The Best Things to Do in Toronto

If all you know about Toronto is hockey and the CN Tower, you are in for an eye-opening visit. Groundbreaking film festivals, fantastic architecture, a design community so strong that the city’s become a destination for innovators and buyers, art and cultural museums, unique neighborhoods and industrial districts that have been transformed—you won’t be able to leave without planning a second visit.

1873 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M6R 2Z3, Canada
High Park, 399 acres of peace and recreation and playing fields and picnic areas, has a way of making you forget the city beyond. Grenadier Pond, a tranquil body of water that runs along the park’s western border, is favored by runners. The Jamie Bell Adventure Park is an impressive playground with castle structures for climbing and sliding and mayhem. The park zoo, another major draw for families, houses peacocks, buffalo, and capybaras, among other animals. In springtime, all of Toronto flocks here to see the cherry blossoms, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it event. Come summer, budding thespians and lovers of the arts crowd in for Shakespeare in the Park, the longest-running outdoor theater in the country.
301 Front St W, Toronto, ON M5V 2T6, Canada
Since it was built back in 1976, the CN Tower has topped the must-visit list of most Toronto tourists. Until recently, a visit was pretty standard; hop in elevator, shoot up to the observation deck, and ogle the city from a hawk’s vantage point. While this was certainly fine and enjoyable, the since-developed EdgeWalk experience has ramped up the Tower’s bucket-list potential. Thrill-seekers can now do a hands-free, breezy circumnavigation of the tower’s roof, up at 1,168 feet. And, yes, they do perform sky-high weddings complete with elasticized rings and special attire for the big day.
77 Wynford Dr, North York, ON M3C 1K1, Canada
The Aga Khan himself suggested to award-winning architect Fumihiko Maki that an appropriate inspiration for the design of his museum would be the element of light. The result is a building in which light, both direct and diffuse, pours in all day long. Fittingly, the museum’s mission is to shed light on Muslim civilization and art though exhibitions, music, dance, and more. Permanent collections focus on everything from calligraphy to Korans; rotating displays have explored topics such as what it means to be a modern-day Persian. There’s also an on-site restaurant, Diwan, which serves stellar food from around the Muslim world.
30 Yonge Street
If it’s not wintertime or you can’t get tickets to see the Maple Leafs play, then the next best way to experience Canada‘s game is by visiting the Hockey Hall of Fame. Situated in downtown Toronto, the museum is located on the lower floor of the Brookfield Place shopping center. It’s a short walk from the CN Tower and other attractions. (If you’re driving, you’ll need to find either metered parking or a parking garage, as there is no designated parking lot for the museum itself.) The Hall of Fame itself contains displays about historic moments in the game’s history, iconic jerseys and memorabilia from players, interactive games for children, and a room where the entire family can get up close with the Stanley Cup trophy.
93 Front St E, Toronto, ON M5E 1C3, Canada
Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market is crammed with 120 vendors, butcher counters, bakeries, ethnic eateries, and seafood shops. But there’s one reason why most people come here: the peameal bacon sandwich, which is dished up at the Carousel Bakery. It’s not really bacon—or at least not the bacon you usually eat—but rather tender, thicker strips of pork, cut from the loin and then rolled in peameal (like cornmeal but made from peas), and served on a kaiser roll with a swipe of mustard. It’s a porklicious treat!
Kensington Ave, Toronto, ON M5T 2K2, Canada
A trip to Toronto without a visit to Kensington Market doesn’t make any sense. Despite its diminutive size, this neighborhood packs plenty of activity within its boundaries. Arrive hungry: Restaurants and cafés dish out bites like tapas, poke, Salvadoran pupusas, Tibetan momos, and Ojibway-style fry-bread tacos. Secondhand shops are so plentiful that vintage fans will think they hit the jackpot, especially while browsing at standout shops Exile and Courage My Love. In warmer months, pedestrians crowd the streets, wandering from comic-book store to restaurant to art gallery all weekend long. The park at Bellevue Square is getting a much-needed makeover that will, when complete, add even more allure to this busy community.
100 Queens Park
From the outside, the Royal Ontario Museum appears to have been struck by a mineral formation from outer space. When the original building was overhauled by starchitect Daniel Libeskind, many locals were dismayed by the new addition, called the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, but most have come around to its angular charms. Visitors to this museum of world cultures and natural history can work their way through galleries showcasing Chinese sculptures, Canada’s First Nations artifacts and crafts, dinosaur skeletons, and Byzantine artwork. Special exhibits have included everything from the intricate textiles of Mexico to an in-depth look at the culture of tattoos.
