Wonderful City Classics in Toronto Recommended by Travel ExpertsThe name “Toronto”, in the native language, means “plenty”, the city is described as a place where trees grow in shallow water. It is now the most populous city in Canada and the centerpiece of the country that draws all the talents and hopefuls. While Vancouver is a livable city with pleasant weather and Quebec City is a heritage city with a historic charm, Toronto is a melting pot that celebrates the multi-national culture. What people see here is a diverse and dynamic cityscape. Take a walk on Yonge Street, from north to south, from the luxurious Bloor Street to the shopping area that is filled with office buildings, upscale hotels, and high-end stores. Don’t forget to visit some of the exotic yet authentic restaurants that intersperse within new and old buildings.
With such a culturally-diverse city, it is a major art hub in the area, with a number of world-class museums and theatres. It may be a surprise to you that Toronto is the production base of many Hollywood blockbusters, while the story took place in New York, Boston, or Los Angeles, the films were actually shot in Toronto.
For first-timers, it is suggested to stay at least a week in Toronto to truly immerse yourself in the environment, and take a day or two to visit Niagara Falls or Kingston. I have invited my fellow travel bloggers to contribute and share their experiences about some of the city classics that you should not miss while you are in Toronto.
Landmarks and key sights
If you need to name one most iconic landmarks in Toronto, I bet the CN Tower would be the first that comes to mind. The Tower stands at a height of 553.33 feet, providing an efficient telecommunications coverage in the area, and manifesting the architectural achievement of the Canadians. Since it was completed in 1976, the tower has been the Guinness Record holder of the world’s tallest free-standing structure, until it was surpassed by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai in 2007.
Take a ride in the high-speed elevator that takes you to the observatory in 58 seconds! The observatory deck offers a panoramic and unobstructed view of the entire city of Toronto. You may even see the plume of Niagara Falls on a sunny day! If you are not scared of heights, step on the glass floor that is 80-story above ground. To climb even higher, the Sky pod is located at 447 feet of the tower, with an even higher view of the city and beyond. The Edge Walk is for the daredevils, for which you get to experience the thrill of walking on the edge of the tower with only a safety rope hooked.
City Halls and Nathan Square
The City Hall has an eye-catchy look that looks like two curving brackets, designed by Finnish architect Viljo Revell. It was built in 1965 and it’s hard to miss in the city center. The Old City Hall was on the opposite side, completed in 1899, and it now functions as a courthouse today.
Rogers Center & Scotiabank Arena
This is the home arena of the Toronto NBA and NHL teams, and if you are in town and a fan of sports, buy a ticket and watch the match live! If the game is not on, join a guided tour as you can have a peek inside the facilities like the changing room and broadcast studio.
Hockey Hall of Fame
Hockey is a beloved sport in Canada, just like how the European enjoys soccer. The Hockey Hall of Fame showcases the most important items in NHL, from uniforms, and equipment to trophies. One of the highlights includes the goal puck played by Sidney Crosby that earn Canada their first Winter Olympics Gold medal in Hockey!
Visitors can also dress up as a Hockey players in the changing room and touch the actual Stanley Cup.
Hip districts and Instagram moments
Distillery Historic District
Renee from Dream Plan Experience
The Distillery District in downtown Toronto feels like you’re stepping back in time as you walk through this waterfront neighborhood in the city’s east end. A collection of 47 buildings from the early 1800s was once home to Gooderham & Worts Distillery, known as the world’s largest whisky producer, for over a century. Well-preserved industrial-style Victoria buildings have since been converted into chic boutique shops, art galleries, and eateries.
Grab a coffee at the Parisian-style Balzac’s Coffee Roasters and start exploring the 22 art galleries and 25 boutique shops. Take notice of the many Instagrammable public art displays scattered throughout this pedestrian-only neighborhood. Stop for a bite at one of the many restaurants in the Distillery. For authentic French cuisine with a modern twist try Cluny Bistro or maybe sushi at Japanese Boku. Looking for a great patio experience try El Catrin offering up artisan tacos or oysters lovers look no further than Pure Spirits Oyster Bar & Grill. Also, serving up 16 made-onsite craft beers on tap can be found at Mill Street Brew Pub.
The Toronto Christmas market, a widely attended event held at the Distillery District over a 6-week period has been rebranded to the Distillery Winter Village. Under the twinkling canopies of lights are quaint wooden cabins selling unique handmade gifts and tasty treats. This popular event offers an intimate, picture-perfect experience not to be missed.
