It’s not always easy to navigate a new place based entirely on online information. You may try hard not to fall prey to tourist traps, and to instead experience the true essence of a place as if you, yourself, were a local. Admittedly, some places are more “online” than others. For example, when we were going to Bocas del Toro, Panana, we could not find very many accommodation options. Yet when we got there we realized there were ample options that just did not have an internet presence.
Having lived in Toronto my whole life, I feel like I am a pretty good example of a local here. This means I can speak to what internet land would recommend visitors to Toronto to do. So I am going to take this opportunity to evaluate how well the internet directs travelers to great places to see in my city.
Google is on to me already…
Paid ads aside, this search takes me to sites like toronto.com, tripadvisor.ca, seetorontonow.com, and timeout.com. Interestingly, I not typically use any of these for navigating Toronto (except maybe tripadvisor for restaurants occasionally). BlogTO, the site I would normally go to for all things Toronto is actually 7th on the list and likely missed by many travellers. Its link brings me to the “50 things to do this summer in Toronto 2014”. It’s a pretty sweet list and I have actually referred to it several times this summer. But say I didn’t scroll down to see that? What do the preceding websites tell me to do in Toronto?
Toronto.com provides a pretty detailed breakdown of events happening in the city, including a “must-see” events calendar. Notable listings include Caribana (now called Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival) and the Beaches International Jazz Festival. I say notable not because I would personally recommend them, but because I know they are quite popular and draw in substantial tourism. But do locals go to these events? Sure, some must, but in many cases locals are just as happy to leave the city on the weekends rather than stick around for the hottest and busiest times in their neighbourhoods. To each there own, I guess. I would give this site a B rating.
Tripadvisor.ca tells me there are 310 attractions in this city. The top five:
I am slightly surprised, but secretly pleased, not to see the CN Tower make the cut. In fact, one of the most well known aspects of the city lands in 20th place. And the ones that do make the list are refreshingly popular with locals as much as tourists.
The TSO is a great place to get your classical music fix will really being in amongst the locals. The Royal Conservatory of Music also has great concerts, often featuring up and coming performers. Toronto Island Park and High Park are both wonderful places for walks or picnics. Most people who do frequent them are locals and they are great examples of the value Torontonians have for green spaces in the city. Famous People Players Dinner Theater is not a place I have actually ever heard of. Maybe I am not a “dinner theatre” aficionado, or maybe they missed my radar, but they certainly seem to have great reviews. Maybe even locals can benefit from a simple online search of their city? Overall rating: A minus.
Timeout.com presents “20 great things to do in Toronto”. The first on their list is Niagara Falls. Cool, but not actually in Toronto. Next is the CN Tower and then sport games. Well this is certainly more of what I expected from a search. This list definitely plays into what people may already know about Toronto before arriving (except evidently our terrible luck with our sport teams). Is it the best the city has to offer? Probably not. Just some of the downsides of getting travel advice from sites that do not let users contribute their own reviews and rankings. This site doesn’t really do Toronto justice and so gets a C rating.
Seetorontonow.com which brands itself as the “official website of TourismToronto” has a must-see list very similar to that above: CN Tower, Toronto Islands, St. Lawrence Market (I love this place), Hockey Hall of Fame, and the Eaton Centre (just a big mall). It is okay, and does offer better options than timeout.com, still it fails to show you how to see Toronto through the eyes of a local. B minus here.
I’ll conclude by saying that online searching and trip planning is a huge convenience. I would recommend everyone do it, and do it well. Part of this means you should have flexibility and time in your trip to deviate from these plans, as well as the motivation to seek out alternative sources of information about cool places to see. Otherwise, there should be no surprises if your trip turns out to look like a google image each of Toronto, rather than being able to experience this pretty eclectic and interesting city the way the people who love it the most do everyday.