Toronto is one of those cities that, at first glance, appear as any other big city. But the longer you spend here, the more gems can be discovered.
I’ve grown up, gone to university and now work within Toronto’s city centre, and even though I’ve spent months at a time travelling and living all over the world, I still believe there is no where like home.
Allow me to introduce you to 8 Wellness Things to Do in my fair city, Toronto:
1. Stroll through the parks. Anyone who calls Toronto a ‘concrete jungle’ has clearly never taken the time to explore the many parks that are scattered throughout downtown. In the East end, Withrow Park is home to a weekly farmers’ market and my favourite Tuesday night Hoola Hoop Jams where hoopers from across the city come out, decked in their best get-ups for a night of hooping and picnicking. Riverdale Park, also home to a weekly market (Tuesday, May – October) has, hiding within, Riverdale Farm- complete with an assortment of farm animals. Take the time to check out the streets surrounding the park for some of Toronto’s oldest classic Cabbage Town homes. In the city’s west end, Trinity Bellwoods Park is the best place to hang out with locals who flock to the park after work to picnic and enjoy the greenery. This park also features sports courts and a small community centre. Heading even further west, is my favourite park – High Park. Here you can get lost within the winding trails, streams, community gardens, small zoo, and playing fields. You soon forget you are in the city. Visit in early May to enjoy the breathtaking views of the Cherry Blossom grove in full bloom.
2. Get blitzed at the waters. The city boasts a number of wellness centres and spas including Balance Integrated Health in Liberty Village; the upscale Stillwater Spa at the Park Hyatt in Yorkville; Elmwood Spa (one of the city’s largest and most established spas) and for a more organic experience, Elixir Organic Spa in the King West area. My all time favourite for both the value and the experience is Body Blitz. Located in the downtown area this women’s only water-based therapeutic spa allows you as much time as you like to enjoy a circuit of treatments including a sea salt pool, cold plunge, eucalyptus steam room, infrared sauna and green tea pool. Spa treatments are also available and you can have a tea or smoothie of choice, brought to you water-side. This is a great place to visit with girlfriends or solo for some quiet reflection.
3. Travel by Bixi. Like Paris and Montreal, downtown Toronto now has its very own fleet of Bixi Bikes. You can purchase a day pass for a bike at the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) station nearest to you, then just start riding. The Bixi system works by paying at your first stop (about $5), which gives you 30 minutes for your first trip (anytime over is charged a small toll fee). Drop off the bike at the station nearest your next destination, and pick up another bike when you’re ready to move on. Review the Toronto Bike Map (www.toronto.ca/cycling/map/pdf/front.pdf) to plan your route in advance. If biking around Toronto is in your plans, don’t forget to pack a helmet.
4. Farmers’ market time. From May to October, there is a farmer’s market nearly every day of the week in one downtown park or another. But do not fret if you find yourself in Toronto during the winter months. There are many great markets that run all year round – mostly on Saturdays. The most famous and the old favourite is St. Lawrence Market in the downtown core. Though the main building is open Tuesday through Saturday, the North building sees local farmer’s flood into the city on Saturdays with meats, fruits and veggies, honey, baked goods, fresh cheeses and yogurts. It’s one of the best markets in Canada.
5. Picnic on the Island. With everything happening in the city, it is easy to forget that Toronto has a beautiful shoreline along Lake Ontario. A short ferry ride from the ferry docks at Bay Street and Queens Quay, takes you across the lake to the peaceful Toronto Islands. Made up of three small islands, the residential area is North America’s largest car-free community. Go for a bike ride ( rentals are available on Centre Island), wander the small sidewalks of Ward’s Island between fairy-tale-like cottages or, my personal favourite, rent a canoe and paddle in and out of the bays to find a quiet, secluded beach. Don’t forget to pack snacks, for you will surely find a number of beautiful and peaceful spots to relax and enjoy a picnic.
6. Toronto has beaches? Bordering Lake Ontario, Toronto has beautiful beaches which can be easily accessed from the city centre via streetcar. Head west to Sunnyside Beach which includes a small cafe and boardwalk. This is a great spot to take in the views. Walk west to see the beautiful foot bridge that spans the Humber River and continue west further to explore the wetlands development full of wild and cultivated gardens. East of the city, you’ll find Q-Gardens – stretches of sand to play in, a boardwalk to walk (or jog) along and beach volleyball courts if you feel up to joining in the game.
7. Wellness and food go hand-in-hand. Shopping and theater-going are two favourite activities for visitors to Toronto and so is dining. Toronto has an abundance of great restaurants including a varied selection of health-focused eateries to choose from. One of the city’s first and still favourite vegetarian restaurants is Fresh. Now with three locations, it remains a staple for most fresh-food-loving locals and visitors to the city. Fressen, serving vegan fare and boasting beautifully-plated gourmet meals, is another good choice. When it comes to raw food restaurants, I have two favourites: Rawlicious and Live Organic Food bar. Be sure you save room for their amazing raw cheesecakes and chocolate truffles. One of my newer spots for an afternoon ‘latte’ is Mylk Uncookies. Located near Parliament and Gerard Streets, this is the best spot for almond milk-based lattes, and dairy and gluten-free desserts.
8. Melt away stress with Yoga. Toronto seems to have a new yoga studio popping up on every corner, but I can’t help but remain loyal to some of the established studios that have kept me coming back for years: Yoga Space in the West Queen West Gallery district on Ossington; blend in with the University of Toronto students at Kula in the Annex; downward dog with some of the city’s best at Downward Dog on Queen Street, drop into the new location of the Octopus Garden Holistic Centre on College West or one of Toronto’s first studios, the Yoga Sanctuary at the corner of Yonge and College.
Toronto resident and nutritionista Meghan Telpner runs a cooking school in downtown Toronto with weekly drop-in workshops from September through to June. The colder months find her in the Caribbean islands running her annual Nourish Your Soul Retreats