Since the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) is vast and sprawling, we’ll tackle the sites by direction from the downtown core and accessibility by subway/ bus/streetcar. All tourist sites anywhere are subject to personal likes and tastes, so we’ll include the ‘must-sees’ as well as special interests if extra time allows.
Remember to ask for special passes and rates in the subway station when you first take it, and also keep in mind that transfers are free between subway-bus and bus-bus in the City of Toronto (not suburbs), so always take and keep a transfer if you think you’ll need one (from an automated machine in the subway and from the driver on a bus or streetcar).
The CN Tower: Great views from the top. On a clear day, you can see forever! Entrance on Front Street West.
The Skydome: Toronto Blue Jays (Baseball) and other special sports and entertainment events take place here. The roof retracts in good weather and closes in poor weather. Tours available when not in use.
Toronto City Hall and Square: Unique architecture with its twin curved towers. Skating outside in winter and fountains in summer. West of here along Queen Street to Bathurst are blocks of trendy clothing boutiques, Euro-style bistros, artisan shops and great people-watching.
Queen’s Park and University of Toronto campus: Good strolling in a greenbelt in the city centre between Bloor and College Streets: Toronto is the provincial capital and The U. of T. is the largest university in the city. Situated near each other there are many stately buildings, sculptures and quiet spots to rest.
The Toronto Islands: All three parts are joined together and lie about a 10 minute ferry ride from downtown (about $4.00 return fare). There are restaurants, snack bars, picnic grounds, amusements, yacht clubs, a small airport and quiet walking trails. The views of the downtown skyline at sunset are superb!
The Harbourfront/Queen’s Quay area: Within walking distance from downtown or via the LRT tram from Union Station underground. Boat rides of the inner harbour and islands, boutique shopping, and an antique market take place here.
Ontario Place: A huge parkland on Lake Ontario west of Harbourfront with lots of stuff to enjoy for adults and kids both day and evening: A Cinesphere; amusement rides for kids; picnic spots; an outdoor band shell and stadium with various performers.
The St. Lawrence Market area: A large indoors produce market off Front Street East – lots of action and people watching, especially on Saturdays. Nearby is the famous Gooderham Building, Toronto’s answer to the famous Flatiron Building in Manhattan because of its unique architectural look.
The Kensington Market and College Street (between Spadina and Dufferin): Kensington is the former Jewish market area from the 40’s to the 60’s and now mainly Portuguese with offbeat shop and stalls, while Spadina Avenue close by is all Oriental shops and market stalls. West of Kensington on College Street lies “Little Italy” with great bookstores and cafÃ¯Â¿Â½s as well as trendy bistros, bars and boutiques alongside the dwindling ‘mom and pop’ stores of years gone by. An area to savour!
The Hockey Hall of Fame (even if you’re not a fan, it’s unique); Front and Yonge area – entrance in underground plaza: Nostalgia galore for hockey buffs of all ages.
Yorkville: In the Avenue Road-Bloor area. A fashionable Art Gallery-designer boutique area with an active nightlife for the ‘jet set’ and wannabe crowd.
The Annex and Markham Village area: Bloor from St. George’s to west of Bathurst: A diversity of storefronts and cultures on these blocks with some great non-mass market bookstores and craft shops.
II: North of Downtown
Casa Loma: An interesting mansion/castle just north of the centre core. Walking around this quiet neighbourhood may remind you of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”.
Edwards Gardens and Park: Garden and Conservatory Centre with outside parkland and walking trails: A haven from the hustle and bustle of the busy downtown streets.
The Ontario Centre: Eglinton and Don Mills area. A definite MUST for all – you may become a science buff here. Lots of fun for everyone. Good cafÃ¯Â¿Â½ inside.
Black Creek Pioneer Village: In the Steeles-Jane area. A re-created 18th century Ontario Village – very interesting and non-commercial as its run by the Metro Toronto Conservation Authority. This is a bit of a hike by public transport from downtown (bus from Finch Subway station) but a pleasant place and lots to see and do for kids.
III: East of Downtown
The Beaches: A fun neighbourhood easily reached by the Queen Street streetcar. It has a village atmosphere and a great boardwalk with great breezes on Lake Ontario. Great people and dog watching spot!
The Toronto Metro Zoo in the Rouge River Valley: You can spend a day here as the place is vast. Reachable by the subway system and bus from the city core. A well-designed facility where the animals are separated and protected from humans by mainly natural barriers.
The Scarborough Bluffs and the Guild Inn: A long trip by public transport but an ‘off the beaten track spot’ of nature, with some fascinating facades of old buildings ‘rescued’ from the downtown core.
IV: West of Downtown
High Park: This is the ‘Central Park’ of Toronto (actually, the same designer as New York’s famous park) and right on the Bloor subway line. Lots of green space and paths to explore with a river running through emptying into Lake Ontario at the southern end of the park. When open, you can even visit Colbourne Lodge, a 19th century house on a ridge at the southern end again.
Just east of High Park is Roncesvalles Avenue, an Eastern European (mainly Polish) area with eateries and bakeries to match. The Pope visited here when he was in Toronto.
Just west of High Park is the BloorWest Village, a combo of Eastern European and modern trendy shops, cafÃ¯Â¿Â½s and boutiques – well-treed and pleasant – yet another example of Toronto’s village-like neighbourhoods.
Museums The mainstays are: the Royal Ontario Museum (the ROM to the locals) on University just south of Bloor Street; and The Art Gallery of Ontario on Dundas Street West. Smaller more specialized museums include The Gardiner Museum of Ceramics (opposite the ROM), The Textile Museum (off Dundas West), the Bata Shoe Museum on Bloor West, and Fort York (historical) near Ontario Place. There are more outside the scope of this article.
Art and Antique Galleries These are to be found in the following neighbourhoods: Yorkville, Queen Street East, and Queen Street West and elsewhere. If you like to look at old homes and mansions, the Cabbagetown area off Parliament Street and Jarvis Street between Bloor and Carlton offers some interesting ones.
Theatres Toronto has many venues for live theatre. These are the most interesting either because they are old and historic or because of their architecture (a few offer daytime tours when not in use): All are in the lower Yonge Street area or in the theatre district on King Street West. They include The Pantages; the Wintergarden: Massey Hall; and Roy Thompson Hall. The latter has an excellent gift shop for music buffs, which is in the lobby. Theatrical life in Toronto will be dealt with in a separate, more detailed article.
Ethnic Neighbourhoods Toronto is one of the most diverse multi-ethnic cities in the world. There are even four Ethiopian restaurants here! Significant neighbourhoods reflect the cultures of Italy (College Street and St. Clair West); Greece (Danforth Street); India (Gerrard Street East); Eastern Europe (Bloor West Village/Roncesvalles); Latin American countries (Bloor Street West and St. Clair West); Portugal (College Street West); Vietnam (Dundas West); China (Spadina/Kensington area to name the major ones in the central part of the city where first-generation immigrants may still live.
I’m sure I’ve missed one of your potential favourite tourist sites, which you’ll discover by accident or design. Hopefully, I’ve given you a decent start. Sometimes, ‘less is more’ and discovering and enjoying one neighbourhood of a city is also great.