Like something straight out of the Jetsons, the futuristic CN Tower rises high above Toronto, dwarfing much of the city.
At over forty years old, the tower is no spring chicken — and has long since lost its crown as the world’s tallest man-made structure — but not its power to impress. Impressive is a word one can easily use to describe Toronto — Canada’s economic powerhouse. Here Canadians are taking care of business. Toronto is a brash, modern and supremely confident metropolis.
Here’s a city guide to the top things to do in Toronto.
The CN Tower is a good place to start your visit and get your bearings. At 553m straight up, the views of the entire city and Lake Ontario are unforgettable.
Take things a step further on EdgeWalk, the world’s highest full circle hands-free walk, as you make your way around the outside of the tower’s viewing decks on a 1.5-metre-wide ledge. For most visitors, just inching your way across the glass floor tiles inside will be challenge enough.
Feet firmly back on the ground, and Toronto’s city centre feels a bit like New York with its grid of wide city streets.
Watch our guide for Sky News Business Class to places to stay and eat in Toronto:
Adam Ford, editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and host of Tour the World, regularly joins the team at Sky News Business Class to discuss top destinations around the world. Looking for ideas for things to do in Toronto?
The city centre proper (Downtown) encompasses the financial and entertainment districts, while the waterfront, which languished in the shadow of the Gardiner Expressway for decades, is now firmly on the path to regeneration. The Harbourfront Centre is a must visit with its galleries, markets, cafes and restaurants. Check the website for free cultural events during your visit.
Toronto has some 70 museums and galleries. If you only have time for one option, make it the esteemed Art Gallery of Ontario. It’s one of North America’s finest art collections, with more than 90,000 pieces. Canadian contemporary art is well represented with mediums including painting, sculpture, photography, film and video.
Start your exploration of the city’s history in the streets of Old Town, with its wealth of nineteenth century architecture. This is one of the oldest urban precincts in the country. Visit the site of the first Parliament of Upper Canada and the Saint-Laurent neighbourhood which dates back to the late 1700s.
Across the street from bustling Union Station in Downtown stands the Fairmont Royal York. This was the largest hotel in the British Empire when it opened back in 1929. The Fairmont Royal York has undergone an extensive renovation over the past few years and remains part of the enduring legacy of the Canadian Pacific Railway, which constructed a string of these opulent railway hotels across the country around the turn of the 20th century. The hotel’s traditional high tea is a wonderful way to while away a weekend afternoon.
Across town the incongruity of Casa Loma makes it an intriguing history lesson. The folly of once wealthy man-about-town Sir Henry Pellat, this mock medieval dream home was built for Lady Pellat in the early 1900s. Sir Henry later faced financial ruin and the castle was turned over to the city. Today it’s a fascinating step back in time.
As you would expect, Toronto has hundreds of amazing eateries. Among the many accolades it has received, Nota Bene is regularly in the top ten of Canada’s best restaurants. It offers contemporary Canadian cuisine with a twist, served in sleek and sophisticated surroundings. The half Nova Scotia Lobster is superb.
High on the 54th floor of the Toronto-Dominion Centre, the super swanky Canoe is another option if you want to push the canoe out on something special. Try the Taste Acadia eight-course tasting menu, which pays tribute to one of the original colonies of New France — Acadia — which was established in the 1600s. Each dish has its origins in the foods eaten at that time.
For a good coffee, skip the ubiquitous chains across Toronto. There are better options. Jimmy’s Coffee is one of them, with three outlets. Enjoy the eclectic surroundings and exhibitions by local artists.
Dineen Coffee Co is another firm favourite, located in the historic Dineen Building on the corner of Yonge and Temperance in Downtown (one of the oldest buildings in the city). There’s an innovative lunch menu on offer, including great bakery.
The giant Toronto Eaton Centre covers all the retail bases, including international labels and local designers.
For the more adventurous, head out and explore some of the small neighbourhoods located around the city centre, each with its own distinct flavour and a unique dose of retail therapy to match. Kensington Market is one of the best, with an outdoor market of bookshops and offbeat boutiques.
For top things to do in Toronto that will leave you feeling relaxed and revitalised, day cruises on Lake Ontario are a great way to get a different perspective of the city. For a cruise of a slightly different kind, you can’t come all the way to Toronto without heading out to the icon of North American popular culture — Niagara Falls.
The sheer number of tourists that visit Niagara Falls is staggering — some fourteen million a year. Book a day tour or self-drive and prebook your own cruise tickets with Hornblower Niagara Cruises (which took over from Maid of the Mist in 2014) for the 20-minute ride out to the thundering falls and back. Each boat is jam-packed with camera-clicking tourists, all wearing standard issue red ponchos that are provided as part of the ticket price. Despite that, before you know it you’ll be soaked to the skin and having a ball.
One of the city’s newest luxury hotels (and tallest buildings), the Shangri-La Toronto is perfectly located for business or leisure stays. The guest rooms and suites average around 50sqm so there’s plenty of space. The 800-square-metre fitness centre is also suitably roomy. Two in-house restaurants are also worth checking out: Bosk, which offers Asian-inspired Canadian, and Momofuku Noodle Bar by NYC’s chef supremo David Chang.
Thompson Toronto is a boutique luxury option and A-list celebrity bolt-hole, located in the arty King West Village. There are 102 sleek guestrooms, with floor to ceiling windows and superb views of the city.
In-house eatery Scarpetta offers awesome Italian. The hotel’s yoga studio is a nice touch, while the rooftop pool bar and lounge offers a chic retreat.
Do you have any tips for top things to do in Toronto? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.