One of the best ways to spend a day in Toronto is to go to The Distillery District. Where you will find a great mix of a romantic, relaxing atmosphere of Europe with a cool vibe of New York City’s SoHo neighborhood.
Emma from Emma Jane Explores
A stroll through the vibrant street murals of Graffiti Alley is a unique activity to undertake on a stay in Toronto. Access to Graffiti Alley is completely free, it is simply a laneway overtaken by artists that visitors are able to walk through at their leisure.
It’s a wonderful place where grunge and art meet. Graffiti Alley can be found between the Fashion District and Alexandra Park in an alleyway called Rush Lane. From Downtown Toronto, you can either walk around 20 mins or you can jump on the 301 tram which stops right outside Rush Lane on Queen St West.
This area happens to be the first legalized display of graffiti in the whole city, so it is a real artist haven and really sets the tone for Toronto as an arts-loving city of the world.
As the whole attraction is outside, the best time of year to visit is definitely in the warmer months. However, the snow does look wonderful in amongst the murals and there are undoubtedly fewer tourists, so if you’re able to brave the cold then you’ll get some pretty spectacular pictures.
If you’re keen to explore in more depth, there are guided Street Art and Street Food tours that run in the area and all of these feature a trip down Graffiti Alley.
Queen Street West
Queen Street is a long street that pokes through the city of Toronto. Starting from no.200 is a Soho-like district with interesting stores, designer boutiques, and shops that may interest a lot of art lovers. Take a walk in the area and explore the many galleries, and have a drink at the bar at night. Many artists came here because the rent in this area was generally low in the past.
Saint Lawrence Market
Faith from XYUandBEYOND
I love St Lawrence Market in Toronto; it’s a bustling modern-day farmer’s market and much more and is the best place for a gourmet hound to hang out in. The Market’s vendors include the best Montreal-style bagels, Canadian cheeses, beans, grains, and pulses straight from the prairies, seafood, and meats fresh from the sea and farm.
St. Lawrence Market South can be found on the south side of Front St, and it is open Tuesday to Saturday, featuring food stalls, restaurants, and the St. Lawrence Market Gallery.
At the North Market, which is held on Sundays, you will find a weekly antiques and collectibles show and sale market. Here you will find an ever-changing collection of funky post-modern items to true Victorian antiques.
The Market was named the best in the world by National Geographic in 2012 and it is a true culinary paradise with every kind of meat and cheese imaginable along with fruits, vegetables, and gourmet goodies. The market has always featured vendors with specialty products such as rice, beans, Asian ingredients, Latin American products, and a delicious array of world cuisines.
The Gallery features which lies above the Market was once Toronto’s City Council Chambers and now houses rotating exhibits that feature the history of the City. The exhibits are drawn from the City’s collection of artifacts, documents, and fine art. It is here that you will find talks, workshops, and tours.
Natasha from Planes, Trains and Karcz
Toronto – an epicenter for all things Canadian entertainment and culture – certainly has no shortage of must-see places. Though when considering where to go and what to do, locals will almost always respond with a resounding “Kensington Market”.
Located just west of Toronto’s vibrant downtown core, the notorious Kensington Market is largely considered one of Toronto’s most eclectic neighborhoods; offering a variety of hole-in-the-wall eateries, vintage finds, handcrafted goods, and unparalleled people-watching. It’s here, in this unique cultural enclave, that you’ll find primo cafe-hopping opportunities, a number of street performers and vendors, as well as a myriad of events (such as the monthly art fair that runs on the last Sunday of each month during the months of May through October). Needless to say, there’s something here for everyone and for every budget.
Opt for a walking food tour through the winding streets of Kensington Market to get a (literal) taste of the many artisanal bites and brews offered in this walkable region of Toronto, or simply spend an afternoon strolling through the neighborhood’s esteemed green spaces and wander amongst the shops for a family-friendly outing that’s sure to keep you coming back for more!
Royal Ontario Museum
Royal Ontario Museum, or ROM, is the Canadian version of the British Museum. The museum features 34 exhibition halls, with an exciting collection of artifacts and items from all over the world, including 2,500 historic items from China over 7,000 years ago. Not to mention the dinosaur fossils and specimens on display, and a bat collection of over 4,000 species that was found in Jamaica. The latest expansion was completed in 2010 and the new façade was added to the old building, designed by architect Daniel Libeskind. It has a striking and metallic exterior that draws visitors in from afar.
