Toronto; the capital city of the province of Ontario (not the Country like a lot of people think, that would be Ottawa), home to the infamous Toronto Raptors, Bluejays & Drake. And a city I spent at least 1 day a month in for a few years about 10 years back. I’d hop the bus with my friends for 24 hours in the city to see a gig or a hockey game and that was it. I never explored the city, ate always at the same place & stayed in the same hotel all the time. Fast forward a decade and now I’m just a tad more travelled and now have one of my closest friends living in The Six (which is what some people call it) which is the only excuse I needed to head back over and finally see what the city has to offer! Here’s a top 10 list of things you’ve totally got to do on your next trip to Toronto!
Indulge in all the sweet treats
Whether your sweet tooth has you craving ice cream, doughnuts or something more unique you’ll never be far from a little sweet indulgence in Toronto. My top picks include:
Sweet Jesus - with an Instagram bio that reads “Serving you handcrafted chef inspired pimped out soft serve. #blessyourmouth” you may wonder if that hype is worth it..well it is! With several locations around the city and made famous by their insane soft serves & even more so by their cakes, hot chocolates & shakes not only will your instagram feed look even more epic with one of these babies, your mouth will be so happy you went.
Evas OG Chimneys - Cake & Ice cream, one of the most iconic combos and done with a whole new twist here at Eva’s. With a food truck and several locations around Toronto & even Mississauga you’ll want to be sure you have an appetite, however if you’re only after a little treat then get the mini! The creations made popular in Hungary as Kürtöskalács as well as The Czech Republic as or Trdelník, these chimneys are made out of dough rolled in a cone shape and filled with different toppings + ice cream, and even savoury options if you’re not into the sweet and sugary options.
Dipped - I was introduced to “gourmet” doughnuts when I moved to the UK, and my tidbit loving Canadian self was skeptical about how gourmet a doughnut could be. Flash to two years later and my dear friend I was visiting made me promise to get my hands on a doughnut from Dipped in Kensington market, which I almost didn’t do because I blindly walked by the shop twice before finding it. A tiny storefront on Baldwin street gives you a stocked window of all kinds of magical things. From the regular to London Fog flavoured, rosewater & pistachio or my choice, the coconut dream (which happened to also be vegan) there’s something for everyone including celiacs and vegans, just make sure to ask at the counter what V & GF options are available.
Eat, Eat, Eat
Everyone needs food to survive. It’a given, and no matter your budget you can find anything to satisfy your cravings on the streets of Toronto. I never realized just how good the foodie scene was in this city before my visit and now I’ve got a list a mile long of places to try next time. For now sink your teeth into these must eat spots around the city.
Seven Lives - If you wish every day was #tacotuesday like I do then this place should make the top of your list. An absolutely tiny spot on the corner of Kengsington Ave. in the market itself, be sure to get lined up before they open (at 12 noon) and know that it will be well worth the wait. A cash only joint serving up a small but quality menu of Baja style tacos with everything from Pork Carnitas to Baja fish & even shrimp! Option for the pork it was definitely worth every minute I spent in line (think about 20) in the sun.
Thompson Diner - Located in the exceptionally trendy Thompson Hotel on Wellington Street this American inspired diner is open a whopping 21 hours a day and for brunch on the weekends. Catering to more of a late night crowd we managed to be the only people in there at 6pm on a Friday night without a reservation (go us!). My recommendation? The Truffle Mac & cheese, the perfect mix of crunchy & creamy, plus don’t let the skillet deceive you, it’s a huge portion!
Almond Butterfly - I’m lucky to not have any crazy food allergies (except shellfish!) but I don’t discriminate on any food besides that really. A gluten free cafe & bakeshop with vegan & paleo options this is there perfect place for a to-go treat or brunch with friends. Serving at two locations, on Dundas street and the other on Harbord street which is where I visited. And on a Saturday morning I had the whole adorable place to myself! Opting for a coconut milk latte (yum) a vegetarian egg-tastic breakfast bagel (which they serve all day) with spinach, tomato,cheese egg & pesto on a GF bagel (double yum) and maybe the most decadent chocolate chip cookie for the road too! Next time I’m getting my cupcake fix because they looked unreal!
