What To Do In Toronto If It’s Your First Time…
Wondering what to do, see and eat in Toronto if you’re visiting for the first time? I’ve got you covered. Yes, there are plenty of travel guides floating around the web, but they can feel out of touch. I mean, what’s a bunch of places going to do if you’re unfamiliar with the vibe. That’s why I’ve combined personal anecdotes alongside my travel recommendations. After all, I need to convince you to visit Toronto before I list the places you might find interesting. 7 days of adventures in Canada’s largest city provided me with plenty of content and experiences to make that a breeze. For an entertaining, insightful and no-BS beginner’s version of the city, scroll below.
Things To Know Before You Visit Toronto…
-Transport isn’t too difficult to navigate, given the range of subway routes, buses and what feels like a tram. It’s worth noting a PRESTO single ticket (what you’d use for transport) offers a 2-hour transfer window. Essentially you can hop off at a stop, explore for an hour, and go venture into another subway station by using the same single ticket. A daily pass was around 12 dollars, which worked out to be approx. 4 tickets but with the 2-hour transfer window, it was actually more cost-effective to utilise single tickets whenever I needed transport.
-Tax isn’t included in the price tag and is added at the cash desk. A contrast to life in the United Kingdom. You might want to keep some coins handy for instances like this.
-Unlike many countries in Europe, water is standard the moment you step into a restaurant. You won’t be charged for the glass jugs brought to your table. Spain take note.
-There’s some debate regarding how ‘Toronto’ is pronounced. Locals pointed out the second ‘T’ is silent. Interesting…
Sightseeing Around Downtown Toronto.
I was keen to explore downtown during the weekdays before the crowds would come out in full force. St. Lawrence Market was first on the list, as I was intrigued by the promise of a real foodie’s experience. Initially, I was underwhelmed by what felt like a regular fruit market. However, once I looked deeper across the two floors I started to understand why St. Lawrence Market has culinary hotspot status. You’ll find live demonstrations, specialised tours and unique foods which will make you gasp. Crocodile burgers anyone? Regardless of what you snack on, you’re able to eat with a view of the busy streets if you head up to the rooftop. My personal favourite? A humble dessert stand known as ‘Crepe It Up’, where you can witness the crepe being made in real-time. The gluten-free and vegan options make this stall extra sweet. See what I did there?
From St. Lawrence Market you’re only a short walk to Distillery District. A place to shop, eat, and drink. Although, ‘Spirit of York Distillery’ is the place for booze. I’d suggest going for a sample session, where you can try a few unique flavours of locally-sourced alcohol. A few other cool places to tick off your list are ‘Cocoa 70’ for the chocolate fondue and ‘The Sport Gallery’, which felt like a retro sports store merged into a museum. It was here I got chatting to the sales assistant after purchasing a Toronto Raptors Sweatshirt, which I’ll probably never wear lol. This little detail emphasises my point in a previous post. Canadians are extremely friendly. Isn’t that reassuring to hear when you’re travelling or want to ask a local for directions/suggestions?
CN Tower Sights:
Now, CN Tower is a must when visiting Toronto. Unless you have a fear of heights, who wouldn’t want a bird’s eye view of the city? When booking tickets online though, just know you can’t reserve too far in advance. The staff are also pretty strict with slots, so make sure you double-check the timing. I tried to enter 30 minutes earlier and was denied haha. Although, once you’re inside you’re not rushed out. This meant I could watch the sunset at 9 pm with a 7 pm ticket, documented through a time-lapse setting for 2 hours of sunset in 10 seconds. The results were wicked. One disappointment, however, was the ‘Skypod’. It’s an additional payment which takes you up a few more levels into a smaller booth, but the view was partially obstructed by the permanent structure of the tower. After 10 seconds, you’ll miss the main observation level.
If you’ve run out of coins before you get to the CN Tower, don’t worry as I’ll give you a cheaper alternative for seeing a skyline further down in the post.
Shopping + Entertainment In Toronto.
To satisfy shopping cravings in Toronto, stroll over to ‘Eaton Centre’ for high-street stores. This impressive + aesthetically-pleasing mall/office complex will keep you busy for hours. There’s also a food court spanning the entire ground floor region. One that’s actually good. Unsurprisingly, Eaton Centre is cited as one of Toronto’s most popular locations. After browsing, I fully understood the hype. However, the layout could be classed as confusing due to the size of the building. If you’re pushed for time, map out stores before your visit to prevent aimlessly walking around.
Toronto Premium Outlets:
In the mood to splash out? You’d like ‘Toronto Premium Outlets’. As you can expect, you’ll find various designer stores mixed with a few high-street options, like Nike. The products and styles were still pretty current, as opposed to some outlets shifting discontinued goods. The biggest downside? The journey. It’s an absolute mission to reach without a car. As I relied on public transport, I took the subway to ‘Yorkdale’ (which also features another high-street shopping mall), followed by a bus to ‘Meadowvale’, then a 7-minute ride via Uber. Sigh, the lengths I go to shop huh. Nonetheless, Toronto Premium Outlets was enjoyable. Plus, the pricing meant you could genuinely pick up a good deal. Fancy high-end skincare at 11 dollars, for example. In some instances, you could even score an additional discount by downloading an app or signing up for a newsletter.
If you’re looking for vintage stores, go straight to ‘Kensington Market’. It’s a quirky location with second-hand stores, food stalls, street art + plenty of Instagram-able photo opportunities.
