Top attractions in Toronto
What do a pair of Elton John’s high heels, a Gothic castle and the world’s largest hydraulophone have in common? They all feature on this list of the top attractions in Toronto, Canada. Some attractions in Toronto, such as the skyline-busting CN Tower, the turrets of the Casa Loma and the thunderous Niagara Falls down the road, stand out like Drake in the front row of the Scotiabank Arena. However, others, like the merchants of St Lawrence Market, the boutiques of the Distillery District and the murals of Kensington Market, take a little more discovery. The Hotel Specialist has done the hard work for you by rounding up the top 18 attractions in Toronto you need to add to your itinerary.
Leaving Toronto without scaling the city’s most iconic landmark would be like visiting Paris and not bothering to see the Eiffel Tower. This tour provides a unique perspective from the pointy end of the CN Tower, thanks to the stomach-churning glass floor that stares overs the Toronto streets 342 meters below, as well as the LookOut level and al fresco SkyTerrace gazing out over Canada’s biggest city.
Museum of Illusions
If you’re expecting your stock-standard hall of mirrors and a couple of shrinking hallways, prepare for a shock. Toronto’s Museum of Illusions is a very contemporary take on the old fairground funhouse, a minimalist space that opened in 2018 with an Instagram front of mind. Found on Front Street East, the museum feels more like an art gallery than some cheesy carnival attraction, with each piece explaining the visual trickery at play as well as a marker pointing out the perfect selfie spot.
Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada
With ferocious tiger sharks, slippery eels, entrancing jellyfish and 450 other species of exotic marine life populating the country’s largest indoor aquarium, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada attracts huge crowds.
Hockey Hall of Fame
If hockey is a religion in Canada, then this is the cathedral where the faithful come to worship. Occupying Brookfield Place’s historic Bank of Montreal building in the heart of downtown, the Hall of Fame boasts the world’s largest collection of hockey artefacts, including the original Stanley Cup locked away in the bank vault.
Once home to the largest whiskey producer in the British Empire, the cobbled alleyways of Toronto’s Distillery District provide a perfectly preserved time capsule of Victorian-era industrial architecture. This wonderland of red-brick warehouses can be difficult to navigate for a first-timer, so leave it to an expert guide. On this one-hour tour, you’ll stroll through the indie eateries, boutiques, bars, galleries and theaters that make the Distillery District one of The Six’s coolest cultural precincts. You’ll also get to sample some local craft beer and chocolate at the end. Yum.
Rarely has a name failed to capture the majesty of a place quite like Casa Loma, which means “Hill House” in Spanish. A more accurate title would’ve been “The ostentatious Gothic castle plonked in the middle of Toronto,” which only begins to describe the grandeur of this 18th-century masterpiece just north of the bohemian Annex neighborhood. The palace of Sir Henry Pellatt eventually bankrupted the electricity tsar in the 1920s, although Casa Loma is a lot kinder on the wallets of visitors than the man who built it.
Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)
More than 13 million artworks, cultural objects and natural history specimens live under the ROM’s jagged, ultra-modern roof overlooking Queen’s Park in the city’s north; on a busy day, it feels like there’s almost the same number of visitors who’ve crowded in to see them. Luckily, you can access an exclusive express entry point, giving you more time to check out the world’s largest fossil collection, a colossal assortment of dinosaur skeletons and the biggest exhibition of Chinese architectural artefacts outside China.
Bata Shoe Museum
While a museum dedicated to shoes might sound about as exciting as a trip to a cardboard box factory, the Bata Shoe Museum is one of the quirkiest, coolest and most compelling collections in all of Canada. Sitting just down the block from the ROM in a building shaped like a shoebox, this museum steps (get it?) through the 4.500-year history of footwear, from indigenous boots worn in the Arctic to snappy sliver platforms donned by Elton John.
Toronto Islands and Centreville
Not all of Toronto’s big-ticket items lie on terra firma, as you’ll find out on this one-hour cruise of the harbor. Departing from Queen’s Quay Terminal, south of the city center, this tour takes in the lagoons of the Toronto Islands, the nude beach at Hanlan’s Point, the glamorous Island Yacht Club and the serene wildlife sanctuary, not to mention the panoramic vista across the water back towards The Six’s soaring skyline. The Centreville Amusement Park on Centre Island is a great stop for the kids, too.
