Toronto is very neighbourhood-y, and this particular guide will skew towards the west end, mostly because that’s where I live and where I spend most of my time, and it will skew towards the affordable. Toronto is LARGE. I stick to a fairly small area of it, so this is just a start. Oh, and sales tax is 13% so have fun with that, especially if you’re from the US! I love it here, and I hope you will too. Please feel free to add suggestions or to ask questions.
Many of these places and things to do have appeared on this blog before, but I thought one master guide could be helpful (if you would like to see more, click on the “Toronto” label at the bottom of this post).
Freezing in winter and sticky humid-hot in summer! Of course, not as extreme as in some places, but enough that we complain bitterly/languidly at each low and high point. Same/similar latitude to Cannes and Boston, apparently.
I don’t think you need a car to get around Toronto, although I suppose it depends. I have a car, and in two years I’ve put about 9000 kms on it (about 5500 miles). Most of the time I ride my bike, walk, take the subway/bus/streetcar, or use cabs. You can rent bikes through Bike Share, or from places such as Bateman’s Bicycle Company in the Annex (I’ve borrowed their Linus bikes and it was great!). A car does come in handy if you would like to explore some real nature, or, say, want to hit up a drive-in movie theatre! There are gorgeous lakes and provincial parks all throughout Ontario, really lovely spots to visit in summer. I really want to go swimming in the Elora Quarry, for example.
Where to stay:
I can’t help much in this respect! I suppose the usual suspects would be the boutique hotels: The Drake, The Gladstone, Hotel Ocho, The Thompson. I haven’t stayed in any of them myself, though. I always use Hotwire to get cheap hotel rates or AirBnB for unique spaces.
What to do:
- First Thursdays at the Art Gallery of Ontario: a monthly art/culture party.
- Trampoline Hall: a monthly lecture series.
- Go see a Blue Jays game! Tickets are as cheap as $9 and it can be a lot of fun. Also: soccer, or free Toronto Maple Leaf baseball games at Christie Pits. SPORTS.
- If you’re a daredevil (and rich, I guess) you can walk along the outside of the CN Tower.
- Definitely the best thing to do in the summer is take the ferry to the Toronto Islands. Rent bikes, pack a picnic, ride swan boats at Centreville, sit in the sand at one of the beaches, including the clothing-optional beach at Hanlan’s Point, if that’s what you’re into.
- The Canadian National Exhibition (known as The Ex) takes place at the end of August and it can be pretty good, cheesy fun. Lots of silly rides and carnival games and deeply, deeply fried foods.
- In winter, free public ice skating all over the place. Best place: Nathan Phillips Square in front of City Hall.
- Sugar Beach.
- The Power Plant.
- Harbourfront Centre has a lot of arts programming and sometimes free outdoor concerts (and the International Festival of Authors in the fall). Plus you get to be by the water.
- Toronto’s unofficial motto is “A City in a Park”: there are tons of them. Parks are the best. Dufferin Grove Park is basically my back yard. Lots of farmer’s markets are held in public parks. Most of the people in my specific demographic like Trinity Bellwoods Park, but the police have been issuing fines for public drinking this summer, so it isn’t as busy there as it once was!
- The Junction Flea, or the new Parkdale Flea. Also new: the Toronto Flower Market. Lots of flea markets popping up all the time, including the Echo Beach Flea.
- Smaller art galleries: my faves are ESP, Magic Pony and Narwhal, Diaz, Cooper Cole, LE Gallery, the OCAD Student Gallery, MOCCA.
- Pick a neighbourhood and go for a walk (there is actually an overwhelming amount of information at the end of that link). I recommend Yorkville, the Annex, the Distillery District, the Junction, Little Italy, Riverside, Little Italy, and Rosedale.
- Go see a documentary at the Bloor Cinema, or check out the excellent programming at the TIFF Lightbox, if you love film. Summer outdoor movies: Christie Pits Park, plus many more here.
- Visit Kensington Market. It’s a great place for cheap eats and has a fun multi-ethnic vibe.
- Monthly food events at the Toronto Underground Market and The Stop Night Market (which raises funds for a community food centre that does excellent work).
- The Sunday Antique Market at St Lawrence Market.
- The Toronto Reference Library hosts really great literary events.
- $25 nosebleeds at the ballet, $14 Toronto Symphony Orchestra tickets if you are under the age of 35.
- Pretty much every band on tour stops in Toronto. Check Now Magazine for weekly music listings. That includes DJs if you want to dance. A few local musicians I like: Bahamas, DIANA, The Weeknd, Isla Craig, Trust, Absolutely Free.
- The lesser-known museums: Bata Shoe Museum, Textile Museum of Canada.
- The Aga Khan Museum is a bit of a hike from downtown but it is a really unique space with gorgeous grounds.
