With just over 3 million people in central Toronto and over 6 million in the GTA, Toronto is the 4th largest city in North America. Because of its history, influence on the Canadian economy, and huge population, there are so many things to do in the city. That’s why we have broken up the things to do into several categories.
Things To Do
Toronto has grown rapidly over the past 150 years both in population and area. Over the years, each new area has grown a flair thanks to its new residents. East of downtown is the Distillery District, a section of 19th-century brick buildings that used to house factories and a Whiskey Distillery. The space is now home to art galleries, local shops, and a yearly Christmas market. West of Downtown along Spadina Street, is Chinatown, home to the cities Asian immigrants through most of the mid-1900s. The area has retained much of its culture over the years and still has some of the best Dim Sum restaurants in North America. Just a few blocks away is the artist corner- Kensington Market. This area has been the hippy and community-minded area of town for a few generations leading to unique buildings and a very close cultural feeling.
With all its museums and quirky neighborhoods, it's important to have some fun at some of the cities tourist attractions. The most obvious of them is the CN Tower. Standing head and shoulders above the city's skyline, the western hemisphere's largest tower awaits your visit. Glass-fronted elevators take you up in record speed to what was once the highest observation level in the world. For the super daring, try the Edgewalk, a death-defying walk around the antenna of the tower! For those who want a great view but remain indoors, why not try walking on the glass floor! Just below the CN Tower is Ripleys Aquarium- a massive aquarium featuring the longest moving sidewalk in North America. Any hockey fans should check out the interactive exhibits at the Hockey Hall of Fame and may be lucky enough to see the Stanley Cup!
Toronto has some of Canada's best and most popular museums some of which have been around for centuries. The most popular is the ROM-Royal Ontario Museum with over a quarter-million SQFT of space showcasing dozens of dinosaurs, Canadian Indigenous works of art, and almost 6 million artifacts! If you are more of an art lover, then the AGO is the way to go! Over 90,000 works cover almost 2,000 years of human art in one of North America's largest galleries. Finally, one of the city's more unique museums, the Bata Shoe Museum houses the world's largest collection of shoes! With some pretty amazing shoes like Queen Victoria's slippers, Terry Fox's runner, and even an Egyptian mummy's, it's a great way to take the afternoon and put yourself in someone else's shoes.
Touring through Toronto can get very expensive but the city has a ton of outdoor spaces to check out! Dundas Square is Toronto's "Times Square" and the centre of lots of Toronto's activity. Not far away is Nathan Phillips Square which acts as the entrance to City Hall. It hosts many of the year's festivals and in the winter this space has a fantastic outdoor skating rink! A bit west of downtown is Hyde Park- Toronto's answer to Central Park. What makes this park stand out is the spring cherry blossoms that blanket the landscape. Along the waterfront of Lake Ontario, a beautiful promenade features restaurants, pop-up shops, art features, and a small ferry terminal. Hop onto the short 3-minute ferry that takes you across to the Toronto Islands, a series of islands with beaches and parks that offer a reprise to the concrete streets of the city.
Covid Conscious Activities
With Covid-19 being such a huge factor in daily life, it is important to take steps towards a safer holiday like trying to limit your daily contact with others. Keep up to date with the latest local advisories and information.
Toronto has one of the highest population densities in North America and is going to struggle to come back as a major tourism city after Covid-19. The nice thing is that there are a ton of things to do in the close vicinity of Toronto that allow you to be outside and socially distanced no matter the season. Places like Scarborough Bluffs and the Muskoka's are the perfect reprise from the busyness of the city. Try taking a self-guided walking tour or audio tour to learn more about the city while staying socially distant from others.
Where to Stay
As a general statement, it's tough to find a "cheap" hotel in Toronto. Expensive real estate means that basic hotels are driven out of the city leaving Best Westerns and the like ranging $125/ night minimum. If you have a higher budget, we strongly suggest trying out some of the historic hotels like the Fairmont Royal York- one of the most luxurious North American hotels when it was built, or a newer boutique property like One King West.
When it comes to exploring Toronto, downtown is the best spot to try to stay however, if you can't find something within a few blocks of Dundas Square, try matching up the subway system and a hotel. Though the system isn't very comprehensive, there are many hotels just 20 minutes on the subway that will be at a lower cost. This also gives you the opportunity to check out areas like Little Italy or The Danforth!
How to get there and around
As the biggest city in Canada and one of the largest in North America, Toronto's Pearson Airport is Canada's busiest and one of the major access points to the city. Whether it's for domestic or international, YYZ is likely where you will be landing. Coming from the US, Detroit, and Buffalo are just 3 hours drive away while Chicago and New York at about 8.
If you arrive at the airport, the UP Express will whisk you downtown in no time at all! Costing $12.35 the train takes only 25 minutes which costs you less in both time and money than a taxi. Taxis have set rates which will likely be about $60-70 for the city centre. Even if you have a few people and a taxi is the same cost as the UP Express, the time differences are significant with a taxi taking 2-3 hours during rush hour!
Once you get into the city, taxis and ubers can zip you around above ground and a small but very busy subway system travels under. The subway is a big point of local contention as it has narrow coverage and is unbearably packed at the start and end of workdays so try to avoid these times if you can.
Though Toronto is the 4th largest city in North America, you don’t need to go too far to get back to nature! Within a few hours, in any direction, you have stunning waterfalls, cliffs, and more lakes than you can imagine. The Scarborough Bluffs are just 45 minutes east of Downtown and are a set of limestone cliffs along the shore of Lake Ontario. A popular picnic and dog park, the area at the base of the Bluffs is often packed with locals and tourists alike on summer weekends! Just north of the city is the region called Muskoka's. These world-famous lakes have hundreds of thousands of cottages ranging from small camps to opulent waterfront mansions. Finally to the west of the city you have the Niagara Escarpment. Thousands of years ago, when the last ice age retreated, it tore through the earth leaving the steep walls of the Escarpment. Places like Rattlesnake Point and Mt Nemo are only an hour outside of town and are perfect for a hike while Hamilton, at 2 hours away, has stunning waterfalls.
Just 45 minutes from Toronto is a one-of-a-kind art gallery depicting many works by the famous Group of 7. These 7 artists are seen by many as fundamental building blocks in the Canadian art scene. McMichael Gallery is set among 100 acres of forest heightening the realism of the landscapes the artists often depicted.
While it shouldn’t be done as a day trip, no Toronto list can be complete without at least a mention of Niagara Falls. Just two hours away is a sight like no other. Spanning the river between Canada and the US, the world's largest (by volume) waterfall cascades over 150 feet. The Canadian side of the border has the best views and many attractions. Get up close and personal by descending down into and behind the falls with the Behind The Falls Tour or see it from the water on the Hornblower. The area surrounding the Falls, has some of Canada's best vineyards and is the perfect spot to taste some local wine. Make sure to try some ice wine, a late harvest method that heightens the sugars and makes a unique only found in Canada taste!