14 Must-Visit Spots In Toronto For Tourists, According To Visitors

Toronto is Canada's largest city, its financial hub, and its resident punching bag. You see, Canadians outside the city believe Toronto sees itself as "The Center of the Universe" (not a compliment). Toronto has long been a magnet for barbs, but it is a tourist beacon, too.

Toronto boasts more world-class cultural attractions than any other Canadian city, along with a food and bar scene unrivaled across the country. "Hogtown" — just one of Toronto's many nicknames — may not have Montreal's French-Canadian bohemianism or Vancouver's unparalleled natural beauty, but "The Big Smoke" is — ironically — covered in green space and within driving distance of a stunning provincial park. Toronto is also close to some of the best towns to visit on Lake Ontario.

So if you've heard a lot about "The 6ix" (a riff on the 416 area code, popularized by Toronto-born Drake), that's no surprise. According to the City of Toronto, nearly 30 million visitors visit North America's fourth-most populous burg annually, and the World Population Review ranks Toronto as the second-most diverse city in the world. All those visitors and newcomers clearly know a good thing when they see it, and we've mined the web for expert recommendations and traveler opinions, combined with our own experiences living in the city, so follow their (and our) lead and see what's up on Lake Ontario's northern shore.

Expand your horizons at the Royal Ontario Museum

The ROM, as it is locally known, is a must-visit, especially the James and Louise Temerty Galleries of the Age of Dinosaurs. Featuring dinosaur bones from both the Jurassic (145 to 200 million years ago) and Cretaceous Periods (a mere 65 to 145 million years ago), the star is no doubt "Gordo," an 88-foot-long Barosaurus skeleton, the largest authentic mounted dinosaur skeleton in Canada. Don't miss the Quetzalcoatlus skeleton and its 39-foot-wingspan hanging from the ceiling. The Quetzalcoatlus was the largest winged animal to fly in North America (take that, pterodactyl).

The building itself is a contradictory marvel. Originally constructed in 1914, the Royal Ontario Museum underwent a massive renovation in the early aughts. The Michael Lee-Chin Crystal was finished in 2007 and hovers over Bloor Street, a stunning juxtaposition to the building's original, modernist design. The ROM sits at Bloor and Queen's Park Circle, just north of the Ontario Legislature.

Explore nature at Evergreen Brick Works

According to Treehugger.com, Toronto has the 5th most public parkland in North America, so Evergreen Brick Works is a perfect place to take advantage of all that greenery. Located in the Don Valley on the grounds of the defunct Don Valley Brick Works and quarry, Evergreen Brick Works is a social enterprise hub featuring programs and sustainability initiatives. Interconnected hiking trails are easily accessible, so hike or bike up to the Governor's Lookout for stunning views of the Valley and skyline. The trails are great for adults, kids, and dogs, who must be leashed at all times (the dogs, not the kids).

The Brick Works is a great spot to grab a coffee or a bite at its excellent Picnic Cafe. Evergreen Brick Works hosts the city's largest farmer's market every Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., featuring produce, meats, and cheeses from local producers. Coffee and all kinds of delicious street food, from empanadas, samosas, ice cream, and more, are on offer. The market is outdoors most of the year but heads inside during the winter. Admission is free.

Admire the Art Gallery of Ontario's world-class art collection

The Art Gallery of Ontario, a 10-minute walk from the Eaton Centre and just five minutes east of Chinatown, is one of Canada's premier galleries. It holds a vast collection of Canadian and Indigenous art and a significant global collection — admission begins at $22 for adults, while those under 25 enter free of charge. The AGO's Canadian Collection features works dating from when humans started creating art through to the present, created within Canada's present-day borders. Tom Thomson's paintings of early 20th-century life in the isolated Ontario wilderness are particularly evocative and haunting. The gallery boasts an extensive collection of work by the famed Group of Seven, including Lawren Harris' soaring Canadian landscapes.

The gallery itself is a sight, having undergone major renovations from 2004 through 2008, with further expansion planned for the future. Canadian-born star-chitect Frank Gehry led the mid-aughts renovations, which feature warm woods and lots of open, airy spaces. Grab a coffee and sit in the Galleria Italia, a gorgeous wood and glass atrium overlooking Dundas Street. Also, check out the Ontario College of Art & Design's mind-blowing, checkered table-top building on McCaul Street, a three-minute walk south.

