Check out the best attractions and activities In The Annex

In the 1870s and 1880s, the Annex was one of Toronto's most elite neighborhoods. Significant time has passed since then and although it isn't quite as ritzy, the charm has remained (as have some of the Victorian houses).

Bordering the University of Toronto, the Annex's businesses are littered with grad students who believe in the power of walking with their noses in books, or fraternity brothers who are nursing the aftereffects of a party. 

Even if your student days are happily in the past, there are reasons to go to this area, beyond the tree-lined streets and the attractive Edwardian homes. The University of Toronto campus has a combination of Gothic and Romanesque buildings. You may recognize it as the backdrop for many popular films, such as The Incredible Hulk and Good Will Hunting. Perhaps watch the films again as research and then pretend you are on the campus due to your affinity for modernist architecture.

Of course, a visit to the Annex would not be complete without stopping by Canada's heralded Royal Ontario Museum, which has frequent traveling exhibits and just enough natural history to make you feel cultured. A stint in the Annex is essential Toronto sightseeing, with low-cost student pricing to match. Sounds just about perfect.


Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art
Photo courtesy of Gardiner Museum

Think about the last time you moved. Most likely, some of your pottery or ceramics made the trip with a new crack. Somehow, delicate art has been maintained through hundreds of years in the Gardiner Museum. Collected by George and Helen Gardiner throughout their travels, this museum is a unique collection that showcases ancient American artifacts, Asian and European pottery and porcelain. There are Mayan and pre-Columbian exhibits, items from the Renaissance, 17th-century English pottery, 18th century Chinese and European porcelains. A two-year renovation that was completed in 2006 expanded the permanent collection and the Museum won architectural awards. Since 2006, it has also become an important centre for ceramics in North America.

Recommended for The Annex's Best Attractions & Activities because: If you don't think you can get excited by dishes, The Gardiner Museum is prepared to surprise you.

Courtney's expert tip: If an afternoon with dishes doesn't sound like the best time of your life, try your hand in the drop-in clay classes. Pretend like you are Demi Moore (or Patrick Swayze) in Ghost. With your clothes on, of course.

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Casa Loma
Photo courtesy of Liberty Group

Toronto is not exactly the first place you go when you get the craving for a castle. However, in the middle of an upscale neighborhood right near downtown Toronto, there is a majestic castle which was built in 1911 by a Canadian industrialist. It was meant to be a home for him and his wife. Unfortunately, by the time it was completed, Sir Henry Mill Pellatt's financial situation was not quite as favorable due to misguided investment decisions and the post-war recession. Enter Toronto city, who seized control of Casa Loma in 1933. In the years since, Casa Loma has been open to the public and offers tours of the castle's 98 rooms, 1,800-bottle wine cellar and an 800-foot underground passage leading to the home's stables.

Recommended for The Annex's Best Attractions & Activities because: This may not be directly in the Annex, but it is close enough. Plus, it is a castle.

Courtney's expert tip: Runners love going from the Annex to Casa Loma for a 5K jog with plenty of scenery.

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Lee's Palace, located on the south street of Bloor Street West is regarded as THE place to catch up-and-coming bands (and sometimes well-established ones, too). Past performers include The Smithereens, Tragically Hip, The Mekons, Lucinda Williams, Dinosaur Jr., Henry Rollins, The Sundays, Our Lady Peace, Throwing Muses, Superchunk, Bob Mould, Verve, Cracker, Toad The Wet Sprocket, Soul Coughing, Mercury Rev, Elliott Smith, Eels, UK Subs, and more. If no band is scheduled, Lee's will be closed, but that is easily discovered via their website. DJs spin dance tunes several nights a week in The Dance Cave on the second floor, which is pitched to the alternative rock crowd.

Recommended for The Annex's Best Attractions & Activities because: This wacky building was at one point a bank, but now houses hundreds of enthusiastic concert-goers. What an amazing upgrade.

Courtney's expert tip: This is only for 19 and over, due to the liquor license. Once you reach that milestone age, Lee's Palace is amazing for cheap drinks.

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Kula Yoga
Photo courtesy of Kula Yoga

If you were to judge a Torontonians habits by the popular businesses you would assume three things: 1. Torontonians like coffee. 2. Torontonians like to eat. 3. Torontonians are fit. Maybe 3 isn't universally true, but fitness is big business in Toronto. From spin studios to gyms, Toronto is teeming with ways to blow off steam and cut muscle. If you are needing a vacation from your vacation, it is time to seek out a yoga studio. Kula Yoga in the Annex is just the ticket. It has every type of yoga, from the most vigorous (vinyasa) to the most relaxing (reiki restorative). The latter encourages you to lie on supported pillows and let go. Get off the sightseeing itinerary and lie down already.

Recommended for The Annex's Best Attractions & Activities because: Stretch, breathe and flow with some of the top instructors in the city.

Courtney's expert tip: Some of the classes are very popular so it may be best to sign in online, especially the classes that have childcare at the same time. Win-win for busy moms.

