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Only have a few hours to get a taste of the city?
While there’s enough to see & do in Toronto to keep you amused for weeks on end, here are a few ideas for a 1 day visit
1. You do not need a car to get around central Toronto , & indeed, it’s advisable not to waste your precious time idling on the busy streets, but if you plan on driving into the city, start by parking at the Green P garage under Nathan Phillips Square (City Hall). It’s affordable & very central. Search for 'carpark 36' or 110 Queen St W here:
Whether or not you have a car, start this tour up top on the plaza. (You’ll find it at the corner of Queen St W & Bay Street). Nathan Phillips Square is home to Toronto ’s iconic City Hall, completed in 1965. The design is the result of an international competition held in the late 1950’s. The square is the civic heart of the city & features a large reflecting pool that doubles as an extremely popular ice skating rink in the cold weather.
2. Leave the square via Queen Street West , turning right towards University Avenue . On your right is the beautiful Osgoode Hall, a structure dating to 1829. Note the curious gates in its classic wrought iron fencing. Legend has it that they were designed to keep errant cows or horses from entering the manicured property back in the days when this building sat at the edge of town.
To your left is the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, home to the Canadian Opera Company & the National Ballet of Canada.
At the corner of University Av. & Queen St. W, look across the avenue to the stately Canada Life Building , known city-wide for its rooftop weather beacon.
Find the stairs & head down into Osgood subway station. If you’re visiting on the weekend buy a day pass for the city's transit system (TTC). The pass costs $10, is good for the full (weekend) day & lets the whole family ride the entire system. If you’re doing this circuit on a weekday the individual cash fare will work out cheaper than a day pass. Pick up a Ride Guide map from the fare collector's booth. Ride the subway south to King St W (St Andrew Station- only 1 stop)
3. Follow the signs out of the station for University Avenue West Side. As you come out onto the street look back up University Av & catch a glimpse at the end of the boulevard of the provincial legislature building (akin to a U.S. State Capitol building). Head west on foot along King St W to John St (2 blocks). On the left you will pass Roy Thompson Hall, home to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and on your right are the historic Royal Alexandra Theatre & its newer sibling, the Princess of Wales Theatre.
At the corner of John Street turn left & head south to the CN Tower. The tower is probably the most widely known symbol of Toronto & one if the city’s most visited attractions. There is a multitude of information available about the structure so let's not dwell on it here. Go up & enjoy the view.
4. When you come down from the tower follow the wide stairs cascading down the east side of the Rogers Centre, Toronto ’s retractable roof sports stadium. Before heading down the stairs, catch a glimpse of the sculpture adorning the north face of the stadium. Called “The Audience”, by well known Canadian artist Michael Snow, it features boisterous fans hanging out of the structure.
Walk around the south end of the Rogers Centre & follow Bremner Blvd west to Spadina Av. In the center boulevard of the avenue is a transit stop. Board the 510 Streetcar (it will say Spadina on the front) & take it north to Dundas St. W , the heart of one of the city's biggest Chinatowns . (The stop name will be announced onboard the streetcar). Walk a couple of blocks up Spadina, on the west side, to St Andrews St & stop for a well-deserved lunch at Pho Hung, a great Vietnamese place.
5. After lunch, follow St Andrews St into the heart of Kensington Market. Explore the heady mix of food markets, purveyors of vintage wear, army surplus shops and coffee houses, all infused with a bohemian vibe, on Augusta Av., Baldwin St. , & Kensington Av. (If the idea of lunch at Pho Hung didn't strike your fancy, there are several great places in the heart of the market, notably Jumbo Empanada, El Trompo (Mexican) & Big Fat Burrito (Canadianized Mexican), all on Augusta Av. Head back to Dundas St W by browsing your way through the multitude of vintage shops down Kensington Av. On Dundas, turn left & head east back to Spadina Av. Take a turn through some of the immense & exotic Chinese supermarkets near the corner. Cross Spadina & proceed southward along its east side as far as Queen St W , maybe stopping for a pick-me-up at Dark Horse Espresso Bar about halfway down.
Turn left onto Queen St & browse the shops along the wide avenue till you get to John St . This stretch of Queen West was once ground zero for the city’s subculture of artists & musicians. While escalating real estate prices have driven the art crowd further & further west along Queen Street , this stretch has retained its youthful vibe and is home to one of the most crowd-pleasing mixes of urban shopping to be found in the city.
When you reach John Street , turn left & head into Grange Park at the top of the street. Ahead of you is the shimmering blue south face, with its snaking cantilevered stairway, of the Art Gallery of Ontario. To your right is the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD) building hovering over its surroundings on stilts. Make your way over to McCaul Street, to the right if you’re looking at the blue wall, then turn left & walk up to Dundas St W to admire the brilliant facade added to the AGO by architect Frank Gehry (who grew up around the corner on Beverly Street).
6. Near the large Henry Moore sculpture on the AGO corner of Dundas & McCaul, board the 505 Streetcar (make sure it says Broadview on the front) heading east. Ride till you hit Yonge Street , then get off.
7. Rest your feet for a while in Yonge-Dundas Square. This urban plaza is a relatively recent addition to Toronto ’s landscape. Surrounded by giant electronic billboards, completely paved, and adorned with café tables and a whimsical fountain that spouts 600 jets of water from the pavement, it is almost unforgivingly urban and is only slowly coming to be loved by the city’s residents. Weekends may see the square fitted out for a market of some sort & the stage at the east side providing entertainment to the throngs.
8. Having caught your breath, cross Yonge Street & head into the Eaton Centre, a massive indoor shopping complex, and reputedly Toronto ’s top tourist draw. Once inside you can shop your way down the three blocks south, all the way back to Queen Street West .
Leave the mall at Queen St , turn right & walk back towards Nathan Phillips Square . Admire Toronto ’s Old City Hall on your right, now used for law courts, and from the building’s front steps look down Bay Street to the country’s financial heartland, home of the city’s tallest skyscrapers. Cross Bay Street onto Nathan Phillips Square . You have now completed the circuit. Well done!