Toronto Travel Guide

Toronto Travel Guide

After two decades of dizzying growth, the rest of the world is finally catching on to what Torontonians have humbly and oh-so Canadianly kept to themselves for years: Toronto is one undeniably cool place. This is a destination where some 230 nationalities speak over 140 languages—earning Toronto the title for the most diverse city in the world. Toronto’s buzzing culinary scene reflects this mosaic of cultures, from the colourful spices of Little India to the hearty souvlaki of Greektown to the farm-to-table restaurants honouring Canada’s important indigenous heritage. Perhaps not unexpected for a city that celebrates diversity, Toronto is also one of the world’s friendliest LGBTQ cities—with a vibrant community to match. The Village at Church and Wellesley remains an institution, while an ever-increasing number of gay-popular hangouts are springing up in trendy Queen Street West. With this thriving culture of creativity and innovation, arts-focused independent businesses, and extensive cultural microcosms, it doesn’t take much digging to unearth why the world quite literally chooses to call Toronto home. For your definitive Toronto gay guide, you’ve come to the right place.

The best hotels in Toronto

Let’s start this gay Toronto travel guide with a roundup of the best places to stay in Toronto. Redefining the boutique hotel experience is the undeniably gorgeous Drake Hotel. A downtown mecca of art, culture and design, the Drake effortlessly exudes originality from its Queen Street West location. The bohemian design seamlessly combines historical elements with modern details; exposed brick, original granite floors, local contemporary artwork and bright lighting feature throughout. Combine this with the spectacular views from the rooftop bar and the pulsating music at the hotel’s Underground Lounge, and it’s no wonder the Drake has quickly cemented itself as a popular queer and community hangout spot.

The Broadview Hotel is a historic Toronto landmark, where luxurious rooms and common spaces tell stories from centuries past. The decor reflects a mixture of periods from the hotel’s yesteryears, including in-room vinyl record players, an old school fire escape turned lobby art, and wallpaper inspired by the vintage pattern original to the walls. Luxury linens, in-room minibars stocked with artisanal local goods, and a cosy rooftop bar complete the package.

Broadview Hotel

Broadview Hotel

Once a somewhat bland Comfort Hotel, the recently relaunched Anndore House is now an ultra-sexy 11-room hotel that’s anything but cookie-cutter. The black and gold common spaces exude warmth, with unmistakable art deco influences. The stylish suites are undeniably large for downtown, with retro art that pays homage to the building’s 1950’s roots. Another sophisticated choice inspired by vintage Hollywood is The Hazleton, Toronto’s first luxury boutique hotel. Located in the heart of leafy Yorkville, this landmark building combines state-of-the-art design with distinctive art collections featuring Canadian artists. As if the seventy-seven opulent rooms and suites weren’t enough, there’s also the celebrated ONE restaurant. Spearheaded by renowned Chef Mark McEwan, the restaurant alone is worth the stay.

A long-anticipated arrival to the Toronto hotel scene is Hotel X. Far removed from the boutique camp, amenities at this urban oasis include a movie theatre, art gallery, and 80,000 square feet of athletic spaces. Exquisite Lake Ontario and downtown Toronto views (visible from nearly every room) are some of the best in the city, specifically from Hotel X’s lavish rooftop swimming pool and popular Falcon SkyBar. Afford time in your itinerary to explore the 800 photographs by world-renowned Neil Dankoff that stand on display throughout the hotel.

Hotel X

Hotel X

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Recommended hotels in Toronto
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Experiencing Toronto means perambulating its lively, multicultural neighbourhoods

Things to do in Toronto

Toronto’s compact size makes it relatively easy to explore the highlights of the city. Start your Toronto sightseeing with a stop at the Bata Shoe Museum, a quirky yet fascinating celebration of foot fashion. The award-winning five-floor shoebox-inspired building, designed by famed architect Raymond Moriyama, is hard to miss. Once inside, 4,500 years of footwear tell the story of how climate, religion, and attitudes towards gender status have changed throughout time. With over 13,000 artefacts on display, it’s the world’s most comprehensive collection of footwear-related objects.

An indisputable Toronto landmark, Casa Loma is an extravagant downtown mansion also simply known as “Canada’s Castle.” The grand gothic architecture was inspired by the original owners’ European travels and includes a series of fascinating hidden tunnels. Since these walls can’t talk, the self-guided audio tours provide interesting tidbits on what was once the largest residence in North America.

Photography aficionados shouldn’t miss the Ryerson Image Center, a restored warehouse turned photography mecca. Revamped with glass exteriors and sleek LED lights, the gallery is home to 4,500 square feet of exhibition spaces. Perhaps its most famous attraction is the Black Star Collection, 300,000 images of photo-reportage assembled over 80 years to represent the personalities, events, and conflicts of the twentieth century. For art that is distinctly Canadian, try the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. There’s a beautiful exhibit by Canada’s famed landscape artists The Group of Seven, along with pieces by First Nations and Inuit artists.

