scene with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and mainstream concerts at the Sony Centre and Massey Hall. Indie artists are attracted to the bars and grimy music venues on Queen Street West. (True theater buffs will also want to leave Toronto to hit the festivals of Stratford and Niagara-on-the-Lake.) A few of the many venues worth visiting are:
Massey Hall. Since 1894, this has been one of Toronto's premier concert halls. British royals have been entertained here and legendary musicians have performed: Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, George Gershwin, Bob Dylan, and Luciano Pavarotti, to name a few. Orchestras, musicals, dance troupes, and comedians also perform at this palpably historic venue.
Rivoli. In this multifaceted venue, you can dine while admiring local art, catch a musical act, or watch stand-up. Before they were megastars, Beck, the Indigo Girls, Iggy Pop, Janeane Garofalo, and Tori Amos all made appearances here.
Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres. These two 1913 Edwardian theaters, one stacked on top of the other, provide sumptuous settings for classical music performances, musicals, opera, and Toronto International Film Festival screenings.
The Second City. The comedic troupe here always puts on a great performance. Photo collages on the wall display the club's alumni, including Mike Myers, Dan Aykroyd, and Catherine O'Hara.
At one point, Toronto's only celebrated icon was the CN Tower, but architects have been working hard to rejuvenate the cityscape in the new millennium—at a dizzying pace. Since 2006, the city has unveiled the transparent-glass-fronted Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (Jack Diamond), the Royal Ontario Museum's deconstructed-crystal extension (Daniel Libeskind), the wood-and-glass Art Gallery of Ontario (Frank Gehry), and a redesign of the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts with attached residential 58-story, all-glass, swooping L Tower (Libeskind). A series of high-rises topping 50 stories—not the least of which is the 60-story, glass-spired Trump Tower—is changing the skyline of the city forever.
Fine examples include:
Philosopher's Walk. This scenic path winds through the University of Toronto, from the entrance between the Royal Ontario Museum and the Victorian Royal Conservatory of Music, past Trinity College's Gothic chapel and towering spires. Also look for University College, an 1856 ivy-covered Romanesque Revival building, set back from the road across Hoskin Avenue.
ROMwalks. From May through October, free themed walks organized by the Royal Ontario Museum tour some of the city's landmark buildings, such as the Church of the Redeemer, the St. Lawrence Market, and the Royal York Hotel.
Art Gallery of Ontario. A C$250-million renovation added thousands of square feet of gallery space in the AGO's Frank Gehry–designed building in 2008. The wooden facades, glass roofs, and four-story blue titanium wing are spectacular to admire from the outside or within.
Sharp Centre for Design. Locals are split by Will Alsop’s salt-and-pepper rectangle held aloft by giant colored-pencil-like stilts standing above the Ontario College of Art and Design.