Toronto Travel Guide – Top 10 Vacation Highlights

The largest city in Canada and the fifth largest city in North America, Toronto is a cosmopolitan city and the most populated city in Canada. One of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, Toronto is flocked by tourists each year who go to take in the sights and sounds of the amazing city.
Toronto Travel Guide
Table of Contents

A city as large as Toronto is bound to be diverse and the Canadian city certainly lives up to this expectation with more than 100 cultures calling the city home. This diversity makes for a truly international city that offers visitors a wide range of entertainment and recreational options.

When in Toronto, you will certainly want to see the CN Tower. Rising to an astonishing 1,815 feet, the tower is the tallest tower in the world. Take the elevator up 1,122 feet to the glass floored outdoor observation deck for spectacular views of Toronto. Visitors can also go to the top of the tower for lunch while enjoying a grand breathtaking view of the entire city.

Another top tourist draw is the fairy tale Casa Loma, a medieval castle that enables visitors to experience an elegant European-style on a grand estate with a lush, world-class garden. Check out the secret passages, decorated suites, an 800-foot tunnel, stables and tunnels. If Casa Loma looks familiar, it’s because you may have already seen it in many popular films including X-Men and Chicago.

Take a journey in time at the Bata Shoe Museum which explores centuries of history through the medium of shoes. The museum also houses collections of shoes once owned by famous personalities including John Lennon and Marilyn Monroe.

Toronto is home to some of the most prominent art galleries and museums in Canada. The building of the Art Gallery of Ontario boasts 110 interesting galleries. The Royal Ontario Museum is another art institution worth visiting with 40 galleries and over 6 million pieces. ROM is especially famous for its collection of dinosaur remains.

One of the oldest buildings in Toronto, St. Lawrence Market comprises 3 markets. The North Market hosts a fun weekly Saturday Farmers’ Market whose origins date from the early 1800s, and which is packed with antique dealers on Sundays. For fresh foods and unique non-food items, head over to the daily South Market which also has a gallery worth visiting.

While not in Toronto, Niagara Falls is situated a mere 75 miles south of the city. So if you’re planning a visit to Toronto, be sure to carve a day out to visit this unique natural landmark which is also one of the widest waterfalls in the world.

Toronto’s attractions span the historical to the modern, as well as the cultural to the commercial. Many tourist attractions are of social or cultural interest, and therefore worth exploring. Whether you are visiting for a weekend or a week, Toronto makes for a memorable experience that will make you want to come back again. And again. And again.

1. Bata Shoe Museum

If you’re looking for a museum that is different, off-beat and even a little quirky, then the Bata Shoe Museum is just the place for you. Home to a fantastic and unique treasure of shoes from all around the world, this one-of-a-kind museum in Toronto features an enormous and fascinating collection of footwear.

From modern shoes to the ancient variety, from basic footwear to the fancy, the Bata Shoe Museum houses an amazing collection of over 10,000 shoes and footwear-related items from all around the world, which spans more than 4,500 years.

Whether or not you have an interest in the history of shoes, you are bound to be intrigued by this museum which is exclusively dedicated to footwear and its long history. The museum is a center of knowledge that offers understanding and awareness of the responsibilities and functions of footwear in the cultural and social life of the human race.

The idea behind the unique museum was conceived by Sonja Bata of the Bata Shoe Company who had a passion for shoes. During her extensive travels around the world, Sonja collected different types of shoes and related items. She founded the Bata Shoe Museum in 1979 to display her collection.

The current museum opened its doors to the public in 1995 after finding a permanent home inside the striking 4-storey building that resembles a shoebox from the outside. Since it was opened, the Bata Shoe Museum has become an unusual attraction in Toronto that draws numerous visitors from all across the globe.

Situated at Bloor Street West, the Museum houses the biggest and most extensive collection of footwear and related objects in the world. It comprises 4 different galleries, three of which are temporary, with one being semi-permanent. Each gallery features varying exhibits based on a unique theme. Be sure to read the interesting and informative footnotes as you explore the exhibits.

One of the museum highlights is All About Shoes: Footwear Through the Ages, a semi-permanent exhibit that presents the captivating history of footwear through a diverse collection of shoes from different cultures. Here you can see shoes from ancient Egypt, as well as the Greek and Roman eras. There are shoes from Africa, China, India, Europe and North America – almost everywhere in the world.

