Last updated: March 20th, 2020
As Canada’s biggest city, there’s no shortage of things to do in Toronto. Whether you’re looking for world-class museums, fun attractions, lively neighbourhoods, or major league sports, Toronto truly has something for everyone. It’s also one of the most multicultural cities in the world, which makes it a great place to experience a wide variety of cultures and food.
We’ve been to Toronto a number of times and are always excited to return. From the beautiful skyline featuring the CN Tower to the funky neighbourhoods like Kensington Market, Toronto is such a lively city to wander around. However, if it’s your first time, it might be overwhelming. There really is so much to do and so many Toronto attractions that there’s no way we could list everything in this article without boring you to death.
So, what we’re going to do is list out what we feel are the best places to visit in Toronto, especially if it’s your first or second visit. It’s unlikely you’d get through everything here on your first visit unless you’re staying for quite some time. Regardless of what you do, you’re bound to have a great time in Ontario’s capital.
What To Do in Toronto
Figuring out your itinerary for what to do during your visit to Toronto will consist of what you’re into. We’re going to give a broad overview below of some of the most popular things to see in Toronto.
Top Toronto Attractions
Peer Over Toronto from the CN Tower
As the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere, the CN Tower has become a true icon of both Toronto and of Canada in general. At 1,815 feet high, there’s no better place to get a birds-eye-view of this incredible city. Depending on the time you go, it could be quite busy, but this is the highest point you can go without taking a helicopter ride. You’ll be able to peer out through a 360-degree viewing area or even walk on the glass floor, looking down at the streets below. If there’s a baseball game happening during your visit, you can actually see the game from above! However, the players will look like little blue dots. There’s also a restaurant and for those wanting some thrills, the chance to try the EdgeWalk, which takes you outdoors to walk around the tower’s rim.
Tip: If you’re looking for a cold pilsner, walk from the CN Tower to Steam Whistle brewery, which is maybe 5-minutes away at most. Back in 2004, it was voted the best beer in Toronto and occupies the John Street Roundhouse building in Roundhouse Park, which was previously the home of the Canadian Pacific Railway steam locomotive repair facility. The brewery is inside a National Historic Site. That alone is worth the visit!
Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada
Located right next to the CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada houses 5.7 million litres (1.25 million gallons) of marine and freshwater habitats from across the world. In fact, you’ll find roughly 16,000 exotic sea and freshwater specimens, including sharks, jellyfish, stingrays, and more. It’s quite beautiful but to be honest, we don’t like aquariums all that much. We find them quite cruel and would much prefer to go scuba diving in the wild. However, we mention it because it is one of Toronto’s top attractions and is hopefully a way to educate people about the ocean.
Comprising approximately 287 hectares (710 acres), the Toronto Zoo is the largest Zoo in Canada. You’ll find more than 5,000 animals (including invertebrates and fish) from seven zoogeographic regions such as Indo-Malaya, Africa, Americas, Tundra Trek, Australasia, Eurasia, and the Canadian Domain. You’ll also find over 10 kilometres (six miles) of walking trails, as well as lots of things to do for kids, such as the Kids Zoo, Splash Island, and a two-acre water play area.
Ontario Science Centre
The Ontario Science Centre is a great place to visit if you want to combine hands-on experiences and engagement with the science of local, national, and global relevance. Young or old, visitors will find more than 500 interactive experiences spread out over eight exhibit halls, as well as watch films under Ontario’s only IMAX® Dome theatre or gazing up at the state-of-the-art planetarium. The Ontario Science Centre also features a real-life Rainforest, a Science Arcade, and a KidSpark discovery area, making this one of the top things to do in Toronto with kids.
It’s hard to believe that a big city like Toronto is home to one of Canada’s very few castles. Okay, maybe it’s not a “real castle”, but it certainly looks like one. It’s a Gothic Revival style mansion that was built back around 1911 by financier Sir Henry Pellatt. Not only is it quite close to downtown Toronto but it also offers a beautiful view of the city, including the CN Tower. It also houses a museum and has been a popular location for movies and television shows.
Toronto Eaton Centre
While we normally wouldn’t list a shopping centre as a top thing to do, the Toronto Eaton Centre has become a top Toronto attraction. In fact, we’ve heard that this shopping centre receives more visitors than any other attraction in the city. These stats include locals, but with almost 50,000,000 people visiting in 2015 alone, it’s easy to see why this number would be hard to match. Basically, if you want to shop, this is the place to go. Plus, right outside the doors, you’ll find Yonge-Dundas Square, which looks a bit like New York’s Times Square.
