With more than 650 bands playing over five evenings, North By Northeast will keep you very busy late into the night. But visitors to Toronto can fill their days with cheap tourist adventures in this clean and compact city. Here are 10 suggestions for fun times out and about that are worth setting your alarm clock for.
Climb the CN Tower
So it may not be the world's tallest free-standing structure anymore (damn you, Burj Dhubai!), but this lakeside landmark is still the biggest, most phallic tourist draw on this side of the globe. An elevator swooshes you 342 metres high to the observation deck, featuring an acrophobia-inducing glass floor. For the brave, we dare you to lay on the glass and peer straight down, although don't recommend singing Owen Pallett's 'CN Tower Belongs to the Dead' while doing it.
With so many clubs and shops nearby, you'll surely be strolling past MuchMusic HQ at 299 Queen Street W. during NXNE. So why not get in touch with your 12-year-old squealing-music-fan self? Join the army of 'tweens queuing up for Sunday's splashy MMVA awards show, and you might have a chance encounter with performers Miley Cyrus, Adam Lambert, Justin Bieber or Drake -- or at least snap a few cell phone pics trying.
The once-sketchy stretch of Queen West past Bathurst is now jammed with art galleries, indie boutiques and beautiful people flocking to the city's coolest park, Trinity-Bellwoods. If your feet hurt from club-hopping, catch the 501 streetcar -- one of National Geographic's top ten trolley rides -- and don't miss the eye-popping David LaChapelle mural outside the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art en route to the Drake Hotel's chic but laidback rooftop Sky Yard.
Even if Broken Social Scene, Pavement and Band of Horses weren't playing a sweet festival gig there on Saturday, June 19, you'd want to hop the 15-minute ferry over to Toronto's island playground. Apart from lovely views of the city skyline, the islands are the perfect spot for a bike ride, picnic, or a swim at the clothing-optional beach, with the Centreville Amusement Park covering all your funnel cake and Skee-Ball needs.
It's only a two-hour drive to this natural world wonder, which you'll want to get up close and personal (and wet) with on the Maid of the Mist boat tour. If the thundering roar of the Falls isn't scary enough for you, there are a dozen haunted houses and wax museums on the steep Clifton Hill family fun strip just waiting to take your money. Eat fudge, drink locally produced wine or chow down on fries from the world's only Burger King franchise topped with a gigantic Frankenstein monster.
It's an ethnic food market first and foremost (mmmmm, Cheese Magic), but the concentration of tiny vintage clothing stores makes Kensington the city's go-to destination for army surplus-loving punks, hippies and hipsters in search of that repurposed summer dress, or even drag queens looking for the perfect Pride wig. And if your spree gets out of control, there's always the Hot Box café around the corner to help you forget how much you just spent.
The late-night record-shopping on Yonge the Barenaked Ladies once sang about is gone. But in the student-centric Annex, Sonic Boom survives as the big box of Toronto indie shops, stocking new and used music, books, movies and games. No attitude here, whether selling you a Cradle of Filth T-shirt, the new Arcade Fire vinyl or a used VHS of 'Glitter.' They're open 'til midnight, but afternoons boast sweaty basement in-store performances.
Pack your cape and gauntlets, you're going to Toronto's very own gothic castle. Not exactly old by European standards, this splendid house (built in 1911) is more like a furniture museum with pretty gardens, but it does offer 100 percent more secret passageways and underground tunnels than other Toronto attractions. If you're not such a big history buff, amuse yourself identifying in which rooms they shot scenes for 'X-Men.'
You can't miss this discount emporium. It's the length of a full city block at Bloor and Bathurst, and its wonderfully gaudy façade is lit up by more than 23,000 light bulbs. Inside, a windowless labyrinth of kitchenware, food, clothing and trinkets are surrounded by vintage theatre posters and kitschy hand-painted signs, making for more of a carnival fun house than a shopping experience. As the sign says: there's no place like this place, any place.
You may find yourself enamoured with the basement honky-tonk bar that is the Dakota, an official NXNE venue. Chase away your festival hangovers with their popular Sunday brunch, featuring all-you-can-eat sausages, pancakes and the like, served at communal tables from 11AM to 3PM. And if you feel like dancing to the live bluegrass bands alongside the cute offspring of the local indie rockers who hang out here, nobody will stop you.