Toronto Survival Guide

Insider tips on where to go, what to see and how to get there

Peter Ustinov once called Toronto "New York run by the Swiss." Whether meant as a slight or a compliment, TIFF is certainly clean and safe, and it's run by diplomatic Canadians who
parlayed their event into a major international film festival to rival Cannes and Sundance. But that doesn't mean there aren't long lines outside local venues. Now let THR help you find the right ones.

Cheap eats

While Canada's banks have held up through the recession, frugal Torontonians still embrace prix fixe menus and bistros as top-drawer restaurants shut down. The Drake on Queen Street has introduced "Starving Artist" specials. Skip Sotto Sotto and Bistro 990 for Pizzeria Libretto and pan-Asian Foxley on Ossington Avenue. Or drink late night at nearby Sweaty Betty's where Canadian filmmakers have as their highest ambition to be mistaken as Los Angeles producers. And on King Street, celebrity chef Marc Thuet has opened Conviction Kitchen, where ex-cons serve impressive Mediterranean cuisine.

Lounging around

The best swimmers in an over-supplied Toronto market will avoid hotel lobbies filled with nail-biting sales agents and stick to the Intercontinental and Sutton Place. There's also Avenue, the lounge at the Four Seasons overlooking Yorkville Avenue, for casual kibitzing, or the dimly lit lounge at the nearby Hazelton Hotel. Then there's the C5 Restaurant Lounge, an indoor oasis at the pinnacle of the new crystal roof for the Royal Ontario Museum on Bloor Street. Grab a window seat and you'll be entertained by the throngs of autograph seekers parked outside the Four Seasons and the Intercontinental, ready to pounce on A-list stars.

Save your loonies

See that humidor in the shop window? It's filled with the finest Cuban cigars. Whether it's Bolivar Coronas Juniors or Romeo y Jolietas, they're all legal in Canada. Smoke a big one at your same-sex wedding. (Yep, Toronto has those, too). Need beta blockers? Get prescription drugs on the cheap in Canada. The bottom line: The cheap Canadian loonie means you can pick up those Gucci pumps and Canali dress shirts for a song in Yorkville. Harry Rosen, Andrew's and Holt Renfrew are your best bets for designer threads.

Going underground

You can always use the subway and taxis, but insiders know the best route is PATH, Toronto's underground city. Essentially a 17-mile network of tunnels and shopping arcades beneath downtown office towers, this subterranean refuge from winter cold and snow provides your pedway from Roy Thomson Hall to the Elgin, or Yorkville to Yonge Street. Do get a map, however, or risk becoming a rat in a laboratory maze.

Take a time out

For a change of pace, take the elevator up the CN Tower for a bird's-eye view of the city. Or check out the new Frank Gehry-designed remake of the Art Gallery of Ontario. And for a pleasant day trip, drive out to Niagara-on-the-Lake for a pleasant winery lunch. There's 106 wineries in all, including ones run by Dan Aykroyd, golfer Mike Weir and hockey great Wayne Gretzky. You'll also find out why the Japanese empty the place of Icewine each year.
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