Toronto is the biggest city in Canada and it’s a perfectly nice city but I honestly don’t particularly enjoy visiting it that much for some reason, but I inevitable end up there a couple times a year to see major art exhibitions. As someone who loves art and studied art history in school it’s one of my primary motivations for travelling places. So whenever I do end up in Toronto I try to make the most of it by seeing new things and eating great food (which there is lots of in Toronto). Over the last few years I’ve been visiting pretty regularly so this is my little Toronto Travel Guide that includes all my favourite places from my most recent trip as well as past trips to the city.
What To Do
AGO – Art Gallery of Ontario – this is my favourite museum to visit in Toronto (duh) and it’s usually why I visit the city. This trip it was to see the new exhibition Anthropocene, read my review on the blog soon! I also saw the iteration at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa and you can read my review for it here. In the past I’ve also seen major exhibitions of Yayoi Kusama, Georgia O’Keeffe, J.M.W. Turner, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jean Paul Riopelle and Joan Mitchell, and the exhibit Mystical Landscapes of Post-Impressionist and Canadian art. I’m sure I’ll be back to see more art at the AGO since there is another Impressionist exhibit opening in spring 2019 and a Brian Jungen exhibit next summer that I can’t wait to see.
ROM – Royal Ontario Museum – this is large museum with everything from dinosaurs and Roman antiquities to Art Deco furniture and haute couture fashions. It’s a great museum for kids but I’ve seen some great special exhibitions here including an art exhibit of the glass artist Dale Chihuly, Japanese prints, and most recently an exhibition of Christian Dior gowns. This museum is located in Yorkville which is an upscale shopping area and it’s also right by the University of Toronto so it’s kind of a nice area to walk around. Located nearby is the Gardiner Museum that specializes in ceramic arts, I’ve yet to visit but it’s on my list for next time.
Bata Shoe Museum – this most recent trip to Toronto was my first time visiting the Bata Shoe Museum, which I’m sure you can guess is a museum all about shoes. My reason for going other than I like shoes was the see an exhibit of Manolo Blahnik. Both the exhibit and the museum were great and really interesting and I’d recommend visiting if you’re interesting in fashion or “unconventional” museums. Although the admission was pricey at $14 for adults considering it’s size. It’s also in the Yorkville area by the ROM.
Other museums and sights to visit are the Aga Khan Museum, which I haven’t yet been to but I really want to visit. It specializes in non-Western art and is located North York, east of downtown. Then there is Casa Loma, about the closest thing we have to castles in Canada. It’s a beautiful old mansion and is now a museum. The entrance is a little steep but if you have the time and money it’s worth a visit. Some other classic Toronto tourist sights are the CN Tower, a half day trip over to Toronto Island and you can even take a day trip down to Niagara Falls if you have the time.
Where To Eat
Toronto is a city with hundreds of good restaurants you can spend hours online searching for where to eat. After many times struggling to decide where to eat and then having a place completely booked up I’ve finally got a list of some great places that I would definitely go back to.
Smith – this is our go-to brunch spot, we’ve literally been every time we’ve visited Toronto. They have some of the best pancakes that are almost like breakfast cake and everything else we’ve had there was been great too. It’s popular on weekends so make a reservation online in advance or just show up early. They also serve dinner here but we’ve yet to try it.
Richmond Station – this is one of my favourite restaurants in Toronto right downtown. The food and service is great and although the menu is small there is good variety. Make sure to make a reservation since it gets busy on weekends.
Oretta – this super Instagramable restaurant has millennial pink and brass hardware decor for the perfect selfie backdrop but also really good Italian food. When we visited before we tried some pasta and pizza and both were great. I’d definitely go back if I was looking to have a nice night out at a modern Italian restaurant in Toronto. They also serve brunch and take away coffee in the morning.
Rosalinda – this was one of the new places we tried this trip and it was right beside our hotel making it a really convenient lunch spot for when we arrived. Rosalinda is a vegetarian Mexican restaurant (and maybe vegan but I can’t be sure) and everything we had was super fresh and delicious. The interior is also super pretty and feels like a greenhouse.
Playa Cabana – some of the best tacos in Toronto and some of the best I’ve ever had. There are lots of great taco places in the city but if you’re in the Dupont by the Castle neighbourhood area then check out this place.
Kiin – this was one the of new places we tried this trip and it was delicious! Kiin takes Thai food and elevates it to a whole new level. They specialize in Royal Thai cuisine and everything was so colour, fresh and delicious. You could tell there was a lot of attention to detail, even with the cocktails.
Fat Pasha – this Israeli restaurant was another new one we tried this trip and it was delicious. I had their famous roasted cauliflower head and it so good and we also got the lamb shawarma that was equally as delicious and the squash baba ganoush that was so good and so different from what I’ve had before. As with a lot of good restaurants in the city, make a reservation online.
Buca – a great trendy Italian restaurant perfect for a fancy night out. When we tried this place we had actually intended to go to Bar Buca which is the sister restaurant that serves small plates but we accidentally ended up here and we’re glad we did because it was delicious. It’s a bit pricey but totally worth it. Bar Buca on the other had is no where near as good and the service was terrible when we tried it on a subsequent trip.
Momofuku Noodle Bar – this is the Toronto location of the famous New York restaurant by David Chang (you may have seen his show Ugly Delicious on Netflix). The Momofuku location in Toronto also has to more upscale restaurants in the building (and a Milk Bar) but we’ve only been to Noodle Bar a few times for some great steam buns and ramen. You really can’t go wrong here and it’s easy to get a last minute lunch reservation.
Queen and Beaver Public House – this cute British pub is cozy and charming with hearty food done with style. In the summer they have nice patios and the owners also have two other restaurant with similar styles in the area.
BarChef – if you’re into molecular mixology this is the bar for you. It’s super popular and gets busy but it does live up to the hype. We visited a few years ago and had some really interesting cocktails. They were pricey but you definitely get a full experience.
Bellwoods Brewery – we stopped here after dinner this trip on a chilly night to try one of Toronto’s top craft brewers and it was packed! Even the patio where we ended up sitting for a drink was full. When it’s packed and 0 degrees you know it’s good. The brewery is located in the Liberty Village neighbourhood by Trinity Bellwoods Park and it looked like there were lots of nice shops so I’ll definitely have to come back next time to explore a bit more, hopefully when it’s warmer.
Cafes/ Coffee Shops
Early Bird Brew & Kitchen – there are two locations, one in the Financial District aimed towards business people and then one down on Queen Street West aimed at the trendy Instagram crowd. Whichever location you choose I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. What looks like a regular stylish coffee shop is actually a great little breakfast spot. The location on Queen Street actually keeps a lot of their tables “screen free” so you don’t have to fight with people sitting with their laptops for a table.
Dineen Coffee – a stylish coffee shop in the Financial District and one of my favourite chai lattes in Toronto. It’s a great spot to stop at if you’re shopping in the near by Eaton Centre.
Le Gourmand – the best chocolate chip cookie you will ever have!! We went here just for the cookie and it was still nice and warm like it had just come out of the oven. It was perfectly soft and under baked in the middle but slightly crunchy on the outside. I saved one to eat on the train ride home the next day and it was still perfect. I dream about that chocolate chip cookie.
Fika Cafe – this cute little Swedish inspired cafe in the hippy Kensington Market neighborhood serves up delicious treats and some solid drinks. It’s pretty small but they have a patio out front.
HotBlack Coffee – they claim to have the best coffee ever and have been written about in a bunch of articles in newspapers, even the New York Times, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say they have the best coffee ever considering they don’t actually roast their own coffee. (It’s not super important but the claim bugs me for some reason) HotBlack Coffee gets their beans from Detour Coffee Roasters in Burlington, Ontario. But it is solid coffee, I just don’t think you can claim the best coffee title when you don’t actually roast it. Regardless, this place is great and they have good pastries and excellent bread that they do make in house. The only downside is that it’s tiny inside and the chai latte is only okay.
Where To Stay
As for where you should stay in Toronto I recommend downtown to remain central. The last two times I’ve stayed at the Hilton Toronto, which is right downtown close to City Hall. It’s also a short walk from Union Station if you’re arriving via train or from either airport. The Hilton is also only a block away from a subway station so you can easily get around the city if you don’t want to walk up to the area around the Royal Ontario Museum. I’ve found the service there to be great and the rooms are comfortable, spacious and clean. I’ve also stayed at the Fairmont Royal York before that is right across from Union Station. It’s a beautiful old hotel so you get to feel fancy staying there. Not all the rooms are renovated so many of them are still a bit dated like the one we got when we stayed there.