Indulge in Kensington Market's sights, sounds, and tastes

Kensington Market is a quirky, bohemian neighborhood best explored on foot, just west of Chinatown. The market's close quarters make pedestrians king — watch out for vehicles. On one Sunday a month from May to October, Market streets are closed to traffic.

Head to Golden Patty (also known as Patty King) on Baldwin Street for a delicious beef patty with a red dot, or grab coffee a few doors down at Jimmy's, a local micro chain owned by a guy named ... Phil (very anticlimactic, we know). Post-caffeine, explore the market's eclectic assortment of vintage clothing stores, shops, murals, and art installations (the Garden Car is a great photo opportunity), and stop at Kid Icarus for gifts and posters. They offer periodic screen-printing classes, too.

In the evening, head to Ronnie's Local 069, which is an absolute hole-in-the-wall, but therein lies its charm. There's a big patio out front and local brews on tap. Head to Supermarket on Augusta Ave (just south of College Street) for drinks, dancing, and live shows.

Go under the sea at Ripley's Aquarium of Canada

If you're a massive fan of "The Little Mermaid" (and who isn't?) and want to go "under the sea," head to Ripley's Aquarium of Canada to do just that. Ripley's is located directly east of the CN Tower, which you cannot miss (trust us). Timed entry tickets start at $32 for adults and $22 for kids.

You'll literally walk under the Aquarium's Dangerous Lagoon," surrounded by sharks, sea turtles, and more. You can observe all the aquatic mayhem while standing on the moving sidewalk, and you may be lucky enough to catch a dive show where divers swim with the sharks. The husbandry team gives live talks and answers questions, and you might even see a live feeding (of chum, not divers).

Check out Ripley's Shoreline Gallery for an up-close-and-personal look at the Aquarium's stingrays. Guests can closely observe, engage with, and even gently touch the rays. Demonstrations are offered, and guests can ask questions to their heart's content. Shark eggs are kept in a separate part of the Gallery, known as Mermaid's Purse (Ariel's?), and you can spy baby sharks swimming around. Don't mess with the baby sharks — they are still sharks, after all.

Feel like you're in Europe at the Distillery Historic District

The Distillery Historic District is a Victorian-style industrial area refashioned into one of Toronto's most popular neighborhoods, just a 10-minute drive east (or 30-minute walk) from Union Station. Revitalized over the past twenty years, the Distillery is full of restaurants, shops, and cafes. Wide, European-style, cobblestone walkways provide lots of room to stroll and marvel at the historic architecture.

Every year, the Distillery hosts The Distillery Winter Village, a hugely popular event that runs from mid-November into January (tickets start at $11). Christmas is the best time to visit, as the Distillery is packed with revelers. The Winter Village features hot apple cider, hot chocolate, mulled wine, eggnog, and more. Raclette, a type of melted Alpine Swiss cheese that is then poured over boiled potatoes, causes a yearly frenzy. If you enjoy the Distillery's Winter Village, you'll love Winterlude, one of the largest winter festivals in the world, a short drive up the highway in nearby Ottawa.

The summer is a great time to visit, too. Every July, the Lavazza IncluCity International Film Festival is held. White couches are set up on the District's main boulevard, with a giant screen showing highly acclaimed foreign films each night. Grab some popcorn and enjoy a movie under the stars.

Ride to the top of the CN Tower

At 1,815 feet tall, the CN Tower is Toronto's most well-known landmark and one of the tallest structures in the world. Staring upward in slack-jawed admiration is always an option, but there is more to do inside. General timed admission tickets start at $43 for adults and $30 for kids. The CN Tower is a 10-minute walk west of Union Station.

Head up to the Main Observation Deck for its window walls offering incredible 360-degree views of Toronto, and ignore those claiming they can see their house from there. Make your way down to the Lower Observatory Level and the Glass Floor for an unnerving look down the tower's concrete shaft. The Glass Floor is built with 2.5-inch thick glass panels, capable of withstanding the weight of 35 moose. On a clear day, you can even see Niagara Falls from the SkyPod!

