TORONTO: City of Art & Culture

With a flight time from London that’s equivalent to New York, I had to ask myself why I’d never made the trip across the pond to Toronto so when we were invited to visit the Toronto Biennial of Art I jumped at the chance to immerse myself in the city and explore its cultural identity.

Built around Lake Ontario, Toronto is Canada’s most populated city with a downtown district filled with glass and steel hi res developments. Property is at a real premium and there are new developments all across the city. The hustle of city living, it’s stunning skyline and proximity to the water’s edge gives downtown Toronto a distinctly Manhattan feel – it even has its own Flat Iron building!

Just like Manhattan it’s the city’s cosmopolitan districts that show its true character. Since its founding in 1793 under the name ‘York’ by the British (which explains the very British feeling tree lined streets that are home to beautiful Victorian villas and townhouses), Toronto has been an important destination for immigrants to Canada and despite each district historically being inhabited by its own distinct community groups there is no ghettoisation; Toronto is a truly multicultural city with more than 50 percent of the city’s residents belonging to a visible minority population group, and over 200 distinct ethnic origins are represented among its inhabitants. It gives the city a unique and welcoming vibe .

DISTRICTS TO EXPLORE

KENSINGTON MARKET:

Toronto’s Camden and perfect for those that like a walk on the wild side, Kensington Market is full of boho, hippy chic stores, cafés, bakeries and boutiques. Perfect for vintage fans, the area’s Victorian buildings are also home to hipster bars and eateries.

DISTILLERY DISTRICT:

Located close to downtown, the Distillery District was home to the city’s burgeoning whiskey trade but has now been converted into a slick retail and relaxation zone with designer stores, chocolatiers, craft breweries and restaurants located within it’s vintage industrial architecture. It’s also a popular place for wedding photos so expect to see a bride or ten…

CHURCH AND WELLESLEY:

Right in the heart of downtown and perhaps the best location for a fun night out, the LGBTQ village is home to inclusive bars, clubs and boutiques. We loved the Glad Day Bookstore – by day an LGBQT bookshop and café and at night an event space and sometime nightclub! Go party amidst the paperbacks.

HARBOURFRONT:

With an epic view of the lake, The Harbourfront is a tranquil escape from the city within its very heart. Walk the promenade, take a boat trip, visit a gallery or grab some lunch. In fact, why not do it all?

QUEEN STREET:

Vintage and vinyl stores make up this hipster paradise which goes from punk to preppy depending on your direction – but hey this is Canada so everyone is still super chill and friendly. Tons of independent bars, breweries, restaurants, bakehouses and unique stores make it a great place to explore or stay- we stayed at The Broadview Hotel, an uber cool ex strip club on the corner of Queen Street East and Broadview Avenue. Rooms come equipped with their own record player, there’s a vinyl library on each floor to select from and a hip rooftop fusion restaurant to enjoy with a killer cocktail menu. Try the Peary Godmother; bourbon, pear juice, honey and sage syrup.

DUNDAS WEST:

Home to a huge collection of Street Art, so much that it’s classed as an open-air museum (@dundaswest. museum), Dundas West is home to independent bars, barbers, restaurants and stores that have retained their vintage shop fronts giving the area a mini Shoreditch feel. Make sure you visit MOCA – Museum of Contemporary Art and order the Pesto Falafel at La Palma.

ART IN TORONTO

We visited during the city’s Biennial of Art; a new international contemporary visual arts event that takes place for ten weeks across the city meaning that for every district you visit, you are sure to find some art to experience on your journey.

This year’s festival, offering 72 days of free art, took its theme from Toronto’s evolving relationship with its Shoreline with wide ranging exhibition examining the region’s indigenous routes, Canadian identity, immigration and cultural appropriation as well as traditional crafts explored using contemporary techniques. The centre point of the festival is Toronto’s infamous Nuit Blanche where for one sleepless night, Toronto is transformed by hundreds of artists and nearly 90 art projects. It’s a night of art and revelry across the city, exploring installations and popping into a bar or two along the way. The crowds are huge, the atmosphere electric and with a programme of art that is for everyone. What’s not to love.

Find out more at www.torontobiennial.org

VISITING TORONTO

For further information about Toronto, visit Tourism Toronto at www.seetorontonow.com. #OpenYourCuriosity #SeeTorontoNow

Getting there: Air Canada offers more daily flights from the UK to Canada than any other airline. From London Heathrow this winter, the airline operates up to 4 daily flights per week to Toronto, with Economy fares starting from £448.82 inclusive of taxes and 1 x checked bag (subject to change). Find out more at www.aircanada.com or call Reservations on 00 800 6699 2222

Hotel: Double Rooms at the Broadview Hotel Toronto start at $289CAD Book your room at www.thebroadviewhotel.ca

Toronto City Pass: A Toronto CityPass (www.citypass.com/toronto) provides access to key attractions across the city including the CN Tower, Casa Loma, Royal Ontario Museum, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada and Toronto Zoo or Ontario Science Centre. The passes are £52 for adults and £34 for children (plus taxes). Getting around Toronto costs just £7 per day with a TTC day pass (www.ttc.ca).

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