Toronto won my heart by storm. After spending a week road tripping around Ontario and immersing myself in nature and tranquility, Toronto was just the right combination of laid-back attitude and big city buzz for me. I explored the city with plenty of time at my hand and collected a list of 30 cool things to do in Toronto that will come in handy, whether you are looking for sites to see, activities to do, places to eat or where to stay. This Toronto city guide has it all!
For me the perfect way to explore a new city is to get as close to local life as possible. So when I had the opportunity to travel to Ontario in autumn 2016, I knew I didn’t just want to spend the typical two to three days in Toronto and race from sight to sight…
I wanted to experience what it felt like to live in Toronto, find my favourite coffee shop to work on my writing, discover neighbourhood restaurants and shops, roam the markets and vintage shops, and just generally find out what makes the city so fascinating. I ended up spending 10 days here and did all of those things – and more. Not all of the items on this list of things to do in Toronto are sights, some are outright random everyday things I did while I was pretending to be a local – but all are must do’s on your itinerary!
Also check out my 10-day Ontario road trip itinerary.
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Table of Contents
Sites & Attractions: Things to do in Toronto
1) Ride the elevator up to the top of CN Tower
CN Tower is a staggering 553.3 metres high and held the record for the tallest free-standing building until 2007. It is the ninth-tallest tower in the world and for CAD$38 you can get to the top of it!
The elevator takes you to two different view decks 342 and 346 metres high. On the lower deck you can walk across a glass ceiling – if you dare – and access an outdoor terrace. You can also book additional access to the tower’s SkyPod (at 447 metres) or an Edge Walk on top of the main pod of the tower at 356 metres.
CN Tower, 301 Front Street West, website
Getting there: Metro line 1 to St Andrew Station, Tram to Union Station
2) Do a free guided tour at the Royal Ontario Museum
I had not planned on visiting the Royal Ontario Museum on the same day as the shoe museum, but they are so close to one another, that it would have been a missed opportunity. The ROM offers a huge collection of art, world culture and natural history – there is definitely too much to see it all in just one visit.
After getting my ticket ($20) I did not even know where to begin – and that is when I noticed the museum guide waiting for people to join her free guided tour through one of the galleries in the museum. I was all in. Doing a random guided tour turned out a great idea – not only did I get an expert view on a gallery I might have not otherwise visited; but it also took the decision where to start from me. Tours are offered daily and many of them are free!
After the tour, I went on to check out the current temporary exhibition, which was dedicated to the glass artist Chihuly.
Royal Ontario Museum, 100 Queen’s Park, website
Getting there: Metro line 1 to Museum Station
3) Visit the Bata Shoe Museum
The Bata Shoe Museum is a unique and quirky museum experience – never had I thought I would learn about the evolution of shoes on a trip to Canada! The museum has several collections looking at the historical development of footwear – did you know heels were initially only worn by men?! – as well as traditional footwear used by first nation people around the world. I particularly enjoyed the temporary exhibition about traditional colouring techniques!
Bata Shoe Museum, 327 Bloor St W, website
Getting there: Metro line 1 or 2 to St George Station
4) Marvel at the architecture
I loved walking around different neighbourhoods of Toronto and just marvel at the architecture. The mix of commercial and residential buildings was something I had never seen quite like this before.
I would walk down a road of office towers made from glass and suddenly the next block would boast red-brick buildings filled with shops, nail salons and restaurants. Then, I’d turn one corner and stand in the middle of a long residential street lined with two-story family homes with front porches and small gardens.
It’s impossible to pinpoint exactly which areas and roads where my favourite, so just explore for yourself!
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5) Do a sunset cruise on the Tall Ship Kajama
When I visited Toronto in September 2016, Toronto Island had been flooded and my chances to see the famous skyline of the city from the water were close to zero. Then I found out about the tall ship Kajama and its sunset cruises.
The ship cruises the harbour of Toronto several times a day during the summer months (May to 1st October weekend). Cruises take 1.5 hours plus 30 minutes of boarding time and offer incredible views of the skyline, Toronto Island and Toronto City Airport. I highly recommend doing this cruise during sunset, as the sinking sun dips the city’s metallic towers into pink and orange golden hues. it was breathtaking!
I even saw a small plane land on the central landing strip of the City Airport – quite a surreal experience! There is a fully licensed bar on board the tall ship and food is served as well, making this the perfect dinner activity!
235 Queens Quay West, sunset cruise sails at 8 pm, website
Getting there: Tram to Queens Quay West at Harbourfront Centre
6) Join a free street art tour down Graffiti Alley
Street art in Toronto is an interesting topic – it’s illegal, and if your building gets sprayed and someone reports it, YOU have to pay for its removal. Hence, there are a lot of owners and businesses who give up their walls to be sprayed on for commissions as well as dedicated areas where graffitis are gathered in one place.