The museum also has shoes worn by famous personalities such as a boot worn by John Lennon and red stilettos that once belonged to Marilyn Monroe. The 3 changing exhibitions are typically on display for short periods of time such as 1-2 years, with a focus on a specific time frame, geographic area or cultural group.

There is also some interesting stuff in addition to shoes, such as original paintings and tools used in shoemaking during antiquity. Whether you are a shoe lover or not, you will find a visit to this unusual museum a great treat with all the interesting stuff it has inside.

2. CN Tower

Rising to 553 meters or 1,815 feet, the CN Tower held the title of tallest free-standing structure in the world until 2010 when the Burj Khalifa was completed. Today, the CN Tower is the tallest free-standing structure in the western hemisphere. In 1995, the CN Tower was voted one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Test the limits of your nerves by taking the EdgeWalk. The highest full circle hands-free walk in the world, the EdgeWalk is situated on a 5 foot ledge that encircles the main pod at the top of the tower. The first attraction of its kind in North America, EdgeWalk was opened in 2011. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to feel the open at 356 meters above ground, then the EdgeWalk is just for you.

In a group of six, you get to walk around the pod while attached by a secure harness to an overhead rail. A trained guide will lead you on a tour that lasts roughly 1.5 hours, with the outdoors portion lasting about half an hour. During the walk, you will get the chance to lean back over the city with nothing but open air between you and the streets of Toronto.

The EdgeWalk makes for a memorable photo op to share with loved ones once you’re back down to Earth. But there are many more entertainment options available for those who don’t have the budget or stomach for EdgeWalk.

Take the glass-floored and glass-fronted elevator up to the SkyPod, which will have you soaring 33 storeys to enjoy an unobstructed 360 degree birds’ view of Toronto. On a clear day, you can see more than 160 kilometers all the way to Niagara Falls, as well as Rochester, New York.

Take a picture on the Glass Floor, which comprises 256 square feet of solid glass and offers a view of 1,122 feet straight down. And don’t you worry about the glass floor; you can stand, walk, sit, lie down or even jump on it and it still won’t break! Then head over to the Outdoor SkyTerrace where you get to feel the breeze.

Situated on Front Street, Toronto’s most famous landmark is much more than just an engineering marvel. The CN Tower – which took forty months to complete, is also a destination for award-winning dining and great entertainment opportunities.

CN Tower offers not just one but three options for market-fresh fine dining. Arguably your most memorable dining experience in Toronto is to be had at the award-winning rotating 360 Restaurant. The dining room revolves while you eat to enable you to see the city from every angle. It takes 72 minutes to complete one full revolution.

But 360 offers much more than just a spectacular view. The recipient of a number of culinary awards, the restaurant serves gourmet food and boasts an extraordinary wine list of over 550 Canadian and international wines.

At the LookOut Level, Horizons offers a more upscale bistro-style menu of market-fresh fare paired with amazing city views. Horizons is an informal dining establishment that offers all window seating and a quality menu. For lighter fare, head over to Le Café where you can enjoy three different versions of poutine, which is Canada’s signature dish.

Back on Earth, watch The Red Rocket, a short film celebrating the historic streetcars of Toronto, and which propels you on a journey through the heart of the city. On your way out of the CN Tower, you may drop by the Gift Shop which offers memorabilia for sale, including First Nations arts and crafts, Canadiana and other souvenirs to remember your trip by.

3. Niagara Falls

While many go to Niagara Falls just for the amazing views, there is a lot to do here to take full advantage of your trip. While the views at Niagara Falls are not to be missed, you can also soak up all that the Falls have to offer.

The Cave of the Winds gives you the opportunity of getting up close and personal with this natural wonder. This tour will take you on an elevator ride 175 feet down into the Niagara Gorge. You will then follow a wooden walkway along the Niagara River to the Hurricane Deck from which you may feel the power of the Bridal Veil Falls from only a couple of feet away. Be amazed at how close you get here.

