See also: Where to stay in Toronto
There is no other metropolis in Canada that compares to Toronto’s sweeping skyscrapers and urban luxuries, bringing with it a multicultural community and thriving art scene. Sandwiched between the museums and distinctive neighborhoods are also green spaces such as High Park and Allan Gardens Conservatory. Indulge in delightful cuisine too – Toronto’s cultural diversity resulting in an equally rich food scene. Start your exploration with these top experiences and must-see:
All-in-one stop: Harbourfront Centre
Established relatively recently, the Harbourfront Centre is a 1990s attempt at revitalizing the city’s waterfront, transforming abandoned industrial buildings into a thriving event hub. Think of it as an extended shopping complex that takes up 10 acres, comprised of the usual shopping, dining, and community facilities. Then there are more unique features like Natrel Pond, which doubles as a skating rink come winter, and the beautiful Toronto Music Garden that hosts free concerts. Art galleries, studios, outdoor spaces and more keep you occupied in a range of cultural experiences. There are events running all year round so drop by anytime.
Splashing around Toronto’s beaches
Summer-time visitors can’t miss out on the sandy strips that come with movie-worthy scenes. Woodbine Beach for example, offers walking trails, beach volleyball courts, bathing station and an outdoor Olympic Pool. Those seeking quieter and calmer waters would love the beaches along the Toronto Islands, such as Hanlan’s Point Beach and Gibraltar Point Beach. For softer sands and extending bike paths, hit up the beautiful Bluffer’s Park Beach and maybe indulge in some fishing. Sunnyside Beach will round off these contenders with a more active itinerary, pitching canoes, kayaks and paddleboards for those aiming for more than a tanning session.
Prep your stomach for St. Lawrence Market
Are you ready for Toronto’s best eats? St. Lawrence Market has earned a place on the ‘foodies must-visit’ list with its long history and varied spread. The three main buildings of South Market, North Market and St. Lawrence Hall; the former alone houses over 120 vendor stalls of everything between fresh produce and baked goods. Meanwhile, the Farmer’s Market is a much loved Saturday event, luring in huge crowds with promises of yummy bites. The site itself is also a historic attraction, commissioned in 1803 as a permanent farmer’s market as well as a place for various meetings and exhibitions. You’ll find a Market Gallery on the upper floors of South Market which cycles through displays of art, culture and history of Toronto.
Rise up the sky-piercing CN Tower
Challenge your limits by soaring to the skies at CN Tower. Even among the various tall towers in the world, this 553-meter tall building tops its continental rivals. In fact, it is one of the Seven Wonders of the World (in modern terms). Your see-everything experience begins with the glass floor paneled elevator, which takes you to the viewing deck hundreds of meters high. Those who embrace heights can ascend to the SkyPod sitting at 447 meters, which offers literal breath-stealing views over Toronto. And if even that isn’t enough to get your heart racing, nimbly conquer the hands-free SkyWalk ledge.
Chill day out at Evergreen Brick Works
Another brilliant multifaceted recreational space emerges with Evergreen Brick Works. Recognized by the National Geographic as a top geotourism destination, this flourishing space puts fun into sustainability practices. Permanent art installations are tied to themes of ‘organic’ and reflective of environmental issues, at once showcasing Toronto’s industrial and natural history. Evergreen Brick Works also hosts weekend farmer and artisanal markets, supporting small local businesses. And that’s not all – you’ll find a skating rink, nature trails, outdoor experiences for children and more. Learn how the city and nature intersects here, and the ways in which we can contribute to a healthy coexistence.
Lay back at High Park
Sometimes you just want a change in pace, and High Park will give it to you. Where the city has long been taken over with blocks of concrete, High Park remains a green heart downtown. Spanning 161 hectares, it makes up most of the greenery left. Both recreational and natural, it boasts cultural and sporting facilities alongside the gardens. Some areas are carved out for children, including playgrounds and educational complexes. It also houses Colborne Lodge, which competes with High Park Zoo to be the highlight. If you’re in town over the summer, catch a Shakespearean play on the lawns!
