Toronto is one of the great North American cities, but it will ask you to do a little exploring before revealing its priceless gems. Above all, it is crucial that you get outside the downtown core if you wish to experience the true Toronto. Incredibly diverse and wondrous neighborhoods will graciously welcome you as a reward for effort, each offering more visually arresting delights and intrigue than the last.
This is a city you could spend a lifetime uncovering, but should you just have 48 hours, here are 10 things that will have you feeling like a local. And don't be afraid to get lost amongst the side-streets and laneways, that is where the real Toronto lays.
10 Breakfast at the Drake
Since opening in 2004, The Drake has become a community hub for creatives of every ilk. Boasting delicious house-made food and strong roots in the local art scene, this is the perfect place to begin a trip to Toronto.
Standing since 1890, the building itself has lost none of its charm or beauty in the years that have followed. It is now a quintessentially Toronto location that inspires and encourages creative individuals to flourish over coffee and scones in the morning and live and local music in the evening.
9 Stroll Queen Street West
A vibrant, ever-changing landscape of strange stores, eclectic establishments and outrageous oddities, Queen Street West is an experience all on its own. Following your delicious breakfast, head east in the direction of downtown and simply marvel at the array of wonderful architecture and colorful characters that make up this iconic Toronto stretch.
Browse record stores bursting with bargains, journey through the past in one-of-a-kind thrift stores, watch the crammed streetcars ferrying people across the city, and absorb the sights and sounds of a totally Toronto neighborhood. If you are in need of a rest, Trinity Bellwoods is the perfect spot, with animal lovers encouraged not to miss the energy and excitement of the off-leash dog bowl at its core.
8 Marvel at true beauty within the AGO
Containing a permanent collection of almost 100,00 works dating from the 1st Century to today, the Art Gallery of Ontario on Dundas Street West is something not to be missed. Founded in 1900 and spanning 45,000-square-meters of space, there is something for everyone hidden within its walls.
Browse one of many limited-time only exhibitions, see work from regular artists-in-residence or even browse the free library and archives available to the public. Wednesday evenings feature free entry so the budget-conscious should plan their trip around this marvelous initiative.
7 Discover Kensington Market
Should you begin to feel hungry for both culture and delicious food, Kensington Market is the place to make your way to next. The distinctive, multicultural neighborhood has been designated a National Historic Site of Canada as a result of it’s continued impact on the city.
Visit on the last Sunday of the month to enjoy Pedestrian Sunday where the streets are closed off to motorized traffic and instead filled with live music, street theatre and games open to all. Every imaginable style of cuisine is available as well as plenty of outdoor patios serving drinks whatever the weather.
6 See a live gig at Horseshoe Tavern
A Toronto institution, the Horseshoe was first opened in 1861 as a blacksmith shop. In 1947, thanks to recently introduced liquor licensing laws, it was converted into a tavern with a capacity of 87.
Today, 400 patrons can squeeze themselves into this glorious pub that has become the most revered live music venue in the city. Several bands of note have caused the walls to shake here including The Rolling Stones, The Police, The Ramones, Talking Heads and Canadian royalty, The Tragically Hip.
Grab a stool at the bar to hear tales of your favorite musicians from the friendly bar staff before heading down back for live tunes that provide the perfect Toronto experience.
5 Catch a Toronto Blue Jays baseball game
While tickets to the Maple Leafs and Raptors are hard to come by, the Blue Jays will always look after you, thanks to a 162-game-season guaranteeing very few off days and extremely reasonably priced tickets. Centrally located and providing a unique view of the CN Tower when the roof is left open, the Rogers Centre is a perfect place to spend the evening.
Last minute tickets can often be found for less than $10 (CAD), several fixtures include free giveaways like replica jerseys and novelty items, and if you are really lucky, you may come away with a souvenir baseball skilfully caught from the comfort of your seat.
4 Explore High Park
Toronto’s largest public park, this sprawling paradise is a must for anyone visiting the city, even if just for 48 hours. Containing hiking trails, a stunning lakefront, playgrounds for the little ones, eateries, picnic areas, an abundance of squirrels and chipmunks, and so much more, it is impossible to be bored within the grounds of High Park.
Should you be lucky enough to visit during cherry blossom season, this is the place to get beautiful pictures of the rare and gorgeous flowers that bloom just once a year. You may just have to jostle with hoards of people doing the same.
3 Catch the ferry out to the Toronto Islands
Situated just offshore of mainland Toronto, the Islands are a chain of 15 small land masses home to Billy Bishop Airport, expansive parklands, an amusement park, and beautiful sandy beaches. Access is via a ferry operated by the City of Toronto or privately-owned water taxis that will charge you $10 (CAD) per person.
Hiring bikes is a great way to explore the Islands, with well-maintained paths ensuring a smooth ride and joyful jaunt. Enjoy a delicious meal while relaxing on the lush grass, get lost in the hedge maze, play a game of frisbee golf or simply relax on the beach before floating back to the city.
2 Expand your senses at O.Noir
A truly eye-opening experience, O’Noir on Church Street is a culinary adventure that will give you a better understanding of what it is like to be blind. Once you have placed your order (the surprise option is highly recommended) you will be led into a completely darkened room by your visually-impaired waiter and seated while you wait for your food and drinks to arrive.
Recognized as one of the most unique restaurants in Canada, you will enjoy your meal like never before, thanks to the total lack of light distracting the tastebuds. O.Noir aims to teach the sighted about a lightless world while providing jobs for those without the benefit of vision. This is an experience you will not soon forget and may just see you grow as a human being.
1 Experience Old Toronto at the Distillery District
Just east of the downtown core, the Distillery District contains boutique shops, restaurants, and numerous heritage-listed buildings that make for a magical afternoon in the outdoors.
Beginning with the construction of the Gooderham and Worts Distillery in 1832, once the largest distillery in the world, this area has been a part of Toronto for a vast majority of its history. Renovated in the early 2000s to transform the district into a pedestrian-orientated haven, it now houses the Toronto Christmas Markets each year as well as year-round theatre performances and artisanal markets. Drop in for a meal, a shopping excursion, or just to enjoy the cobblestoned streets and lingering atmosphere of Old Toronto.