Park hangs in Bickford Park
- The Common (Dufferin Grove/Bloorcourt)
- Boxcar Social (Summerhill, Riverside)
- The Tempered Room (Parkdale)
- Sam James Coffee Bar (The Annex, Christie Pits, the PATH, Toronto Street)
- Dark Horse (Queen West and Leslieville)
- White Squirrel (Queen West)
- The Slow Room (Dufferin Grove)
- Ezra’s Pound (Dupont)
- Ella’s Uncle (Dundas West and Bloorcourt)
- Dineen (Financial District)
- Jimmy’s (King West and Kensington)
- Capital Espresso (Parkdale)
- Fika Cafe (Kensington)
- Lit Espresso Bar (Roncesvalles/Little Italy)
- Crafted (Ossington)
- Bakerbots Baking (Bloorcourt): the BEST ice cream sandwich you will ever eat in your life (100% serious; all freshly-made ingredients and the sandwich is prepared at the time of your order). Also, banana pudding & carrot cake. Related (same owners): Bang Bang Ice Cream (Ossington) and Home Baking (Bloorcourt).
- Glory Hole Donuts (Parkdale)
- Clafouti (Queen West): really good croissants if you get there early enough.
- Nadège (Queen West): most photogenic treats & Kusmi teas.
- Bobette and Belle (Queen East): a friend gave me a bag of their marshmallows once. They were gone so fast.
- Patachou Patisserie (Rosedale): I still think about the bûche de Noël I ordered there years ago.
- Petite Thuet (King West)
- The Big Chill (Little Italy): freshly made waffle cones, smells amazing in there.
- If you’re in my Toronto, you have to eat a pastel de nata, or Portuguese custard tart. HAVE to, sorry!
- Dutch Dreams (St. Clair West): this place is a little bonkers and there’s usually a long lineup, but it’s been around forever and it’s just a really fun place to visit.
- Bunner’s (Kensington Market, The Junction): vegan and gluten free treats, including soft serve.
- The Bake Shoppe (Little Italy-ish): homemade pop tarts, ice cream milk shakes, etc.
- Ed’s Real Scoop (Roncesvalles, Leslieville, Beaches): amazing ice cream.
- Kitten and the Bear (Parkdale): This spot is tiny but serves up the most incredible jams and scones.
Bakerbots ice cream sandwiches (insert chorus of angels)
- Archive (Dundas West)
- Midfield Wine Bar (Dundas West)
- Cold Tea (Kensington)
- Wallflower (Brockton)
- The Hoof’s Cocktail Bar (Dundas West)
- The Yukon (Parkdale)
- Walk around Ossington/Dundas West and you will find a hundred bars (Bambi’s, Get Well, Unlovable, Red Light, etc. etc.)
- Bellwoods Brewery (Ossington): Really nice patio, locally-brewed beer. We love their Bottle Shop.
North of Brooklyn
You can get pretty much any type of food in Toronto, although in some cases you have to travel out to the suburbs for specific ethnic foods. Always worth it! Restaurants in Toronto have gotten more interesting and daring in the past five years, which is very exciting. Acqtaste is a locally published magazine about food, so check it out if you’re interested!
Lineups are a possibility, but I doubt you would ever have to wait more than an hour to get a table... it just depends. You can usually leave your number and they will call you when your table is ready. But really, it shouldn’t be too much trouble. Also, you’ll have to check with the restaurant to see if they are cash only/accept credit cards, etc.
- Me & Mine (Dufferin Grove): chill & inventive.
- Khao San Road (King Street): Thai street food.
- House-Maison (The Village)
- Seven Lives for tacos (Kensington)
- Fat Pasha (Dupont)
- Chantecler (Parkdale)
- Richmond Station (Financial District)
- The Atlantic (Dufferin Grove): mostly seafood. The chef makes whatever he wants to that day and you pay what you think it’s worth. Pretty unique.
- Bar Isabel (Little Italy): tapas style. I have yet to go but it’s at the top of my list. I have heard nothing but raves!
- Bar Raval (Little Italy): tapas, sublime!
- Pizza: North of Brooklyn for slices, Libretto or Via Mercanti for Neapolitan style, Bitondo’s for old school. My favourite for delivery is FBI.
- Woodlot (Little Italy)
- Northwood (Bloorcourt/Christie Pits) and Northern Belle (Dundas West): mostly for drinks but they do have some food.
- Grand Electric (Parkdale): tacos. El Asador (Koreatown) for cheeeeaaap tacos. La Carnita (Little Italy): more tacos. Agave y Aguacate (Kensington).
- My favourite food in the world is the Italian eggplant sandwich from California Sandwiches. The original Little Italy location is a true hole in the wall, and I love it.
- Mother’s Dumplings (Chinatown)
- Takht-e Tavoos (Dufferin Grove): Iranian brunch!
- The Burger’s Priest (Queen West and Beaches)
- Saving Grace (Little Portugal/Dundas West)
- Barraida (Dufferin Grove): Portuguese barbeque food, lots of seafood. It’s not the greatest, but the College Street location has a back garden (secret garden!) that is the best patio in the whole city. Cheap sangria too.
- The Rebel House (Rosedale): my favourite pub in the city.
- Marben (King West)
- Dailo (Little Italy)
- Porchetta & Co. (Dundas): I ate here when I was still eating meat and even though I have no desire to eat meat these days, those were some delicious sandwiches.
