Welcome to Toronto...
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Toronto, the city that brought you Drake and Degrassi High, somewhat flies under the radar when it comes to tourism but it delivers big time in the areas of food, shopping, sport, culture, nightlife and nature. Explore the urban woodlands, eat the best bacon sandwich you’ll ever get your hands on, watch a ball game and generally fall under a friendly Canadian spell with Karla Courtney's top things to do on your first visit here.
Skate in winter at Nathan Phillips Square
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Toronto gets very cold in winter, there is no way around it. Embrace it like the locals do with an outdoor skate. In the Christmas season Nathan Phillips Square, home to Toronto City Hall, is one of the most festive places in the universe with a large and lovely ice rink lit up with fairy lights and snowflakes. You don’t need to pack your skates; rentals are available.
Take a picture with the Toronto sign
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Nathan Phillips Square is also home to the famous colourful 3D Toronto sign – it is pretty much a municipal requirement to get a photo in front of this before you leave.
Go to a Jays game
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Toronto is home to Major League baseball, basketball and hockey teams – so there is live sport happening in every season. From April to September, watching the Blue Jays play ball at the Rogers Centre (locals still refer to it as its original name, The Skydome) is a super fun, laid-back way to spend a day in the sun. Tickets for the Jays are the easiest to come by – you can almost always buy them on the day if you don’t mind sitting high up. Tickets for the Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL) and Toronto Raptors (NBA) are harder to come by and more expensive – if you are really keen make sure to book these well in advance.
Head to the top of the CN Tower
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Don't fight it. It is actually impossible not to see the CN Tower, which is 553 meters tall and was once the highest freestanding structure in the world. Looking south from the main deck (346 metres high) on a good day will allow you to see right across Lake Ontario and over to New York State in the USA. The queues to go up can be quite long but they move fast and the views are worth the wait.
Visit the Toronto Islands
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Toronto sits on the shores of Lake Ontario, which is 31 kilometres long and 85 kilometres wide, making it the smallest of North America’s Great Lakes. But it’s still vast enough to feel like an ocean. Out on the lake, just over 1.5 kilometres from the centre of the city, is an archipelago of 15 islands known as the Toronto Islands. Ferries to the main island, Centre Island, depart from Toronto Harbour every 30 minutes during the summer. Centre Island is a peaceful parkland with a beautiful view of the Toronto skyline where you can rent bikes, have a meal or visit the small theme park, Centreville.
Visit an old brick factory
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Evergreen Brick Works looks like a brick factory on the outside as well as on the inside, thanks to all the old equipment still intact. During weekends it comes alive with food trucks and local vendors selling farm fresh produce and handmade goods. There are also games (giant Jenga anyone?) and lots of beautiful surrounding trails that go through a vast urban woodland. Brick Works is also home to the popular Cafe Belong, which, in addition to its main dining room, offers the unique experience of eating a special Mongolian-inspired set menu inside an actual Yurt. Yes, this place is a hip green urban paradise.
Do the ROM
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The Royal Ontario Museum is a striking building on the outside, made up of huge metallic and glass points that appear to be bursting out of the ground. Inside is Canada’s largest collection of art, culture and natural history, which includes a broad range of artefacts from all over the world. And, yes, there are lots of dinosaur bones. When you’re finished, stroll through the Philosopher's Walk on the neighbouring University of Toronto grounds down to Queen’s Park.
Go where the hipsters go
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Queen West and College West are go-to spots for vintage fashion, dive bars and trendy restaurants. The Kensington Market area, just north of Queen West, features rows of Victorian homes that have been converted into shops – most things here are either handmade or second-hand. Leslieville, on Toronto’s east side is newer to the ranks of cool and is a great place for cafés and brunch.
Eat at the St Lawrence Market
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The St Lawrence Market is Toronto’s go-to foodie destination, with more than 120 market stalls. Everyone will tell you: get the peameal bacon sandwich at Carousel Bakery. It was recently named the best food market in the world by National Geographic Travel.
Sample some local beer
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Toronto has a number of great local breweries – do your own pub crawl and visit Mill Street at the Distillery, Steam Whistle Brewing at Roundhouse Park (right next to the Rogers Centre) and Amsterdam Brewhouse on Queens Quay.
Up Next: First-timer's Guide to New York
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There’s no city in the world like New York – but it can be daunting for first-time visitors. From the skyscrapers to the boroughs to finding the best slice, we break down the Big Apple into bite-size chunks. Here are our top things to do on your first visit here.