St Lawrence Market
An icon of the Old Town district since the early 1800s, St Lawrence Market earned the title of the world’s top food market from National Geographic in 2012. And to taste the best of the 120 merchants that converge on this grand old marketplace, you need a little expert advice. For few Canadian dollars, join your guide on a stroll through a smorgasbord of St Lawrence’s most mouthwatering delicacies, sinking your teeth into everything from Indian candy and Ukrainian pierogi to Toronto’s legendary peameal bacon. Mmmmm, bacon.
Kensington is a very different kind of market to St Lawrence, it’s not really a market at all. Named after the so-called Jewish market that sprung up around the neighborhood’s two synagogues in the early 20th century, Kensington Market is a shining example of Toronto’s famous multiculturalism. Follow your nose, and you’ll sniff aromas wafting out of eateries belonging to every corner of the globe, as well as the vintage stores, specialty coffee shops, avant-garde galleries and the blanket of graffiti that have all moved in with the hipsters in recent years.
Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)
A couple of blocks east of the graffiti that plasters Kensington Market lies Toronto’s most revered collection of art, housing almost 100.000 pieces covering everything from the Renaissance and Inuit items to contemporary creations and Canadian classics like Tom Thomson and the fabled Group of Seven. However, the AGO’s biggest work of art is the building itself, a dancing glass masterpiece by acclaimed local architect Frank Gehry.
Niagara Falls might be a 90-minute drive around Lake Ontario from Toronto, but you’d be crazy to leave this awe-inspiring explosion of water off your itinerary. If you’re tackling Niagara on a day trip, this five-hour tour squeezes in the three best vantage points, from above, below and smack bang in the middle of it. Enter the splash zone on a Hornblower cruise, and zoom up the Skylon Tower on a yellow bug escalator for an aerial vista. Then plunge 46 mt through the tunnels of the Journey Behind the Falls attraction to feel the thunder up close. For even more spectacular views, hop into an Airbus H130 for a 12-minute journey you’ll remember for the rest of your life. This light engine helicopter ride swoops down the Niagara River from the whirlpool area to Rainbow Bridge and then follows the curve of the Horseshoe Falls as more than 3.000 tons of water cascade over the edge every second. This trip through the hypnotic mist could be the best 149 Canadian dollars you’ll ever spend.
Toronto Eaton Centre
A mall wouldn’t normally appear on a The Hotel Specialist list of must-visit attractions, but the Eaton Centre isn’t your average mall. Attracting around 50 million visitors each year, this Toronto institution is the busiest mall in the whole of North America, even busier than Minnesota’s gargantuan Mall of America. Located in the middle of downtown, the Eaton Centre boasts more than 250 retailers, more than enough to give any shopaholic their retail fix in The Six.
Ontario Science Centre
Why is the sky blue? How does dry ice work? And what on earth is a hydraulophone? The answers to these pressing scientific questions can be found at the Ontario Science Centre, about 10 kilometers northeast of downtown. Opening its doors a couple of weeks after the Moon Landing in 1969, this interactive museum is a must for children (and the young at heart) thanks to live science demonstrations, climbing walls, a world-class planetarium, arcade games, a simulated rainforest and Toronto’s only IMAX Dome theatre.
High Park represents more than just the lungs of Toronto, it’s also home to swimming pools, kids’ playgrounds, an off-leash dog park, pristine forest, walking trails, picnic areas, tennis courts, immaculately curated gardens, the tranquil Grenadier Pond and even a zoo. Filling 400 acres east of the city center, High Park sparkles each spring when the cherry trees blossom, as well as every summer when the much loved Shakespeare in the Park performances pack out the amphitheater.
Black Creek Pioneer Village
If the Distillery District is a time capsule to 19th-century industrial Toronto, this open-air heritage museum is a snapshot of rural life in that same era. About 30 km north of the city center and an even longer trip back in time, Black Creek Pioneer Village recreates life in 1867 with restored homes, stores, farms, churches and schools, plus a dedicated crew of costumed villagers.
Fort York National Historic Site
Fort York is an even further leap back to the 18th century, where British and Canadian troops set up camp to protect Toronto, then known as York, from the United States. US troops did plenty of damage during the War of 1812, but luckily for history buffs, Fort York is now protected as a registered archaeological site. Today, you can enter this battle site at the western end of Toronto’s harborfront, with tours, exhibits and military re-enactments on offer year-round.