Dear Toronto: It’s Not You…Well Maybe It Is

Toronto skyline

In recent years I have visited Canada several times, always enjoying my trip and looking forward to further northern explorations. There is one city though that I just can’t seem to crack, no matter how many times I’ve tried and I think I’m frankly done trying. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to like Toronto.

I’ve been to Toronto now three times, each experience more boring than the one previous. Granted, I’ve never visited with the sole intention of being a tourist, and maybe that’s part of the problem. But it definitely isn’t entirely my fault. I’ve visited many cities on business and have managed to leave enjoying my time and looking forward to personal exploration, but that has never happened with Toronto and I seriously doubt that it ever will. So why don’t I like Canada’s largest city? Here are a few reasons.

Lacks personality – Canada’s largest city, Toronto is the center of Canadian business and it looks like it. The city is in a constant state of change and construction, paving over what may have been interesting and unique. In that respect it reminds me of another city I don’t like, London. There’s no intimacy, no electric spark when I drive into town. I get that spark in other cities; I get it in New York, Quebec, Paris; now THESE are cities with personalities. Whenever I make this complaint with native Torontans they always tell me that the beauty of the city is found in its neighborhoods; eclectic communities representing ethnic groups from all over the planet. That’s great, but that’s what makes the city a nice place to live, NOT a nice place to visit. There is a sharp difference between the two. If I’m going to spend my vacation in Toronto I want to do and see things. I want to explore and learn. I don’t want to hang out in a nice park and observe all the cool food trucks. I can frankly do that at home.

Nothing to do – Congested roads, huge skyscrapers and busy people are all normal in Toronto. That’s not a bad thing, you can find the same features in many of the world’s great tourism capitals, so why doesn’t it work for Toronto? Because that’s all there is. In New York there are countless sights to see and things to do, but if you look up the top sights in Toronto here’s what you find: The CN Tower, some parks and neighborhoods and many restaurants. If you start digging deeper you’ll find the Hockey Hall of Fame and some art galleries. That’s the problem, aside from the Tower there’s just nothing unique or distinctive about the city. It doesn’t have the old world charm of Quebec or the views of Vancouver. It’s blah and boring and not much else.

No desire to return – Since I emerged from the womb I have always been fascinated with foreign cultures and travel. There is nothing I enjoy more than visiting a new place and almost everywhere I go, I fall in love. I also almost always want to revisit cities to explore in greater depth. I have never, ever had these feelings for Toronto and for me personally, that’s the greatest indictment against it. The fact that I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything, that there wasn’t enough time in the day to soak up the personality and culture of the city – that’s the issue. Travel is supposed to be fun, educational and selfish. In theory, we are supposed to enjoy going on vacation and seeing new things. If that doesn’t happen, well, then Houston we have a problem. You know what? I’m fully able to admit that Toronto does in fact possess some of these qualities, but if I can’t find them then it doesn’t matter. Toronto needs to find and promote the aspects of the city that make it UNIQUE. Forget about shops and restaurants, the city needs to share its personal story; it needs to convince people that it’s as worthy to visit as Quebec or Vancouver. So far that story has not been told.

So there you go. My PERSONAL opinion on Toronto and why I really don’t care to return, unless I have to. Am I wrong? Please, convince me! I would love nothing else than to be proven wrong and to see what makes Toronto a great place to visit. But if my suspicions are right, I don’t think there’s enough evidence out there to prove the case.

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By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

114 Responses

  1. Coco

    Wow. I could not disagree more. I have always found the people wonderful and warm. There is so much to do and see – it is such a cosmopolitan city. There is absolutely something for everyone. You can eat every cuisine you can think of. I love Toronto and think that many of these comments are simply haters. One thing Toronto does do is bring out the jealousy. There are literally dozens of events and happenings every single night. If you really don’t like it then you don’t. That’s how I feel about many other cities so I respect your opinion. But many of these other commenters really ought to expand their horizons.

    Reply
  2. O

    EXACT. After 40 years would love to exit this city. It’s BORING. It is not distinctive, unique. Transit is POOR. Other than (maybe) Kensington Mkt most ‘hoods are mediocre at best.
    And the WORLD CLASS ‘debate’ is ridiculous, nowhere near NYC, Paris, London, Philly, Chicago, and the list goes on… but it could NEVER include Toronto.