Historic Fort York
For a slice of military history, Fort York is the place for you. This historic site of military fortifications is just west of downtown Toronto was designated a National Historic Site back in 1923. It was built by the British Army and Canadian militia troops in the late 18th and 19th centuries to defend the area from the United States.
Now you’ll find Canada’s largest collection of original War of 1812 buildings, the 1813 battle site, and a variety of tours, exhibits, period settings, and demonstrations.
Toronto Islands and a Toronto Harbour Cruise
The best way to see Toronto’s stunning skyline is to go for a cruise along the harbour. However, this is also a great way to see the Toronto Islands, a chain of small islands in Lake Ontario that provides summer fun for locals and tourists alike. The islands host a variety of hiking trails, picnic areas, beaches, yacht clubs, and the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. You’ll also find Centreville Amusement Park and a variety of Toronto activities, all of which help to make this the largest urban car-free community in North America.
Please note: During our boat tour, we saw people throwing cigarette butts into the lake. This is despicable. Please do not litter in waterways and if you see people do it, call them out on it. Thanks.
Tip: If you decide to take the Double Decker Hop-on Hop-off Bus, it includes a FREE harbour and islands cruise.
uFly Flight Simulator
Although this attraction is in Mississauga, it’s too cool not to mention. If you’ve ever dreamed of flying a commercial airliner, you shouldn’t miss this opportunity. uFly’s B 777-200ER is one of the most sophisticated and realistic publicly available flight simulators in the world! This is about as real as it gets apart from actually flying a jet. Sitting next to you in a real pilot who will help you take off, fly, and land the jet in a variety of airports around the world.
Last but not least, one of Toronto’s top attractions is Canada’s Wonderland, which is located just outside Toronto in a suburb called Vaughan. As someone who loves rollercoasters, this is one of the best amusement parks in the world. At 330-acres, Canada’s Wonderland houses roughly 70 attractions, 17 of which are rollercoasters. The only amusement park in the world with more rollercoasters is Six Flags Magic Mountain. There’s also a 20-acre water park and a month-long “Canada Day” celebration called Celebration Canada. For those seeking thrills, our favourite rides are Leviathan, Behemoth, and the new Yukon Striker, which is the world’s tallest, fastest, and longest dive coaster.
Royal Ontario Museum
ROM is the largest museum in Canada and one of the largest in North America. It houses art, world culture, and natural history. With more than 6 million items spread out over 40 galleries, you’ll need a whole day if you’re looking to truly experience the entire museum. Of course, you could just spend a few hours enjoying a couple of their galleries as well. Some notable collections include dinosaurs, minerals, African art, European history, and Canadian history as well. It’s also Canada’s largest field-research institution.
Tip: You can save 20% off your admission by booking online with the Must Do Canada Saver Card, which is shipped to you for free.
Art Gallery of Ontario
This massive art museum consists of 480,000 square feet of space, housing around 95,000 works spanning the first century to the present day. It’s one of the largest galleries in North America, including significant collections of Canadian art, art from the Renaissance and the Baroque eras, European art, African art, and a vast modern and contemporary collection. You’ll also find photography, sculptures, and other kinds of art such as miniatures, frames, books, film and video art, installations, architecture, and more.
You’ll also find a restaurant, café, espresso bar, research centre, event space, a Gehry-designed gift shop, and even a Hand-On Centre where you can play around with art yourself. The Art Gallery of Ontario is the second most visited museum after Toronto’s ROM.
Hockey Hall of Fame
As someone who grew up playing hockey in Northern Alberta, I was so impressed when I first visited the Hockey Hall of Fame. The beautiful building houses exhibits featuring players, teams, NHL records, memorabilia, and even trophies, including a replica of the Stanley Cup. There are even some interactive games where you can shoot pucks and play some games. Anyone not interested in hockey may not want to visit, but for those who love the winter sport, you will not want to miss this truly unique museum.
Other museums that might interest you include the Bata Shoe Museum, Textile Museum of Canada, Aga Khan Museum, Gardiner Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Food, Culture, and Neighborhoods
Named the world’s best food market by National Geographic back in 2012, you know what to go here for. Located in the Old Town district of Toronto, the St. Lawrence Market provides a glimpse into the cities history while offering a variety of ways to tantalize your taste buds. You’ll find food stalls, restaurants, and a farmer’s market selling fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses. You’ll also find Toronto’s official bacon sandwich. In addition to delicious foods, you’ll find arts and craft vendors, as well as the Market Gallery, which offers changing exhibitions dedicated to Toronto’s history, arts, and culture.
Tip: We recommend taking the Bruce Bell Historical Walking Tour. This is what helped to really make this area (and other areas around Toronto) come alive for us. After all, this is where Toronto got its start! Highly recommended!
Old Town and the Distillery District
Located not too far from the St. Lawrence Market, the Distillery District is a historic neighborhood of Toronto that is now home to breweries, restaurants, bars, and shops. It’s extremely popular with tourists due to the beautiful brick buildings and facades. In fact, the 13-acre district has more than forty heritage buildings and comprises the largest collection of Victorian-era industrial architecture in North America. It was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1988.
Unlike the St. Lawrence Market, which is housed inside of a building, Kensington Market is a multicultural neighborhood and of the city’s most well-known. The neighborhood, which also has a partly covered outdoor market is one of the most photographed sites in Toronto. Most of the neighborhood’s eclectic shops, cafes, and other attractions are located along Augusta Ave., Nassau St., Baldwin St., and Kensington Ave. Aside from delicious restaurants and unique shopping, you never know what you’ll find. On our last visit, I saw a man carrying a slaughtered goat into a restaurant. I don’t think you’d see that anywhere else.
Tip: Take a food tour. There are a variety of food tours in Toronto but the only one we’ve experienced so far is Tasty Tours and it was a great way to get introduced to not only some unique spots but the owners behind them. You can get a taste for the tour in our Best Things to Do in Ontario video.
West Queen West
When Vogue magazine claims a neighborhood to be the second coolest neighborhood in the world, you know it’s worth checking out. Here you’ll find a vibrant mix of local shops and boutiques, bars, art galleries, restaurants, and cafes.
Where to Go in Toronto
As you can see, there’s no shortage of fun things to do in Toronto. Whether you’re visiting for the first time or simply looking for things to do in Toronto this weekend, the only way to be bored in “The Six” is to stay home and do nothing.
If you do plan on visiting many Toronto tourist attractions, you can walk, take the bus, or hop on the metro. However, we do find another good option is the Double Decker Bus Toronto sightseeing tour. It’s hop-on-hop-off and includes 2 days for $40. Plus, you can a harbour and islands cruise. It’s certainly much more expensive than the metro, but it’s ultra-convenient and gives you an audio tour along the way.
While many of the attractions above are great, one of our favourite free things to do in Toronto is to just walk around the incredible lively neighborhoods and districts. That’s one of the best parts about bring in a big city. There are so many people. So many cultures. So, whether you’re into shopping, museums, or bar-hopping, make sure you take some time to go for a walk.
Where to Stay
Just like attractions and restaurants, there’s an incredible amount of places to stay in Toronto. We’ve stayed at both Bed & Breakfasts as well as beautiful hotels. All of them are great and have their pro’s and con’s. Below are some options:
Baldwin Village Inn Bed and Breakfast: During our 150-day Canada Road Trip back in 2017, we stayed here and loved it. It’s in an incredible location, has spacious rooms, and comes with a delicious continental breakfast. Plus, the owner was a great guy full of stories about the city. Perhaps the only con was the shared bathrooms, but if you’re looking for a beautiful place on a budget, Baldwin Village Inn is a great option.
Hilton Toronto: During our last visit to Toronto, we stayed at the Hilton Toronto, where they put us on the 29th floor with views of the CN Tower from our bedroom. Obviously, the room and hotel are beautiful and the breakfast was pretty good as well. One morning we even had scrambled eggs with smoked salmon. It’s also in a great location, which is just a 10-minute walk from the CN Tower and the Toronto Eaton Centre.
Making Waves Boatel: Want to stay in an ultra-unique bed and breakfast? Well, look no further. This is the only “boatel” in the city. With Making Waves Boatel, you can stay on a yacht right down in the Toronto harbour, walking distance to the CN Tower. How cool is that? Plus, if you grab our Canada Saver Card, you can save 10% on your accommodation!
What do you think? Have you been to Toronto? What would you add?
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