The Best Things To See and Do in Downtown Toronto
Heading to Toronto for the first time? Canada’s most culturally diverse city has something to offer every kind of traveler. Whether you’re in town for a week or a weekend, here are the top activities to add to your Hogtown bucket list.
As far as cities go, Toronto has a lot to offer. The city’s diverse population has produced endless cuisines to enjoy and cultural activities to experience – think of it as a way to see the world without leaving the city. What’s more, due to its large population of artists and young professionals, Toronto has become a hub for cutting-edge art and design, hip neighborhoods and great shopping, all within the downtown core, an area that can easily be explored on foot. Here’s a guide to some of the best things you can do in downtown Toronto, for the time-strapped traveler seeking to make the most of their time in the city without leaving its Bloor Street borders.
Spend the day getting lost in Victorian industrial architecture at the Distillery District
The pedestrian-only Distillery District is a great spot to get away from the bustle of the usual downtown attractions. Here, you’ll find trendy restaurants, art galleries and boutiques all set along a cobblestone street and housed in charming 19th-century buildings that once made up a large whiskey distillery. The quaint village looks like it’s straight out of a Victorian novel, but the atmosphere, which straddles cutting-edge and bohemian, is a great place to experience Toronto’s up-and-coming art and food scenes.
Mull over art, history, fashion and science at Toronto’s best museums
Toronto is home to handfuls of great museums – from art galleries and design hubs to science and natural history landmarks. Many of the city’s museums have discounts for families as well as free days on a weekly or monthly basis. The top institutions in the city include the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and the Bata Shoe Museum – which, yes, is a museum dedicated to all things footwear.
Channel your inner hippie at Kensington Market
Kensington Market is a long-standing multicultural neighborhood with a unique place in the fabric of Toronto. In November 2006, it was designated a National Historic Site of Canada – and for good reason. Here, you’ll find everything from homemade empanadas and third-wave vegan coffee shops to vintage clothing boutiques and even cannabis cafés.
Go window shopping on the Mink Mile
The Mink Mile is an upscale shopping district along Bloor Street in the well-heeled Yorkville neighborhood, comparable to New York’s Fifth Avenue or Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. Here you’ll find high-end boutiques like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci and so on. Be sure to step into Holt Renfrew, a unique-to-Canada department store that rivals Bergdorf Goodman. While strolling through the upscale neighborhood, keep your eyes peeled for familiar faces – many celebrities have been spotted shopping Mink Mile.
Slurp noodles at one of the city’s world-famous ramen bars
If you’re in the mood for noodles, Toronto may just be the best Canadian city in which to tuck into a steaming bowl. The city has recently gone through a ramen-noodle boom, offering some of the best noodles outside Japan. Here you’ll find classics like David Chang’s Momofuku and hard-to-find items like tsukemen noodles from Ramen Isshin.
Commute to Chinatown for cheap beer and decadent dumplings
Toronto’s Chinatown may be small compared with those of other big cities, but it’s packed with real gems – especially if you’re on a budget. Head to Mother’s Dumplings, which continues to top lists in Toronto for its delicious steamed and pan-fried dumplings (about $11 for a dozen). Dumpling House Restaurant also does a mean pan-fried dumpling and will only run you about $6 for a plate of 12.
Shop ’til you drop at Yonge-Dundas Square
Yonge-Dundas Square can feel like stepping into a miniature Times Square thanks to the flashing ads, impromptu street performances and pedestrians milling about. After you’ve taken it all in, head south along Yonge Street to the CF Toronto Eaton Centre, where you’ll find endless shops and boutiques, from GAP to Canadian-made brands like Frank and Oak.
While Canadians far and wide have been celebrating the success of the Toronto Raptors, ask any Torontonian and they’ll quickly profess an equal amount of love for the Toronto Blue Jays, the city’s baseball team. Head to the Rogers Centre to catch a game and enjoy a day in the sun. Tickets will only run you about $20 Canadian, which will leave you with enough to guiltlessly indulge in a classic ballpark hot dog and beer.
Toronto is home to many great music venues, but one of the best, and best-known, is undoubtedly the Horseshoe Tavern. The well-loved music venue has been entertaining locals since 1947, and while it remains wildly unpretentious, it has seen the likes of the Rolling Stones, Arcade Fire, The Strokes and more grace its stage. The calendar at Horseshoe Tavern is pretty packed, with shows nearly every night of the week. Note that most shows are ages 19 and over, and ID is required.
The city’s largest market boasts over 120 food vendors, selling every cuisine you could desire, from Montreal-style bagels and vegan tacos to handmade, small-batch mustard and fresh fish sandwiches. Note that the market is closed on Sundays and Mondays.
Meal service:Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Dessert
You’ll find Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada at the base of the CN Tower. A landmark attraction all on its own, the 135,000-square-foot interactive exhibit is home to a myriad exotic sea creatures – from jellyfish and stingrays to sharks and sea turtles. The largest indoor aquarium in Canada, Ripley’s also boasts interactive pools, an underwater gallery (great for Instagram) and various special events, including Friday-night jazz and morning yoga classes.