Toronto doesn’t always get the shine it deserves as a travel destination, does it? Sure, it doesn’t have rocky mountain vistas like Vancouver, or Montreal’s laissez-faire vibe, but being Canada’s biggest city does come with its perks – all of which are waiting to be discovered by you!
Toronto is a young city, always changing and growing, and incredibly multicultural – it’s said that almost every language in the world is spoken here. So, while you’re not going to see a lot of temples and ruins in Toronto, what you will you’ll find between the glass towers and shady side streets is a progressive, dynamic and welcoming city that’ll make you feel like a local the minute you touch down.
There is so much to explore here: a vibrant art scene, incredible dining options for all budgets, great bars and nightlife, cultural enclaves from every corner of the earth, beautiful parks and beaches, and more. You might even spy a celebrity at the next table over, in town filming a movie; I once looked up from my desk and saw Drake shooting his Views album cover on the balcony across from me, which is the kind of peak-Toronto moment that will make you fall in love with this city. So, whether you only have 24 hours in Toronto, or you’re planning a few days of Toronto travel, read on to find something you’ll love here in Hogtown.
Top Things to Do in Toronto
This is one of Toronto’s most popular tourist destinations, so you’re bound to run into lines here. However, you really can’t beat the view from the top, and the CN Tower’s glass floor makes a perfect photo op. Make a sunset visit to avoid the bigger tour groups, and watch the city lights come alive from above.
Here is another top tip, there are some great Toronto Homestays and Airbnbs that offer great view of the CNN tower – happy searching!
2. Stroll down Queen West
Queen West – once called the world’s second coolest neighbourhood by Vogue magazine – is a must-visit if you love cafes, unique shopping, great bars, and excellent people-watching. Start at Queen and University, and work your way west! For bargains on pitchers and a guaranteed seat on the patio, stop by Queen West staple Java House. Keep walking until you hit Parkdale, an endearingly weird Toronto neighbourhood that’s full of cheap and cheerful Tibetan momo spots, among other things.
- West-end fave Superpoint Pizza on Ossington Avenue (and definitely get the spicy Hawaiian)
- Local watering hole Get Well – it has a pizzeria window and arcade games in the back, too.
- Stop by Okey Doke Tattoo Shop for walk-in Sundays and get tatted like national treasure Matty Matheson.
Casa Loma is a stunning castle nestled in midtown Toronto available to explore year round on all kinds of Toronto highlight tours. There’s lots of seasonal activities, too: jazz on the sprawling gardens in the summer, a haunted house in the castles’ basement tunnels for Halloween, and an escape room that’s perfect for a cold winter day.
4. Chill out in Kensington Market
Kensie is high on the list of quirky and unique things to do in Toronto – there’s nowhere in the city like it. This area has been home to many immigrant groups as well as the heart of the city’s counter-culture community, and has a laid-back, everyday-is-Sunday vibe. Come hungry, because there is no shortage of deliciousness to be discovered on the cheap here and in neighbouring Chinatown. From spring to (Canadian) Thanksgiving, Pedestrian Sundays take over on the last Sunday of every month, closing the area to cars and filling it with street vendors, performers, and extended patios.
A must-stop for foodies, St. Lawrence Market has a little bit of everything! Pick up in-season fruits and veggies, local meats, cheeses, pastries, and more, or leave it to an expert with a St. Lawrence Market Food Tour. Bonus: stop by on a Sunday to sift through the weekly antique market.
This series of 13 islands is home to leafy parks and sandy beaches, and the ferry over will only set you back $7CAD round trip. The party beach is Hanlan’s Point (clothing optional!), but Ward’s Island is also a great choice. After a day in the lake, stick around for a sunset canoe tour and grab a twinkly photo of the skyline.
The Royal Ontario Museum has something for everyone – dinosaurs, mummies, a locally-famous and mildly unsettling bat cave, and my personal favorite, the Earth’s Treasures crystal room. Grab a regular admission ticket here, or check out their Friday Night Live events if you want to explore the museum with a beer in hand.
