As Toronto’s most populous city, it’s a study of Canada’s multicultural endeavors. Travelers will experience the fruits of this as they explore Toronto, which comes with a vibrant international culture that mixes effortlessly with everything we know and love about the Great White North.
As you make your way through the city, you’ll discover a modern metropolis that harbors dainty and artistic communities, not to mention an incredible mix of culinary treats. From one block to another you’ll be among skyscrapers, which fall away to townhouses that are actually rows of thrift stores and Asian eateries.
The public transport system can frustrate locals at the best of times, but it’s a great and easy way to get around a city regardless of location. In fact, the slow pace of the city’s streetcars can be as good as any guided tour.
Here are the best things to do in Toronto.
Head to the Top of the CN Tower
Wherever you are in Toronto, you’ll be able to see the soaring spire atop the magical CN Tower. For residents and travelers alike, it’s the north star, the landmark from which to set your compass. Whenever you’re lost, you feel somewhat better knowing the 1,815 foot (553m) behemoth can help to guide you home.
Although the CN Tower is the foremost part of Toronto’s spectacular skyline, it’s also the place to experience the best view of the city. But to do so, you’ll have to put away any fears you may have of heights. Because you’re about to ascend to the heavens.
The tower continues to perform its original duties as an aid to broadcasting and transmission, but it’s quickly become the top attraction in town. There are several experiences to enjoy include the Glass Floor room and the SkyPod, one of the highest observation areas in the world.
But you can’t beat the EdgeWalk. In a harness, you’ll head outside and creep around a ledge as you hover over the city below.
Ride the Streetcar
Before we take a big jump into the top attractions in Toronto, it helps to get your bearings. There’s no better way to do this than to jump onto one of the city’s much-loved streetcars. Our pick? The Queens Street streetcar, aka the 501.
Much of Toronto is laid out in the grid system on the banks of the Lake Ontario. The city stretches east to west, making it relatively simple to get to know your way around. The beauty of the Queens 501 streetcar is that it takes you from one side of town to the other, passing through some of the best neighborhoods in Toronto, plus the heart of downtown.
For just $2.50usd you can take a fun tour of Toronto plus, this route usually features older vintage streetcars. Start in the Beaches, where you’ll find soft white sand and cute bakeries, perfect for a warm summer day. Sweep through the charming and colorful Leslieville before crossing the Don River and through downtown. Next up is the hip Kensington Market, before ending at the trendy Trinity-Bellwoods and Liberty Village.
Visit the Islands
From your view high up in the CN Tower, you will have gazed over the enormous Lake Ontario. But in front of you would have been specks of land minutes from the Toronto Harbourfront. These are the Toronto Islands, home to a small community and the best picnic spot in town.
Getting to the islands is easy. Simply head to the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal in Queens Quay. Ferries leave roughly every hour from around 6.30 with the last return trip departing from the islands at 11.45. Ferries connect to all three major islands, with Centre Island offering the most things to do. You can check out the full schedule on the Toronto Island site.
Upon arrival, you’ll immediately be taken in by the tranquility and fresh air. Away from the rush of downtown, travelers can wander the miles of nature trails with charming bridges connecting each island. There are beaches to laze on, rivers to paddle along, bike riding trails and endless lawns to open up the picnic basket. For photographers, there’s no better place to capture Toronto’s skyline.
Explore Kensington Market
Hear the term Kensington Market and you’ll probably start to picture a marketplace in the traditional sense. In some ways, you’ll be right, in others wrong. This kind of sums up the quirkiness of Kensington Market. The story of the must-visit neighborhood begins in the 1920s when the Jewish community centered in the area set up stalls in front of their homes.
The tradition continues on to this day, although it has grown and expanded. The Queens Street 501 will take you right to the edge of Kensington Market where you’ll discover rows of official shops, cafes and restaurants representing cultures around the world. The neighborhood is one of the best examples of Toronto’s exceptional diversity.
The main street is Augusta Avenue, which is laden with color, cheap eats and public art. There’s even an abandoned car now filled with grass and plants. But to experience the original Kensington Market, walk a street over to Kensington Avenue. Here you’ll find thrift stores within a series of homes selling all your favorite vintage items. When you need to refuel, stop by Seven Lives Tacos y Maricos for the best tacos in Toronto.
Go on a Food Tour
Canada is a diverse, multicultural nation. Toronto is a microcosm of this. In fact, the United Nations believes it to be the most culturally diverse city on earth. A third of the local popular speak a language other than English or French, adding up to over 140 languages. The impact of varied cultures and life experiences has helped to transform Toronto from unstylish to a cosmopolitan city.