Also go on the Journey Behind the Falls tour which will have you traveling 13 storeys down through bedrock to the foot of the Horseshoe Falls, where you can witness the spectacular views. From the lower and upper decks, you can enjoy different vantage points as you watch a fifth of the world’s fresh water cascade 167 feet into the basin below.

Maid of the Mist is another attraction that will have you soaking wet, but is totally worth it. A boat will take you to the center of the falls where you can witness the power that 600,000 gallons of water flowing every second generates. The boat will head right into the thick of things to provide you with phenomenal views that are only possible when you get that close to the Falls.

For a dryer experience of the Falls, try the observation deck on the New York side which offers a spectacular view but without the soaking mist. This observation deck extends out over the Niagara Gorge, while offering panoramic views of all 3 Niagara Falls: the Bridal Falls, the Horseshoe Falls and the American Falls. This is the only vantage point from which you can enjoy views of all 3 waterfalls completely unobstructed.

Since 1916, Whirlpool Cable Cars have been ferrying passengers in an antique cable car over the Niagara Whirlpool. The car departs from the Falls’ Ontario Side then travels over half a mile across the Niagara River, while offering spectacular views of the whirlpool below.

4. Art Gallery of Ontario

With a collection of over 800,000 works of art, the Art Gallery of Ontario – AGO counts among North America’s most distinguished art museums. Situated on Dundas Street West, the museum is housed in a building that is regarded as one of the most critically acclaimed architectural achievements in North America.

Highlights of the museum building include Galleria Italia, a gleaming showcase of glass and wood that runs the length of an entire city block to give the building’s spaces drama and warmth, as well as the oft-photographed spiral staircase which beckons visitors to explore.

Highlights of the AGO’s collection include the Henry Moore Sculpture gallery which is the largest public collection of works by the British sculptor. There are also masterpieces by Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet and Anthony van Dyck. Pivotal works by major artists from Canada include Emily Carr, as well as members of the Group of Seven. Also check out The Massacre of the Innocents by Rubens.

There is also a collection of contemporary works that demonstrate major movements of Canadian, American and European art, including works by Andy Warhol.

Once you’ve had your fill of the AGO’s incredible art experience, step outside for a meal at one of the numerous restaurants in Chinatown where the museum is located. There are also plenty of cafes and eateries, as well as shopping opportunities in the neighborhood.

5. St. Lawrence Market

A visit Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market will make it easy to understand why it was voted the world’s best food market in 2012 by National Geographic. Primarily known for its food stuffs, St. Lawrence Market is also a great destination for fun activities and shopping.

Here you will find row upon row of locally grown produce, gourmet cured meats, freshly baked goods, specialty cheeses, sandwiches, preserves and soups which are bound to have your mouth watering. And the friendly vendors will make you feel right at home as you take in the sights, sounds and smells of the cosmopolitan Toronto marketplace.

Situated in the center of historic Old Town Toronto, near the hub of today’s downtown, St. Lawrence Market is a complex of 3 buildings that have previously served as City Hall, social center and marketplace throughout the history of Toronto.

The South Market building has artisans, restaurants and specialty food vendors who provide visitors with the lively and unique atmosphere of an authentic farmers market.

The local artisans and craftspeople set up shop at the Market to display their wares. This makes for an ideal spot to find perfect one-of-a-kind items such as handcrafted jewelry, quality natural clothing, crafts, accessories and souvenirs. At the Market Gallery you will find revolving exhibits dedicated to the art, history and culture of Toronto.

If you feel inspired by the endless selection of gourmet food, drop by one of the cooking classes offered at the Market. Here you can learn how to prepare your own culinary masterpieces. The Market Kitchen offers fun cooking classes for all abilities and ages. There are classes on everything offered here, from baking to cooking with wine and knife skills. This is a great place to hone your skills as a chef.

At the North Market building there is a farmers’ market every Saturday which has farmers arriving at dawn to sell meat, cheeses and other farm produce as they have been doing for over 200 years.

The St. Lawrence Hall houses the magnificent Great Hall which continues to be a popular site in Toronto for social functions. Complete your visit with a walking tour of St. Lawrence Market Complex to learn about its 200-year history.

