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A Design Lover’s Travel Guide to Toronto

The Museum station serves the nearby architecturally stunning Royal Ontario Museum
The Museum station serves the nearby architecturally stunning Royal Ontario Museum | © Davoud Davies / Getty Images
From a former strip club turned lavish hotel to the trendiest store for window-shopping in the city, discover the best design spots to visit in Toronto.

Toronto, the ‘city within a park’, is built up of singular neighborhoods each with their own distinct architecture and communities. In the past year, the city has undergone a design resurgence, with institutions like the Architecture and Design Film Festival making their inaugural debut in Ontario’s capital and an ever-growing pool of creative talent naming the city home. Even pop culture icons want in on the action, such as singer Pharell Williams, who has partnered up with the IBI Group to create exterior, interiors and furnishings for new downtown condo buildings. On your next visit to Toronto, discover these highlights of Toronto’s booming architecture scene for a taste of Canadian style.

Royal Ontario Museum

Building, Museum, Park
If you spot what appears to be a rock jutting out of the downtown core, you’ve stumbled upon the Royal Ontario Museum. Find a historical building attached to the latest addition called ‘The Crystal’ for a modern blend of old and new. This extension was created by world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, built out of shards of glass and luminous aluminum. While the outside is picture-worthy, the inside is also worth a look with a collection focusing on science and civilization. The space also hosts popular temporary exhibitions.
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CN Tower

Architectural Landmark
It would be neglectful not to mention Toronto’s biggest architectural feat and one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions – the CN Tower. Standing at 1,815 feet (553 metres), the landmark held the title of world’s tallest tower until 2010, when the Burj Khalifa in Dubai was built. Visitors can hop aboard the glass elevator as they soar 147 stories above the city to take in the views. Test your bravery on the CN Tower Edge Walk and circle the tower hands-free for unparalleled views. Those who prefer something tamer can indulge at the revolving restaurant at the top of the tower.
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The Distillery Historic District

Distillery, Historical Landmark, Brewery
Found in the heart of Toronto, the Distillery District is home to the largest collection of North American Victorian industrial architecture. This charismatic area was once home to – and styled after – flour mills, whiskey distilleries and storehouses. Today, the area is known for its charming shops, minimalist breweries and renowned restaurants. It’s also the location for Toronto’s annual Christmas market, running from November to December, every day except for Mondays.
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Drake General Store

Shop

While there are countless cool boutiques in Toronto, the Drake General Store is decidedly Canadian and brimming with quirky architecture. When wandering around the city, keep your eyes peeled for the neon purple cross. While some may confuse this space for a pharmacy, it’s actually a unique concept store offering Canadian coffee blends, adult onesies, gifts and design books. From the in-house coffee stand to the barber shop and everything in between, this shop is worth a visit if not for the design products, then at least for the stylish interior.

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Chubby's Jamaican Kitchen

Restaurant, Jamaican, $$$
The decor is bright and inviting at Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen
© Stacy Brandford

After a day of running around the city, why not indulge at Chubby’s, a Caribbean restaurant located in a restored circa-1890 row house dedicated to eclectic design and soulful hospitality. Guests feel as if they’ve been transported to an island destination with rattan furniture, leafy wallpaper and touches of greenery. Head to the second level to observe the jerk pit grill from above, then settle in to dine on dishes like Port Royal mac n’ cheese or a tangy Caribbean pulled-pork sandwich.

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The Broadview Hotel

Boutique Hotel
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Courtesy of The Broadview Hotel / Hotels.com
The Broadview Hotel is a must-visit for all architect-lovers, as it is housed in a 127-year-old building and gives subtle nods to its former life as Jilly’s strip bar. Find brass poles in each room melded to make functional shelves alongside pin-up girl posters. Located in Toronto’s east end, rooms are uniquely designed with plush linens, vinyl record players and a locally sourced mini-bar stash. If you are craving a late-night snack, the on-site bohemian Bistro + Bar offers Canadian fare, while The Civic is steeped in original architecture and serves up sustainable, farm-to-table dishes.
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These recommendations were updated on March 4, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.