A city as big as Toronto houses a load of attractions apart from the usual museums, zoos and aquariums. Any travel plans to Toronto must include most, if not all, of the below locations. The Downtown is pretty easy to navigate and the landmarks are unmistakable. One of the safest city ever, Toronto has great nightlife to experience. People are extremely helpful so never hesitate to ask for directions any time of the day. Due to corporate offices, universities and markets, there are countless eateries, cafes and pubs in and around the city. If you’re on a budget, check for some free attractions below!
- Buy City Pass (starting approx CAD 72 per adult) and purchase most of the tickets online to get a good deal.
- There’s a hop-on-hop-off bus tour in the city which is good for people who do not want to sweat it out by walking all around the city. Option is renting CitiBikes.
- Avoid buying souvenirs from gift shops at each attraction. Buy them in bulk from the city for a cheaper deal. Yes, you can haggle!
- Keep ID proof and credit card handy.
- For some attractions, senior citizens and groups may get discounts. Also, winters are cheaper than summers. So check for seasonal pricing.
- If possible, explore tourist attractions on weekdays to escape crowds and long queues.
- If driving, check for parking fees.
- Check operation timings of every facility.
- Keep checking weather app or news before making plans.
- Carry your own water bottles bought in bulk from Costco. Cheaper than buying from a vending machine.
- Keep a PATH(underground walkways) map handy and use it during winters to evade snow and cold.
- USD accepted at almost all payment gateways. Change will be tendered in CAD.
Here’s your handy-dandy checklist of Toronto (tourist) attractions:
CN Tower :
What better way to start than the iconic CN Tower! One of the tallest buildings in the world, this tower is visible from almost any location of the city. Use it as a focal point to make navigation easy for someone like me, who’s not very good at directions. CN Tower = South. There’s an observatory at the top which gives breathtaking view of the entire city and Ontario lake. Take ‘La Tour CN’ for which entry is chargeable (CAD 35 per adult). It gives you access to the observatory having a look out and glass floor for stunning views. Add another CAD 12 to access the Sky Pod. In summers, the super thrilling Edge Walk attraction is open for the daredevils and adventurists in you. Costs approx CAD 195 but is so worth the exhilarating 30 minutes on the edge of the observatory. Of course they have harnesses and nets for safety. Want to experience dining at 360 The Restaurant at the CN? Not quite easy on the pocket but a hit with your date.
Important tip: Carry good camera and lens. Book tickets online or be prepared to stand in long queues. Plan your visit around 4 pm which is the perfect time to catch the city view as well as sunset if you stick around for a couple of hours. Check ticket availability here.
Harbor Front :
My personal favorite. Its free! You can sit here for as long as you want. Simply stare at the lake, stroll on the boardwalk, lounge lazily under the sun whilst reading a book, go for a run, watch the boats and ferries come and go by. If that’s not for you, then rent a kayak , a canoe, a paddle board or even a boat right there and head out exploring the huge lake. That’s not all, most of the times you’ll find concerts, shows, activities and other events going on at the Habourfront center, a cultural organization at the waterfront. Join in and soak up some mixed culture. There are some fine waterfront restaurants serving great food and wine or beer on the far end. You can savor some delightful food and sip on a Canadian beer while watching the sunset.
Important Tip: Do not carry food items in the open. There are hundreds of seagulls who would love to snatch some of your food and crowd you until you run away from there.
Ripley’s Aquarium and Toronto Zoo :
Ripley’s aquarium is right near CN tower. This is one of the attractions that would be included in a City Pass. Holding 16000 animals and more than 5 million liters of water makes this the longest underwater viewing tunnel in North America. You’ll see incredible exhibits of aquatic creatures in their natural habitat. For reservations, see the company website.
Important tip: Purchase online tickets to save. Check for night time option(approx CAD 25) which starts at 7 pm and is valid till close. That way you can cover CN Tower and the aquarium in a single evening and save on tickets.
Toronto Zoo is another attraction included in City Pass, otherwise charges starting approx CAD 25 per adult. You get to see some cuddly pandas, cute polar bear and lion cubs, rhino calf, giraffes etc. It’s a good day out for people with kids. The Zoo is not exactly in downtown but easily accessible by public transport. Take either of the 2 TTC buses or catch a GO train or rent a car and drive there. For full information, check the zoo website.