Walk on the (wild) waterside
While Toronto is one of the biggest cities in Canada it doesn’t lack is gorgeous waterfront property. Spanning 46km from Etobicoke creek to The Rouge River along lake Ontario you’ve got so much area to cover. And that’s not mentioning The islands of Toronto, yep I said Islands! Some just a short and cheap ferry ride from right in the city center. Sadly during my visit (in July) many of the islands were flooded as I was unable to visit them, but there was still tons of waterfront access in the city. The Toronto waterfront area is home to the power plant contemporary art museum, along with countless restaurants & bars, Ontario Square and keep your eyes peeled for the majestic Kajama Tall Ship. Canoe & kayak rentals, boat trips & even a pirate ship call this part of the city home and are a great way to get out and get a different view of the city. If it’s a sunset you’re after I’d suggest heading down towards Coronation Park and the Marina/Yacht club where the sky will light up with golden light on any given night and you can watch the planes take off/land from Toronto City Airport which is always a favourite way for me to spend a few hours!
Look to the streets for art
If you know me then you know I’m kind of obsessed with street art. After living in Bristol & Montreal I’ve been pretty spoiled for choice, and once again Toronto surprised me! It seemed that around every corner you could lay your eyes on something pretty impressive. So much so that the city now has an online map service to help you find the pieces around the city, you can find the map here. If you’re short on time or would rather not wander aimlessly around the city (like yours truly) then be sure to get over to the aptly named Graffiti Alley which runs from The Fashion District South of Queen Street West from Spadina Avenue to Portland Street beginning at 1 Rush Lane.
Embrace your inner bookworm
I like big books and I cannot lie! Okay that’s been a tad overused in the last few years but it’s still true for me. There is nothing better than escaping reality for a short while in a good book and something I’m trying to do more of lately. Whether you’re on the hunt for a classic or just browsing for something to take with you on holiday you’re not short of great book stores (not the massive chains either). I’d recommend checking out these 3 and bringing your muscles to carry out the haul you score in each! BMV Books, with several locations around the city I visited the Bloor St. Location and came away with a few books to keep me going through the summer. Next up are the She Said Boom on College street and Roncesvalles Ave. housing a rad collection of not only books but vinyl too! And the classy Balfour Books on College street and has been a name in Toronto for book for the last 15 years.
Escape the concrete for the jungle
Visiting Toronto in the summer can be fantastic, but it can also be hot and humid. And when you’re out exploring and walking a million miles a day it can be a bit too much. However you’re really never far from a lush green shady park to hide out in with an iced coffee and a good book. From Trinity Bellwoods park in the West End with shaded benches looking out towards the CN tower, to the massive High Park which spans 161 hectares. A mix of nature and recreational areas, sporting facilities, a pretty big swimming pool and even a zoo, this is a park you could spend a whole day in. Then there was my favourite, Budapest Park which I stumbled on when I got completely turned around looking for High park (best mistake ever). With one of. The best views of the Greater Toronto Area on Lake Ontario if you catch it on a sunny day almost feels like you’re in the tropics. A small beach area alongside the wooden boardwalk makes it the perfect place for summer time hangouts.
Get your beach on
If you’re anything like me you’ll be shaking your head thinking “is she nuts, Toronto can’t have beaches!”. Well I’d like to apologize to the City of Toronto for my disbelief because there are a ton, and a few are even right in the heart of the city! Sugar Beach, named because it looks out to the Redpath Sugar plant was opened in 2010 and is covered in cute pink (maybe they used to be red) umbrellas and is public for anyone to use, sadly there isn’t anywhere to get in the water there, and on a windy day you can really smell the sugar that gives the beach it’s name.
