Non-Touristy Experiences in Toronto

Toronto at twilight
Toronto at twilight | © Rick Harris / Flickr

Toronto is home to numerous popular tourist destinations, and it’s no surprise that places such as the CN Tower and Ripley’s Aquarium below it can get quite crowded. If you’re interested in exploring more of what the city has to offer, here are some fun and unique local experiences that you can enjoy during your stay in Toronto.

Enjoy a leisurely brunch.

Going for brunch is a popular weekend event in Toronto, and all over the city you’ll find bustling brunch spots serving up the city’s best eggs, bacon, pancakes, and more. Bonjour Brioche in Leslieville, the Drake on West Queen West, and Aunties & Uncle’s near College and Bathurst are among the city’s best bets.
Explore the city’s neighborhoods.

If you’re interested in going beyond the regular tourist thoroughfares, you should take some time to walk and wander through the dynamic neighborhoods that surround the downtown core. Exploring neighborhoods such as Kensington Market, King and Queen West, the Annex, Chinatown, Leslieville, and more will not only allow you to directly experience the diversity that Toronto is celebrated for—it will also get you off the beaten path and into the vibrant experience of the city’s everyday life.

King Street West at Night

Rent a bike.

Another way to get around the city is to rent a bike so that you can cover more ground. Toronto has an intricate system of bike paths and lanes, and the best of these will take you off the main roads and through the city’s interconnected parks, ravines, and waterfront areas. You can bike the lakeshore from east to west, stopping for ice cream or to browse the Waterfront Artisan Market along the way.

Bixi rental bikes in Toronto

Enjoy the waterfront.

On that note, Toronto’s waterfront offers a long stretch of scenic park and entertainment space where you can relax in the shade, play tennis, bike, picnic, enjoy live music, and even swim—if you dare. The Harbourfront area just south of the downtown core is a cultural hub that features various multicultural festivals throughout the warmer months. From Sugar Beach downtown to the Humber Bay Parks in the west and the Scarborough Bluffs to the east, there’s always something enjoyable to do along the city’s waterfront.

Sugar Beach

Go to the Islands.

You can take it a step further and take the ferry over to the Toronto Islands. While not necessarily an immediate tourist destination, during summer weekends this is a popular local day trip for friends, families, and couples alike. You can walk, bike, swim, visit the Centreville Amusement Park, or even have a nude beach experience on the Islands, all with a striking view of either the city skyline or vast Lake Ontario beyond.

Aerial view of the Toronto Islands

Rent a kayak or canoe.

Whether you’re on the Islands, at the waterfront, or find yourself west of the city at the Humber River, you can rent a kayak or canoe and explore the city’s waterways from an entirely different perspective. If you’re not familiar with these kinds of watersports, or are looking to enhance the overall experience, you can either take lessons or a guided tour of the local wildlife and ecosystems.

Kayaking in Toronto

Watch an outdoor movie.

Another favorite local pastime is to catch one of the many free outdoor movies playing all over the city. In the evenings you can head to the TIFF in the Park series at David Pecault Square, Harbourfront, or Yonge-Dundas Square with a blanket and some snacks, to catch whatever happens to be playing. Not to be missed is the Sail-In Cinema at Sugar Beach, which involves a two-sided screen set on top of a barge in Toronto Harbor, so that you can watch from either the beach or the lake.
Go skating.

If you happen to be in Toronto for the colder months—from November through March—you can rent a pair of ice skates at Nathan Phillips Square and join the merrymaking locals spinning around the city’s most popular ice rink. Another unique skating experience can be found at the Harbourfront, which hosts weekly DJ Skate Nights that make a dance party of the ice-skating experience.

Nathan Phillips Square

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