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72 Hours In Toronto: A Sports Lover’s Guide

Forbes March 31, 2024

Lifestyle

72 Hours In Toronto: A Sports Lover’s Guide

Faithful fans have been following their sports teams on the road for a long time. But here in 2024, traveling on a sports platform can take you much farther than the next town over.

In recent years, the NFL has hosted games in London and Germany; the MLB in Mexico and Korea; Formula One in Singapore.

The idea is a win-win for sports organizations and the destination: The former reaches new fans, the latter new visitors. And it appears to have inspired many. According to the World Tourism Organization, sports travel is one of the fastest growing segments in the global travel industry.

In February, I became a part of this trend by attending the NHL All-Star Game in Toronto. The game started out as the main event of the trip; the reason for going was to attend the game. But by the end of it, it was easy to look back and see that the game had been just a small part of the experience.

 
Getting to Know Toronto Through Sports

Most people don’t realize that Toronto is the 4th largest city in North America, behind only Mexico City, New York, and L.A. The first thing that comes to mind for most sports-wise is hockey and the Maple Leafs, but my first Toronto sports memory is watching Joe Carter hit a walk off home run to win the 1993 World Series. I remember because I was an eight year-old Phillies fan.

The first place I see this moment memorialized in the city is at the Myseum of Toronto. In fact, many infamous sports moments in the city’s history were documented in its “Winners and Losers” exhibit, including the Raptors recent championship, the rise of professional sports teams in the city, and, of course, the many insufferable moments given to fans courtesy of the Maple Leafs.

“Sports are one of the most powerful ways cities come together, with big, dramatic events played out on a public stage,” said Adam Bunch, a local historian, author, and creator who helped curate the exhibit. “So by understanding the exciting and unexpected moments that have played out on the field, on the court and on the ice, you can better understand the city and how it's become the place it is today.”

Bunch says that he sees a direct correlation between Toronto’s sports history and its overall personality as a city.

“For a long time, Toronto crowds had a reputation for being pretty quiet and reserved, a reflection of the city's old identify as a very conservative British town,” Bunch said. “You weren't even allowed to drink a beer at a ballgame here until 1983 despite the fact the Blue Jays were owned by a brewery.”

“But that's undergone a big change since the Jays' back-to-back World Series wins in the early 1990s. In 1992, Dave Winfield famously had to ask fans to cheer more loudly, launching a ‘Winfield Wants Noise’ campaign. It worked. And as Toronto has become a bigger, more multicultural and more confident city over the last 30 years, that's been reflected in the stands. People are proud of how loud it gets at Raptors games, and at the SkyDome shaking with the roar of the crowd after José Bautista's bat flip.”

 
Sports Destinations in Toronto

The Winners and Losers exhibit is only temporary, but sports can take you all throughout the city whenever you visit.

“Toronto is a sports-loving city, where the excitement of game days electrifies the atmosphere,” said Jeffrey Ikeaka, Creative Director of Never Settle, a local activewear brand. “It's a city where sports serve as a powerful unifier, bringing together people from all walks of life and race to celebrate the triumphs and trials of their favorite teams.”

Aside from attending a professional game, the Hockey Hall of Fame is obviously a must-visit (you have to read this fun tale about Wayne Gretzky’s recent visit).

So are the many sports bars that Bunch and Ikeaka recommend, such as Real Sports (all sports), Madison Avenue Pub (soccer), Left Field Brewery (baseball), and Round The Horn (baseball).

In between, you can discover local gems like the St. Lawrence Market. A short breather and a fresh-pressed carrot ginger juice there, amongst its many scents and stalls, will go a long way for your stamina, trust me.

On a clear morning, ride to the top of the CN Tower for the views, or, if you’re game, to experience the rush, however terrifying, of the EdgeWalk.

Interested to learn more about the city and its neighborhoods? Jump on a walking tour with Mr. Bunch himself, or rent bikes and cruise around (bike tours are also a thing).

Need to restore your mind and body like a pro athlete? Hit up the trendy Othership for a sauna and cold plunge (FYI: Othership is opening an NYC location in the near future).

 
Sports as a Travel Platform

One thing I loved about sports tourism as a platform was that it made day-by-day planning much less daunting; with the game locked into my schedule, it was fun to plan around, and easy to see where and how I could (or couldn’t) fit in other things I wanted to do.

Having the game as a bedrock helped me to feel more grounded; filling the space around the game was less intimidating than filling a blank slate.

But, the best part of sports tourism, I learned, is how quickly it can convert strangers to friends, how all the little sports-talk asides you have with others throughout a visit - at the store, at the bar, at the hotel, on the streets, at the game - can give you a feeling of not being so far from home, and as Bunch points out, a wonderful sense of the city and its people in just a short visit.


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