A Commuter’s Guide to Wasting Time
Photo Credit: Leo Berne
By the third year of my university career, I have become somewhat of a connoisseur of idling around campus. While those living in residence are free to return to their dorms whenever the mood strikes, hopping on the streetcar four times a day for every one or two hour break seems pretty excessive. And for many commuters, it isn’t even possible to make it there and back again. So, in my desperation to have the perfect autumnal University of Toronto experience, I went searching for the best places to run out the clock, because, let’s be honest, there’s only so many times you can sit in the same Starbucks before you’d go insane.
What follows are my absolute favourite places to spend time in-between classes outside of what the designated U of T campus offers. Fair warning: a lot of the places listed are coffee shops, but their location offers those unfamiliar with campus a chance to explore more than just St. George and Bloor St. West (and you can also get some reading done which is, after all, why you’re enrolled in classes).
If you’ve lived in the city for even a month, you’ve probably already heard of Kensington Market. An eclectic mix of artists, Victorian architecture, and the strongest bohemian atmosphere to entice any post-secondary student, it’s definitely among the best areasthat Toronto has to offer. A lot closer than you might think, a short walk to Kensington gives you access to local indie coffee shops and restaurants that cater to just about whatever you’re hungry for (vegan options, too!). I love grabbing a seat at Jimmy’s Coffee to get some school work done, or sitting outside of Ideal Coffee when it’s warm enough. And if you’re looking to stretch your feet out and explore, walk down Bellevue Ave. to Nassau St., or take Oxford St. – you won’t be disappointed.
I am a firm believer that the best way to relax after a particularly long lecture is to browse the shelves of a bookstore. A good option that’s tucked away near the intersection of Bloor and St. George is Willow Books. Its location ensures that you won’t get lost when you realize you have ten minutes to get to your next tutorial. They have a great selection of used books (and even textbooks), so if you find something you just can’t part with you won’t be breaking the bank. While it can be a little chaotic, it’s definitely worth a look around if you’re trying to expand your library.
Frankly one of the best spots near the U of T campus, Harbord St., much like Kensington Market, offers cafes, restaurants and a lot of speciality stores. Depending on how much time you have to kill, I would definitely recommend walking west along the strip. Further down, you’ll find Sam James Coffee Bar and Art Eagleton Park. If you don’t have time to make it all the way down there, definitely check out Almond Butterfly for some gluten free pastries, as well as Elchi Chai Shop and Think It Café to enjoy a good book and pretend you don’t already have homework due the second week of school.
Side Streets of Harbord
I know I’ve already sung this little area’s praises, but if you’re tired of grabbing cappuccino after cappuccino, you can get some air and stretch out by exploring the little side streets that branch off of Harbord. Luckily, because of Toronto’s city planning, you’re most likely not going to get completely and hopelessly lost, meaning you can definitely make your way back to campus, no matter how many twists and turns you take. The best thing about walking around this neighbourhood is getting to discover all that it has to offer on your own, but a good route to explore is Borden St. down to Ulster St, and then just follow your feet.
The St. George Campus is surrounded by opportunities to engage in cultural activities. The various museums around the area can give you a chance to clear your head and look at some pretty inspiring objects. The best thing? Some of them are free! For U of T students, the ROM offers free admission on Tuesdays, as does the AGO on Wednesdays after 3 p.m. If you don’t have a lot of time to spare, you definitely won’t feel guilty popping in for an hour when you’re not purchasing a ticket. And best of all, you’ll get to see some staples of the Toronto museum scene.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully it allows for a few starting points for your exploration. Although the endless skyscrapers around the regular U of T stomping ground can be daunting, you can find a couple of hidden gems if you know where to look. And if all else fails, there’s always the University College interior courtyard.
Check out the funky tunes below for the perfect accompaniment to an autumn walk around U of T.
1. “Poems, Prayers, and Promises” – John Denver
2. “If You Know That I’m Lonely” – FUR
3. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” – Gordon Lightfoot
4. “Tonight Will Be Fine” – Leonard Cohen
5. “Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)” – Peter Sarstedt
6. “Making Breakfast” – Twin Peaks
7. “Rosa” – Jacques Brel
8. “I Think I Need a New Heart” – The Magnetic Fields
9. “Piazza New York Catcher” – Belle & Sebastian
10. “Myth” – Beach House
11. “Light Upon the Lake” – Whitney
12. “Homeward Bound” – Simon and Garfunkel
Spotify link: A Commuter's Guide to Wasting Time - Playlist