Ontario: A Cultural Trip

Since popping my Canadian cherry a few years earlier with a fleeting tour of British Columbia and Alberta, I had been looking for an excuse to reacquaint myself with this great nation ever since. As with many other millions of tourists, the allure and proximity of Toronto and Niagara Falls made it difficult for any other potential destinations to get a look in and I soon made up my mind that the province of Ontario, home to these two world-class spots and much more, would feature on my gap year adventure. Unsurprisingly, I was on a typical backpacking budget, so here are some tips for getting to know Ontario whilst avoiding any awkward phone calls to the ‘bank of mum and dad’…

  1. Explore Kensington Market, Toronto

When exploring the cultural capital of Ontario and arguably the whole of Canada, stick to your budget by shunning the pricey shopping districts such as Bloor-Yorkville and instead head for the city’s Chinatown and Kensington Market, which blend into one another to the west of the city centre. Before sampling the mouth-watering (and wallet-friendly) delights of Chinatown, take a few hours to explore Kensington Market’s selection of clothes shops, bookstores and organic food stores. The area has its roots as an immigrant working-class neighbourhood but has developed into a hip, vibrant neighbourhood centred around alternative-culture.

  1. Swim at Wasaga Beach Provincial Park

At just two and half hours’ drive from Toronto and boasting the longest freshwater beach in the world (8.7 miles in case you were wondering), Wasaga Beach is a hotspot for city dwellers looking to chill out and catch some rays. Swimming is a popular activity here, with Torontonians understandably preferring the warm, clear water of Georgian Bay over the somewhat polluted Lake Ontario that their city overlooks.

  1. Wine Tasting on the Niagara Peninsula

Assuming you manage to successfully re-attach your jaw following a trip to the falls (they don’t disappoint), take a change of pace with a visit to one of the peninsula’s many vineyards. Access by car is your best bet, but once there, parking is free and many of the vineyards offer free tasting. Bring your own cheese and biscuits.

  1. Cycle the Thousand Islands Bikeway

Sporting opportunities are abundant throughout the province, with Ontario golf courses, hiking trails, watersport centres, baseball fields and of course, ice hockey arenas, providing residents with their fix of exercise and competition. The most rewarding experience of my trip was hiring a bike and riding a section of the Thousand Islands Bikeway. This 35km route runs alongside the Parkway of the same name and clings to the coast, offering epic views of the rugged Thousand Islands archipelago. Great fun and a good way to burn off some of the excesses of your time in Toronto!

  1. Visit The National Gallery, Ottawa

An absolute must-see for visitors to Ottawa seeking a dose of culture, The National Gallery of Canada houses over 36,000 works of Canadian, Inuit and International art from all eras. The glass and granite building is a work of art in itself, and also encompasses the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography. Tickets usually cost a reasonable $9, but if you can, head there on a Thursday evening, when admission is free.

Author Bio: James Rathmell

James Rathmell is a Geography graduate currently working in Manchester as a Transport Planner. He can often be found city-hopping across Europe or gigging with his band at a venue near you.

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