Maple syrup. The CN Tower. Ice hockey. Universal friendliness and politeness. There are many things that come to mind when you think of Toronto, Ontario, Canadas most populous city. But for me, a thriving LGBTQ+ community wasnt one of them.
Oh, how wrong I was.
Pride month in cultural hubs like London and New York is always going to be visible – LGBTQ+ communities are generally larger and more accepted in bigger metropolitan cities, so I wasnt surprised when I heard that Torontos Pride parade was one of the biggest in the world. But upon visiting the city for the first time, I came to realise that Toronto is more than a fair-weather for LGBTQ+ culture – the city is pretty much built on it.
Flying into Toronto from London has never been easier – British Airways are now flying to Toronto from London Gatwick three times a week, with return seats in their World Traveller seats starting at £402. (Although if you bump yourself up to Club World, you get access to a lounge pre-flight, and believe when I say youll be living your best life.) A seven-hour flight is just enough to squeeze in two films and a good sleep, so I arrived in Toronto refreshed and ready to explore.
How to plan your trip to Toronto
For further information about Toronto, visit Tourism Toronto.
British Airways now flies three times per week from London Gatwick to Toronto with return World Traveller fares from £402 including taxes and charges.
Prices for the newly opened Kimpton St George Hotel start from £205 per night.
A Toronto CityPass provides access to key attractions across the city including the CN Tower, Case Lomo, Royal Ontario Museum, Ripleys Aquarium of Canada and Toronto Zoo or Ontario Science Centre. The passes are £51 for adults and £34 for children (plus taxes). Getting around Toronto costs just £7 per day with a TTC day pass.
And what a city to explore. Im not a huge sunning-myself-on-a-beach kind of girl; city breaks are more my jam, so anyone who fits that vibe will feel right at home here. While obviously a large city, Toronto is divided into distinct neighbourhoods, each worth an afternoon at least of adventure.
There is Yorkville, where I stayed in the boutique hotel Kimpton St George – a hotel which wants you to feel at home enough to sip wine in the lobby (or living room) but boujee enough that you have unique art in your room; Yorkville is also home to designer outlets and slick restaurants like Kasa Moto, where sushi and sashimi is served alongside cocktails containing four different alcohols, and Sofia, where decadent pasta is devoured under low lighting and next to a piano. Theres Kensington Market and Chinatown, home to some of the tastiest food and biggest variety of cuisine imaginable (trust me, go and get the carnitas tacos at Seven Lives). Theres the Financial District, home of towering buildings and historical city halls, and Parkdale, where boozy cocktails are served out of coconuts at the delightfully named tiki bar Miss Things.
The different neighbourhoods are so diverse and distinct in their style and atmosphere, but theres one thing that unites them – and thats their Pride.
At first, its just like any other city. A rainbow decal wrapped around a bank here, a flag fluttering out a bar window there. But look closer, and the Pride flag is being flown everywhere – whether thats a literal rainbow flag pinned to a door, or a gradual rainbow of flowerpots or tulle ribbons adorning a shop window. Helpline posters for sexual health were stuck on the walls of some of the most upmarket shopping streets. The transgender flag flew next to a rainbow flag and the Canadian flag on the street – a rare sight for any city. And perhaps the most startling and touching gesture for me was a rainbow flag hung up against the stained glass windows inside the St James Anglican Cathedral.
Seeing a city so visibly supporting its LGBTQ+ people is something that should happen everywhere – but it doesnt. And this level of support, love and acceptance means that the LGBTQ+ culture in the city is not hidden away – its celebrated in all its gaudy, campy, over-the-top glory and takes over its very own section of the city.
Church and Wellesley was where I was pointed to for a good night out and it did not disappoint. As it was Pride weekend, the pedestrianised street was heaving, with everyone from leather fetishists to nudists (fully practising, I saluted them) to queer teens to older couples partying in the streets. We were tipped off to go to a bar called Woodys to start, where an erotic toga wrestling film played on screens while Madonna blared on the dancefloor. While taking a break from dancing, I met two new pals where I always meet new pals – in the bathroom; two young guys with fabulous hair and wearing knock-off Carly Rae Jepsen merchandise. They told us that the drag bar across the road, Crews and Tangos, was the place to be – and they were right. We were treated to a exceptional show from Torontos premier drag queens, from the incredibly named Allysin Chaynes to Miss Crews and Tangos Priyanka Love, who I would be shocked not to see on Drag Race in the future. The best part of Toronto drag nights has to be that tipping a queen $5 means you can briefly dance with them on stage – something I did not do, but sorely regret.
Church and Wellesley reminds me of one of those wide streets in a Spanish resort that is lined with clubs decorated with neon signs and drunken holidaymakers – the entire street is packed with LGBTQ+ owned/friendly/targeted bars and nightclubs, from casual pubs to gay fetish bars with nearly naked men dancing on poles outside. Its what Londons Old Compton Street wished it could be, if rents didnt keep rising and forcing out these safe spaces. Because thats what they are. Yes, theyre an absolute hoot, with the best playlists around (Shania Twain seguing into Aqua? Heaven), but theyre also places where an often marginalised community can gather with their chosen family and friends and feel accepted.
LGBTQ+ people, thankfully, may be accepted in many cities around the world, but in Toronto, they are truly embraced. Their Pride parade is one of the biggest in the world – not because the route is particularly long, but because everybody comes out to watch. Gay men, lesbian women, bisexuals, queer people, transgender people, asexual people, non-binary people, straight allies, people flying solo and those watching with their families. Every corner of society is reflected in the parade – from drag queens to HIV positive people to straight mothers holding up signs reading I love my trans son.
Toronto is an amazing city, full of culture, activities, food, drink and fun, and is a perfect destination for any devoted city-dweller. But the reason Ill be going back is how they embrace LGBTQ+ people and culture – hopefully its as noticeable all year round.
What else is there to do in Toronto?
The unique art festival Nuit Blanche takes place this year in Toronto on 29 September for one night only, with sights, works and performances seen around the city from 7pm to 7am. This years theme is You Are Here.
The Art of Banksy exhibition is on until 19 August. Curated by the artists former manager Steve Lazarides, Banksys most famous works are on display in a one of a kind exhibition.
For an authentic tour of Torontos best food, go on a Culinary Adventure Co food tour. John Lee, who grew up in Kensington Market, tours around the foodie area as well as giving the history of Torontos Chinatown.
More interested in a liquid diet? Drink Toronto offer cocktail tours to show you the best bars and lounges that Toronto has to offer.
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