The Beginner’s Guide to Toronto

Learn about which sights and attractions are must-sees and must-dos in Canada’s biggest city


Muddy York, Hogtown, T.O., The T-Dot, Toronto The Good, The Big Smoke, Toronto’s got more nicknames than most cities and is home to more than 2.5 million people—over 5.5 million if you include the surrounding areas.

Oft maligned as cold and industrial, Toronto is clean, bustling, and culturally diverse. I’ve been fortunate to call Toronto home for most of my life, and I can’t think of a better place to raise my two children. My transplanted Westerner husband agrees.

Toronto Festivals

If you like to be busy, this is the place! Summer is filled with a number of festivals—kicked off by Luminato in June, and followed by Pride Week, the Toronto Jazz Festival, and Caribana, the largest event of its kind outside of the Caribbean. Summer is capped off with the Canadian National Exhibition, affectionately referred to as “The EX.”

Theatre District

Every night, Toronto’s theatre district is hopping with the best of the stage. The Canadian Opera Company hosts incredible vocal talent and a top orchestra. September turns the tony Yorkville neighbourhood into the place to see and be seen, as Hollywood stars descend upon the city for the Toronto International Film Festival.

Tastes of Toronto

Are you a foodie? Twice a year the city presents opportunities to try the best restaurants with prix fixe menus during Summerlicious and Winterlicious.  Individual neighbourhoods also celebrate the food and culture of their heritage – Taste of The Danforth in Greektown, Little India’s Festival of South Asia, Taste of Little Italy on College St., and Toronto’s 2 Chinatowns are always going 24/7.


Like to shop ‘til you drop? The Eaton Centre boasts over 250 shops, services and restaurants and is centrally located downtown, next to Yonge-Dundas Square—the urban mecca reminiscent of New York’s Time Square. A hint west is the trendy district of Queen St. West, where popular chain stores mingle with hipster boutiques and consignment shops.  A completely different shopping experience can be found a hair north of the city in Markham at the Pacific Mall—North America’s largest indoor Asian mall.

It’s nearly impossible to narrow down Toronto’s best things to see and do, but consider the following as good places to start your visit to The T-Dot.

The CN Tower

CN Tower (Courtesy of Tourism Toronto)

It lost the title of “World’s Tallest Free-Standing Structure” in 2007 (shakes fist at Dubai!), but the CN Tower does retain its claim of being one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World and is the centrepiece of Toronto’s skyline.

Enjoy unparalleled views of the city and surroundings from four observation decks or the noted 360 Restaurant. The glass elevator ride up is worth the price of admission, or give the 1,776 stairs a try. See if you have the nerve to walk across the glass floor—more than 1000 ft. up off the ground (I don’t).

Open every day except Christmas Day, and ticket prices vary depending on which attractions and observation levels you choose to visit.

The Hockey Hall Of Fame

Hockey Hall of Fame (Courtesy of Tourism Toronto)

It’s the home of the Stanley Cup in the city that’s gone the longest without one (don’t rub it in!) but everyone agrees, the Hockey Hall of Fame is a blast.

Check out the world’s largest collection of hockey memorabilia, watch classic hockey clips in the two theatres, take your picture with the Stanley Cup, and don’t miss the NHLPA Be A Player Zone. You can suit up and take shots against a real-time goalie, and defend against shots from Gretzky and Messier.

The Hockey Hall of Fame is open every day of the year except Induction Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Admission is $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and $10 for children 4-12. Kids 3 and under are free.

The Royal Ontario Museum

The ROM is unique in that it is one of the few museums in the world that combines natural history exhibits with those featuring world cultures. 

Located in chic Yorkville, it’s also got its own own subway stop (Museum—on the Yonge Line). The dinosaur gallery is impressive, as are the exhibits for Egypt, and Canada’s First People.

My kids absolutely love the Gallery of Biodiversity and The Discovery Gallery. The Royal Ontario Museum also hosts special exhibitions and collections, including China’s Terracotta Warriors, and The Dead Sea Scrolls. There is a highly rated restaurant at the ROM (with prices to match), but the cafeteria in the basement offers excellent food at (fairly) reasonable prices.

The Royal Ontario Museum is open seven days a week, and until 9:30 p.m. on Fridays. Free admission on Wednesdays from 4:30-5:30, and half price after 4:30 on Fridays. Adults are $22, seniors and students are $19, children 4-14 are $15, while under-threes are free. Special exhibits are extra.

The Toronto Islands

In warmer months, your visit to Toronto would not be complete without hopping on a ferry and leaving—for one of the Toronto Islands.

Ward’s Island, Centre Island, and Hanlan’s Point offer beautiful parks, beaches, bike paths, fire pits and picnic areas, as well as public facilities like water fountains, washrooms and changing rooms. Rent a bicycle built for two (or three, or four), and cruise Centre Island before taking the kids to Centreville—a charming amusement park that little Torontonians have loved for decades.

Except for Centre Island, ferries operate year-round (a fortunate few actually call the Ward’s Island home) and are $6.50-return for adults, $4-return for seniors and students, and $3 for kids 14 and under. Babies two and under are free. Centreville is open weekends only in May and September, and seven days a week from June to August. Park admission is free, and there are a number of ride pass options available.

The Art Gallery Of Ontario

The Art Gallery Of Ontario (Photo Courtesy of Tourism Toronto)

The AGO is one of the largest art museums in the world, and now one of the most spectacular thanks to a 2008 renovation by famed architect Frank Gehry.

The Galeria Italia and the iconic staircase are masterpieces in themselves, and pieces in their collection of more than 79,000 include paintings by Van Gogh, Picasso, Rodin, and Monet.

There’s an extensive gallery of The Group Of Seven artwork and the world’s largest collection of sculpture by British artist Henry Moore. At street level are a restaurant and family-friendly café, a two-level gift shop, and a free contemporary gallery.

The Art Gallery Of Ontario is closed on Mondays, and is open later on Wednesdays, until  8:30 p.m. Admission is $19.50 for adults, $16 for seniors, $11 for youths and students, and children under 5 are free. Wednesday evenings are free after 6 p.m., and special collections cost extra.


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