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  3. Robert Carr

    When you arrive in Toronto as a visitor, what you witness is actually the city’s social LETHARGY, which you might interpret as boredom.

    The Government propaganda works here at all levels. You pass by the Cardiac Hospital centre in downtown Toronto and see a huge poster with a picture of a heart and a big slogan: “The Heart of Innovation.” Then, approaching the University of Toronto another “pearls” appears (there is a poster attached to each of the consecutive light poles): “Boundless Dedication”, and “Boundless Devotion”, “Boundless Innovation”… and so on.

    The locals are so amazingly disconnected from the reality of life! People are constantly brainwashed here, and some of them probably really believe in “Boundless Dedication, Devotion and Innovation”. Why ask any questions?

    Torontonians are pre-occupied with doing “good behavior” and everything being “safe”. While the city is actually very safe, the idea of “safety” has long extended into every aspect of life, successfully incapacitating anything and anyone who could still have any aliveness in them.

    Who makes this city relatively alive are immigrants, as they bring here human emotions and feelings. Sooner or later, however, they will lose any aliveness and become a particle of the typical Toronto homogeneous masses, devoid of anything unique or real.

    There are hardly any books, movies or plays about Toronto.
    The best thing that has ever been filmed about Toronto is the cartoon called “Bob and Margaret”. It carefully depicts Toronto’s reality and its empty, boring and lonely culture.

    Have you ever heard any song about Toronto? I hear you – me neither!

    Reply
    • Anna

      “Torontonians are pre-occupied with doing “good behaviour” and everything being “safe”. While the city is actually very safe, the idea of “safety” has long extended into every aspect of life, successfully incapacitating anything and anyone who could still have any aliveness in them.

      True statement. Showing vibrant emotion in Toronto is social suicide. You just can’t do anything outside of the ordinary boring business personality. Some exceptional places like Kensington Market are actually brought down by the neighbouring business community in part, because it is close by, and when people from both hoods cross paths, the air of superiority coming from the business class is shaming and contrasts the market negatively.

      Reply
  4. xue

    thank you for saying so. I couldn’t agree more. It’s boring as hell.

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  5. AR

    I agree 200%. I lived in Toronto for 9 years, then travelled and lived around the world – Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Havana, Barcelona, Bangkok – I can fall in love with these cities – I spent months in each of them. You discover them layer by layer week after week, month after month. They have their own charm, style, music (Rio and Havana, Spanish Flamenco)

    Personal life “flourishes” in these cities as well – they are fun to go on dates in. Here I am back in Toronto for a few business meetings – friday night. Do you think I can go mingle in an exotic crowd dancing salsa and reggaeton like i can in “Diablo Tun Tun” In Havana. Do you think I can find by chance a cool party where people dress in 40’s style, like I did on Soi 11 in Bangkok ? Would you pick up a stranger in this city, invite her / him to a cool club / romantic place and take her home the same day? Just because it happened spontaneously. Probably not – people date “online” here. Because there is almost not “street life” here where people socialize (for hours and hours) outside in narrow streets of Malaga, Spain, drinking, having fun. A romantic riverside with alleys and benches where you do that first kiss, is missing… Milan, Paris, Moscow – they all have it.

    Some people call Toronto the “New Babylon” It is arguably the most culturally diverse city in the world. And yet this diversity is not showing its potential yet. Cubans (there are probably dozens of thousands of them here) for whom dance is part of their lives – do not really have a place to hang out – Lula Lounge does not count – it is not a real Cuban place in essence. In other words there are a lot of mini communities here that unfortunately are not showing others what their culture could offer. Try to find, say, a Brazilian Samba place here – good luck ! But in New York you can listen to great live samba every week in SOB’s club

    I would rather stay home and read a book than try to find this excitement in Toronto… Besides it is already end of April and is really chilly outside. Time to get out and “resume” a real life. 3 hours on a plane to Cuba from here and surprisingly many Canadians have never even been there. I have even met some locals who have never been to New York! Does this city kill people’s curiosity in the world ? Also, have you seen local art shows and fairs? Art Gallery of Ontario? – pathetic…

    What is really good here in my option is education – especially in universities – but this is another topic. Favourite spots in the city are Distillery District and Toronto Islands.

