“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends,
but is played out over and over again
in the quietest chambers. The mind
can never break off from the journey.”
One day, randomly, in 2018, I sent out a group text to my friends asking if they wanted to road trip up to Canada for a few days. It’s roughly a nine hour drive from my hometown, so it seemed reasonable, and I was desperate to get out of town and explore. A year later, another friend and I were discussing traveling together for the first time. The first place I thought of? Toronto. There is something about this city that I absolutely adore- the food, the views, the quirky shopping areas, the coffee, the sights? There’s a lot of things that draw me to Toronto again and again, and I thought I’d share a few of my favorite things with you!
The Lockhart,a Harry Potter-influenced bar
So, The Lockhart was a fairly new experience for me, and I’m just so shocked at myself for not realizing that there was a Harry Potter influenced bar in Toronto when I first visited. I mean, can I honestly call myself a Potterhead? But, nevertheless, I found this bar and the first night in the city, I went. And it does not disappoint! It’s a little hole-in-the-wall, cozy place with the coolest staff and subtle nods to Harry Potter. The star of the show in this bar was not the decor- not even the delicious cocktails with subtle Harry Potter inspired names. It was the bathroom. That’s all I’m going to say, because otherwise I’d spoil the magic (hehe) of your trip down the stairs.
Walk around Kensington Market for hours
I wish I was exaggerating about walking around Kensington for hours, but I’m not! It’s a super trendy bohemian neighborhood with quirky shops, vintage boutiques, art spaces, specialty grocers (on my first trip, we bought up half the snacks in an Asian grocery shop), trendy cafes, and gorgeous Victorian houses to daydream about living in. My favorite spots in Kensington Market? Exile (a quirky vintage costume shop), Fika Cafe (delicious coffee), Jimmy’s Coffee (more delicious coffee!), WilBe Bloomin (a florist), Blue Banana Market (novelty gifts and local artisans), Moo Frites (a place dedicated to fries!), and just simply looking at all the street murals.
Grab a coffee from the Birchcliff and drive out to Scarborough Bluffs Park
This is probably one of my all time favorite things to do in Toronto. There’s something about strolling along the beach (even in the cold) of Lake Ontario that is just ridiculously relaxing. The Birchcliff is about a 10 minute drive from the Bluffs and is probably one of my favorite cafes in Toronto- the coffee is phenomenal, the atmosphere is cozy, and the people are great! Bluffer’s Park and Beach has some absolutely stunning views for just a stroll around!
Visit an actual castle in Toronto… Casa Loma!
Casa Loma was built by Sir Henry Pellatt, a financier, with architect E. J. Lennox in 1914- it would be his dream home. While the castle held modern day conveniences, it also holds a few nods to the historic castles and knights: battlements and secret passageways. It still stands as one of the only true castles in North America. Pellatt, however, could not financially keep up with expansion on the castle and drove himself into serious debt and was forced to auction off his dream home in 1924. In 1925, architect William Sparling proposed to convert Casa Loma into a luxury hotel- a plan that only lasted from 1926-1929 due to the Depression. In 1937, it was finally opened as the tourist attraction we see today, and it has been used as the backdrop of several films. To name a few: Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Vow, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, Twitches I and II, and a whole many more!
Dinner at the CN Tower
On my first trip to Toronto, we decided to be a bit bougie and not just visit the CN Tower but dine in the 360 Restaurant. We went right around sunset and were able to take in the stunning views while eating some of the most extravagant food around at 1,151 ft in the air. We were sat right at the windows and were able to get the full view during our entire dinner. If your budget will allow for it, I highly recommend the 360 Restaurant because the views and the price are totally worth it!
Escape the city… in the city at Riverdale Farm
On my most recent trips to Toronto, I discovered that there was a 7.5 acre farm in the heart of the modern Cabbagetown neighborhood. And I love animals. So, naturally, I had to make it out there. There’s plenty of walking around to do and plenty of cutiepie animals to watch- and it’s very quiet, despite being in the center of an urban neighborhood! It’s completely free to walk around, so great for those of us visiting the city on a budget!
Explore the Distillery District
Another one of my favorites in the city is the historic Distillery District- it’s a pedestrian only area set in 19th century buildings (remnants of an old whiskey distillery) with cobblestoned streets. Indie restaurants, bars, boutiques, and art galleries are nestled in these old buildings as will as outdoor sculptures and performers. A few of my favorite things to do in the Distillery District are: Madrina Bar Y Tapas (fantastic food!), Mill Street Brewery (amazing burgers and beers!), Blackbird Vintage Finds, GW General, and looking at the street sculptures. Pictured above is I. T. by Michael Christian on Gristmill Lane; there is also the LOVE Sign, the Love Locks, and Still Dancing by Dennis Oppenheim.
This stretch of grimy back-alley between Spadina and Portland Street is possibly one of the coolest spots in Toronto. Between dirty puddles and the soft crush of soggy cardboard, the setting is perfect for view the temporary art murals. The murals are vibrant and funny, and there are very few spots that are “tagged” with “vandalism.” It’s hard to believe it now, but street art wasn’t always legal in Toronto, but the City of Toronto is now open to these gorgeous murals accenting neighborhoods and expressing their uniqueness. Some of Toronto’s most renowned street artists’ works can be found here: Uber5000, Elicser, Poser, Skam, Spud. It’s well worth the visit!
The World’s first randomizing vending machine for old books… The Monkey’s Paw Biblio-Mat
For all of us book lovers out there, this is perhaps one of the coolest things ever… a book vending machine, where the book you get is a total surprise. Snug in the back of the Monkey’s Paw, an antiquarian shop specializing in uncommon books and paper artifacts, you’ll find the Biblio-Mat. And for an inexpensive $3 CAD, you’ll receive a coin to toss in the machine and walk out with a brand new old book. Alas, they only allow you to purchase one coin per person in a day, but the anticipation is still quite fun!
Have you visited Toronto? What are some of your favorite spots to see in the city? I’d love to hear your opinions, so pop a comment below!