We’re very big fans of off the beaten path experiences, discovering destinations like a local, and really diving beneath the skin of a city.
And while we typically aim to avoid the crowds, and to blend in as a local, there’s defintely something to be said about the most touristy attractions – after-all, they’ve become so famous for a reason!
Toronto is Canada’s most popular city; it’s a sprwaling metropolis with an energetic spirit, and a global personality. There are vast green spaces to explore by day, and a buzzing nightlife to hit up at night.
And when it comes to culture & entertainment there’s an eclectic shopping scene, multicultural restaurants, sports, theatre, concerts, galleries, museums, festivals; Toronto is cultured, dynamic, creative, and fun.
If you’re hitting up the city there’s plenty to pack an itinerary, though consider sprinkling in some of these most famous attractions; even if you’re after the local experience, can you really say you’ve visited Toronto without having checked out these sites?!
Toronto Tourist Trail: Don’t Miss These Most Famous Attractions
Day Trip to Niagara Falls
While not in Toronto itself, a day trip to Niagara Falls is one of the most famous and popular things to do in the surrounds of the city. And being on the Canadian side, you’ll get the gorgeous panoramas you see on postcards.
One of North America’s most stunning natural wonders, the Niagara Falls region comprises of two cities with the same name, divided by the international border between the United States and Canada.
You can be at the falls in just over an hour, and there are tours to Niagara Falls from Toronto which is a convenient option if you don’t want to drive. Tours will typically include hotel pickup and drop-off, as well as a cruise that gets you up close to the main Horseshoe Falls.
The general consensus is that the Canadian side is better, though you don’t actually have to choose – you can easily see the falls from both the Canadian and American sides.
There’s a footbridge that connects the two countries, and you can easily cross from one country to another. If you’re doing this though, make sure you have your passport, and any required visas for the country you’re entering.
Remember that Niagara is much more than just the falls; the Niagara Wine Route is particularly famous for its unique ice wine, made from grapes harvested in the winter when temperatures are way below freezing and sugar content is highest.
Royal Ontario Museum
One of the city’s most notable landmarks, the Royal Ontario Museum (also called the “ROM”) is Canada’s largest museum, dedicated to foreign cultures and natural history.
A must for history buffs, there are over six million artefacts, meaning you can walk through 4.5 billion years of history; exhibits range from dinosaurs to mummies, Chinese architecture to Indigenous objects, and world-class art and culture.
While there are millions of cultural objects from all over the world, this is also an opportunity to learn about Canada’s first peoples; the history of the Indigenous people of Ontario. The ROM is located on ancestral lands of several First Nations.
Though even if you’re not a fan of museums, it’s worth stopping by just to see the facade; the building design has been inspired by the museum’s mineral collection, and resembles an actual gemstone right on the streets of Toronto.
It’s a chunky facade shaped like, and called the Crystal, and it sparkles just as much as the actual gem exhibit. If you have a Toronto CityPASS your entry is included.
Image credit: Jeff Hitchcock (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
One of Canada’s most famous landmarks, the CN Tower (Canadian National Tower) defines Toronto’s skyline. And at 553 meters high, it offers some of the best sweeping views of the city.
This is a broadcast tower in the middle of downtown, which is open to the public with an observation deck, 360 degree Restaurant, and adventure experiences like the thrilling EdgeWalk.
It was the world’s tallest freestanding building until 2007, when the Burj Khalifa in Dubai took the title. Though the tower does still hold the title of the world’s tallest hands free walk.
For those without a fear of heights, the Edgewalk offers a 360 degree view of both the tower and the city; you walk outside around the outer rim of the tower, freestanding on the structure as you circumnavigate the towers roof.
You can of course just head up the elevator and enjoy the views from the safety of the indoor observation deck; as this is Toronto’s most popular attraction, keep in mind that is does get loud and crazy, and there can often be hundreds of people around (Toronto CityPASS will save you money on general admission).
If you want to find some calm, the restaurant is a great place for a drink, and can claim to have the highest wine cellar in the world.
Distillery Historic District
The Distillery Historic District is a hot spot for shopping, dining, arts and culture and events. What was once a derelict collection of Victorian Industrial buildings is now a historic district full of stores, shops, galleries, studios, restaurants, cafes, theatres in a heritage setting.
This is a pedestrian only hamlet, and when it comes to shopping you’ll find 40 boutiques and unique one-of-a-kind shops. There’s everything from stylish fashions and trendy products to unique gifts and tasty take-home artisanal treats.
When it comes to dining, you can pick up everything from a curated coffee blend, small bites you can eat while you explore, to award-winning dishes from a diverse selection of International cuisines in beautifully transformed heritage restaurants.
It’s worthwhile checking their calendar while you’re in Toronto, as the district is known for hosting world renowned festivals and events, and always have a rotating roster of local vendors and buskers.
The Art Gallery of Ontario
The Art Gallery of Ontario (also called AGO) is another of the largest and best art museums in North America, housing a staggering 90,000 pieces of art.
It was founded in 1900 by a group of private citizens as the Art Museum of Toronto, and has since evolved into the mammoth collection it now holds, which spans from 100 A.D. to the present.
The collection at the AGO has it all; photography, graphic art, sculpture, installations, Rubens, Picasso, Goya, and Rembrandt. There is cutting-edge contemporary art, European masterpieces and works by established and emerging Indigenous Canadian artists; their mission is to showcase diverse and underrepresented artists.
You’ll find the AGO on Dundas Street in the heart of the city. It’s an easy one to incorporate into your itinerary, within walking distance from Yonge-Dundas Square, the Toronto Eaton Centre and Chinatown.
Image credit: Reg Natarajanc (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
The only complete castle in North America is situated in Toronto; Casa Loma is a 98 room Victorian era castle, built between 1911 and 1914 as the intended home of financier Sir Henry Pellatt.
Considered a treasured heritage landmark, construction of the castle stopped during World War I, and after having poured $3.5 million into the property, Pellatt eventuualy went bankrupt. Today it is owned by the city, and open to the public as a museum and gardens.
While Pellatt sold many of his belongings, like the castle’s bear skin rugs, bronze buffalo head, and the grand marble fountain featuring statues of children holding up a dolphin, Casa Loma still holds many of its original attributes.
You can visit (included in the Toronto CityPASS) and tour the 10,000-book library, the plant-filled conservatory, the 60-foot-tall Great Hall with wooden chandeliers, the beautiful gardens, and the mahogany stables built with a Spanish tile floor suited for the hooves of the horses.
The castle also contains two secret, multi-floor passageways, a never-completed swimming pool now filled with gravestones, and 30 bathrooms.
When in Toronto, there are plenty of local secrets, off the beaten path experiences, and hidden gems that will make your itinerary unique and memorable. But don’t discount the city’s most famous attractions.