The best, easiest and tastiest way to get to know this side of Toronto is by eating as much as you can. The infusion of flavor and style happens on a daily basis, often in renewed neighborhoods where abandoned warehouses are now the place to be.
Steps from Kensington Market is Toronto’s enormous Chinatown that runs along and around Spadina Avenue. Then there’s Koreatown, a few blocks north, not to mention Little Italy, Portugal and India. Toronto is a veritable buffet of quality and international flavor.
But of course, it has a cuisine of its own. One steeped in cheese, gravy, and maple. On this guided tour, explore a local market and try some of Canada’s best creations from poutine, pierogies and the famous peameal bacon sandwich.
Watch the Maple Leafs
When it comes to sports in Toronto, and Canada at large, nothing beats ice hockey. Just be sure to never say the word “ice” in front of hockey while you’re traveling. Unless you want to be met with some disparaging looks. If hockey is the city and country’s most beloved sport, then the Toronto Maple Leafs are its biggest team.
The storied franchise is at the forefront of the nation’s unofficial religion. They officially became the Maple Leafs in 1927, quickly winning a swath of championships over the ensuing forty years. But such is the tragedy of sport, Toronto’s most beloved team has been in a championship drought for almost six decades. But as they say, there’s always next year.
Those traveling to Toronto can watch the iconic team carve up the ice at Scotiabank Arena from October to April. The arena offers a fantastic atmosphere befitting the fast-paced nature of the game. Its central location also means fans won’t be far from nightlife once the third period ends.
Explore the Hockey Hall of Fame
If you’ve arrived in Toronto outside of the National Hockey League season, and want to know more about hockey, then be sure to visit the Hockey Hall of Fame. Hockey fans come from all over Canada, the U.S. and the world, to visit the impressive complex located in downtown Toronto. Here, you can learn all about the legendary players, teams and epic moments that transcended the sport to become a part of local culture.
Spend some time in the Hall of Fame proper to discover the greats before making your way to the various exhibits. There are over a dozen to uncover, providing you with a closeup look at celebrated memorabilia and, most importantly, the massive Stanley Cup. This is awarded to the winner of the NHL. Keep your camera handy so you can take a photo with the iconic trophy.
Later, experience the complex’s various multimedia displays that take you back to memorable moments in history. You can also explore an authentic recreation of a locker room used by the Montreal Canadiens and try your hand at shooting a puck at goalies that used to play in the NHL.
Take a Bike Tour
Downtown Toronto and surrounding neighborhoods to the east and west exist on a flat plain. With the addition of over 70 miles (112km) of bicycle lanes, getting around Canada’s biggest city on two wheels is a breeze. Toronto’s cycling map will show you how to get around town without having to deal with public transport.
One of the best cycling paths in Toronto is the Queens Quay Waterfront Trail. Spanning the length of the Harbourfront between the Entertainment District and Lake Ontario, the trail has multiple lanes with many amenities along the way. Stop at Bathurst Quay, or take a quick detour to Roundhouse Park where you’ll find the Toronto Railway Museum and the renowned Steam Whistle Brewery.
But a fun and efficient way to see the best sights in town is on this guided bike tour. Lasting 3.5 hours, see the cultural and historical landmarks that make Toronto what it is. These include popular museums, markets, stadiums and neighborhoods. It’s a great way to get a feel for Toronto and help tighten up your itinerary.
Shop All Day at Eaton Centre
Another stop along the 501 is Toronto’s top shopping experience, the Eaton Center. The enormous mall comes complete with its own subway stop for even easier access while being at the center of the CBD. Featuring an ultra-modern layout, it’ll take most of the day to peruse all the stores across its four floors.
The Eaton Centre marks the spiritual heart of Toronto’s shopping, something best exemplified by the Atrium and Hudson’s Bay malls standing on either side. Those who love to shop will find all the popular international brands, along with some favorite Canadian stores. Befitting of such a large mall, travelers will be able to kick back in the enormous food court with dozens of dining options.
Once you’ve scratched the shopping itch, you can explore a duo of nearby highlights, Dundas Square and Nathan Phillips Square. The former is a hub of live music in the summer and the latter comes to life in winter when the famous Toronto sign glistens against the ice skating rink.
Visit the St. Lawrence Market
In a city of skyscrapers, the historic St. Lawrence Hall stands out like a flower in the desert. The sprawling building was added to the bourgeoning city in 1850 as both a concert hall and a popular congregation point. The latter has remained true to this day.
A few years after the now iconic building came to life, Toronto’s oldest market moved to the hall. The market first operated in 1803 and in the more than two centuries since has been providing locals and nomads alike with fresh produce and exceptional artisanal goods.
