May and June are two of the best months to enjoy Toronto. The weather is generally nice, the leaves and flowers are in bloom after a long hibernation, and most of the tourists haven’t arrived yet. So if you want long warm(ish) days without the crowds, now is the time to visit Toronto! Below are some great things to do in Toronto during those months, starting with a few nature options.
Enjoy leaf buds and flowers in a park
After five months of freezing temperatures and naked trees, we Torontonians get very enthusiastic at the first appearance of flowers and little leaf buds at the end of April! By mid-May, tulips are everywhere, and the trees are awash in tender green fuzz. This is my favourite time of year to sit in a park with warm sun on my face, listening to bird songs and breathing in fresh spring air.
St-James Park and Queen’s Park, both downtown, are good places to see tulips. Besides outdoor displays of local flowers, the Alan Gardens Conservatory (at Carlton and Jarvis streets) also includes five domed greenhouses full of tropical plants. Admission is free.
High Park, Toronto’s largest public park, is easy to access with the subway. Just get off at High Park station and cross Bloor Street. For 7 to 10 days between late April and early May, the cherry trees (“sakura”) are in bloom, and the white blossoms attract hordes of sightseers. Visit outside of this period though, and you’ll find pleasant green spaces to rest or picnic, an artificial “lake” (Grenadier Pond), flower beds, walking trails amid the trees, and even a restaurant.
Take the ferry to the Toronto Islands
May and June are great months for an excursion to the “islands”. Although the ferry doesn’t run on its full schedule until Victoria Day (late May), spring means fewer crowds and shorter line-ups. It may still be too cold to swim, but you can walk, bike, rollerblade and have most of the paths to yourself, especially if you go to either Ward’s Island or Hanlan Point.
Go on a walking tour
If you like to mix outdoor activites with culture and history, a walking tour may be what you need. Toronto offers several walking tour options, many of which are free. Toronto Urban Adventures even adds food or beer to some of their tours. Last year I went on a tour that was all about pork and discovered why Toronto used to be called “Hogtown”! Ghost tours, food tours, history tours, we have them all. Outside of the summer months, your tour group is likely to be smaller, making it easier to interact with your guide. You also won’t be sweating your butt off. (Yes, Toronto can get very hot and humid in summer – it’s a myth that Canada is always cold!)
Attend “Doors Open Toronto”
Doors Open Toronto will delight architecture and history buffs who like to design their own itinerary around town. On the last week-end of May, around 150 architecturally, historically, culturally and socially significant buildings – many not normally accessible to the public – open their doors to residents and visitors alike. Several offer free guided tours, and staff is on hand to answer questions. Buildings featured in the past have included the Flatiron Building, Osgoode Hall, the Winter Garden Theatre, and the green roof at City Hall. Start early in the day to avoid line-ups. Closer to the date, go online to find all the information you need about building locations and opening hours.
Sit down on a patio and watch the world go by
If all this walking and standing around has made you tired and thirsty, why not sit down on a patio and have a cold beer or a bite to eat? As soon as the weather gets milder (and here it can mean as low as 10C/50F if it’s sunny), restaurants with patios pull out tables and chairs for patrons to enjoy. Downtown, many patios can be found on Front Street East around Church and Jarvis, as well as one street south on The Esplanade. The pedestrian-only Distillery District also offers some atmospheric patios minus the traffic noise.
Visit a brewery
If your interest in beer goes beyond just drinking it, you can take a tour of several breweries including Amsterdam BrewHouse (on Queens Quay), and Steam Whistle (Roundhouse on Bremner Blvd). Mill Street Brewery (Distillery District) offers free tastings in its store. For more beer-related events, Ontario Craft Beer Week runs June 10-19 this year, including a Craft Beer Festival on June 17 and 18.
Below are a few more festivals rocking the city this spring.
Hot Docs presents over 200 documentary films from all over the world and runs from April 28 to May 8 this year. Films are shown at several locations including the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema and TIFF Bell Lightbox. Some events are free.
Contact Photography Festival
If you prefer photography to film, the Contact Photography Festival, from May 1 to 29, features the work of 1500 local and international artists at various venues across the city, from museums to street installations. This year celebrates the 20th anniversary of the festival and has no set theme, allowing the photographers complete freedom to explore their medium.
Luminato (June 10 to 26) is a yearly festival that showcases art, theatre, film, dance, music and literary events from 100 local, regional and international artists, playwrights and filmmakers. It’s a combination of paying and free events, with its hub in David Pecaut Square (King St. W. and John Street).
And finally, at the end of June, as summer finally envelops the city, the Toronto Jazz Festival descends on Toronto, offering not only traditional jazz, but a variety of musical styles from big band to world music. This year, the Jazz Festival runs from June 24 to July 3, and Sarah McLachlan, the famous Canadian singer, is scheduled to attend!
This is just a small sample of things to do in Toronto this spring. See toronto.com for a more complete list.