Having spent a fair bit of time in Toronto during summer and winter, I’ve seen a lot of the city (although it would have been nice to have ventured further out into Ontario, but you kind of need a car to get properly out of the city).
I’m not going to lie, Toronto isn’t my most favourite of cities… there’s a lot of… shall we say history, around it :/. Buttt if you’re a fan of North America, and love cities with skyscrapers, then Toronto is worth a visit.
Personally, I would say three days in the city is plenty, as you’ll be able to see all of the main attractions without getting bored. However, these are my top ten things to do in Toronto, if you ever find yourself in Canada’s largest city….
1. Eat Beavertails
Sure, the classic Canadian dish is Poutine, but I don’t like gravy, and I’m not into cheese on my chips either. But you know what other traditional Canadian food I love (besides from maple syrup, which is quite clearly a given?). Beavertails.
I know, I’d never heard of them either until the first time I visited Toronto, but head on over to BeaverTails by the harbour, and try one of the fried dough treats (shaped like a beaver tail, obvs).
The Triple Trip’s pretty good, with chocolate, peanut butter and Reese’s Pieces adorned on top; but my favourite is the Coco Vanil’, which is vanilla icing, Oreos, and chocolate sauce. A lot of calories, but it’s delicious… and if you’re visiting somewhere new, it’d be rude not to try the local delicacies!
2. Drink Cocktails on Queen Street West
Wherever I go, my holiday isn’t complete without trying out some of the best cocktails. Luckily, I didn’t have to venture too far from my condo to find them, as it seemed all the best places were on Queen Street West.
Shoutouts go to BarChef and Pretty Ugly. BarChef is basically the 1105 of Toronto, with its dimly lit, luxurious interior and sophisticated cocktails. Pretty Ugly is just an unpretentious, relaxing bar to hang out in, with some of the most interesting cocktails I’d drunk (cynar, anyone? No, I’d never heard of it either).
Slightly disappointed that I didn’t have chance to visit Soviet-themed Pravda… buttttt who knows. Will I end up visiting Toronto again? I guess only time will tell.
3. Go up the CN Tower
Classic Toronto tourist trap right here, but you can’t really visit Canada’s biggest city and not go up the CN Tower – that’s my it makes up my top ten things to do in Toronto. To look at, it really isn’t pretty – it’s just a concrete monstrosity. And it’s not until you’re out on the islands that you can actually appreciate how much taller it is than the other skyscrapers (it’s all about perspective).
I’ve been up the CN Tower in both day and night, and I think it’s best when the sun starts to set and the lights turn on in the city. Everywhere looks prettier at night time.
You can pay to go up to the observation deck like I did, reserve a table in the restaurant for all the views, or if you’re feeling really brave, sign up for the EdgeWalk. Not that I’m scared of heights or anything, but I don’t feel particularly comfortable at the thought of hanging over the edge of a building 356m up in the air… but I’m sure some people do!
4. Cross Over to the Islands
Now I’m not going to lie, the summer months are the ideal time to catch the ferry over to the islands, but when I went for my third time, we were lucky enough to go on a sunny winter’s day.
In the summer, thousands of Torontonians flock to the islands to go biking, have picnics and sit by the beach. When it’s warm, there are a few cafes open, but let’s be honest – you go to the islands for the view.
In the winter, everything was shut. But it does mean that it’s a lot quieter and really… it’s the best place to get a picture of Toronto’s skyline. That’s why I’d recommend you visit the islands.
5. Visit Niagara Falls
There was no way Niagara Falls wasn’t going to fall in my top ten things to do in Toronto! It’s funny, because visiting, it really wasn’t how I expected it to be. It was actually really built up and touristy, with casinos and hotels lining the strip.
The Horseshoe Falls (Canada’s section, not the USA’s), is by far the most impressive, and it’s very pretty when it’s lit up in pastel colours at night. I would recommend spending a whole day there, because there’s actually a lot to do – in the winter there’s an illuminations display, and there are fireworks at 9pm too. Driving from Toronto to Niagara Fall is fairly easy as the roads are clear – there’s no point booking a tour.
Toronto may not be comparable to Copenhagen when it comes to shopping, but the second time I was there, I could definitely appreciate it as a shopping destination.