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  6. Anna

    I totally agree with every word you’ve written. As a European who has arrived here over a year ago looking for new adventure and possibilities I must say that while my career took off quickly and I haven’t faced as much competition here as in Europe, socially this city is like a cemetery.

    Toronto has so much potential, few nice neighborhoods such as Leslieville or The Beaches, hot summers, lake, etc. But whilst cities like Chicago, Boston, Barcelona base their amazing night life around the water front, for some reason, apart from the little board walk in the Beaches area, water front in Toronto is empty, forgotten, with several warehouses blocking the view.

    I am very well traveled and I think Toronto is probably the most unfriendly city I have ever been to, people don’t strike up conversation here, they are very polite but they have very poor conversational skills, as a commenter above me pointed out – they don’t travel. I have met so many people who haven’t even been to NYC. They have no other interests apart from condos and gym. Dating is a disaster. I’m a single gal and there is no way a guy would ever approach me in a bar, men in Toronto don’t know how to flirt. Everything is polite, polite, polite. No passion, no anger, no life. I can get on a plane and be in Chicago in an hour and it’s like a completely different world. How is this possible? Chicago, where night life is amazing, everybody talks to you, men stop me on the street to say hi and ask me out for a drink.

    While my life here is good I am thinking about maybe moving to Quebec and if I won’t be able to do that I’ll go back to Europe. Toronto itself is not the problem ,it’s a beautiful city with amazing parks, lake, beach, so green and so urban and suburban at the same time – it has everything. It’s people that are the problem. I remember when I was talking to that Torontonian guy and telling him that London (UK) on a Friday night in the summer is like one big cirque de solei with all its drunken excess, hedonism and mixture of rich and poor all partying together and he said : “Hmm yeah we’re a little bit more civilized here in Toronto”. That really sums it up.

    Reply
    • AR

      Anna, I have been wondering why are people the “problem” is there are people from the whole world here in Toronto? There must be people of all kinds here. But does the city itself affect their emotional state or rather lack of it ?

      And why are there so many depressing streets in this seemingly affluent city ? Like Dufferin, Ossington, etc ?

      Reply
  7. NotWorldClass

    Matt,

    I was born in Tel Aviv, and went to University in Jerusalem. My parents moved to Toronto when I was young. I love my parents, but hate that decision, but life was much harder in Israel then, so I kinda understand. I can tell by your blog how you felt about your travels in Israel. I have lived in Toronto most of my life, and I think the distinction between living and visiting that is running through this thread is phoney. Toronto is cold, corporate and impersonal. The city lacks romance, in all its meanings. The only place I like and I feel is unique in the city is St Lawrence Market. Other than that, it’s a big box store. The denizens are highly sanctimonious, and unoriginal, and like copycatting other cities (dundas sq = mini uglier times sq, ROM crystal = ugly aluminum version of Louvre pyramid). Rather than take criticism and try to improve this pretty joyless burgh, most people in Toronto get very defensive and protest that it is world class, because they say so, even though the skeletal subway system covers almost none of the city. In the heart of the eastern and western sections of central Toronto, those little enclaves that everyone here says you should visit, Puritan community councils run by homeowners set up no fun zones and put speed bumps on every street, lest their home values decrease because of noise. The ethnic neighborhoods are just a testament to the insulated and self segregated nature of the city. I mean, I would rather eat seekh kebabs in India than a neighborhood in Toronto. Every time I visit family in Tel Aviv, a city that explodes with life and has a vibrant day and nightlife and that constantly innovates, I find it harder to return to Toronto, which is a nice place to be materialistic and comfortable, but not to really “live” in the true sense of the word. Anyway, that’s my blasphemous take on the city I currently reside in. Whenever I get truly depressed here, I go to Montreal, only 5 hours away and I cheer up a bit. Funny enough, I did not mind London as much as you did, and I was totally ready to hate on it before I left, but I respect your opinion.

