Only have one day to explore Toronto? Try this itinerary. Toronto is a great city for a weekend trip from the U.S. or for the beginning traveler. Although English is spoken here, the culture is different. You can still get the vibe of foreign country travel.
Most people find themselves at the center of Toronto, in its equivalent of Times Square in New York City, which is at the intersection of Dundas and Yonge Streets. There is a subway stop there and an entrance to the huge indoor shopping center called Eaton Centre. A few blocks west of this point, at the corner of Dundas Street and Spadina Avenue, is where you find the Art Museum of Ontario, the starting point for our itinerary. This is a great museum for art lovers, with a little bit of every type of art, from European masters to a magnificent collection by Canadian artists.
In the Canadian exhibits you can learn about the unique Group of Seven, seven Canadian artists who were largely responsible for educating Canadians at the beginning of the 20th century about their own country. Most Canadians had no exposure to the vast northern parts of Canada. These artists’ images were the first. It’s a wonderful lesson in what rural Canada is like.
Another marvelous exhibit is the Henry Morgan exhibit. You learn by observation how the great sculptor Rodin innovated by doing parts of the human body after initially focusing on the standard body in its entirety (there are examples of each type of work). The partial body sculptures initially were very controversial, but they led Picasso and Morgan to also make abstracts of parts of the human body. Eventually this led to the unique style of Morgan. An entire room is dedicated to his sculpture demonstrating his enduring influence on the form.
After visiting the museum, walk to the back of the museum building and you’ll be in Toronto’s large Chinatown. Toronto has one of the world’s largest Chinese populations. All the signs will be in Chinese. It may be difficult to understand one store from another. One place I can recommend — on the not-very-obvious third floor — is Dim Sum King. When I got there at lunch time, I was the only non-Chinese patron in a room jammed full, an immediate indication that the food is authentic and good. One of the servers was barely able to communicate in English but managed to assist me in ordering the most popular dishes from a menu that lacked any prices. The specialty of this place is dim sum, a Chinese appetizer eaten for a meal when you order several of them — fried, boiled or spicy — all delicious. A full menu is also available. After lunch, explore Chinatown by visiting some of the tea shops and other stores in the adjacent area.
After lunch, walk a few blocks in the direction away from the museum until you hit Kensington Street. This is the beginning of Kensington Market, a very old neighborhood. Shop after shop here sells interesting goods, focusing on one-of-a-kind clothing and second-hand goods. The area is colorful and fascinating, akin to a large garage sale.
You’ll have time for one more tourist site in the day. If the weather is good, I suggest that you walk “down” Spadina Avenue toward the CN Tower (more about CN Tower here) that dominates the Toronto skyline until you can’t go any further. Cross over the railroad tracks just past the CN Tower and you’ll be on Front Street. Turn left on Front Street, then you can turn right between the buildings to reach the waterfront restaurants, water taxis and even a beach. Get out on the water, either in a water taxi or on a harbor tour boat. It will give you a refreshing new view of Toronto and top off a tiring day. Hungry? Stay on the waterfront for dinner.
Follow this itinerary, and have a great day sampling Toronto’s art, authentic ethnic food, shopping, topped off by a boat ride in one of the world’s nicest harbors (see my article about the Toronto harbor.)