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Toronto travel guide, tours & things to do

Only got a couple of days to get to know a new city? Our Big Five City Guides can help. We break each destination down into culture, history, dining, shopping and relaxation must-sees and dos. Adam Ford checks in from fabulous Toronto in Eastern Canada...

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.

Enjoy this Toronto travel guide.

Toronto travel guide
Toronto travel guide: CN Tower

Top cultural experiences in Toronto

The CN Tower is a good place to start your visit and get your bearings.

At 553 metres 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.

Toronto travel guide
Toronto travel guide: Edgewalk. Image courtesy of CN Tower

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:

Toronto city guide – The Big Bus tour and travel guide

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 travel guide
Toronto travel guide: Head Downtown. Image: Bigstock

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.

Toronto for history lovers

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. It dates back to the late 1700s.

Toronto travel guide
Toronto travel guide. Image courtesy of Fairmont Royal York Hotel

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.

Toronto travel guide
Toronto travel guide: Casa Loma. Image: Bigstock

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.

Great places to eat in Toronto

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.

Toronto travel guide
Toronto travel guide. Image courtesy of Nota Bene

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.

When it’s time to get caffeinated, skip the ubiquitous chain stores dotted across the city. There are better options, and Jimmy’s Coffee is one of them. Enjoy the eclectic surroundings and exhibitions by local artists. Dineen Coffee Co is another firm favourite. It’s located in the historic Dineen Building on the corner of Yonge and Temperance in Downtown (one of the oldest buildings in the city).

Where to shop in Toronto

The giant Toronto Eaton Centre covers all retail bases.

Here you’ll find the full gamut of international fashion labels, along with plenty of local designers to keep things interesting.

Adventurous shoppers should head out and explore some of the small neighbourhoods that surround the city centre. Each offers its own distinctive flavour and a unique dose of retail therapy to match. With its funky bookshops, offbeat boutiques and colourful buskers, Kensington Market is a fun option.

Toronto travel guide
Toronto travel guide: Enjoy the fun vibe in Kensington Market. Image: Bigstock

Ways to relax in Toronto

A day cruise on Lake Ontario is a great way to relax, and 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 getting up close and personal with Niagara Falls. The sheer number of tourists that visit the falls is staggering — some fourteen million a year. Book a day tour that includes your 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.

Toronto travel guide
Toronto travel guide: Take a day trip to Niagara Falls.

Where to stay in Toronto

Shangri-La Toronto

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 50-square-metres in size, so there’s plenty of space. The hotel’s in-house restaurant — Bosk — is well worth checking out during your stay. It offers Asian-inspired Canadian cuisine.

Toronto travel guide
Image courtesy of Shangri-La Toronto

Thompson Toronto

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.

Toronto travel guide
Image courtesy of Thompson Toronto

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 to add to our Toronto travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Additional images: Bigstock

Adam Ford

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.


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