Today, it functions much like a giant food hall. There are several levels, one which provides you with a traditional market experience and the other with rows of freshly cooked and delicious meals. Alongside the produce and eats, you’ll still spot the hall’s original grandeur, including its classic gas-lit chandelier and opulent staircase.
In the summer, the market’s patios open providing a way to enjoy your purchases under the bright Canadian sun.
Have a Night in the Distillery District
Alongside Liberty Village, Toronto’s best version of warehouse-come-hospitality revitalization is the Distillery District. It was here in the 19th century that the Gooderham and Worts Distillery, the largest in the country, was slinging liquors to the masses. Now the historic brick buildings have been transformed into trendy bars, restaurants and galleries best explored under the starry sky.
Surrounding the buildings are the original cobblestone streets, once home to horse and carts and now simply, us. The pedestrian-only neighborhood comes to life in the evenings with a great range of places to eat and drink. But before arriving in Toronto, check out their calendar of events. The district goes to another level during its many festivals and events.
If you’ve come to the Great White North in winter, be sure to check out the Distillery District’s wonderful Christmas Market. Enjoy an authentic Toronto experience sipping mulled wine or hot bourbon on a blisteringly frosty night with the holiday spirit floating through the air.
Day trip to Niagara Falls
Around 90 minutes around the edge of Lake Ontario is the famous Niagara Falls. The simple drive from Toronto makes it a great way to see one of the world’s most famous waterfalls. Some may argue that the view from the American side is better, but I digress. Having seen them from both angles, they have their pros and cons. But the Canadian side allows you to stand mere steps away from the thundering falls without paying a dime.
Take a short walk into the park that runs along the Niagara River. Here, you’ll get a great appreciation for how much water flows along the river that is up 4,000 feet (1220m) wide. The noise of the falls is unmistakable and see you’ll also be met with the rising mist. It’s an awe-inspiring sight to stand alongside.
Aside from driving, you can take the train from Toronto’s Union Station from June to September plus Canadian Thanksgiving. Bring along a bike to explore further. Or, join this small-group tour of the falls with convenient hotel pick up.
Experience Toronto’s Festival Scene
When November comes around in Toronto, the days grow shorter and the neon lights of local bars flicker on before the workday is even over. Save for the holiday season and the fun of ice skating under lights, the city slows down and the wind and snow takes over.
A cozy and quieter city reawakens in spring keen to make up for lost time. Its impatience, cultural diversity and international connections has led to the development of a stunning summer and fall calendar of events. Barely a day goes by from May to October without something exciting happening, big or small.
Music lovers are well-represented thanks to the city’s NXNE, a version of SXSW. There’s Canadian Music Week that will have you venturing between 40 venues to see as much of the 1,000+ performers. Plus the beloved Toronto Jazz Festival with over 400 shows.
TIFF, aka the Toronto International Film Festival, however is top dog. Stars from around the globe descend on the city for a 10-day cinematic extravaganza.
Date Night in Koreatown
Covering five blocks along Bloor Street West, Toronto’s Koreatown is a haven for foodies. The rows of amazing but cheap restaurants light up after dark, creating a delightful atmosphere more akin to a popular drinking street.
The options are endless, and you can’t really go wrong. But some of the top restaurants to consider includes the O.G. of the district, Korean Village, The Owl for pork bone soup and Imanay for dumplings and Korean sushi.
Strange and creative eats are no stranger to Koreatown, in fact, they’re welcomed with open arms. To indulge in weird and wonderful, head to Poop Cafe for Korean bingsu while sitting on a toilet seat. After dinner have dessert at Hodo Kweja, whose specialty walnut cake takes 36 hours to create.
Food is only one aspect of what makes Koreatown a fun day night. To round out the experience, take your partner to Snakes and Lattes. The cozy cafe is packed (I mean packed) with board games and floating advisers that help to pick the one for you. Find your next favorite while sipping on hot and spiked drinks.
Go Ice Skating
When the temperatures drop in Toronto, one thing we all look forward to is the rinks popping up across the city. If you come in the winter months, you’ll likely stumble upon several without even searching. Best of all, they’re free to enter. With that said, here’s where you can take part in Toronto’s popular winter pastime:
Nathan Phillips Square certainly gets the busiest, but in the heart of downtown and with the colorful Toronto sign, it’s the most quintessential place to put on the skates. Another central option is at the Harbourfront Centre. This rink is much larger and even has a DJ every Saturday night.
But while there’s no shortage of fun rinks, those who know their way around the ice should consider one of Toronto’s longer trails. The best is the Bentway Skating Trail. The trail of ice runs under the Gardner Express Way for 720 feet (220m) allowing you room to get into stride.
Wander Through Graffiti Alley
Those among us who can’t get enough of public art shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to explore Toronto’s Graffiti Alley. The alley spans for over 3000 feet (1km) with endless walls covered in eclectic street art. Some may already be familiar with it, if you’ve come across the long-time Canadian comedy, the Rick Mercer Report.
