If you’re planning a trip to Toronto and are wondering what some of the best things to do in the city are, I’ve got you covered. Not only did I live in Toronto and the surrounding area for close to seven years, but I also lived life to the fullest while I was there; constantly getting out and adventuring as much as possible.
I was lucky in my time in Toronto due to the incredible friends I made there — friends who were constantly out exploring the city and willing to spend both late nights out on the town and days out and about doing fun local things. Due to this, I now know Toronto like the back of my hand. I’ve been to the festivals, I’ve eaten the food, and I’ve chilled in the parks.
I created the below list of 50 great things to do in Toronto based on my personal preferences, tailored to what I think constitutes an excellent, well-rounded trip to the city. You won’t (necessarily) find the big tourist attractions on this list, but you will find things that I think give Toronto character, and altogether help to build the Toronto that I love.
So, from a once-upon-a-time-local’s perspective, here are the 50 best things to do in Toronto.
50 Best Things to do in Toronto, Ontario
If you’re an alternative culture lover, then you’ll find Kensington Market to be the coolest neighborhood in Toronto. In Kensington, there is nary a chain restaurant and the shops are as eclectic as the people. This is the place to come to shop for some unique items, have a craft brew in a dive bar, and join a drum circle in the park.
Some of my favorite things to do in Kensington are to dance the night away at The Boat, grab some poutine at Fresco’s, do some shopping in Blue Banana, grab a drink at Ronnie’s, Handlebar, Embassy, or Last Temptation, have a burrito at Big Fat Burrito, eat some pie at Wanda’s Pie in the Sky, and do brunch at KOS. But like, tip of the iceberg.
Adjacent to Kensington Market, Toronto’s China Town is one of the coolest in the country. Shops and stalls line the streets and the energy is always buzzing. This is the place to come for some excellent Chinese cuisine, some pampering, or some unique (and often inexpensive) shopping experiences.
Once a hippie haven that helped launch the careers of greats such as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, Yorkville has flipped a one-eighty over the years and is now the premier hangout spot for Toronto’s swanky high society. Where there were once grungy clubs and cool shops you’ll now find high-end shopping, a plethora of gourmet eats, and a posh atmosphere.
Truthbetold, Yorkville took some time to grow on me, knowing what it once was versus what it has become — while every neighborhood in Toronto has been gentrified to some degree, nowhere is it more apparent than Yorkville. That said, I do love coming to Yorkville for a nice glass of wine or when my money starts to burn a hole in my wallet.
If you’re looking to hang in Yorkville on the cheap(er), I recommend heading to Hemingway’s — a great restaurant and bar with a relaxed atmosphere.
West Queen West
My old stomping grounds, West Queen West resides right between Queen West and Parkdale (roughly between Bathurst and Gladstone) and is one of my favorite neighborhoods in all of the city. The hood lays claim to artists, bougie’s, and hipsters alike, and features boutiques, vintage shops, funky bars, and great eats.
It’s one of those places where you can stroll around at your own pace and see what you like.
Set alongside the University of Toronto, The Annex has a bohemian vibe and is filled with character houses, galleries, and cute bars. In the Annex, you’ll find some great spots such as Lee’s Palace / Dance Cave, the BMV, and Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.
Located on College Street roughly between Kensington Market and Dufferin Grove, Little Italy is a buzzy, vibrant community full of pizzerias, gelato shops, bakeries, clubs, and patios.
Another neighborhood in which I used to live, Little Portugal is an understated, yet vibrant community filled with culture. It’s estimated that half of the people who reside in Little Portugal have Portuguese roots, which is an apparent fact in many of the neat features you’ll find around the area.
Old Town / Distillery District
While I only ever really made my way to Toronto’s Old Town and Distillery District in December (they have an excellent Christmas market), this is easily one of the prettiest areas of the city. In these districts, you’ll find the famed St. Lawrence Market, the Flatiron Building, and a bunch of cute restaurants and bars.
Art Gallery of Ontario
Wandering around the AGO for a few hours is one of my favorite things to do in Toronto. The (close to) 95,000 piece collections span many eras and styles, meaning you’ll be able to find a favorite section no matter your taste.
While all visitors 25 and under receive free admission, if you’re out of that age bracket then I recommend planning a visit on Wednesday nights between 6 and 9 pm, when the AGO is free for all visitors.
Royal Ontario Museum
The largest museum in the country, the ROM combines exhibits of art, natural history, and culture. To visit the museum for free, head there between 5:30 and 8:30 on the third Monday night of every month, when they host their ‘Monday Nights Free” initiative.
The Aga Khan is one of the most awe-inspiring museums in Toronto, as it devotes its collection to Islamic art, Iranian art, and Muslim culture. At this museum, you can expect exhibitions on tapestries, sustainable culture, Indian treasures, and more.
Bata Shoe Museum
Have an interest in footwear from all over the world, or just want to see a pair of Elton John’s kicks? Then head over to the Bata Shoe Museum, where you’ll find over 1,000 pairs of displayed shoes, chosen from a collection of over 13,000 pairs. It’s totally worth checking out.
Live Music Venues
One of the most historic and legendary venues in the city, the Horseshoe Tavern was founded in 1947 and has hosted musicians ranging from local unknowns to some of the biggest artists of our time. The Horseshoe has space for both standing and sitting and has a pool table (get there early if you plan on using it though). Warning: It gets loud.
One of my favorite ways to take in the Horseshoe was to head there on Tuesday nights when they showcase up and coming talent without a cover.
One of the most famed venues in Toronto, Massey Hall is an internationally-acclaimed location that features everything from concerts to lectures to comic acts. With a history dating back to 1892, Massey Hall has seen many lives and personalities. Some of the most notable performances at the Hall include Bob Dylan in 1965, Neil Young’s recording of “Live at Massey Hall” in 1971, and that time Morrissey got mistaken for a rambunctious fan and was hauled out of the building by a security guard in 1997.
Another fun fact, I once worked at Massey as an usher.
Is it possible to mention Lee’s Palace in a post without saying that it was featured in Scott Pilgrim? Apparently not. When I first moved to Toronto, that was all anyone would tell me about the place, although that claim to fame quickly faded away in my mind.
Lee’s Palace is located in the Annex on Bloor Street near Lippincott, and constantly plays host to bands of all shapes and sizes, most of the rock variety. I’ve seen everyone from Titus Andronicus to The Wild Feathers at Lee’s.
Tip: If you want to keep the night going after your concert, then head upstairs to Dance Cave — a dingy dance hall playing all your fave alternative rock, pop, and hip hop hits.
Bovine Sex Club
For when you want dirty, scungy music in a dirty, scungy (yet super cool) bar, head over to the Bovine Sex Club. A place that caters mostly to the punk, rock, and metal crowds, the Bovine is a smallish venue covered in art, graffiti, and found objects that they’ve masterfully hung on the ceiling.
For added fun (or just to get the ringing out of your ears from downstairs), head on up to the rooftop where you’ll find a fun Tiki Bar.
Cherry Cola’s Rock N’ Rolla Cabaret & Lounge
Oh, the hours I’ve clocked in at Cherry’s. This intimate venue is a rock n’ rollers wet dream, with great bands constantly gracing the stage, an unparalleled atmosphere, and an ever-present assortment of characters. While the place tends to get packed quickly, I’ve never left without a story.
If you’re looking for something a little different, head to Cherry’s on Sunday for their ‘Sinful Sundays’ burlesque show. Just prepare to be heckled.
The Rivoli is a three-part venue in my mind. On first glance, it’s a fun restaurant where you can have a glass of wine, some appy’s and people watch. However, stroll on a little farther to the back of the building, and you’ll find a standing-room-only music venue that showcases all kinds of acts. Then, upstairs you’ll find a comprehensive pool hall where, for just a few bucks, you can kick your friend’s butts.
The Rivoli tends to have a calmer feel to it than the aforementioned venues and draws in a more diverse crowd.
The Great Hall
A West Queen West staple, I once lived right across the street from The Great Hall and frequented the spot as a result. The building itself actually lays claim to four distinct venues, which are often used for corporate functions, private events, and art showcases alike, but it’s the main hall that sees the bands roll through on the reg.
Opened in 1909, the Opera House is one of Toronto’s most historic venues and has lived a dynamic life as a result. Located on Queen Street East in the Riverdale neighborhood, the Opera House is a great mid-sized venue (it has a capacity of 950) that hosts everything from bands to comics to variety shows.
My most memorable Opera House experience was when I saw Metallica play there a few years ago. Face = melted.
Danforth Music Hall
Located right beside Broadview station on Toronto’s east side, the Danforth Music Hall is another historic, mid-sized hall that plays host to a variety of performers.
