There’s a lot to do in downtown Toronto, and it will take you a while to do absolutely everything. Also, secrets don’t last long here; once something has been “discovered,” word spreads fast. With this guide, explore Toronto’s lesser-known elements—a button begging to be pushed, secret gardens, optical illusions, and eccentric landmarks!
Otto’s Bierhalle’s feast-size platters, late-night eats, brunch menu and awesome selection of beers give you plenty of reasons to visit this Queen West joint already, but it gets even better. Without giving too much away, their best-kept secret isn’t on the menu—it’s in the washroom. When you do end up in there, will you hit the red button and see what happens next?
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
Gravity Defying Room
Give your followers on Instagram an optical illusion from the Vog Vault in John Fluevog Shoes. This wonderland-like shoe shop in Queen West used to be a national bank until it became a store for their precious shoes. The building’s former bank vault has been transformed into the world’s first-ever, gravity-defying Vog Vault!
The literal dollhouse
The home of Shirley Sumaiser at 37 Bertmount Ave is somewhat of a beacon in the neighborhood of Leslieville. The front-facing portion of the house, including the garden and gate, is covered in an eclectic collection of dolls, stuffed toys, plaques, and signs. Over the past two decades, as the exhibit has grown, her home has become a neighborhood attraction and is better known as the dollhouse in Leslieville.
Peace Garden at Nathan Phillips Square
While everyone else takes selfies in front of the well-known colorful Toronto sign at Nathan Phillips Square, slip away from the babble of crowds into the lesser-known sanctuary of the Peace Garden, created as a response to Art Eggleton administration’s 1983 declaration of Toronto as a “nuclear-free zone.” As part of the city’s revitalization of Nathan Phillips Square, the Peace Garden was relocated to the western side of the square. Its new location gives it a hidden and more secluded quality.
Toronto’s Half House
This next architectural secret isn’t an optical illusion. Through some miracle, this half building from the 19th century, on Saint Patrick Street, has survived. Back in the day, the unit was one of six homes. During the 20th century, landholding companies were buying property and tearing it down; the other units in this row were torn down one half at a time as owners gave in, but not this one. To this day, Toronto’s Half House stands in defiant resistance.
Inspired by one of the most famous pieces of music for strings, Yo-Yo Ma recorded a six-part film called Inspired By Bach, exploring Bach’s Suite No. 1 in G Major. A couple of years later, he and a landscape artist called Julie Moir Messervy created a concept for a botanical garden based on the music. The city of Boston was the original location for the Music Garden; when that didn’t happen though, Toronto came through. The spiral walkway in the garden explains the different sections that connect the garden to Bach’s piece. Entrance is free; tours run until late September, and there are concerts throughout the summer on Thursdays and Sundays.
The address of 1 Sumach Street has been amusing drivers heading for the Don Valley Parkway for many years. Architect Ben Kutner and his partner Jeff Brown erected this quirky building in 1996, taking inspiration from the cube homes built in Rotterdam and Helmond in the 1970s by the architect Piet Blom. The living space in these units extends from a trunk-like base; Blom saw the units as trees, and so these building clusters became urban “forests.” Over the years, Cube House has been an actual residence; however, earlier this year it was put up for sale, so who knows what will become of it in the future. See it while you can!
The Monkey’s Paw
When you head to this book collector’s dream, keep a “toonie” or two on you; the Monkey’s Paw has the world’s first “Biblio-Mat,” a random book vending machine that dispenses a different book every single time. The unique and eclectic collection of books in this eccentric store are hard to come by anywhere else, and you’ll come across titles you didn’t even know you needed but simply have to have. Named after a supernatural short story by author W. W. Jacobs, this quirky little bookshop is one of the best easter eggs in the city!
This stunning atrium in the heart the Toronto’s Discovery District is the result of a microclimate inside the building of University of Toronto’s Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research. On wooden benches, students and the general public can drift away underneath a lush canopy of tropical plants whenever they want. Germany’s Behnisch Architekten and Toronto’s architects Alliance designed the space and used a combination of natural and artificial light to give a dreamy quality to the garden.
Check out the map below for a “secret” tour of the hidden architectural gems in Toronto’s downtown:
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
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Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.