One of those is Graffiti Alley and I loved exploring it on a free guided tour! The tour lasts about 1.5 hours and includes not just the alley, but also lots of other colourful places, pieces of art and photo options in the area around Queen Street West.
Tour Guys FREE graffiti walking tour, meet outside the Black Bull Tavern at 298 Queen St. W, daily at 3.30 pm (May-Sept) website
7) Check out the festival calendar at the Harbourfront Centre
Festivals are a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture and at the Harbourfront Centre there is a different festival going on almost every weekend during the summer.
I was lucky enough to bump into a vegan festival organised by the local Vegetarian Society. I got to taste vegan foods from around the world, listened to inspiring talks about ethics and nutrition and listened to loads of live music while sitting among locals in the grass.
Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay W, Festival Calendar
Getting there: Tram to Queens Quay West at Harbourfront Centre
8) Catch a film at TIFF or at the TIFF Bell Lightbox cinema
The Toronto International Film Festival is one of the biggest audience festivals in the world, meaning that unlike Cannes, the public can attend hundreds of film screenings throughout the city during the festival.
I visited the city in September, giving me the chance to see fantastic festival films and feel the festival buzz around me, but even if you visit outside the festival period, you can catch great international arthouse films at the TIFF Bell Lightbox cinema in central Toronto!
Toronto International Film Festival, annually in September, website
TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema,350 King St W, website
Getting there: Metro to St Andrew Station, Tram to King St West at John St
9) Go hiking at Scarborough Bluffs
Scarborough Bluffs is an area in the east of Toronto’s waterfronmt with cliffs rising up to 90 metres above Lake Ontario. There are several parks on the Bluffs, but if you head to only one of them, let it be Bluffers Park. This park is the only one with access to the lake and a beach and of course beautiful views of the cliffs and the water beyond.
Bluffers Park, Scarborough, website,
Getting there: Tram to Eglinton GO Station and then buses 86 and 175.
10) Explore Toronto Islands by kayak or bike
Due to floods I did not actually go to Toronto Islands myself, but I hear it’s an amazing place to spend a day out away from the busy streets of the city. Take the ferry across and then decide whether you want to walk, bike or kayak around the islands – I know what I would do!
Kayaks and canoes can be rented at the Boat House, a 10-minute walk from the ferry dock on Centre Island. It’s best to come early to get first choice of available boats!
Toronto Islands, website
Getting there: Tram to Queens Quay Ferry Docks Terminal, Ferry: Centre Island Ferry
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11) Rent a stand-up paddle board at Woodbine Beach
Toronto has many beaches, but one of the best ones is Woodbine Beach. A long waterfront with fine sand, plenty of trees offering shade in the stretch of grass right behind it, plenty of cafes and restaurants nearby to escape the crowds.
I rented a stand-up paddle board from WSUP Toronto and paddled out onto Lake Ontario to get views of the city skyline in the distance. If you’ve never tried stand-up paddling before, you can also book lessons, or join a SUP yoga class!
Woodbine Beach, website
Getting there: Tram line 501 to Queen St East at Wineva Ave
Local neighbourhoods in Toronto
12) Explore the lanes of Kensington Market
At Kensington Market near Spadina Avenue, there is a lot to do and see. Cool cafes, bars and restaurants line every corner and lane of the neighbourhood. Design shops fulfill your wildest interior and stationary dreams. Juice bars are even greener by also selling plants and succulents. Many bars have free live music and you’ll find pop-ups in many of the back alleys or courtyards off the main streets. I could have browsed the lanes of the market forever!
Kensington Market, Augusta Ave & surroundings, website
Getting there: Tram stations around Spadina Ave, Dundas St W and College St
13) Ride a bicycle down Landsdowne Avenue
I lived near Landsdowne Avenue in Toronto and loved nothing more than riding my bike down this street and exploring the neighbourhood. From Corso Italia to West Queen West, Landsdowne connects some of Toronto’s coolest districts and with every large intersection a new adventure begins! I found the road lovely to cycle, because traffic was not too bad, and there were plenty of other cyclists on the street.
My holiday rental came with a bike (more below), but there are many places in Toronto where you can hire bikes. There is also a local city bike scheme, called Bike Share Toronto.
14) Explore the Junction neighbourhood
The Junction is a neighbourhood in west Toronto near the intersection of Dundas St W and Dupont St. The main street of the neighbourhood is Dundas St W and there are many cool coffee shops, restaurants and takeaways, interior shops, artist & designer studios, galleries and antique shops – it’s been named one of Toronto’s coolest neighbourhoods!
Getting there: Metro to Dundas West Station, bus 40 stops along Dundas St W, website
15) People watch on public transport
You got me – this is not a neighbourhood – but the ideal way to discover new neighbourhoods and move around the city like a local. The Metro in Toronto is very handy and connects the most essential city centre destinations interesting for tourists.
