The Best of Art and Culture in Toronto

 on 2022.02.03
20 Places
Culture lovers won’t have time to sleep once they hit the Toronto pavement. Not only are institutes like the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) filled with major works of art, street art is everywhere—take a guided tour of Toronto’s colorful back alleys. Toronto is known, too, for its arts, music, dance, and film festivals. For an authentic taste of a city so rich in culture, check the calendar and catch whatever's playing in town. Credit: Collected by Natalie Taylor, AFAR Local Expert

Design Exchange

Non-profit organization • Bay Street Corridor

"Museum of Design This three-legged dining chair designed in 1958 by Stefan Siwinski Designs and Korina Designs is one of 950 items in the collection of the Design Exchange. This innovative museum devoted to Canadian industrial ingenuity is housed in the old Toronto stock exchange. —Charlene Rooke 234 Bay St., (416) 363-6121, . This appeared in the September/October 2011 issue. By Afar Magazine"

Photo courtesy of Russet & Empire

Royal Ontario Museum

Museum • University

"Royal Ontario Museum From the outside, the Royal Ontario Museum appears to havebeen struck by a mineral formation from outer space. When the original buildingwas overhauledby starchitect Daniel Libeskind, many locals were dismayed by the new addition, called the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, but most have come around to its angular charms. Visitors to this museumof world cultures and natural history can work their way through galleries showcasing Chinese sculptures, Canada ’s First Nationsartifacts and crafts, dinosaur skeletons, and Byzantine artwork. Special exhibitshave included everything from the intricate textiles of Mexico to an in-depth look at the culture of tattoos."

Photo by Peter Langer/age fotostock

Aga Khan Museum

Museum • North York

"The Aga Khan himself suggested to award-winning architect Fumihiko Maki that an appropriate inspiration for the design of his museum would be the element of light. The result is a building in which light, both direct and diffuse, pours in all day long. Fittingly, the museum’s mission is to shed light on Muslim civilizationand art though exhibitions, music, dance, and more. Permanent collections focus on everything from calligraphy to Korans; rotating displays have explored topics such as what it means to be a modern-day Persian. There’s also an on-site restaurant, Diwan, which serves stellar food from aroundthe Muslim world."

Photo by Nic Lehoux/age fotostock

Bata Shoe Museum

Museum • University

"Bata Shoe Museum The Bata Shoe Museumis dedicated tothe history of footwear through the ages. And what a spectacular history! After one visit, you'll be able to distinguish Rajasthani mojaris fromchopines, the platform shoes wornby 16th-century Spanish and Italian society ladies. Consider this training for trivia competitions. The museum's impressive collection of more than 13,000 shoes and footwear-related objects isleveraged across four exhibits: fashion, practicality, shoemaking, and finally the footwear of Arctic dwellers. The museum also offers design workshops, family activities, movie nights, and more."

Photo courtesy of The Bata Shoe Museum

Art Gallery of Ontario

Art museum • Kensington-Chinatown

"Art Gallery of Ontario Frank Gehry was born inToronto, but his dramatic 2008renovation and expansion ofthis Beaux-Arts museum washis first Canadian commission.He first discovered art on childhood visits to its vast collection,which spans the world. Now themuseum features a restaurant,Frank, in his honor. —Charlene Rooke Art Galleryof Ontario . 317 Dundas St. W., (416) 979- 6648. By Afar Magazine"

Photo by P Spiro/Alamy

Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival

Arts organization • Waterfront Communities-The Island

"CONTACT Photography Festival - One month of Public Photography Every May, Toronto’s museums, galleries and cafes are transformed into photography exhibitions centred around a unifying theme. Best of all, the exhibitions are free, making this a fun way to explore Toronto’s neighborhoods, whether by bike or via walking. Don’t forget the public installations including the massive mural on the side of MOCCA’s wall. This inspiring festival is one of my favorites in the city and a way to explore more underground venues like the Toronto Image Works or SMASH in the Junction."

Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts

Performing arts theater • Bay Street Corridor

"Free Concert Series plus Opera and Ballet under One Roof Opened in 2006, the Four Seasons Centre for Performing Arts right in the crux of downtown at Queen and University is a gorgeous forum for performances from the National Ballet of Canada and the Canadian Opera Company (COC). For those looking for a frugal experience, the COC holds free concerts most Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon, and some Wednesdays at noon or 5:30 p.m. in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Though the National Ballet’s most famous performance is The Nutcracker , performed, of course, during the holiday season, the company alsoperforms other family-pleasing ballets including Sleeping Beauty and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland from time to time."

Photo by Tibor Kovacs/Flickr

Roy Thomson Hall

Event venue • Waterfront Communities-The Island

"Music and Culture in a Glass Sphere Building at Roy Thomson Hall Home to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, this curved glass building is also a premiere venue for the Toronto International Film Festival. During the year, this iconic building in Toronto serves as concert showcase and special event venue. National Geographic’s Live Series, for example, is great for travel buffs. Tours are available by appointment."

Photo by Jeff Hitchcock/Flickr

Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

Movie theater • Annex

"Toronto’s “Other” Film Fest - Hot Docs Hot Docs is a Canadian International Documentary Festival as well as the largest documentary festival and conference in North America. More than 180 cutting-edge documentaries from Canada and globally are selected by the committee. Through its industry programs, Hot Docs also provides a full range of professional development, market and networking opportunities for documentary professionals. Revue cinemas in Toronto are host to the docs, including its main revue, The Bloor Cinema in the heart of the Annex. The festival has now branched out to other Canadian cities like Vancouver . Year round there are events and docs to see, including the series Doc Soup, Hot Docs’ monthly screening series at Toronto’s Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, from October through April. At select Doc Soup screenings guest directors are be on hand to introduce their work and answer questions from the audience. It’s a great alternative to TIFF to inspire conversation on different topics in the documentary format. Of course, another reason to love Toronto’s cultural offerings and growing film industry."

The Toronto Fringe Festival

Corporate office • South Riverdale

"The Fringe: Theatre Al Fresco The “fringe movement” is a worldwide network of indie theatre festivals. As the name suggests, the movement is about celebrating under-represented voices and those on the margins of the performing arts world. As a result, the shows are a result of a lottery system of producers and writers who submitted their plays. It’s a festival where anyone can put on any show, without having to pass through a jury – where theatre students can mount their first production outside of school, where emerging artists can get their big break, and where established artists can test out new work. Popular shows like da Kink in my Hair and The Drowsy Chaperone got their start at Fringe. Whether you’re watching a show (or number of shows) in the back alley behind the famed Honest Ed’s, or smaller theatres in Toronto like the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse, you’ll be in for a cheap treat."

Toronto City Hall

City Hall • Bay Street Corridor

"Toronto Cavalcade of Lights The Cavalcade of Lights, held at Toronto 's City Hall near the end of every November is the inauguration of the holiday season. The Christmas Tree (or Holiday Tree, as some in our politically correct city call it) is lit and the skating rink opens. An ornate celebration with popular Toronto musical acts and a pyrotechnic show illuminated by stunts and circus performances are watched by revelers excited to celebrate the onset of the holidays and winter season in Toronto. Photo: with permission from Arienne Parzei of"

229 College St


"Graffiti Alley: Local Toronto The Tour Guys take you on a guided tour of Toronto 's Graffiti Alley. As you wind through the alley as well as other points of graffiti in back areas of downtown, you'll get an overview of the history and language of graffiti. It's a great insight into a subculture in our beloved T Dot. There are a lot of talented artists here. Our group also discovered a shop called Bomb Shelter that sells the aerosol paint cans. If you're lucky, the guides may even show you where the remains of Banksy's art is. Tours run from the spring to mid September, but you can enjoy the alley at any time of year."

