Toronto is one of my favourite cities, small enough to navigate around with ease but still full of the hustle and bustle you would expect from Ontario’s capital. This vibrant Canadian city has so much to explore, from gritty Graffiti Alley in Kensington to the cobbled streets of the Distillery District. The excitement and crowds on the street when there’s a Blue Jays game on is unforgettable; it’s a cool place to spend a few days. Read on for my Toronto favourites and planning your perfect trip.
When to go
Toronto is a wonderful city to visit year round, although the best time of year to visit is April to May and September to November. You’ll get good weather for sightseeing, less crowds and potentially cheaper accommodation. I have visited in May, the days were sunny and a little chilly, but nothing a light jacket couldn’t sort out. July was gorgeous, sunny weather and last September when I visited it rained, but I was only there for 48 hours. Doing some weather research Toronto seems to have an average of 6 days of rainfall. I must have been unlucky! If you like snow then winters in Toronto will be right up your street although be prepared for bitterly cold weather and make sure you pack plenty of warm gear. For the colder months choose a hotel that is connected to the PATH, Toronto’s underground footpath.
Toronto is easy to get around on foot; Uber and taxies are all over as are trams and the subway too. The Path, an underground system of walkways connects the city below street level covering 30 kilometres. It is full of shops, restaurants and bars and connects to offices and the transit system. Perfect for exploring during the freezing winter months. Sightseeing buses are a fantastic option, City Sightseeing Toronto has open top hop on, hop off buses. You can combine tickets with Toronto Island cruises and there’s loads more options too.
This famous landmark can be spotted from most parts of the city. It sits proudly downtown and was once the world’s tallest free standing structure. There are all sorts of ticket options from general admission with access to two observation levels and packages to combine the tower with other venues like Ripley’s Aquarium. If you are feeling really brave and have the budget you can walk around the outside on the EdgeWalk. This is, by the way no normal walk; it’s hands free 116 storeys up! I opted for a little less of an adrenaline fuelled visit and went for dinner at the top. By booking a table at the 360 Restaurant you skip the queues for the viewing platforms, which often have a couple of hours waiting time. It costs $70 for a three-course meal plus access to both the LookOut and Glass Floor level. Glass elevators whizz up 1136ft in 58 seconds and the 360 Restaurant revolves so you get beautiful panoramic views of the city while you dine at 350 metres in the sky. The views are awesome and the food and wine are both top notch. I really recommend this for a special evening out.
The incredible Niagara Falls is a must see on your trip to Toronto, around 1 hour 45 minutes drive from the city it is easy to fit in on a short trip. Hire a car, go on an organised trip or book tickets like I did with Mega Bus. I got the 7am bus from Toronto Coach Terminal, arriving at Niagara Falls Bus Terminal at around 8.45am. Tickets were reasonably priced and the bus had WIFI. From the terminal it’s a short taxi ride to the falls. I then booked the 1235pm bus back to Toronto, which allowed for more than enough time to explore. If you plan on doing any of the tours you might want to book a later bus.
Once at Niagara Falls take a leisurely stroll alongside, to see this waterfall up close is incredible. Although it is not the largest in height it holds the record for the largest volume of water. That really hits home as you watch the water thundering down below. It is truly breath taking and the colours of the water are incredible. What struck me about it though and not to put a negative slant on visiting is how touristy it felt. Niagara is literally on the side of a road and the path alongside it gets packed with people. It didn’t take away the beauty of the falls itself, it just surprised me as the images you see paint a different picture to what I had in my mind. My best advice would be to arrive early to beat the crowds. A must is to take a boat ride with Hornblower Niagara Cruises; the 20-minute boat journey takes you right up to the edge of the falls. You get given a very fetching pink ‘mist poncho’ and believe me you need to wear it. I wasn’t prepared for how wet I actually got, so be very careful with cameras and phones, as both of mine got drenched! I loved the boat journey, to feel the full force of Niagara up close was an amazing experience. Boats run from early spring to early winter. There are plenty of other options to get close to the falls too; Journey Behind The Falls is an opportunity to see the rush of water from below and behind. If there’s time you can also cross over the Rainbow Bridge into America, don’t forget your passport for the border.
I’m a big fan of exploring local drinking spots so the Distillery District ticks all the boxes for me. It is also a great area to spend some time on a rainy day. The pedestrianised cobbled streets and 19th century red brick distillery buildings are in complete contrast with the surrounding cityscape and make for great photos. Full of boutique shops, microbreweries, restaurants and tasting rooms it is just right for a boozy lunch and a spot of shopping. Go to Mill Street Brew Pub and sample their beers, brewed on site it’s a beer you’ll spot all over the city. There’s also a Japanese distillery serving up samples of Sake. Having never tried it before I had to give it a go. It wasn’t my favourite tipple of the day, but I’m glad I tried it!
The Islands are a must do while in Toronto. There are 15 in total, stretching for 5kms, all connected by bridges and paths. Head to the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal on Bay Street to catch the ferry or a private water taxi. The crossing only takes around 15 minutes, if you take the ferry a return adult ticket is $8, bargain. There are boats to three of the islands, Centre, Hanlan’s and Ward’s. Go to the beach, walk, hire bikes, kayak, paddleboard, eat, have fun at the amusement park, see the lighthouse at Hanlan’s Point….there is so much to do. On Olympic Island there is a fantastic spot right near the ferry terminal looking over the city. I really recommend going there to take in the scenery and to take some fantastic photos of Toronto’s skyline.
Kensington Market is a really cool area; I’d liken it to Camden in London. It’s got an edgy vibe going on with an eclectic mix of bars, restaurants and shops. Augusta Avenue is one of the main streets, it’s got a great craft beer hall called Trinity Common and Nu Bagel, a bagel shop specialising in wood fired bagels, they also serve beer.
Graffiti Alley has become a tourist attraction in its own right. Located off of Queen Street West on Rush Lane it’s worth a stroll along this once dingy alley to see what all the fuss is about.
If you like Instagram then get yourself to Eye Candy and get your ‘gram on! On Queen Street West it’s a pop up gallery with a difference. There are 12 different themed rooms to pose and pout in with props and colourful backdrops. My favourites were the giant pizza and the bank vault. It’s a really fun way to spend 45 minutes especially if there are a few of you. Tickets are $15 for adults if you visit on a weekday between 10am and 4pm, $20 for a 4pm – 9pm visit and $10 for kids. You also get candyfloss.
Have you even been to Toronto if you’ve not had a photo by the Toronto sign?! Found in Nathan Phillips Square, it’s not necessarily a spot you need to spend a long time at but it is worth planning a stop here to take some photos. Head there after dark when the sign is illuminated for a different view of the city.
If you like cheesy chips and gravy then you’ll love Poutine, it’s Canada’s equivalent to this British dish. Fries, cheese curds and gravy, it’s a simple but very tasty snack. Found all over the city, my favourite was a brunch dish at Trinity Common in Kensington Market. They put their own stamp on it by using potato croquettes, a bechamele style sauce and a fried egg on top, yum!
If you love shopping then head to the Eaton Centre, this shopping mall has over 250 stores and restaurants. Perfect for a rainy Canadian day and a bit of retail therapy. I can spend hours in this place! I love the Urban Eatery for food too.
I’d recommend spending a good few days exploring this vibrant city and I hope this guide has helped you in planning the perfect trip to Toronto. Anything I’ve missed that you loved about Toronto? Let me know in the comments below.