Experiencing Toronto means perambulating its lively, multicultural neighbourhoods. Chinatown and Kensington Market remain two of the city’s most iconic enclaves, overflowing with a rich history, artisanal restaurants and bars, and innovative concept shops. Experience the neighbourhoods like a local via a Kensington Market and Chinatown walking tour; insiders ensure you forgo the tourist traps in favour of authentic stops that showcase Toronto’s bona fide cool vibes.

Casa Loma

Casa Loma

Photo: The Ryerson Image Centre

Photo: The Ryerson Image Centre

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The Toronto Islands offer a peaceful respite from the urban racket, with Toronto’s glittering skyline adorning the backdrop

What to see in Toronto

Torontonians love the great outdoors—when the weather cooperates, that is. Their first stop on a sunny day? The nearby Toronto Islands. This verdant chain of islands offers a peaceful respite from the urban racket, with Toronto’s glittering skyline adorning the backdrop. The largest of the Toronto Islands is Centre Island, home to shady picnic spots, extensive trails, car-free streets and—perhaps most importantly—Hanlan Point. This is Toronto’s clothing optional beach (one of only two in the country) that doubles as a time-honoured gathering spot for the Toronto Queer community. For one of Toronto’s most underrated outdoor attractions, a day trip to Scarborough Bluffs warrants the effort. Iconic craggy white cliffs tower above Lake Ontario, providing challenging hiking trails and lovely views of the unique landscape. Nestled at the base is Bluffer’s Park, considered the city’s most beautiful beach and an undeniable Toronto point of interest.

The Distillery District is a pedestrian-only hub for art, design and culture. Come for the well-preserved 19th-century architecture, plethora of art galleries and open-air dance and music performances. The national historic site gets its name from the refurbished Gooderham and Worts Distillery, what was once the world’s largest whiskey producer. In the Fashion District, don’t miss Toronto’s premier street art venue—the undeniably instagrammable Graffiti Alley. Nearly 1 km of thought-provoking and colourful art cover the alleyways starting at Rush Lane, perfectly befitting of its Queen West home. Plan to arrive early if you want your Instagram shots sans people; the mesmerizing street art is no longer a well-kept secret.

When strolling around downtown Toronto sightseeing, keep your eyes peeled for Old and New City Hall. The two landmarks serve as a study in contrasts. Once a powerful symbol of Toronto, Old City Hall is an early 19th century stone building distinguished by its sweeping arches and menacing gargoyles. In stark distinction, Toronto’s once controversial New City Hall is an iconic example of modernist architecture. Two asymmetrical semi-circular towers and a domed building combine to (when viewed from above) resemble a giant, unblinking eye.

CN Tower | Photo:  Sandro Schuh

CN Tower | Photo: Sandro Schuh

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Toronto is a world-class culinary destination, continually pushing the envelope of possibility for both ethnic fusion and homegrown Canadian cuisine

Where to eat in Toronto

Toronto is a world-class culinary destination, continually pushing the envelope of possibility for both ethnic fusion and homegrown Canadian cuisine. The only downside? Toronto’s sheer diversity can make exploring its restaurant scene an overwhelming mission. Don’t worry, that’s why our Toronto travel guide is here.

For contemporary French cuisine in an exquisite heritage building, Alo is the obvious choice. Tucked behind an inconspicuous doorway in downtown Toronto, young chef Patrick Kriss delights visitors with his outlook on fine dining. Seasonal ingredients take centre stage, whether in the blind, multi-course tasting menus or the a la carte walk-ins only cocktail bar.

The name Alma translates to nourishing, which is precisely the motto behind Anna Chen’s recently opened restaurant. Fusing her culture and experiences with Indian, Hakka Chinese, French and Italian cuisine, expect a diverse menu where everything is made from scratch—including the charcuterie, noodles and soy sauces. Another high-end restaurant, Opus Restaurant serves classical cuisine inspired by locally sourced Canadian ingredients and recipes. But the real showstopper here is the mammoth wine list; with over 2500 labels, it earned Opus the Wine Spectator’s 2013 Grand Award.

Alo Restaurant

Alo Restaurant

There’s no better place to imbibe in a boozy brunch than at Mildred’s Temple Kitchen. Arrive early, put your name on the waitlist, and then stroll about for a few hours until your table is ready. We promise the wait is worth it. Come here for in-house takes on all the classics, with some of the most revered specialities including bloody caesars, rose prosecco and grapefruit mimosas, and stacked wild blueberry pancakes.