- Enoteca Sociale (Little Portugal): Italian pasta & wine.
- Rose & Sons (Dupont): diner-ish, really sweet.
- Actinolite (Christie Pits): “old-world.” Haven’t tried it but really want to!
- Poutini’s (Queen West): poutine!
- Patois (Kensington-ish): Jamaican/Asian.
- The Dakota Tavern (Ossington): this is a really great venue for live music, really cozy, but on weekends they have “Bluegrass brunch”: cheap food with live bluegrass music. Why not?
- If you like Indian food, the east end has quite a lot of it. I like Udupi Palace (south Indian vegetarian).
- Buk Chang Dong (Koreatown): there are maybe five things on the menu and nothing is more than $10. Bubbling hot soon tofu. Comfort food.
- Oddseoul (Ossington): late night snacks.
- Delux (Ossington): Cuban/French. Really good brunch.
- Julie’s Cuban (Ossington): delicious tapas-style, really cute spot.
- Bestellen (Little Italy/Dufferin Grove): modern European. Cheap oysters!
- The Black Hoof (Little Portugal): very popular, the place to go if you LOVE meat.
- Rhum Corner (Little Portugal): from the owners of Black Hoof, Haitian food.
- The Hogtown Vegan (Bloorcourt): a vegan restaurant that is so good even people who love meat will be happy there, I promise.
- Terroni (Queen West): good pizza, good pasta, good wine.
- Momofuku (Entertainment District)
- Chippy’s (Queen West): I’m not a fish & chips expert and obviously try not to indulge too often, but I like the fish & chips here a lot. Get it to go and eat it in the park across the street. Yum.
- Emma’s Country Kitchen (St. Clair West): just how it sounds! Simple & tasty.
- The County General (Queen West): comfort food.
- Edulis (Trinity Bellwoods): I haven’t been and apparently there is a two month wait to get a reservation, but it’s supposed to be amazing!
- Lisa Marie (Queen West): haven’t tried this one either (a real theme here!) but it looks good! I like the idea of street/snack foods.
- Carmen (Queen West): tapas, yum.
- Acadia (Little Italy): really good cocktail list.
- Luna Café (Ossington): I think this place is really sweet and I like the food. Good for just coffee, too.
- Thomas Lavers Cannery and Deli (Kensington): homemade soda and sandwiches!
- Porter House (Little Portugal): vegan pub food!
- Salads / juice / healthier fare: VegHed, The Goods, Fresh, iQ Food Co., Kupfert and Kim, Greenhouse Juice, Village Juicery, Raw Chemist, Good Press.
Robber (sadly now closed!)
- Gravity Pope (Queen West/Ossington): shoes!
- Eleven Thirty (Dufferin Grove): leather bags and cuteness.
- Easy Tiger (Dundas West): cute shop in my neighbourhood, a good place for gift items and some clothing and accessories (Samantha Pleet swimsuits, Dieppa Restrepo shoes).
- Jonathan + Olivia (Ossington): clothing; brands include Alexander Wang, Isabel Marant, Band of Outsiders, Jeremy Laing.
- Lost and Found (Little Portugal): clothing (and coffee); brands include Alden, Makr, Saint James, Dana Lee.
- The Future of Frances Watson (Parkdale): clothing; brands include Penfield, Filson, Fortnight Lingerie.
- Vintage clothing shops (some of which offer a mix of vintage & new): Philistine (Parkdale), Penny Arcade Vintage (Little Portugal), I Miss You (Ossington), 69 Vintage and V by 69 Vintage (Queen West), Cabaret (Queen West), Magwood (Queen West)
- Coal Miner’s Daughter (Queen West and Mirvish Village): clothing; lots of lovely Canadian brands.
- Coriander Girl (Parkdale): flowers!
- Sweet Woodruff (Dundas West): more flowers!
- Art Metropole (Dundas West): artist books.
- The Workroom (Parkdale): sew by-the-hour space, but also sells a variety of craft supplies, books, and fabric.
- Drake General Store (Queen West & various other locations): pretty good for gift items, lots of Canadiana.
- Good Egg (Kensington): bookstore with a cooking bent.
- Type Books (Queen West): not going to lie, bookstores in Toronto are in a sorry state. This is one of the few independents left.
- Likely General (Roncesvalles): amazing selection of home goods.
- Scout (Roncesvalles): nice selection of gifts and cards.
- Music: Soundscapes, June Records, Rotate This, Sonic Boom.
- Mjölk (Junction): modern design (furniture & objects) with a Scandinavian/Japanese focus. Really beautiful. While in the Junction, walk around; lots of design/antiques in the area.
- Blue Button Shop (Dundas West): clothing shop stocking Japanese imports.
- The Monocle Shop (Little Italy)
- Holt Renfrew (Yorkville): a classic Canadian department store. Our version of Nordstrom.
- Sydney’s (Queen West): fancy menswear.
- Hoi Bo (Distillery): handcrafted waxed canvas & leather bags.
- Victoire (Ossington): (mostly) Canadian-designed clothing for women.