First of all, let’s talk about sales. I am not one for sales (the shops are always a mess, they’re crammed full of people, and the deals aren’t that great anyway). That’s not the case in Toronto – on Boxing Day, Victoria’s Secret and Pink were offering 40% off every single item in the store, and you never would have even known there was a sale on, because everything was so tidily laid out! I bought a pair of yoga pants, hoodie and a cropped top for £80.
The Eaton Centre is obviously the first place anyone would head to in Toronto to go shopping, but don’t discount Queen Street West. Whilst the central section has chain stores (think Zara, Urban Outfitters and Brandy Melville), the further out you head, the more independent stores you come across, selling lots of cool clothes and accessories. So, when you’re in Toronto, you should definitely go shopping (especially in winter).
7. Visit Casa Loma
Casa Loma is a castle to the north of downtown Toronto (you can easily reach it on the TTC). You really can’t compare it to castles in the UK and Europe – despite its medieval look, Casa Loma was originally built back in 1911, but it’s still worthy of a visit, and definitely one of the top things to do in Toronto.
When we went at Christmas time, all of the rooms had elaborately decorated Christmas trees, and ballerinas were dancing the Nutcracker in the main hall, but I’m sure it’s equally as interesting to visit in summer, and it means you get to explore the grounds a bit more.
Entry is $30 (so about £20), but it’s also part of the Toronto City Pass, so you can get discount off it if you visit other major attractions like the CN Tower, Royal Ontario Museum and the aquarium.
8. Christmas Markets at the Distillery District
If you’re visiting Toronto in December, you must definitely pay a visit to the Christmas markets! Set in the historic Distillery District area, you’ll enjoy a festive atmosphere as you wander down the cobblestone streets, gazing at the food on offer.
You can purchase tickets online; and if you’re thinking of going on a weekend, then I’d definitely advise this. We arrived in Toronto on the last day the markets were open, and didn’t think we’d need to do this… then had to queue up for two hours to get in. So, buy your tickets and you can get in straight away!
There was so much food on offer here – I had pierogis covered in raclette for dinner, followed by trdelnik for dessert (literally two of my favourite things!). There was also a ferris wheel (but it was too cold to go on it!), so we warmed up inside the shops instead.
Yes, the food is expensive, but if you’re going to be in Toronto over Christmas, you want to feel festive, right? And to be honest, there wasn’t a lot else in Toronto that was Christmassy, so you really should visit the markets!
9. Eat at St Lawrence Market
In all honesty, St Lawrence Market wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be. I thought it would be a lot like Borough Market, where there were food stalls that you could eat at. Instead, the majority of stalls sold meats, cheese and other things that you would buy and then cook at home. Still, it’s worth visiting because you can imagine if you lived in downtown Toronto, you’d probably do some of your food shopping at St Lawrence Market.
However, my recommendation is head to the ground floor and you’ll see a store called European Delight, that makes a lot of Eastern European dishes. I had the Mushroom and Spinach Blintz, and it was pretty delicious!
In fact, it was actually really nice to see how many places offered Eastern European food – in addition to the blintz and pierogi I had at the Christmas market, we also went to a restaurant called Loaded Pierogi’s… well, I’m sure you can guess what they sold, and they were very tasty!
10. Walk by Lake Ontario
Lake Ontario covers an area of approximately 310km, and borders both Canada and America. With Toronto right on the edge of Lake Ontario, you have no excuse not to go and visit it.
There are waterfront trail signs by the lake in Toronto, and you can join the walk pretty much wherever you want to.
My favourite place to walk by Lake Ontario was in Long Branch, Etobicoke, where I stayed in the summer. If you choose to walk here, once you reach Marie Curtis Park you can walk up Etobicoke Creek too.
My parents and I went for a walk around the lake in winter and it was freezing. Summer was much better – I’d sometimes spend afternoons sat by the lake, reading a book, which was a nice way to pass the time. However, it doesn’t really matter whereabouts you go for a walk by Lake Ontario, it just matters that you actually go and visit it during your time in Toronto!
My experience of Toronto the first time around has admittedly probably affected the way I see the city… I’m not sure if I’ll ever truly “like” it, yet it was weird because when I came back after Christmas, I felt like I should have stayed there (even though I knew I wasn’t thinking straight at the time).
Nevertheless, if you’re visiting Toronto for a holiday, there are definitely things you can do to keep you entertained – now try and tick off my top ten things to do in Toronto, whether you’re visiting in either summer or winter!