I love tourist attractions. There, I said it. I think they’re a great form of entertainment — one of the many reasons droves of visitors flock to them. Having said that, when you live in a big city like Toronto and host as many international guests as I do, it can feel like you’re practically living at some of them (I’ve actually lost count of how many times I’ve visited the ROM). To keep things interesting on my end, I’m always on the hunt for new ways to experience the highly-popular attractions. I mean, Casa Loma is amazing as it is, but when you add cocktails, live music and great food to the mix you can take your visit to a whole new level…
Seems like I’m not the only local who’s figured this out: every time I head out to a special event at these popular spots, I chat with other Torontonians who are exploring the city the same way! So – since you guys often ask me for recos – I thought I’d partner up with Attractions Ontario to share my fave ways to experience Toronto tourist attractions like a local …
A Night At The Museum: Friday Night Live At The ROM
Yup, you can party it up with the dinos at the Royal Ontario Museum on select Friday nights (the next season kicks off on Sept 29th). I’ve been attending #FNLROM for years and love taking my friends to show them a different side of the museum: one that has us scarfing down tacos and guzzling drinks before hitting up the dance floor and wandering through the exhibits. The ROM does a really good job of keeping things fresh by having a special theme for each Friday Night Live. The last one I attended was a huge birthday bash celebrating Canada’s 150th! It was good times all around…
A Few Tips:
1. Skip the huge lines on the main floor by going straight up to the second, third or fourth levels of the museum first. There you can buy ROM bucks (your currency for the night), grab food and drinks and take in beaut views of the skyline before it gets dark at the C5 event space.
2. While many people go strictly for the party, I love having access to the exhibitions and galleries; in my opinion, #FNLROM is the best time to see them if you want to avoid the daytime crowds!!
3. Buy your tickets ahead of time. Friday Night Live is very popular (especially amongst students) so the tickets sell out faaaaast. Advance tickets ($17 for adults, $15.50 for students and $5 for ROM Members) are available online here and a limited number of tickets are available at the door starting at 7:00 pm each Friday.
Unda Tha Sea: Friday Night Jazz At Ripley’s Aquarium
I’m fascinated by aquariums — they inspire me in so many ways (more on that here) — and I LOVE jazz so when I heard that Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada has Friday Night Jazz events on the second Friday of every month, I just had to check it out. I went with hubster for date night and we had an amazing time: there’s nothing like a little jazz and jellies sesh…
A Few Tips…
1. The aquarium can get busy on Fridays so if you’re looking for a more tranquil/romantic experience (with fewer kids running around), pop over around 8 pm when most families have gone home. Friday Night Jazz goes until 11 pm so you’ll still have plenty of time to enjoy! Unobstructed views await…
2. To save some cash, visit the aquarium after 7 pm for their Sharks After Dark special which runs every night (you’ll save $5). Bonus: Friday Night Jazz is included in the admission. Double bonus: you can drink! Yup, they have bars set up throughout the aquarium so you can even cheers the sharks in the Dangerous Lagoon when you cruise through via the moving sidewalk.
3. Make sure to pop by the Discovery Centre to check out the live performers: they are incredibly talented. We loved watching Lady Be Good on the night we went…
Party At The Gallery: AGO’s First Thursdays
Who doesn’t want to contemplate art with cocktail in hand?! Drawing a diverse (and very hip) crowd, First Thursdays at the Art Gallery of Ontario are always a good time. There’s food, drinks, art talks, live music and more than 90 000 works of art to admire..
A Few Tips:
1. Try to arrive before it gets dark. The Galleria Italia is truly spectacular at sunset — Frank Gehry designed a masterpiece in my opinion.
2. Wander through the gallery! While it can be tempting to stick to the watering holes (aka bars) and the dance floor, First Thursdays are the best time to take in the art lining the halls and walls at the AGO. I’ve often been the only person in the room which makes for an incredible experience.
3. Stop by the Night Market for quick and affordable eats. Located on the main floor in the Joey & Toby Tanenbaum Sculpture Atrium, this is where you’ll want to go for a bite or two in between exhibitions and collections. Don’t worry, you’ll dance it all off before you leave…
Music Under The Stars: Symphony In The Gardens At Casa Loma
I recently attended Symphony In The Gardens at Casa Loma for the very first time and just can’t stop talking about it! I truly felt like a royal guest as we walked around the castle grounds, sipped cocktails while being serenaded by the Toronto Concert Orchestra and watched the sun dip below the horizon from the top of the Towers. Pure magic.
A Few Tips:
1. Arrive early. The live concert begins at 7:30 pm, but seating in the Glass Pavilion is first come, first served. So if you want prime orchestra seats make sure to get there when the doors open at 5 pm. But don’t worry if you arrive later, there’s plenty of seating and standing room on the castle grounds (we actually preferred sitting by the fountain — easy access to food, drinks, washrooms and beaut views of the city).
2. You can grab food onsite before, during or after the concert. I loved how relaxed the dining scene was at this outdoor event. Whenever we felt the urge, we wandered over to the food & bar stations and placed an order. Bonus: they have casual takeaway and full-service dining options (put your name on the list when you arrive because this section fills up fast)!
3. Take the kids, your friends or a date. Yup, you can bring the whole family to Symphony in the Gardens! I spotted everyone from babies to grandmas at the castle. It’s such a picturesque place to bond with those you love.
4. Explore, explore, explore! Your ticket grants you general admission to the entire castle so squeeze in a mini tour before the show, during intermission or after (it’s open late until 10 pm). I highly recommend climbing up the Towers for a spectacular view of the city — be warned: it’s quite the trek up the narrow staircases, but it’s worth it!
I hope this post inspires you to experience some of Toronto’s most popular tourist attractions a bit differently. If you’ve been to other special events around the city do let me know via comments below — I’m always looking for ways to see Toronto through a different lens!
This post was sponsored by Attractions Ontario. As always, all reviews and opinions are entirely my own. Make sure to visit their website when planning visits to Toronto tourist attractions to snag some awesome coupons!