Have more destinations on your travel wish list than you can count—and not quite the means to see them all? Well, while you’re saving up for that round-the-world plane ticket, here’s a closer-to-home solution: Toronto. Just to the North in Ontario, Canada lies this thriving metropolis, filled with performing arts, entertainment, dining experiences, vast shopping, and more world cultures than you could otherwise squeeze in to the average vacation.
On my most recent visit, I shopped for rings and ate Pakistani food in Little India, enjoyed a glass of wine in Greektown, did some shopping at eclectic bohemian stores in Kensington Market, and walked through a distinctly Afghan neighborhood. But not only does the city boast more varied and unique ethnic neighborhoods than most metropolitan areas, it also celebrates its multiculturalism throughout the year, with dozens of street festivals, parades, and exhibitions.
Check out this sampling of the city’s best festivals, pick your favorite one (or two, or three), and start planning!
When: February (2013 dates TBA)
The Chinese or Lunar New Year kicks off with a lion-head parade in the Chinatown Center, traditional folk dancing, and music. At this cross-cultural explosion of East Asian cultures and traditions, you can enjoy hot drinks and delicacies, go ice-skating, wander through the exhibits, and see a variety of live performances.
When: June 22 – July 1, 2012
Gay Pride week is a 10-day event in Toronto, with tons of events, marches, and one of the largest gay pride parades on the continent. The raging street festival caps the festivities with a long weekend filled with art, retailers, community organizations, food, and entertainment. Kids are welcome too—the festival has a Family Pride segment that sets up all-inclusive family activities and entertainment including a full stage, arts and crafts, and the H2O Zone.
When: July 14-15, 2012
Toronto’s Festival of India kicks off with a downtown parade filled with mantras, drumming, and hand-carried floats. Once the festival starts, head out to Centre Island, where you’ll find exhibits marking Indian cultural and spiritual heritage, traditional face painting, a yoga festival, and the South-Asian bazaar, littered with vendors waiting to strike a bargain. While you take in music and dancing, snack on Tandoori-spiced roasted corn on the cob, or cool off with homemade pistachio ice cream.
When: July 10-August 6, 2012
Summers in Toronto are hotter than you might imagine, and Caribana, a festival of Caribbean culture, gives the heat a whole new meaning. From the echo of steel drums to the sultry nightlife, the event is dripping with tropical flavor. The celebrations and parties are endless, including a masquerade parade with plenty of live calypso and reggae, a Caribana Gala, a Soca Rave, and an art exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum.
When: July 22, 2012
This festival puts its focus on the food, music, and dance of Brazil. While snacking on delicious Brazilian foods, you can enjoy live performances in the Bossa and Forró music styles or take the kids to the family area for games and crafts. For more active entertainment, take Samba or Zouk dance lessons or get exhausted watching the Capoeira (a Brazilian martial art) demonstrations.
When: August 3-5, 2012
Danforth Avenue is home to the largest Greektown in North America, so you can imagine its residents take their festival quite seriously. As you taste the Souvlaki dripping off the stick and Baklava that melts in your mouth, you’ll be surrounded by the sounds of the Bouzouki and a mix of both traditional and modern Greek dances and music. The festival boasts plenty of shopping (with deep discounts all along the Danforth), entertainment, and children’s activities.
When: September 14-16, 2012
Boasted as North America’s largest Ukrainian street festival, the Toronto Ukrainian Festival is a feast for the eyes and ears with colorful costumes, traditional dances, and music. Browse arts and crafts, view films and dances, take in the parade, or shop the sidewalk sale at Bloor West Village.
When: September 2012 (dates TBA)
Every September, The Toronto International Film Festival Group throws quite the soirée, inviting the crème-de-la-crème of filmmakers, collaborators, and artists from around the globe to descend on Toronto and celebrate their incredible productions. It’s the most eat-your-heart-out red carpet affair there is, and what’s not international about that?
Of course, this list is only the tip of the Toronto festival iceberg! From the Cabbagetown Fall Festival to the International Jazz Festival at the beaches, this extensive list of festivals gives you even more options to check out and enjoy.