Toronto Guide to the Best of the City
Toronto is a world within a city. Its biggest claim to fame is being the most multi-cultural city in the world. With a wide array of cultural neighbourhoods, from Little Italy to Chinatown and Koreatown to Little Portugal, Toronto is your one stop fix for a dose of culture.
Toronto is home to over 300 festivals throughout the year, so there’s always something going on, especially during the summer. It’s also home to over 1500 parks, plenty of museums and theatres, an extensive waterfront, plus islands. Toronto has something to entertain and entice everyone.
1. The Toronto Islands
Another great place to relax and unwind is the Toronto Islands. A short 15 minute ferry ride will transport you to the amazing Toronto Islands. The Toronto Islands are a group of islands connected by pathways and foot bridges. The Islands are home to Centreville – an amusement park, one of Canada’s oldest lighthouses, expansive parkland and beaches. There are also cafes and restaurants or you can pack a picnic. With the wealth of wild space, the islands are also great for wildlife and bird enthusiasts. You can even rent a bike, canoe, kayak, or paddle boat to explore the islands (only during summer season).
Ferries are a short, less than 10 minute walk from Union Station, down to the foot of Bay Street on Queens Quay. Ferries depart every 30 to 45 minutes, depending on time of day. A return trip costs $7.50 CAD. If you want to rent a bike to explore the islands, get one on the mainland in the off season.
2. Allan Gardens
Allan Gardens is one of Toronto’s oldest parks, at over 100 years old. The iconic Palm House, constructed out of cast iron, was built in 1910. The park’s grounds have a dog park, a playground and the conservatory. Within are six greenhouses covering 16,000 square feet, and range from tropical to desert plants. A wander through Allan Gardens is a nice reprieve from the hustle of the city. You’ll discover beautiful orchids, cool cacti, giant banana leaves, and even tranquil ponds with koi. All this and its free!
3. Toronto Zoo & Rouge Valley
The Toronto Zoo is one of the World’s premier zoos. Spread out over 700 acres its home to over 5000 animals, representing over 450 species. You can easily spend the entire day exploring the zoo, from large outdoor natural exhibits to numerous large indoor pavilions.
The beautiful Rouge Valley, at 11,500 acres, thirteen times the size of New York’s Central Park, is Toronto’s largest park, and encompasses the Toronto Zoo. The Rouge National Urban Park, as it is now known is a wonderful place to explore. Home to various ecosystems and amazing hiking trails, the Rouge Valley has a history dating back over 10,000 years, including some of Canada’s oldest Indigenous sites.
4. High Park
If you’re looking for a perfect park right in the heart of the city than High Park is it. This 400 acre park is the perfect oasis. It’s home to winding trails, a small zoo, a cool playground, greenhouses, sporting facilities and beautiful gardens. You can grab a picnic and sit by the mini lake or enjoy walking wildlife. And one of the best times to visit is in the spring, from late April to early May, when the stunning cherry blossoms are in bloom.
5. Scarbourgh Bluffs
Located just outside the city, in the Scarborough district, lies a 15 kilometre stretch of incredible cliffs. Rising 90 metres up out of Lake Ontario these brilliant, steep, white cliffs are reminisant of England’s cliffs of Dover. The Scarborough Bluffs is comprised of nine parks with varying features. There are trails to hike, gardens to wander, and all have epic views.
6. Royal Ontario Museum
The Royal Ontario Museum, or as Torontonians refer to it as the R.O.M., is over 100 years old and Canada’s largest museum. The façade is old meets modern with the extension of the crystal addition on Bloor St. Torontonians have mixed feelings on this addition, similar to Parisians thoughts on the pyramid addition to the Louvre. But beyond its exterior the museum houses over 6 million objects in 40 galleries and has a diverse collection, from dinosaurs to meteorites and Canadiana to Chinese architecture – of which is the largest collection outside of China. A few must see exhibits are; the Bat Cave, the Bishop White Gallery of Chinese Temple Art, and the Gallery of Africa: Egypt.
7. Art Gallery of Ontario
The Art Gallery of Ontario, or the AGO as it’s affectionately called, is another of Toronto’s great museums. Located in downtown, it’s home to over 90,000 works of art that range from African and European art to Canadian classics like the Group of Seven. Beyond the art, the building itself is a gem to see, both inside and out. With sweeping staircases to the Galleria Italia that’s shaped like a ship’s hull, the AGO will wow you. It even offers amazing views over the city.
8. Explore Queen’s Park
Queen’s Park opened back in 1860, and is older than Canada itself. This beautiful oval park is home to majestic old trees, various statues, the Ontario’s Legislative Building, and plenty of shade on summer days. Just south of the park is where you’ll find Ontario’s Legislative Building. This grand old building, from 1892, houses the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. A wander through the building is a must, as it showcases various building styles, beautiful stain glass, and historic pieces of Canada’s past. But you can’t wander on your own. There are a handful of free tours offered, some take you around the inside of the building, while some take you on a tour of the grounds, including the park, and one combines both inside and out.
