The city of Toronto as we know it today only dates from 1834, but in less than two centuries, this city has grown from a frontier town to become the hub of everything Canadian: it is the epicenter for national commerce, cultural life, finance and industry. Toronto has opened its arms to immigrants from all over the world, and as a result, the city is one of the most diverse in North America. If you want to get an idea of how Canada lives today, you don’t need to go any further than Toronto. Let me tell you all about the places to see and things to do in T.O.
HOW TO GET THERE
Toronto can be reached from Florida by air and by road. Remember, American travelers now must bring their passports in order to enter Canada. Road travelers enter Canada via Interstate 90 near Buffalo, New York from the American side, which turns into the Queen Elizabeth Way shortly after entering Canada. This freeway runs straight to Toronto. Toronto is approximately 100 miles away from Buffalo.
The main point of entry by air is Toronto Pearson International Airport, located 14 miles northwest of the city in the suburb of Mississauga. Air Canada, Delta and WestJet all fly direct flights from Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport to Toronto Pearson. AmericanAirlines and Air Canada fly direct from Miami International Airport to Toronto Pearson. Tampa and Orlando also benefit from daily direct flights to Toronto Pearson International Airport. AmericanAirlines and Air Canada are constantly in bidding wars to undercut the lowest fares to and from Toronto, and as a result, it is very easy to find one-way fares below $200 per person.
WHERE TO STAY
The Four Seasons Hotel Toronto is a worldwide flagship hotel for the brand, and as a result, it impresses at every turn. Stay twenty stories above the city, relaxing in your chic living room or bedroom suite. Internationally-known Chef Daniel Boulud owns a restaurant and bar in the hotel, fusing French and Canadian culinary techniques into unforgettable dining experiences. The Four Seasons is centrally located, making it an easy walk to most attractions. (60 Yorkville Ave., 416-964-0411)
Condé Nast Traveler called the Hôtel Le Germain-Toronto one of the fifty most stylist and luxurious new hotels from around the world, and it’s easy to see why, once you step into the impeccably designed lobby and the sleek Victor restaurant and bar. Even the most basic rooms offer goose down comforters, feather pillows, oversized armchairs and expansive bathrooms with waterfall showers. (30 Mercer St., 416-345-9500)
The Park Hyatt Toronto is adjacent to everything that’s happening on Bloor Street, such as the Royal Ontario Museum and the Royal Conservatory. This hotel offers over 300 guest rooms, including many specialty suites with living rooms attached. The Park Hyatt, a four-star offering, offers an in-house spa as well as a rooftop lounge, which both pledge to melt all your cares away. (4 Avenue Rd., 416-925-1234)
If you want a place to stay that’s closer to the Theatre District and the iconic Eaton Centre, consider the Bond Place Hotel Downtown Eaton Centre. All of the nearly 300 guest rooms are non-smoking, which will definitely help you breathe easier. There is also a restaurant on-site, as well as a lounge and bar. Want to stay in the city for a long trip? The Bond Place offers special long-term rates for the serious Toronto traveler. (65 Dundas St. E., 416-362-6061)
The Courtyard by Marriott Downtown Toronto is the largest full-service Courtyard hotel in the world, and it’s close to everything you want, whether it be the Eaton Centre, Bloor Street shopping, or live entertainment. There are nearly 600 guest rooms in this hotel, and all of them offer valet parking and WiFi for free. The downstairs bistro proudly serves Starbucks coffee, and the restaurant prides itself on having some of the best food in downtown. (475 Yonge St., 416-924-0611)
WHERE TO PLAY
Traditionally, the gay neighborhood in Toronto has been known to be Church and Wellesley, bounded to the north and south by Charles Street and Gerrard Street and to the west and east by Yonge Street and Jarvis Street. However, as the city has grown and societal attitudes toward homosexuality have improved, other parts of the city have become centers of gay life. One such area is Queen Street West, in the Parkdale and Trinity-Bellwoods neighborhoods.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about Pride Toronto, which is the largest Pride event in Canada and one of the largest in North America. A ten-day event, anywhere between half a million and a million people participate in some part of the festivities, and over 100,000 people line the streets for Canada’s biggest pride parade. The events always culminate in huge parties the last week of June. Formore, visit pridetoronto.com.
