Bright and bustling, Toronto is a cosmopolitan city whose residents have roots across the globe. Art, food, beaches, nightlife – in Toronto, you’ve got it all.
Arts & Culture
Where to begin? Toronto is itself a cultural phenomenon, with residents from around the world and scores of languages, foods, customs and celebrations – they’re what make the city great. As Canada’s largest city, Toronto has outstanding museums and galleries, from the Frank Gehry–redesigned Art Gallery of Ontario to the delightful Bata Shoe Museum (yes, shoes). The same goes for theatres; the gorgeous Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre has backstage tours as well as regular shows, and Shakespeare in High Park channels the Bard every summer. There’s live music, poetry readings, comedy shows, LGBTIQ+ spots and more, too.
People gotta eat, and nowhere is Toronto’s remarkable diversity more evident than in its food and restaurants. Pakistani, Persian, Portuguese; aboriginal and new fusion; Japanese pancakes and Korean barbecue; fresh pasta in Little Italy, shawarmas in Greektown and the best damn dumplings in Chinatown. Torontonians love to eat out, whether it's sitting at sidewalk bistros on a warm summer night or getting all bundled up for some hot Vietnamese pho. That's to say nothing of Toronto’s great food on the go – there are peameal-bacon sandwiches at St Lawrence Market and food trucks selling an array of fragrant delights.
No matter what your taste in drinks and nightlife, Toronto has you covered. It's no surprise that this humming metropolis has sleek martini bars and high-end cocktail lounges – some of the best are on rooftops. But it’s also an old city, with ancient pubs and gritty dive bars – just the sort of place adventurous travelers love. And of course there are craft breweries where bearded bartenders serve handcrafted suds in curated flights. Add to all this nightclubs, drag shows, poetry slams, comedy clubs and more, and it’s easy to have a great night out in Toronto.
Like any place that's cold, Toronto adores its spring and summer months. Torontonians aren’t necessarily outdoorsy as a bunch, but the city makes it easy to enjoy those precious sunny days. There are beaches and waterfront paths along Lake Ontario, plus kayaking or standup paddling around the Toronto Islands. Green spaces such as High Park and Kew Gardens, huge and grassy, are perfect for a picnic and an afternoon stroll, while the east end has a growing network of leafy bike paths and walkways. Even in winter, on a gray, chilly day, there’s outdoor ice skating to enjoy!
9 top beaches in Toronto for an urban splash
9 min read — Published Apr 29, 2022
Jennifer Weatherhead HarringtonWriter
Toronto may be known for some pretty cool things (the CN Tower, the Hockey Hall of Fame, Chinatown...) but beaches? Well, they're great – here are the best.
Discover some of the most unique and fulfilling experiences your next destination has to offer.
Tips & Travel trends to help you pick the perfect time to visit this destination.
Golden rules to keep in mind when traveling to this destination.
Add visiting these must-see local hot spots and culture centers to your next travel itinerary.
Check out these fun-filled activities that the entire family can enjoy.
Plan a day trip full of local flavor and get back in time with these same-day options.
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Ways to maximize the fun without spending a dime on your next great adventure.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Toronto.
Centered on the 1832 Gooderham and Worts distillery – once the largest distillery in the British Empire – the 5-hectare Distillery District is one of Toronto's best downtown attractions. Its Victorian industrial warehouses have been converted into soaring galleries, artists studios, design boutiques, cafes and eateries. On weekends newlyweds pose before a backdrop of red brick and cobblestone, young families walk their dogs and the fashionable shop for art beneath charmingly decrepit gables and gantries. Year-round the place is buzzing. In summer, live music and pop-up events fill the air. In winter, a festival of lights and a Christmas market lure people out from the warmth. History The setting is a beautifully preserved Victorian industrial complex – red brick, cobblestone walkways and imposing buildings. Though it now consists of 30 buildings, brothers-in-law James Worts and William Gooderham started out with the construction of a single 70-ft brick windmill in 1832 with an eye on creating an industrial empire in what was then the British-controlled town of York, soon to be renamed Toronto. Worts had recently moved there from England, bringing his 20 years of experience as a miller with him and seeking a new life for his young family. Though the mill prospered quickly, tragedy struck just two years later when James Worts' wife died during childbirth. The grief was too much for Worts who died shortly afterwards. Gooderham continued alone and established the distillery a few years later, which prospered immediately. He then brought James Worts' orphaned son in as a full partner once he was old enough and the two made a huge success of the family business. It survived prohibition and two world wars by ceasing production of alcohol and creating explosives for the government when required. The last drop of alcohol was produced on the site in 1990 and over 158 years after Gooderham and Worts started their industrial activity there. It lay dormant and decrepit for many years, with locals worried about the ultimate fate of this heritage site. The current owners moved ahead with plans to convert it into an arts and cultural center in 2001 and the result is the vibrant and beautiful Distillery District beloved by Torontonians today. Visitors drinking at an outdoor bar in the Distillery District © Gilberto Mesquita/Shutterstock Shopping and dining There are over 40 boutiques selling high-end and unique fashion, accessories, beauty treatments, and small-batch food-and-wine gifts. The emphasis is very deliberately on locally owned stores and products – the owners refuse to allow large corporations and franchises to let units in the district. This provides a lovely local feel to the area and supports small businesses who would otherwise struggle for retail space in a major city. There are a wealth of options available when it comes to culinary delights after some retail therapy. Several high-end restaurants are on offer if you fancy something a little more special. If casual and easy-going is more your thing, there are also charming pubs and pizza parlors offering delicious food made from locally sourced ingredients. Artisanal cafes are ready and waiting to whip up your preferred blend of coffee when you start to flag after a day of sight seeing. Events and nightlife The $14-million Young Centre for Performing Arts houses four performance spaces, used by theatrical tenants including Soulpepper and George Brown Theatre Co. There's an on-site bookstore and bar, too. Make some time to visit the various galleries showcasing the work of incredible artists – the best time to speak with them is in the early afternoon, when many will have their doors open or signs inviting visitors in. With 13 specialty beers made on-site, Mill Street Brewery are a leading light in local microbrewing. Order a sample platter so you can taste all the award-winning brews, including the Tankhouse Pale Ale, Stock Ale and Organic Lager. On a sunny afternoon the courtyard is the place to be. The beer-friendly food includes burgers and wraps. The Distillery District is at its festive best from mid-November to Christmas Eve during its European-style Christmas Market, showcasing hundreds of local handcrafted products, a carousel and photo ops with Santa.
Dominating Toronto's skyline, the CN Tower is a marvel. At a height of 553 metres, the communications spire stands over the city like a beacon. Queues can be long and tickets are expensive, but the wait and the cost are worth it. Three observation levels reveal unforgettable views – even Niagara Falls can be seen on a clear day. There are floor-to-ceiling windows, glass floors, and an 'EdgeWalk' for those with the backbone to walk around the perimeter of the main pod, with no fence and no windows, just you, tethered to a track. Riding one of the glass elevators up what was once the world's highest freestanding structure (553m) is one of those things you just have to do in Toronto. Even if you don't, you're bound to catch a glimpse of the tower at night: the entire structure puts on a brilliant (free) light show year-round. It’s worth noting that on a clear day the vista from the top is astounding – a bird's-eye view of the city and lake, the falls in the distance, even helicopters flying below you; if it's hazy you won't see a thing. If you’d prefer to just check it out from the ground, the best street-level vantage point for the tower is at the intersection of McCaul St and Queen St W, due north. Walk along the outside of CN tower's on the Edgewalk © Patricia Burilli Fencz / Shutterstock CN Tower Edgewalk Daredevils aged 13 and up can do the EdgeWalk ($195), a 20-minute outdoor walk around the unbounded perimeter of the main pod (356m). It's not for the fainthearted. Tickets include a keepsake video and printed photos. Participants also get a Tower Experience Ticket which grants access to the LookOut, Glass Floor, and SkyPod levels. The tickets can be used once for up to two days after the Edgewalk. Tickets and other practicalities Queues for the elevator can be up to two hours long in each direction. Tickets start at $38 CAD for an adult. During summer, you can pay an additional $7 for a timed ride to the top…though not back down. Buying tickets online, or using the CN Tower app, saves 15%. There's the obligatory revolving restaurant (called 360°): it's expensive, but the elevator price is waived for diners. Opt for the SkyPod (447m; an extra $15) – though you may not notice much difference to the regular view.
The mecca of Canada's national sport, the Hockey Hall of Fame is a Canadian institution. Even those unfamiliar with the rough, super-fast sport are likely to be impressed by this, the world's largest collection of hockey memorabilia. Check out the Texas Chainsaw Massacre –esque goalkeeping masks or go head to head with the great Wayne Gretzky, virtual-reality style. History This spectacular labyrinthine museum is located inside the rococo gray-stone Bank of Montreal building (c 1885) in the Financial District. Considered one of the most spectacular bank buildings ever constructed in Toronto, it was designed by architects Frank Darling and S. G. Curry. The extravagant and ornate Beaux Arts style was used to communicate a prosperous and successful image after a period of economic depression. Though the Hockey Hall of Fame was first created in 1945, it only took up residence in its current grand home in 1993 after the building had ceased trading as a bank for a few years. The sense of grandeur created by the imposing style gives visitors an idea of how seriously Canadians take their beloved hockey. Things to see and do With over 65,000 sq ft of space covered in hockey artefacts, there's something here for every fan. Inside, multimedia exhibits showcase the greats – icons and players of the game. Visitors can walk through a recreated Montréal Canadiens' locker room, watch documentaries and movies, and even shoot pucks at video-projected NHL goalies. And, of course, be sure to take a pic with the beloved Stanley Cup, located upstairs. The official store, Spirit of Hockey, is located at street level. It has a huge collection of fully licensed NHL and Hockey Canada apparel, merchandise and memorabilia for every budget. A highlight is the huge sculpture of Ken Danby's iconic painting, At the Crease, which is a perfect backdrop for a souvenir photo. How do I get there? The entrance is inside Brookfield Place, a massive office and shopping complex with a soaring glass thoroughfare called the Crystal Cathedral; look for the museum entrance in the basement level, just past the food court. The closest train stations are Union Station and the King subway stop.
