Busloads of Americans drive for 10 hours to spend just three hours in Toronto. Why? With over 500 theatre productions every year, the city on Lake Ontario is the second largest stage centre in North America. You can see Kiefer Sutherland in a Tennessee Williams play or the metamorphosis of Kiss's hard-rocking lead singer to Phantom (of the Opera)
in King Street's Royal Alexandra and Princess of Wales theatres. It is also worth going a little off the beaten track to catch more adventurous offerings in places such as Front Street's Sony Centre.
The grassroots of theatre are just as fresh and strong in Toronto. Community-centred theatres such as Tarragon and the Factory master challenges like Beckett, as well as drama from new and upcoming playwrights. Modern dance has found a home in the Premiere Dance Theatre, a multicultural venue for music and movement at the Harbourfront centre
. More classical but nevertheless innovative performances can be seen at the National Ballet Company
, considered the top dance troupe in the country. The Laugh Resort and Yuk Yuk are still defending their positions as the major comedy spots, but recently Rivoli's
backroom has established a reputation for edgy comedy.
Not only is Toronto one of the most popular American film sets—watch out for huge white trucks and sealed-off streets—it's also a great movie theatre city, especially at fringe and second-run cinemas like the Bloor or the Fox. Apart from Hollywood fare at entertainment complexes, you can see international films at the Cumberland, and theme retrospectives at the Cinematheque. Not to mention the Toronto International Film Festival
, considered among the top in the world.
Hot Nightclub Country
No, those queues you see as you walk along Richmond Street aren't for soup kitchens. You're in hot nightclub country, the places where only the coolest and hippest get in. Most clubs don't specialize in one style, but often change their playlist daily from retro to dub to techno in order to attract the most diverse dance crowd. The biggest club around here is the Joe
, a three-level auditorium-sized dance hall for the masses. The Big Bop is nearly as big, but stays true to its alternative roots. College Street and environs is another good strip with the smoky Comfort Zone late-night hangout.
For live music events, Horseshoe Tavern is the place to see a great young band before it fills the concert halls. Toronto is on the A-list for pretty much every major tour in North America, from the Three Tenors in the Rogers Centre
multi-purpose stadium to the Buena Vista Social Club in old Massey Hall or Celine Dion at the Air Canada Centre. The repertoire of classical music offerings is too long to list, but Roy Thomson Hall is a safe starting point for excellent acoustics, be it for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Mendelssohn Choir or the latest Philip Glass opera.
The Air Canada Centre is home to two of Toronto's big sports teams. Cheer the Raptors as they slam dunk against their NBA competitors and the popular blue-and-white Maple Leafs playing for ice hockey's Stanley Cup. They compete for spectators with the Blue Jays, who swing their baseball bats in the 53,000-seat Rogers Centre
Street Life Central
Over the last 10 years, Toronto has discovered street life. In the summer, you will have trouble deciding whether to go to Nathan Phillips Square or to Harbourfront
for free concerts and different festivals every weekend. East along the lakeshore, Ontario Place
combines waterpark fun with massive open-air rock concerts and the first Imax Theatre (Ontario Place Cinesphere) in a family amusement park.
Icy cold winters don't keep Torontonians from having fun. If you don't find yourself at Harbourfront or Nathan Phillips Square for skating and hot cider, check out the plethora of museums. Canada's largest museum is the Royal Ontario Museum
(ROM), an all-round museum with adjoining planetarium, greeting you with four impressive Amerindian totem poles in the hall. The Art Gallery of Ontario
(AGO) boasts an extensive and well-presented collection of landscape paintings by Canada's famous Group of Seven. Don't miss the world's largest exhibit of Henry Moore sculptures, beautifully arranged by the artist. The AGO is also known for the skilfully simple Inuit stone carvings, as is the Toronto Dominion Gallery of Inuit Art. On a lighter note, the Bata Shoe Museum is unique; among their 10,000 shoes are Elvis' blue suede loafers. The Hockey Hall of Fame
also has shoes, but only those with blades beneath them.
If you see nothing else of downtown Toronto, you have to walk Queen Street West
between University and Spadina avenues: restaurant next to patio bar next to pub next to pool place next to hip fashion store. Since this strip is becoming increasingly commercialized, the more alternative clubs, cafes and galleries have moved to "West Queen West" (Spadina to Bathurst). The uptown—and up-market—equivalent of this area is Yorkville
, a handful of blocks of nouvelle cuisine temples like the Sassafraz, and over a dozen exquisite galleries for every collector's taste, which lend Toronto a bit of Montmartre flavour.