I didn't even know my brother was in Toronto for the week, but the email made it clear:
"We just arrived in Toronto after the tournament, and since you used to live here, I was wondering if you had any ideas of activities we could do for an hour to half a day."
I was not about to recommend the CN Tower, although my brother did it anyway, spending half a day in line to get a very nice view. Not really worth the time.
Nor was I about to recommend Canada's Wonderland, although he also did that, because it's an amusement park. You can do that anywhere, and La Ronde is closer to home. But kids and kids-at-heart love amusement parks.
I did recommend the Toronto Zoo. It's a big one, with something for everyone. When I lived in Toronto, I went several times a year. Although I would much prefer see in the animals in the wild (except for the tigers, gorillas and the polar bears), this is as close to around-the-world travel as I'll ever get.
Plus the zoo is outdoors, which means fresh air and exercise; it is much more spacious than zoos I've been to in San Diego, Calgary, Chicago and Granby. And there is very little waiting in line - just once to get in, unless you want a camel ride or entry into a special exhibit Apparently, it was a half-hour line-up to see the baby pandas. I've seen special exhibits for dinosaurs and sharks in the past, and they are well-worth the wait.
If it rains, there are plenty of indoor pavilions. If it's too hot, go for a soak at the splash pad (kids and kids-at-heart). The zoo is always my top pick in Toronto.
McMichael Canadian Art Collection
My second pick, only because it's a little off the beaten path -- literally, in Kleinberg -- is the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. If you grabbed a quick flight through Expedia, this might not be for you, or you'll have to rent a car. But if you have wheels, it rivals the National Gallery in Ottawa.
Celebrating 50 years in a hilly, rural setting, this is the most unique art gallery I know. The works are all Canadian, and substantially based on the Group of Seven. There are plenty of works from my favourite painter, Lawren Harris.
I also recommended Chinatown. Toronto actually has a few Chinatowns, including a spread-out suburban one in Scarborough and East Chinatown on Gerrard Street. But I was referring to the big Chinatown along Dundas West and Spadina. It is one of the biggest in North America. When I lived in downtown Toronto, I used to walk to Chinatown just to pick up Chinese pastries, such as coconut balls and sesame balls, both made with sticky rice flour.
The whole experience of Chinatown is like travelling across the ocean without forking out the airfare. There are authentic restaurants, which you can seek out. My girls got Chinese dresses (cheongsams!) there when they were small.
Ontario Science Centre
I also recommended the Ontario Science Centre, which is unique if for no other reason that it is on several levels, descending into a ravine. Bigger than similar interactive museums in Montreal and Ottawa, the Ontario Science Centre also has IMAX (to rest your feet a while)
My brother's family also went to Toronto Island. The Island I know is the amusement park, but both our kids are too old for that. So they rented bikes and rode the boardwalk, making "music" with the loose boards that popped up as they rode. The beaches were lovely, too, so worth your while if you want to get away and relax.
1001 Friday Nights of Storytelling
Storytelling is alive and well in downtown Toronto, and is more captivating than movies or theatre. Plus it's only $5.00. If you are in Toronto on a Friday night, this is not to miss. It's moving, it's entertaining, it's authentic, it's intimate. When I lived in Toronto, I went frequently.
Ride a streetcar
Ride a streetcar. I am pretty sure that Toronto is the only Canadian city left with a functioning streetcar system. A number of cities have light rail, but that's on its own right of way. Riding the streetcar through Toronto is an experience worth trying. You can even ride the streetcar from one Chinatown to the other.
This is far from an exhaustive list of things to do in Toronto. I've left out a lot of popular attractions, such as the Royal Ontario Museum (so, it's a museum), the Art Gallery of Ontario (if you prefer modern sculpture in a downtown setting), the Hockey Hall of Fame (for die-hard fans), Casa Loma (a pleasant visit to a castle-style mansion), Ripley's Aquarium (haven't been there, yet, but looks amazing) and Ontario Place (an amusement park and recreation centre set to reopen in 2017). Depending on your taste and interests, they are all fascinating. But if you have just a few days, you have to make some hard choices.
And, as with any large city, there are enough restaurants, clubs, festivals, live theatre, shopping, sports events and parks to keep you busy for a lifetime. For that, though, you might first want to consult a real estate agent.
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