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The ultimate spring weekend in Toronto

The ultimate spring weekend in Toronto

Toronto is truly a superlative city, with its enviable location on the edge of Lake Ontario, dozens of vibrant neighborhoodsExternal Link Title studded with pocket parks, sky-scraping luxury hotels, massive museums, and globe-trotting cuisineExternal Link Title. As Canada's largest and most diverse city, Toronto is the epicenter of cutting-edge cool and a convergence of cultures where more than 150 languages can be heard spoken on its streets. Spring is an ideal time to discover the essence of this down-to-earth destination. This guide is all you need to soak up the city's energetic vibe on a spring weekend getaway.

Icons to discover

St. Lawrence Market: More than 200 years of history form the foundation for St. Lawrence MarketExternal Link Title, previously ranked as the world's best food market by National Geographic, edging out Union Square Greenmarket in New York City. All your senses will be satisfied at this Old Town's trio of buildings that include a galleryExternal Link Title and gourmet food marketExternal Link Title with 120-plus specialty vendors. Activity amps up on the weekends, with the Saturday farmers' marketExternal Link Title, a crowd-pleasing tradition that dates back to 1903, while Sundays draw treasure huntersExternal Link Title to the 80 antique dealers.

Chinatown: Toronto's Old ChinatownExternal Link Title -- one of North America's largest -- radiates from the heart of downtown. Plump roasted ducks are displayed in shop windows and street-front stalls overflow with Asian produce, herbs, and more. Taste tradition at old-school eateries like Mother's DumplingsExternal Link Title where delectable pork-filled packages are handmade daily. At R&DExternal Link Title, it's all about modern Asian fare. Menu items range from stir-fried beef spring rolls with smoked mozzarella cheese to crispy tofu spiced with Sichuan peppercorns and Thai chilis.

Distillery District: Get immersed in the mashup of Victorian industrial architecture and 21st-century design in Toronto's Distillery DistrictExternal Link Title. There's an aura of Europe at this National Historic Site, whose modern renaissance was realized by entrepreneurs and creative thinkers. Forty brick buildings (formerly the world's largest whiskey distillery) are central to this arts, culture, and entertainment destination. Among the lanes you can take in a performance at Soulpepper Theatre CompanyExternal Link Title and browse contemporary art at Corkin GalleryExternal Link Title, among other venuesExternal Link Title. Be sure to make a pit stop at SOMA ChocolatemakerExternal Link Title to taste its micro-batch chocolates such as StratusExternal Link Title made with ice wine lees.

Explore outdoors

The Toronto Islands: Get a lungful of fresh air during the 13-minute ferry rideExternal Link Title across Lake Ontario. After hopping aboard from downtown, you'll arrive at a string of small islands stitched together by pathways and bridges -- collectively called Toronto IslandsExternal Link Title or Toronto Island Park -- that beg exploring. Indigenous people used this natural sand spit for fishing, hunting, and spiritual purposes. Today, it's a car-free haven where you can stand-up paddle boardExternal Link Title on the calm lagoons off Algonquin Bridge, stroll sand dunes at Hanlan's PointExternal Link Title, discover Canada's oldest standing lighthouse at Gibraltar Point, and gaze at Toronto's amazing cityscape from a quiet spot on Ward's IslandExternal Link Title.

Trinity Bellwoods Park: Urban green space Trinity Bellwoods ParkExternal Link Title is a living room for locals who come for a little chill time amid groves of trees and grassy meadows. Bordered by the trendy communities of Queen Street WestExternal Link Title (which Vogue named the second-coolest 'hood on the globe when it comes to street style) and Dundas West, it offers both respite from Toronto's non-stop action and a chance to chat with Ontario's farmers and food producers who set up shop hereExternal Link Title when market season starts up in spring.

High Park: Heavenly High ParkExternal Link Title becomes transcendent in spring when cherry blossomsExternal Link Title form soft shadows against the sky. A network of trails (some of the city's longest) crisscross this 400-acre urban oasis where you can hike and cycle, passing a pond and streams, and glimpse into Toronto's history at Colborne LodgeExternal Link Title, an 1836 home that's now a museum. 

Dining out

TORA: Purity, precision, and a reverence for history are inherent in the art of making sushi, but TORAExternal Link Title is pushing the Japanese dining experience firmly into the future. Canada's first TORA by Aburi Restaurants, which specializes in aburi (flame-seared) sushi, provides guests with touch-screen menus (they're all the rage in Japan) that enable plates to be delivered directly from the chef to your seat via a sophisticated system of conveyor belts.

