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Toronto Travel Guide

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Regarded by many as North America’s main rival to New York, Toronto’s drastic change of image, over the last 30 years, from ‘Toronto the Good’ to the thriving cosmopolitan metropolis has proved a revelation. The self-conscious shift from puritanical safety zone to international centre of culture and art has done much to change the way in which the whole of Canada is perceived today.The seventies relaxing of the immigration laws saw a huge influx of Europeans, Asians and Africans into the City, forcing massive expansion, creating a boom in industry and an economic renaissance that ensured its survival through the recession of the 90s. It also changed the personality of the City and turned it into one of the most popular tourist destinations in North America, indeed the aworld.

With over 5,000 restaurants representing virtually every nation, 200 professional theatre and dance companies staging around 10,000 performances between them per year, 80 ethnic groups speaking over 100 languages, 4 professional sports teams, the tallest free standing structure in the world, the longest street in the world, one of the lowest crime rates in North America and falling, shopping only rivalled by the Big Apple itself, 4 international music festivals, one of the worlds most prestigious film festivals and myriad historical, cultural and recreational attractions it is no wonder Toronto welcomes over 22 million visitors every year.

So lets start with the big one. Boasting a height of 553.33m (1,815 ft., 5 inches), with the impressive title of the World`s Tallest Building and Free Standing Structure, the CN Tower defines and dominates Toronto’s skyline. It is probably Canada`s most celebrated icon and a must see on the tourist trail. You can ride the glass elevator to the observation deck in less than a minute and stand (if you dare) on the transparent section of the platform and get a perfect birds eye view of the streets below. Look outward and, on a clear day, you can even see the spray off Niagara Falls on the other side of Lake Ontario. There is also a 300-seat rotating restaurant and for the young at heart there is a state of the art amusement arcade with incredible simulator rides including a virtual bungee jump from the top of the tower.

Back on terra firma, Toronto has much of interest to the more culturally inclined. The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) contains a collection of over 16,000 works from all media. Spread throughout 50 separate galleries the exhibitions range from The Canadian Group of Seven and Art in the Age of Van Gogh to The Henry Moore Sculpture Centre which houses the largest public collection of Moore’s work in the world. Toronto is also home to Canada’s largest museum the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). Essentially a natural history museum, the primary exhibitions include a Chinese collection, dinosaur exhibits and bat cave. There`s also the finest Canadian collection of silverware, glass and woodenware housed in the Sigmund Samuel Canadiana Building. For those looking for something a little more unusual the Bata Shoe Museum covers 4,5000 years of footwear, from ancient Egyptian papyrus sandals to Elvis Presley`s loafers, Imelda Marcos pumps to Ginger Spice’s boots.

Toronto’s cultural melting pot is probably best experienced through the diversity of its neighbourhoods. Yorkville first gained notoriety as a hippie haven in the 1960`s, and was transformed into a high end shopping Mecca in the 1980`s, which today rivals some of the world’s top shopping destinations. Greektown on the Danforth is a vibrant community that combines the zest of modern Mediterranean life with the distinctly historic spirit of ancient Greece. One of the friendliest neighbourhoods in the City, the streets are peppered with enchanting shops, boutiques, restaurants and nightclubs that entertain visitors from mid-afternoon to early morning. With two Italian communities, Toronto has the largest Italian concentration per capita outside Italy itself. One neighbourhood Corsa Italia is as authentic as it comes, you wouldn’t even know you which side of the Atlantic you were on. Little Italy may have given way to more tourist concessions but remains a delightful, buzzing area overflowing with lively outdoor cafes, enthusiastic street sellers and specialty shops. If shopping is your passion then Toronto`s Downtown Walkway links 10 kilometres of underground shopping, services and entertainment. Last but by no means least all visitors simply have to experience the charm of the world’s longest street, Yonge Street. Packed with fascinating shops, bars, theatres, music venues, cinemas, restaurants, cafes and the most colourful people in the City it is an ideal place to taste the many aspects of Toronto in one go.

Probably the single most important factor in the success of Toronto’s tourist industry is its superb nightlife. More than 7 million people attend theatre here each year, half of which are visitors to the city. There are over 70 theatre venues in the Metro Toronto area alone, from converted firehalls and factories, to beautifully restored vaudeville houses and modern performing arts complexes. The total capacity is over 43,000 seats! The Downtown Theatre District has the highest concentration of large, prestigious theatres with the East End esteemed for its high-calibre presentations. The Entertainment District, Annex Neighbourhood and Bathurst Strip offer alternative and avant-garde lower-priced theatres.

Dining in Toronto is a little like dining around the world. The distinct ethnic neighbourhoods including Greek Town, Little Italy, Chinatown, and Little Portugal allow you to satisfy any culinary craving, from a street vendor hot dog to the most exquisite native cuisine. Smells of incense, lively markets, and vegetarian restaurants make the Annex a popular hang out for students. Excellent live music venues including Lee’s Palace and Pauper’s Piano Bar are features of this bohemian neighbourhood. Queen Street is the place to be if you like live music. Here you can shop for chic, hip clothes or watch the punks in Kensington Market. Besides the myriad live music venues the City also hosts several major festivals - North by North East, International Jazz Festival, Great Canadian Blues Festival and Rhythms of the World all of which attract artists and visitors from the world over.

For too long Canada lay beneath the shadow cast by its conservative reputation. With the rebirth of Toronto it seams that the doors have finally been flung open for tourists who want to let loose a little when on holiday. No longer is a trip to Niagara Falls the be all and end all of your visit. By the time you’ve realised how much there is to do in the City there’ll probably be little time left for braving the spray. With top movie stars like Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey and Mike Myers all hailing from Toronto and a huge movie and TV industry now established it appears that the City’s is destined for even bigger things. And despite the rapid somewhat haphazard development Toronto manages to cling stubbornly to its heritage and thus remains one of the most appealing, safe and welcoming big cities in the world.

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