Honorable music venue mentions: The Dakota Tavern, The Phoenix, The Cameron House, Hues Room, The Smiling Buddha, Mod Club, The Rex, and The Painted Lady.
The Food Truck Across from Nathan Phillips Square
Never underestimate the power of a good food truck. If you’re out and about in the downtown area, look for a food truck across from Nathan Phillips Square, and order their poutine. Then, sit down at one of the many chess/checkerboard tables in the vicinity and indulge away.
Be wary of the pigeons.
As mentioned above, Fresco’s in Kensington Market makes one of the best poutines in the city. The cheese curds are perfection, they don’t skimp on the gravy, and everything melts together into ooey-gooey goodness. This is probably my favorite poutine spot in Toronto if I had to pick just one.
Poutini’s House of Poutine
A West Queen West staple, I once lived right across the street from this gem and had to use some extraordinary willpower to refrain from eating it on the daily. You’ll find that the gravy here is a bit lighter and spicier than in other places across the city, but that’s exactly what it’s famous for.
Smoke’s isn’t just a Toronto spot (as far as I know it’s all over Canada), but it’s nevertheless one of my faves. Smoke’s makes their regular poutine to perfection, but don’t be afraid to try some of their more adventurous concoctions such as the Drunken Chicken & Waffle, pulled pork, and rainbow poutines.
Toronto International Film Festival
TIFF is easily my favorite festival in Toronto. When I think of it, TIFF reminds me of chilly fall days, warm coffee in my hands, rush lines, celebrity sightings, and fabulous films. There’s watching a movie, then there’s watching a movie in the theatre, and THEN there’s watching a movie premiere at a major film festival.
Canadian Music Week
I feel like at the end of every CMW they should give out buttons that say “I survived Canadian Music Week”, because every single time I’ve gone, it has been an event. Fuelled by alcohol, coffee, red bull, and vitamins, Canadian Music Week is interesting panels during the day and venue hopping at night. It’s live music, schmoozing, and award shows.
The northern version of Austin’s SXSW, NXNE is a more chilled music festival than CMW (in my experience) but packs a punch when it comes to great music featured around the city. Make sure to get a wristband for it, and keep in mind that most venues are open (and serving alcohol) til 4 am!
I love Hot Docs film festival almost as much as I love TIFF, as not only is this a great Toronto film festival, it’s focused around, you guessed it, documentaries. I just LOVE going to the Bloor theatre and munching on popcorn during this fest.
On a slightly unrelated note, every month the Bloor Theatre hosts a Rocky Horror Picture Show shadowcast, and it’s awesome. While something I didn’t go to so much in my later Toronto years, for the first few I was all over this. If you’re not easily offended and can handle partial nudity, I highly recommend it.
Here’s the deal, while I went to about a million different restaurants during my time in Toronto sampling all kinds of cuisine, I existed there mostly on a budget without the mind or perspective of a foodie. So, instead of the most delectable restaurants, I’ve decided to just list out some inexpensive, yet great in my books, Toronto eateries.
Probably my most frequented dive bar, Sneaky Dee’s is etched tables, loud punk music, an eclectic crowd, and the best nachos you’ve ever had in your life. While you can technically order anything you want here, just order the nachos. Just do it.
Right across the street from Sneaky Dee’s, Nirvana is a quieter option for inexpensive food, but with more of a healthier selection that caters to the vegetarian crowd. I’ve always loved the ambiance here too – with Buddha paintings, wood benches, and mood lighting via lamps no matter the time of day.
Butter Chicken Roti
Back when I lived at Queen and Lisgar, I LIVED for getting Aloo Gobi Roti at Butter Chicken Roti. It’s probably partially why I gained like ten pounds while I lived there. Recommended.
Billy’s Souvlaki Place
Okay, on first sight, this place looks a little shaky, and it took a few times walking past it on my commute home from work before I decided to go in. Then, when I did, I was met with the somewhat-icy stares of a bunch of older Greek men having beers and watching sports on TV while I ordered. But holy shit, despite the frosty, divey exterior, the Greek food at Billy’s Souvlaki Place is my absolute favorite. The flavors and sauces melt together to create ooey-gooey Greek goodness.
Niagara Falls is the number one day trip spot for people visiting the Toronto area, and for good reason. No matter how many times I’ve seen these magnificent waterfalls, I can’t help but be called back time again. A couple of tips for Niagara Falls though — the Canadian side is the best side for viewing due to the falls being larger on the American side, and the town of Niagara itself is like Vegas and usually super busy.