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  8. Jerry

    Toronto is anything but world class and holds the award for largest city in the world with zero character. The night life is sub par for a city of its size and its cuisine culture is the most basic entry level mix of American and international cooking you’ll find anywhere. The city boasts being ‘multicultural’ hence why it lacks any culture of its own. One could describe it as a microcosm of different ethnicities watered down by the cities Anglo-Saxon heritage. There seems to be a culture of segregation in Toronto with different neighborhoods and stores catering to each different ethnicity, resulting in a city with a complete lack of community cohesion. It’s for this reason the people in Toronto come off as unwelcoming and standoffish. Polite, yet unsociable. The only exciting thing about Toronto is the CN tower. It suits the city quite well as it is a huge monument that serves no real purpose other than to attract world attention. If you’re planning to visit Canada I would recommend Montreal, Quebec City or Vancouver. Just don’t spend too much time in Toronto for it would be a waste of a trip.

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  9. michelle

    I feel the exact same way. I am here for the first time on business and I have found myself heading back to the hotel instead of trying to explore the city because there is nothing available that excites me! it is so blah!!

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  10. Roody

    “Worldclass City” –
    The only thing that’s pretty
    is the thought of getting out!!!

    Reply
  11. Mark

    Toronto used to be great city but has now become a large overpriced boring city filled with too many condos and boring arrogant people who bring their foreign money. People walk around in their own bubble like extraterrestrials and the sad thing is you have to resort to online dating as the majority of people in bars and clubs are socially retarded and are just posers. I’d rather be elsewhere!

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  12. Luke

    A lot of these comments are coming from Douchebag Central it seems.

    I travel every single month, I’ve been to the largest cities in the world, and Toronto is up there with any of them.
    Lacks romance? STFU. How pretentious can one person be?

    You want things to do, here’s a dozen:
    1. Check out a game of one of the pro sports teams: Blue Jays, Leafs, Raptors, Toronto FC
    2. Visit Toronto Island
    3. Tour the Roundhouse Steamwhistle Brewery
    4. Take in a ton of nightlife in the entertainment district
    5. Go to the Royal Ontario Museum
    6. Check out the vibrant comedy scene at Second City or Yuk Yuk’s (even Just For Laugh Festival when it’s in town)
    7. Visit in Aug/Sept during Toronto International Film Festival
    8. Go shopping at the Eaton Centre or in the shopping district
    9. Check out the St. Lawrence or Kensington Markets
    10. Go down to the Beaches
    11. There is practically a concert every single night in Toronto, check one out
    12. Eat at some of the best restaurants in the world. You want recommendations? Ask me.

    There’s 12… Stop being so f*cking pretentious and actually look into what the city has to offer.

    Does Toronto have its warts? Of course! I’ve been to Chicago too. I love Chicago. You don’t think that city is without its warts? Have you ever been to the south side? It’s a dump.

    Toronto isn’t a world class city — you be trippin’

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  13. Pat

    It’s people like Luke (see above) that are stuck and still don’t get “it”. Judging by how Luke needs to swear when speaking or even typing, this isn’t the kind of calibre to pay attention to regarding how a place or thing really is. Sure, a place can have things in it or things available, but it’s the overall aura of the place that is the issue, or the mode, the feeling in the air. Toronto does NOT have a defined one, and an aura that is identified and felt right away by someone either visiting or residing here. In Toronto, a person does not feel or become so engaged as you would in other places – be it one of the tier-I or even tier-III cities of the world. It’s quite clean and safe, but Toronto just runs and happens daily, that’s it. The thing is, a place must have the extra layer when functioning, which would be a soul and clear identity or culture that is definable and is for all – linking everyone, with its people being able to clearly notice and identify it quickly whether they were seeking it or not.

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    • Pat

      And regarding the “sights” or features that Toronto has, the other big factor or issue is in getting to those places. Many people in Toronto are late for things now, or simply don’t bother trying too much to go out and see/do something (compared to other citizens of developed world cities) because of the transit/traffic issue. Toronto has a subway system meant for maximum 1970s/1980s Toronto (it was known as Metropolitan Toronto), and adding insult to injury is the big traffic that occurs everywhere now and with no more defined hours. Toronto is one of/or is the only major first-world city that actually stopped building and extending their subways and infrastructure. This links with how many car users and traffic there now is, among other factors such as bad city design/sprawl/and being too suburban.

      Reply

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