Toronto is actually home to two Chinatowns, but you’ll most likely be close to the Spadina Avenue one – it’s nestled right beside Queen West and Kensington Market. This is the place to go for cheap eats – the local favorites are Rol San for dim sum, Mother’s Dumplings, or Pho Pasteur for enormous bowls of pho available 24/7. Or, get a taste for the whole neighborhood with this walking tour of Chinatown and Kensington Market.
Unusual Things to Do in Toronto
For fashion and history fans, check out the Bata Shoe Museum, which is exactly what it sounds like. Located steps from the subway and the Royal Ontario Museum, Bata explores 4500 years of footwear history. Grab a ticket here.
10. Stop by a Dispensary
Cannabis is legal in Canada, though the way you purchase it varies province by province. In Ontario, you’ll need to head to a dispensary – there are 5 legal dispensaries in Toronto, mostly in the downtown core, and all stocked with high-quality, highly-regulated cannabis products. Make sure to bring your passport, because you need to be 19 or over to enter, and bare in mind you can’t bring it with you on a flight out of Canada.
Safety in Toronto
Toronto is one of the world’s safest cities, which makes it safe for tourists and locals alike. Of course, some neighbourhoods are safer than others, but seedier spots are few and far between and as a tourist you’re unlikely to end up there. Want to add to your peace of mind? Have a look at the Toronto Safety Guide before you fly and always get travel insurance. Check out our roundup of the best travel insurance.
You should always have emergency cash hidden on you - pick up this awesome security belt with its hidden pocket before you travel, it's perfect for hiding money, a passport photocopy.
Things to Do in Toronto at Night
11. Sip through a Craft Brewery Tour
Toronto has no shortage of innovative breweries, from the big staples like Mill Street and Steamwhistle to micro-breweries like Bandit Brewery, Kensington Brewing Co, or Left Field Brewing.
12. Watch a night of drag in the Gay Village
Toronto’s Church and Wellesley village remains an important area for Toronto’s LGBTQ+ community, and the best time to go is at night. If you’re not here during Pride Weekend, you’ll still find drag shows up and down the strip (as well as pretty much any other vibe you can think of). Your best bet for an amazing show and dance party all year ’round is at Cruise and Tangos.
13. See the next big thing at TIFF Bell Lightbox
This theatre is central to the Toronto International Film Festival in the fall, but film buffs can find great events and exhibits, classic and indie movies, artist panels and lots more at this downtown theatre all year round.
Where to Stay in Toronto
Looking for a specific place to stay? These are our highest recommendations for places to stay in Toronto.
Best Hostel in Toronto – Gosling’s Landing
This clean and sunny hostel is just on the edge of Kensington Market, which puts it in walking distance to tons of must-see spots and an easy TTC ride to everything else.View on HostelWorld
Best Airbnb in Toronto – Modern + Cozy Loft
Sure, there are a lot of glass-walled condos if you want a CN Tower view, but I’d go for this perfectly located attic suite in a classic Toronto Victorian home.View on Airbnb
Best Hotel in Toronto – The Rex Hotel Jazz & Blues Bar
The Rex is a Queen West staple! The rooms are no-frills, the jazz bar downstairs legitimately has something going on every night, and the location is perfect – highly walkable and close to the subway.View on Booking.com
Romantic Things to Do in Toronto
14. Stroll through the High Park Cherry Blossoms
Is there anything more romantic than walking through a lush park full of blooming cherry trees? High Park can make for a romantic day all year round, but early spring is the best time to see the blossoms in full bloom. Come early to avoid the crowds!
15. Get a table for two at Summerlicious
Toronto is home to some incredible restaurants, but they can be pricey! Luckily, Toronto’s two months-long festivals Summerlicious and Winterlicious offer steep discounts on prix-fix lunch and dinner menus all over the city, so you can try out some of Toronto’s best restaurants on the cheap. Treat yourself!
