A Toronto Itinerary and Travel Guide - Made by a Local
I've spent the last seven years living in Toronto. I have a deep love for the city but it’s often underrated as a travel destination. Not a lot of people choose to visit Toronto. The dialogue is often, "I'm going as a pit stop to Niagara Falls" or "I've got a convention happening in the city".
Here’s the reality - You won’t be drawn in by grand architecture or ancient wonders. No, Toronto is a relatively “new” city in the grand scheme of the world. But new doesn’t mean boring or a lack of culture and history.
In fact, Toronto thrives on cultural diversity. Every week there are newly-added ethnic restaurants popping up. You can sample worldly flavours within walking distance of each other.
Curiosity and acceptance is what Torontonians pride themselves on. You feel totally relaxed being yourself. When you're in Toronto you're accepted for who you are, and that's what makes it such a warm and inviting place to be.
GO IF YOU LIKE:
LAKE VIEWS | ETHNIC FOODS | DIVERSITY | STREET ART | LGBTQ CULTURE | HIPSTERS
The Perfect Toronto ITINERARY
Toronto is a walkable city and I’ve designed my itinerary so that you can do just that. Seasonality plays a big part in what is open, so check below for my favourite activities in the summer and winter seasons.
There are some excursions which are outside the city center, you can Uber, take a taxi or public transport to get there.
ITINERARY AT A GLANCE
Day 1: Queen Street West, Kensington Market and Bloor-Yorkville
Day 2: Downtown, CN Tower, Waterfront, St. Lawrence and Distillery District
Day 3: Outside the city locations/museums
Expand the legend in the map for the detailed itinerary.
My Highlights in Toronto
Toronto highlights vary by season. Because winter can be chilly it might seem like the best time to explore indoor activities but don’t discount the amazing winter experiences in Toronto and just outside the city.
A visit to Toronto is often coupled with Niagara Falls and the Niagara Region. My only advice is, visit Niagara Falls then quickly leave and spend the rest of your time in Niagara-On-The-Lake. NOTL is a charming city with boutiques and restaurants, surrounded by the vineyards of the Niagara Region.
Summer Highlights in Toronto
Kensington Market is a popular spot to stroll during the summer. There are lots of cheap restaurants, colourful houses and vintage shopping. It’s got a grungy hipster vibe, which is laid back and fun to explore.
Queens Street West and Trinity Bellwoods Park
If the weather is nice, most locals enjoy relaxing in Trinity Bellwoods park. It’s a great spot for a picnic or to throw a ball. It’s also right on Queen Street West which is lined with boutique shopping and restaurants.
Harbourfront and the BEaches
Toronto is right on Lake Ontario and the Harbourfront becomes packed in the summer. People will enjoy boat rides or rent kayaks. There’s also a beautiful bike path that runs alone Lakeshore, grab a rental bike and cycle to Humber Bay. On really hot days locals head out to relax and dip in the water at Woodbine Beach.
Another fun beach option requires a short ferry ride to the Toronto Islands. The most popular island is Centre Island which has bike paths, park space, beaches and a mini amusement park for kids. Walk out to the Gibraltar lighthouse or go nude sunbathing at Hanlan's Point.
LIVE ENTERTAINMENT AND PERFORMING ARTS
Toronto has great live entertainment. My favourite is Second City which showcases sketch and improve comedy. Many great SNL cast members start at Second City and I have never been disappointed in a show.
Toronto also has a great performing arts scene, with The National Ballet of Canada, The Canadian Opera Company and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Mirvish, a Toronto musical theatre company, always has the latest and greatest musicals and theatre.
Winter Highlights in Toronto
The Distillery District and Christmas Market
Perhaps a bit cliché but during November and December The Distillery District Christmas market is a fun place to visit. There are stalls selling Christmas gifts and comfort food and at certain times there are carolers and live music. It's obscenely packed on weekends, so getting there in the early morning to avoid crowds and long lines is a good idea.
Harbourfront or Nathanphillips Square Ice Skating
Nathanphillips Square has become a hot spot, ever since the city built the iconic “Toronto” sign for the Pan American Games in 2015. In the winter this area turns into an ice rink. The Harbourfront Center Ice Rink is another great place to skate. It’s got lake views and a live DJ on Saturday nights.
The Royal Ontario Museum
The Royal Ontario Museum always has an interesting cultural or natural history exhibition. In the summer, on Friday nights, they have a fun event called Friday Night at the ROM. They open up several rooms in the museum for a massive party with food and drink stations. Who doesn't want to eat a bánh mì and dance beside dinosaur bones.
Exploring outside the city
I once met a snowmobiler and he gave me the best advice. He said "if you're going to live in Toronto and hibernate during the winter, then move to Florida. If you really want to appreciate the winter then get outside and enjoy it.
A few hours North of Toronto, is an abundance of natural parks and lakes. During the winter these turn into beautiful snowscapes.
There are so many activities including ice fishing, skiing, snowshoeing and ice skating through a forest at Arrowhead Provincial Park.
Two other winter activities are snowmobiling and dog sledding. I've tried both and absolutly loved them. I booked the snowmobiling through Backcountry Tours and the dog sledding through Winterdance. They really treat their dogs well.
Fill That Belly
The greatest thing about Toronto is you can find all types of foods, from all different ethnicities.
All my favourite restaurants in Toronto are located in the above Google map.
Visit Little India for dosas, Little Portugal for Portuguese BBQ or Little Italy for fresh pasta or pizza.
Grill your own meats at Korean BBQ or enjoy other excellent asian dishes like sushi... ramen... bibimbap...Vietnamese pho, Thai curries or dim sum.
Go for Caribbean... Middle Eastern... Peruvian...Polish... Pub fare... whatever ethnicity you want, Toronto has it.
Oh, and if you’re not Canadian, you obviously need to try poutine. In it’s most basic form, it’s french fries, curd cheese and gravy. Many poutine shops offer alt versions but make sure you try a classic.
Toronto is a great street photography city. A good 35mm (23mm APS-C) will keep you discreetly shooting.
Note, if you're shooting in the winter you'll want extra batteries since those suckers drain fast in the Canadian winter. Keep them in pockets next to your body to preserve that juice.
Getting Around Toronto
You don't need a car in Toronto as everything is fairly central, in fact it will probably be a burden.
The Toronto subway is called the TTC and though Torontonians will argue it's unreliable, it's a very economical and efficient way to get around the city. Here's a link to the TTC website for fare and route information.
Ride sharing and taxis (the signature orange Beck taxi) are also good ways to get around if you're in a hurry or it's late at night.
Where to Stay in Toronto
Some links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a booking. As always, I only recommend products and services I trust.
Try to stay somewhere close to a subway or streetcar. Most hotels are downtown, which is south of Bloor street, between Spadina (West) and Yonge St (East). A few popular hotels are:
The Thompson Hotel - For a cool rooftop pool with a view. It's central and trendy (though some might argue too trendy if you know what I mean.
The Drake Hotel - For fun artsy rooms that don't feel like a hotel then The Drake is a good place to stay.
The Shangri-La - If you're looking for luxe, then The Shangri-La is your place. It's in the Entertainment District and attached to Momofuku so you can get your ramen on!
The Gladstone Hotel - A boutique hotel that has artist designed guest rooms.
The Broadview Hotel - Not as central of a location but easy enough to jump on the streetcar to get into the city. Lovely rooftop patio.
Safety in Toronto
In 7 years of living there I've never had any major issues. Toronto is a very safe city, especially if you stay in the downtown core. I highly recommend it for solo female travel. Just be cautious at night time as you would in any large city.