The Annex Food Hall: A fresh take on dining has unfolded at The Annex Food HallExternal Link Title where a mix of Toronto's best bites are tucked under one roof. Dive into big bowls of greens at vegan-friendly Urban HerbivoreExternal Link Title, bite into delicate steamed-bun sandwiches at Mean BaoExternal Link Title, and indulge in authentic Mexican food at El Nahual Tacos, which sources its ingredients from Kensington MarketExternal Link Title.

Laissez Faire: The relaxed atmosphere and approachable menu at Laissez FaireExternal Link Title in the King West neighborhoodExternal Link Title are fitting for this new French-inspired bistro whose name translates to "let it be." Chef Zachary Barnes, who has worked at celebrated establishments such as Daniel in New York City, elevates simple ingredients in superb dishes. Standouts include veg-friendly beetroot tartare with horseradish cr?me fra?che, and unctuous pork belly paired with sherry gastrique.

Chotto Matte: The Japanese diaspora to Peru has given birth to an exciting new cuisine called Nikkei. Chotto MatteExternal Link Title, a brand with restaurants in London and Miami, has transported this fusion of flavors and cultures to Toronto's Brookfield Place -- its first foray into Canada. Small-plate sharing menus let you try twists on traditional tastes: ebi tempura with Peruvian chilli, and Nikkei robata barbecue, where chicken is prepared with miso, daikon radish, and yellow chilli salsa.

Craft breweries

Rorschach Brewing Co.: At Rorschach Brewing Co.External Link Title there's a mind-bending variety of beer on tapExternal Link Title , which are listed on the menu with psychological descriptors like "positive reinforcement." You're sure to find something to tempt your palate and match your state of mind. For "reminiscence," they recommend the Mexican lager. It's brewed with a touch of corn, giving it a slight tortilla taste that might take you back to carefree days imbibing and eating at beachside taco stands. Another way to explore the nuances of Rorschach's suds? Go to this Leslieville brewery's  monthly beer and cheese pairing nights.External Link Title

Radical Road Brewing Company: Queen Street East's Radical Road Brewing CompanyExternal Link Title is quietly starting a revolution with its seasonal specials of small-batch beers. YuzuExternal Link Title, for instance, trips to the Pacific Northwest for its tangy West Coast hops. Then it detours to Japan for the pale ale's signature citrus flavors. Usher in spring with the refreshing Cucumber Mint KolschExternal Link Title, and pair it with a Jerk Pork sandwich or pretzel from the extensive food menu.

Left Field Brewery: Baseball meets beer at Left Field BreweryExternal Link Title in Leslieville, where the owners' playful brewsExternal Link Title can be tasted in the dog-friendly taproom. All bases are covered from sweet to sour with inventive offerings such as the Sweet SpotExternal Link Title, a mocha-marshmallow stout, and Sunlight Park, a seasonal offering that's on tap in spring. This grapefruit saison was named for the city's first professional baseball stadium, an all-wooden structure built in 1886.

Halo Brewery: Fruit, spices, and other novel ingredients are what make Halo BreweryExternal Link Title's beers tasty and unique. Callum Hay, owner and head brewer, started off as a software engineer before taking his basement-brewing operation to Junction Triangle. Sample his alchemy in beers like Impossible GeometricsExternal Link Title, a hoppy IPA complemented by aromas of orange, pineapple, and blueberry.

Bierg?rten: Steam WhistleExternal Link Title has been quenching Canadians' thirst for premium pilsner since the Toronto-based brewery opened in 1998. Now it's taking inspiration from Munich's traditional bier gartens and bier halls for its newest venture, Bierg?rtenExternal Link Title. Rest assured, although Steam Whistle is emulating those Bavarian beer-hall vibes, it remains dedicated to its roots of making refreshing brews with only four ingredients: pure spring water, malted barley, hops, and yeast. 

Saulter Street Brewery: Big red barn doors beckon you to enter Saulter Street BreweryExternal Link Title in Riverside. Its "cheers to now" motto encourages you to forget other distractions and simply sit and sip. New brews are crafted on a weekly basis, like Paradise Found and Magic Hour Golden AleExternal Link Title, so there's always a reason to stop in to taste what's on tap.

