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A Quick Travel Guide to Toronto's Arts and Culture Scene

Toronto Insider Guides Festivals
by Marie-France Roy Apr 15, 2016


The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is Toronto’s largest museum, with permanent galleries ranging from dinosaurs to Chinese architecture and Canadian history. Other museums downtown focus on a specific theme such as the Bata Shoe Museum, Gardiner Museum (ceramics) and Textile Museum.

Visit the Toronto Police Museum located in the atrium of Police Headquarters on College Street for something a bit different. Several historical buildings have also been turned into small museums like Fort York, Mackenzie House, and Campbell House.


The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is Toronto’s visual arts centrepiece, showcasing European old masters, African and Oceanic art, and Canadian art among its permanent collections (free on Wednesday evenings). Hundreds of small art galleries in or around downtown specialize in everything from acrylic/oil to sculpture, photography and watercolour.

Street art

Check out Toronto’s Street Art page for suggestions on the best in the city. Walk randomly and you’ll find outdoor sculptures and other artwork in lobbies and cafes.


Toronto’s music scene spans every imaginable style. Roy Thomson Hall is home to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra with a full program of classical concerts from September to June. Attend big-name rock and pop concerts at Air Canada Centre or Rogers Centre (Sky Dome). For jazz and blues, head to the Jazz Bistro, The Rex, Reservoir Lounge or Lula Lounge (also known for salsa and world music); there are performances almost every night and they all serve food.

Bars around the city have live music and in the summer check out the open-air stage at Harbourfront.

Performing arts

Head to one of the Mirvish Theatres for Broadway plays and musicals. Attend a performance or take a tour of the elegant Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre, the last surviving Edwardian double-decker theatre in the world. For more intimate venues try the Tarragon Theatre, Factory Theatre, Theatre Passe Muraille, or one of the Canadian Stage Theatres, all showcasing Canadian plays and smaller productions. St-Lawrence Centre for the Arts and Sony Centre for the Performing Arts next-door present plays, concerts, dance, talks, and more. The Four Seasons Centre hosts opera and ballet, while the Fleck Dance Theatre and Toronto Dance Theatre has contemporary dance performances. Check out this independent guide to the best shows in Toronto.


Hollywood movies on giant screens can be found at state-of-the-art Cineplex Odeon Yonge-Dundas and Scotiabank Theatre. Rainbow Cinemas are more modest but offer $5 movies on Tuesdays. Among those, the Carlton often screens foreign films. For second-run or indie/art house movies, check out The Royal, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, and TIFF Bell Lightbox, which also host various film festivals throughout the year.

Literary scene

Pop into the Reference Library on Yonge Street in Yorkville, a Toronto landmark containing close to two million books on multi-level galleries surrounding a five-story atrium. Although few big chain bookstores like Chapters and Indigo remain, you can still browse vintage and new hardcovers in several quirky independent shops. Occasional book and storytelling fairs such as The Word on the Street take place in the city and the Open Book Foundation has a list of Toronto literary events.


Festival season kicks off at the end of June with the Pride Festival and Toronto Jazz Festival. In late July go to Caribana, the largest cultural festival in North America. Taste of the Danforth in Greektown in August is a food festival with dozens of food booths serving multi-ethnic fare from nearby restaurants. BuskerFest happens later in August. Book far in advance for the Toronto International Film Festival in mid-September, which attracts both movie fans and celebrities. Finally, on the first Saturday of October is Nuit Blanche, when art installations are set up across the city.

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