Our mission is clear: discover Toronto’s highlights and create unforgettable memories.
But first, as a British writer with the relative cynicism, Canadians are wonderful people; they are welcoming, outgoing and bring an positive ethos into their everyday lives.
This statement is made because even visitors like me got swept up – it’s infectious.
So, here I was with a thirst for life that could be governed by some law; the vibrancy, expression and character of Toronto propels infected visitors to seek the cure found in every corner of charm here – and there’s an abundance.
Anyway, enough contagion analogies.
From Church and Wellesley, the gay village, to the hipster vibes of Ossington Avenue and Kensington Market we basked in culture from arrival to departure; from the highs to the only low.
Toronto is one of the most inclusive cities in the world, so arriving during Pride weekend – of course, we’re Gay Star News – it was even more plain to see than another handsome Canadian man alerting a fellow citizen to a dropped receipt on the sidewalk just incase.
Pride flags were flying high, low, and in every window – it was beautiful to see so many proud colors, including Trans and Bisexual flags, waving us in from government office buildings, museums, corporate HQs and almost ever family-owned restaurants and shops.
We were here to stay. Well, our flight home was in three days – but we so wanted to be.
Back to the mission. Toronto is a Jenga of neighbourhoods full of inter-woven character, from Tiny Town to Cabbagetown. We’ve found some of the hottest spots for memory-making, based loosely around food, drink and LGBTI attractions, in as many areas as we could visit in three days to inspire you.
From where to go, what to do and when to make an entrance in the gay village and elsewhere, this short guide has it covered.
For good times to flow and memories to grow, we need to feel at home…
Where better than a brand new boutique hotel?
As the only Kimpton in Canada, and the latest hotel opening in Toronto, the Saint George boutique is the highly anticipated new kid on the block – on the corner of Bloor and St. George to be exact.
Close to the quiet University of Toronto campus, and a short walk from the gay village and Dundas Square, the Times Square of Toronto, the Saint George straddles the line of a perfect stay for all; not too close but not too far.
Even if it were ‘too far’, the homely manner of the Saint George – and it’s incredible staff, who you’ll actually miss once you’re gone – might just be a good enough reason for one night in.
The rooms are state of the art, blend modern features with tasteful design and color palette – mostly olive green, my favorite color – and are brand new; no worn out anything here.
Every evening, the hotel hosts a ‘happy hour’ where guests are welcomed to the communal living room, complete with roaring fireplace, to meet one another and taste regional wines on the house – which is great for any traveller wanting to meet people from afar.
Friendship seems to be the number one priority at the Saint George, and we made a bestie.
The bullet point guide to partying in the gay village
Everyone wants to experience the scene through a regular’s eyes, so I found two cute guys – from Mexico City and the Philippines, both long time Torontonians, to give me the lowdown:
Here’s the wisdom I learned:
- Woody’s is the church of Church and Wellesley; most of the gay men in Toronto at least start their night here, they might even stay through to the end.
- Black Eagle is for leather enthusiasts and curious friends who don’t mind porn on the TV while you’re ordering a Gin & Slim. Darkroom optional.
- British tourists love Crews & Tangos for its tacky, dragtastic shows and decor – everyone can be themselves and everyone is welcome.
- Not for partying, but heads up – Steamworks baths is the place for ‘public play’.
This isn’t a comprehensive guide, but I’ve been advised to start/finish at one of these.
The crossroads of cuisine: Kensington Market
Jamaican patties. Pulled pork tacos. Fresh patisserie. It’s all at Kensington Market.
Food is the quickest way to my heart. So, when we arrived at the distinctive multicultural neighborhood downtown I abandoned, like you do with love, all reservations – and you don’t need any at this street food gold mine.
The small-ish neighborhood plays the perfect setting for a brunch expedition, entering each store, passing foodies with hands full of snacks, delivered us from Canada across the world to Mexico, Italy, Jamaica and beyond with the scent of homemade traditional recipes.
Spend a late morning strolling through the hipster streets and fill your belly with joy.
CulinaryAdventure.co’s Chinatown + Kensington Market tour is listed in Forbes Magazine’s 9 best food tours in the world. Book here.
BONUS: These Toronto restaurants are incredible – you must go
Kasa Moto; This sophisticated Japanese restaurant in the heart of Yorkville has the most beautiful rock shrimp tempura and cocktail list you’ve ever seen. The seemingly bland Cauliflower also has a Japanese twist causing severe salivation and tendency to gorge.
