Canada's largest (and most international) city offers enough sights and experiences to please and kind of traveler.
There’s no shortage of fun things to do in Toronto, Canada’s biggest and buzziest city. A patchwork of unique neighborhoods, this multicultural city plays host to a bustling arts scene, stellar restaurants (from mom ‘n’ pop to fine dining), great shopping, and electric nightlife while still maintaining a connection to nature.
See the City From the CN Tower
Toronto’s iconic CN Tower, which was the world’s tallest free-standing structure until the completion of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa in 2009, is well worth visiting. Ride the glass-bottomed elevator up 1,220 feet to the observation deck where you can gaze out onto the city below and test your acrophobia on a 258-square-foot glass floor (don’t worry about it breaking—it’s been engineered to withstand a weight equivalent to 14 hippos). If “fear of heights” is a foreign concept to you, pony up CAD $195 for the EdgeWalk, where you stroll around on the top of the tower tethered to the structure via a harness. Once you’re back on the ground, take some time to explore the area; some of downtown’s biggest tourist draws, including the Rogers Centre (home of the Blue Jays MLB team), Steam Whistle Brewery, and Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, are all right there.
Take in Some Contemporary Art
As the country’s cultural capital, Toronto is home to a number of top-shelf art museums. First on your list should be the Art Gallery of Ontario, designed by famed architect Frank Gehry, which packs in 95,000 pieces from Canada and around the world. Their collection dates all the way back to the first century AD but also features a strong contemporary collection that includes pieces by Dali, Rothko, and Matisse. It has played host to touring exhibitions from the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Yayoi Kusama. Further south along the waterfront, The Power Plant, nestled inside the Harbourfront Centre, focuses on recent work by Canadian and international artists. And if your travels take you to the Junction, stop by the newly-built Museum Of Contemporary Art (or MOCA), a center dedicated to cutting-edge work from Canada and abroad.
Explore Kensington Market
Toronto has become increasingly gentrified and modernized, but Kensington, a bohemian, multicultural neighborhood, has fought to maintain its unique local character over the years, and its narrow streets are still lined with a patchwork of independent stores, grocers, and cafés. Kensington Avenue is home to a long strip of vintage stores housed in rainbow-painted Victorian homes (favorites include Sub Rosa and Courage My Love), plus adorable Swedish café Fika and taco spot Seven Lives. One street over on Augusta is gift shop Kid Icarus, Indigenous brunch spot Pow Wow Cafe, and bar/live venue Handlebar, to name just a few. If you’re around on the last Sunday of a summer month, drop by for the bustling Pedestrian Sundays street fair.
Eat Your Way Through St. Lawrence Market
Once home to Toronto’s first city hall and then a prison, this sprawling indoor market has become one of the city’s must-hit destinations for food lovers, with dozens of vendors offering everything from meats and produce to baked goods, cheeses, condiments, and prepared foods. While you’re there, be sure to grab the market’s signature dish: Peameal bacon (what the locals call Canadian bacon) on a bun. On Saturdays, St. Lawrence Market plays host to the city’s largest farmers market, and on Sundays, it’s replaced by an antique market.
INSIDER TIPThe best-known version of a Peameal bacon sandwich is at Carousel Bakery.
Stroll Along Queen West
Famously named one of the world’s coolest neighborhoods in 2014 by Vogue, Queen Street West is at the heart of Toronto’s cultural and independent retail scene. The eastern portions around the Eaton Centre and City Hall are decidedly more corporate, with plenty of big shopping chains—but the further west you go, the quirkier things get. Pop into cool boutiques like Coal Miner’s Daughter, Hayley Elsaesser, or Horses Atelier; then grab a meal at 416 Snack Bar or Aloette. Duck into Graffiti Alley and check out murals by local artists, or people-watch in Trinity-Bellwoods Park. At night, take in a show at the Horseshoe, the Gladstone Hotel, or the Great Hall, or grab a cocktail at the Drake Hotel or Barchef.
Hang With Dinosaurs at the ROM
The Royal Ontario Museum—the biggest museum in Canada—is a must-visit for history buffs and culture vultures alike. The museum building is a striking presence on Bloor Street, thanks in large part to the shard-like Michael Lee-Chin Crystal addition that was built in 2007 (and remains a love-it-or-hate-it piece of architecture among locals). The museum’s collection is broad, ranging from prehistoric creatures—including a T. rex and an 88-foot-long barosaurus—to artifacts from Rome, Greece, and ancient China. The museum also occasionally flirts with more modern topics, welcoming touring exhibits featuring creations from legendary fashion houses and shows revolving around horror artwork and the history of tattooing.
Set Sail for the Toronto Islands
Located just a scenic 15-minute ferry ride away from downtown, the Islands are an idyllic getaway hidden just off the shoreline of Lake Ontario. The most popular is Centre Island, which is home to beaches, a fountain and gardens, a bike rental station, and the Centreville amusement park geared toward younger visitors. Potentially less family-friendly is Hanlan’s Point, a beach destination with a locally infamous clothing-optional area. Ward’s Island is home to its own beach area as well as the Island Cafe, a homey all-day spot with a big covered patio.
Eat Your Way Around the Globe
Thanks to Toronto’s massively diverse population, fuelled by waves of immigration from all over the world, the city is home to a wealth of global cuisines—everything from Sri Lankan to Salvadorean to Ethiopian. Chinese, Korean, and Japanese food all have a strong foothold here, with plenty of long-running mom and pop restaurants, but Asian food chains have recently taken interest in Toronto, bringing in award-winning ramen, specialty desserts, and a glut of bubble tea shops. A crop of Indigenous cooks has also begun entrenching traditional First Nations foods in the city’s restaurant scene at spots like NishDish and Pow Wow Cafe. If you get the chance, pop by the tiny Market 707 on Dundas Square, where a global mix of food businesses offer their own spin on home cooking
Soak in the City’s Film Scene
If you’re a film buff, you’re likely already familiar with the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which takes over Toronto every September and rivals Cannes for Hollywood star power. A number of hotly-anticipated movies make their debut here, with stars and directors flying in to walk the red carpet and appear for panels and Q&As. The action isn’t over once the stars leave town; the film festival’s main hub, the TIFF Bell Lightbox, hosts special screenings year-round. Meanwhile, Hot Docs, North America’s biggest documentary festival, lands in May, as does queer film fest Inside Out—and horror buffs won’t want to miss Toronto After Dark in October.
Tour the Distillery District
Sure, it’s touristy, but you can’t beat this historic district, located just southeast of the downtown core, for old-world atmosphere. Once the site of the world’s largest whiskey distillery, this cobblestone-paved neighborhood still oozes Victorian industrial character—in fact, it’s served as a stand-in for old-timey London or New York in plenty of movies and TV shows. The streets are lined with shops and cafés; hunt for statement shoes at Canadian brand John Fluevog or dapper special-occasion looks at Gotstyle; grab a coffee at the stunning two-floor Balzac’s, and pick up artisanal chocolate at Soma. The Distillery also hosts Segway tours and is the site of a massively popular holiday market.