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Toronto tours

Avoid the Tourist Traps with 5 Unusual Tours

By SANAM ISLAM

Foodlab, a stop on the Local Montreal tour (Photo: Sébastien Roy)

Bored of the CN Tower and Parliament Hill? Already seen Mont-Royale and the Vancouver skyline? If you’ve been to the usual tourist spots and want to explore new sights the next time you travel or you’re simply looking to rediscover your city, check out our list of unique tours across the country that are guaranteed to give you a fresh perspective.

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Staff Picks: 5 Types of Walking Tours

Walking tours are a great way to see the city this spring (photo by Sanjay Parekh)

Now that the weather appears to be warming, it’s a great time to get out and explore the city on foot. Whatever your pleasure, there’s likely a gregarious Torontonian offering a walking tour to your taste. Below, we present our favourites providers of five types of tours. (more…)

Hot Date: The City Opens its Doors

Spadina Museum

MAY 28 & 29 Strolling Toronto is even more exciting when you’re invited to explore treasured architectural gems during Doors Open. The free event welcomes thousands inside more than 150 modern and historic buildings, some of which are not generally open to the public. Visit the enormous art deco R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant as it celebrates its 70th anniversary, or discover the history behind such sites as the Redpath Sugar Museum or the Spadina Museum: Historic House and Gardens. Don’t forget your camera! Doors Open is beloved by shutterbugs, and this year’s event honours photography even further, with many buildings featuring displays of archival imagery.

Yours to Discover: Day One

Winter’s on its way out; it’s time to get a head start on exploring. Guide yourself with our specialized itineraries, or contact one of Toronto’s many tour operators to delve deeper into this multifaceted metropolis.

Henry Moore's Two Forms sit outside the AGO

SIGHTSEEING FOR SHUTTERBUGS
These landmarks are ready for their close up.

ALLAN GARDENS Featuring a glass domed Victorian-style “palm house” and an alluring architectural symmetry throughout its 16,000 square feet, Allan Gardens Conservatory is a popular photo-op spot. Venture inside for a lovely view of numerous flowers and plants, from orchids to cacti.

ART GALLERY OF ONTARIO The arcing glass facade and titanium tower comprising this Frank Gehry-designed museum are prominent in the midst of a largely residential quarter. Directly south is another intriguing edifice: the floating “tabletop” of OCAD University’s Sharp Centre for Design.

CASA LOMA This Gothic Revival mansion in midtown keeps imposing watch over the city and is surrounded by five acres of gardens. Inside, visitors can explore nearly 100 opulently decorated rooms.

The Allen Lambert Galleria in Brookfield Place

CN TOWER One of the tallest buildings in the world, this concrete needle makes for an iconic image from the ground. Or, ascend to its observation decks and snap a sky-high panorama—on a clear day it’s possible to see for  many kilometres into the distance.

CITY HALL Toronto’s seat of government is a modernist landmark—at the north end of Nathan Phillips Square sit two towers parenthetically embracing a saucer-like Council Chamber. Within its rotunda you can view a scale model of the city, plus a variety of public art works.

FINANCIAL DISTRICT Canada’s power brokers swing deals amidst this area’s superior structures, including the Santiago Calatrava–designed galleria at Brookfield Place, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s TD Centre towers, and the Renaissance Revival–style Commerce Court North.

HIGH PARK If the weather is agreeable, this hilly, 399-acre greenspace offers ample opportunity for photographic pursuits—and general enjoyment. There’s nature’s bounty, of course, but also a small zoo, historic Colborne Lodge and more. Return in late April to see the cherry trees in bloom.

The Royal Ontario Museum's Michael Lee-Chin Crystal (photo by Brian Boyle)

HOCKEY HALL OF FAME This shrine to Canada’s favourite sport is located in a heritage Beaux Arts bank building. Its cathedral-like Great Hall enshrines the National Hockey League’s coveted trophies—including the famed Stanley Cup—for all to see.

OLD TOWN The city’s original blocks date to 1793 and feature photo-friendly historic sites like the Gooderham “flatiron” Building and St. Lawrence Market. The area’s eastern end is home to the circa-1850s Distillery Historic District.

ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM Arguably the most controversial site in Toronto, the ROM’s “Crystal,” conceived by architect Daniel Libeskind, is nothing if not striking. The geometric structure bursts forth from a neo-Byzantine heritage building. Set your sights on thousands of historical artifacts and natural specimens inside.

Many of these famous attractions can be spotted from the comfort of a coach or even a double-decker bus. The Toronto City Tour and Gray Line Hop-On, Hop-Off City Tour offer popular, fully narrated excursions.

Essential to the City: Trio of Tours

Shirley Lum offers you A Taste of the World

As the weather gets warmer, why not amble across Toronto with tours on foot? At A Taste of the World, Shirley Lum guides you through edible paradise, haunted history or literary enlightenment on such tours as “Toronto’s Lost First Chinatown” and “Swansea and Lucy Maud Montgomery.” Art enthusiast Betty Ann Jordan helps you discover gems in the city’s art, architecture and design world through her Art InSite walks in the West Queen West neighbourhood. Or put your itinerary in the hands of the friendly Tour Guys, which offers free streamlined walks and more comprehensive urban adventures, including a “Beer Makes History Better” tour and tasting.

See Inside the City

The Don Jail is sure to be a popular Doors Open venue for history buffs and photographers alike.

The Don Jail is sure to be a popular Doors Open venue for history buffs and photographers alike.

As highlighted in our current “Weekend Roundup,” May 23 and 24 offer perhaps your best chance to really get to know Toronto, by exploring its most hallowed halls (and revered contemporary edifices) as part of the 10th annual Doors Open Toronto. The immensely popular event allows visitors to enter 175 buildings of historical, cultural and architectural significance free of charge. Among this year’s participating structures are the über-hip Drake Hotel, the spectacular BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir—a Hindu temple built from more than 6,000 tons of hand-carved marble, limestone, sandstone and wood—the Mies van der Rohe-designed Toronto Dominion Centre and, open to the public for the first time in more than 30 years, the Don Jail. Adding to the interest: many buildings offer informative guided tours and excellent photo opportunities.

Obviously, one can’t expect to view 175 buildings in a single weekend. Your best course of action? Peruse the full list of Doors Open venues and stay within one or two city districts. Not only will you maximize the number of sites you’re able to see, you’ll get a nice neighbourhood walking tour to boot!

The Blue Jays Way

Get the best out of a Toronto Blue Jays game with these helpful tips.

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SHOP Show your support on and off the field with souvenirs and official gamewear, including a DNA Raglan T-shirt by Majestic ($39.99). Blue Jays Shop, Rogers Centre (1 Blue Jays Way, Gate 5), 1-877-529-7467.
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EAT Bay Street hot spot The Bottom Line is the Commissioner’s Trophy of resto-bars for Toronto sports nuts. This classy steakhouse is just steps away from Rogers Centre and offers tasty, game-ready dishes like a seared tuna club. 22 Front St. W., 416-362-7585.
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TOUR Get a sneak peak of the stadium—the first in the world with a retractable roof—with the Rogers Centre Tour Experience. Go behind the scenes of this colossal sports facility on a guided tour, with stops at the Blue Jays Hall of Fame, a museum and more.