Things YOU GOTTA SEE when visiting Toronto!
At TransCanadaHighway.com, we consider “Toronto” as roughly the old “City of Toronto”, between the Humber River (and Etobicoke) on the west and Victoria Park (and Scarborough) on the east, and below Eglinton Ave (and North York) to the north, though the actual political boundary zig-zagged a fair bit
Day One (right downtown)
Here are our picks for the must-see attractions in downtown Toronto, taking a walking tour that covers the territory in a clockwise direction:
Starting at the New City Hall, now over 40 years old, you see Nathan Phillips Square in front of you, Osgoode Hall (law courts) to the west and the century-old Old City Hill to the east.
Head a block east to hit Eaton’s Centre, once Canada’s largest shopping mall, and still a shopping and visual spectacular. There is a large Bay store to the south of the mall, but exit the north end (by H&M) for this tour
Across Yonge Street is Dundas Square a popular location for various festivals and live concerts.
Yonge Street is Canada’s most popular shopping street, and is the world’s longest street, heading north turning to highway 1 to North Bay and then arcing west to Thunder Bay a distance of over 1900 kilometres. Checkout the stores a few blocks north, and then head back south past the Eaton Centre.
There are a number of historical theatres on Yonge, including Massey Hall and the Elgin & Winter Garden Theatres, or just to the west in the Theatre District along King St, including the famous Roy Thomson Hall
South of Richmond is a cluster of office towers which form the Financial District, the headquarters of Canada’s major banks, law firms, stock brokers, and many public companies. The old Toronto Stock Exchange building is now the Design Exchange Museum. The art deco CIBC Tower used to be the tallest building in the British Empire. The gleaming white First Canadian Centre is headquarters for BMO Bank of Montreal. The gold glass building is headquarters for the Royal Bank of Canada. All are connected by a vast underground PATH system, that runs from Union Station north to the Eaton Centre, and connected with subway stations along the way.
At the foot of Yonge (at Front) is BCE Place (look inside!) and the Hockey Hall of Fame (a perfect rest stop for hockey fans).
Head west along front to pass Union Station (VIA Rail and GO Train station) and the historic Royal York hotel across the street.
Follow University Avenue to the right and King Street and the heart of Toronto’s Theatre District, The Royal Alex, the Pearl, and Roy Thomson Hall, as well as Canada’s Walk of Fame (modeled after Hollywood’s)
On John Street you can head north to CHUM City, home of MuchMusic and all their “VJ” antics, or you can had south past CBC’s national headquarters (the building looks like its gift-wrapped in red ribbon)
Across Front Street is the CN Tower, for 30 years the world’s tallest free standing structure, worth the elevator ride up (bring binoculars-if the weather’s fine and the root is open on the Rogers Center/Skydome, you can watch the baseball or football game for free, through the glass floor!)
Day Two (north of downtown)
If you survived Day One, your second day should be spent more uptown.
Head four blocks west of University Avenue to McCaul Street and north a bit to OCAD University (formerly Ontario College of Art & Design) with its unique campus building design, and beside it is the Art Gallery of Ontario, which is home to many major travelling exhibitions as well as its own.
Head back east on Dundas to the campus University of Toronto is on the west side of University Ave, and worth a short walk to explore the old and the new architecture of the buildings.
FYI: If you want to explore the ethnically interesting Kensington Market area of Toronto, its just a few blocks to the west, along and west of Spadina, between Dundas and College. For some, it may be more interesting than exploring U of T.
Continue north on University to Queen’s Park, the Ontario Legislature, on a pretty oval in the middle of University Avenue. There are several hospitals to the south of Queens Park
At Bloor Street and University is the Royal Ontario Museum, which recently received a “Crystal” makeover by architect Michael Libeskind, and home to a collection of 3 million artifacts.
Along Bloor Street is Canada’s best high-end shopping including the Holt Renfrew flagships tore, and many world class designer boutiques and chi-chi restaurants. There is also the Bata Shoe Museum
North of Bloor is Yorkville, once headquarters of the 1960s anti-war hippie movement, now headquarters of the high-end “retail therapy” practitioners, plastic surgeons, and the many visiting Hollywood celebrities.
Head 4 blocks north to Davenport Rd (just up the hill from Bloor street), and then east a few more to Casa Loma, and house that looks like a castle built a century ago by a wealthy businessman, who had to sell it when his fortunes turned. Its been a public museum & venue ever since.
Head back south to Bloor Street and head west to Bathurst to Mirvish Village also has lots of theatres, shops and restaurants, which might be a good end-of-day stop after detouring to the next attraction
Day Three (west of downtown)
There is so much to see west of Toronto’s downtown
Start at and The Island Ferry Terminal (this side-trip to the islands, the beaches, and the other attractions on any one of three ferries, is worth at least half a day) and head west to adjoining Harbour Square Park, the site of many waterfront festivals.
