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Toronto Skyline | © Paul Bica / Flickr
Toronto Skyline | © Paul Bica / Flickr
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A Design Lover’s Travel Guide to Toronto in 24 Hours

Picture of Sahar Aman
Staff Writer
Updated: 15 October 2017
Discovering design in “the 6ix” is an exploration of how the past meets the new. Most of Toronto’s design gems bring together historical culture with contemporary ideas. This city is where ancient Islamic civilization meets soothing modern granite pools; vintage buildings become destinations for tomorrow’s creative innovators; 21st-century design transforms age-old spaces into artistic hubs. If you love design and find yourself in Toronto, here’s how to spend the day.

Aga Khan Museum

Start your day by purchasing a day pass for TTC and leaving downtown. Heading to Don Mills may seem like an effort, but the beautiful grounds, architectural splendor, and glistening pools at Aga Khan Museum will be more than worth it.

While designing the museum, Fumihiko Maki, winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, used light as his inspiration. The light spilling through Maki’s contemporary design of the museum brings together historical elements of Muslim cultures with the modern, in turn, building connections between eras and civilizations. You’ll also get to see one of the largest collections of Islamic art in North America, stunning calligraphy, ceramics, and rare luxury artifacts.

Across the way from the museum, past the gardens and granite pools, is the Ismaili Centre Toronto, designed by renowned architect Charles Correa. Booking a free tour will allow you to see one of the most breathtaking rooms in the city, a luminous prayer hall under a frosted glass dome roof.

Aga Khan Museum | © Janet Kimber
Aga Khan Museum | © Janet Kimber

Art Gallery of Ontario

Head back downtown and buy a ticket to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). While this will give you the opportunity to see some incredible collections of art from Canada and the world, the real reason for coming here is Toronto-born Frank Gehry’s transformation of the AGO. His powerful redesign of the museum has many must-see highlights. The impressive Galleria Italia is a lustrous display of wood and glass that runs the length of an entire city block. Use the camera on your smartphone to take the perfect picture of the often-photographed spiral staircase that soars from the second floor.

Art Gallery of Ontario | © Michael Francis McCarthy/Flickr
Art Gallery of Ontario | © Michael Francis McCarthy/Flickr

The Distillery District

This promenade of historic buildings, cobblestone streets, and red brick is home to hip cafés, design stores, and vintage shops, making the pedestrianized Distillery District an ideal place to grab a bite to eat and walk around for a couple of hours. Design lovers will also enjoy the galleries and outdoor sculptures here. Restoration of the Gooderham & Worts Distillery’s 47 buildings began a decade or so ago when a desire arose to create a space that would bring together artists, artisans, entrepreneurs, and businesspeople. This quaint little area is a fine example of historical culture fusing with 21st-century design.

Toronto's Historic Distillery District | Courtesy of The Distillery District
Toronto’s Historic Distillery District | Courtesy of The Distillery District

Richmond 401

Time to head west. Richmond 401 is a historic warehouse in Toronto’s Fashion District that has it all. This century-old industrial building is now a flourishing hub for art and culture, and 140 designers, artists, filmmakers, architects, milliners, musicians and writers use it for their endeavors. A browse through Richmond 401’s Tenant Page will give you better insight into this inspiring space and help you plan your visit.

Once here, take a guided tour and explore the garden oasis, labyrinthine hallways, galleries filled with international and Canadian art and pick up some unique gifts in their shops. Do check out Toronto’s city store, Spacing. The store has a magazine, which engages with topics related to Toronto urbanism, and sells Toronto-themed products such as books, prints, clothing, housewares, and stationery.

Toronto Designers Market

Toronto Designers Market is a cool place to discover local designers. This 3,000-square-foot (279-square-meter) store is devoted to creating an affordable space for smaller brands. Because they don’t take consignment, vendors are in control of their own pricing, so it’s great for picking up locally created goods at the best possible price. Their store features furniture, household items, clothing and jewelry from over 30 different Toronto-based designers.

Locally created goods | Courtesy of Toronto Designers Market
Locally created goods | Courtesy of Toronto Designers Market

Drake Hotel

Head back a little east and refuel at Drake Hotel, a space that is so much more than a hotel or restaurant. This boutique venue has defined itself as a landmark in Toronto’s downtown because of its distinct approach to culture, entertainment, and food. Every aspect of this hotel has unique elements, whether that’s the eclectic naming of the rooms, award-winning cocktails or interior design. The Drake Hotel also breathes artistic creativity, “connecting the public with artists working in all media from across town and around the world.” After a day of exploring, this is the place to melt with a drink and assimilate everything you have seen and experienced with vibrant surroundings and good food.

The Drake Hotel | © Lisa Petrole
The Drake Hotel | © Lisa Petrole

Take a look at the map below to plan your route for visiting these design-led sites: