Like something straight out of The Jetsons, the futuristic CN Tower rises high above Toronto — dwarfing much of the city.
At close to 50 years old, the tower is no spring chicken. And while it lost its crown as the world’s tallest man-made structure long ago, its impressive nonetheless.
‘Impressive’ is a word one can also easily use to describe Toronto — Canada’s biggest city and economic powerhouse. Situated on the western shore of stunning Lake Ontario, here, Torontonians are taking care of business. Toronto is a brash, modern, and supremely confident metropolis, but it also has a disarmingly laid-back vibe. Plan a stay of at least four or five days to do it justice.
This Toronto city guide is packed with ideas for things to see and do. Enjoy your visit.
Watch our video of ten top things to do in Eastern Canada:
Welcome to Top Oz Tours’ YouTube Channel! In this episode of our online travel series, we bring you ten amazing things to do on a road trip through Eastern Canada from Toronto in Ontario to Quebec City in the province of Quebec.
Top cultural activities in Toronto
As Toronto’s most recognisable landmark, the CN Tower is a good place to start your visit and get your bearings.
At 553 metres straight up, the views from the observation deck of the surrounding city and water are incredible. Take things a step further on Edge Walk — the world’s highest hands-free walk, which will see you edging your way around the outside of the tower on a 1.5-metre-wide ledge. For most visitors, just inching your way across the glass floor tiles inside will be challenge enough!
Feet firmly back on the ground, spend some time getting to know Toronto’s city centre. The waterfront — which languished in the shadow of the Gardiner Expressway for decades — is now firmly on the road to regeneration. Check out the Harbourfront Centre — a mixed use precinct that hosts an array of cultural attractions, cafes, and restaurants (refer to their website for free events happening during your visit).
Toronto has some 70 museums and galleries. If you only have time for one option, make it the esteemed Art Gallery of Ontario. It’s one of North America’s finest art collections, with more than 90,000 pieces. Canadian contemporary art is well represented with mediums including painting, sculpture, photography, film and video.
Toronto for history lovers
A wealth of 19th century architecture brings the past to life in the streets of Toronto’s old centre.
Visit the site of the first Parliament of Upper Canada and the Saint-Laurent neighbourhood, which dates back to the late 1700s. Historic St James Park is a lovely spot to relax with a takeaway coffee and snack.
A few blocks west, opposite Union railway station, stands the regal Fairmont Royal York. This was the largest hotel in the British Empire when it opened in 1929. The Royal York has undergone an extensive renovation over the past few years and remains part of the enduring legacy of the Canadian Pacific Railway, which constructed a string of these opulent railway hotels across the country around the turn of the 20th century. The hotel’s traditional high tea is a wonderful way to while away a weekend afternoon.
Across town, the incongruity of Casa Loma makes it an intriguing history lesson. The folly of once wealthy man-about-town Sir Henry Pellat, this mock medieval dream home was built for Lady Pellat in the early 1900s. Sir Henry later faced financial ruin and the castle was turned over to the city. Today, it’s a fascinating step back in time.
Great places to eat in Toronto
As you would expect, Toronto has hundreds of amazing eateries.
High on the 54th floor of the Toronto-Dominion Centre, the super swanky Canoe is a top option if you want to push the canoe out on something special. Try the Taste Acadia eight-course tasting menu, which pays tribute to one of the original colonies of New France — Acadia — which was established in the 1600s. Each dish has its origins in the foods eaten at that time.
When it’s time to get caffeinated, skip the ubiquitous chain stores dotted across the city. There are better options, and Jimmy’s Coffee is one of them. Enjoy the eclectic surroundings and exhibitions by local artists. Dineen Coffee Co is another firm favourite. It’s located in the historic Dineen Building on the corner of Yonge and Temperance in Downtown (one of the oldest buildings in the city).
Where to shop in Toronto
The giant Toronto Eaton Centre covers all retail bases.
Here you’ll find the full gamut of international fashion labels, along with plenty of local designers to keep things interesting.
Adventurous shoppers should head out and explore some of the small neighbourhoods that surround the city centre. Each offers its own distinctive flavour and a unique dose of retail therapy to match. With its funky bookshops, offbeat boutiques and colourful buskers, Kensington Market is a fun option.
Ways to relax in Toronto
A sightseeing cruise on Lake Ontario is a great way to relax, and get a different perspective of the city in the process.
Try Toronto Harbour Tours, which has cruises departing from the waterfront hourly across the day. You’ll take in the soaring city skyline and Toronto Islands (which form the harbour). Cruises include commentary and are 50 minutes well spent.
For a cruise of a slightly different kind, you can’t come all the way to Toronto without getting up close and personal with Niagara Falls. The sheer number of tourists that visit the falls is staggering — some fourteen million a year. Book a day tour that includes your cruise tickets with Niagara City Cruises for the 20-minute ride out to the thundering falls and back.
Each boat is jam-packed with camera-clicking tourists, all wearing standard issue red rain ponchos that are provided as part of the ticket price. Trust me, they come in very handy!
Top Oz Tours offers a great range of Canada day tours, guided experiences, and attraction tickets and passes. There are no booking or credit card fees when you book through us, and you'll have access to the widest range of activities at the best possible prices.
Do you have any tips to add to our Toronto city guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of Top Oz Tours and Travel Ideas, and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger, and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa, and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.