North by Northeast

Festival • Riverdale

"North By Northeast rocks Toronto every June June is one of the best months to be in Toronto and for more incentive to visit, check out one of the best music festivals in North America. Toronto's version of SXSW, NXNE or North by Northeast, is an interactive festival of music, film, and digital media. In little bars all across the city as well as bigger and free venues like Dundas Square you can catch a number of live acts with your wristband. The fun part? You get to bar hop and catch some amazing music from all over the world. It's one of the most buzzed about events in the city and in my opinion, much more fun than the film fest!"

111 Queen St E

Church-Yonge Corridor

"Toronto's Kick-Off Summer Fest of Creativity: Luminato Luminato Festival is Toronto ’s international multiarts festival for people open to having art change their outlook on the world. For 10 days each June, Luminato Festival transforms Toronto’s theatres, parks and public spaces with hundreds of events celebrating theatre, dance, music, literature, food, visual arts, magic, film, and more. Since its inception in 2007, Luminato Festival has become one of North America’s leading arts gatherings."

Simcoe WaveDeck

Tourist attraction • Waterfront Communities-The Island

"The Simcoe WaveDeck at Toronto's Harbor List this under "very cool installations." The best part about the "wavedeck" is that you can slide on it (because you know you want to). It's a great, interactive gathering place at water's edge, and it plays on that theme in a whimsical way."

Evergreen Brick Works

Park • Leaside-Bennington

"The Evergreen Brick Works, a reclaimed quarry in the lush Don Valley, is a showcase for sustainable and green living, as well as for urban design. A community has been established in thisonce-derelict industrial site and former landfill. Toronto ’s largest farmers’ market sets up shop on Saturdays, and spotlights food from all over the province. On Sunday, the market shifts its attention to crafts. A full schedule of activities and diversions make this a perfect weekend escape: There's a children's garden (with weekly programming), bike trails and rentals, and a hikethat leads to a rewardingview of the city's skyline."

Photo by Geoff Fitzgerald

TIFF Bell Lightbox

Movie theater • Waterfront Communities-The Island

"Home of the Toronto Film Festival, as well as other visual arts celebrations, the TIFF Bell Lightbox is a building dedicated to Toronto's film world. Theaters, libraries, galleries, offices, lecture halls, as well as a swank members' lounge and excellent gift shop make this space buzz year-round with the love of art. Check the calendar and see what film or artist talk is happening during your visit."

Royal Alexandra Theatre

Performing arts theater • Waterfront Communities-The Island

"The Royal Alexandra Theatre—or the Royal Alex, as it’s known—is a pretty spiffy affair. Thenewly restored 1907 Beaux-Arts triumph is, in fact, North America’s first properly royal theater. It gained its title thanks to King Edward VII, who named it after his consort, Princess Alexandra of Denmark. In step with its notable lineage, the theater's stage hashosted everything from the musical Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles to shows that maycause aroyal hiccup ( Kinky Boots , anyone?). For lovers of boldfaced productions, this is the place."

Photo by Andrew Rubstov/age fotostock

Massey Hall

Event venue • Church-Yonge Corridor

"Massey Hall is one of Canada ’s most important concert halls. Averitable encyclopedia of musicaltalent has played here, including Enrico Caruso, Ella Fitzgerald, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Igor Stravinsky, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, George Gershwin, Charles Mingus, Rush, and dozens more. Not surprisingly, the acoustics are impeccable and there's no bad seat, whether tickets are for the main floor or in the horseshoe of balconies facingthe stage. The hall has recently hosted festivals that focus on risingCanadian talent."

Photo by Mitch Fillion Live at Massey Hall

Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre

Performing arts theater • Church-Yonge Corridor

"It’s not often that one comes across a double-decker theater. In fact, the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre is the only still-activestacked theater, and has been designated a National Historic Site. Built in 1913 by American architect Thomas W. Lamb for the Loews theater group, the two venuesweremeant to serve two separate markets. Today, they frequently host live performances, musicals, and films. The Winter Garden is especially unique, featuring a decorative ceiling hungwith dried leaves, a touch that transforms the room into a magical land."

Photo by Peter Lusztyk