However, I loved to getting on a random bus or tram and riding it along with the locals. I’d people watch inside the carriage and outside on the streets, got off in neighbourhoods that looked interesting and discovered some real gems along the way!
Using public transport in Toronto is easy. On buses and trams you require exact cash to pay for your ticket and there are ticket machines at metro stations where you can use your card. The easiest option is to buy and top-up a PRESTO card and go cash-free. For transfers make sure to collect a transfer ticket from a dispenser near exits of metro stations.
16) Discover the historic Distillery District
Once the home of Gooderham & Worts Distillery, the Victorian industrial buildings of the Distillery District are now boasting a variety of restaurants, bars, art spaces and design shops. After being declared a heritage site, the buildings were carefully restored and populated with cutting-edge technology and design. It’s a real experience – historic and futuristic at the same time – and a must see on your trip to Toronto!
The Distillery District, website
Getting there: Tram 504 to Distillery Loop
17) Get your hipster on in West Queen West
If you are interested in alternative culture, you can’t leave Toronto without spending some time in West Queen West. This artsy neighbourhood in west Toronto is home to vintage shops (more below), restaurants, farm shops, trendy bars and boutique hotels – you could probably spend an entire holiday here, just exploring everything this place has to offer!
West Queen St W, website
Getting there: Tram 301 and 504 stop along West Queen St W
Restaurants, bars & cafes: Where to eat & drink in Toronto
18) People watch at I Deal Coffee
I Deal Coffee is a quirky little coffee house with mismatched furniture inside and out. I met an idol of mine here for an interview (not nervous at all) and thought it provided just the right kind of relaxed, but productive atmosphere for our conversation.
The cafe sits at the edge of Kensington Market and it’s a joy watching people come by on their way to work or looking for a quick caffeine fix. They roast their own beans, so the coffee here is very special!
I Deal Coffee, 84 Nassau Street, Mon-Sat 8 am – 7 pm, Opens 9 am on Sundays, website
Getting there: Trams 310 or 510 to Spadina Ave at Nassau St South Side
19) Spend a morning at Dark Horse Espresso Bar
I spent almost 10 days in Toronto, which meant I had time to create a little routine for myself as a freelance writer and traveler. I love going to coffee shops in the morning to get some work done and then explore new parts of the city in the afternoon.
Dark Horse Espresso Bar was a great place to work in – and I was certainly not the only one. There are a few small tables and bar places by the windows, but I preferred sitting at the large communal table in the middle, surrounded by other freelancers working away on their laptops.
Top tip: Make sure your laptop is fully charged as there are no sockets on/near the big table.
Dark Horse Espresso Bar, 215 Spadina Ave, Mon-Fri 7 am to 7 pm, Opens 8 am Saturdays and Sundays, website
Getting there: Trams 310 or 510 to Spadina Ave at Sullivan St North Side
20) Have brunch at Hello Darling
Among the many restaurants and coffee shops along Landsdowne Avenue, my two favourites were Starving Artist, which serve up fluffy breakfast waffles and Hello Darling which is just across the street. I had a fab salad bowl there and enjoyed sitting in the sun by the big windows.
Hello Darling, 827 Landsdowne Ave, Mon-Fri 9 am to 3 pm, Opens 10 am on Saturdays and Sundays, Closed on Tuesdays website
Starving Artist: the Landsdowne branch actually closed, but there are 6 more Starving Artist cafes around the city, website
Getting there: Metro line 2 to Landsdowne Station, Tram 47 to Lansdowne Ave at Wallace Ave
21) Have lunch at The Good Neighour in the Junction
The main reason why I ventured out into the Junction neighbourhood in the first place, was the reputation of the fantastic coffee shops and eateries in this area. I was not disappointed and if I had to choose my favourite, it would be The Good Neighbour Espresso Bar.
Located in a quiet residential side street in the neighbourhood it seems like it’s a local favourite among artists and families alike. I had a delicious sandwich for lunch and enjoyed people watching through the big windows facing towards the residential streets. An unexpected gem!
The Good Neighbour, 238 Annette St, Mon-Sun 7 am to 7 pm, website
Getting there: Metro line 2 to High Park Station
22) Taste the vegan pizza at Pizzaiola
My trip to Toronto came just as I was on the cusp of veganism – I was incredibly curious and ordered every vegan meal I could get my hands on. My first ever vegan pizza was a slice of Vittoria with the best tomato sauce ever, roasted peppers, tomatoes and marinated zucchini. Pizzas can be bought by the slice and there are loads of meaty, vegetarian and vegan options available. There are many Pizzaiola branches all over Toronto, but I tried the one in West Queen West.