The CN Tower's most awesome experience is the thrilling Edgewalk. At 116 storeys high, dare-devils are secured by a harness and then walk along a specially-built, 5-foot wide ledge. The walkway is reinforced with 50 imperial tons of steel, so you aren't going anywhere. Still — this is not for the faint of heart. Edgewalk is offered daily and starts at $146.

Marvel at Graffiti Alley's murals

Graffiti Alley is a three-block stretch of gobsmacking street art and colorful murals, running east to west from Spadina Avenue to Portland Street, just south of trendy Queen Street West. This stretch of alleyway used to be a hotbed of illegal tagging, but the incredible graffiti started to gain (positive) notice by the mid-aughts. In 2011, the City of Toronto designated Graffiti Alley "an area of municipal significance."

Now, Graffiti Alley is overseen by StART (short for Street Art Toronto), an organization providing funding and resources for artists. As the most prominent stretch of public art, you'll likely see street festivals and photo and music shoots in Graffiti Alley. StART's website provides a searchable archive of all public art under its purview for tourists to search.

If you want a deeper understanding of Graffiti Alley's history, take a Graffiti Tour with Tour Guys, a highly-rated exploration outfit that will teach you all about the different forms and styles of art you'll encounter and Graffiti Alley's relationship to artists and the neighborhood.

Grab a bite and wander historic St. Lawrence Market

A 20-minute walk from the CN Tower, the historic St. Lawrence Market opened in 1902 and is the city's most iconic marketplace. The market features more than 120 specialty vendors, hawking all manner of fresh produce, meats, cheeses, baked goods, and more. Prepared items are also available — try Carousel Bakery's peameal bacon sandwich (you won't be disappointed, but you will be full). During the summer, Market Street, on the market's west side, is closed to traffic. Adirondack chairs and flowers are set up — a great place to rest and digest that sandwich.

The market hosts a Farmer's Market on Saturdays, a tradition dating back to 1803! Sundays are the Antique Market, full of antiques, trinkets, and colorful characters. The Antique Market runs from dawn to 5 p.m.

Part of Toronto's Old City Hall was used to build the St. Lawrence Market. You can even see a portion of Old City Hall's original jail on the market's lower level. If the kids are acting up on your visit,  you can literally take them to jail (for just a moment, of course).

Sail away to the Toronto Islands

The Toronto Islands are a great place to swim, paddleboard, kayak, bike, or hit the beach. The islands cover 820 acres, including Ward's Island, Centre Island, and Hanlan's Point. Grab a ferry from the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal at Queens Quay and Bay Street ($9.11 for adults, $4.29 for kids 2 to 14, $5.86 for teens 15 to 19). Ferries go back and forth all day, year-round, from 6:45 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. The journey takes 15 minutes.

Ward's Island is a self-contained neighborhood and a great place to spend a day. Tour the island's bike paths, or stroll through the neighborhood that's home to just 600 year-round residents. You'll see sleek, modern homes and quaint, English-style cottages. Toronto Island SUP (open June through September) is highly rated and a great place to rent kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, or take an island tour. Per a kayaker on Tripadvisor, you'll get an unrivaled view of Toronto's skyline.

As for the rumors, they are true — there is a clothing-optional beach at Hanlan's Point. Just follow the signs from the ferry dock. The beach is clothing-optional, so you won't be chided for keeping your clothes on. The atmosphere is fun, respectful, and very welcoming — just be sure to show that same respect in return.

Chase glory at the Hockey Hall of Fame

Puckheads will gravitate towards the Hockey Hall of Fame, which has been honoring hockey's best since 1943. A quick walk from Union Station and Scotiabank Arena (home of the Maple Leafs), the Hall provides lots of interactive fun.

Head to the Esso Great Hall to see the Stanley Cup, the trophy donated by Lord Stanley of Preston in 1893 and awarded to the NHL champions each season. Feel free to pose beside the Cup for pictures. Sadly, you won't be able to lift it over your head in glory, as Stanley Cup-winning captains do (you'll need to actually win the Cup to do this, so best of luck).

