5 Things Everyone Must Do When Visiting Toronto
Although I can most often be found basking on a beach in the Caribbean or Mexico, when I’m back in Toronto there are certain things at the top of my list to do such as visiting the restaurants, pubs, neighbourhoods and other experiences I miss when I’m away. Plus, 2017 is Canada’s 150th birthday so it’s also a prime time to celebrate everything wonderful about our northern home. So, here’s my list of top things to do when friends or family ask me what they should do when visiting Toronto:
1. Sip a craft beer at the Distillery Historic District
The pedestrian zone within this collection of 47 Victorian industrial-era buildings known as the Gooderham & Worts Distillery is a top destination for enjoying a craft beer on an outdoor patio to browsing Toronto’s Christmas Market. My fave spots are El Catrin Mexican Cantina ( for mezcal and its fantastic decor), SOMA ( for artisanal chocolate), Balzac’s ( coffee) and the Mill Street Brewpub ( for craft beer). The Distillery Historic District is also within easy walking distance to St. Lawrence Market, North America’s largest food market and a itself a bustling spot to enjoy lunch on the go, shop for artisanal food products or just soak up the historic atmosphere of early Toronto.
2. Don’t miss the big attractions
While big name attractions can sometimes be a disappointment in other cities, there are certain attractions everyone must experience at least once during a visit to Toronto. Must-sees include the CN Tower (aim for a clear day) plus one of Canada’s top museums, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) beloved for its beautiful historic interior and dramatic “crystal” addition. If you have time, include Casa Loma, Toronto’s real-life castle, the Ontario Science Centre ( if you’re travelling with kids) and Ripley’s Aquarium. If you think you’ll be able to hit them all within your visit, it’s worth considering a CityPASS ( cost is $72 per adult) as you can avoid the main line-ups and get fast-tracked inside.
3. Go neighbourhood hopping from Greektown to Chinatown
They say Toronto is a city of neighbourhoods (and it really is true) so be sure to go exploring. In addition to Kensington market, Chinatown, Yorkville, The Junction ( try Indie Alehouse for craft beer) and Queen Street West, it’s worth a visit to Greektown (Chester Subway station). Sure you could eat sushi, tacos or designer hamburgers but when you’re on the Danforth, you’ve got to eat Greek. Grab a souvlaki at Alexander the Great parkette but for romance your best choice is Myth ( 417 Danforth where you can order a dish of saganaki, a flaming dish of kefalogaveria cheese which arrives at your table to the shouts of Opa! from other waiters and diners.The Acropolis Bakery and Café at 708 Danforth is an authentic Greek-owned coffee shop and bakery that offers café frappe as delicious as what you’d find on the Greek islands. Enjoy your coffee with a square of spanakopita, a rich pie stuffed with spinach, onions, cheeses and herbs wrapped in crispy, flaky phyllo dough.
A budget-friendly old-school Greek restaurant that’s a fave with our family (for example, you can score a great chicken souvlaki dinner complete with Greek salad, potatoes, rice and pita bread for just $8.25) is Asteria at the corner of Pape and Danforth. It’s home to one of Greektown’s last steam tables and although the decor isn’t posh, it does have a large patio out back. We also eat at Pizzeria Libretto and Square Boy, a Greek-owned take-out joint near Jones that’s famous for its burgers, hot dogs and chicken souvlaki (and rock-bottom prices).
4. Hit The Beach
On my first visit to Toronto, I totally missed the lakefront as it’s hidden behind the Gardiner Expressway. Now, Lake Ontario is one of my favourite spot to escape the city and soak up some sunshine, get some exercise or imagine I’m in cottage country (minus the traffic jams). To get to Toronto’s waterfront and its emerald green island archipelago, head to the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal, just west of the Westin Harbour Castle hotel. Bikes are welcome aboard the ferries and are a great way to get around. Then, it’s a breezy bike ride to the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse on the Great Lakes. You won’t find any better views of the Toronto skyline than this. Another favourite city escape is Leslie Spit also known as Tommy Thompson Park where you can pedal a bike or take a hike into a vast green space filled with migrating birds, butterflies and other wildlife. The Martin Goodman Trail connects all these parks and is an easy, flat surface suitable for even the most wobbly cyclist. In summertime, be sure to make a stop at Toronto Harbourfront home to historic Queen’s Quay Terminal as well as The Power Plant contemporary art gallery, the Music Garden, Sugar Beach and a state-of-the-art museum exhibiting historic and contemporary Inuit art.
5. Pop over to Niagara Falls
OK, so it’s not exactly in Toronto but Niagara Falls is less than an hour away ( assuming no traffic) and is a true wonder of the world whether you visit in summer or wintertime. Plus, you’ve got the added bonus of being able to spend time at one or more of the many wineries in the Niagara Region.
Viewing the waterfalls is free, but visit the Niagara Parks website to purchase a Wonder Pass, an attractions pass that will give you access to Journey behind the Falls, visit the magical Butterfly Museum and other once in a lifetime experiences. From April 1st onward, the Hornblower Cruise Voyage to the Falls is also an exhilarating must-do.
Misc. Catch a game and more
Here are some insider tips on how to find a deal for your next trip to Toronto:
1. Look into whether it makes sense to get a CityPASS during your visit. The cost is $72 per adult which saves you money off the regular price of 5 major attractions but for me, the biggest advantage is that a CityPass allows you to bypass the lineups.
2. Get the best deal on your hotel by using Hotelscombined.com, a search engine that compares top travel websites (such as Booking.com, Expedia and Hotels.com) to find the cheapest price. Check it out below.
3. Take the TTC (subway, bus and streetcar network), the UP Express or Uber to get around. You don’t need to rent a car. The Union Pearson Express rail link connects Union Station to the Toronto Pearson Airport.
5. A Hop On, Hop Off Bus Tour is a great way to orient yourself to a city. Check out Double Decker City Sightseeing (they operate year-round)and save 5% by buying a ticket online with promo code 1111. They also offer a combo ticket to Niagara Falls, that includes a stop at a winery.
6. If you’re planning to visit a shopping mall, I recommend you make your way to Vaughan Mills Premium Outlet Mall rather than go to Yorkdale or Eaton Centre. If you have kids they’ll be entertained at Legoland (check out those kiddie strollers with touch screens) plus there’s a Banana Republic Factory Store, Kate Spade, BOSS, Calvin Klein, Cole Haan, DKNY, Winners and well you get the idea, there’s lots of designers store and they’re all under one architecturally beautiful roof. There’s even a FREE seasonal shopping shuttle from Union Station ( June 1 – Sept 30).
Here’s a handy Pinterest image to share or save:
Looking for more travel ideas for Toronto? Check out these posts on A Taste for Travel as well as articles I’ve written for other magazines, blogs and publications:
Watch a Soccer Game: The Ultimate Toronto FC Game Guide: Go Reds! appeared in MasterCard Priceless Cities
Listen to Live Music: Music to Your Ears: Top Live Music Venues in Toronto appeared in MasterCard Priceless Cities
Sip Some Whisky: Toronto’s Top Bars to Sample Whisky appeared in MasterCard Priceless Cities
Looking for travel ideas on how to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday? Check out my travel feature in Fifty-five Plus Magazine’s January 2017 issue