Whether you’re at the top of the CN Tower, taking in a performance at the National Ballet of Canada, strolling through the Distillery District or worshiping at the great altar of Canada’s national sport at the Hockey Hall of Fame (while quietly weeping for the Toronto Maple Leafs), there are loads of things to do in Toronto.
The capital of Ontario, Toronto is the most populous city in Canada and its diverse population – half of which was born outside the country – ensure the city enjoys some of the best eating and drinking in the country, along with perhaps the most vibrant cultural outlook on the North American continent. But don’t stop at the CN Tower: there’s more to discover if you dig a little deeper… And we’re not just talking about the mayor.
But don’t expect non-stop tourist attractions. Instead, slow down and stroll through the neighbourhoods, soaking up the different cultures that have made their mark on Toronto. Kensington Market is a good place to start: this bustling, bohemian neighbourhood is where successive waves of new Canadians have forged their way and given colour to the cityscape. The Annex, Chinatown, Greektown, Cabbagetown, the Beach and Yorkville are other characterful districts that are worth a ramble. For inconspicuous consumption, veer away from the mainstream towards Toronto’s quirkier streets – West Queen West, the Danforth, College Street – where individuality comes across in unique shops and places to eat.
Essential Toronto attractions
A great way to find things to do in Toronto is to head out on one of the many walking tours offered throughout the year: the City of Toronto sponsors themed Discovery Walks around the city and there are free heritage walks of various neighbourhoods put on by Heritage Toronto. But if the gritty underbelly is what you seek, look no further than the Haunted Walk.
Toronto may be young compared to European cities, but over its more than 300 years of history it has managed to accumulate its share of spooky stories and gory facts. These guided storytelling tours take you from the old military town of York and haunted theatres to public hangings, hidden graveyards and more.
Looking for some green spaces? Do like the locals and escape the downtown hustle for one of Toronto’s many parks and lakeside beaches – High Park is a local favourite, especially when the cherry trees burst into bloom each spring across its 399 acres in the middle of the city. Or check out one of the nearby islands. A short ferry ride from the Toronto Ferry Docks gets you to Centre Island, where you can rent bicycles, explore the shrubbery maze, go on canoeing and kayaking excursions or try your hand at a round of mini golf at the Centreville Amusement Park. Or, for the SpongeBob NoPants amongst us, check out the clothing-optional beach at Hanlan’s Point.
But if you’re looking for a more clothed and city-centric experience, explore the many diverse neighbourhoods that make this one of Canada’s greatest cities! You can wander through the student-friendly area around the University of Toronto known as the Annex, before striking out for trendier climes at Yonge and Eglinton – otherwise known as ‘Young and Eligible’, for its twenty-something demographic haunting the trendy cafés and lounges. Or check out one of the largest Chinatowns in North America between Dundas Street West and Spadina Avenue – home of great dim sum and bubble tea – before shopping for saris at the Gerrard India Bazaar (otherwise known as Little India) along Gerrard Street East. And if you happen to visit during Pride Week, you can’t miss Church Wellesley Village, the original Toronto Gaybourhood that stretches along Church Street to Carlton and Bloor. The annual Pride week is one of the biggest in the world, but the neighbourhood hops all year long with colourful restaurants, bars, theatres and shops.
A visit to Toronto wouldn’t be complete without checking out Kensington Market – a weird and wonderful mix of bohemian restaurants, vintage shops, record stores, cafés and pubs squeezed between College Street, Spadina Avenue, Dundas Street West and Bathurst Street (it was declared a National Historic Site of Canada in 2006). This is where you go if you want to experience Hungarian Thai fusion cuisine (seriously: The Hungary Thai Bar & Eatery is strangely delectable), funky bookstores, counter-culture performance spaces and more. During the summer months, the market becomes foot-friendly as part of Pedestrian Sundays, while every December the Kensington Market Winter Solstice Festival takes over, with a parade of giant puppets, fire breathers and musicians calculated to tempt the sun out of hiding (which is, now we think of it, a very Canadian thing to do). Year round, you can check out the Chiaroscuro Reading Series, where prominent science fiction and horror authors share their work on the second Tuesday of every month. Kensington is wonderfully bizarre, and is fighting to stay that way as gentrification breathes down its funky neck.
Sights and attractions details
Day trips from Toronto
Contrary to what many Torontonians may claim, there is in fact life further afield from the TDot. Black Creek Pioneer Village, located just outside Toronto, is a 19th-century village inhabited by costumed historical re-enactors that gives a valuable glimpse of Canadian life in the 1800s.
Also dive into Niagara Falls (not literally, we hope), which straddles the Canadian-American border around 90 minutes by car from Toronto.
750,000 gallons of water hurtle over the falls every second and we have it on good authority the view is better from the Canadian side. You can catch a glimpse from Table Rock at the top of the falls, a mere metre away from the edge of horseshoe falls, or head down an elevator through solid rock and experience the Journey Behind the Falls.