Top Toronto Attractions
How many of you have Toronto on your list of places to visit? After 72 hours visiting this beautiful cosmopolitan city, I say Pronto to Toronto! I was here to attend TBEX Conference, Travel Bloggers Exchange, but managed to see quite a bit of Toronto.
According to the Huffington Post, Toronto is now the 4th largest city in North America and largest city in Canada. “Toronto’s new population estimate is 2.79 million — beating Chicago’s 2.7 million people.” One of the most culturally diverse cities I’ve visited. I met friendly locals from all over the world, including my taxi driver who moved to Toronto from Somaliland!
While planning my visit, the Tourism Office, @SeeTorontoNow provided maps, a guide, and dozens of tours. I realized I didn’t have time to see every sight, and mapped out the highlights to see in three days. Take a look at some of the charming neighborhoods, where old meets new and there are surprises around every corner. You can get to most of these places by bus, bike, foot, or boat.
Here are some of the neighborhoods and places I visited.
- West Queen Street – one long and trendy street! Crossing nearby Yonge Street, once listed as the Guinness Book of Records longest street in the world at 1,178 miles, jump on the Queen St. Streetcar for long stretches.
From University Avenue, head west on Queen and keep going west beyond Bathurst. As you walk along this street, the vibe changes from hip & funky, dotted with cafes, to high-end boutiques and galleries. If you walk far enough west, you’ll find the MOCCA Toronto – Museum of Contemporary Art, with a fascinating outdoor mural in the parking lot (image above). Some of the boutiques I visited were Love of Mine, Gaspard, Rue Pigalle. The Canada chain store Joe Fresh had great bargains and bought my summer wardrobe for around $200!
Be sure to check out Graffiti Alley just behind Queen Street at the Spadina cross street, tucked in between Richmond St. W. and Queen St. W. Pick up some lunch at Feel Good Guru or Fresh and picnic at the neighborhood Trinity Bellwoods Park.
- Chinatown – Toronto has 3 Chinatowns! some claim 6 Chinatowns!! And there are other towns within Toronto, like little India town and Greek town. Walk through one of the Chinatowns, near Dundas St. W. and you walk into another Hong Kong with the exotic fruit stands, dim sum take-out, Asian fabric stores, and electronic gadgets for sale.
- Kensington Market – Toronto’s gone green with bike rentals throughout the city and parking places for bikes. Cycle to one of Toronto’s hippest eclectic markets with vintage shops, or pick up some goods at a Latin America grocery store.
- University of Toronto Area – stroll through the campus and see old buildings from the past century, and government buildings on University Avenue.
- Yorkville – visit the “ROM” Royal Ontario Museum, and see Old + New, where architects Darling and Pearson have revived Romanesque with Lee-Chin’s Modern Crystal addition. @ROMToronto. This natural history museum has dinosaurs, curiosities of nature, and special exhibits like Sebastio Salgado’s Genesis debut of “love letters to the planet” with stunning images of animals, landscapes, tribes in remote untouched places in the world.
Yorkville has designer name boutiques like Chanel, Prada, Gucci, and is known as the “Mink Mile”. Shops and art galleries line Hazelton Ave, Yorkville Ave and Bloor St.. Stop by Teatro Verde where you’ll find unique floral arrangements and home décor, and walk the futuristic alleyways between shopping streets.
- St. Lawrence Market – one of the top food markets in the world. Food galore…step right up and get your cheese, sausages, gourmet mustards!
- The Distillery – one of Toronto’s oldest neighborhoods dating back to the 19th century, located by Yonge Street to the west, the Don River to the east, Queen Street East to the north. Walk cobblestone streets and alleyways lined with old brick buildings that have been converted into Chocolate Labs, Bakeries, Chic boutiques, and restaurants.
Ask for Jane at SOMA Chocolatemaker to give you a chocolate shot!
My sweet tooth also made me stop at The Brick Street Bakery, where there are tarts, cookies, scones of every kind!
- Queen’s Quay – walk along the eastern harbor front and you’ll find Toronto’s white sand beach.
- Downtown Central – the CN Tower soars high above the city and if you are a thrill seeker, take the “Edge Walk” challenge, where you take a walk at 1,168 ft. outside around the Tower. According to the Edge Walk site, the “EdgeWalk is Toronto’s newest and tallest urban adventure and the world’s highest full circle hands-free walk.” Catch a show at the Mirvish Theatre, and visit Roy Thomson Hall for a concert and admire the architecture.
- Downtown Younge – a vibrant neighborhood that reminded me of Times Square in NYC. Check out Eaton Square with 350 shops! Or go to the theatre, catch a movie, tune in to a music concert.
- Centre Island – be sure to take the ferry to Centre Island and get a panoramic view of the Toronto skyline. Step off the ferry, and walk the island gardens, and take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city. Taking a harbor cruise is a great way to see the city from another perspective, and there are several islands to visit within a short ferry ride from the Harbour front. Stroll along beaches at Centre Island Beach, Gibraltar Point Beach, Hanlan’s Point Beach and Ward’s Island Beach where there are pathways and bridges connecting the islands.
Where to Stay?
