Toronto is located on the southern border of Canada on the shores of Lake Ontario. Toronto is incredibly multicultural and has been voted the most diverse city in the world in recent years – over 50% of its population was born outside of Canada!
All this culminates into a city that, although relatively young, is brimming with culture and a wide variety of activities and sites.
But while Toronto is popular with tourists, just an hour and twenty minutes from Niagara Falls, there are places off the beaten track that are well worth your time to explore. Here are seven of Toronto’s best kept secret spots that you won’t often find on the tourist trail.
1. The Tchotchke House, 37 Bertmount Ave
Affectionately known by locals as the “Crazy Doll House,” this residential property in Leslieville is a sight to behold.
A tchotchke refers to trinkets or decorative ornaments. While it’s usual to find one or two of these in many homes, the Tchotchke House really takes it to new heights. Bertmount Avenue is a residential street lined with well-kept gardens and, at first glance, seems like a typical North American city street. But as you get closer to number 37, you’ll notice a much more unusual looking garden.
The housefront, fence, and garden are literally covered with tchotchkes. They range from plastic figurines to stuffed animals and doll heads. All the trinkets face the street, which gives passersby the unsettling feeling of being watched by a horde of dolls.
Its notoriety and unique aesthetic have now made it a popular “Instagram” spot. People flock from all over the city to take a selfie with the tchotchkes and post them online.
2. Bampot Bohemian House of Tea and Board Games
The beauty of this little cafe is the warm feeling of enjoying a pot of tea in someone’s living room. It’s a space that combines the creative and cozy, exuding a homey, welcoming feeling.
Patrons can enjoy a selection of board games in this quirky cafe, with a range large enough that the cafe is confident they have every game you can name availably to play. And if you don’t want to come for the board games, come for the tea itself. Bampot offers an enormous range of teas from all over the world and in every flavor imaginable. They carefully curate their collection based on the best harvests each year.
If you’re interested in visiting, you’ll find Bampot on a peaceful stretch of Harbord Street on the west side of the city.
3. Division Gallery
Canada is a country that is highly supportive of the arts, particularly in Toronto where the art scene is booming. While you’ll find places like the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) listed on tourist maps, there are plenty of smaller galleries for those interested in something a little more different.
Division Gallery is based in the Northwest of the city, near High Park. After opening in 2008, Division Gallery is now one of the largest and most well-respected galleries in the country. Over the years they have represented some of Canada’s most important and recognized contemporary artists.
Keep an eye to see if any shows are coming up at the gallery or go for a wander to see what the curators have shown whenever you’re around. The bright space and incredible contemporary masterpieces will take your breath away.
4. Cloud Gardens
Toronto is a major city, and even visitors can find themselves needing a quick pitstop from the hustle and bustle of downtown.
Located in the heart of the busy Financial District, the Cloud Gardens (also known as Bay Adelaide Park) is just 2,400 square meters of serenity. If you find yourself on the north side of Temperance Street or the south side of Richmond Street, the park is not far, and you’ll find it beside the Bay Adelaide Centre high rise.
When the Bay Adelaide Centre was being constructed in the 1980s, a deal was struck that gave this small space to the city so that the new high rise could be built higher than official city limits at the time. The developers spent $5million to build the park as a gesture of goodwill.
The park is notable for its elaborate landscaping and the network of pathways through clusters of trees, while a walkway on one side of the park climbs past a waterfall. But they are called the Cloud Gardens after the upper-level greenhouse that is set to mimic the moist, cool conditions of a cloud rainforest.
5. Necropolis Cemetery
It might seem a little morbid to visit a cemetery, but the Necropolis is a peaceful and picturesque spot in Toronto’s Cabbagetown, and place of historical significance. The entryway is covered by a pretty white trellis before you are led down tree-covered paths among some of the oldest graves in the city.
In the “Resting Place of Pioneers” section are the graves of 984 early settlers who were reinterred here in 1855.
You can visit the Necropolis yourself or book a guided tour to soak in as much information and history as possible.
6. Crothers Woods
Visiting a city doesn’t have to mean forsaking nature and exercise. Crothers Woods is one of Toronto’s best-kept secrets. Even though it’s a little off the beaten track, it’s still accessible by public transport or a fifteen-minute drive from downtown.
Crothers Woods is like a beautiful wilderness, with winding paths through woodlands and creeks. It’s a long but not arduous hike through the trails. It’s mainly been left totally undisturbed too, which means there’s an abundance of wildlife, from birds and rabbits to curious deer roaming around.
It’s also massively popular with mountain bikers due and you’ll see them flying down some of the serpentine woodland trails on a regular basis. Once you’re finished exploring the woods, you can head to nearby Evergreen Brickworks, a former quarry that now boasts an on-site cafe and weekly farmers’ market.
7. Ireland Park
During the mid 19th century, a disastrous famine struck the people of Ireland, leading to the death of almost one million people and the emigration of many more. Many immigrants came to North America and settled in the United States and Canada.
As a tribute to the influx of Irish immigrants fleeing the starvation of the famine, the memorial in Ireland Park was created. Five bronze statues eerily stand and gaze towards the city. They were created to match a similar tribute of seven bronze statues that can be found on the docks in Dublin, Ireland.
While it may sound grim, the sight reminds the people of Toronto and visitors alike of the hardships that brought many people to the cities of North America and that their lineage still exists there to this day.
Visit these places and you’ll experience all the history, nature, and cultural diversity Toronto has to offer. And if you’re thinking of making a more permanent move to the city, this extensive infographic by Precondo on why people are moving to Toronto will provide all the info you need.