6. Royal Ontario Museum

Situated in Queen’s Park, the Royal Ontario Museum – ROM is Canada’s largest museum of natural history and world cultures. The museum boasts a diverse and enormous collection of over 6 million items including scary dinosaurs, mysterious bats, as well as fascinating gems and magnificent jewelry, to vibrant First Nations paintings and impressive sculptures.

Visitors to the museum can explore the special exhibitions, permanent dinosaur galleries, exhibits from ancient Egypt, Canada’s First Peoples, minerals and gems, and much more, not to mention enjoy the world-class dining and shopping opportunities, paired with breathtaking architecture.

Canada’s premier museum of world culture and natural history, ROM offers a great spot to learn, have fun and be entertained. There’s something for everyone at this museum that was originally built under heavy influence of the Neo-Romanesque architectural style.

Go here to explore an awe-inspiring collection of artifacts and objects of art, science, natural history, world cultures and so much more. Visitors can also enjoy top-class special exhibitions and events which are offered on a regular basis.

Be sure to check out the Michael-Lee Chin Crystal, a stunning wing recently added to the museum architecture. There’s hardly a right angle in sight to the crystal and its glass and aluminum clad walls soar and jut to create a dramatic interior and unique perspective. The crystal prisms jut in such a way as to give the ultra-modern structure a wonderful and distinctive look that visitors can enjoy.

The artifacts, specimens and objects have been carefully classified and neatly displayed with informative details in over 40 galleries which are themselves divided into 2 main categories of galleries: the Natural History Galleries and the World Culture Galleries. There are also a number of unique hands-on galleries that feature interactive exhibits.

Among the World Culture Galleries is the versatile and dynamic Daphne Cockwell Gallery of Canada: First Peoples, which features over 1,000 objects that showcase modern artworks, history and culture of Canada’s First Nations. The gallery also has a theater which features films, interactive programs and live performances, in addition to a big changing exhibition space that holds contemporary First Nations artworks.

At the Gallery of Bronze Age Aegean, you will find close to 200 objects from the Minoan, Cycladic, Geometric and Mycenaean periods of ancient Greece, which date from approximately 3000 to 700BC, and which unfold in a fascinating chronicle of the ancient culture.

The Samuel European galleries offer a showcase of decorative arts of central and Western Europe from the Middle Ages to the present day. This collection comprises a broad spectrum of metalwork, ceramics, glass works, costumes, sculpture, furniture and more. Special collections on display here include Art Deco and arms and armor.

A striking compilation is available at the Patricia Harris Gallery of Textiles and Costume. This gallery is a showcase of the extensive transformation in textile design and technology over the last 3,000 years. Enjoy a multifaceted collection of fabrics and costume, including European fashion dating from the 18th century to the present day, along with some early Canadian textiles.

Another notable world culture gallery is the Gallery of Greece which showcases local history and culture of Greece through an impressively large collection of art and craft objects.

ROM is also home to one of the largest collections of dinosaurs in Canada, which are displayed in a spectacular setting at the Natural History Galleries.

You will be thrilled by the impressive world-famous dinosaur collection at the James and Louise Temerty Galleries of the Age of Dinosaurs. These galleries will transport you back to 200 million years ago, into the Cretaceous and Jurassic periods where you can browse fascinating skeletons of dinosaurs, fossil birds, insects and mammals housed within the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal.

Here you will find specimens numbering in the hundreds of giant Stegosaurus, Barosaurus, Deinonychus, Maiasaura, and Parasaurolophus and of course Tyrannosaurus Rex. What makes this gallery even more exciting is the fact that many of the species on display are actually real fossil skeletons.

Visitors can take advantage of interactive touch-screen stations as well as a series of short educational videos to teach them more about dinosaurs and other creatures.

The Reed Gallery of the Age of Mammals offers an extraordinary array of specimens from North and South America, including a number of large fossil skeletons of extinct mammals, non-mammalian specimens, and hundreds of fossils of corals, insects, turtles, fish and plants.

Visit the Bat Cave which was inspired by the St. Clair Cave in Jamaica, and which features simulated and atmospheric sights and sounds that guarantee a spine-chilling experience. The audio-visual bat cave simulation show offers great insights into these mysterious creatures of the night.