The Royal Ontario Museum: a historical classroom
Disembark at the mirroring Museum metro stop to reach the world famous Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), one of the largest in North America. Easily recognized by its Romanesque and Byzantine architecture from which a sharp, dissonant structure juts out, the museum sees an annual million-strong visitor rate. Markedly a museum of art, world culture and natural history, it houses a collection of over six million artefacts. You are guaranteed to spend hours, if not an entire day, scoping out its 40 galleries. Displaying dinosaur bones and fossils alongside design items and Art Deco period pieces, the museum is a must-see stop for all ages.
Exploring the repurposed Distillery District
Preservation and entertainment come hand in hand with the Distillery District; think large whiskey distillery transformed into a pedestrian-only commercial hub. Victorian-era industrial buildings color the streets in burnished browns and grays, heavy brick only adding to the quaint artsy vibe. Distinctive shops, bars, restaurants and lofts take up residence in this neighborhood, although it is the plethora of micro-breweries and art galleries that steal the show. Visit before the cold hits for its much-loved Christmas Market – an annual highlight of artisan stalls and cozy vendor offerings.
Appreciate culture at Kensington Market
Possible the most diverse neighborhood in Toronto, Kensington Market is a patchwork of multicultural everything. Long since a national historic site, the streets are an eclectic hodgepodge of vintage stores, restaurants, specialty shops, bakeries, cafés and bars – small establishments that represent the various cultural populations that reside there. Adding to its distinct flavor are the old Victorian houses that have been remodeled into shops, and alleys lined with every-changing street art. Try and catch a festival if you’re lucky, though this ‘market’ is a guaranteed hotspot for independent boutiques and mouth-watering eateries. It’s the perfect place to pick up some souvenirs.
Amusement park fun at Canada’s Wonderland
Living up to its name, Canada’s Wonderland is a theme park that entertains with 70 rides and an adjacent, sprawling water park. Just slightly outside of Toronto, it is an easily accessible day trip for families and thrill seekers alike. Prepare for thrilling rides such as the Leviathan and Behemoth, and explosive addition Yukon Striker. The kid-friendly area is decked out with milder entertainments, and outfitted with Snoopy and the Peanuts gang. To combat hot weather, Splash Works welcome you with wave pools, playgrounds, slides and a Lakeside Lagoon play area. Canada’s Wonderland promises days-worth of fun!
Browse through the Art Gallery of Ontario
If Art Gallery of Ontario sounds like a weighted title, it is because it is the largest art gallery in Canada. Thanks to Frank Gehry, the exterior glass and steel feature draws in extra attention. While the gallery is contained in an ultra-modern packaging however, its collections lean towards more traditional mediums such as paintings and sculpture. Of its 9,000 artworks, the Henry Moore exhibit and European paintings gallery are much loved by the crowds. An extensive collection of Canadian art is also featured, in both dated and contemporary iterations. There is also a large gallery for photographers and sketch artists to peruse.
Hop around the Toronto Islands
Ferry away to the tranquil Toronto Islands, the conjoined Hanlan’s Point, Centre Island and Ward’s Island. You’ll come across bikers, casual strollers and people hoping for a lazy day. For the consummate lazy person, pick your choice of beach and let the sun burn away your tension. Others can enjoy walking around this park on water, taking in the natural sights and sleepy residential areas. It is also home to Centreville Amusement Park which boasts a fair 30 rides and games that veer toward amusement rather than thrill. While families could spend a day here, you might see it all in half a day depending on your planned activities.
Have fun at the Ontario Science Centre
Welcoming the curious-minded since 1969, the Ontario Science Centre is the thumping heart of everything science and technology. Adapting an interactive approach to learning, it’s a popular hotspot for youngsters. Go through Forest Lane, the Science Arcade, the Living Earth and AstraZeneca Human Edge zones for incredible experiences, or sit tight and watch their daily science demonstrations. Or maybe you’d prefer to explore the dark reaches of the universe at the Planetarium. With eight exhibition halls and over 500 hands-on displays, anyone would have a blast in this science center.
Revive the medieval ages in Casa Loma
Dark stone, rounded turrets, towers and arched windows evoke the aesthetics of a Gothic Revival castle, marking a fun space to explore. Casa Loma takes the title of an interesting architectural piece; what was once the mansion of a financier in 1900s is now a historic house museum. It is a popular filming site due to its gardens, stables and decorated rooms, featuring in movies such as the X-Men series. Take the opportunity to explore its halls (maybe discover a secret passage or two) with a self-guided audio tour!