Artsy Things to Do in Toronto
This stunning, Chinatown-adjacent gallery has impressive in-house collections and frequently brings in high-profile temporary exhibits like Basquiat and Yayoi Kusama. General admission is free for everyone under 25, too! If you’re over 25, take advantage of free admission for all on Wednesday evenings after 5 or pick up a ticket here.
17. Walk down Graffiti Alley
Toronto has no shortage of murals and street art, but you’ll find some of the best photo ops in this alley that runs parallel to the famous Queen West. You’ll find every style of graffiti under the sun here, and a beautiful public garden in the middle if you want to take a break in the shade.
18. Stay up all night at Nuit Blanche
It may only be one night a year, but Nuit Blanche is a (free!) must-see for art lovers, where the entire city is taken over by outdoor art installations. Nuit Blanche runs all night, literally until the sun rises, so you can tackle Toronto’s highly walkable downtown core one piece at a time – the later at night you start, the less crowds you’ll be fighting with.
Do You Need Travel Insurance?
Don’t forget to sort your travel insurance! We’ve put together a roundup of the best travel insurance for backpackers, or if you’re low on time, get a quote from World Nomads now, our favorite travel insurance provider.
Getting an estimate from World Nomads is simple – just click the button or image below, fill out the necessary info, and you’re on your way!
Free Things to Do in Toronto
19. Set up a picnic in Trinity Bellwoods Park
This huge park on Queen West is the place to be on a summer Saturday afternoon. Grab coffee and croissants at the White Squirrel – named after the locally famous squirrels only found in Bellwoods – then find a sunny patch of grass to watch pickup games, drum circles, and all the french bulldogs you can handle.
20. Unwind at Allen Gardens
A short walk from Yonge-Dundas Square is Allen Gardens, a huge, stunning 150-year-old greenhouse that’s easy to get lost in: cacti, succulents, orchids, tropical plants, a family of turtles and ten-foot banana trees await you in this true urban oasis.
Toronto Packing List
1. Travel Water Bottle: Always travel with a water bottle – it’ll save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. AR bottle are tough, lightweight and maintain the temperature of your beverage – so you can enjoy a cold red bull, or a hot coffee, no matter where you are. For every AR bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an initiative to reduce plastic in our oceans!
2. Microfibre Towel: It’s always worth packing a proper towel. Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.
3. Security Belt with Hidden Pocket: I never hit the road without my security belt. This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside – you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without it setting them off. This is hands down the best way to hide your cash.
4. Camera or Cell Phone Camera Accessories: One thing’s for sure – Toronto is a picturesque destination! Get perfect shots from your phone using clip-on-lenses with wide-angle, close-up and optical zoom. With the ability to turn travel pictures from basic to professional, this universal lens sits neatly over any phone camera and comes with a durable, travel-friendly case!
5. International Adapter: Toronto outlets accommodate typical US two-pronged plugs, but for electronics that have three prongs or if your plugs are of a different variety, you’ll need an adapter. Save yourself the hassle of trying to track down an adapter at your destination and paying twice as much than planning ahead by buying one online.
Books to Read While Traveling Canada
These are some of my favorite travel reads and books set in Canada, which you should consider picking up before you begin your backpacking adventure…
The Backpacker Bible – Get it for free! Learn how to ditch your desk and travel the world on just $10 a day whilst building a life of long-term travel with an online income. To inspire and help the next generation of Broke Backpackers, you can now grab ‘How to Travel the World on $10 a Day’ for free! Get your copy here.
The Handmaid’s Tale – An acclaimed novel that takes places in a futuristic and dystopian New England, written by Toronto local and national treasure Margaret Atwood.
Beautiful Losers – Musician/writer Leonard Cohen’s final novel. Highly controversial and very experimental in nature.
Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town – A series of short stories that take place in Mariposa, a fictional town set in Ontario.
Best Things to Do in Toronto with Kids
Located right beside the CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium is a perfect day for families. Check out sharks, fish, coral, jellyfish, and more – and finish off your tour meeting a few new friends in the stingray tank. Grab skip-the-line tickets here, or check out the aquarium after dark.
22. Ferry over to Centre Island
The Toronto Islands are actually a group of 13 small islands, but for those with kids, steer clear of popular Ward’s Island or Hanlan’s Point and head to Centre Island instead. There, you’ll find the Centreville amusement park, 4-person bike rentals to explore the island in style, a petting zoo, the Franklin Children’s Garden and lots of tranquil green space away from the city. Round out your day with a dip in Lake Ontario!
Right across from Union Station, the Hockey Hall of Fame is the best place to get up close and personal with Canada’s national pastime. Stop by on your own, or with a tour group!
24. Ride the coasters at Canada’s Wonderland
If your kids have outgrown Centre Island, head north to Canada’s Wonderland instead. Ride the country’s best coasters, grab a funnel cake, and enjoy.
Best Things to Do Near Toronto
25. Explore up-and-coming wine country in Prince Edward County
Prince Edward County might not be a day trip, but if you love wine and you have a little extra money to spend, skip the closer Niagara region and head to younger, cooler PEC instead. Here, you’ll find intimate and indie hotels, outposts of Toronto institutions like The Dakota Tavern and The Drake Hotel, and all the vino you can drink.
26. Get back to nature in Northern Ontario
Northern Ontario is home to some of the most beautiful wilderness in the world, so if you love the outdoors, it’s totally worth the few hours drive north from Toronto. Rent a cabin in Muskoka, or camp farther north in Algonquin Park, one of the most famous and picturesque national parks in Canada. Of course, summer is the best time to go to enjoy the lakes, but if you find yourself here in the fall, you’ll be rewarded with stunning foliage.
27. Go on spring break at Wasaga Beach
Wasaga Beach happens to be the longest freshwater beach in the world, which makes for a great party when the warm weather hits. Yes, the area has great hiking, camping and beautiful untouched nature preserves, but the biggest draw here is definitely the party atmosphere on the beach itself. If Canada had a Jersey Shore, this would be it.
Things to Do in Toronto in Winter
The Distillery District is worth a visit all year round – if you’re visiting in warmer months, check out this waking tour – but during the holidays, this area is transformed into a winter wonderland for the Toronto Christmas Market. If you’re visiting after the holidays, you’ll find the Toronto Light Festival, a free outdoor neon sculpture exhibit. Dress warmly!
29. Skate at Nathan Phillips Square
There are lots of public rinks in Toronto, but this is your best choice! This central square is located in front of Toronto’s iconic city hall building, the Insta-famous TORONTO sign, and in winter, a glittering skating rink open all day and into the night. This is a perfect date or group activity, especially topped off with a poutine from one of the nearby food trucks.
30. Bundle up at Winter Stations Woodbine Beach
Brave the cold like a real Canadian and check out this annual outdoor sculptural art installation all along Woodbine Beach, in a homey east-end neighbourhood called the Beaches.
Best Day Trips from Toronto
Niagara Falls is undoubtedly touristy, but the falls are pretty spectacular in person, and are totally doable in a day. Check out this Niagara Falls day trip from Toronto tour to get in on the action. Oh, and if you’re tempted to cross into the US while you’re there, resist – the view is much better from the Canadian side.
If you’d prefer to stay closer to Niagara Falls, check out these awesome lodges in Hamilton!
32. Unwind in a Blooming Lavender Field
There are few things more picturesque than a blooming lavender field, but you don’t need to wait until your next trip to France to see it, because Ontario is home to five open-to-the-public lavender fields. The most picturesque is Terre Bleu, about 60 minutes from Toronto. Head over on a weekday to save $5 on admission and have the fields to yourself.
