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A Traveling Insider's Guide to Toronto

Our comprehensive guide will ensure your next Toronto getaway crosses all the T’s. | By Joanna Tweedy | November 10, 2022

Toronto is Canada's largest city — and its most diverse, with inhabitants from every corner of the globe calling this lively metropolis home. The city is blessed with a rich cultural scene — including galleries, eclectic restaurants and a thriving film industry. Toronto also invites visitors to enjoy the great outdoors, with access to a necklace of 15 connected islands, acres of parkland, sandy beaches and the beautiful blue waters of Lake Ontario.

  • Head to Toronto Island: Ride the ferry from downtown Toronto for a tranquil day in nature

  • Museum magic: Allocate an afternoon for the majestic Royal Ontario Museum

  • Travel the globe: Hop between neighborhoods — including Little Tokyo, Portugal Village and Little Poland — for international treats

Cable car waiting for passengers at the whirlpool area on the Niagara River in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.
Experience the full scale and beauty of the Niagara Gorge by soaring high above the river in an open-air cable car.

Why visit Toronto?

Perched on the northwestern shores of Lake Ontario, Toronto’s shimmering skyline has always attracted travelers from near and far. Recent decades have seen tourism figures soar, though, thanks to a clutch of brilliant museums, such as the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), Casa Loma and the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO); a delicious foodie scene and fresh-air adventures including beach days, wooded walks and island explorations.

Toronto’s infamous cloud-skimming CN Tower is likely the first attraction to catch the eye when you arrive. At 1,815 feet (553 meters) high, the CN Tower is a concrete communications and observation tower built in 1976, and it remains Toronto’s biggest tourist attraction.

Always looking for the perfect souvenir? There are vintage stores (try the Kensington Flea Bazaar located in Kensington Market), a popular food market (St. Lawrence Market) and a high-end designer quarter (Yorkville) for you to explore.  Art lovers will be in their element in the downtown Distillery District. Once a 19th-century whisky distillery, this pedestrian-only area houses small galleries, indie bars, boutiques and art studios — and is a must-visit destination for fans of live theater and stage performances.

If more active pursuits are more to your taste, explore the great Canadian outdoors, including Lake Ontario, Toronto Island (a string of islets connected by path or bridge) or any one of the 1,500 parks that this city boasts. Further afield, the magnificent roar of Niagara Falls is just a 75-minute drive away.

People snowshoeing
Take your hike up a notch in winter months – there are numerous snowshoeing trails near Toronto to traverse.

Best time to go

Toronto in the summer is hard to resist – showcasing the city’s love of alfresco dining, refreshing dips in the lake and impromptu barbecues. Between May and August, temperatures can reach a comfortable 80 degrees F (26.6 degrees C), so bring your swimwear. Come September, the leaves on Toronto’s trees will begin to bronze. Seeing the city at the height of its fall splendor is an inspired time to descend, with the season lasting until November. Pumpkin patches and Halloween fun also add to the appeal of an autumnal visit.

Traveling on a budget? There are typically more hotel deals in the winter months, and you’ll get to experience Toronto sparkling under a blanket of snow with ice skating rinks, snowshoeing and skiing available to enjoy throughout the city.

Toronto streetcar traveling down Queen Street in the winter.
With nine routes through the city, Toronto streetcars are a great way to explore (and stay warm!) while visiting.

Getting to and around Toronto 

Jetting into Toronto is easy, thanks to Toronto Pearson International Airport, the largest and busiest airport in Canada. From here, there are regular buses into the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), or visitors can hop on the Union Pearson Express (UP Express), gets you downtown in under 30 minutes.

Once in the city,  the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is your best friend when it comes to public transport, offering subway, streetcar and bus options. While the TTC has extensive routes both downtown and in the suburbs, it’s a historical network and can be antiquated in parts, so plan well ahead if you have dinner or show reservations. For shorter distances, particularly around the waterfront and on the island, exploring on foot or by bicycle is both fun and easy.

Hand holds a pride flag in front of a street of people with heart shaped signs
Toronto’s annual Pride celebration – one of the largest in North America – is as inclusive, colorful and inspiring as the city itself. 

Cultures and customs

Toronto’s magnetic appeal stems from its diversity, with its inhabitants pooled from across the world. Pay a visit to the many distinct neighborhoods including Little Tokyo and Roncesvalles Village (Little Poland), which offer a window on the traditions (and delicious food) of their inhabitants’ respective countries.

Canada’s indigenous peoples, who inhabited the area long before its current residents, are also celebrated throughout the city with gift shops, community projects and tours offering insight into their distinct histories, practices, languages and spiritual beliefs.

The LGBTQ+ scene in Toronto is vibrant and welcoming, centering around the Church-Wellesley Village, northeast of old town Toronto, but inclusivity feels very much part of Toronto’s make up wherever you are in the city.

This dynamic city situated along the pristine shores of Lake Ontario is a haven for travelers looking for diversity, outdoor adventure, great food, endless entertainment and more. Open your eyes to Canada’s capital and its surrounding areas, and you’ll experience a truly unforgettable and welcoming destination.

Joanna Tweedy is an award-winning travel writer and editor who lives in London.

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