Pizzaiola, 1172 Queen St W, Opens 11 am to 11 pm, open late Thursdays to Saturdays, website
Getting there: Trams 301 or 501 to Queen St West at Abell St
23) Dinner at El Catrin
The historic Distillery District has many nice options for dinner and lunch, but I highly recommend booking a table at El Catrin. This Mexican-inspired restaurant dishes up fantastic cocktails and all your Mexican favourites – tangy guacamole, tacos and burritos bursting with flavour – what more could you ask for? There is a heated patio with plenty of outdoor seating, so you can enjoy your meal and the skyline of the Distillery District at the same time.
El Catrin,18 Tank House Lane, Open every day from 11.30 am (11 am on Sundays), website
Getting there: Tram 504 to Distillery Loop
24) Treat yourself to a set menu dinner at Ruby Watchco
Ruby Watchco is a very special restaurant – mainly because you don’t get a lot of choices! They serve a seasonal fixed-price set menu inspired by Canadian cuisine, only working with the freshest ingredients they can get their hands on.
Vegetarian options are available, but you need to call ahead to make sure they have everything they need to whip up a sparkling menu for you!
Ruby Watchco,730 Queen St E, Closed Monday & Sunday website
Getting there: Various trams to Queen St East at Broadview Ave
25) Eat all the poutine
You can’t leave Toronto without at least trying the Canadian national dish, poutine. Poutine is chips (fries) with gravy and cheese curds, but vegan options (with veggie gravy and tofy curds) is often available as well! There are tons of iconic places to go for poutine, but if you just want a quick fix, head to one of the two Poutini’s House of Poutine shops! Vegan poutine available.
Poutini’s House of Poutine, 1112 Queen Street West and 617 King Street West, Mon-Fri open from noon, King St W branch closed on Mondays, website
Getting there: King ST W – Trams 304 or 504 to King St West at Portland St; Queen St W – Trams 301 or 501 to Queen St West at Abell St
Shopping in Toronto
26) Shop for Asian souvenirs in Chinatown
Just around the corner of Kensington Market lies Toronto’s Chinatown. In the shops lining Spadina Avenue, I found some of my dearest souvenirs – wicker interior pieces, teas and all sorts of other bric-a-brac for my flat.
Getting there: Various tram lines to Spadina Ave at Queen St W
27) Vintage shops in West Queen West
It doesn’t come as a surprise that the trendy neighbourhood of West Queen West has some of the best vintage shops in Toronto. My favourite shops were between Dufferin St and Sorauren Avenue:
- Public Butter Vintage, 1290 Queen St W, website
- House of Vintage, 1239 Queen St W, website
- In Vintage We Trust, 1580 Queen St W, website
- The Salvation Army, 1447 Queen St W, website
Getting there: Tram 301 and 504 stop along West Queen St W
28) Window-shop at Smash Salvage
As mentioned above, the Junction neighbourhood is a paradise for all things interior design and antiques. Smash Salvage combines the two and offers an eclectic mix of vintage interior pieces, upcycled furniture and antique gems for your home.
I limited myself to window shopping, but even that felt more like walking through a museum than through a shop!
Smash Salvage, 2880 Dundas St W, website
Getting there: Metro to Dundas West Station, bus 40 stops along Dundas St W,
Where to Stay in Toronto
29) Stay with locals
I spent the majority of my time in Toronto staying with locals via AirBnB. I had booked a private room near Corso Italia and shared a home with a French-Canadian / Brazilian couple and their German shepherd dog – what an international mix! I loved staying locally to learn about life in Toronto and hear about my hosts’ favourite gems in the area.
My room came with the option to use one of the bikes my hosts offered, which was super useful for exploring the nearby trendy neighbourhoods of West Queen West and The Junction! There was a bus station nearby which took me to Landsdowne metro station within a few minutes – ideal to get to the city centre and back!
30) Spend a night at Thompson Toronto
There are some fantastic hotels in downtown Toronto, and if you only have a few days to see the main sites and get a feel for the city, a hotel might be a better option than a private rental.
I can only recommend Thompson Toronto, a stylish boutique hotel near the Bathhurst St and King St W junction. I had a lovely room from where I could see the CN Tower through the trees and went for breakfast at the American-style diner within the hotel. The main reason why I think you should treat yourself to at least one night at Thompson Toronto though is its rooftop.
You could not get a better view than watching the sun rise over the city’s skyline from the infinity pool at the hotel’s rooftop terrace!
Thompson Toronto, 550 Wellington St W, Double Deluxe Room from CAD$ 230, Book it here!
And if this wasn’t enough already, check out these 15 more things to do in Toronto!
My trip to Toronto was filled with adventure and – let’s be honest – fuelled by a lot of food and coffee. I thoroughly enjoyed discovering everything the city has to offer and can’t wait to come back one day and see even more. One thing is for sure, this list of 30 cool things to do in Toronto will keep you busy for a while!
Where are your favourite places in Toronto?