327 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M5S 1W7, Canada
The Bata Shoe Museum is dedicated to the history of footwear through the ages. And what a spectacular history! After one visit, you’ll be able to distinguish Rajasthani mojaris from chopines, the platform shoes worn by 16th-century Spanish and Italian society ladies. Consider this training for trivia competitions. The museum’s impressive collection of more than 13,000 shoes and footwear-related objects is leveraged across four exhibits: fashion, practicality, shoemaking, and finally the footwear of Arctic dwellers. The museum also offers design workshops, family activities, movie nights, and more.
550 Bayview Ave, Toronto, ON M4W 3X8, Canada
The Evergreen Brick Works, a reclaimed quarry in the lush Don Valley, is a showcase for sustainable and green living, as well as for urban design. A community has been established in this once-derelict industrial site and former landfill. Toronto’s largest farmers’ market sets up shop on Saturdays, and spotlights food from all over the province. On Sunday, the market shifts its attention to crafts. A full schedule of activities and diversions make this a perfect weekend escape: There’s a children’s garden (with weekly programming), bike trails and rentals, and a hike that leads to a rewarding view of the city’s skyline.
234 Bay St, Toronto, ON M5K 1B2, Canada
This three-legged dining chair designed in 1958 by Stefan Siwinski Designs and Korina Designs is one of 950 items in the collection of the Design Exchange. This innovative museum devoted to Canadian industrial ingenuity is housed in the old Toronto stock exchange. —Charlene Rooke 234 Bay St., (416) 363-6121, dx.org. This appeared in the September/October 2011 issue.
790 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M6J 1G3, Canada
The moment the snow melts, young Torontonians begin their annual spring migration to Trinity Bellwoods Park. The hippest park in town, Bellwoods stretches from the shopper’s paradise of Queen West up to central Dundas Street. On a summer’s day, sun-and-fun seekers spread out on beach blankets to watch the action: at the dog run, on the tennis courts, in the kiddie pool, and even closer, on the adjacent blankets. After dark, head to nearby Bellwoods Brewery for a pint.
Toronto, ON, Canada
Until Toronto hosted the 2015 Pan Am Games, City Hall—two curved modernist office towers that look like a pair of parentheses surrounding a period—lacked tourist allure. But enter a photogenic, rainbow-hued, eye-catching TORONTO sign, and voilà! A star was born. Found in the square directly in front of City Hall, the illuminated sign, originally meant to be a temporary attraction, has become one of the city’s most photographed structures, along with the CN Tower. The sign’s O’s, in particular, are popular with canoodling couples.
317 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M5T 1G4, Canada
Frank Gehry was born in Toronto, but his dramatic 2008 renovation and expansion of this Beaux-Arts museum was his first Canadian commission. He first discovered art on childhood visits to its vast collection, which spans the world. Now the museum features a restaurant, Frank, in his honor. —Charlene Rooke Art Gallery of Ontario. 317 Dundas St. W., (416) 979- 6648.
243 X Queens Quay W, Toronto, ON M5J 2G8, Canada
List this under “very cool installations.” The best part about the “wavedeck” is that you can slide on it (because you know you want to). It’s a great, interactive gathering place at water’s edge, and it plays on that theme in a whimsical way.
11 Dockside Dr, Toronto, ON M5A 1B6, Canada
Squint your eyes and Sugar Beach looks like a David Hockney painting come to life: a cobalt-blue sky above and pale yellow sands below, lined by even rows of pastel-pink umbrellas. It’s an Instagrammer’s dream. But look around and you’ll notice the beach’s surroundings are far from bucolic. This award-winning park, built atop a parking pier in a waterfront industrial zone, overlooks the Redpath Sugar Refinery, which comes complete with a towering chimney. Sun worshippers lounge the day away in Muskoka chairs (that’s Canadian for Adirondack chairs), and come dusk, the city’s right at hand.
Toronto Islands, Toronto, ON, Canada
Once summer has arrived in all her glory, city folk yearn to escape the concrete jungle. The cheap and chic solution for locals is to pack a picnic and head for a beach day on the Toronto Islands, just a short ferry ride away. Of the three primary islands, all of which are connected by paths and bridges, Centre Island boasts the highest number of visitors; people head straight to its main strip to get to the beach and the amusement park. Ward’s Island offers more charm: In addition to the sandy shore, there are small summer cottages and gardens. Those intent on exercise can rent bicycles or paddleboats.
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