There’s so much to do in Toronto that I can’t possibly list everything — but if you have four days, here are some options for enjoying your time:
1. Walk Along the Waterfront
Toronto claims forty-six kilometers of Lake Ontario shoreline, and you can walk along a good stretch of that. As you stroll, you can relax on benches, kick up sand on a few tiny beaches, enjoy public art …
… watch the island ferries speeding through the water …
… find fish plaques in the ground …
… ponder the future of the now-defunct Canada Malting Silos …
… stop at this beautiful red building to eat a BeaverTail (a sort of fried dough with stuff on top)…
… see small planes coming and going from the city airport …
… wonder why the lake is at such a high level right now (there are multiple points at which the sidewalk is fully submerged in the water) …
… and generally enjoy the scenery:
2. Take a Ferry to the Islands
The city of Toronto is fringed by a small group of islands just to the south in Lake Ontario. These are a great getaway, a chance to see cottage neighborhoods, beaches, boats, and a bit of nature for very little travel time. To get to them, you can opt for a quick public ferry ride — or you can skip the lines, pay just a little bit more, and take advantage of one of the water ferry companies that ply their trade along the city’s waterfront.
We took the hilariously-named Tiki Taxi (hilarious because there is nothing “tiki” whatsoever about Toronto). The best thing about it may be the views back across the lake to the city on the way out…
… and as you’re coming back into Toronto at the end of the day:
The islands are incredibly crowded on beautiful summer weekends, filled with people walking, biking, visiting the children’s amusement park, sitting out under the trees at one of a handful of cafes, and lying out at the many beaches.
The water is freezing — I’m not afraid of cool swims, but this was stunningly, breath-takingly cold. Still, it’s well worth attempting a dip — or you can make your way over to the nude beach for some full-skin sunbathing if chilly swimming just isn’t your thing. However you choose to spend your time, this is a great place to spend a day in the sunshine!
3. Admire the Architecture
Toronto is a fast-growing city — the crane-to-people ratio seems to be about one-to-one — and there’s a lot to see if you remember to look up.
Some of the large indoor spaces are exciting, too:
And you could spend all day photographing the 1,815 foot CN Tower (once the highest building in the world) from different angles.
But my personal favorite is the OCAD (Ontario College of Art & Design) building, a cantilevered wonder in the sky:
4. Wander the Neighborhoods
Toronto is a wonderfully walkable city, and you can spend all day poking around different neighborhoods. No matter what you like — houses, shops, green space, cafes, public art, gardens — you’re sure to find it. We spend a good bit of one afternoon in Kensington Market, a neighborhood (not an actual market) known for being diverse and eclectic. It’s home to all sorts of street art …
… a wide range of restaurants and fun bakeries …
… and shops inviting you to while away the afternoon in smoke-filled bliss:
We also spent a lot of time walking around Queen West, a neighborhood filled with design shops and cute houses. It’s a great place to poke around!
5. Eat and Drink!!!
Toronto has an incredible food scene, and you can get anything from simple poutine (the mess of fries, cheese curds, and gravy above) to fancy cocktails:
Food and drink highlights for us included:
- Dinner at Byblos (so many good things — Turkish manti dumplings, a truly wonderful fig salad, and a fun and delicious pavlova for dessert)
- Dinner at Bar Isabel
- Avocado toast at Early Bird
- The kouign amann at BlackBird Bakery
We also put together a fantastic picnic at St. Lawrence Market, where you can get everything from cheese curds to jelly beans to fresh-made sandwiches.
This is a wonderful market, with all sorts of yummy things under one roof — and as a bonus, if you go on a Saturday morning, there’s a giant farmer’s market under a tent just behind the main building. In the season of fresh strawberries and raspberries, I can’t recommend this place highly enough.
6. Go to a Museum (or Four)
Toronto boasts a number of museum options, including the Bata Shoe Museum (featured above is their celebration of provincial and territorial flowers in shoes), Casa Loma, and the Art Gallery of Ontario:
Even if you don’t make it into the Art Gallery, it’s worth walking around their wacky building (which, as you can see, changes pretty dramatically from front to back):
For a totally different kind of museum experience, you might check out the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Here, you can see both the original Stanley Cup and the modern-day version (or a replica if the real one is traveling around, which it does every now and then).
If hockey isn’t your thing, you can just marvel at the building that houses the Hall of Fame — originally built for the Bank of Montreal, it is a work of late nineteenth century beauty.
7. Search out Street Art
I have a whole separate post about this; it was one of my very favorite parts of the city!
8. Visit City Hall
Ok, you probably won’t want to visit City Hall itself (it’s the tall curvy building at the upper left above), but you’ll want to see the big Toronto sign! It’s quite the scene for tourists!
On the day we visited, an art fair was in full swing, with hundreds of identical white tents sprouting up above the concrete plaza.
One of the great parts about a visit to this area is that you are just one street over from Old City Hall — which, in its Romanesque glory, easily eclipses the new city buildings:
Notable for its asymmetrical layout, this sandstone wonder was the largest civic building in North America when it was completed in 1899. I was a big fan of the four gargoyles of the clock tower:
9. Spend Time in a Park
We had a lovely picnic lunch in the shade in St. James Park, a Victorian-inspired space consisting of formal gardens, trees and walking paths.
It also has a few highly unusual public seating options:
We also stopped by to see this large fountain at Taddle Creek Park:
But my favorite green space in Toronto was the harbourfront Music Garden, a “reflection in landscape of Bach’s Suite No. 1 in G Major for Unaccompanied Cello,” designed by Yo Yo Ma (a famous cellist) and Julie Moir Messervy (a landscape designer).
This garden has different sections (e.g., allemande, sarabande, gigue) that correspond to dance movements in Bach’s piece. It also has terrific views …
… and a few flowers that I’d never seen before:
10. Enjoy Uniquely Canadian Signage
Signs in Toronto are inclusive …
… civil …
… and cozy:
What’s not to love?