Head west along either the Waterfront Trail, or along Queens Quay W to pass several waterfront condo buildings, marinas and moorings, the Amsterdam Brewhouse and you’ll see on the west end of the Island the Billy Bishop Island Airport
Head away from the water on Bathurst and underneath the Gardiner Expressway to get to Old Fort York (the entrance is 300m west on Old Fort York Rd) which was the site of an important battle in the War of 1812. At that time, Fort York was on the waterfront, and protected the harbour.
To the west is the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) which hosts Canada’s biggest summer fair the last two weeks of august. Over the year many trade fairs, cultural events, and sporting competitions are held at CNE facilities.
Just across Lake Shore Boulevard is Ontario Place which is home to the Budweiser Stage, Echo Beach, a waterslide park, the Cinesphere (the world’s first IMAX theatre) and a marina.
You can continue west along Lakeshore Boulevard. You will see a breakwater protecting the shore, and pass ,strong>The Boulevard Club and marina and get to Sunnyside Pool and the Sunnyside Pavilion.
Head north of Parkside Dr underneath the Gardiner Expressway and “voila!” you are at the end of High Park, which is Toronto’s largest park, much of it is forested, but it also has and has the High Park Zoo, the High park outdoor pool, a playground, and Grenadier Pond.
On its northern end is Bloor Street, and he commercial strip is called “Bloor Street West” and has the Bloor subway line that can take you back to city centre quickly.
We recommend (time permitting) go just a few blocks east of Keele (High Park’s eastern boundary) is Roncesvalles a trendy shopping district, you can take south to Queen Street.
There you can catch a streetcar east into the Queen Street West shopping district
Day Four (east of downtown)
East of downtown are many attractions, including the vast Don Valley.
Start at Union Station at the foot on Yonge Street and head east on Front Street.
You will pass the Sony Centre For Performing Arts venue, and a block up Yonge Street is the Hockey Hall of Fame, and block east is the St Lawrence Centre for the Arts, and on the north side of the street is the triangular-shaped Flatiron Building.
Another block east and you reach St Lawrence Market which has been running a farmers market since 1803 (yes, eighteen-oh-three).
Head south from here and east along The Explanade (a shopping & nightlife district) and you’ll soon reach the Distillery Historical District, once the Gooderham-Worts Distillery, the largest distillery complex in the British Empire. its now home to the Mill Street Brewery, and the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.
A few blocks east, on the Don River, is the Corktown Common park. There is a GO-Transit railway siding (parking lot) on the south side of the train tracks.
From here there are several directions of interest you can take:
Head South (Docklands)
Head south to the Docklands and further south to Tommy Thompson Park (named for the artist who inspired the Group of Seven)
Head East (Beaches & Danforth)
You can head east along Lakeshore Blvd past Woodbine Race track (for horse racing) to the north, and Ashbridges Bay (marina) to the south and reach to Woodbine Beach. Then you can continue along the beachfront boardwalk that continues for a mile east to the RC Harris Water Treatment Plant. To the north along Queen Street is “The Beaches” shopping district, which extends north to Kingston Road.
You can head a bit north to Danforth Ave, which is home to Toronto’s Greek district, The Danforth, and come back a little south along Gerard Street, which is Toronto’s Little India
Head North (Don Valley)
You can head north on Bayview Ave, which runs parallel to and west of the Don Valley Parkway, and stop off at places like Riverdale Farm (the former Toronto Riverdale Zoo, before its relocation to Scarborough), and turn off at the Evergreen Brick works to get to the Don Valley Brick Works Park. More history is found on the opposite side of the DVP at the Todmorden Mills Park. you can continue up Bayview to Eglinton and then head east to the Ontario Science Centre.
Attractions Very Nearby
These attractions are worth a short detour if you are in the area., and worth a half to a full day each.
Explore the Toronto Islands
Take the Toronto Island Ferry from Queens Quay. Tip: if you just want the amusement parks and festivals, head to Centre island. If you wan to explore the Islands, take the Ward’s Island ferry and start at the Eastern Channel and walk the beachfront pathways westward.
People actually live in the houses on the Island, particularly Ward’s Island and Algonquin Island. Lots of sailboats are moored off Chippewa island. After Centre Island is Hanlan’s Point (and beach) and the pathway winds along one of the runways of the island Airport to the Hanlan’s Point ferry terminal.
From downtown Toronto, you can also cruise the harbour on a tour boat. While along the water, you can also check out the galleries, shops, theatres and restaurants in the Harbourfront development
Head to North York
East of Highway 400 on Steeles is Black Creek Pioneer Village, the metro area’s best showcase of mid-1800 structures and pioneer living, complete with period-costumed interpreters and guides.
Head North to York Region
The McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg (from downtown take the Gardiner/QEW to the 427 north pas the airport and then #27). This is home to one of the largest selections of paintings by Canada’s famous Group of Seven, with peaceful parklands adjacent
Paramount Canada’s Wonderland in Vaughan (take Highway 400 north) has over 60 rides, live entertainment and the world’s greatest variety of roller coasters. There are public transit options from Mississauga and Brampton!