In a country dominated by trackless wilderness and natural wonders, Toronto stands out as a beacon of culture and urbanity. It’s more sophisticated than Vancouver and more cosmopolitan than Ottawa; a passionate, colourful explosion of a city that feels surprisingly European in flavour.
Just as visitors to the US are often surprised that Washington and not New York is the country’s capital, so Toronto’s second-city status seems something of a miscasting. This is Canada’s biggest metropolis after all, and it has all the energy, verve and electricity you’d expect of a capital. A hefty 11% of the national GDP is generated here, much of it in the gleaming, high-rise financial district that dominates the skyline - and this wealth translates into malls packed with designer boutiques, a sprinkling of silver service restaurants and an ongoing regeneration drive that constantly shapes and reshapes the cityscape reflected in Lake Ontario.
Undoubtedly, the city’s most iconic landmark is the vertigo-inducing CN Tower, one of the world's tallest towers at 351m (1,151 ft), thrusting skyward near the water's edge. It will soon be joined by a neighbouring new Ripley's Aquarium of Canada this summer.
But the real heart of Toronto lies outside its wealthiest sectors, in the quirky patchwork of neighbourhoods that make up one of the most diverse and multicultural cities in the world. Take a stroll up Yonge Street through Old Toronto and towards North York, and you’ll pass everything from glitzy tourist attractions to cosmopolitan street stalls and local craft shops. Each suburb has a different treat to offer – whether it’s an eccentric vintage market, an urban farm or a just a truly outstanding independent coffee shop.
Then, of course, there’s the city’s cultural face. Torontonians often say that the latest play will sell out nearly as quickly as a big hockey match – and they aren’t always joking. After dark, the post-industrial Entertainment District comes alive with theatregoers. The larger venues host hits fresh off Broadway, but there are also dozens of small and eclectic Torontonian theatre companies that contribute to a calendar packed year-round with dance, musicals, plays and opera. Only London and New York rival Toronto for diversity and abundance when it comes to the English-language theatre scene.
While Toronto doesn’t have the spectacular natural backdrop of Vancouver on the west coast, it does have the traditional Canadian connection with the great outdoors. The ravines that slice through the city are little pockets of wilderness where you can wander along woodland walks, picnic by a lake and even spot the odd deer. You only have to drive for a few minutes to reach sparsely-populated sandy beaches – and of course Niagara Falls, the world’s most famous waterfall, is a mere hour-and-a-half from the city centre.
This heaven-sent combination of natural beauty, sophisticated urbanity and cosmopolitan open-mindedness has seen Toronto consistently ranked among the world’s most liveable places.
For visitors though, it’s the city’s legendary warm welcome that will make the greatest impression. Because more than anything, Toronto is defined by its citizenry - friendly, efficient and among the most diverse in the world.