I stayed in the Yorkville neighborhood at the Park Hyatt and loved it! I visited other hotels in the area too, and here are some recommendations:
- Park Hyatt – visit this link to read about my positive experience here! If you can, check into the Pink Room and book an appointment at the hotel Stillwater Spa to relax and unwind from your tours, shopping, and meetings.
- Four Seasons, Visit the 8th and 9th floors to see full floors dedicated to a spa and a gym. The bird cage designed lobby is majestic, with giant dandelions hanging from the high ceiling. The hotel has fresh flower bouquets around the lobby, and the boutique has some unique finds including a book with a collection of vintage hotel labels.
- The Hazelton, an exclusive luxury hotel in Yorkville.
- Trump Hotel, I wasn’t able to visit this hotel, but its known for style, luxury, and impeccable service.
- Shangri-La, take a look at the unique stainless steel sculpture “Rising” by Zhang Huan on the University Ave. side of the hotel. This is the first time I’ve seen a koi pond and bird cage in a hotel lobby – pretty cool!
Where to Eat?
- Annona, while dining there, Executive Chef Joan Monfaredi prepared a fresh pan seared sea bass with grapefruit fennel and radish salad, and offers other gourmet dishes at this award winning restaurant located in The Park Hyatt, the heart of Yorkville. Before or after dinner, stop by the Rooftop Lounge, located on the top floor, and enjoy the views while sipping a drink outside on the patio, or inside by the fireplace. If you’re still hungry, I highly recommend trying out the “Poutine” Canadian dish of chicken, fries and Indian gravy sauce.
- One, – located in The Hazelton – great outdoor patio where you can dine and watch the fashionistas walk along Yorkville. Had a quick breakfast here and ate every morsel of my banana fosters chocolate French toast.
- Café Boulud, located in the Four Seasons, presents a range of unique contemporary French dishes for breakfast, lunch or dinner by Chef Boulud, where you are seated in a gallery-like setting surrounded by Mr. Brainwash paintings.
- Canoe, heard there are great views from this TD Bank Tower restaurant where you can dine on Chef John Horne and Chef Anthony Walsh’s inspired regional Canadian cuisine.
- Pure Spirits Oyster House & Grill – great ambience and known for its seafood. Dine here if you are in The Distillery district
- SoHo House – Toronto just welcomed the newest of SoHo Houses in the world! Soho House Toronto is a 10,000 sf private members’ club at Bishop’s Block (192 Adelaide St. W. Toronto). Most members are in the creative industry (film/music/entertainment, design, art, food+), and enjoy a full schedule of events focusing on music, film, art, fashion, fitness, cuisine and more. Visit their website for information on the house and membership.
Lunch or Rest stop:
- Sassafraz in Yorkville on Cumberland Street in case you need to sit down and take a break, or want to be seen.
Healthy Bites & Snacks – lots of options! “Make Kale, Not War” is the mantra at Feel Good Guru, where you can find hyper-local super awesome organic plant-powered food. Moira Nordholt, Chef in Forks Over Knives, keeps food here fresh and healthy. There’s also Fresh, Herbivore, where you can pick up a healthy bite for breakfast, lunch or a snack
Favorite Bakery for Breakfast pastries, cookies…in The Distillery, Brick Street Bakery.
- Casa Loma Castle – not far from Toronto City, I’ve heard this castle is worth a visit.
- Niagara Falls – book a trip to Niagara Falls, one of the Seven Wonders of the World – just a short drive from Toronto.
- Mississauga and Brampton – heard these towns are worth a visit and you can use the new See Toronto app to help plan your side trips with easy-to-search listings for events, dining, attractions and shopping. Get the QR code for your phone to download – free app here.
How to Get to Canada?
If you go, fly Air Canada voted best North American Airline for International Travel and Best Airline Inflight Experience. I cut my air travel time in half by choosing to fly with Air Canada, and flew direct to Toronto. The stewards were the kindest I’ve met on a flight, and the flight went quickly with plenty of movies to keep me entertained. General Reservations: #1-888-247-2262 (Toll free, 24 hrs/7 days)
How to Get from the airport to Toronto and around town?
Pearson Airport Limousine is my pick for town car/limousine service. My driver Rashid, promptly picked me up on time for my arrival & departure, was professional. The car was immaculate with air conditioning and bottles of water. Rashid knows the best routes in and out of the city so you don’t have to sit in traffic. For reservations, email/call: firstname.lastname@example.org #416 823-3675
Need More Help?
Toronto Tip! The tourism board shared some great walking tours with “Bruce Bell, one of Toronto’s most respected historians, walks you through the city’s past. Tap into TO! Greeters is a free service where Torontonians show visitors points of interest and their favourite Toronto spots. With Genova Tours, you have Bill Genova, a celebrated historian and storyteller highlighting Toronto’s neighbourhoods and ethnic diversity.” Visit the tourism board site to get a transit day pass and plan how you want to get around: www.seetorontonow.com/.
Thanks goes to… Park Hyatt Toronto for partially hosting my stay, Air Canada for flying me to Toronto, Pearson Airport Limousine for providing a discount on town car service, and to the SoHo House, One and Café Boulud for hosting some meals. Appreciate the support from these sponsors so I can share my Toronto experience with other readers.
PATRICIA STONE is a Seattle-based travel writer and Chief Explorer of www.globaladventuress.com.