This public park in Toronto’s most eastern borough is truly one-of-a-kind, with stunning cliffs that plunge into Lake Ontario. It makes a great trip for nature lovers, selfie seekers, and anyone looking to take a day out of the city. It’s even accessible by TTC, so you can do the whole thing for about $7 round trip. If you don’t have a day to spend in Scarborough, splurge and see the bluffs, and the rest of the iconic skyline, from above with this Toronto helicopter tour.
3 Day Toronto Itinerary
DAY 1 – Toronto as a Tourist
Today’s the day to do everything touristy, because Toronto’s most tourist-friendly attractions are mainly in walking distance of each other! First, grab some breakfast – if you’re staying at one of Kensington Market’s many hostels (including our recommended hostel!), K-OS Restaurant is affordable, has an awesome tree-covered patio, and free wifi.
Stop by Strange Love coffee on the way to the CN Tower – you’ll want to get there for the 11AM opening to avoid the crowds. When you’re done, have a beer in the shadow of the tower at Steamwhistle Brewery’s huge lawn patio.
The Hockey Hall of Fame and Ripley’s Aquarium are both nearby, but today you’re skipping those and walking 15 minutes east on Front Street, past the Flatiron Building, to St. Lawrence Market for lunch – check out this food tour if you’d like a helping hand! Then, head to the Distillery District for exploring, galleries, and more patios.
When you’re done, walk up to King East or Queen East and grab the westbound streetcar back to your accommodations. There is nightlife all over Toronto’s west end, but if you’re in the mood, head back east to the Village for a drag show and dance the night away!
DAY 2 – Walk Toronto’s coolest street
Lace up your shoes! Queen West is a day in itself, and will serve an easy artery to lead you to all of Toronto’s must-see neighbourhoods. Start your day at Hot Black Coffee at Queen and University, then walk west. Once you hit Spadina, hang a right (north!) into Chinatown – if your hangover is setting in, stop in at Rol San for soul-healing dim sum or hit the neighborhood highlights on this food tour. The Art Gallery of Ontario is only a block east, too!
Once you’re done here, walk into Kensington Market and spend a few hours flipping through racks of vintage clothes, sipping small-batch beer at Kensington Brewing Co, or pick up some fruit from a stand and people-watch in Bellevue Park.
If you still have time to burn, walk south down Denison Avenue to Queen West and keep walking or jump on the streetcar – you’ll go through West Queen West and into Parkdale, which is a great spot to grab dinner and drinks. If you’re cruising through on a Sunday, the Tennessee Tavern has AYCE pierogies for $5.
DAY 3 – Relax on Toronto Island
After all that walking, take a day to chill on Toronto Island. Hanlan’s Point is the place for partying and people watching, but if you’re not up for a clothing-optional beach, Ward’s Island is a great option too. Pro-tip: grab a water taxi from Tiki Taxi at Spadina Avenue and Lakeshore Boulevard – it’s $3 more than the ferry, but it’s way faster, easier, and you can take the ferry back for free when you’re done. Better views, too! Note that the island doesn’t have a ton of food and drink options, so you’ll want to bring whatever you want with you. If you’re heading over later in the day, this sunset tour will give you a stunning skyline view.
When you’ve had all the sun and sand you can handle, it’s time for your last dinner in the city. If you have a bit more cash to spend, PAI is Toronto’s favorite Thai restaurant – get the red curry served in a coconut. If you’ve blown all your cash by now, head to Sneaky Dee’s for their infamous nachos and discount pitchers, then take a walk through fairy-light filled Little Italy.
More Great Resources
So there you have it – whether you’re in Toronto on an airport stopover, swinging by on your way to explore the Muskokas and the rest of Northern Ontario, or you’re looking to really get a feel for the city (just don’t call it the 6!), you’ll find there’s always something worth exploring here.
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