My last memory of Canada is strolling along a charming neighborhood in the residential suburbs of Toronto with my blogger friend Mariellen. I had spent the morning at CN Tower, playing Titanic over the edge of the city, and caught a free lunchtime concert outside the subway. On my flight home, I pledged to come back and experience more of the city’s awesomeness, a lot of which is indeed free!
Take my list and go, maybe after the days of snow:
1) Go back in time at Cabbagetown.
I expected to be awed by the skyscrapers that make Toronto’s skyline (Read: Walking on The Edge of Toronto). What I didn’t expect was a time warp in the middle of the city! Lose yourself in the well-preserved Victorian-era neighborhood of Cabbagetown, on the east side of downtown Toronto, with beautifully restored Victorian townhouses and friendly neighborhood cafes. The quirky name comes from Irish immigrants, who settled here in the 1840s, and were so poor that they could only grow cabbage in their front yards. The area’s social status has changed a lot since, but its colonial charm remains.
2) Feel at home in a typical Toronto neighborhood.
I’ve found that the best way to feel the pulse of a city is to stroll around residential neighborhoods that don’t feature on any maps. Luckily for me, my friend and fellow blogger Mariellen Ward invited me to her pretty studio apartment in a typical Toronto neighborhood. We browsed through the local market, watched people go about their daily chores, and had lunch at a neighborhood Thai restaurant; a quintessential Toronto afternoon. Even if you don’t know a local, take the subway or street car, and get off on impulse near any neighborhood that looks inviting.
3) Fall in love with cherry blossoms at High Park.
Most people think of Japan when they think of cherry blossoms. But Mariellen’s blog let me in on a secret – cherry blossoms in Hide Park, in spring! Her photographs are the closest I’ve gotten to falling in love with them, but if you’re going to Toronto, you have to beat me to it.
4) Rest in peace at Mount Pleasant.
Perhaps not everyone’s idea of an ‘attraction’, Mount Pleasant is a timeless cemetery. Small paths adorned with colorful trees and ponds lead you among the graves, carved with heartwarming goodbyes. Named a National Historic Site of Canada for its charming architecture, you feel a certain peace here, in accepting death.
5) People watch at Kensington Market.
One of Toronto’s most famous markets, Kensington is a glimpse into the city’s cultural and artistic inclinations. I found myself strolling along the market with a Canadian friend I had met in Bahrain, fascinated by the creative graffiti, quirky street art (like a garden blooming on the roof of a vintage car), and chic cafes. Wander along the back lanes of Kensington and you might think you’re spinning on a globe!
6) Skateboard at Cummer Skatepark.
What’s more fascinating than watching a bunch of middle school kids do a back flip on their skateboard? Learning to skateboard yourself. There’s plenty of inspiration to be found at Cummer Skatepark, together with free skating lessons for first timers. And even if whizzing around on a board with two wheels isn’t your thing, go just to feel young and full of life again.
7) Get a taste of country life at Riverdale Farm.
Far from the hustle-bustle of the city and yet right in the middle of it, Riverdale is a working country-style farm in Cabbagetown. Smell the freshness of the veggies, watch sheep and horses trotting around, hear the call of chicken, and chat up a farmer working on in the sun. This is as close as you can get to the countryside of Canada in Toronto.
What free things would you love to do in Toronto?
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I’m the founder of this award-winning travel blog about offbeat and sustainable travel, and author of the bestselling travel memoir, The Shooting Star.
In 2011, I quit my full-time job, and gradually gave up my home, sold most of my possessions, stored some in the boot of a friend’s car and embraced a nomadic life.
Connect with me on Instagram to hear more about my adventures and personal journey.