You might decide to skip shopping on your trip, and that’s totally fine. Instead, I’d recommend browsing up daily events on sites like ‘Ticketmaster’ or ‘Eventbrite’. That’s what I did when booking a baseball game, where I attended Roger’s Centre for a Blue Jays V. Yankees play-off. Some other events I found on Eventbrite and Ticketmaster were a hip-hop/rap show for Conway The Machine and Toronto Fashion Week, held by Fashion Art Toronto. There’s so much constantly happening in the city.
Nice Restaurants In Toronto, With Gluten-Free Options.
Food is subjective, but I’m pretty certain you’ll love the below options. I mean, I clearly couldn’t get enough as I found myself revisiting a handful of restaurants within a week. Whilst the styles of food are different, all have one thing in common. Non-pretentious food packed with flavour which gets right into your soul. Oh yeah, I went there.
First up is Manpuku Japanese Eatery. This cosy spot sells itself on authentic comfort food, just like you’d find in Japan. Simple ingredients with big taste. Need more convincing? The prices are beyond purse-friendly. I’m talking a generous bowl of noodles, a large rice dish and 2 starters for the equivalent of £16. It’s the one place I will forever declare a hidden gem, given its location within a run-down food court.
Sticking with flavoursome Asian food, let me introduce you to ‘Ramen Isshin’. As someone who could eat ramen regularly, trust me when I say the goods here are truly something. For 17 Canadian Dollars, I enjoyed what I’d class as the best ramen I’ve ever had. Again, another location which absolutely nails the price-quantity ratio. Don’t believe me? The exquisite reviews from content customers should tempt you.
Chula Taberna Mexicana:
Undoubtedly, ‘Chula Taberna Mexicana’ is worthy of making this list. Not only can you bet your bottom dollar you’ll find vibrant and playful cocktails at this location, but you’ve also got sensational food. Think enormously fresh burrito bowls, tasteful enchiladas + layers of punchy dressing. Oh, and the staff are extremely friendly. A winning combo.
The Carbon Bar:
For a restaurant which oozes coolness, I’d point you towards ‘The Carbon Bar’. The establishment serves up BBQ-style foods with good-quality Canadian favourites, like poutine + brisket. The Carbon Bar could be described as the type of place you’d want to eat at, before a night of cocktails. The type of place you could dress up in. The type of place you’re guaranteed to snap epic foodie pics. However, let’s not get confused. The restaurant isn’t style over substance, as the food seriously delivers. I still dream about the burger + dessert I had here you know.
In Kensington, I’d suggest visiting ‘Dirty Bird’ for gluten-free fried chicken and loaded fries, An absolute game-changer if you have allergies. ‘Bunner’s Bakeshop’ sorted me out when my sweet tooth needed attention, with their gluten-free/vegan pastries and cakes. Whilst slightly more pricey than your standard bakery, I’d put this down to everything being gluten-free and dairy-free.
If your type of dinner involves skipping from one bar to the next, I’ve got a suggestion for you. It’s not even my own, but one from a local who I met whilst roaming the distillery district. He suggested ‘Ossington Avenue’ for endless drinking opportunities following the influx of bars + restaurants down there. Recommendations from locals just always seem to hit differently.
A Guided Trip To Niagara Falls With TripAdvisor.
Without a doubt, Niagara Falls should be prioritised if you’ve only got a few days in the city. Finding a tour was relatively simple, as I just searched ‘Niagara Falls’ on TripAdvisor and went with the package with the highest reviews. The £50 cost covered minibus transportation from ‘Ripley’s Aquarium’, insightful commentary from the guide, independent hours to explore the falls (+ surrounding areas), plus maple syrup tasting. Although, I think the locals nearly fainted when I said the subtle flavour of maple syrup tasted the best. ‘That’s not even real maple syrup’, one defensively replied. Lol. Regardless, the whole experience was honestly jaw-dropping from start to finish, in the best possible way.
For anyone curious, I’ve got a post on what a TripAdvisor tour is really like.
Affordable Activities In Downtown Toronto, Also Known As ‘What To Do When Your Bank Balance Is Crying For Help’.
As mentioned earlier, the CN Tower isn’t the only way to get a skyline picture. A cheaper alternative can be taken from Toronto Island. All you need to do is get the ferry and snap away on your return across the water. For less than 10 Canadian dollars, you’ll also get to check out the island itself. To see how the photos turned out, alongside a list of affordable activities in central Toronto, I’ll link you to an earlier post.
I travelled to Toronto with zero expectations but within a few days, I knew I’d return. That’s major for me, as I don’t often visit cities more than once. Through the combination of travel suggestions + personal reflections in this post, I’m hoping you’ve picked up two things. Inspiration for your visit to Toronto & the sheer enjoyment I had during my time here. I’m hopeful you’ll replicate the same feeling.
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I have not visited Toronto since I was a kid, so my memory of the city is very fuzzy! I do hope to return soon, as I have a cousin who lives there…yup, the tax-not-included is a North American thing (at least, for the US and Canada), and it grinds my gears as I never know exactly how much I’m paying for something! Any case, there’s so much to do and see in Toronto (or, in a North American accent, “Tor-RON-oh” given the second “T” is silent, haha) that it’d take a lifetime to explore them all!
Ohhh! When it comes to tax not being included, how is it calculated? Does it vary between state? It must be so frustrating when you think you’re spending X amount so can pay with a $50 note but it works out more than that at the cash desk
We factor in state and city taxes, so they can add an additional 10-15% on purchased goods (at least here in California)! Not every state has state taxes, so it really depends where you go!
We always visit there often and we have our family living there .The Niagara Falls is such an interesting site . This brings memories of our time there
It truly is! Thank you for reading 🙂