A jigsaw puzzle of distinctly flavoured neighbourhoods, Toronto only really makes sense when you view it as a whole. But who wants to do that? Half the fun of being here is pretending you are eating noodles in Macau, wandering along a leafy Dublin backstreet or sipping ouzo in Athens. This is a city that takes the best of world cultures and delivers it to you in compact, neighbourhood-sized pieces. Graze from ’hood to ’hood, focusing on the parts without trying to define the whole. Here are ten of the best spots to visit.
This funky spike remains every bit as cool and iconic as it was when it opened in 1976. Its primary function is as a radio and TV communications tower, but riding the great glass elevators up the highest freestanding structure (553m) in the western hemisphere is one of those things in life you just have to do. On a clear day, the views from the Observation Deck are absolutely astounding. For extra thrills, tread lightly over the knee-trembling Glass Floor deck, or continue climbing an extra 101m to the uppermost SkyPod viewing area.
Air Canada Centre
Guided "inner workings" tours of the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs (hockey) and Toronto Raptors (basketball) take you where the players go, even into the dressing room, sans players. But you will enjoy the hi-tech arena more if you can actually score tickets to a game. Tours run hourly, events permitting, and highlight remnants of the 1941 moderne Toronto Postal Delivery Building that are incorporated into the structure of the ACC, which opened for business in 1999.
Once upon a time, there were no Toronto Islands. There was only an immense sandbar. On 13 April, 1858, a hurricane blasted through the sandbar, swallowed the hotel and created the gap now known as the Eastern Channel. Toronto's jewel-like islands were born - nearly two-dozen isles covering 600 acres. When you visit the close-knit, 800-strong artistic communities on Algonquin Island and Ward's Island, expect pangs of jealousy. They have a peaceful, trusting, kid-safe community, little pollution, photogenic clusters of cottages among tall maples and incredible city skyline views.
Tattered around the edges, elegantly wasted Kensington Market is multicultural Toronto at its most authentic. Predictably, eating here is a joy. Shopping here is also a blast; local specialties include fresh produce, baked goods, vintage duds and discount clothing. Lining the underbelly of Kensington Market is a seamy bohemian element. The streets are full of artists, urban hippies, punks, potheads, junkies, dealers, bikers, goths, musicians and anarchists. Shady characters on bicycles whisper their drug menus to you as they slide slowly past; hooch and Hendrix waft through the air; graffiti says, "Resistance is Fertile!" The streets simmer with a mildly menacing, hung-over vibe, but it is rarely unsafe.
Royal Ontario Museum
ROM's collections bounce between natural science, ancient civilization and art exhibits. The Chinese temple sculptures, Gallery of Korean Art, and costume and textile collections are some of the best in the world. Do not miss the cedar crest poles carved by First Nations tribes in British Columbia; the largest pole (85m) was shipped from the West Coast by train, then lowered through the museum roof, leaving only centimetres to spare.
Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art
The new MOCCA, recently relocated from far northern Yonge St, is the city's only museum mandated to collect and promote works by living Canadian visual artists. It says a lot about West Queen West's consolidation as an arts and design strip that the museum chose this district for its new facility. The permanent holdings only number about 400 works, curated since 1985, but award-winning exhibitions focus on new artists from Nova Scotia to British Columbia.
To residents, "The Beach" is a neighbourhood of wealthy professionals down by the lakeshore. To everyone else, it is part of "The Beaches" - meaning the neighbourhood, the beaches and the parklands along Lake Ontario. Development took off here during the 1970s and the onslaught of beachfront construction has not stopped since. Fortunately, the side streets east of Woodbine Ave still have gardens bursting with colour and quaint lakeside houses. The three beaches themselves - Woodbine, Kew and Balmy - are good for sunbathing and picnicking.
The upper crust of Toronto's districts, luxury - at a price - can be found at Bloor-Yorkville, dubbed Toronto's "Mink Mile." It is worth exploring, as some of Toronto's most unique and specialized shops can be found in this area's nooks and crannies.
Hockey Hall Of Fame
Inside an ornate, gray stone rococo Bank of Montréal building (c 1885), this shrine to the great game gives hockey fans everything they could possibly want. Check out the collection of Texas Chainsaw Massacre-esque goalkeeping masks, attempt to stop Wayne Gretzky's virtual shot or have your photo taken with hockey's biggest prize - the hefty Stanley Cup. Even visitors unfamiliar with this superfast, ultraviolent sport will be impressed with the interactive multimedia exhibits and nostalgic hockey memorabilia and might begin to comprehend Canada's passion for hockey.
Art Gallery Of Ontario
The AGO's art collections are excellent and extensive. Unless you have a lot of stamina, you will need more than one trip to take it all in. The AGO's continually expanding collection includes Australian Aboriginal art and a huge photographic collection, rare Québécois religious statuary, First Nations and Inuit carvings and major Canadian works by Emily Carr and the Group of Seven.
The article 'Lonely Planet’s top 10 Toronto hotspots' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.