A comprehensive Toronto city guide to ensure you get a true taste of the city. After living in Toronto for well over a year I have experienced the city as a tourist and as a local, I have eaten at most of the hotspots, found those hidden gems, got lost, found my way again and visited all the major attractions. I can honestly share with you, my opinion on what are the absolute must see and do’s, what’s worth the time and money and what you can choose to skip.
Toronto City Guide
Where to Eat
The city’s diversity is most evident in the abundance of quality and authentic cuisine representing just about every corner of the globe. From fine dining to food trucks, Toronto has you covered with over 8000 restaurants there is a place for every budget, occasion and craving. Have a look at a previous post that I recently published on my favourite places to eat in downtown Toronto.
Treat Yourself Eats
If you are looking to treat yourself to a special meal in Toronto that will leave you with lifelong mouthwatering memories book a table at Patria which serves up Spanish-inspired cuisine, with dishes made to share. And Lee’s Restaurant has the most incredible menu of Asian fusion food, their speciality the Singapore Slaw is a must try. Ensure you make a reservation well in advance in order to snag a table.
Brunch is a Must
To get the true taste of Toronto, you need to join a lineup and queue for weekend brunch. Whether it’s a tiny hole in the wall, a diner or a Parisian cafe there is an endless list of great brunch spots in Toronto. A few locals favourites include; Thompsons Diner a modern diner open pretty much around the clock which has a menu filled with comforting food from Buttermilk fried chicken and waffles, poutine and burgers. When people are more than happy to line up for an hour and a half for a table at Mildred’s Temple Kitchen you better believe the wait is worth it. Known for their delicious Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes at brunch and their otherwise very creative menu filled with fresh interesting flavour combinations.
Where to Shop
Queen Street West
Take a stroll down the Fashion District, the stretch of Queen street West between Bathurst and Spadina Ave is lined with boutiques, thrift shops and one of a kind stores. If you keep strolling east you will hit the urban mall that is Eaton Shopping Centre, which includes the huge department stores Hudson Bay, Saks Fifth Ave and Nordstrom.
Known as the Mink Mile this cute little shopping district’s streets are lined with all the high-end designer stores, jewellers and fancy-schmancy boutiques. If you are looking to drop some serious cash or really do some major window shopping and wishful thinking, stroll the streets of Bloor Yorkville.
If the weather outside is a little unbearable, head underground into the PATH. Toronto’s underground pathway system is ultimately a giant mall. It is a cool place to wander around, as it is like its own elite city. Although mainly lined with the chain stores, there are a few cute boutiques and great deli’s to grab a snack. Note: the PATH is only open during business hours.
What to See
Beyond the mandatory sights like the CN Tower (from the outside), Old City Hall and the Toronto Sign – all of which you are likely to stumble upon via exploring the city, set aside time in your itinerary to see and experience these few iconic attractions.
Most likely the very first thing you will see when you arrive is the iconic CN Tower. If you are considering going up, rather book a lunch or dinner at the 360 Degree Restaurant at the top of the CN Tower. At first glance, the cost of the 3-course set menu may seem steep but it also includes a ticket to the observation decks. The overall fine dining affair with the ever-changing view is by far a more memorable way to experience the top of the CN Tower.
Chinatown and Kensington Market
Heading north along Spadina Ave take a detour off into Graffiti alley, a kilometre long side alley decorated with astounding ever-changing urban art.
Continue up through Chinatown a bustling authentic area to walk about, do a spot of affordable shopping and people watching.
Conclude at Kensington Market situated behind Chinatown (Dundas W and Spadina Ave). Not a market in the true sense of the word but more of a neighbourhood made up of vibrant streets, one of a kind boutiques and loads of really good and quirky eateries.
Is a pedestrian only village with cobbled streets and an array of great restaurants, galleries and boutiques (it’s another great shopping district).
If you find yourself in the city during the festive season the Toronto Christmas Market is a wonderful way to ignite the holiday festivities – come hungry as there are loads of stalls to grab nibbles.
The Harbourfront – with the contrast of the concrete jungle running right along the shoreline of Lake Ontario this is a lively stretch of the city to take an afternoon stroll and see the city’s contrast.
Toronto Islands – A quick 15 minute ferry ride across the lake gets you to the ultimate city park. A place to take time, spend a day at the beach, picnic under a tree, cycle and walk around. The Islands is also the place to capture the perfect shot of the Toronto skyline.
Don Valley Brick Works – At the bottom of the Don Valley lies a former brick quarry. This once industrial site remains intact, the old factory equipment and machinery as it was but now surrounded by a nature sanctuary. Making this another beautiful juxtaposition of Toronto, the old and the new blended together in nature. This site is a hive of activities with various markets and events year round. As well as being a fascinating place to take a stroll.
Can you really say you have experienced Canada if you haven’t seen a hockey game? Skip the Hockey Hall of Fame and rather see a live game. They are fast pasted, brutal and even as a city girl that knows nothing about sports I enjoyed watching a hockey game. You really don’t have to fork out hundreds for a coveted Maple Leafs game at the Air Canada Centre.
- Check out some of Toronto’s Photography Hotspots
- Hidden Gems in Toronto – lesser known tourist spots
Don’t Feel Guilty if you Miss
St Lawrence Market: Basically a grocery store and farmers market in a historic building. But if you are not vegetarian and love your bacon consider popping in for the world famous peameal bacon sandwich.
Ripley’s Aquarium: Although a rather impressive aquarium in the heart of downtown, I feel it was designed purely as a children’s attraction. Go if you have children as it’s filled with interactive displays and learning activities.
Casa Loma: This once stately home will cost you a pretty penny to take a self-guided tour and honestly the cost doesn’t feel justified. If you find yourself in the neighbourhood it’s worth driving by and seeing from the outside (which won’t cost you a cent). The inside exhibits and many rooms are not nearly as impressive as the outside.
How to Get Around
Toronto is a very walkable city and so the best way to see and experience the city is by foot.
For those slightly further sights, the Toronto Transit System (TTC) will have you covered. The simple subway, streetcar and bus system is easy to understand and use. You can pay by cash or purchase tokens from a subway station, just make sure you grab a transfer receipt as this allows you to hop between the various modes of transport on a single journey.
Otherwise taxi’s and Uber are always an option.
An inexpensive way to take short bike trips across the city. Purchase a day pass for $7 which allows you to take a bike on a 30 minute ride and return it to any station across the city. To avoid incurring extra usage costs, return the bike to a station every 30 minutes and simply grab another bike and continue on your journey.
note: for day passes a deposit of $101 is held on your card in case any extra usage costs are incurred – this is refunded within 2 days. So ensure you have sufficient funds available.
Escape the City
Blue Mountain Resort – For the adventurous, there is Blue Mountain. A 2.5 hour drive from the city gets you to a resort packed with outdoor activities all year round. Come winter it is the place to go to get in a few ski runs and summer time the resort is a scenic escape to go mountain biking, hiking and golfing.
Niagara Falls – One of the most famous waterfalls in the world and a mere 2 hours drive from the city makes this an easy day trip from Toronto. For a truly memorable experience rent a bike and take a leisurely cycle along the Niagara Parkway through the many vineyards to the quaint Victorian town of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Top Toronto Tips
- All prices exclude tax, you have to exercise your math skills and add 13% to menu prices, grocery store priced items, entrance fees etc.
- Generally tip between 15% – 20% on restaurant bills
- Staying in the downtown core will ensure you are walking distance from almost anything you want to see as well as being in the heart of the transit system makes getting around easier