The colorful alley is a popular attraction, yet the sheer number of works spread far and wide means it never feels crowded. It’s a great place to go to fill up the photo album or take that pic your mom has been hounding you about.
After exploring Graffiti Alley, you’ll be within walking distance of all the fun within Chinatown and the Kensington Market. You can also complete this trio on a 2-hour guided tour of Toronto’s most interesting neighborhoods. Get to know the art in more detail before trying a range of international eats.
Catch Some Live Sport
So you’ve seen the Maple Leafs tear up the ice, but there’s plenty more sports action around Toronto. In fact, it’s one of the busiest sports cities in North America. All that is missing is an NFL team. Oh well, I guess the Buffalo Bills will have to suffice.
In the summer, you’ll find crowds draped in blue make their way to the Rogers Centre to watch the Blue Jays of the MLB play in the original domed stadium. Tickets are cheap and so are the hot dog stands outside the stadium. Speaking of cheap tickets, you can experience ice hockey on a budget by watching the Toronto Marlies (a lower league affiliate of the Maple Leafs) near Kings West Village.
In 2018, Toronto came to a standstill as Kawhi Leonard and Fred VanVleet took the Raptors to the promised land. You can catch an NBA game at Scotiabank Arena. To round it out, watch the world game and Canadian football at BMO Field.
Go Gallery and Museum Hopping
So we know Toronto is a city of international cuisine and hockey, but its wide range of galleries and museums will keep you busy regardless of taste. They help to showcase local history and art, along with a fantastic collection of exhibits from around the world.
Some of the top museums and galleries include the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario. The former is housed within an architectural masterpiece of abstract shapes. But it’s what is inside that has given the museum an international reputation. The vast range of displays explores the region’s natural history alongside Toronto’s culture and artistic endeavors.
Those in touch with their creative side will enjoy the renowned Art Gallery of Ontario. It’s of the biggest in North America, home to almost 100,000 pieces from across the globe. These include works by art masters from centuries ago to more contemporary pieces.
Other museums to keep in your back pocket for a rainy day include the Aga Khan Museum, which celebrates Islamic art along with the weird and wonderful Bata Shoe Museum.
Visit Casa Loma
Having taken over the reins as Canada’s commercial hub. Toronto is the picture of modernity. There is one particular building, however, that goes against the grain. Casa Loma is a startling 98-room castle that was built towards the beginning of the 20th century. It stands out like a sore thumb, yet you feel it’s exactly where it’s supposed to be.
The full-sized castle looks straight out of medieval Europe as its complete with towers, spires, halls and stables. Obviously. The castle has taken on a cult figure role in Toronto life and is a part of many festivals, including a particularly spooky Halloween event.
But you don’t have to arrive for an event in order to explore Casa Loma. The home, museum and surrounding grounds are open daily from 9.30am to 5pm. The museum unveils the story of the unique castle that wasn’t built for any king or queen, but simply to fulfill the dreams of Henry Pellatt.
Have a Night Out
Whether you’ve just arrived or want to go out with a bang, Toronto has fun nightlife scene. It is tempered somewhat by archaic laws that see bars and clubs close at 2am. But its range of friendly bars and after hours nightclubs will give you plenty of options.
Pubs and dive bars are the most common in Toronto and you’ll have no shortage of either regardless of where you stay. Two great areas to grab a pint include Liberty Village and along Ossington Avenue. The former has a strong concentration of boisterous pubs and food halls, include the Local and Liberty Commons. While Ossington has a lively strip of bars.
Wellesley Village has a range of raucous clubs and vibrant bars while also being the heart of Toronto’s LGBTQ+ community. However, it’s the Entertainment and Fashion districts that have the greatest concentration of nightclubs. These include the budget friendly Cake and Peacock Bar plus the always rowdy Rock & Horse Saloon.
Picnic in High Park
Towards the western end of town is the biggest park in Toronto. High Park covers 400 acres of lush gardens and lawns. In the spring, the cherry blossoms bloom along the miles of walking trails, adding more color to the green landscape and blue sky above.
The enormous park can be explored along the walking and cycling paths. They lead to playgrounds for the young ones, a public pool on those hot summer days (Toronto can get very humid), sports fields and areas for dogs to run free. The park’s amphitheater is a popular hangout spot and hosts many productions, including the annual Shakespeare in High Park.
If you’ve come in the winter, it’s still worth a visit. Rug up and wander through what is a veritable winter wonderland. If you’re up for it, you can even explore the aforementioned trails on cross-country skis. Better yet, get a sled and zoom down the hills.
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