From gravity-defying bank vaults to alligator tacos and the world’s first randomised vending machine, check out our list of cool and alternative things to see and do in Toronto. Words and photos by Sasha Arms.
So you’ve dangled yourself off the CN Tower, checked out the city’s best art galleries and shopped yourself silly at the Toronto Eaton Centre… maybe you’ve even caught a classic game of Canadian ice hockey, and done the essential day trip to Niagara Falls… but what next???
As always with our series of Secret Sevens, this is where we lay down some original ideas to spice up your weekend breaks in the world’s best cities. Perfect for those staying for longer, or visiting for a second time, or just those who hate the idea of jumping on the tourist bandwagon and rumbling down that well-beaten path with all the other fanny-packers.
Travel and food writer Sasha Arms just got back from an extended stay in Ontario’s capital (and Canada‘s biggest city), and this is what she had to report. For many many more tips check out our Toronto weekend guide by local journalist Rachel Lissner.
1# Milky Way
Toronto is a creative city and stunning street art is just one way the local creative class expresses itself. Many art-loving visitors head straight to Graffiti Alley to soak up the scene. Officially named Rush Lane, Graffiti Alley is a quiet road near the trendy Queen Street West in the Fashion District. Full of street art, it’s also full of visitors and tour groups and is well recognised by fans of comedian Rick Mercer, who films live from the alley regularly for CBC. It’s definitely worth visiting but for a more off the beaten track experience in Toronto, I would recommend heading over to Milky Way instead. Yes, ‘Milky Way’ is an actual name of a street and it’s full of colourful creations which you can admire in relative quiet, away from the crowds.
2# Pacific Junction Hotel
This isn’t a hotel at all, but rather a bar with a radio station located inside. The décor at Pacific Junction Hotel is quirky, with places at the bar named after some of Toronto’s greatest fans such as Janis Joplin. There’s a hodgepodge of seating, including a bench that used to be a bath tub. Casual finger food (alligator tacos, anyone?) accompanies a selection of local and international beers. The coolest aspect however is the all-glass booth overlooking the bar, from which the radio shows and podcasts of Girth Radio are broadcast. This is the place to become insiders with Torontonians.
3# Spa at Four Seasons Toronto
Located in the gentrified fashionista neighbourhood of Yorkville, the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto attracts travellers seeking luxury and serenity. However, even for Toronto visitors staying elsewhere in the city, the Four Seasons Toronto holds a little secret on the ninth floor. Pushing 3,000m2 in size, this is where the Four Season’s spa can be found, with treatments rooms, an indoor pool and hot tub. The pièce de résistance, however, is the spa’s outdoor terrace, which offers stunning views over Toronto from a private and privileged position. Just book a facial or massage at the spa and anyone can enjoy this indulgent corner of Toronto.
4# The Vog Vault
John Fluevog Shoes are the footwear of choice for Torontonians who want to make a statement. The Fluevog store on Queen Street West is housed inside a former bank, and the creative minds behind the shoe brand decided to do something a little different with the bank’s former vault. The Vog Vault is a gravity-defying room with retro furniture and book shelves in confusing places. It’s perfect for Instagrammable photos: check out #VogVault.
5# Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
This cinema is the place to go for documentary lovers. With a programme comprised almost entirely of documentary films, Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema is a place to join a Torontonian crowd who demand more than the latest Hollywood blockbusters when they go to the flicks. The cinema shows Canadian and international documentaries and has plenty of special events and independent film festivals throughout the year too. There’s a bit of history on-site too: the location has been home to theatres and cinemas in various guises since 1913.
6# Grand Hotel Toronto
The lunchtime bustle of downtown Toronto can get a little much. For some quiet time, head over to The Grand Hotel Toronto and its Citrus Restaurant. A hidden gem on Toronto’s dining scene, the food in the restaurant rivals the big foodie hitters in the city. In particular, the artichoke and squid spaghettini is to die for, embalmed in garlic olive oil, red finger chilis and topped with a crunchy squid ink crumb. In the warmer months, the intimate sun-filled patio is a great place to hang out.
7# The Monkey’s Paw
Book lovers and fans of anything retro and quirky should make enquiries at The Monkey’s Paw on Bloor Street. The shop specialises in old and unusual books and random printed artefacts. It’s a place to unearth antiquarian treasures that speak of past times. The shop also has the world’s first randomising vending machine called Biblio-Mat, where you can pick up a randomly selected old book when you insert a $2 coin.
Bonus Tip: Pork & Beer Tours
Urban Adventures are one of our go to brands when it comes to cool city activities, and in Toronto they offer two tours that stand out: Beer Makes History Better offers all the insight you’d expect from a walking history of the city, but with a hearty introduction to Canadian craft beer to make those tales of cholera, fire, war, depression and rebellion more palatable. When Pigs Fry is a similarly lip-smacking activity that introduces visitors to Hogtown’s (as Toronto is often referred to!) loves of bacon, pork, and sausage.
More Tours & Attractions
Should these tips prove a bit too alternative for your liking then Get Your Guide offer an easy booking platform for tours and tickets to all of Toronto’s main attractions, such as the CN Tower, Casa Loma and Royal Ontario Museum.
For more Secret Sevens on the world’s best cities check out our insider tips on New York, leftfield guide to Krakow and unusual things to do in Athens.