Life in Crisis: Schad Gallery of Biodiversity offers a unique platform for humanity to build a relationship with nature. This gallery seeks to raise awareness and educate on the major challenges that face the diversity, conservation and survival of life on our planet.

On display here are some extinct and endangered species, including specimens of a polar bar, giant panda, Narwhal whale, rhinoceros, a live coral reef, fish, turtles and the world’s largest Rafflesia flower. The state-of-the-art Earth Rangers Studio at this gallery offers great educational shows and workshops.

7. Casa Loma

Casa Loma is a grand mansion in downtown Toronto which was built during the early 1900s. Famous for its size and extravagance, Casa Loma is spread out over five acres of land, with the mansion and its gardens open to visitors on self-guided audio tours. Dubbed “Canada’s Castle”, Casa Loma also served as the set for a number of Hollywood movies including the X-Men and Chicago.

Casa Loma is a medieval-inspired castle that was began in 1911. It took almost 3 years and 300 men to complete what was at the time the largest residence in North America. The mansion was completed in 1914 with 98 rooms. However, the owner enjoyed Casa Loma for only 10 years before bankruptcy forced him to sell. The castle is today owned by the City of Toronto.

When it was first built, Casa Loma boasted lots of unique features and facilities including an elevator, 2 vertical passages for pipe organs, a large oven, 3 incomplete bowling alleys, 2 secret passageways, and a central vacuum system, in addition to other standards that were almost non-existent at that time. It is in this regard that Casa Loma was way ahead of its time in terms of technology and technique.

To date, Casa Loma has managed to retain its glory and grandeur. Visitors can still experience the splendor and elegance of the Edwardian era at Casa Loma, North America’s only full size castle. Explore the elaborately decorated rooms with authentic period furnishings, secret passageways, and take in the breathtaking Toronto views from one of the castle towers.

If you’re a history buff who enjoys exploring historical edifices, this grand castle is just the place for you. Visitors can tour this Gothic Revival masterpiece that is rich in history, and explore its stunning 98 rooms, Scottish and Norman towers, beautiful conservatory, hallways and more. What’s more, you are guaranteed amazing views both inside and outside the castle.

Begin your tour on the main floor from the imposing Great Hall which is the heart of the castle. The main highlights of the Great Hall are its 60 feet high ceiling, a Wurlitzer pipe organ, a hammer beam roof and massive pillars decorated in carved figures.

Next to the Great Hall is an impressive library that can hold 10,000 or so books. Throughout the day, the attractive herringbone oak pattern on the library floor gives off different shades from each end of the room.

The Conservatory is home to a number of plants, flower beds, as well as an artificial fountain. This room is famous for its Tiffany domed glass ceiling, Ontario marble side panels and Italian marble floors, and is equipped with steam pipes that are used to keep the flowers warm during the wintry months.

Still on the main floor are other important rooms such as the Dining Room, the Smoking Room, the Serving Room, the Billiard Room, Sir Henry’s Study Room and the Peacock Alley.

If you still haven’t had your fill on the main floor, there are even more attractions available for your perusal on the second and third floors. Don’t miss out on the state-of-the-art, richly adorned private suites on the second floor, and the stunning views of the Toronto skyline from the tower accessed from the third floor.

The carriage house and stables are connected to Casa Loma via an 800-foot tunnel that runs 18 feet below the Austin Terrace. The tunnel features an exhibit of Toronto’s Dark Side that tells the story of the city’s darker days through archival photographs depicting the Prohibition, the Plague, the Depression, The Great Toronto Fire, and the city’s first airplane crash. The carriage house features an Automotive Exhibit of vintage automobiles dating from the early 1900s.

Acres of lush flora surround Casa Loma showcasing ornate fountains and sculptures, in addition to meticulously landscaped displays of perennials, not to mention a wooded hillside full of decorative grasses and wildflowers.

On the lower level of the castle is Liberty Café where you can go for refreshments, as well as the Gift Shop where you can purchase souvenirs and gift items.

Situated at One Austin Terrace, Casa Loma is built on a hill brow overlooking Toronto, which would require an uphill hike for visitors who plan to walk to the mansion. A self-guided tour of Casa Loma mansion and grounds should take you about 2 hours. Allow yourself more time during warm weather when the garden flowers and plants are out.