Old York's sensational St Lawrence Market has been a neighborhood meeting place for over two centuries. The restored, high-trussed 1845 South Market houses more than 120 specialty food stalls and shops: cheese vendors, fishmongers, butchers, bakers and pasta makers. The Carousel Bakery is famed for its peameal-bacon sandwiches and St Urbain for its authentic Montréal-style bagels. Inside the old council chambers upstairs, the Market Gallery has rotating displays of paintings, photographs, documents and historical relics. Next door, cooking workshops and special events are held at the Market Kitchen. On the opposite side of Front St, the North Market building, a concrete bunker built in the late 1960s, was demolished after years of delays due to budget restraints and archaeological finds. Completion of the new North Market building is estimated for spring 2022. In the meantime, the temporary site for the Saturday farmers market (5am to 5pm) and the fantastic Sunday antique market is one block south at 125 The Esplanade. Just a few steps north of the construction site, check out the glorious St Lawrence Hall (1850), topped by a mansard roof and a copper-clad clock tower that can be seen for blocks; once a public gathering place, it now houses shops and city offices.
The AGO houses collections both excellent and extensive (bring your stamina). Renovations of the facade, designed by the revered Frank Gehry and completed in 2008, impress at street level: it's like looking at a huge crystal ship docked on a busy city street. Inside, highlights of the permanent collection include rare Québecois religious statuary, Inuit carvings, stunningly presented works by Canadian greats the Group of Seven, the Henry Moore sculpture pavilion, and restored Georgian house The Grange. There's a surcharge for special exhibits, but visits to the permanent collection on Wednesday evenings are free. Several highly recommended – and free – tours are offered throughout the week, all leaving from the Walker Court. The most popular? Daily one-hour tours leaving on the hour from 11am to 3pm and on Wednesdays and Fridays at 7pm. If you don't want to commit that much time, 10-minute pop-up 'On the Dot' art chats are held in front of different works every day on the half-hour from 11:30am to 3:30pm and on Wednesdays and Fridays at 7:30pm.
Inside an early-20th-century lithographer's warehouse, restored in 1994, this 18,500-sq-meter New York–style artists collective hums with the creative vibes of more than 140 contemporary galleries, exhibition spaces, studios and shops representing works in almost any medium you can think of. Speaker series and film fests are held throughout the year. Grab a snack at the ground-floor cafe (open 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday) and enjoy it on the expansive roof garden, a little-known oasis in summer.
Famed for the transformation of its once-deteriorating heritage buildings into a prime location for all things geotourism, this dynamic, LEED-certified environmental center and park hosts interactive workshops and community festivals on the themes of ecology, technology and the environment. There's a garden market, an ice rink and lots of nature trails, which can be explored on foot or by bike (rentals are available). Check the website to see what's going on. Take the free shuttle bus from Broadview subway station. If you're traveling with little ones, don't miss the Children's Garden, a wonderful hands-on area where kids can garden, build using repurposed materials or just play in the water and sand features. For food, stop in at the coffee shop or the restaurant, specializing in local and organic food.
A 5km-long artificial peninsula between the Harbourfront and the Beaches, Tommy Thompson Park reaches further into Lake Ontario than the Toronto Islands. This 'accidental wilderness' – constructed from Outer Harbour dredgings – has become a phenomenal wildlife success. It's one of the world's largest nesting places for ring-billed gulls, and is a haven for terns, black-crowned night herons, turtles, owls, foxes and even coyotes. It's open to the public on weekends and after 4pm on weekdays; vehicles and pets are prohibited. Summer schedules offer interpretive programs and guided walks, usually with an ecological theme. At the end of the park there's a lighthouse and great city views. To get here, take any streetcar along Queen St E to Leslie St, then walk 800m south to the gates, or follow the Martin Goodman Trail.
On the site of the Riverdale Zoo, where from 1888 to 1974 prairie wolves howled at night and spooked the Cabbagetown kids, Riverdale Farm is a downtown rural oasis. Now a working farm and museum, it has two barns, a summer wading pool, and pens of feathered and furry friends. Kids follow the farmers around as they do their daily chores, including milking goats and collecting eggs. Visitors can learn about a particular animal during the daily 'Farmer Demo' at 11:30am. From June to October there's also a Tuesday farmers market from 3pm to 7pm.
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