Tried, true Toronto

By Charmaine Noronha

The city's best attractions are the ones you can visit for free, writes Charmaine Noronha.

Beautiful views and fun freebies abound on Toronto's waterfront.
Beautiful views and fun freebies abound on Toronto's waterfront.

If you're visiting Toronto, you can't help but notice construction cranes, new condos and other signs of gentrification, such as bars popping up in new hipster 'hoods. But despite the upscale crawl, many of the city's best attractions are tried and true mainstays that can be seen for free.

Distillery District

Formerly the Gooderham & Worts Distillery, the quaint East End area now known as the Distillery District is an enclave of art galleries, restaurants and boutiques offering one-of-a-kind fare such as handcrafted jewellery housed in restored heritage Victorian buildings. Drop in at a gallery or stroll along the cobblestone streets to catch a free concert.

Kensington Market

If your tastes are more eclectic, make your way to Kensington where hippies, homegrown fare and hipsters co-exist for the ultimate in people-watching.

Original immigrants have left their mark with a bevy of ethnically diverse fare, from empanada stands to European cheese shops to Asian-fusion restaurants, mixed with just the right amount of fair-trade coffee spots. On Pedestrian Sundays, the streets are filled with bands, buskers, Brazilian drummers and more.

Harbourfront

Beautiful views and fun freebies abound on Toronto's waterfront. The Harbourfront Centre's 4ha lakeside site hosts more than 4000 events, many of which are gratis. The York Quay Centre and The Power Plant have changing exhibits year-round for no entry fee. From May to October, take in a different free festival every week ranging from Expressions of Brazil to the Vietnamese Lantern Festival. Come November, strap on your skates and glide around the centre's rink, which has a resident DJ on Saturdays.

Bruce Trail

The Bruce Trail is the oldest and longest marked hiking trail in Canada, at 840km long and with more than 440km of side trails, many of which are in Ontario. (The trail helped put the Niagara Escarpment on Unesco's World Biosphere Reserve list in 1990.) Although it's not smack-dab in downtown Toronto, parts of the Ontario section of the route pass through the Greater Toronto area and are a short-to-moderate drive or transit ride from downtown. Autumn turns the trails into blazing streams of fiery reds, pumpkin orange and honeyed hues, and winter snow makes it perfect for cross-country skiing.

Yonge Street

Until 1999, Guinness recognised Yonge St as the longest street in the world. The title was disputed because as it neared the Minnesota and Ontario border, it turned into Highway 11. But at 1896km it's still one heck of a street. Follow it from the start at the bed of Lake Ontario at Queen's Quay, where you can hop on a ferry to the Toronto Islands. As you move north to Front St, you'll hit Union Station, the city's transportation hub. The street moves through the financial district to the Eaton Centre, Toronto's largest downtown mall, and the Yonge-Dundas Square, where you can often catch free films. If you keep strolling north you'll hit Yorkville, where the rich go to shop and nosh while the rest of us snicker at their poodle-stuffed Louis Vuitton purses.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand flies daily to Vancouver, with local carriers making the four-hour, 25-minute connection to Toronto.

- AP

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