Toronto Tips For Travellers : Must-do Things To See and Do
Join me exploring the beautiful city of Toronto. I had been to Toronto multiple times, mostly for work and hadn’t really properly experienced it other than visit the iconic CN Tower and gone to some rather nice restaurants. I was underwhelmed by it. Then I finally got a chance to spend more time there. My attitude changed and I was drawn in by its beautiful, diverse elements. It was completely different to the perception I had previously.
One thing that really struck me is that Canada, and Toronto specifically, is going through huge development. It’s a modern city, seems to be quite wealthy and the whole city seems to be being developed. There are new buildings going up, investment all over, updated roads and condominiums being built. It seems to be booming.
Amid all this activity, I did feel that it seemed to be a bit light on history and promoting its heritage. But once I started exploring, I found there were parts of the city that have a long history, and are being renovated and brought back into the spotlight. It was great to see that the city is embracing its history more.
Toronto has incredible diversity and is very multi-cultural. A large percentage of residents are not native to the city and half of the population do not speak English as a first language. It’s a melting pot of all different cultures and types of people. This adds huge interest to the place.
Before I explore things that visitors should do when they visit Toronto, I want to share some general tips for travellers.
It’s really easy to get there. There are two main airports, Pearson the main international airport, and another called Hamilton. There’s also an airport called the Billy Bishop airport, which is right in downtown on an island. You can fly to destinations like New York and Chicago from there. It’s perfect because it’s right in the centre of town, unlike Pearson that is quite far out, like most big airports are. Billy Bishop provides a more beautiful arrival as it is located on islands in the bay.
There’s an very railway system, VIA, that enables you to travel in from all over Canada and a good motorway system too. Saying that, one of the things to note about getting around is that the traffic in Toronto is pretty bad. Residents I met all spoke about just how difficult it is! So driving and taxis are not ideal for getting about.
I recommend using the underground systems to get around the city. They have, because it gets so cold, the PATH system. I originally thought the PATH and Metro was the same thing, but they are not. The PATH is an underground network of passageways that enables you to walk and get around most of downtown Toronto. It’s a great system, particularly because it is very cold and miserable in winter. This keeps you out of the bitter weather.
Tips For Travellers on Must-Do Things To See and Do
Hop-on Hop-Off bus
My number one tip, like it is in so many places, is to go on a hop-on hop-off bus tour. It gives you a really good overview of the city at reasonable cost. The bus takes you to the different districts of Toronto. It’s a bit like New York in this respect. So there is a distinct banking, financial, fashion, China and so on districts
This is fantastic. It’s about an hour long, although you can actually get off on the islands and take longer. There’s a whole network of islands around Toronto, all of which are beautiful – plus you get to see a panoramic view of the city skyline.
The islands are about a 20-minute trip from the harbour front by ferry or on a harbour tour. There are no cars on the island and so people who work in the city and live there leave them on the mainland. There are a number of very up-market yacht clubs across the islands.
There are lots of things to do including walking, playing sport and picnics. Parts of it are protected nature reserves and closed to people. The world’s second largest dragon boat festival is held here too. People in Toronto use them to escape.
CN Tower/ Railway Museum
The CN Tower is a real must do. This massive big structure has incredible views from the top, and is an icon of the city.
It’s quite expensive to go up (around 32 CAD). This includes the 3D show and a trip up the tower. It’s amazing. It used to be one of the tallest structures in the world and is now about the third biggest structure. For 30 years it was the tallest self-standing structure in the world.
You get whisked up in very fast lifts with glass panels. There are two levels at the top: one is enclosed and on the other you can go outside. A popular feature is the glass floor. It can hold a herd of hippopotamuses, but still only one in three people who go up the tower are brave enough to walk on it.
Across the road is a railway museum with old steam trains in the open air and a fascinating museum associated with it. It is located where the hub of the rail network used to be. If you go to the CN Tower, it’s worth strolling across the massive steam engines.
Just down the road is the Rogers Center, which used to be called the Sky Dome. This large stadium holds concerts, hosts baseball, football and big events like mega-rallys. It can hold 70,000 people and it has a roof that closes in the cold season.
One of the districts that is worth spending time in is the Distillery District. This used to be a key section on the waterfront. It’s a beautiful old Victorian building that has been converted into up-market boutiques, little artisan bakeries. It’s very trendy. They have regular festivals here and this makes it popular with a lot of energy and activity.
St. Lawrence Market
Just near by is the St. Lawrence Market, which used to be the city hall offices. Now across its two levels they sell produce, food, meat and confectionery. It’s a beautiful place to visit with great things to buy.
In terms of other districts, I recommend exploring the entertainment district. Here is the unusual looking Roy Thomson Hall, which looks like an upside-down teacup. It’s where they host many of the key shows.
City Hall and Legislative Centre
The new city hall is a modern a stylish centre with 2 curved buildings. A popular meeting point and well worth a visit.
As I mentioned, the St. Lawrence Market used to be the City Hall until about 1889, and then it moved around 1965 to a very beautiful building designed by a Swiss architect. It has a striking large dome and you can go on tours though it.
Close by is the Legislative Centre of Ontario. This is a beautiful old building with a stunning view down to the city. You can tour the buildings and the grounds.
Cathedral of St. James
This is an old cathedral over 200 years old with a massive spire. If you go on a hop-on hop-off bus tour it stops just nearby there. Inside the cavernous cathedral you will see that the pews have doors on them. Apparently you used to have to pay in the past to reserve your pew; now you don’t need to.
There are a couple of other churches nearby, like St. Michael’s Cathedral.
The Castle, or Casa Loma
This was built as a vanity project home by an exceedingly rich man, called Pellatt, but he eventually lost everything. It’s a great place to visit and really quirky. It looks like a castle (hence the nickname) and is located high up on a hill overlooking the city. The Hop-on Hop-off bus tour will take you there. It is in the Forest Hill residential area which is full of grand homes.
It’s set in six acres, got 99 rooms and is a cross between a Gothic and Scottish castle.
Over the last couple of years it’s changed ownership a few times. It’s very popular for events and you can tour it. It’s quirky and unusual. There are passionate debates around what it should be used for with discussions about it being torn down floating around. At the moment, I think the view is it’s going to stay as a tourist attraction.
Modern, dynamic, multi-ethnic and diverse – that’s what makes Toronto such a fascinating city. The more you explore and unwrap its layers the more you will appreciate the city.