Toronto winter tips from locals

“Toronto? Why Toronto?” I was frequently asked. Toronto is a metropolis with the friendliness and frankness of a provincial town. A multicultural city that is made up of small villages put together like a patchwork. Every piece has its own culture.

It is surrounded by nature and situated on a lake. The possibilities are numerous in summer. There are city beaches and the islands off the coast offer endless entertainment. But what would you do here in winter? Cities can be gloomy and dark on a winter day.

Toronto winter tips from locals

We were in Toronto in February and it was not bad at all. In fact, we found the nicest places where residents themselves stay warm on a cold winter day. And everyone was in for a good conversation. Here are our Toronto winter tips:

1. Type bookstore

Do you remember the movie You’ve got mail in which Meg Ryan’s cute little neighborhood bookstore has to take on the book giant of Tom Hanks? Toronto has a number of these very nice little neighborhood bookstores and Type is without a doubt the best.

‘A candy box for bibliophiles’, the newspaper Globe & Mail called the shop, situated on the hip section of Queens Street West. Local residents come up with titles, writers run the store and the knowledge on and love for books is fantastic.

Buy a travel guide on Toronto and everyone in the shop knows that you are new in town. They will all share their tips on books and places to go in the city.  I walked out with the following fantastic titles:

2. Ice skating

What do Torontonians do when it freezes? Precisely: they skate! Even on Lake Ontario in January when the city was suffering a huge cold front. But even if it is less cold, the city offers many possibilities. Like the public skating rink at the Harbourfront center overlooking Lake Ontario. And on Saturday night there are DJs playing music to your moves.

You prefer to be surrounded by skyscrapers? No problem. That’s possible at Nathan Phillips Square. A popular place against the background of the city hall and surrounded by the letters T O R O N T O. You can also rent skates here. Prefer to be by yourself? Many city parks offer skating rinks where you can just practice as much as you like.

If you are not into skating but love to watch it you might want to consider an ice hockey game from Toronto’s own club the Maple Leafs. A unique experience, especially when they win, which unfortunately is not too often the case.

3. Ward’s island walk

In addition to sleeping at locals homes, airbnb also offers activities with locals. Locals who want to let you have a taste of something or help you to explore the city with a camera. There are also locals who offer special walks.

I chose the: Ward’s island walk by Linda Rosenbaum and Susan Roy, residents of Algonquin, a small island off the coast of Toronot that is connected to Ward’s Island.

Ward’s island is beautiful and worth taking the ferry to, if only for Toronto’s best skyline view from here. The ladies will take you around and tell you about its history and how it was once was the summer residence of the Native Canadians and how it now is a coveted place to live.

It is only 10 minutes from Toronto. The wooden houses are beautiful and very much wanted because they are cheap. Since no profit is allowed to be made on the sale of a house. But than there is hardly ever one for sale. Mind the coyotes on the island!

4. The Old York bar & grill

If I ever had to choose a location for a series on a neighborhood cafe,  the Old York bar & grill, would absolutely qualify. It is a nice and cosy cafe that offers delicious food. The Friendliest Neighborhood Bar in the World, it is called and that is absolutely true.

I stumbled upon it on my  first night in Toronto and would have never left if they hadn’t closed for the night. Owner Fabi Letarte-Tessier welcomes you personally and gives you the feeling that you are at home. And so does all the other friendly staff.

It is nicely decorated with fresh flowers and candles on the table. Oh and do not forget to take home a bottle of their home-made hot sauce.

5. A loft

Well and where will you be sleeping whilst in Toronto? The artistic Drakehotel on Queen street is very nice. Unfortunately, far above my budget. I slept in a loft at Niagara street.

Because I stayed for more than a week in this former casket factory, I received a 20% discount on the price. The factory is on the nomination to be demolished, but Toronto offers more affordable lofts of around 50 euros per night on airbnb in winter time.

6. Kensington Market

Toronto is not a cheap city. The prices for alcohol, certainly wine, are comparable to Scandinavia. If you are on a tight budget, go to Kensington Market. An alternative neighborhood with cafes, restaurants, vintage shops, and vegetable- and herbal shops. It is somewhat reminiscent of the Waterlooplein in Amsterdam but accommodated in the annexes of old houses.

7. Poetry Jazz café

In Kensington Market you also find Poetry Jazz,  a very small bar that offers a stage for (young) jazz musicians and poets. Preferably go on a Sunday afternoon when everyone goes to music venues after brunch. While listening to music, you can watch a movie playing above the bar.  When I was there Johnny Depp was riding a horse on the sounds of John Coltrane brought by Asian musicians.

8. Free tour

Toronto offers the possibility to register for a free tour on weekends. The guides are often musicians, film makers or actors trying to earn some extra money. There are various tours according to theme or district.

I chose the historic walk and was taken around the historic district of multicultural Toronto by a filmmaker who would qualify for an Oscar for her acting skills.

Allthough it is for free, it is customary to give a tip of around 20 dollars afterwards.

9. Grossman’s tavern

Live music at its best for those who love jazz, blues and folk. Grossman’s tavern is a golden oldy in the city and offers a concert almost every night. Special are the concerts on Sunday afternoon as grandfathers & grandmothers and the grandchildren also join in. The location is cozy, without any frills and entrance is free of charge.

10. Poutin

Just like you eat fries with hot peanut butter sauce after a heavy night of drinking in the Netherlands, in Toronto you will have a Poutin. Originally from Quebec it has been adopted by the English-speaking Torontonians. There is even a whole chain called Poutini now. Poutin consists of French fries with cheese curds topped with a brown gravy. It undoubtedly sounds as disgusting as it tastes.

11. Moon bean coffee.

The coffee culture in Toronto is fantastic. You can get very good coffee almost anywhere. One of my favorites is Moon Bean in Kensington Market. Not only the coffee is fantastic, the entourage is cozy and the staff very friendly. It is a small little cafe with hidden corners, where you can sit with your laptop or read your book. Truly one of our warmest Toronto winter tips.

12. Seven lives

Although, we also have some hot Toronto winter tips. Now that you are already in Kensington Market for good coffee you might as well  stop at Seven Lives.

It was voted best taco restaurant by the Torontonians. Restaurant might be a bit much as a classification since they only have one table but the tacos are sublime. The gobernador with tuna and cheese is what they are best known for, but the rest, (also vegan and vegetarian) is just as divine. No wonder people are queuing up to get in.

Let’s go back to the movie You’ve got mail. If this movie was set in Canada, Meg Ryan would run Type bookstore, but than Tom Hanks would own Indigo. A wonderful bookstore where they sell books, vinyl records, coffee, tarot cards and nice pants that fit your book and …  what not?

Text: Anneke de Bundel – Image: Shutterstock


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