There’s a bit of a rivalry between the major Canadian cities of Toronto and Vancouver. In fact, Toronto often falls to second or third place behind the natural beauty of Vancouver in the far west, and behind the cultural joie de vivre of Montreal to the east. However, these cities are distinct, and both are great travel destinations, for different reasons. Toronto and Vancouver also happen to be the priciest cities in the country. In case you’re wondering about which city you should visit first, here is why Toronto should be at the top of your list.
Starting with the blooming of the Sakura cherry blossoms in High Park in late April and early May, Toronto begins to reawaken after a long winter season. Spring and summer are the best times of year to visit the city; from around May to late August, even the most business-like Torontonians relax a little, and the city itself seems to lighten up.
The city has a well-connected series of parks and conservation areas that offer wide green spaces to enjoy. From High Park, you can wander down to the Lakeshore, which stretches from the far east of the city to the shores of Lake Ontario in the far west. With parks, boardwalks, marinas, and beaches, heading down to the lake is always a good idea to get in some good people-watching, sunbathe, enjoy the shade while eating ice cream or to encounter a cultural festival at the Harbourfront.
Bluffer’s Park in the east and the Humber Bay Park in the west are beautiful and peaceful places to enjoy different angles of the city skyline. You can also take a ferry out to the Toronto Islands, which offer a breath of fresh air that feels as though you’ve briefly escaped the bustling city for a while—even though you’re really just minutes from the downtown core.
If you’re interested in the city’s unique urban geography, you might also want to explore some of Toronto’s 29 different ravines. The ravines are considered to be a defining feature of the city’s landscape; in fact, Toronto encompasses the largest network of ravines of any city in the world, creating around 10,500 hectares of wild, natural spaces through various neighborhoods. You may even catch a glimpse of a deer or a coyote while you’re exploring.
Of course, the coastal seascape of Vancouver is breathtaking, and the fact that the city has milder weather year-round is a distinct advantage of Toronto’s West Coast cousin. But the opportunities to explore Toronto’s understated, beautiful nature spots shouldn’t be overlooked.
After enjoying the quieter side of life in Toronto, there are also more thrilling ways to experience the city. For example, the city is home to the third tallest tower in the world, and the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere: the CN Tower is the signature of the city’s skyline and attracts over two million international visitors annually.
Standing at 553.2 meters (1,815 feet) tall, you can enjoy views of the city and beyond from various levels within the tower: the LookOut Level at 346 meters (1,136 feet), the Glass Floor and outdoor SkyTerrace at 342 meters (1,122 feet), and the SkyPod at 447 meters (1,465 feet). You can also eat at the 360 Restaurant, with its revolving views of Toronto. Add in the dizzying EdgeWalk experience, which involves a hands-free “walk” around the tower’s outer circumference—the world’s highest full circle hands-free walk—and that alone is reason enough to visit Toronto over Vancouver.
If you’re interested in other record-breaking sites, you can also take a walk along Yonge Street, one of the city’s major arteries and the longest street in the world—though that remains a controversial, but deeply ingrained, claim to fame.
For a solid dose of history and artistic culture, Toronto is home to countless independent art galleries as well as the bigger-name Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Ontario Museum, Aga Khan Museum, and the Gardiner Museum.
For a different kind of indoor experience, there’s also the Ontario Science Centre, the Toronto International Aerospace Museum (set to re-open in April 2017). Or, at the base of the CN Tower, you can visit Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada. With over 12,500 square meters (135,000 square feet) of interactive underwater exhibits, Ripley’s features North America’s longest underwater viewing tunnel—with more than 5.7 million liters of water and 16,000 rare and exotic species.
And finally, food. Toronto is renowned for its multicultural dining experiences, and wherever you go in the city, you’ll find a variety of delicious restaurants from which to choose. Around the downtown area, the restaurants are often clustered in convenient neighborhoods like Little Italy, Chinatown, Koreatown, and Little India. You’ll never be disappointed by a meal out in the city, and it’s a great way to explore Toronto’s evolving diversity.