Nota Bene; If you come to Nota Bene for the Nova Scotia lobster salad alone you’ll leave with a noteworthy memory of a time you enjoyed out of this world fresh seafood. Dress to impress and feel your executive-realness, darling.
Figures; Enter through the secret door of this comic-themed upscale resto-lounge and devour a menu of craving-satisfying ‘cheat’ foods with a exquisite, classy, twist. The crafted cocktail list is also something out of, well, a comic book. Expect chemistry.
Sofia Yorkville; The latest addition to upper-tier dining in Toronto, having only opened in May 2018, this restaurant has already made waves with some of Canada’s elite. Celebrities, food critics and FTSE100 business owners have raved about the Italian cuisine from executive chef Christine Mast.
Another bullet point guide, this time for Pride Toronto…
This is short and sweet, Pride in Toronto is like most others – a beautiful display of pride, inclusivity and diversity taking over the heart of city.
Some general and personal tips:
- While European Pride’s tend to happen on Saturday, Toronto’s is Sunday.
- There are no national days on the Monday, so most party on Friday and Saturday and enjoy brunches and the parade on a more-chilled parade day.
- To get a good view of the parade, find a two-floor bar along the route on Yonge St.
- Make it your day to be yourself and let go.
Take a cocktail tour, because there’s always time for cock-tails…
Tongue out of cheek for a second, let’s talk about the up and coming cocktail district.
Self-described by myself as the cocktail district of Toronto, the area bordering Parkdale along Ossington Avenue/Queen Street is yet to be officially named as such – but it will be.
From the French-inspired Boehmer to Death & Taxes Free House and Miss Thing’s Hawaii dream, there is a cocktail and bar to suit all tastes – sour to sweet, suave to relaxed.
Sip, Walk, Repeat with the Drink Toronto cocktail trail and meet the friendliest bartenders in Toronto while sampling a cocktail and a side dish at each unique stop.
Advice: Don’t do this tour on the same day as visiting Kensington Market. Be warned, I did.
The cocktail trail, which includes a cocktail and side plate in five venues, costs a meer CAD$150 and last 2.5 hours – Winner!
Snapshot! Where to get the best selfies of you in Toronto…
The Toronto skyline is iconic thanks greatly to the CN Tower, so getting a shot with the space needle is a must. But, there’s many other places in Toronto ripe for the Instagram taking.
For skylines, The One Eighty, a rooftop bar on the 51st floor, has panoramic views of the city ready for sunset and night cityscape shots.
Toronto has its very own Flatiron building, the Gooderham building, that looks like a cute mini-me to its NYC cousin, while the adjacent St Lawrence Market is brimming with Instagram-friendly foods and produce from around Canada.
I hand-picked these places to help you make similar memories to the fantastic ones I made – and you never know, you might even get a kiss from a Torontonian at Pride!
Coming up in Toronto…
Nuit Blanche – Sleepless Night – founded in Paris is an all-night, from sunset to sunrise, art festival and a must see in Toronto! As the sun goes down Torontonians and tourists alike experience unusual encounters with art! Taking place this year on 29 September, for one night only, emblematic sights, works and performances can be seen around the city from 7pm to 7am.
The theme this year is ‘You are Here’ – The new Toronto is a city of change. A city in progress. This evolving and storied landscape continues to challenge our thinking of what Toronto is at this moment in time, the artists and curators of Nuit Blanche 2018 invite you to join them to unfold, reinterpret, question, listen, disrupt and see through new eyes Toronto and our places in it. You are here. Now.
So, I told you it would be a quick guide.
View Dan Beeson’s Toronto Instagram story, and other posts, here.
For further information about Toronto, visit Tourism Toronto at www.seetorontonow.com.
British Airways now flies three times per week from London Gatwick to Toronto with return World Traveller fares from £402 including taxes and charges.
Prices for the newly Kimpton St George Hotel start from £205 per night.
A Toronto CityPass provides access to key attractions across the city including the CN Tower, Case Lomo, Royal Ontario Museum, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada and Toronto Zoo or Ontario Science Centre.
The passes are £51 for adults and £34 for children (plus taxes). Getting around Toronto costs just £7 per day with a TTC day pass.