Art Gallery of Ontario
The Art Gallery is often referred to as AGO, has an impressive art collection of over 90,000 pieces of artwork, and one of the highlights of the museum is the Henry Moore Sculpture Center. Henry Moore is an important Britain sculptor with a signature to showcase the human posture in imaginative ways. Besides, this is the nurturing place of the “Group of Seven”, because their public exhibition was held here in the 1920s. The museum is renovated in 2008, the latest building is designed by a world-class architect, Frank Gehry.
This is a small ceramics museum the opposite ROM. Having said that, the collection of the museum is quite impressive, starting with the historic items of the natives before the landing of Columbus before the 12th century BC, moving on to figurines of Olmecs, the earliest known major Mesoamerican civilization. These items provide an abundance of information and evidence about the way of life of the prehistoric civilization. The other showrooms feature ceramics from the Vienna porcelain archives, and contemporary ceramics collected from France, British, and Germany.
Marianne from The Journeying Giordanos
Built between 1911-1914 by financier Sir Henry Pellat as a family home, Casa Loma has quite the history. From operating as a hotel during the prohibition years to concealing a secret sonar research and construction facility during the Second World War, to being the backdrop for several Hollywood movie productions, many stories will be uncovered by wandering the halls of this castle!
Casa Loma has located in midtown Toronto and is easily accessible by transit. The castle, now owned by the City of Toronto, boasts 98 fully decorated rooms and sits on five acres of gorgeous grounds and gardens.
All visits to Casa Loma are self-guided, but a free multimedia audio tour is available in several languages. Explore the castle at your leisure, admiring the various guest rooms, see the third floor which houses the Queen’s Own Rifles Museum, wander the ‘secret tunnels,’ and take a stroll through the gardens.
Hungry? Casa Loma has two on-site places to grab a bite. Head down to the basement to the Liberty Café which serves a variety of lunch fare. Or head out to the Terrace Grill which has amazing views of the gardens.
If you are looking for a little more adventure, Casa Loma offers a variety of Escape Room games on the weekend. The productions include a variety of actors in period clothing that guide you through the castle to help solve a mystery. From bootleggers to dragons to Murdoch Mysteries, the escape series is absolutely fantastic.
Casa Loma also hosts a myriad of concerts throughout the year, as well as being transformed into a haunted castle during Hallowe’en and a Winter Wonderland during the holiday season. No matter what time of year you visit, there is always a ton of things to see at Casa Loma.
The fort was built in 1793 by John Graves Simcoe, with the aim to defend against the invasion from the United States. The capital was migrated from York, a place located at the mouth of Niagara River to here. The newcomers called here “York”, and it was the mold of the city of Toronto. Later the British decided that Kingston had a more important strategic position than York, and the focus was gradually moved to Kingston. The Americans invaded Canada in 1812 and the Fort was badly damaged. In revenge, the British burned down the White House and the Capitol in Washington DC in the year 1814. Battle after battle, the British eventually strengthened the defense of Fort York and protect the border of Canada from the North of Lake Ontario. Today, Fort York retained a large number of items remaining in 1812, and visitors can see the marching, or performance of Musical teams during summer.
Outdoor spaces, zoo, and aquarium
Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada
Stefanie from Open Road Odysseys
Toronto is a great road trip destination for families, couples, friends, or solo travelers. While there, a fantastic place to spend a few hours with kids (or kids at heart) is Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada.
Featuring the longest underwater viewing tunnel in North America, 20,000 water creatures, and over 100 interactive exhibits, the aquarium is a Toronto attraction the whole family will love.
There are so many awesome exhibits to explore. Check out the new Shipwrecks area, where you will learn about some of the most famous Great Lakes naval disasters, including the Edmund Fitzgerald. Then learn about the aquatic animals that call Canada home in the Canadian Waters Gallery.
You don’t want to miss Dangerous Lagoon. Here you will stand on a moving sidewalk and gaze at all the incredible species, including Sand Tiger Sharks, Green Sea Turtles, Green Sawfish, and Green Moray Eels.
Ogle at the oodles of jellyfish in Planet Jellies and learn about their different life stages. And if you’re brave enough, venture into Ray Bay and pet a stingray!
Ripley’s Aquarium is conveniently located in downtown Toronto, right next to the CN Tower and very close to Rogers Centre. You could combine your trip here with a visit to either of these locations or even the Toronto Railway Museum.
Erin from Pina Travels
High Park is Toronto’s largest park, spanning over 161 hectares. This beautiful park is a favorite amongst Torontonians because one-third of High Park is a natural forest. This makes it feel like you’ve road tripped out of Toronto to another part of Ontario, but in fact, you’re still in the city when exploring High Park!