Dundas Square and Nathan Phillips Square :
Younge-Dundas Square or Dundas Square is like a mini Times Square. It is one of the most happening place in the downtown. Younge street itself is a bustling street being the longest street in the city. The square gets busier as the day sets in and by evening you’ll notice street artists performing their jam, passers-by stopping and cheering on, happy shoppers taking a second look at their purchases, tourists clicking away pictures, people trying to decide on a place for dinner among the hundreds around. It’s a merry place to be. Cover Dundas Square, Younge Street and Eaton center in one day as they’re all in the same locality.
Nathan Phillips Square is the place where you get your picture clicked in front of the big 3D TORONTO sign. The place also plays host to number of events and activities like marathons, fairs, meet-ups. It’s very close to the city hall.
Both these places are free to explore.
Important tip: Keep a tab on events happening here by joining groups or signing up to news letters.
Eaton Center :
Bring out the shopaholic in you and splurge on all the best brands here. The CF Eaton Center is the largest mall in Toronto downtown. Keep an eye out for special deals. holiday season will get you great savings. I could not explore the entire mall in one go. It was overwhelming. There’s a great food court comprising of several stalls and a variety of cuisines to pick from.
Important tip: Buying souvenirs from the mall may cost more. Keep reading further to know the best place for souvenir shopping. Weekends are crowded, so I would suggest a week day or night for shopping here.
St Lawrence Market :
A historic landmark, recognized as World’s No. 1 Market by National Geographic, the St. Lawrence Market hosts fresh produce promoting local artisans, farmers, fishermen, bakers and butchers. The food counters at the market serve farm-to-table fresh food made to order. Get the fish and chips and you won’t regret it. The array of cheeses, cold cuts, veggies, fruits and desserts up for sale at the counters are nothing short of phenomenal. Keep a tab on the food tasting and wine pairing events conducted at the market. Visit the market without any entry fee!
Important tip: The food counters at the market serve fresher and cheaper food than the pricey restaurants around in the area. Plus, tips are optional at such self-service counters.
Toronto Island Park :
This is a whole-day affair. Catch a ferry for a minimal fair or a private water taxi from Queens Quay and head to the island park geared with a swimsuit, towel and all the picnic stuff if it’s summer. While on the ferry, you’ll get a great view of the Toronto skyline. Hire bikes to tour the entire huge island because walking will tire you. There are benches and grills to conduct a barbecue party. Beautiful landscaping makes this park an ideal place for photography. There’s a long pier to catch the sunset over the lake. Also, for the more naturist folks, there’s an optional clothing beach here.
Important tip: The queue for ferry tickets is exhausting. Start early! Carry your own food if you are a vegan or vegetarian. Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses are a must during summer.
China Town :
Finally! Take the leap, go crazy and buy all your souvenirs here! If you’re staying longer and you cook for yourself, pick up grocery from Asian markets here. Get reasonably priced pedicures to treat your sore feet. Taste some authentic Asian food at one of the many restaurants in China town.
Important tip: Haggle, but politely! You never know, you might get lucky. Worst case, they’ll say no, but nothing over that.
Royal Ontario Museum and Hockey Hall of Fame :
Interested in museums? Get in line to see the exhibits at Royal Ontario Museum. ticket costs somewhere around CAD 13 plus taxes. But CityPass should cover this ticket.
There’s also the Hockey Hall of Fame for all the Hockey enthusiasts. Canada is big on Hockey and if you know who’s who of hockey or even appreciate the game, go see this exhibit.
Roger’s Center and Air Canada Center :
Catch up on a Toronto Blue Jays’ game at Roger’s Center if you are a baseball enthusiast. If not, then the area around it is great to just hang out, have food from a truck. There’s also a tour called Roger’s Center Tour Experience for a minimal price of CAD 16. You can get to know the fun facts and history of the place.
Air Canada Center hosts hockey games. If hockey is your cup of tea then attend one of the Maple Leaf, Raptors or Canucks’ game at the stadium.
These two places also conduct huge concerts so keep a tab on local events.
There you go! Hope you have an experience as memorable as I had in Toronto!