It doesn’t have the cachet of being Canada’s capital, nor the distinction of multi-cultural mountainous Vancouver, but in recent years Toronto has become a dynamic destination with appeal all of its own. Here, we pick our favourite parts of this spirited city.
Starchitect Frank Gehry’s first building in Canada was the redesigned Art Gallery of Ontario (above) in Toronto, popularly known as the AGO. The building itself has typical Gehry traits including a dramatic glass-and-wood curved façade, while inside there’s an excellent collection of Canadian art through the ages, including works by internationally renowned Canadian Jean-Paul Riopelle. For something more contemporary, The Power Plant at the Harbourfront Centre is Canada’s leading public gallery. The intriguing space, formerly an actual power plant, has mounted conceptual and ground-breaking shows by Canadian and international artists. Get back down to earth in Graffiti Alley where street artists have taken to every wall with some seriously Instagrammable pieces.
Art and starchitecture are not limited to the city centre. Travel out towards North York district, and wonder at the Fumihiko Maki-designed Aga Khan Museum (above) and its surrounding Aga Khan Park complete with reflecting pools and gardens by landscape architect Vladimir Djurovic and the Ismaili Centre, which was created by late Indian architect Charles Correa.
As a nation, Canada may not be very old, but a walk through the city’s Distillery District allows visitors to travel back in time to before its founding. The beautifully preserved area was originally home to the Gooderham and Worts Distillery, founded in 1832. Today its cobbled streets are lined with large-scale sculptures while the former distillery buildings house restaurants, galleries and chocolate makers, as well as some intriguing stores such as Distill, where visitors can discover well-crafted Canadian design ranging from fashion and accessories to homeware; mini mioche for cute kids apparel designed and made in Toronto; and pioneering skincare from the Toronto-based The Abnormal Beauty Company.
There’s plenty going on downtown, too. 401 Richmond (above) is a restored industrial building-turned-art hub that’s home to artist studios, design shops and galleries and is well worth a wander. To get closer to Canada’s own designers, try the Harbourfront Centre Shop for one-of-a-kind Canadian pieces, or the Drake General Store, where quirky, contemporary Canadian-made goods and gifts abound.
Is there a cuisine of the world that isn’t available somewhere in Canada’s cosmopolitan city of Toronto? From Syrian to Ethiopian, Greek to Vietnamese, it’s all there. For a taste of the Middle East, Byblos is a must. The contemporary eatery features carefully considered interiors that match the well-presented, distinctively flavoured food. Buca (above) is home to quality Italian in sophisticated surrounds – the Yorkville outpost has a chic industrial feel, and delivers exceptional service with food that is lovingly prepared, creative and enjoyable.
For something new, Aloette (right) is not to be missed. The French bistro from the team behind Alo, voted Canada’s best restaurant, offers dialled down dishes that deliver on flavour in a chic diner setting. For a taste of Canada, Canoe, with its fabulous 54th-floor views over Toronto, incorporates some of the finest seasonal produce, from Quebec foie gras to bison steak, and west coast oysters to Ontario burrata, not to mention wines from Canada’s best vineyards. For something more casual, Café Belong at Evergreen Brickworks is unpretentious yet elegant, serving delicious organic and local produce with an eye for the environment.
Toronto’s coffee culture is alive and well and found on almost every corner. There’s plenty of choice if you are in the market for something stronger, too, whether you head for hippy, hipster Kensington Market where Grey Gardens (above) with its tasteful design and a pick of Canada’s choice wines, is something of a haven, or to trendy Bar Ravel, a Gaudi-inspired tapas bar with intricately carved, dramatic wood interiors (below).
Art-centric boutique hotel, The Drake, will appeal to those looking for more than just a place to rest their head. Enjoy an eclectic programme of performance and visual art alongside the hotel’s own permanent art collection, as well as regular live bands, DJs, film screenings, comedy shows and poetry slams. There’s never a dull moment.
On the other side of town, The Broadview Hotel has taken on another new lease of life following a long history that has seen it go from grand, imposing Dingman Hall, once a hub for high society, to notorious 19th century strip club Jilly’s. Its latest incarnation is as Toronto’s newest luxury boutique hotel with on-trend design, curated artworks, sunrise yoga sessions, oysters evenings and the city’s coolest rooftop bar. Hints to the property’s past nevertheless remain, with architectural details that allude to its storied past.