Spring begins in April! This means Toronto’s out of its burrow and back on the street. Through May and June, the city throws open its doors in an energetic burst of art, music, culture, and urban exploration. Why not join the crowd? Here are our Top 6 Things to do in Toronto this Spring!
Thumbs up for Toronto organizers: They’ve mastered the art of the “multi-venue” event. They know how to sprinkle their programs around the city, and get the most out of T.O.’s theatres, galleries, cafés, bars, halls, and public squares. I love these curated, cultural chains—they get us moving around and propel us to places and spaces we might not otherwise visit.
Here’s six great late spring/early summer Toronto activities that will get you circulating:
Nothing “disrupts” like a docfest—and “Hot Docs,” the world’s largest documentary festival, is the champion.
Yes, TIFF, the annual September Toronto International Film Festival, gets the big buzz—but doc fans get just as tingly about Hot Docs. Every year, the festival screens over 200 documentaries, to over 200,000 people, over 2 weeks.
The event’s epicentre is the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema restored landmark movie theatre in the city’s Annex neighbourhood (a great bet for year-round documentary screenings). But some of the docs—featuring special appearances, Q & A’s, and other festive bonuses—show elsewhere, like TIFF’s Lightbox headquarters, University of Toronto, and the Aga Khan Museum, Toronto’s modern-architecture museum of Islamic and Iranian art and Muslim culture.
Hot Docs offers everything from single tickets to 10/20 packs and premium passes.
Thanks to CBC Docs, Seniors (60+) and students with valid ID get free admission to films that start before 5:00 p.m.
It’s officially the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival—and it’s the largest (sound familiar?) photography event in the world.
All through May, in more than 200 primary exhibitions and public installations, this Greater Toronto-wide festival presents “photographic imagery that reflects issues relevant to our times and the history of the medium.” Which translates to “pretty mind-blowing pictures.”
Some CONTACT exhibits are in major public galleries, such as the Art Gallery of Ontario, Harbourfront Centre, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, and the Ryerson Image Centre, but lots are shown in commercial galleries, community centres, cafés, retail stores, and “alternative” locations like public parks and subway stations.
There are even billboard exhibits, in some pretty random locations (like, wow guys, that series above the car wash at Lansdowne Ave./Dundas West/College, was unexpected…).
The CONTACT festival, which also includes lectures, panel discussions, film screenings, and tours, is (mostly) FREE.
Rule of thumb: Start every visit to a new city with a bicycle tour. It’s hands-down the best way to cover ground, get your bearings, and feel the local vibe. Lucky for us, veteran Montreal-based cycle-tour company Fitz & Follwell has brought its “carefully crafted” bike tours to Toronto.
Fitz’s 3-hour tours feel like casual rides with a local friend—that is, a friend who knows every central T.O. landmark, laneway, and city legend. Fitz has always taken an “urban anthropology” approach to their tours, mixing in art, architecture, and urban affairs with more standard history and sights. (Tip: Guides are also a great source of info on place to eat, drink, and hang out.)
Fitz offers a couple of central T.O. routes; between them, they cover the heart of downtown and the Waterfront, and hit places like Kensington Market, Graffiti Alley, and the city’s favourite outdoor living room, Trinity Bellwoods Park.
You don’t have to be a “lycra” rider to take a Fitz tour—they go at a leisurely pace, and stick mostly to back streets and dedicated bike lanes. Plus they have cool bikes, nice helmets, and craft beer included! Tours are $75 + tax and often sell out so I recommend to book in advance here!
This is Canada’s largest New Music event. There’s a whole major industry component to the extravaganza, but if—like me—you just want to hear some great new bands in Toronto bars and clubs, or check out some quirky, pop-up-type venues, you can just skip right to the show schedule.
CMW is a great way to get inside some of T.O.’s venerable music spots—the Opera House, Danforth Music Hall, Lee’s Palace, Cameron House, the Phoenix Concert Theatre—squint into the city’s beloved “taverns” (Horseshoe, Dakota, Monarch) or check out some neighbourhood places like Alchemy, Piston, and Painted Lady. It’s not all grit: Jazz Bistro speaks for itself, and Lula Lounge has fancy cocktails and a great Latin/World Music vibe.
Bar-crawling and club-hopping are great ways to see a city—Show prices vary, most are 19+ (legal drinking age), though there’s a few all-ages event, and be sure to check the schedule for FREE shows—last year’s CMW included a free open-air concert at downtown’s Yonge-Dundas Square.
This is the weekend that Toronto literally opens it doors—to more than 100 buildings that are usually off limits to the public. The whole open-doors idea started in Paris in 1984, and has spread around the world. T.O.’s version is now the third largest in North America.
With so many sites, and just two days to see them, you’ll need a strategy—Most historic? Most iconic? Most architecturally significant? I tend to zero in on the most unusual—I’ve visited a secret subway station, a “haunted” 19thcentury college campus connected by underground tunnels, and the storerooms of a massive theatrical costume warehouse—as well as taken-for-granted places that make Toronto tick—like the city’s water treatment plant.
The site roster for Doors Open changes every year—closer to the event, check advance media coverage for some tips on what to see. And, thanks to the sponsors, Great Gulf and City of Toronto, it’s all FREE.
This finely tuned festival of Canadian/international music, dance, theatre, film, talks, and visual arts really is “illuminating” and “luminous.” Luminato aims high—and so far it’s reaching its mark.
Think rollicking cabaret, ambitious plays staged in unconventional spaces (like an abandoned generating station), or 100 electric guitarists playing a tribute to George Harrison—the 2018 edition featured everything from a Gaelic version of Swan Lake, to a lively conversation between Amal Clooney and her father-in-law (yes, his father), and a whisky-tasting and illusionist show in the private dining room of Toronto’s midtown castle, Casa Loma. Get the idea?
It’s not all weird, but it is all wonderful—and you can experience local performance venues like the Berkeley Street Theatre, the Canadian Opera Company, and Harbourfront Centre. There’s also a high-calibre public component, with FREE outdoor concerts in downtown locations.
Luminato shows do sell out, so plan ahead. You can see more than one show in the same day, and many in a week.
I hope this guide helps you in planning your visit to Toronto for a weekend of culture and fun! In such a dynamic and diverse city as Toronto, there are many other events and smaller festivals happening in Spring and early summer. Join one of our Fitz Bike Tours to learn more from your knowledgable guide and friend of the day! Fitz offers 3 bike tours per day: Our morning Essential Toronto Bike Tour, our afternoon Toronto Neighbourhoods Bike Tour, and our evening Toronto Islands Sunset Bike Tour. Many of our tours sell out in advance to Book Your Date today!