Woody’s (467 Church Street) will look familar to you once you step inside; if you’ve seen the nightclub featured in Showtime’s Queer as Folk, you’ve seen Woody’s. They recommend you stop by for their Best Chest Contest which happens every Thursday and the Best Ass Contests on the weekends. Also featured on Queer as Folk is the dance club Fly (8 Gloucester Street), which has won multiple national and international awards for “Best Gay Dance Club.” If you want a high-energy club experience, Fly will not leave you disappointed. If you love a drag show, Crews and Tangos (508 Church Street) is where you should go. There are two dance floors for your enjoyment, as well as seven full days of drag entertainment each week.
Pegasus (489B Church Street) is an easygoing bar, featuring pool tables, dart boards, and lots of locals. Make some friends here and they’ll tell you how you should experience the city as only a local knows how. Zipperz and Cellblock (72 Carlton Street) offer something for every mood. Enjoy the piano bar and lounge at Zipperz, a place where you can sip a martini and sing your favorite standards with a group of friends. Want a serious dance club atmosphere with some of the most daring drag shows in Toronto? That can be found at Cellblock.
If you’re into the leather scene or you just want to see some bears, you should stop at the Black Eagle (457 Church Street). This dungeon-themed bar also includes The Backroom, where leather and BDSM-related demonstrations are held. If you want to have a nice drink while surrounded by smiling faces and the latest Top 40 radio hits, be sure to stop by and enjoy an evening at Church on Church (504 Church Street). If you’re looking for a gay-friendly Irish pub right in the middle of the gayborhood, stop by O’Grady’s (518 Church Street). The pub patio is exactly where you go to be seen in the summertime.
Queen Street West offers a number of gay nightlife options, such as the very hip Wrongbar (1279 Queen Street West). Whether you like live bands or DJs, this nightclub offers it all…even a gay hip-hop night (“Big Primpin'”) every month. The Beaver (1192 Queen Street West) is a restaurant during the day and a nightclub once the sun sets. Casual and trendy, the music changes every night: everything from pop to hip-hop to R&B to country can be heard here. El Convento Rico (750 College Street) is the hottest Latin gay club in the city, and their midnight drag shows are legendary.
WHERE TO GO
Every gay tourist visiting Toronto should stop in at The 519 Community Centre, located at 519 Church Street, which opened as an LGBT community center all the way back in 1976. Not only will you find out about gay Toronto if you stop by, you’re visiting a piece of gay Canadian history.
The Toronto Eaton Centre is one of the largest shopping malls in Canada, with over 1.7 million square feet of retail space open to consumers. The urban mall is located on the original site of the very first Eaton’s department store; the brand, which revolutionized Canadian shopping forever, has since gone out of business and was merged with Sears. The mall opened in 1977 and boasts 330 stores.
The St. Lawrence Market has been open for business for over two centuries, and it has been named time and time again as one of the best local markets in the world. Locally grown produce, fresh meats and cheeses, and even international offerings populate the thousands of tables in the expansive market. Don’t be shy; doing business here is just as friendly as you’d expect it to be in any small town.
The Toronto Zoo is a welcome diversion no matter how old you are: where else in the city can you take a walk and see panda bears, polar bears, gorillas, and sea life from Australasia in just one hour? Speaking of sea life, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is the largest indoor aquarium in the country, and here you can see exhibits dedicated to sea life in the Pacific Ocean as well as Canada’s Great Lakes. The Discovery Centre, with its hands-on exhibits, will make you feel like a kid again. The CN Tower is the largest free-standing tower in North America, and you can experience its splendor in many different ways. Are you up for a walk along the outside edge of the structure, 1100 feet above the ground? If so, that can be arranged.
Want to read more about Toronto? Visit the city’s tourism website at seetorontonow.com.