How to be a tourist in your own city

Why discovering local attractions might be just what you’re looking for this summer

Being a tourist is so much better when you don’t have to carry a map around.
Being a tourist is so much better when you don’t have to carry a map around.
Photo: 
There’s a reason hundreds of tourists visit Vancouver every summer.
There’s a reason hundreds of tourists visit Vancouver every summer.
Photo: 

With the stresses of the school year finally laid to rest­—even if only until the fall—stirrings of adventure begin to consume the thoughts of many a burnt-out student.

Really, there’s no better time to indulge in your explorative nature than during the summer.

But a worthwhile summer experience doesn’t have to be found on a spiritual quest in Tibet, hiking Mount Kilimanjaro, or sipping mojitos on a beach in Cuba—there are plenty of adventurous experiences to be had right in your own backyard.

Jason Kucherawy, a tour guide trainer for Impact Educational Tours in Mississauga, agrees.

“People tend to look further afield, but they can find just as many interesting attractions in their backyard,” he said.

Kucherawy said while recently training a group of tour guides to work in Toronto he was surprised to hear many of them who lived in the city had never been to some of the places he took them to see.

“Even in a big city we tend to limit ourselves to a handful of familiar hangouts and shops­­—really no more than someone who lives in a small town,” he said. “It takes initiative to get off the couch and discover something different.”

When planning a tour, Kucherawy starts by finding out what the group is interested in and works with that in mind. If you love the theatre and visual arts, start there. If food is your passion, research that area—the search is half the adventure.

To get you on the right track, Postscript has compiled a list of places to get you started planning your own adventure. Each of these major Canadian cities’ attractions come with recommendations from Journal staff, so begin planning your hometown adventures and get started at your own front door.

Vancouver

  • Bard on the Beach—located in Vanier Park, Bard on the Beach is an annual summer Shakespeare festival that includes events such as a BBQ, fireworks, wine and cheese, and cast talkbacks. In this year’s lineup is Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, Julius Caesar, and Timon of Athens. Tickets are $31 for regular performances.
  • HSBC Celebration of Light—each summer the sky above English Bay is illuminated with hundreds of firework displays from all over the world. The Celebration of Light is the world’s largest firework competition—this year features displays from Canada, China and Spain. Watching the show is free from any one of Vancouver’s public beaches.
  • Vancouver Aquarium—the Vancouver Aquarium is the largest in Canada, and home to various marine life and mammals including beluga whales and sea otters. Although slightly pricey, for about $100, guests can participate in a sleep over at the Aquarium where you get to touch some of the animals and sleep underground watching the beluga whales. Regular day passes for students are $14.95.

Calgary

  • The Calgary Zoo—who doesn’t love a trip to the zoo? The Calgary zoo also has a prehistoric park where visitors can see life-sized dinosaurs and 110 species of plants that would have existed in Canada at that time. A day pass is $12 for students.
  • Calgary Stampede—from July 6-15, thousands of tourists pour into Calgary to see the rodeo, attend concerts or spend the night at the Midway. Prices vary based on what you choose to see at the stampede, so you have the freedom to pick what fits within your budget.
  • Heritage Park—not only is this the largest historical village in Canada, but it also boasts an antique midway, steam train, and horse-drawn carriage rides. A day in the past is only $13.95 for students.

Toronto

  • The Royal Ontario Museum—This museum has lots of cool exhibits to check out. This summer features Peru Unearthed and Glass Worlds—an exhibit of 19th- and 20th-century glass paperweights. Admission is free one hour before closing or $5 on Fridays after 4:30 p.m.
  • St. Lawrence Market—most Torontonians are familiar with the St. Lawrence Market, located in the vicinity of Front, King and Jarvis Streets, but there are always great deals to be found so it’s worth checking out on a weekend. Browse for antiques, pick up a piece of handcrafted jewellery or buy fresh produce from the farmer’s market. One Journal staffer has tales of celebrity encounters at the market including Pierre Trudeau and Jackie Chan.
  • The Toronto Fringe Festival—held in July, the Fringe Festival is a way for new talent to break onto the Canadian theatre scene and for audiences to decide who deserves to be there. With more than 11 venues, 130 theatre companies, cheap tickets, and plays such as An Inconvenient Musical—starring an Al Gore character—why would you want to miss it? Advanced ticket prices start at $10, and there are plenty of packages available for every budget.

Montreal

  • Just for Laughs—for 25 years the Just for Laughs Festival has drawn people from across Canada to see some of our best homegrown comedians. If you love to laugh, and like famous funny guys like John Pinette, Howie Mandel and Seth Green, then this is for you. Tickets usually start at around $45, but get them quick because they sell fast.
  • Le Cirque du Soleil—although Le Cirque has become a world-renowned entertainment experience, it originated in Montreal, so take in a show where it all began. Student tickets to see Cirque du Soleil range from about $54 to $95 depending on location.
  • Mont-Royal Park—there are plenty of things to do at Mont-Royal, even for its most seasoned visitors. You can go for a hike, have a picnic beside Beaver Lake, or check out the Tam Tams at Mont Royal Park, where percussionists find a beat every Sunday.

Halifax

  • Alexander Keith’s Beer Brewery Tour—for all of you beer lovers this is the place to be. The tour consists of costumed characters that take you back to life in 1863 and finishes with—you guessed it—beer tasting at Stag’s Head Tavern. An afternoon at Mr. Keith’s is $13.95 for students—but you might want to bring some extra money to grab a pint, or two.
  • The Halifax Citadel—beginning in 1749, Halifax was one of four principal overseas naval stations in the British Empire. The Citadel played a major role in both Canadian and British defense and offers a rich look into life in the army and navy with its guided tours and special exhibits. A quick review of Canadian history is about $11 for students.
  • Halifax International Busker Festival—beginning Aug. 10, this 11-day festival showcases some of the best free-spirited performers in the world, all in open air. Not only can you see street artists act, juggle, mime, tell jokes or play music, but it’s all completely free.

Kingston

If you’re here in Kingston this summer, there are plenty of things to see and do. Although Kingston has become a beloved adopted hometown to most, those of us not originally from the Limestone City still have a lot to discover. Try checking out:

  • Wolfe Island—Most people know about the ferry, but if you still haven’t been to Wolfe Island, the summer is the perfect opportunity. Among some of the artsy events are the Wolfe Island Music Festival held from Aug. 10-11 headlined by Wolf Parade, and the Wolfe Island Literary Festival on June 2—a must for all CanLit aficionados. Plus the free ride on the ferry is kind to student budgets.
  • Fort Henry—Although it’s a little bit of a hike, Fort Henry always has something interesting going on. Go for a tour, or take in a famous Sunset Ceremony where you can catch the Fort Henry Guard playing military music on drums, followed by drills and demonstrations from the Drill Squad and Artillery Units. The night finishes with a firework finale. A regular day pass at the Fort is $8.50 for students and the Sunset Ceremony is $17.
  • International Hockey Hall of Fame—the Hockey Hall of Fame at the Memorial Centre is something every hockey fan needs to see. This was the very first hockey hall of fame, and features exhibits on the original six, international hockey, and the history of hockey in Kingston, plus the new Don Cherry exhibit. Admission for students is only $3.
  • White Mountain—although it’s not exactly a sightseeing attraction, no summer outing in Kingston would be complete without a trip to White Mountain for a scoop of their legendary all-natural ice cream.

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So if your lofty visions of standing beside one of the seven wonders of the world get bogged down by summer jobs, lack of travel funds, or an overwhelming fear of flying in airplanes, don’t fret. Staying at home might be all the summer adventure you’ll need.

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