TORONTO (Reuters) - Perhaps most famous for having a mayor who has admitted smoking crack cocaine, Toronto has much more than salacious headlines to offer the intrepid visitor, especially when snow is far from the collective consciousness.
With a winter that can send recent immigrants into shock, Toronto is best visited between May and September, when it is awash with festivals and events, and patios are jammed with locals enjoying a long-awaited outdoor pint.
The city is a hotbed for immigration as is made clear by the array of construction cranes working on new downtown condos designed to appeal to the 100,000 or so newcomers that arrive in Toronto each year.
But stepping past the main streets brings you to the true fruits of decades of international settlement: a network of immigrant enclaves that make the city a virtual United Nations of food, music, and street culture. (Map: goo.gl/maps/9mni0)
So don’t get bogged down by the construction that paralyzes movement around the iconic Union Station and squeezes traffic on the city’s byways. Complain like a local, then get on with it.
The neighborhoods of Canada’s largest city are best explored by foot, bicycle and public transit, where the ethnic neighborhoods of one of the world’s most multicultural cities bleed into one another.
Bike Share Toronto, a municipal-funded program, will equip you with a sturdy steed for trips in half-hour increments for C$7 a day or C$15 for three days. (www.bikesharetoronto.com/).
Start by meandering down Spadina Ave in of one of the city’s three Chinatowns, where the calligraphy on the signs of hundreds of restaurants and grocery stores could make any visitor question which continent they’re on.
Beyond that, Greektown, Little India, Eastern European-focused Bloor West Village, and a multitude of other ethnic precincts in between are sure to offer something to satisfy your cravings. Near the top of the list is "Il Gatto Nero" in Little Italy, where travelers can enjoy thin crust pizza and first-rate cappuccino on one of the neighborhood's most picturesque patios. (www.ilgattonero.ca/)
Toronto also offers a cornucopia of summer festivals dedicated to food and film, airplanes and busking, and the Canadian National Exhibition, a long-running kids' paradise of a fair. (here)
Named the world’s best food market by National Geographic in 2012, the St Lawrence indoor market boosts dozens of specialty food stalls selling everything from jams and chutneys to local cheeses to fresh cut meat. Stop by Carousel Bakery for a peameal bacon sandwich, often referred to as “Canadian bacon”.
Another option for lower-budget dining is one of the city's newest food-truck locales. Municipal obstacles have hindered the growth of this culinary niche, but a hub has popped up at Queen St. East and Jarvis St. (www.foodtruckalleytoronto.com/) and another serves hungry patrons from just behind King St. West, between Spadina and Bathurst. (here)
Toronto is a city sitting on a lake, but it can be difficult to appreciate the life aquatic with the elevated Gardiner expressway cutting off the financial district and other inner-city areas from the shoreline.
But catch a short ferry from the bottom of Bay Street to the Toronto Islands parks for your choice of family-friendly amusement park, a petting farm, or a clothes-optional beach. For food and drink, the Rectory Cafe on Ward's Island offers one of the city's best lakeside patios. (therectorycafe.com/)
Be warned, it’s very easy to spend an entire sunny day out on the islands.
Star of many a skyline photograph snapped from the islands, the CN Tower was once the world’s tallest tower and is a useful reference point for urban wanderers.
At its foot sits a new aquarium and a baseball stadium that locals still stubbornly refer to as the Skydome despite its name change to Rogers Center. And at the tower's peak you can get a C$175 adrenaline fix hanging from a harness. (here)
If you want beaches without the boat ride to the islands, a quick trip either east or west from downtown will find you plenty of shoreline on which to plant an umbrella. To the east, Ashbridges Bay marks the start of more than 3 kilometers (2 miles) of summer sand, complete with a boardwalk and nearly 100 beach volleyball courts.
And if after all that, you still want to discover Mayor Rob Ford’s Toronto, drop by the city’s Viljo Revell-designed city hall. The square in front of the building is the site of frequent concerts, art displays and other public events. And you may even catch sight of the city’s most famous citizen.
Additional reporting by Leah Schnurr, Cameron French and Jeffrey Hodgson; Editing by Mary Milliken; and Peter Galloway