Ontario’s capital does big. A forest of sparkling skyscrapers, galleries and restaurants, it’s also the gateway to the epic Niagara Falls. But multicultural villages and pockets of nature give this city a unique heartbeat, too.
Hit the highlights
Follow the smells of freshly baked bread and sizzling bacon to Carousel Bakery inside St. Lawrence Market in Old Town Toronto, where more than 120 farmers and artisans dish up local flavours that will start your day right. Peameal bacon sandwich in hand, photograph the red-brick, wedge-shaped Gooderham Building (“Toronto’s Flatiron”) before strolling to the waterfront.
Take a scenic ferry trip and within 10 minutes you’re on Centre Island, where leafy cycling and walking paths offer stunning views of the skyline. Feeling energetic? From June to October, Oceah Oceah runs stand-up paddleboard (SUP) tours around glittering Lake Ontario, coasting by skyscrapers and islands or to the soaring clay cliffs of Scarborough Bluffs.
Seasons are colourful in this nature- filled town: from April to early May, you’ll see arches of cherry blossoms transform High Park into a dreamscape, while autumn electrifies maples and cedars in orange.
To walk a different landscape, hit Toronto’s gallery trail at Canada’s most important cultural institutions. The Art Gallery of Ontario, which was renovated by Toronto-born starchitect Frank Gehry, is in the downtown corridor bordering Kensington Market, while the Royal Ontario Museum sits among the high-end fashion, food and hotels of Yorkville. Both are must-sees that feature significant collections of Indigenous artworks. For a grand finale, go to the top of the iconic CN Tower: it will amaze you how Toronto’s massive lake, patches of hushed nature and formidable city blocks stitch together seamlessly.
Do the neighbourhoods
Much of Toronto’s charm is in the vibrant low-rise villages that pop up like surprises around its gleaming towers. In Kensington, Caribbean grocers share streets with African drum shops, vintage record stores and the Indigenous-owned Pow Wow Café, which is famed for “Indian tacos” on Ojibwe bread. Boutiques, patio bars and restaurants spill out onto Ossington Avenue in the picturesque neighbourhood of Trinity Bellwoods. And if you’re after theatres, indie galleries and cobblestoned 19th-century atmosphere, the buzzing Distillery District is the place to head.
Two hours from the city, you’ll feel the mist on your face as the walls of water at Niagara Falls plunge and crash from heights of up to 57 metres. A boat tour with Niagara City Cruises takes you exhilaratingly close. Drive to Muskoka to lap up sunshine on a laid-back lakeside getaway surrounded by coniferous trees. This is true Canadian “cottage country”, with floating docks and expansive water views.
Eat and drink
Toronto’s food scene reflects its mix of multiculturalism and glitz. King Street West is a hotspot: try high-end vegan dishes at LOV and tapas respun with local seafood and seasonal vegetables at Patria. Alo artfully combines humble ingredients (creamy potatoes, sweet scallops) with classic French techniques: the tasting menu is worth the waitlist so book before you leave home. Donna’s, founded by three Momofuku alumni in the Junction Triangle, has an ever-evolving diner-style menu that can go from gourmet sandwiches to the stickiest ribs you’ll ever eat.
An oasis of timber, limestone and native greenery, 1 Hotel Toronto is close to King Street West’s restaurants. Its rooftop bar and pool is hailed for the views and the celebrities who gather here during Toronto’s International Film Festival each September. The historic Fairmont Royal York, in the heart of downtown, serves its glamour with handpainted ceilings and crystal chandeliers.