The opportunity cost of “staying in” — watching Netflix, studying, sobbing — is higher in Toronto than any other city in Canada. From great bars to quiet cafés and leafy parks, there are tons of fun, cheeky opportunities hiding mere blocks from your pillow.
Even though the city is hot, big, and overwhelming, the best thing you can do is surrender to it, lean into its swaying, sweaty crowds, and follow the wave.
Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)
Thanks to a new initiative by the AGO, one of Canada’s best art galleries is now free for under-25s. Head in for an hour or two and poke around the huge collection of Canadian and international art, including the absurdly expensive “The Massacre of the Innocents.” The piece was sold in 2002 for 109.2 million USD, adjusted to inflation, and then donated to the gallery.
The Royal Ontario Museum
A huge, informative museum that you should visit at least once. It’s right next to Victoria College and it’s free on the third Monday of every month from 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm, and every Tuesday with a valid postsecondary ID.
Nuit Blanche is a city-wide art festival that usually takes place around early October. There are some really cool exhibits to look at and take part in, unfortunately, the evening is often hijacked by brandy-sipping high-schoolers. With that in mind, plan out what you want to see beforehand, stay the hell away from Dundas Square — Toronto’s gritty, glitzy Times Square — and you should be fine.
Jimmy’s has a few locations across Toronto, but the best one is on McCaul Street, right on the university’s periphery. The drinks are cheap — around $2 for good, strong coffee — and it’s a great spot to study or bring a date.
A chill, hipstery outpost in uptown. Based next to the Summerhill subway stop, this cafe has a chic upstairs study space fitted with outlets, decent Wi-Fi, and great coffee. The pizza place next door is great too.
If you need a break from campus, take the Spadina streetcar down to King, hop off, and dive into this clean, pricey slice of Silicon Valley. Quantum’s coffee is fantastic and it’s the best study café in Toronto, hands-down. Get there early to beat the New Balance-wearing ‘influencers’ who slip in around noon.
Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)
TIFF is taking place September 5–15, so you’ll be walking right into it. Lucky for you, TIFF is an amazing time, with the big, busy streets downtown blocked off for pedestrians, film screenings galore — some of them quite cheap — and celebrities descending on the city. Last year, Lady Gaga, Michael Moore, and Nicole Kidman showed up, with dozens more making cameos.
This bar is infamous on campus. It sells some of the cheapest pitchers of beer in the city and some decent bar food too. There are always fellow Varsity Blues — usually pale, tired engineers from the nearby Bahen building — lurking around, and the staff is no-nonsense, efficient, and accommodating.
A College Street staple serving up Toronto’s best nachos. Get the most expensive option and split it between five-plus people. Sneaky’s is also just a great place to meet up with friends, or to use as an outpost to start a Long Trek West.
St. Lawrence Market
This market is near the lake, and serves as a gateway into the up-and-coming Distillery District. Try the famous peameal bacon sandwich at Carousel Bakery and grab some fresh fruit and veggies at the produce stalls.
Kensington is Toronto’s most unique, dizzying neighbourhood. A carousel of art, people, fashion, and food, Kensington has been around for ages and its atmosphere is like no other. If you’re looking for a place to grab a drink, Cold Tea is lowkey and fun. Mare Pizzeria is the best — and cheapest — pizza in the area, and the market’s thrift shops are good and cheap.
A legendary music venue, The Rolling Stones, The Tragically Hip, and The Police have all graced the Tavern’s stage, with live shows still raging every week. The area around the venue is great too, with places like Little Nicky’s, Alo, and The Black Bull, forming a fun and diverse ring around the Tavern.
Bellwoods is fun in September, October, and April, and is popular with pretty much everyone. The cherry blossoms are one of the park’s biggest attractions, as are the baseball diamonds and soccer pitches. Keep an eye out for the volatile, swaying day-drinkers though.
One of the most underrated things you can do here is grab a book from Robarts and hit Bellwoods early. Reading some André Alexis under a big, old tree at Bellwoods was one of the highlights of my Frosh Week — and made me look super smart.