If what you found at Niagara Falls itself wasn’t quite your taste, then I highly recommend heading out to Niagara-On-The-Lake for the day. Not only is this a prime wine country region in Ontario, but the town is also loaded with history (I’ve taken the Ghost Tour and LOVED it), quaint streets, and great restaurants.
If I was to plan a trip to the Niagara region, I’d go to the falls for an hour and then skip on over to Niagara-On-The-Lake. But that’s just me.
Canada’s largest amusement park, filled with all the usual suspects. I’ll admit, I’ve only been to Canada’s Wonderland once and it was during all the Halloween festivities which, while not scary, were definitely a lot of fun. You’re definitely going to want to get the pass that lets you skip the lines though if you plan on going on a bunch of rides, as they can be quite long.
Algonquin Provincial Park
A park set in Southeastern Ontario, about three hours from Toronto, Algonquin is the perfect nature escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. There are multiple hiking trails in the park as well as rivers, forests, lakes, and plenty of wildlife.
Did you know that Toronto has an Island? Well, it does (multiple, actually) and I find it to be the perfect day escape for when I don’t want to travel too far yet still crave a different vibe. On the island, you’ll find plenty of beaches (both clothed and nudist), relaxed restaurants perfect for grabbing a pint, and even a petting zoo if you have kids in tow.
To get from the mainland to the Island, you’ll have to take the ferry which runs back and forth several times a day.
Just an hour’s drive away from Toronto you’ll find the picturesque Dundas Peak near the community of Dundas. Here you’ll find nature trails, waterfalls, and a beautiful rock overlook giving you a great view of the surrounding forest. For added beauty, come here in the fall when the leaves are changing color.
Hamilton is about a two-hour journey from downtown Toronto and is definitely worth the trek. Generally a little grittier than Toronto, Hamilton is a great place to go to do some shopping, go hiking, and well… party. I’ve had some wild nights in the Hammer.
Note that if you don’t have a car (which I honestly don’t recommend renting during your time in Toronto), then you take either the bus or the Go Train straight to Hamilton.
The largest record store on this list, Sonic Boom is a Toronto staple. While they have a solid selection of records, you’ll also find movies, cassettes, and all kinds of goodies here.
There are two Kops Record stores in Toronto, one on Queen West and one on the Danforth, and both have an insanely cool vibe to them. For added fun, try to visit during one of their in-house events.
Located on Ossington, Rotate This has some of the most music-knowledge heavy employees in the city — and they’re usually open to spilling their passion with you. If you’re looking for some recs before you get there, check out their staff picks section on their website, where you’ll be sure to find some gems.
Walking into June Records always makes me think I’m walking into an upscale record shop (if there is such a thing). Everything is clean, you’ll find some new pop vinyl releases, and the employees look prim and proper. While not necessarily the place to find the deepest cuts, June Records is solid for getting the staples into your collection.
Is it weird that I listed the BMV as a top bookstore in Toronto? Whatever. I love it. I’ve found so many cool books here, almost always at a discounted price.
Located at 319 College Street, The Beguiling is a funky little shop where you can go for all of your comic, manga, graphic novel, and original art needs.
With multiple locations around Toronto, it’s always a good idea to stop in at Book City to peruse the shelves. While each location has a smaller selection, the books are usually at a very affordable price, and you can definitely find some gems in here!
Located near the intersection of Bloor and Christie, Christie Pits is a great inner-city spot to chill out and relax. I always find the vibe here to be inviting and calm, and the park often hosts live music performances and movie nights.
High Park is probably my favorite park in the city. A little out of downtown and easily accessed via the subway, this park has sprawling green lawns, a small lake, and plenty of trees to sit under. It’s the place to go for a relaxing park experience, and it even makes you feel like you’ve left the city for a nature adventure.
If you’re a young hipster in Toronto on a sunny afternoon, then you may just find yourself dressing up in your favorite duds and spreading out a picnic blanket in Trinity Bellwoods with your 10 most fashionable friends. And if you’re not… well then Trinity Bellwoods is still a great park, even if it does get a little crowded with the aforementioned scene.
And if you have a pup, be sure to pay a visit to the Trinity Bellwoods Dog Bowl!
I’ve limited this list to 50 in order to be (somewhat) succinct, but my mind is still racing so many more great Toronto spots. What are some of your faves?