Tourist Toronto: overrated and underrated

When it comes to Canada’s East/West coast rivalry, there’s no doubt that British Columbia’s beauty gives Vancouver the edge over Toronto. Well, at least when it comes to tourist attractions.

Toronto’s proximity to Niagara Falls makes for a great day trip, but the city is certainly less easy on the eye and attraction-packed than some others. BUT, that’s not to say it isn’t a fabulous place to live, work and explore.
(In fact, this whole entry could be spent discussing the city’s incredible, diverse cuisine, but that’s for a future post).

Though a good three out of four months of mine spent there were in the ridiculous winter, I still found plenty to do both inside and out. In between working at ELLE (Toronto Fashion Week? classic day at the office), seeking out street art and brunching constantly, I like to think I discovered a lot.

Whether or not you agree with my views on the below, I hope you enjoy my findings and photos!

Overrated tourist attractions

CN Tower

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There’s no escaping the city’s clearest compass: the “tallest freestanding structure in the Western hemisphere” and massive, concrete beast. Though less attractive the closer you get to it, the city’s skyline is nothing without it. And this is precisely why going up the CN Tower is 100% a waste of your money – the view is pretty darn dull once you’re up, because there’s nothing to see. Even on a clear day, photos come out average at best, and the glass floor is the epitome of underwhelming.

St Lawrence Market

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Don’t get me wrong, I love good food. And St Lawrence Market has it in abundance. What I can’t understand is how many people flock to it as a tourist attraction, as opposed to source of lunch, especially at weekends. The crowds are as insane as how limited the seating is. Yes, there is an intriguing stand with at least 30 types of rice, and appetising, fresh goods aplenty, but it just doesn’t deserve TripAdvisor’s rank of 4th best thing to do in Toronto.
(Do, however, check out the fab coffee at Balzac’s just across the street!)

Casa Loma

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As a snobby European, I feel justified in my looking down upon Casa Loma. We have so many old buildings and cultural monuments, even just in the UK, that I couldn’t bring myself to pay the irritatingly pricey fee to venture inside. To be honest, the castle’s exterior is gorgeous, and it’s cool how many events take place inside its walls, in its gardens etc. but the story behind its construction isn’t even interesting. Want actual culture in Canada? Drop everything and get yourself to Quebec City.

High Park

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Toronto’s largest public park, kitted out with hiking trails, a lovely lake and sports facilities, is great. It’s also kitted out with hundreds upon hundreds of posers and photographers come spring. The reason? Some trees with cherry blossom. Even though these attractive but actually-not-that-special trees can be found elsewhere in the city (e.g Trinity Bellwoods park), High Park gets mobbed. I don’t know whether it’s because the city goes crazy after a vile winter, or because the park is so close to the subway, but so many people crowding around several trees, all with the same Instagram-snapping aims is a spectacle that the term ‘overrated’ doesn’t even cover!

Distillery District

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Home to a massive collection of Victorian industrial architecture. the Distillery District is a trendy area of cafes, galleries and restaurants, just east of downtown. Make no mistake, it’s really nice, and great for a wander, but it has an extremely manufactured feel to it (similar to The Cool Docks in Shanghai). Considering it’s a half hour walk from the city centre proper, you have to go out of your way to get there. And when you do arrive, you’ll find the district tries that little bit too hard to be cool. True, it’s a lot more buzzing in summer, and the Mexican resto El Catrin and its patio look incredible, but, on the whole, the area isn’t quite worth the hype.

Underrated tourist attractions

Harbourfront

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Toronto’s harbourfront is far from the most beautiful waterfront I’ve seen, but it does have a certain charm to it. The area is lovely for a stroll at any time of year; it feels worlds apart from hectic down-town, though its just a five minute walk from Union station. And despite the slight industrial feel (gentrification, hurry up), the grassy/ sandy expanse is fab. HTO park (pictured above) is particularly attractive, but come summer, pretty much any part of it is, especially at sunset. Oh, and harbourfront is where ferries leave from to go to the islands. Big plus.

Museum Of Contemporary Canadian Art

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Nestled in the fabulous Queen West, the MOCCA is quite the hidden gem. It houses two exhibition rooms that are always filled with thought-provoking pieces. And the artists featured tend to be both quirky and acclaimed, such as Jenny Holzer and Douglas Coupland. The staff are all approachable, it’s free and unlike the intimidatingly feature-packed AGO and ROM, you can get your culture fix in 30 minutes or less. Now that’s efficient tourism.

Humber Bay Park

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There’s no getting away from the fact that Humber Bay Park is located in a pretty weird area – west of downtown, in Etobicoke, you need a solid half hour streetcar ride to get there. And once you do, you’ll be confused by the suburb’s quiet, residential feel. But, fear not. The park, divided into East and West, is extensive, attractive and filled with surprises. There’s a butterfly habitat, wildflower meadows and countless spots for bird-watching, fishing, cycling and more. And even if none of the above are your cup of tea, it’s the most gorgeously peaceful place. Bring a picnic and gaze at the skyline view on a clear day.

Kensington Market

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One of Toronto’s most well-known and loved neighbourhoods, Kensington Market is popular, and rightly so. Though this means that its inclusion wasn’t 100% appropriate for the blog post, it deserved a mention. Unique, ethnically diverse, and very cool, there’s an abundance of interesting shopping and dining options (my fave brunch/ coffee go-to: Fika). All this and it manages not to come across as too try-hard! Plus, the location is mega convenient – near to Queen West, Chinatown AND the Eaton Centre, you literally can’t complain.

Scarborough Bluffs

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The Bluffs, stretching about 15km along the shore of Lake Ontario, are spectacular. The cliffs were formed by erosion from the lake, and a trip north-east of the city to see geography at its best, is well worth the journey. There’s all sorts of sports on offer, as well as a public swimming pool, but the natural beauty is the obvious highlight.

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