A neighbourhood stalwart for a reason, Gusto 101 serves fresh takes on Southern Italian cuisine in an auto body shop turned chic bistro. If the weather cooperates, head to the rooftop patio for a tasty aperitivo and wine on tap. Another Italian favourite, Bar Buca forgoes pizza and pasta in favour of Italian street food, creative artisanal salads, and fresh seafood. It’s the type of place where you first start your day with an espresso and Italian pastry, then return to while away the evening over late-night snacks and quality Italian wines.

National Geographic previously christened the St. Lawrence Market the best food market in the world; thankfully, the historic market continues to live up to its reputation. Arrive hungry. From homemade bagels to Portuguese tarts to fishmongers and artisanal cheeses, more than 100 food vendors arrive daily to sell their mouthwatering grub to both tourists and locals alike.

Gusto 101

Gusto 101

Sydney´s

Sydney´s

Shopping in Toronto

For menswear focusing on simplicity and minimalism in a stylish, curated atmosphere, head to Sydney’s—Toronto’s premier independent menswear boutique. From sleek bespoke suits to the in-store label Kin, everything here is locally designed and developed. Expect classic silhouettes matched with contemporary styles, all expertly delivered with impeccable service.

Lavish and Squalor believes retail and coffee should go hand and hand. We say, why not? This trendy lifestyle boutique has everything from men’s groom and shaving products to natural candles to high-quality denim—all with a focus on made-in-Toronto. Caffeinate at the second-floor espresso bar, or keep an eye out for complimentary cocktail nights.

Sydney´s

Sydney´s

What started as an online shop and a few well-received pop-ups is now a smart menswear shop complete with hardwood floors, indoor plants, and a cosy outdoor patio. We’re talking about Park & Province, where owners Chris Naidu and Gray Butler ensure everything is on point. Come for high-quality essentials for wardrobe, life, and home, all with a dash of distinctive flair.  Then there’s Uncle Otis, Toronto’s long-standing menswear boutique focusing on contemporary streetwear by Canadian designers and impeccable craftsmen. Carrying only 20 to 30 brands, Uncle Otis’ hyper-personalized customer service ensures you can find everlasting love for your wardrobe.

Home to 30 boutique art and fashion shops, the Toronto Designers Market is all about providing affordable space to showcase local designers and entrepreneurs. The 3000 sq ft storefront on Queen St West features everything from locally-sourced reclaimed wood furnishings to upcycled bicycle parts turned light fixtures. Often the artists are there to take you behind the scenes on the projects.

Toronto Designers Market

Toronto Designers Market

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The heart of Toronto’s gay nightlife beats in Toronto’s Gay Village at the intersection of Church and Wellesley

Toronto nightlife

And now for Mr Hudson’s Toronto gay scene guide. Canada’s largest gay community doesn’t shy away from an epic night on the town. The heart of Toronto’s gay nightlife beats in Toronto’s Gay Village at the intersection of Church and Wellesley. Don’t miss a night at Woody’s, one of the first clubs in the Village that also claims to be Toronto’s hottest gay bar. Thursday and Friday evenings see Georgie Girl hosting legendary drag performances. Fans of Queer as Folk might recognize the backdrop; part of the show was filmed here.

If your travel to Toronto falls over a weekend, hop into Buddies in Bad Times. The well-known professional theatre company is dedicated “to the promotion of queer theatrical expression.” What many gay travellers don’t know is that on weekends, the theatre transforms into a chic nightclub with gay parties and cabaret shows. Proceeds from the bar go to the theatre; drink the night away guilt-free all the while knowing you’re supporting the arts.

The fashionable Boutique Bar exudes style and warmth from an otherwise unassuming space. The owner studied mixology while growing up in France, which is made evident in the menu. We recommend sipping your French-inspired cocktail while people-watching from the snug front porch. Equal parts bar and independent coffee shop, The Drink is a somewhat off-the-beaten-path refuge that frequently has drag bingo, comedy shows, and queer parties. The small gay-owned cafe centres around espresso and whiskey—neither of which you can go wrong with here.

Negroni on Rush Lane | Photo: Nuff

Negroni on Rush Lane | Photo: Nuff

While much of what to do in Toronto is centred in the Village, you’ll find epic gay bars throughout Toronto. For a trendy bar that somehow manages to combine upscale Parisian queer nightlife with NYC underground club vibes, head to the Leslieville neighbourhood. Here you’ll find WAYLA, short for What Are You Looking At. The zero tolerance lounge is elegant without being uppity; come for the queer parties, karaoke and trivia nights, and creative cocktails.

When in Queen West, don’t miss The Beaver Cafe. This queer and art-focused bar doubles as a cafe and favourite brunch spot. We love the eclectic outdoor patio on a warm night when craving intimate conversation and a stiff cocktail. For speakeasy fun, Barber & Co is a fashionable men’s barbershop hiding a dark and moody full-service cocktail bar. Expect vintage vibes; the historic building was once an artist’s studio, made evident by the original paint splatters that still decorate the walls.

Photo:  Eaters Collective

Photo: Eaters Collective

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