Cultural immersion in Chinatown
You must have some idea of Toronto’s multiculturalism; we’re here to ensure you visit one of its most exciting neighborhoods: Chinatown. Characterized by hanging signs, produce markets, herbal remedy shops and restaurants, this cultural settlement has been in place since late 1870s. Try and time your trip to coincide with the Toronto Chinatown Festival or Chinese New Year celebration as the area becomes extra rowdy, featuring traditional Asian dances, music and authentic street food.
Breathe deep at Allan Gardens Conservatory
Open the full 365 days in a year, Allan Gardens Conservatory is a green oasis ready to destress and relieve you of everyday frustrations. It is a city center escape, teeming with flora and fauna from all over the world. Of the six greenhouses, you’ll find two Tropical Houses done in bright brushes of orchids, begonia and bromeliads. The Cool Temperature House is more fragrant, featuring jasmine and camellias from the Mediterranean and Australia. For beachy vibes, visit the Palm House and its banana trees. The more exotic can be found in the Tropical Landscape House, whereas Arid House is home to dynamic cacti and succulents.
Observe exotic marine life at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada
Designed like a sports complex, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is in fact, huge. What else do you expect from a pool of some 13,500 marine life in 5.7 million gallons of water? You bet there are some never seen before fishes and shells even for those who are frequent aquarium visitors. Among the host are a giant pacific octopus, white-spotted bamboo sharks and an upside-down jellyfish – try and spot them if you can. There are plenty of other surprises in the aquarium’s nine zones, all of which represent geographic areas or isolated species. Children and adult alike will probably spend most time at the Rainbow Reef, attracting much interest with its interactive dive show.
Underground shopping: Toronto’s PATH
A literal 30-kilometers path of shopping dwells in Toronto’s underground, a network that runs from Queens Quay to Eaton Centre. You’re bound to find something of interest amid the 1,200 shops, restaurants and services that range from budget buys to upscale boutiques. For convenience, you can park yourself in any of the eight hotels linked to this complex, as it is conveniently connected to six subway stations and a railway terminal.
Go on an adventure through Rouge National Urban Park
Take the opportunity to spend a night out at Toronto’s only campground, surrounded by rich forestry and one of the region’s largest marshes. Rouge National Urban Park thrives in diverse geography, encompassing beaches, farmlands and other soil-based ecosystems. You have choice of outdoor activities, ranging from kayaking and swimming to bird watching, to hiking and camping. We recommend joining a guided walk to learn about the Rouge’s thousands of years, bypassing dated indigenous sites while leaves crunch underfoot. Catering to children and adults alike, this unspoiled reserve will treat you to riveting and educational experiences.
Visit the Hockey Hall of Fame
The stately exterior of this building does propose the idea of a museum, but would you have guessed the subject of honor? The Hockey Hall of Fame features some of the most celebrated figures in the sport, inductee chosen by a committee of 18 people. Players, coaches, an occasional manager and commentator are forever marked in hockey history. Doubling as a museum, you can also learn more about the history of hockey via the 15 exhibits. Of the various trophies, memorabilia and informational displays, the crowning jewel has to be the Stanley Cup. Die-hard hockey fans can also enjoy documentary films in their 3D theatre.
Explore the West Queen West neighborhood
Just about the coolest neighborhood in the city, West Queen West emerged from an industrial enclave like all hip areas did. Claiming the creatives and artists, this district now houses over 300 galleries, design studios, boutique hotels and murals pretty much everywhere you look. Public spaces are often taken over by temporary and contemporary exhibits that sometimes double as a live music venue. The culinary hasn’t been lazy either – hunt down inventive menus and creative cocktails. West Queen West promises a dynamic experience and doesn’t disappoint!
Drop by Riverdale Farm
You might not be expecting a farm smackdab in an urban neighborhood, but Riverdale Farm exceeds expectations. Experience farm life by watching the day-to-day running of a real farm; as it is a working farm, please hold back from feeding the livestock. Enjoy the Park West spaces where you can picnic or wade in a shallow pool. Check in at The Meeting House for more information on its handwork and craft programs.