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Snakes and Lattes Board Game Cafe
Photo courtesy of Snakes and Lattes

For an "out of the box" sightseeing idea, consider breaking out the board games. Snakes and Lattes has over 2500 board games with an alphabetical menu to help you to decide which game you want to use to stimulate healthy competition with your travel companions. Games range from retro classics like Battleship to modern favorites like Crimes Against Humanity. This quirky cafe is open late most days of the week in case you become invested in a long-playing game like Monopoly. Wash it all down with a hot drink, like their infamous Nutella Latte or Salted Caramel Latte. The menu offers vegan and vegetarian options, which are clearly marked on the menu.

Recommended for The Annex's Best Attractions & Activities because: A low-cost way to while away some time. Absolutely perfect for a rainy day in Toronto.

Courtney's expert tip: Snakes and Lattes currently does not facilitate reservations. During peak times (like Friday night) be prepared to wait.

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There may be a day when we speak about bookstores and libraries with nostalgia. Until then, we must seek out places like BMV Books, which is filled to the gills with preloved and discounted books. (Preloved is the friendlier way of saying "used.") In any case, there is no hiding this massive book lover's paradise in the popular Annex area. With three floors and filled with endless aisles, BMV Books sells everything but the kitchen sink, including new and used books, DVDs and music. Impulse shoppers and bookworms beware, as books are often discounted 50% off the cover price. After you've finished with your old books and movies, the store will buy them back.

Recommended for The Annex's Best Attractions & Activities because: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. BMV Books is filled with books of students' past at unbeatable prices.

Courtney's expert tip: They not only buy and used books, but also vinyl, CDs and DVDs. You could be lost to the world for a while.

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The Royal Conservatory of Music has had a significant impact on Canada's musical education. It was designated a historical site in 1995, due to its dedication to training world-class musicians. Walk by the open windows at Philosopher's Walk and you may hear the experienced voice of an opera singer or the hum of a well-loved violin. Concerts are high quality yet affordable at their three concert venues: Koerner Hall, Mazzoleni Concert Hall and the Conservatory Theatre. Classical, jazz and pop artists play at one of the over 70 concerts a year, with twisting oak ceilings helping to provide the ultimate acoustic experience.

Recommended for The Annex's Best Attractions & Activities because: Open since 1886, The Royal Conservatory of Music has played an important role in Canada's musical history.

Courtney's expert tip: There isn't a bad seat in the house due to the layout of Koerner Hall, so don't worry about having to splash out on the most expensive tickets.

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The Bloor Cinema has operated in this location since 1913 and has long been devoted to screening thought-provoking movies. But an early 2012 renovation gave the theatre a new name - the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema - and a new focus on documentary films. On any given day, the schedule might feature intriguing movies on music or politics. Or you might be able to catch one of the award-winning documentaries that debut at Toronto's annual Hot Docs film festival (headquartered in the building). If you're looking for a Toronto movie house with an updated old-school vibe and documentary-heavy programming, this is the place for you.

Recommended for The Annex's Best Attractions & Activities because: A thought-provoking documentary with a cold beer? The Hot Docs Cinema might just be the perfect movie experience.

Courtney's expert tip: How about a beer with your film? The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema is licensed, so you can enjoy one of Toronto's great craft brews in your seat while you watch a documentary.

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The Royal Ontario Museum is not to be missed, and you also literally cannot miss it. The main entrance to one of North America's oldest museums, the ROM reopened in 2007; a stunning piece of architecture made from glass and aluminum resembling a crystal by David Libeskind. This renovation reinvented the previously tired facade of the ROM (as the museum is often abbreviated) and put a fresh face on this house of ancient artifacts. Inside, the spacious grounds include featured exhibitions of world-renowned art, dinosaur bones that will dwarf your tallest friend and even a Ming tomb. The ROM has world culture, natural history and hands-on galleries from the prehistoric to the present.

Recommended for The Annex's Best Attractions & Activities because: You don't have to go to the University of Toronto to learn something in the Annex. The ROM is much cheaper than tuition.

Courtney's expert tip: ROM's Friday Night Live is perhaps the trendiest way to get your museum culture fix. Friday nights from 7-11:30 pm (do check the website as it is not every Friday night) go to try some inventive food, dance to top DJs and, oh right, explore the museum.

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Founded in 1827, this public institution has consistently been viewed as one of Toronto's strongest Universities. In addition to the University of Toronto's place as a leader in post-secondary education, the sprawling downtown campus is a remarkable display of different architectural styles (contemporary, Gothic, Victorian), sculptures and green spaces. It looks well suited for ghost sightings, of which there are many, including a roaming 19th-century stonemason. Stroll through the campus along the Philosopher's Walk pathway, admire the stained glass windows in the Gothic Revival-style Soldiers' Tower or explore the bookshelves at Robarts Library, one of the leading examples of Brutalist architecture in North America. Be sure to pop into the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, with 700,000 volumes of exciting original materials.

Recommended for The Annex's Best Attractions & Activities because: There is no Annex without the University of Toronto (and what a beautiful University it is!).

Courtney's expert tip: Campus walking tours are offered daily all year long, with no reservation required. Each tour runs approximately 1.5 hours in length. Contact the Nona Macdonald Vistors Centre for details.

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Meet Courtney Sunday

Courtney Sunday has lived in England, Switzerland, Canada and the US, finding her way into the professions of freelance writing and yoga teaching in between travel opportunities. She learned...  More About Courtney