A First Timer's Guide to Canada's Biggest City

July 25, 2017 - MCI Canada

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Toronto: one of the friendliest and most multicultural cities in the world. You will feel at home in no time in Canada’s biggest city. Toronto’s bustling entertainment district is filled with bright lights, international cuisine, shopping, sports, and culture. Meanwhile, the Toronto Islands, natural parks, and beaches offer the perfect escape. If this is your first time in the city (or your first time in the country), Toronto has endless sights and activities to keep you busy.

Getting Around

For those who are new to the city it helps to know the lay of the land. The North American street-grid design makes navigation simple — even if your sense of direction is off. And if you’re lost, you can almost always rely on the famous CN Tower to guide you south back towards the Harbourfront. At its core, Toronto is a very walkable city but with recent upgrades to the subway and streetcar system, it’s easier than ever to adventure outside the usual tourist bubble.

See the Sights

No first visit to Toronto would be complete without checking off a few key sights. For the best views — and the best photo ops — there are many fantastic options. A tourist favourite is the CN Tower, with an unmatchable birds-eye view of “The Six”. Or, for a unique experience, take a walk on the wild side with the EdgeWalk at the CN Tower. This is the highest hands-free external walk on a building in the world, and it’s definitely worth trying.

For a quiet evening, take the ferry across the harbour to the Toronto Islands to catch the sun setting over the city’s iconic skyline. Or, take advantage of a more historic option and visit “Canada’s Majestic Castle”, Casa Loma. Perched on top of a hill, Casa Loma not only offers great views, but with events running throughout the year and tours of the beautiful house and gardens running daily, it’s a must-visit. 

Fine Dining

For the best variety of bars, restaurants, and evening entertainment, Bloorcourt Village and Queen West are two of the most popular neighbourhoods. Insomnia Restaurant on Bloor Street is known for its brunch and late night eats, but also has a great dinner menu. If you’re not feeling up to dining out, you can also call ahead for Insomnia take-out. Head over to Alo Restaurant on Spadina Avenue if you want a fancier option. French fare is their specialty, and dinner is served as a tasting menu of multiple dishes. Be sure to plan ahead — reservations book up well ahead of time. The bar, on the other hand, is walk-in only.

While in Toronto, make sure you find time to try poutine, a Canadian classic originally from Quebec but now popular throughout Canada. For a quirky alternative, try the Harry Potter themed Lockhart Bar, selling magical cocktails alongside an excellent tapas menu. Or, head to one of Toronto’s many cultural neighbourhoods such as Korea Town or Little Italy for some authentic world food.

Stay Entertained

Come June, Toronto finally gets some sunshine and locals head to the beaches in the west or over to the Toronto Islands to make the most of the excellent weather.

If you’re looking for post-conference entertainment, you’re in luck — Toronto comes to life each evening. The Drake Hotel is a cultural institution in Toronto with one of the best rooftop bars in the city, the Sky Yard. The Drake also has music, comedy, poetry, and club nights throughout the week, and it’s always worth checking out their latest line-ups.

Other more casual, alternative music spots worth trying are the Cameron House or the Horseshoe Tavern. Both have relaxed atmospheres and excellent live music almost every night of the week. For an extra luxurious option, try the Cabana Pool Bar on the harbourfront and catch some live music and DJs throughout the weekend.  

Whether you’re here to travel, work, or simply explore Canada’s biggest city, Toronto promises excellent food, fantastic entertainment, and lovely people. A conference weekend hardly gives you enough time to experience all Toronto has to offer, but with top sights within easy walking distance, and interesting attractions at every bend, you’ll be grateful for any time spent in this dynamic city.

Plan your conference weekend in Toronto with GHS 2018.

Photo: Shutterstock /  Stephane Legrand