All the glam at Bayview Village
Chances are, you blew into town with the aim of urban luxuries a.k.a retail therapy… but you want it glam. Bayview Village is the luxury shopping center of your dreams, package wrapped with valet parking, fancy beauty salons, unique merchandise and in close proximity to affluent neighborhoods. If you want upscale, then this is your stop.
Visit the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCA)
Or rather, visit the rebranded Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto Canada. If the long name doesn’t tip you off, the concrete pillars and uncovered pipework cement it as the unfiltered commentary it is. Providing a setting for discourse and creativity, the MOCA aims to foster artistic thinking in an ever-evolving space. Besides showcasing innovative installations that tie into various social and philosophical issues, supplementary talks are also common features.
Dash of history with Fort York
This 1793 fort is for the history buffs. Easily accessible in its downtown location, Fort York is the collector of 1812-13 war buildings and battle site. Its origins lay down the foundations of urban Toronto, where the intended military defences of York were later abandoned for Kingston, and the site was turned into a residence instead. While Fort York did eventually see much battle and was destroyed in the battle of 1812, it was rebuilt by the British. Today, it has turned into an open-air museum, offering tours around its period settings and exhibits. It also hosts various seasonal demonstrations and events.
Meet the animals at Toronto Zoo
If it is your first time visiting Canada, deign a visit to Toronto Zoo as it is the largest zoo in the country. Spread out over 287 hectares is seven zoogeographic areas, encompassing the global myriad of Indo-Malaya, Americas, Tundra Trek, Africa, Australasia, Eurasia and Canadian domains. Bringing you and the animals closer, Toronto Zoo organizes Keeper Talks, behind-the-scenes encounters, outdoor habitat walk-throughs and more scintillating activities. With over 5,000 residents in well-designed enclosures, you will be hard-pressed to see them all in a day. Aim for a long viewing at Africa zone as it houses rare white African lions and rhinoceroses, marking it as one of the most popular zones of the zoo.
See some kicks at Bata Shoe Museum
Fashionista or not, anyone would find the Bata Shoe Museum an awe-inspiring collection of footwear. Like the ultimate shoe aficionado’s paradise, it houses a whopping 13,500 items! And the displays aren’t just for you too coo over in aesthetic pleasure. Take a dive into the history of footwear and browse through the four exhibits to learn more about how shoes have evolved over time. You’ll find collections that span cultures and continents, and historical items such as Queen Victoria’s ballroom slippers, the flashy platform boots that belonged to Elton John, and more.
Focusing on Centre Island
We briefly mentioned Centre Island as part of the Toronto Islands cohort, but it deserves a bit more mention. A whopping 600 acres of parkland, it offers not just green spaces bicycle paths, but family-friendly attractions, eateries and quiet communities, as well as Centreville Amusement Park. Mentioned attractions aside, there is also Franklin Children’s Garden and a free petting zoo that is open all year. You can also enjoy the Frisbee golf course and comfortable wading pools. Look back at the city with a waterside meal for some stunning skyline views.
Catch a show at top-tier theatres
When we say theatre, we mean some of Canada’s best performing arts venues. These dedicated buildings are home to the prestigious National Ballet of Canada, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Canadian Opera Company, the Canadian Electronic Ensemble and Canadian Stage Company. Like the varied art forms available, you have a venue menu of Four Seasons Centre for Performing arts, Roy Thomson Hall, Royal Alexandra Theatre and Princess of Wales Theatre. Located within close vicinity to each other, you can take your pick after a quick dinner in the district. Make sure to buy tickets beforehand if you’re trying for a popular show.
All aboard the Food Tour train
Eat your way around the world via Toronto’s crop of restaurants and diverse eateries. If you prefer sniffing around and going where your stomach takes you, best of luck in your hunt! For those hoping for more structure in their food adventures, here are a few food tours to check out. 501 Streetcar Food Tour will take you from Parkdale to Lesliville, driving through five different neighborhoods of eats. The Kensington Krawl does a thorough sweep of Kensington Market, whereas the St. Lawrence and Old Town Food Tour focuses on the iconic market. With slightly less historical tidbits but more exotic flavor is the Little India Food Tour, and the Kensington Market Sweets Tour is the answer to your sugar cravings.