What to do in Nathan's Phillip's Square?

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Nathan Phillips Square, the most central in Toronto

Nathan Phillips Square is a dynamic and bustling area located in the center of Toronto. Annually, more than 1.8 million visitors participate in a diverse range of community and special events held at the Square, including the Cavalcade of Lights, New Year’s Celebrations, Remembrance Day Celebrations, concerts, and various other events. Nathan Phillips Square, the metropolitan plaza that accommodates Toronto’s City Hall, stands as one of the most renowned destinations for tourists in the city’s center. 

Also, why not? The Toronto sign, renowned on Instagram, the distinctive architectural towers, and a reflective pool collectively create an ideal backdrop for capturing your “I was here” snapshot. But, there’s lots to see and do here if you have time for something more than just a picture opportunity. Nathan Phillips Square offers a multitude of chances to engage with the essence of this multicultural city, including farmers’ markets, cuisine festivals, ice skating, winter light celebrations, and year-round public art.

Additionally, it is among the top locations for finding free activities in Toronto.

Where Can You Find Toronto’s City Hall (and Nathan Phillips Square)?

Toronto City Hall is situated on Queen Street West, midway between Bay Street and the renowned Yonge Street. It is conveniently accessible by walk from either Yonge or Osgoode subway stations. The actual building known as City Hall is distinct from the expansive plaza that occupies nearly the entire city block, which is referred to as Nathan Phillips Square, named after the Mayor who served from 1955 to 1962.

It’s instantly recognizable to you. First there’s that big Toronto sign. Additionally, there is a reflective pool that is encircled by arches. There are still some pay public phones in the city, as well as public restrooms and fountains available on the premises! 

How to Appreciate and Explore This Toronto Attraction?

This square is the epitome of centralization in Toronto and is highly popular among tourists. Similarly, it is in close proximity to the City Hall structure, and serves as a venue for leisure, relaxation, and communal gathering. The venue is frequently used to commemorate the triumphs of local sports teams, as well as host a diverse range of concerts, celebrations, fairs, and festivals.

Take a Photo with the Toronto Sign

The Toronto Sign was only meant to be temporary, which is difficult to believe given as hundreds of people are gathered around it for pictures every minute!

The structure was established in 2015 during the Pan Am Games held in Toronto. Its immense popularity among both residents and visitors prompted the city to keep it. The lit three-dimensional sign illuminates and undergoes color changes, resembling those commonly found in cities such as Amsterdam and Istanbul. However, it is important to note that Toronto is distinctively characterized by its continuous development in acknowledging the Indigenous heritage and fostering more inclusiveness.

The Toronto Sign was adorned with a maple leaf in 2017, as a tribute to Canada’s 150th celebrations. However, the location has been inhabited for far longer than 150 years, and in honor the nation’s Indigenous Peoples, a Medicine Wheel was erected to the opposite side of the sign in 2018. Its four directions—North, South, West, and East—stand for power, unity, completion, and connectivity.

In 2020, the Toronto Sign had a thorough renovation. The newly installed 10-foot sign exhibits enhanced durability and is adorned with a vinyl artwork meticulously crafted by Joseph Segaj.

The sign is accessible at all times, including both day and night, however it is particularly enchanting during nighttime. The Toronto letters frequently display commemorative colors, which change periodically to recognize various charities or significant holidays.

Admire the City Hall Building’s Architecture

We hope it is universally acknowledged that Toronto City Hall is a magnificent structure, regardless of the activities that occur within. The building was established in 1965 and still maintains a blend of retro and futuristic elements. It consists of two asymmetrical office towers that overlook a saucer-shaped structure where the council conducts its affairs.

The “Old City Hall,” which remains visible to the east, has been replaced and currently serves as municipal courts.

Interesting facts to show off to your buddies when you’re there: A view of the building through an alien gateway can be seen in a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode. 

Visit the Eternal Flame

Pope John Paul II inaugurated Toronto’s first Peace Garden by igniting the eternal flame with an ember from the Memorial for Peace in Hiroshima, Japan. The garden was later officially inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth II. The original position on the square has been relocated, but the objective remains unchanged – to serve as a space for meditation.

The location can be found discreetly positioned behind the performance stage on the Western side, adjacent to a staircase that, during pleasant summer weather, is adorned with a floral landscape. 

Join in a Cultural Festival

Many of Toronto’s greatest festivals and events honoring the various communities that comprise this city take place in Nathan Phillips Square. Food festivals such as Taste of India or Taste of Vietnam, as well as specific music and entertainment events during Pride Week, the Toronto Caribbean Carnival, and other occasions, are offered. Furthermore, they are consistently accessible without any cost.

Shop the Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays

Every Wednesday from June through October, Nathan Phillips Square hosts a farmer’s market. Purchase ripe seasonal fruits, handmade bread or other baked items, and other regional delicacies between the hours of 8am and 2pm. (Similar to the majority of farmer’s markets, arriving early offers a wider range of options.)

Explore the Public Art

City Hall is adorned with a prominent bronze abstract sculpture titled “The Archer”, crafted by the renowned artist Henry Moore. Although locals were initially not fond of it upon its unveiling in 1966, it has since proven to be an enduring landmark.

If you have an appreciation for exploring hidden public art, it is worth taking a stroll around Nathan Phillips Square, as there are additional sculptures scattered throughout the area.

Located on a pedestrian path that connects Nathan Phillips Square to the Courthouse building in The McMurtry Gardens of Justice, just west of “The Archer,” is our favorite piece of art that is hidden but still visible. The statues serve as a tribute to the principles of Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Religion, and other fundamental tenets of Justice. 

Buy Some Art

Every July, for one weekend, the area becomes adorned with stalls that offer visual art for sale. The Toronto Outdoor Art expo, which is Canada’s largest and longest-running annual contemporary art expo, showcases the works of over 400 painters, photographers, and other visual artists at various points in their artistic journeys. 

In addition, there are art discussions, installations specifically designed for the location, and several other activities.

Skating at Nathan Phillips Square

The ice skating rink at Nathan Phillips Square is among the most well-liked sights and activities. It was the initial phase of the evolution that became accessible to the general public and has remained a timeless favorite for nearly six decades.

Skate rentals are offered, along with skate sharpening services for individuals who already possess their own pair. Additionally, there is the option to rent helmets, and the availability of the skating rink typically spans from early December to March, dependent upon weather conditions. 

The skating rink is decorated for the holidays with a tree that fits the square’s dimensions and twinkling lights. The Freedom Arches, which are an incredible sight up close, frame the rink for the rest of the season.

Where to eat near Nathan Phillips Square?

Prior to the emergence of Toronto’s food truck “scene,” there were food vendors located on Queen Street, situated just south of Nathan Phillips Square. So, it’s true that there are restaurants in the area around City Hall. Hot dogs (including vegetarian and halal options), fries, burgers, and poutine are consistently available at inexpensive prices, regardless of the weather conditions.

The square is surrounded by a large number of welcoming public benches.

Bottom Line:

In conclusion, Nathan Phillips Square stands as a vibrant centerpiece in the heart of Toronto.  s a hub for community gatherings, cultural celebrations, and leisurely strolls, the square leaves an indelible mark on those who venture into its lively embrace. So, the next time you find yourself in Toronto, make sure to explore the wonders of Nathan Phillips Square – a true gem in the city’s cultural crown.

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Ernest Alfred

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