9. Casa Loma
Set on a hill in Toronto’s downtown, Casa Loma sits on five acres and was the dream of Sir Henry Pellatt. Built for his beloved wife, and designed by E.J. Lennox in Sir Henry’s grand dream of a castle that fused a mix of many architectural designs of European castles. Completed in 1914, Casa Loma is home to nearly 100 rooms, 30 bathrooms, two secret passageways, and so much more – including a library to house 10,000 books. Though sadly Sir Henry and his family didn’t get to enjoy the castle for very long due to debt, the city took it over and turned it into a museum. This grand castle is wonderful to explore, full of period pieces, secret hallways, a turret to walk up through and gorgeous gardens.
10. Distillery District
Located in Toronto’s Old Town neighbourhood, the Distillery District is a trendy place to explore. This complex, which was once the largest distillery in the world, is now home to cool cafes, lively restaurants and pubs, vintage shops, and galleries. It feels like a village within a city, with pedestrian only traffic, cobblestone streets and historic red bricked buildings. The Distillery District is also home to varying events throughout the year from music to art and summer markets to Toronto’s beloved Christmas Market.
11. Kensington Market
One of Toronto’s best neighbourhoods is Kensington Market. Home to narrow streets and alleyways, with vibrant street art, quirky vintage shops and cozy cafes, and of course the market. Kensington Market is considered one of North America’s best street markets, of which dates back to the 1920s. Go for the market and cafes, and stay for the lively hippy vibe.
12. CN Tower
Toronto’s CN Tower is the tallest tower in the western hemisphere, and dominates the city’s skyline. The tower offers an assortment of experiences, from extreme adventure to fine dining. You can dine in the 360Restaurant with revolving views of the city, or choose to walk along the world-famous glass floor. There are also two observation decks. The first is at over 1,000 feet and the second, called the SkyPod, is one of the highest observation platforms in the world at 1,465 feet. The SkyPod offers epic views over Toronto, Lake Ontario and even to New York in ideal conditions. If extreme adventure is your game then EdgeWalk is for you. At over 1,000 feet it is the world’s highest hands-free full-circle walk that takes you around the tower on a five foot ledge, harnessed and encourage to push your limits. The price may be steep, at $195 CAD, but offers access to the other decks, a keepsake video and photos of your adventure.
13. Dundas Square
Located at the crossroads of Yonge Street and Dundas you’ll find Dundas Square. Looking around you may think you’re in London’s Piccadilly Circus or New York’s Times Square, with all the shops, restaurants and jumbo billboards. But there is also always something going on. From live performances, free concerts, or festivals, Dundas Square is always a hotspot for locals and tourists alike. It’s also home to three shopping centres, including the Eaton’s Centre, tons of restaurants and even theatres nearby.
Note: There is also free Wi-Fi within the Square.
14. Nathan Phillips Square & Toronto Sign
Located in the heart of the city, and right out front of the city’s City Hall, Nathan Phillips Square is the place to be. In the winter it’s home to a skating rink, and in the summer it’s home to a farmers market and cool fountain. And all year long there are always events going on. But one of its recent attractions is the huge Toronto sign. Come to get a selfie of you and the sign, and stay to check out events, and the old classic City Hall next door.
15. Stroll down Queen Street West
If shopping is your thing, Toronto is your city. But even if it’s not, simply browsing the hip and indie shops along Queen Street West will pique your interest. Vogue Magazine even ranked it the second hippest district in the world. Home to vintage shops, independent cafes and restaurants, Queen Street West is all a buzz with creative and strange folk alike. And the further west of Yonge Street you go the less chain shops you find and the more unique and interesting shops and eateries you’ll discover.
Other shopping areas worth note are the Toronto Eaton Centre – home to over 200 stores with a grand sky-lit ceiling, and Yorkville – home to high-end designer boutiques.
16. Check out Toronto Street Art
Toronto is known for its creative edge. Nowhere is this more evident than down Graffiti Alley. Located just south of Queen St. West, and running from Portland St. to Spadina Ave., Graffiti Alley is actually called Rush Lane. This kilometre long stretch of back alley is home to garbage bins, the occasional piece of forgotten furniture, and is the true sense of alley life. But it is also chalked full of awesome street art, from classic cartoon characters to darker more ghoulish pieces. There’s even an entire building covered in vivid colours and is home to a virtual aquarium of art.
If you’d like to learn more about Toronto’s street art, its artists and the stories behind their pieces than consider a guided tour with Tour Guys.
17. Meow Cat Café
With cat cafés all the rage, there is now a perfect little gem of one in Toronto’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, Meow Cat Café. Free to enter, all you need to do is purchase a drink a have a seat and enjoy. Home to six cats of varying ages and breeds, all are full of personality and are well loved by their owner, the owner of the café itself.
Toronto may have a pretty good and easy to navigate metro system, dubbed the TTC, but it’s also one of the more expensive cities for transit. Toronto’s metro system covers subway lines, buses and streetcars. If you plan on using the metro more than three times in a day consider purchasing a day pass. It’s also a very bike-friendly city, so consider opting for using one of the extensive Bike Share sites, where you can rent a bike for the day or longer. It’s also a very walkable city, with many sights being centrally located in the downtown core.
Save with a CityPass
If you plan on checking out Toronto’s top attractions then consider purchasing a CityPass. For $72 CAD the pass offers free entry into; CN Tower, Casa Loma, Royal Ontario Museum, Ripley’s Aquarium and a choice of either the Toronto Zoo or the Ontario Science Centre. The pass is valid for nine days and could save you over $50 CAD.
What is your favourite thing to do in Toronto?
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