Toronto, Canada’s largest city, is vibrant, sophisticated and fun. But where do you start? If you’re planning a trip to Ontario, here’s how to spend one day in Toronto.
The perfect one-day tour of Toronto
If you plan to spend one day in Toronto, you’ve made a wise choice! Since no fewer than 25% of Hollywood movies are filmed in this city, clearly there are plenty of things to see. Top Toronto attractions include the Rogers Centre, one of the world’s first stadium featuring a completely retractable roof, and Centre Island, easily reachable via a ferry or water taxi from Toronto Harbour.
If the weather is unforgiving (hey, it’s Canada), you can still visit Harbourfront to take a look at the Tall Ship Kajama, a three-mast cargo schooner; stroll down to the Music Garden or visit the PowerPlant, the city’s leading contemporary gallery. Bonus: Entrance is free.
Visiting the CN Tower
The lofty CN Tower is Toronto’s top tourist sight, at least the 1.5 million people a year seem to think it’s worth a visit. Famous for being the tallest freestanding manmade structure in the world – until the even higher Burj Khalifa in Dubai knocked it off its pedestal in 2008 – Toronto’s CN Tower can withstand winds of over 400km/h and an earthquake of 8.5 on the Richter scale. That’s safer than the White House.
After you soar up the glass-fronted elevator, you can check out the views, stand on the glass floor or splurge on a meal at the 360 Restaurant – I still think longingly of the tenderloin I had there years ago. You can easily guess why the restaurant is called 360 – it makes a complete panoramic rotation every 72 minutes letting you admire the city 300m below.
Daredevils can do the CN Tower’s newest attraction, the EdgeWalk, a death-defying (except apparently it’s safe) outdoor walk from an impossible height. And I am totally going to do it … as soon as pigs can fly. (Kidding. I really do want to do it.)
Other downtown attractions
Another attraction in the area is Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, which is right at the base of the CN Tower. From here you can walk to the Hockey Hall of Fame, a museum devoted to all things ice hockey. Located near Union Station, the Hockey Hall of Fame is where the Stanley Cup lives when it’s not jet-setting around the world.
Shopping in Toronto
Even if you’re only spending one day in Toronto, it’s hard to resist a wee bit of shopping. The most popular shopping destination is probably the Eaton Centre, a glass-covered mall housing a huge array of shops. While it used to be a bit tired, it’s undergone a total revitalization with the addition of high-end department stores Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue.
If you want to grab a bite while you’re there, check out trendy Leña Restaurante at the corner of Richmond and Yonge at Saks. This South American all-day restaurant is getting rave reviews.
By the way, I’m told that the Eaton Centre attracts more visitors than Disneyland. (I’m having trouble believing that but there’s no arguing with rumour.) Moreover, the Eaton Centre is on Yonge Street. At 1,896 km in length, it’s world’s longest street according to the Guinness Book of World Records. It’s not the most elegant shopping destination in the world, but it’s always lively and it’s definitely long.
Art and culture in Toronto
Toronto is a city rich in culture and one of the top things to do here is get your fill of art. The Art Gallery of Ontario, (AGO) found right next to Grange Park, holds 80,000 artefacts going back to the first century AD and includes famous artists like Cézanne, Goya, and Matisse. Hosting both permanent and traveling exhibitions and galleries, the AGO is located at 317 Dundas Street West, about a 10-minute walk west from the Eaton Centre.
Neighbourhoods to explore
From the Art Gallery of Toronto you can head north to Chinatown or to Kensington Market, one of the funkiest neighbourhoods in the city. You’ll definitely want to take a break in one of the many indie coffee shops in Kensington like Wanda’s Pie in the Sky, or grab a casual meal. (A good vegetarian option is the Urban Herbivore at 64 Oxford Street.)
Royal Ontario Museum
Keep heading north. If you’re fascinated by science, history and nature, stop in at the Royal Ontario Museum (the ROM). Children love the dinosaurs in the Libeskind crystal wing. Who doesn’t? Located at the corner of Bloor and University Avenue, the ROM fits right into a visit to the luxury ‘hood of Yorkville.
Yorkville, where the rich people play
Another shopping destination of note if you’re visiting Toronto is Yorkville, the swanky neighbourhood bordered by Bloor Street, Avenue Road and Bay Street. Here you’ll find high-end designers, especially on Bloor Street, which is referred to as the Mink Mile (by whom, I don’t know). Yorkville and Cumberland Avenues are a delight to walk around with their blue chip galleries, boutiques, 5-star hotels, restaurants and bars. You can also access the upscale Yorkville Village mall from Hazelton Avenue.
Hungry? One new addition in Yorkville is Planta, an upscale ‘plant-based’ restaurant, which, I assume, means ‘vegan only more expensive’. Correct me if I’m wrong. And if my husband wants to know where he should take me on date night, Planta will do nicely.
Not quite as central, but certainly eye-catching is Casa Loma. This Toronto landmark, at One Austin Terrace near Davenport Road and Spadina Road, was built in 1911 by the fabulously wealthy Sir Henry Pellatt, a businessman who had always dreamed of living in a massive Edwardian castle. He commissioned the famous architect E.J. Lennox to design the most palatial residence that North America had ever seen.
At the time, it took 300 people, 3 years, and $3.5 million to mount the majestic assortment of 30 restrooms, 98 rooms, and 25 fireplaces atop of the hill overlooking the city. For Sir Henry Pellatt and wife, Lady Mary, the effort wasn’t too great as he controlled a quarter of the economy of Canada. Yet only 10 years later, the couple’s fortune was ruined by the loss of the electricity monopoly in favour of the government. Yikes.
The takeaway here is that you might be better visiting a castle than actually buying one, as you never know where the future will lead. Then again, with real estate prices ballooning in this city, it could be an excellent investment. And speaking of investing, I hope you invest some enjoyable time exploring Toronto, at least for a day.
Travel guide for one day in Toronto
For more information on visiting Toronto, Toronto Tourism’s SeeTorontoNow website is a wealth of tips and advice.
If you plan on seeing a number of attractions, an option that allows you to save 36% is CityPASS. CityPASS admission saves you money if you plan to visit the CN Tower, Casa Loma, the Royal Ontario Museum, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada and the Toronto Zoo OR the Ontario Science Centre.
Getting around: The Toronto Transit Commission, known as the TTC, is a quick and easy way of travelling around downtown. If you’re sightseeing for just one day in Toronto, you can buy a TTC Day Pass for $12.50. You can pick it up at any subway station. Other options for getting around are taxis, Uber, Bike Share Toronto or on foot.