A fantastic fusion of architecture and art, Casa Loma is located in an area that is largely residential, which makes for a pleasant stroll past other homes which are older and quite grand. Also visit the Sir Winston Churchill Park, which is situated near Casa Loma. This is a large urban green space that has woods, a ravine and nice picnic spots.

8. Kensington Market

Situated west of Spadina Avenue, Kensington Market area comprises a maze of narrow streets and alleys, most of which are lined with brightly-colored Victorian houses. During, the Twenties, families in this neighborhood would set up stands in front of their homes to sell their goods to one another; and this marked the beginning of the famous Kensington Market.

Today, the market and neighborhood make up one of the most diverse areas in Toronto. The rich multicultural mix is evident in the shops packed with items from Asia, the Caribbean, the Middle East, South America and Europe. This makes a visit to Kensington Market feel more like a sensory trip around the world.

On a busy day, the market is every bit as lively as other street markets around the world, with piles of fruit and vegetables, a cacophony of sounds, sweet treats and exotic spices.

Many who visit are attracted not only to the fair prices but also the wide variety of unusual shops, including some of the best vintage clothing stores in Toronto. In fact, Kensington Market is a treasure trove of second-hand and vintage clothing stores hidden among eclectic cafés and restaurants.

Each December, Kensington celebrates the Winter Solstice in a colorful pageant known as the Kensington Karnival. The neighborhood stages a traditional candlelit parade featuring gigantic costumes and wonderful atmospheric music. Plan your visit around this time to attend the fun festival.

9. Cabbagetown

The east Toronto community of Cabbagetown is situated south of Bloor and derives its name from the Irish immigrants who move to the neighborhood at the beginning of the late 1840s and who were said to be so poor that they could afford little else to eat other than cabbage, which they grew a lot of in their yards.

Once one of the Toronto’s poorest neighborhoods, Cabbagetown had most of its original areas razed in the Forties to make room for one of Canada’s first large scale social housing projects. Present-day Cabbagetown is actually situated north of the original neighborhood and bears little if any resemblance to the old Cabbagetown.

The present-day Cabbagetown became a Heritage Conservation District in 2004, which now includes the Riverdale Park and Farm, Wellesley Park, St. James Cemetery and Necropolis Cemetery.

Cabbagetown is today famous for having an enormous area with well-preserved Victorian housing, arguably the largest such area in North America. The Cabbagetown of the 21st century is a beautiful neighborhood filled with brightly painted restored Victorian homes with wrought iron fences and beautifully maintained gardens.

An interesting past and a vibrant present are what make Cabbagetown such a ‘catch’ in terms of Toronto’s residential neighborhoods. Now one of the most desired neighborhoods in Toronto, Cabbagetown attracts a large number of Bohemian types including artists, writers and folk musicians.

Plan your visit around September when you can enjoy the Cabbagetown Festival, the most notable event that takes place in the neighborhood. The 2-day event features arts and crafts fair, a gala parade, and the popular Cabbagetown Short Film & Video Festival that profiles the best short films by emerging film makers around the world.

10. Queen West

At Toronto’s vibrant Queen West, art meets commerce in a historic area that pioneered the growth of cultural life in Toronto during the 80s and 90s. Famous for its mix of galleries, fashion stores and indie music bars, the western half of Queen West has retained its unconventional roots.

For decades, this neighborhood nurtured young artists with numerous artist-run centers and galleries situated in the area, in addition to bars that play independent music and stage comedy acts. Another traditional strength in the area is fashion, where you can purchase fabric and create your own.

Situated at Queen St. West, Queen West is one of Toronto’s trendiest shopping areas and a goldmine for fashionistas. Set against a backdrop of historic buildings, Toronto’s fashion district features an extensive assortment of shoe stores, bead stores, clothing stores, and sewing and fabric supplies.

Also a hub for nightlife fun, Queen West is the spot at which Torontonians and tourists meet at a broad spectrum of bars and restaurants. Queen West also offers lively bars, patios and renowned live music venues by night. Every week, music lovers can go here to be serenaded with jazz, rock and much more.

After a busy day of sightseeing and shopping in Queen West, you can recharge with great food from the numerous restaurants and cafes found in this neighborhood.