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5 Activities You Never Expected to Find in and Around Toronto
Canada's biggest city offers underrated attractions geared toward travelers of all interests.
Whether you want to pet stingrays or take in a birds-eye view of the city from 1,168 feet above the ground, Toronto offers plenty of lesser-known thrills.(Getty Images)
Toronto, with its diverse neighborhoods, offbeat attractions, art enclaves and top-notch restaurants, lures families, foodies, adventurers and art lovers with varying interests. And thanks to Canada's advantageous exchange rate ($1 Canadian dollar equates to roughly 70 cents), this is the year to head north for your next adventure. With that in mind, here are five thrilling, under-the-radar experiences you shouldn't miss on your next trip.
Walk on the Roof of the CN Tower
Start your Toronto adventure at the iconic CN Tower for a spectacular view of the Greater Toronto area (or "The 6ix" as the local rapper and pop star Drake has dubbed it) and some unusual thrills. Dine on caribou at the gourmet Canadian eatery that slowly revolves around the tower's shaft, or hook up for an EdgeWalk outdoors, on the restaurant's 5 feet wide roof panels located 1,168 feet above the ground. You can rest assured that at least suits, harnesses and safety gear are included. If you're feeling less intrepid, explore the two observation decks to experience the reinforced plate glass flooring, where visitors walk, jump or lie down to take the perfect selfie 1,136 feet above the street. After relishing the views, head back to the ground floor displays about the Tower's construction, the world's tallest building when it opened 40 years ago.
Pet Stingrays at Ripley's Aquarium
The enormous Ripley's Aquarium of Canada (believe it or not, the company is owned by a Canadian conglomerate) is downtown, opposite the homegrown Steam Whistle Brewery. Don't expect two-headed or other odd fish. The facility is a genuinely educational and engaging sea life theme park designed for all ages. Study the blue lobsters or the extremely rare orange lobsters in the Canadian Waters area, admire tropical fish in Rainbow Reef and tour the huge tanks that recirculate 95 percent of the 1.4 million gallons of water used daily during your trip. A fiberglass tunnel allows the marine life to admire humans gliding by on a conveyor belt. Best of all, trainers will lead visitors ages 6 and up to a private, hands-on Stingray Experience, which takes place in a shallow tank filled with cownose stingrays.
Unleash Your Passion for Footwear at the Bata Shoe Museum
Multicultural Toronto boasts museums devoted to a range of cultures, from the fine porcelain at the Gardiner Museum to carved whalebone at the Museum of Inuit Art and Muslim prayer books at the Aga Khan Museum. The 20-year-old Bata Shoe Museum has it all in its 13,000-piece footwear collection: ceramic slippers, Eskimo mukluks and leather sandals worn by Persian royalty. Annual curated exhibits explore sneaker culture or how red heels morphed from King Louis XIV's shoe closet to Christian Louboutin. Tucked into the survey of 4,500 years of shoe history are Marilyn Monroe's size 8 red leather pumps acquired from the Barrymore Collection, the Dalai Lama's Bata brand flip-flops (Sonja Bata, wife of the shoe magnate, founded the museum) and one of John Lennon's gently worn Beatle Boots, given by a fan.
iFly Over Toronto Without a Parachute
If you want to get your heart racing, join Torontonians by paddling Lake Ontario, cycling the city with a bike-sharing program, checking out the championship Stanley Cup at the Hockey Hall of Fame or defying gravity at iFly Toronto. One of the newest of SkyVenture's 37 facilities worldwide, the Oakville, Ontario, facility has a classroom, lockers, party rooms and waiting area lined with flat-screen monitors (to lessen the dread). Here's how it works: Visitors enter a clear cylinder where air, sucked through a vacuum system to emulate the sensation of freefall, can be modulated for different ages and weights to make clients feel light as air. Designed to train sky divers in aerial maneuvers, the other 80 percent of iFly's audience is composed of thrill-seekers ages 4 and older. Meet your coach, learn about hand signals, suit up and boldly go into the wind tunnel for two minute-long flights.
Tour Niagara Falls from Inside and Above
With more than 200,000 cubic feet of water plummeting 188 feet every second, Niagara Falls really is one of the world's seven natural wonders. A favorite Toronto road trip winds through the vineyards of Wine Country Ontario to Horseshoe Falls, the largest of Niagara Falls' cascades. Immerse yourself at Table Rock (the table part of the rock has washed away), now a visitors center. The Journey behind the Falls experience ($16.25 for adults and $11 for kids) leads visitors through a concrete tunnel blasted out of the riverbank to an overlook behind a torrent of water. An estimated 30 million people visit the falls each year, many of whom experience the spectacle by cruise or jetboat along the Niagara River. Yet, nothing tops the half hour aerial tour aboard Niagara Helicopters, which has been flightseeing the Niagara Parks Commission shoreline for 50 years. After taking in the falls, make sure to check out the area's wineries. The Niagara region is ideal for growing grapes used in juice, wines and the local specialty, ice wine. Sample them all at the sophisticated Reif Estate Winery, one of 35 wineries outside the charming Niagara-on-the-Lake village.
[See: 9 Ways to Travel Better.]
In Toronto, natural and outdoor attractions are aplenty. In fact, the sprawling city has just enhanced its small Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, which is a ferry ride away from downtown, by adding an underwater walkway to the mainland. Many travelers love swooping in over the skyline on Porter Airlines because they have private lounges stocked with snacks and complimentary beverages for all passengers. That makes getting to Toronto as much of a thrill as being there.
About En Route
Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.
Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.
Edited by Liz Weiss.
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