Head to the Goodyear Shootout exhibit, where you'll use a real stick and puck to put sweet moves on reactive, animated versions of NHL goalies. Hang out in an exact replica of the Montreal Canadiens dressing room (minus the dank smell) from the old Montreal Forum, where the Habs won an NHL-record 23 Stanley Cups. Much to the chagrin of Toronto Maple Leafs fans, the Hall didn't build a replica of the Maple Leafs dressing room from Maple Leaf Gardens, where the Leafs only won 13 Cups, and none since 1967.

Take in Lake Ontario's shoreline with a stroll through The Beach

The Beach (known as The Beaches — always — to locals) is Toronto's quirky beachside neighborhood sitting 20 minutes east of downtown. It is a great place to stroll, sun or snow, along Queen Street East. Grab your java at Bud's Coffee, and get the kids an ice cream from Ed's Real Scoop, a popular local chain.

A boardwalk runs west to east from Woodbine Beach to Silver Birch Beach to take in the beach and Lake Ontario year-round. During the summer, rent a kayak from Toronto Beach Kayak, a great operation run out of a shipping container (don't mind the look — they run a tight and fun ship). Kayak rentals start at $35 per hour. 

Walk about 20 minutes from the beach to the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant, a foreboding Art Deco building that often masquerades as a bad-guy lair in Hollywood films. The plant was finished in 1941 and still purifies 30% of Toronto's drinking water. It is usually closed to visitors (movie villains are very busy), but you can roam the grounds. The annual Doors Open Toronto event, held every May, allows visitors to poke around city buildings normally closed to the public, including the R.C. Harris plant.

Grab a pint downtown, in the west end, or the east end

Toronto is full of great bars to relax among locals. Downtown, The Queen & Beaver Public House at Yonge and Elm Streets (just east of Toronto Metropolitan University) is a dimly-lit British pub with warm wooden tones, creaky floors, and portraits of Queen Elizabeth II. Enjoy a pint and British comfort food with cantankerous locals, debate politics with feisty grad students, or catch English Premier League matches with local soccer fans.

In the West End, head to the sophisticated Burdock Brewery, just west of Bloor and Dufferin. Burdock offers house-made brews (the citrus-y Vermont Blond is tasty and easy-flowing), cocktails, and grub. The once-monthly Wednesday night storytelling events (in The Music Hall) are poignant, soul-baring, and hilarious, often all at once.

In the east end, head to The Wren, a local pub on the Danforth in Greektown. The Wren boasts a lively, warm atmosphere with big communal tables (prepare to make friends) and craft brews on tap. The always-changing (but always delicious) globally-influenced southern fried chicken sandwich is a hit. Visit The Wren's sister bar, Lake Inez in Little India, for exquisite cocktails and friendly bartenders (a great place to be if you're ditched by your date — a purely theoretical situation, of course).

Visit the awe-inspiring Algonquin Park

If you're in Toronto for an extended stay, visit Algonquin Provincial Park, which is three hours north of the city and is open year-round. Algonquin is majestic, and you'll see greenery (or beautiful fall foliage or snow-covered terrain) as far as the eye can see. Enjoy the quiet lakes (motorboats are not allowed on most lakes) and a refreshing sense of solitude impossible to find in Toronto.

If you want to feel like a real Ontarian, take a canoe trip. Instead of sending you off into the park with nothing but your wits (we may be adventurous, but we're not sadistic), head to a highly-rated outfitter, such as Algonquin Outfitters, for what one TripAdvisor reviewer called a magical experience. Choose from a half-day guided tour (starting from $72 per person), a multi-day trip with a guide for the first day ($200 per group), or a fully-guided, multi-day ($395 per person) guided canoe trip, where you'll canoe, carry a canoe on your shoulders, and camp.

On Canoe Lake, learn about famed Canadian painter Tom Thomson, who disappeared on the lake in July 1917 and was never seen again. Thomson is a revered figure in Canada's art world and was a huge influence on the Group of Seven. Is Canoe Lake haunted? You're about to find out (it's not haunted, don't worry).