There’s plenty to do in High Park, from walking or cycling the park’s trails, to visiting the park’s zoo which is home to bison, llamas, peacocks, and more. High Park also has lakes, an off-leash dog park, tennis courts, and a swimming pool. If you’re looking to have a relaxing picnic, there are plenty of lawn areas where you can lounge in the summer sunshine. If you want a sit-down lunch after exploring High Park, head to the Grenadier Cafe, which is within the park, for a bite to eat!
High Park is busiest in the summer, but springtime is a beautiful time to visit High Park because you’ll be treated to seeing the park’s cherry blossoms in bloom. In the winter, trails are accessible for hiking, you can bird-watch, and visitors can ice skate on the lake.
High Park is in the west end of Toronto, and it’s easily accessible by public transport. Just take line 2 on the Bloor–Danforth subway line, and get off at the station called “High Park.” Or, take the 506 Queen streetcar running west to reach the park, which is the last stop on the route.
Samantha from Continuous Roamer
Originally a quarry, Evergreen Brickworks is now home to a collection of interesting activities, sights, and nature. It refers to itself as a community hub and focuses on sustainable practices. A visit to Evergreen Brickworks will give you a unique perspective of Toronto.
The Saturday Farmers Market sells warm food and local produce. Plus, there are flowers and seasonal products at the Evergreen Garden Market.
During weekends in winter, there is free ice skating – you can rent some skates to join in the fun. All-year-round you can take the Lookout Path to get an impressive view of the Toronto skyline.
However, fall is one of the best times to visit Evergreen Brickworks. There are an abundance of orange, yellow and red leaves framing each viewpoint. It is refreshing to find some natural beauty in a built-up city like Toronto.
Visiting Evergreen Brickworks gives you an excuse to get out of the downtown core. You can get to Evergreen Brickworks by taking the subway to Davisville or Broadview Station and hopping on the free Evergreen Shuttle.
Alternatively, you can take the subway to Castle Frank and walk to Evergreen Brickworks. There are plenty of walks in surrounding parks, ravines, and nature trails, such as the Don River Valley Park.
While you are in the area, you could also visit Riverdale Farm and find another incredible view of the CN Tower from Riverdale Park East.
The Toronto Islands
Nina from Nina Out and About
Most people don’t realize that just a 10-minute ferry ride from downtown Toronto are beautiful islands that are perfect to explore in summer.
The Toronto Islands are an archipelago of small islands that feature incredible birdlife. The most popular island, Centre Island, hosts a fairground called Centreville that is the perfect alternative to the more crowded Wonderland. The best ride is the canopy tour that will take you over the entirety of Centre Island.
You can explore the islands easily once you arrive by ferry or private water taxi from Toronto’s shore. It’s only a $2 price difference, so I recommend going with the private taxi to have more time flexibility.
The best things to do are to rent a bike and cycle the island, have a picnic on the many grassy knolls, go swimming at the beach, kayak through the archipelago, or take a sunset canoe tour.
The Toronto Islands off the best view of the downtown Toronto skyline. You can get an iconic shot at sunset by joining a canoe tour that will help you wind through the marinas, teach you about the history of the islands, and point out unique birdlife that you can only find here.
If you know how to sail or drive a boat, you can also explore the islands on your own. There are many marinas where you can moor your boat for the night, but slip book up early in the summer!
Tommy Thompson Park
Candace from ajourneyinspired.com
While many people may resort to a rooftop bar to see a sunset painted over Toronto, one of the best ways to enjoy the city’s skyline at its fullest is actually from a distance, and this hidden gem provides that iconic view without having to leave downtown.
Tommy Thompson, also known as Toronto’s “urban wilderness”, is located on a man-made peninsula along the waterfront called the Leslie Street Spit. The fully paved trail is 5km each way (10km in total) and is great for activities like running, cycling, rollerblading, fishing, and nature-watching.
To get to the park, you can either drive and park for free in the large lot at the entrance, ride the streetcar, or take advantage of the accessibility via bike as it is connected to the Martin Goodman Trail that spans Toronto’s waterfront. There is also a bike-share station at the park’s entrance in case you don’t own a bike.
For the perfect sunset experience, grab some food at a nearby restaurant and bring a picnic blanket and bug spray. There are plenty of hidden gem restaurants nearby in the Leslieville neighborhood on Queen Street East. Plan to arrive at the park around one hour before sunset to make your way down the trail and find a spot along the lakeside. Relax and enjoy the views from this pocket of serenity nestled in the heart of a busy city!