Walking from there along the waterfront you’ll find yourself at HTP Park on the west end of the harbour and opened over 10 years ago. This urban beach was sadly still underwater during my visit but looked similar to sugar beach and would be a great place to hang out for sunset too. Adding to why Budapest Park was one of my favourite places in Toronto, it actually turns into a beach if you walk along far enough, Sunnyside beach that is! Swimming is permitted here when the green flags are up, but you’ll see lots of people laying out in the sun and even more at the Sunnyside pavilion which looks like a throwback to glamorous Hollywood beach club.
Peruse the markets
I rarely get the chance to stay with friends when I travel so this was a great excuse to explore the neighbourhood my friends live in, which just so happens to house the infamous Kensington Market, so it’s safety say I went a few times. In 2006 it was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada and for good reason. There is so much incredible culture and history in this market which can be found around every corner. With it’s bohemian vibe you’ll find amazing stalls with vintage clothing, handmade jewelry, fresh produce, mini markets within for all your needs and restaurants, pubs, cafes & so much more. The approximate borders of Kensington Market are College St on the North end, Spadina Ave to the East, Dundas St on the southern end and Bathhurst st to the West. Dundas St. W. to the south, and Bathurst St. to the west.
In addition to Kensington there is also St-Lawrence Market which is a large market housed in a public building on Front & Jervis Street in the heart of the city. Opened in the mid 1800’s and housing two buildings at one point, the public market was named The World’s best food market in 2012 by National Geographic, talk about a huge compliment! Vibrantly coloured produce is set out in perfect lines, fresh fish, seafood & meat hang from the rafters, the smell of fresh bread wafts through the two storey marketplace, and you’ll find countless food stalls & of course the classic souvenir stalls too.
If you’re looking for a sign..Toronto has one (or two)
These are probably two of the most touristy spots you can visit in Toronto but really who doesn’t love a massive location sign, especially when they light up at night and have fountains!? For the 150th birthday of Canada back in 2017 the city was gifted with a huge 3D CANADA sign that lives at the base of the CN Tower and lights up come nightfall. If you’re after a photo of it without a crowd, best get there as early as humanly possible (10am was too late for me but I managed just one if not the one I wanted). Over at Nathan Phillips Square there is a matching 3D TORONTO sign that was originally installed on a temporary basis for the Pan Am games that year. Thanks to social media the sign became a huge tourist attraction and the city opted to keep it as a permanent installation. Located within view of the impressive old city hall & courthouse, it even has a massive fountain and lights up once it’s dark. The square hosts countless of events during the year from fashion shows around the sign and musical performances too. Check out the website here to find out what events are happening during your visit.
And last but not least, a castle! Well as close to a castle as Toronto or Canada can get. Spanish for Hill House, Casa Loma is technically just that, a house (or rather mansion) on a hill (you’ll get your leg day taken care of if you walk up the steps on your visit) that was constructed between 1911-1914 as a residence for Sir Henry Pellatt who was a Canadian soldier and financier. It is now home to a museum, steakhouse, cafe and more. For just under $35.00 per adult you can visit the interior or for free you can look around the front of the house, take those pics and continue on through a park on the side. And if you’re in need of a wedding or event space they do that too!
After 5 days and over 100 000 steps I can officially say I have changed my tune on Toronto. My once “get me the hell out of here ASAP” attitude is now one of “I’ll definitely be back”. From Montreal it’s a 30 minute flight (if you’re rich), or a 5.5 hour bus/train ride for about $120 return or a 4 hour drive door to door. It’s funny to think that Toronto might be the city I’ve visited the most in my life (to date) and only ever really seen and experienced this last trip over. I definitely appreciate it now more than I ever did before, and I think I have all my other worldly travels to thank for that. Moving to new countries & cities forces you to be a tourist in those places more when maybe you don’t have the cash to get out further that your own backyard, and thats definitely how I took on Toronto. Thanks to some incredible suggestions from friends who have live or currently live in the city I definitely got a feel for the city as a local. While I don’t think I could ever live there (Montreal Canadians hockey fan forever here, and I’m too broke) it’s nice to know that I’ve got a little getaway city when I need it! And while visiting places in Canada might take a bit more time than in other countries (*cough Europe/UK cough*) it might be all I get to do for the next little while so stay tuned to see where I get to next!