Shop local

Drake General Store: Canadiana gets the cool treatment at Drake General StoreExternal Link Title. Located in the the artsy Drake HotelExternal Link Title on Queen Street West, it's a chic outpost piled with products from home-grown designers and artists. Modern meets whimsical at this boutique that blurs the lines between museum and general store. Find socks decorated with Mounties on horseback, cozy knit caps bearing the maple leaf, and lightweight cotton throw blankets you can press into service when picnicking in one of Toronto's pocket parks.

Toronto Designers Market: Small businesses are a big deal in Toronto Designers MarketExternal Link Title, a showcase of some 40 local companies situated in the vibrant Parkdale neighborhood. Shop for luxurious and sustainably-crafted candles at Andie & Co.External Link Title, eco-friendly bamboo sunglasses at AmevieExternal Link Title, and handmade (in Toronto) bowties, pocket squares, and other accessories at Vivid. In spring, the weekend pop-up marketExternal Link Title adds to the excitement with additional vendors setting up shop on the patio.

Coal Miner's Daughter: At Coal Miner's DaughterExternal Link Title, co-owners Janine Haller and Krysten Caddy show their staunch support for Canadian-designed clothing and accessories. Their three Toronto boutiquesExternal Link Title (named for Caddy's grandmother -- a coal miner's daughter) proudly stock jumpsuits, tees, strappy sandals, and jewelry from locally-born brands such as Crywolf, Fitzy DesignExternal Link Title, and Willmore, among others.

Scout: Charm oozes from ScoutExternal Link Title, a gift shop brimming with treasures made by independent artisans from Canada and beyond. Make your way to Roncesvalles VillageExternal Link Title (Toronto's "Little Poland") to browse original items like pretty pendants by Lisbeth JewelryExternal Link Title, handmade ceramics by Jenny RijkeExternal Link Title, and Dot + Lil's heady perfume oil.

October's Very Own (OVO): Toronto-born rapper Drake and Oliver El-Khatib are the design-savvy partners behind the streetwear empire better known as OVOExternal Link Title. Men and women can stock up on affordable essentials at the Dundas Street and Yorkdale flagship stores. What's hot? Hoodies, track pants, and T-shirts decked with the brand's signature owl logo. Along with those basics in easy-to-wear neutral tones, look out for limited-edition collaborations with companies like Toronto-born outerwear brand Canada Goose.

Discover culture

Art Gallery of Ontario: Star architect Frank Gehry is a Toronto native whose legacy can been seen at Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)External Link Title. This architectural landmark is one of North America's largest museums. It's home to a staggering 90,000 works of art, including its exciting new acquisition, Infinity Mirrored Room -- Let's Survive ForeverExternal Link Title, by Japanese experimental artist Yayoi Kusama. The AGO is also the perfect place to discover Canada's celebrated Group of Seven painters as well as works by Indigenous Canadian artists such as Brian JungenExternal Link Title. He pushes boundaries with his abstract modernist sculptures such as ceremonial masks constructed from collectible Nike Air Jordan shoes.

Urban art: Home to Canada's largest museums and galleries, Toronto's arts venues are eminently alluring. The city is also an incubator for a flourishing (and legal) street arts sceneExternal Link Title, where murals and graffiti grace brick-walled buildings. Rush Lane and Graffiti Alley (hidden behind Spadina Avenue and Portland Street) have attracted artists to this seven-block area where they've transformed unremarkable spaces into a morphing museum.

University of Toronto Thomas Fisher Rare Book LibraryExternal Link Title: Read Margaret Atwood's first draft (handwritten, no less) of The Handmaid's Tale, the dystopian novel that was adapted into a cult-fave TV series. At the Thomas Fisher Rare Book LibraryExternal Link Title you can also peek at the Toronto-based author's extensive collection of manuscripts, personal letters, and illustrations, as well as other rare gems like late singer Leonard Cohen's personal notebooks.

Electric Island: Chilled-out Hanlan's Point pulses to the waves of underground music during the Electric IslandExternal Link Title concert and picnic series. Getting to this beachExternal Link Title on the Toronto IslandsExternal Link Title is a quick jaunt from downtown's Jack Layton Ferry TerminalExternal Link Title. Then it's all about dancing to house and techno beats, and refueling on bites served by vendors on site.

Gardiner Museum: Making, looking, and thinking through clay is the ethos of the fascinating Gardiner MuseumExternal Link Title, located on Queens Park across from another cultural icon, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)External Link Title. It's a place that invites you to take a deep dive into the role and relevance of ceramics. Browse pieces from the impressive permanent collection, like ancient earthenware vessels from the Americas and Italian Renaissance pottery.